Autumn is well and truly here! Yes! Haughton and Hurworth village greens are lined with gorgeous trees, which at this time of year are turning the most beautiful colours of yellow, orange, red and brown. If you’re in the area, do go by and check them out, they are stunning! I was there this past weekend visiting the churches in both villages, as part of my Darlington CMS (Church Mission Society) Link Churches Visit, and it was wonderful to see so many amazing autumn colours! 🍂🍂🍂
Haughton, or more correctly, Haughton-le-Skerne is officially a village, now part of Darlington, though still on the outskirts of the vast sprawling industrial town. The main street and area around St. Andrew’s, Darlington’s oldest church (c.1125) still manages to retain a little of the charm of an old English village, while Hurworth, or more correctly Hurworth-on-Tees, is further away from Darlington’s urban sprawl, and has kept its village identity intact, slowly meandering itself along the northern bank of the River Tees, the border between Co. Durham and N. Yorkshire. Whether it’s the edge of the town or the edge of the county, or even the edge of the diocese, being on the geographical ‘edge’ is part of their identity, because location is everything, whether you’re in Darlington – or Taiwan. Location affects everything ~ and going to the ‘edges’ is something I talk about in my PowerPoints and sermons, based on the CMS vision of ‘With Jesus, with each other, to the edges’. Yes!
There’s lots going on in Darlington these days, the Treasury is building new offices in town, Amazon has a big warehouse, EE employs thousands – and if you’ve seen the new film, The Lost King, based on the true story of the search for Richard III under a carpark in Leicester, the main character Philippa Langley grew up in Darlington, and went to Hummersknott School. There are new housing estates springing up all over, 250 new houses going up in Hurworth alone, and hundreds more in the surrounding area. The challenge is reaching out to all these new people and finding ways to welcome them into the churches. Mission and outreach is something both these churches do really well, and that includes supporting CMS ~ and me. St. Andrew’s Church, Haughton-le-Skerne and All Saints Church, Hurworth have both been supporting me for years, decades in fact, all the way back, several-vicars-ago, to 1990.
The Rev. Mark East, current vicar of St. Andrew’s, Haughton, kindly organized this link church visit weekend, and reached out hoping to include all my other Darlington link churches too, that is St. Michael’s Church, Heighington, St. Matthew and St. Luke’s Church, Brinkburn Road, All Saints Church, Hurworth, as well as St. Andrew’s Haughton, which includes Sadberge, another link church that was originally completely separate. In the end, what with the pandemic, financial pressures on local churches and with Hurworth being in an interregnum, so I decided to visit Heighington informally next week, and this weekend we just focused on visiting Haughton and Hurworth. On Saturday evening, I was at Haughton, and then stayed overnight in Hurworth and spent Sunday morning at Hurworth Church followed by a shared lunch there. We certainly packed a lot into a short time!
So, first to Haughton-le-Skerne…..
On Saturday, St. Andrew’s Church, Haughton had a Taiwanese evening with lots of delicious Chinese home-cooked food. It was really special, and all prepared by a very cheerful team led by Muriel and Pam, who had been cooking all day. Thank you, ladies! This is Mark, Pam, Muriel and me….
They had done something similar on my last visit to Haughton in 2018 (see that post here, and for my visit in 2015, see this post here – check out the photos, nobody looks any older, of course!) We were all encouraged to wear traditional Chinese colours of red and gold, the tables were decorated in the same colours, and each person had their own chopsticks too. I shared my PowerPoint before the meal started, and then off we went. I had many interesting conversations, and heard stories of life on the edges, from those suffering with long Covid, of broken families, of those struggling to find work, of how the youth and children’s ministry at St. Andrew’s hasn’t really got going again since the pandemic, and how they’re hoping to restart it soon, the St. Andrew’s foodbank, and the Alpha course which is bringing a steady stream of newcomers to the church. Several people there had only just been confirmed the previous week, as a result of that Alpha course, it’s clearly helping a lot of people. There were lots of interesting people to meet! I had invited Naomi, one of my former youth group members from Heighington who lives nearby, and she sat with Judith and Ken. It was Judith’s mother, Jean Robson who was the faithful leader of the Darlington CMS group for years and years, until her death in her mid-90’s a few years ago.
