Blessed rebirth for Yorkshire church the heavens rained on

Nearly two years after the heavens opened above it, a little church in the Yorkshire Pennines welcomed back its flock today, with the Archbishop of York its shepherd.

PIC: Simon Hulme

It was on Boxing Day in 2015, not long after the annual candlelit carol service, that the rains came to the village of Mytholmroyd, near Halifax.

It was not the only part of the Calder Valley to be closed off that Christmas weekend, but the damage was as bad as anyone could remember. The village post office was submerged by eight feet of water, and the parish church of St Michael by four feet. Outside, the roads turned to streams and the rivers to torrents as water poured off the hillsides and into the town below.

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It has taken until now to make the church habitable again, and yesterday, at a service attended by Archbishop John Sentamu, it was rededicated.

PIC: Simon Hulme

“It has been such a long haul to get to this day,” said the church warden, Eric Alston. “We had to replace floors, replaster the walls, renovate the pews and rebuild the organ.”

But before they could even begin, they had to dry out the 150 year-old interior.

“All the pews were under water, so once it had drained away they all had to be hauled out and into storage so we could bring in the big heaters and dehumidifiers,” Mr Alston said.

“It took about three months before we could honestly say that the building was fit to start putting back together again.

PIC: Simon Hulme

“It was amazing actually how the whole church - the walls, the ceiling - became mildewed. It must have been like a tropical rainforest in there while they were trying to get the damp out.”

Flooding has been a perennial problem in parts of Calderdale, but St Michael’s had not seen any since the 1940s, and only six inches then.

It was the community’s spirit that saved the day, Mr Alston said.

“First of all, the cricket club kindly allowed us to rent some space, so our Sunday services carried on in there for the first winter. Then, the cricket season started and at that point the Catholic Church stepped in and allowed us to hold our service after theirs.

“They were coming out as we were going in. We really did appreciate that.”

After close to £1m of repair work, and with its pipe organ still at the repairers, St Michael’s reopened earlier this autumn and has already hosted two weddings and three baptisms - but yesterday’s service marked its official renewal.

Dr Sentamu said: “In 2015 I saw for myself the effects of flooding when I visited York and Tadcaster, with so many homes hit by the Boxing Day floods.

“I am always encouraged by the tremendous spirit, resolve, and generosity that is shown in communities affected by such hazards.”

Mr Alston, who was spending Christmas with his daughter and was away when the floods came, said: “It’s important to remember that lot of people in the village were in the same position as the church. “Many were waiting for weeks if not months to get back into their homes.”

The village, he said, was still a building site.

“It has recovered as much as anyone can recover from that sort of thing. It’s a long process.”

Yet for the church at least, the rain has brought some comfort for the long term.

“The walls had to be redone but they used lime plaster, which means if it does flood again it won’t be affected as badly,” Mr Alston said. “And with the new heating system, it’s much more pleasant inside than it used to be.”