Canon Hilary Barber: How churches are embracing the Tour de Yorkshire and its unity

Halifax's Minster and Piece Hall will provide the backdrop to Tour de Yorkshire cyclists like Mark Cavendish when they start stage four on Sunday.
Halifax's Minster and Piece Hall will provide the backdrop to Tour de Yorkshire cyclists like Mark Cavendish when they start stage four on Sunday.
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WHEELS are turning and we’re all gearing up for another Tour de Yorkshire Festival.

Cyclists will compete across the region from Richmond to Barnsley, from Beverley to Halifax, with everyone ending up in the city of Leeds.

Come rain or shine, folk will be out in full force to enjoy the spectacular event, roads will 
be mended, the bunting hung high and thoughts of Brexit 
and the local elections firmly locked away.

The Tour celebrates not only the geography of Yorkshire, be it hill or dale, but also its great heritage, such as the two Minster towns of Beverley and Halifax which both host start days and are located in the old East and West Ridings respectively.

Beverley boasts not only the Minster but also a fine parish church in St Mary’s.

Halifax too has its Benedictine Minster, with the start of Sunday’s race nearby at the newly-revamped Piece Hall.

The Tour encourages all of us to get behind the race, either on the television or more importantly to get outdoors and cheer those taking part.

Easter joy has brought an end to winter, and as the resurrected sun climbs higher and the trees blossom and we can all come out of hibernation and embrace the strong Yorkshire air.

Churches across the Anglican Diocese of Leeds will open their doors to join in the cycling celebration.

Refreshments and toilets for visitors, prayers for the cyclists and bells will ring out.

The Tour brings communities together, as they reach out to welcome and offer hospitality to the visitor.

This is what churches do so well for their communities, providing community spaces where everyone can gather for significant occasions, be it in the lives of individuals or, on this occasion, to show the world that Yorkshire is the place to be, and that the churches across the region are alive and outward looking.

A 10th century tombstone in the ancient Minster of Halifax with a pair of croppers’ shears shows us that the weaving trade was already commonplace by then. The Piece Hall was built in 1779 as the place to sell your wares, and remains the only cloth market in Europe to have survived.

Many Northern towns on the M62 corridor pulled down their heritage buildings, but Halifax has managed to retain many fine buildings, including the Town Hall (Charles Barry), the Borough Market, the Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, and the newly reopened Industrial Museum, located next to the New Library, with a wow factor that incorporates glass and heritage.

Eureka, the National Children’s Museum, is a must for families and the Minster sits close to the railway station and the Piece Hall.

St Benedict, whose community founded the Minster, inspired his followers to embrace hospitality as if they were welcoming Christ himself into their homes and it is open all year round to visitors – especially over the Bank Holiday weekend.

Its friends will be providing refreshments for everyone, guided tours of the Minster promoted through the visitors’ centre in the New Library and an organ recital by Yorkshire’s own Dr Simon Lindley on Monday afternoon.

Halifax Minster simply reflects all the activity of Church communities across our huge diocese as we lift up our hearts and celebrate all that’s good in our local communities.

Events like the Tour gladden the heart.

Life has been tough for so many people this year: with Universal Credit hurting many vulnerable families, food banks growing in number for those in need and the nation still divided by the Brexit referendum.

It’s been a bleak winter with emergency services and gritters working through the night to keep roads open and rescuing people.

Many people are struggling under the weight of debt and facing crippling interest payments from loan sharks.

Others wait for surgery as 
the NHS wobbles through the heavy weight of demand, the inequality gap continues to widen, leaving those who seem to have everything and others who have so little in comparison.

But sport is a wonderful way of bringing different communities together, and provides us with signs of hope in the same way Churches across the region do so week by week and day by day.

Many great sporting fixtures begin with the singing of hymns, gathering everyone together into a common humanity.

For Christians, their whole life is a race, looking to Jesus who is the pioneer of their faith. Somehow sport and religion seem not to compete on this occasion, as they do most Sundays, but maybe find a commonality and sharing of aspirations and potential.

Let’s hope the Tour de Yorkshire will be the tonic we’ve all been longing for and that blessings abound throughout God’s own county.

Canon Hilary Barber is the vicar 
of Halifax Minster.