Woodland church - arguably the highest in the country.
I’ve just come back from a brilliant weekend in three rural parishes west of Bishop Auckland, where I was leading a team from Cranmer. It’s an area which has suffered much from the decline of industry – the closure of the mines (affecting Cockfield and Evenwood) and the automation of agriculture (mainly the villages in Lynesack parish). The church congregations likewise became disheartened, with about 12-20 attending each. Fortunately they are now led by an outstanding team of Jane (the vicar) and Emma (the curate) who have brought with them energy, commitment and a real love for their communities – it has been an absolute pleasure to be able to serve them in what they are doing.
The men's breakfast. Photo: David Grieve
One of the key goals we had at the start was to do events that are likely to be repeatable and sustainable by the churches themselves. On the Saturday morning we did a men’s breakfast, which attracted about 24 local men. Jane and Emma cooked a big breakfast (which says a huge amount about their servant-hearted vision), and some bloke with a beard and glasses gave a talk. Men’s ministry is something I have a real passion for, as my own growth both in faith and as a human being has been greatly influenced by men’s groups; it was exciting to be a part of this in Cockfield, and to perceive the buzz that there was around the room.
The families event. Photo: David Grieve
In the afternoon we had a tea party for the community in Evenwood, for which a very able local team provided the tea and cakes. In the evening half a dozen young families came to a Families Fun Night at the Woodland village hall. Jenny arranged the entertainment while Andy provided the musical accompaniment. I didn’t realise until then how much fun could be had by trying to build a tower with marshmallows and straws! I spent most of the evening with David, a local stonemason, and his family, and it was great to learn more about the area and its community from them.
The Cranmer team: Jenny, Sarah, Andy Stobart, Phil, Andy Stinson, Esther, me.
The Sunday morning services around the churches were fairly conventional Common Worship
communions, but in the evening we did a celebration for all three parishes, based in Cockfield. Those in the group have an abundance of musical talent (ironic, then, that I can only hit a note in tune if I’m lucky!), and we were able to show how authentic, God-focussed worship can be done with a much freer style. Andy Stinson gave the talk, which was a great blend of personal story and biblical truth. Among the 40 or so who were there, there was a sense of expectancy and a desire to see church being done in a new way. Afterwards Jane spoke of the hope that the communities now have: long may this continue!
Sunday lunchtime: Andy Stobart & Rebecca, Andy Stinson, Heather, Phil, Sarah, Joan, Anne, Esther, Emma, Jenny, Jane & David, Carryl, Paul & his wife