Festive reflection with Canon Hilary Barber, vicar of Halifax Minster

Canon Hilary Barber
Canon Hilary Barber

Where has 2016 gone - it seems only but a few weeks since it was last Christmas? Yet so much has indeed happened: the EU Referendum; the resignation of David Cameron as our Prime Minister, and the appointment of Theresa May as Prime Minister and her Government; the election of Donald Trump as President elect of the United States of America; the terrible suffering of people and communities in Syria, the Yemen, and Afghanistan; the continued population migration from the Middle East to Europe, as people leave their home and country in fear of their lives and in search of security and peace; the impact of austerity on our nation and the suffering it has brought to thousands of people on low incomes; the recent revelations concerning sport and safeguarding; the terrible floods in the Calder Valley and elsewhere; all of which seems to have dominated the news for weeks and months.

In Halifax there too has been much activity, with a huge amount of capital investment coming into the town: the Cornerstone Project at The Square Chapel; the renewal of The Princess Building as the offices for the council; the new library; the plans to bring down Northgate House and the old library, making way for a new retail offer in the town; the planned new bus/rail terminal at the railway station; the regional transport money to re-design the roads coming into the town, and around the town centre; the preparation of the Cripplegate site for hopefully mixed usage including some housing, where the old gas works used to be; the vote by retailers in October for the creation of the Halifax Business Improvement District; and the icing on the cake, the reopening of The Piece Hall in the summer of 2017. Given the vulnerability of the national economy, it’s extraordinary that Halifax is seeing so much investment, and certainly something we should celebrate and get behind.

At the Minster this year, we have carried out a major repair to the floor at the front of the Nave. The old flag stones were introduced by Sir Gilbert Scott in the 1878 reordering, and were already frost damaged having been outside in the churchyard for probably 100 years or so. The dais or stage that had been introduced in the late 1970s and made out of chip board was now worn out. So we’ve tried to keep the old stone flags that were usable and recyclable, and Marshalls did us proud with some new stone, which has blended in beautifully with the old. We’ve also introduced a new English octagonal dais, which has improved our worship significantly, and provides a useful platform for other users of the Minster.

This month we’re expecting some 12,000 people through the Minster in the build up to Christmas. It’s a magical time of the year when the story of how God became a human being in the person of Jesus is told year after year. Because parts of the Minster are some 900 years old, it seems extraordinary that so many generations have annually made the journey to the Minster at this time of the year. Schools, banks, Rotary, the hospice, real donkeys, brass bands, they all come to offer their thanks and praise.

Before we know it, Christmas will have come and gone, and we’ll be looking at the New Year coming in. What will 2017 bring for you, for the people of Halifax, for our nation and the world? Some things we have no control over, other things we do. My hope and prayer is that, together, we can make the world a kinder place, in which to nurture and inspire children and young people, a place where communities can live happily side by side, and where people can grow old together, with security and hope that will support them to the end of lives. And where better to create that place of hope for the future than right here in Halifax?