Church Army - November December 2010 - Mike Smithers

Mike Smithers, a Church Army Team Missioner in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, tells how this supposedly ‘sleepy’ village (home to BBC's Last of the Summer Wine) is waking up to the Gospel

I am on attachment to a Ministry Team in West Yorkshire. My ‘patch’ is around 10 miles long, six miles wide and takes in the eight churches that make up a large united benefice of the Upper Holme Valley Team Ministry.

Because I cover such a large geographical area, my work is quite varied. A typical week sees me engaging with people of all ages.

This can include working in the Religious, Personal and Social Education department at the local high school, being part of the adult team that help pupils learn horticultural skills in the school’s organic garden, or teaching young people how to ride off-road motorcycles at the after-school bike club. 

Alternatively, I might be working alongside older people to help deliver a craft and lunch club to their peers, or as part of the stewarding team welcoming tourists as they take a look around Holmfirth Parish Church during their Last of the Summer Wine visit.

I could be enabling a church congregation to engage in a community survey to assess what local people really need – not what we think they do. I could be working late at night reaching out to weekend revellers in town, or be found preaching at various services in the team members' churches. 

Contrary to its decades-long TV image, it’s not all wrinkled stockings and pensioners' antics in the Holme Valley! Come Friday night, Holmfirth town centre gets as busy as any other, with people keen to let their hair down after a long week at work.

Since my arrival in the Valley, the church has been playing a central role in the town’s night-time economy too. 

The nationwide Hope 08 initiative helped to raise up a group of like-minded people from Valley congregations who wanted to do something to bless the local community.

As a result, every Friday night a group of volunteers drawn from local churches spend time engaging with those who visit the town – offering free hot drinks to revellers between 10pm and midnight.

Many people take advantage of this act of unconditional service. They’re often surprised to find out that the initiative is church-based. People appreciate the fact that the church is out on the street and frequently go on to ask faith questions.

Local residents and police have said they've noticed a marked decrease in antisocial behaviour in the town centre since we’ve been out on the street.

The area where the team serve people is now recognised by many as a safe haven if the events of the evening have got out of hand, or they need a quiet space just to collect their thoughts.  

Recently, a young man who had left school earlier this summer arrived at the Friday Night Project table with some friends. Whilst waiting for his drink to be made, we got into a conversation.

As we chatted, he mentioned my role at the high school. He said that he had approached this, his final year, with trepidation, worried about exams and what people would think of him if he didn’t get the results expected.

A couple of months into the autumn term the Team Rector and I hosted a week of assemblies focusing on self-esteem. The main message of the presentations was that no matter what happens in your life, you are a special person and are loved for who you are by God.

The young man commented that what I'd said had helped him to get things in perspective. It enabled him to progress through his final year knowing that whatever happened he was greatly valued.

His parting comment as he left the table that night was: “Carry on doing what it is you do – it’s made such a difference to me and I know it will do the same for others.”

Jesus calls each of us to be salt and light in our communities. "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6).

My hope is that just as salt helps to bring out the best flavours in food, so I am helping to bring out the best in those I’m relating to – and working alongside – here in the Valley.

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