Methodist Recorder Article
This article is reproduced here by kind permission of The Methodist Recorder from the 'Recorder Travels' section 30th March 2006. © Methodist Recorder 2006. Rev Lisa Quarmby was our Minister at the time.
Hill top church where everybody feels at home
ILLINGWORTH Moor church in the Halifax circuit, West Yorkshire district, is the "very strong beating heart" of the Methodist presence and is said to feel very much like home at the top of an escarpment in the hills three miles from the town centre.
Dramatic change, in the shape of new housing developments, accompanies massive changes made by the church during three or more years. Gone is the awe-inspiring presence of the huge, square Victorian building which stood as a powerful landmark on the hills. Various revisions of schemes had come and gone over nine years.
In its place Illingworth Moor now has the hall, converted at a cost of about £500,000, into a multi-purpose, warm and welcoming church where everyone can feel at home. The worship place reminds people of the colour and greatness of God although its proximity to the secondhand shop and the starkness of the cross taken from the wood of the old building is part of the "earthiness" about Illingworth Moor.
The first anniversary of the new church was recently celebrated and the minister, the Rev Lisa Quarmby, said: "The style of our new building has made such a difference because it is multi-purpose and it is a physically warm place. No one feels uncomfortable when coming into the church.
"We kept the cross simple, plain and ordinary because the cross was not polished up and made comfortable for Jesus. The cross symbolises what God did for us. I think people can understand that earthiness because it is where they are as well."
Illingworth Moor is a growing church which according to the minister "has always had a very strong beating heart" and remains keyed into the neighbouring community.
The hall was destined to be the new church when plans to redevelop both the former church building and the hall had to be scrapped because soaring costs pushed the project out of reach. What might have been a sad time for the church community became instead the turning point and offered a new way forward.
"A massive success story," is how Lisa Quarmby describes the progress since that time. She said the people of the church, instead of being drained and exhausted after years of fundraising, stepped up their efforts. The build cost of £500,000 was a lot of money for an area seen as socially deprived, run-down and difficult because of vandalism.
She said: "This proves that if you remain faithful to the vision it will happen. It has happened here and the local people have kept faith with it. So have the community. They never lost heart and they kept giving."
A secondhand shop was always the mainstay of the church's fundraising. More than £100,000 has been raised through this shop alone and ranks with the big grants from the recognised trusts. Monthly quiz sheets have raised thousands of pounds and welcome sums have been provided by a library group as well as sales of marmalade.
A property development group continues to meet at Illingworth Moor because it still believes it has ongoing business. Money raised through the secondhand shop is now supporting main church mission work. People who might normally never entertain the idea of worship come through the shop into what is known as the "20-20 Vision" service held once a month. While they are in the shop, they will pick up a hymnbook and begin to sing.
"They seem comfortable with this and somehow church seems accessible. They come here to shop or to have a meal and, lo and behold, they are in a service," said the minister.
Dreams and schemes continue to abound. Imagine a church with a launderette and a gym. Lisa Quarmby like to imagine the fresh opportunities for mission through a church with such facilities. A gift-aided £20,000 from an anonymous donor paid for a mini-bus and equipment for a film club. Money is being raised for a remembrance garden and for running the bus.
Lisa Quarmby said the secondhand shop was through the years an example of recycling at its best. Items are sold on a sliding scale from a few pounds down to 50p and some could even end up as beautifully-designed, old-style rag mats.
She said: "When people come in to buy they get a free brew and friendship as well as being able to buy at a low price. Between 40 and 70 people from the neighbourhood come to our Friday luncheon groups and they have a meal for £2.
"There is bingo afterwards and small prizes include vouchers for the shop. This particular Friday a group are being taken to 'Countdown' and they are looking forward to meeting Des Lynam.
"Our shop manager has such a big heart for all the people who come into the building. She is always looking for new ways of helping them to feel they are welcomed as valued and loved members of the family."
Illingworth Moor has more than 70 members. This number is easily doubled by the people taking part in Sunday worship. Numbers of different people coming through the doors every day of the week easily triple the number of church members.
There are about 130 in the youth organisations - Boys' Brigade, Girls' Brigade and youth fellowship. Others meet in fellowship and fitness groups. Three computer courses have been held at the church.
"People are becoming increasingly involved here rather than coming through the door just once. The change is just phenomenal. People who have been coming to the church for years have got to know each other better and among those who come in there are a number who have got to know the Lord Jesus," said the minister.
People who would never have contemplated church membership before are wanting to become members at Illingworth Moor.
There is a "welcome from the front" in terms of pastoral care from the preachers and the minister. There is also this pastoral care from the congregation to such an extent that Lisa Quarmby could say: "The heart of this church would not be lost if the leader was called away tomorrow. It is lovely that this is with the people, as it should be."
The minister said the spirituality of Illingworth Moor was very much in the Celtic style of Christianity in that "everything the people do they do for God."
Although they were unlikely to spiritualise in that way, she said they would say that in whatever they did they were working for the Church.
She said: "When we talk about a 'seamless robe' then Illingworth Moor has been doing this for donkey's years. Everything is given to God. There is no distinction. This is what happens as the heart of the church although some people would not even give themselves the credit for it. They would say they were just getting on with the job."
There is light-hearted talk about the new church ending up with an extension. There remains a lot of land around the church although some has been sold. The church longs to become even more accessible to the community. There are hopes of funding a youth worker with some of the money made available through the shop.
The church could then run a youth club for children in the locality who needed direction and time devoted to them to help turn them around.
Full of enthusiasm and ideas for mission, Lisa Quarmby said: "I would love to have a church where you have food, where there is a need to be fed and fed spiritually, and a gym because people need to have a workout.
"They need to be physically energised as well when you think of the issues of depression, anxiety and stress a lot of people suffer from today. A gym could be a real help and a swimming pool would be important where it was cost-effective and local people found it affordable. This would be a place to get fit, have good food and get to know Jesus at the same time. If anyone has any money to spare I would welcome it."
Freedom and flexibility within the traditional Methodist structure of worship is the style of worship said to suit the easy-going congregation at Illingworth Moor. There are healing services, Taizé-style worship, youth services and café-style services at the church where a young music group, "Hymns and Hers", is helping to lead worship.
"Everybody is learning. The congregation is teaching itself. Not everything is coming from the front," said the minister.
Not content with its own development, Illingworth Moor, like many other churches, has a fine reputation for generous giving. The church also supports some of the Halifax circuit projects such as "Street Angels", which provides caring persons and friendly faces among the club culture and drink and drugs scene of the West Yorkshire town.