District Chair

Welcome to the West Yorkshire District of the Methodist Church.

In this Methodist District you will find dales country in the north, coal measures in the south, the spine of the Pennines in the west and rivers running through our area whose names and presence give our valleys and towns their character. Rivers evocative of this place, such as the Wharfe, Calder and Colne flow along our valleys. Canals built for the industrial revolution now offer leisure opportunities for our people. Passes through the hills such as the Aire Gap and places where valleys meet are where our towns and cities have grown.

This is still an area of manufacturing. Some of our traditional industries have declined but we have seen the growth of service industries, not least in the financial sector and smaller companies of all kinds changing the nature of employment radically. We are a tourist area offering some beautiful and varied countryside, rich in history and more recently visitor opportunities encouraged by film and television.

The life of the Pennine part of our area before the industrial revolution tended to be on the hillsides and not in the valleys. The area is criss-crossed by packhorse trails and trade routes from those days. Some of these routes were walked by the early Methodist preachers as they evangelised and planted chapel communities. Water and steam power brought new valley settlements for factory workers and with it rural depopulation. This led to an enormous expansion in chapel buildings. Ours has been an area to which people came for work for many generations. At first they came from the surrounding hills, then from other parts of Britain and Ireland and more recently from all over the world.

West Yorkshire is Methodist heartland. Within our boundaries the first Circuit Meeting ever was held. Here 'Chapel Culture' held sway for several generations. Civic leadership, Christian industrial entrepreneurs and social caring flowed from the energy and commitment of the Free Church people. Men like Titus Salt whose model industrial village at Saltaire is a lasting memorial to 'Capitalism with a Christian face' truly remarkable for its time. Our large buildings were the centres of their communities.

We now live in a very different world. Many of the mills have gone but Methodism is still here seeking to minister in this very different environment. We have gone a long way towards solving the building problems posed by changing needs and expectations. Most of the churches with large galleries have gone and we have fewer buildings but we are still at the heart of many of our communities. We are working with each other and Christians of other traditions, moving from maintenance to mission. We are rediscovering what it means to be a discipleship movement. We have begun once again to take evangelism seriously recognising that many in our communities are two or three generations away from any teaching about the Christian faith. We are conscious that God's Mission goes on in every place. We need to be brave enough to leave the shelter of our buildings and join God's Spirit at work around us.

Ours is a multicultural and multiracial place. Here we have the opportunity of creating harmony and human community across cultures and faiths. This area can become a beacon of light for inclusive living in a world where exclusion has caused so many wars and deaths in the century just ended. We are learning, sometimes painfully, how people of many faiths can co-operate together. We have much to share with our communities. The most dangerous trend in our society is total secularism or a place where personal and public life stands on no values or standards whatsoever.

Our Church looks to Christ who calls us forward into his world of tomorrow. God's Spirit is with us and will lead and sustain us.

To God be the glory.

Grace and Peace

Roger Walton

Chair of District, West Yorkshire