175 years ago, on 19th June 1843, Charles Thomas Longley, Lord Bishop of Ripon, held a service to consecrate the Church or Chapel of St Mary the Blessed Virgin, Burley-in-Wharfedale. The Church had cost an estimated £1,774 and the regular congregation was around 150 in the morning and 250 in the afternoon, which was approximately 20% of the village population at that time.
Many people in our community have been blessed by the presence of St Mary’s as the Parish Church of Burley. Six or seven generations of inhabitants have been baptised or married there. Today I have led a service to say goodbye to a 95-year-old inhabitant of Burley; one of literally thousands of people who have had their funeral services in the Church. These days, in a culture where our connection to Church is more limited, we still get almost 1000 people in Church on Christmas Eve; it is a sacred moment. For the last 175 years St Mary’s has been a vital part of the life of
Psychologists talk of warm and cold memories. Our lives are filled with both, but warm memories are the ones where just the scent of a flower or hearing a piece of music takes you back to a significant moment. Memories connect us to special events and people of the past, but memory also serves to help us learn from the past and be transformed. It is only as we reflect on situations that we can seek to change the way we will react to the same stimulus if it were to happen again. Otherwise life merely becomes a re-enactment of the same situations over and over again, cleverly depicted in the film classic Groundhog Day.
The Bible, as God’s word to us, reminds us of Gods faithfulness in the past. When we are in the midst of crisis we often need to remember how God walked alongside us in times past, which gives us faith and hope that he will continue to do so in the present and future. We easily forget God’s presence and the result is self-reliance, which ultimately moves us further and further from God’s loving embrace.
I would love many from the village to celebrate with us at St Mary’s in the coming month. The Parish Church is your Church. Come and dance the evening away at a family ceilidh at the Queen’s Hall on 23rd June and join us for worship on the 24th June. We will be joined by the Bishop of Leeds, Rt Rev’d Nick Baines, who will preach and there will be a bouncy castle and a BBQ afterwards.
One of the things we would like to do to commemorate 175 years of St Mary’s is to ask the whole community to look through their photo albums and wardrobes for items that link us to our past. If you have photographs of the Church Choir or your baptism or wedding, Sunday school outings, Whitsuntide walks etc., or If you have an old baptismal gown or wedding dress that was worn decades ago, then we would love to create a collection, a community memory that will go on display during festival week.
As we celebrate and remember the past, I pray that this anniversary will inspire us to enthusiastically face the future, continuing to be a sacred, serving peaceful and dare-I-say-it, transcendent place in our community.
This is a historic moment for St Mary’s, but it is also a historic moment for the village. Come and be part of it. Let’s celebrate!