Ah, it was a fantastic evening, thank you everyone!
And so to Hurworth…
All Saints, Hurworth is quite an amazing church, given the circumstances. Many churches that endure long interregnums kind of give up, or just move into survival mode until a new vicar comes along. But not Hurworth. Despite (or maybe even because of?!) years of uncertainty about the future, and in a pandemic too, they seem to be thriving. Nobody in the congregation I talked to even mentioned that they lacked a vicar, they are so used to running everything themselves. They have a talented and committed group of lay leaders – everyone is doing something and doing it really well. Paul, the official lay reader couldn’t be there, so John led the service, and in the afternoon, there was to be a baptism, led by Jill, in charge of baptisms. Special thanks to Julia, Hurworth’s only churchwarden, bravely taking on all that responsibility for a church where many of the congregation are at least a generation older than her. Not many would willingly volunteer for such a post! And she runs the zoom streaming as well, and everyone appreciates how her whole family are there each week, serving in the church. This is Julia with some of the oldest and youngest members of All Saints Church!
Thanks also to Pat who welcomed me to stay overnight, her husband Alan was one of the Darlington CMS group for many years, he died a few months ago. He used to write regularly and let me know all the news of Hurworth, so he is much missed. I had last stayed with them in 2002! Photos from my previous visits include Alan (for those blog posts, see here for 2019 and here for 2015), the only people who look any different are the children who have definitely grown bigger! This is Pat and Pat, one Pat I stayed with, and the other Pat is the wife of John who led the service, they were doing the coffee. Everyone’s doing something!
On my previous visits, the congregation had told me all about their renewable energy project, and how they were raising funds to buy a biomass boiler, which is now all installed and up and running. The church is really warm and welcoming as a result. The boiler is discreetly installed round the back of the church, and is controlled from the home of one of the church members on his iPad. It runs on wood pellets which come from forestry plantations, and I was told that it has now cut heating costs by half. The Ukraine war has resulted in an energy crisis, and with so many churches – and families – worried about increased heating costs, this has proved to be a wonderful investment.
We had a lovely morning service led by John, with a robed choir, organ, hymns, readings, prayers, Sunday School, lunch, coffee and much more. You might expect the congregation to be few in number, but in fact that’s not so. The church is quite dark, with the back part under a low roof, so from the front, it seems as if there aren’t many people, but then from the back, wow, it’s surprising to see so many people. Everyone cooperates and joins in, even if they can’t actually attend the service – so although Simon wrote the prayers, he couldn’t be there to lead them and someone else took his place. Simon’s mother was at Sedbergh a few weeks ago on my church visit there, so I had to visit him and his wife and say hello, and so we sat in his garden for a socially-distanced cup of tea. His prayers were extremely comprehensive, covering all areas of the world and all aspects of life, which is quite a challenge given the current political upheaval. Yes, everywhere I went this past weekend the main topic of conversation has of course been the resignation of Liz Truss as British prime minister after only 45 days in No. 10. I can hardly keep up with what’s going on, the day I returned to the UK from Taiwan, July 7 was the day Boris Johnson resigned, and now we’re about to have a change again. Quite a few people in Darlington told me how they liked Boris, ‘because he gets things done’, while just over the border in N. Yorkshire is the Richmond constituency where Rishi Sunak is MP, and now about to become the new prime minister. The other news of course is always the pandemic – everyone has their own personal experiences to share, and many people are very interested in Taiwan’s success in how they are managing the pandemic so far. Anyway, back to Hurworth photos….
The journey to Darlington from the Lake District involves driving across the wet and windy Pennines on the A66, where the speed limit is 40 due to roadworks, and the best place to stop on the way is Mainsgill Farm, where there are lots of animals to say hello to. The place was full of people, shopping and eating, it really is a popular place. Here are their cows and goats, there’s camels, donkeys and horses too, you must go and see them!
So, a very very big thank you to all of you in Haughton and Hurworth for such a warm welcome this past weekend, plus other friends who I called in and visited too. You’re all doing such great work, running churches, reaching out to the community, supporting those facing hardship, praying for the world, concerned for our country and leaders, serving others and drawing people into the Kingdom of God. YES!