Thursday, 14 January 2016

Heritage and Mission in the Leeds District

Wesley Chapel, Harrogate, is a beautiful building, dating from 1862, that has been lovingly and sensitively restored so that the interior retains its sense of awe and history, but is a flexible and usable space, with a café in the entrance area.

Steve Wild couldn't resist an opportunity in this magnificent pulpit

The challenge is how to use this treasure in the heart of the town, to share Jesus with people who no longer know him.  I was delighted to meet with a group to explore how their faith story might connect with people who will be drawn to this place through its history. 

The inspiring story of this building and the people who built it and sustained it, is a story of faith and trust in Jesus. I was delighted to learn that Mary Bosanquet, one of the first women preachers, visited Harrogate in 1773, and preached at the White Hart.

Judith Yeates has written a book on the history of Wesley Chapel

Oxford Place in Leeds was built in 1835, and it was so big that the preacher could not be heard at the farthest corners!  It was remodelled and reopened in 1898 as part of the Forward Movement to reach the urban poor.  It was not quite a central hall – but it was the closest thing to it! 

Today, its location in the Civic area of the city, is both an opportunity and a challenge.  The vast building is home to charities and organisations working with LGBT asylum seekers, street women, the unemployed and the abused. 
The café is run by No Going Back, a charity helping LGBT asylum seekers
It has strong links with work with the homeless in the crypt at St George’s, and it was a real privilege to meet with the pastor and members of The Lighthouse, a church for people who have lived with chaos, and hear their story.

The future for Oxford Place is uncertain, and prayers are needed to discern the  way forward. I thank God for the incredible efforts of Deacon Jenny Jones and Revd Peter Whittaker, to make this a resource for sharing faith with the community.

Steve and I met with District leaders George Lovell, Richard Lowe, Rob Hilton, Lesley Taylor, Robert Creamer, Liz Smith, and David Quick
Our visit to the Leeds District was inspiring and encouraging, and I want to say a particular thank you to Sarah Cave, the super-organised and absolutely lovely Synod Secretary, who made sure that Steve and I were in the right place at the right time (most of the time!!), and even more important that we both caught our trains home at the end of a wonderful four day visit.

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