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rural ministry

Festivals and evangelism in the valleys of West Yorkshire


art of my work as a Methodist Minister in West Yorkshire is to serve in two rural villages in the Colne Valley. Slaithwaite and Marsden are positioned on the edge of the Pennines. In those villages the festivals, which play an important part in village life, are becoming an aid to evangelism for the church. As well as the celebration of the main Christian festivals, there is the Moonraker Festival in Slaithwaite and the Jazz and Cuckoo Festivals in Marsden

The Jazz Festival takes place in October (7-9 October in 2005). Jazz enthusiasts converge on Marsden for concerts in pubs, clubs and in the open air. Keen to join in the festivities, the church opens its doors throughout the weekend, and on the Sunday morning jazz musicians help lead the worship. Last year 160 people came to the service.

The village of Slaithwaite celebrates Moonraking at February half term with a huge procession of home made lanterns (nearly 200 this year) around the village. After the procession everyone meets down by the canal when a ‘moon’ is ceremonially raked from it. Last year the theme was pantomime and the youngsters of the Methodist Church joined in the procession with a huge Aladdin’s lamp promoting love, joy and peace as they ‘Shone for Jesus’. This year their lantern was the Christian symbol of a huge fish. In order to strengthen community links the church holds a “Celebration of Moonraking” service and village groups are encouraged to participate.

There is a legend connected to the Marsden Cuckoo. Apparently villagers once tried to hold on to the cuckoo as a sign of spring, by building a tower round it. Of course the cuckoo escaped, but on Cuckoo Day the village still celebrates the legend with the streets full of clowns, jugglers, dancers and musicians. Last year the church opened its doors fully for the first time by holding a flower festival in church which was sponsored by a variety of local businesses. Keen to receive from the community as well as give to it, this year maypole dancers joined in the celebration service on 24 April by dancing in the church car park and hall as an integral part of worship.

20 Musicians from the jazz festival help lead worship

Some may question whether the church should join with community in such a way but I suggest it is scriptural. If as Christians we are charged with tending Jesus’ lambs and sheep (John 21:15-18) this must involve cultural work. In fact Newbiggin in his book Culture and Theology says that there is no such thing as ‘culture-neutral’ ministry. Michael Green in Evangelism in the Early Church points out that meetings of various sorts and personal conversations between individuals played a very prominent part in the progress of the gospel in early Christendom. Certainly the early Christian church drew from the Jewish Festivals such as the Festival of Light adapting the imagery to illustrate Jesus as ‘The Light of the World’ (John 8:12).

I suggest that God is already at work in our rural communities and that our Christian calling is to assist in the mission of God wherever there is an opportunity. One of these ways is through the celebration of festivals. 

Revd Sue Pegg Colne Valley, West Yorkshire

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