10 April, 2014 Lewis Allen
Hope Church Huddersfield was planted in 2011. Providence Baptist Church Slaithwaite was planted in 1811. We have no building; they have a beautiful building, nearly two centuries old. We’re a growing congregation, they’ve declined and been near-static for a long while. What do the two churches have in common? As Bible-believing Christians, in a word, we have everything in common.
For two hundred years Providence has been a bastion of Calvinistic Baptist life and witness. But even bastions can start to crumble, and need repair. And the Lord of the Church has done something quite unexpected in giving us an opportunity to partner with Providence for the Gospel.
For as long as we’ve been in existence at Hope we’ve had a burden to serve the town and wider area, be that in church planting or revitalisation. We’ve identified the two valleys which stretch west and south out of the town, the Colne and Holme valleys respectively. These valleys are quite densely populated, and are lacking in strong, Gospel-teaching and sharing ministries. Christians mostly come into Huddersfield churches, leaving the valleys lacking in vibrant, local witness. We wanted to be involved in reversing some of that tide, and have been praying – in our prayer meetings as well as on Sundays – that the Lord would move, and even use us, a fledgling church. Now He is moving, and we are delighted.
Slaithwaite is midway down the Colne Valley, a village of 5000, and five miles out of Huddersfield in a valley of around 20,000. Churches have struggled here for decades, and church attendance is very small. This is ‘deep Yorkshire’, where people love the place where they live; they are rightly proud of it in this socially mixed community, and a few particular surnames are still very much in evidence. And I love the Colne Valley. It’s stunningly beautiful with the Pennine hills all around, and, as one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution, it’s full of history, and has a very unique sense of place. With its transport links to Leeds, Manchester and elsewhere, the valley is slowly changing with ‘comers-in’ buying pretty stone cottages. New or established, all of those who live in the valley need the Gospel.
I’ve been involved in a care-giving relationship with Providence with two other local Pastors, John Harris from Mirfield and Mick Lockwood of Haworth, for about eighteen months. Providence has had its struggles, and numbers are low, with an average Sunday turnout at its two services at around a dozen each service (sometimes fewer), and just a handful of members. Last June their Pastor of 34 years, David Elliott, went to glory, leaving this little group deep in grief and rightly apprehensive about the future. Mick, John and I have been preaching and getting to know the good folks at Providence, and for well over a year we’ve been thinking with them about how to go ahead into the future. In our prayers and conversations we’ve had a conviction taking shape that we need to formalise a partnership of Providence with Hope. And in God’s wonderful grace, this is what we’re taking ahead. The Providence and Hope members have all emphatically indicated that we feel this is the Lord’s will. On the 1st Feb we formally began the partnership.
We have been clear in our intentions. We’re a small, young church at Hope. We’ve not got the resources or energy to keep struggling churches open for the sake of it. We had to turn down the approach of another local church a few months back with just the same request. With Providence, we feel that the Lord has privileged us with helping a church go ahead into a Gospel future – not just for itself, but for the village and the whole valley in which it’s so strategically placed. The members of Providence are a terrific group. Our preachers love preaching there, they love God’s Word, and we always have a great time of fellowship together. We’re not supporting a nostalgia ministry, either. Providence’s worship style has treasured the rich theological history and worship of Calvinistic Baptists. We’re one with them in their theology. And we’ll be discussing how they can express this life-changing Gospel truth so that they can grow in it and so that unbelievers can come to grasp it for themselves.
So, step up Graham Thomson, our Assistant Pastor. He comes from Huddersfield, and spent some years growing up in the valley, no less! As such he’s got the passport, which is no small thing when building bridges in Slaithwaite and beyond. The more Graham’s been preaching at Providence, the more the folks there have come to respect, trust and love him. As the part-time Pastor at Providence, Graham is keeping his focus at Hope, but is now also working one day a week for the church, in addition to Sunday ministry, for eighteen months (the remaining length of his contract with us). The focus of his work is encouraging and supporting the people at Providence, but also in building contacts in Slaithwaite and doing evangelism there. Providence are providing a generous salary contribution for Graham’s labours.
What do we hope to achieve in just eighteen months? We want to see Providence encouraged in the Gospel, and increasingly equipped themselves to bring the Gospel to the village. Of course, we want to see people in the village hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and, Lord-willing, being saved. We want to see perceptions about the chapel being challenged, and we want to see new faces coming to the chapel’s services.
This takes hard work. It takes hard work from Graham and his wife, Dawn. It takes hard work from the Providence members, as they work through how to attract and welcome newcomers, and how to reach out with the Gospel. And it takes commitment from the Hope members, as we show our support, pray seriously and get involved. Will it succeed, or fail? Will Providence have a future beyond this partnership? We pray, and we will do all that we can, in order to ensure that the Gospel bears fruit and grows (Colossians 1.6). Yes, we know that this is the work which God the Holy Spirit alone can achieve. But we know too, that He almost never works alone, but uses those who pray and work so as to be used.