In the shadow of Manningham Mills in Bradford, symbol of the city’s prosperous industrial past, lies a hidden treasure. Hidden away amidst the noise and the rush of urban life is St Cuthbert’s R.C. church, a quiet haven which is rich in spiritual heritage and artistic treasures. Embedded in its walls are a collection of beautiful stonework Stations of the Cross, sculpted and gifted to the church by the world-renowned Eric Gill.
On 29th November a group of 22 Christians from Leeds and Bradford gathered at St Cuthbert’s for an urban quiet day. Instead of retreating into the countryside to find God in the midst of his creation, they came to look for him in the heart of the city.
The Stations were the main focus of their reflections: a strange spiritual exercise for the start of the Advent season. Yet as the day progressed the fullness of the salvation story was played out, with the Incarnation of Christ reaching fulfilment in his Passion and Death, and the joy of Resurrection and Ascension offering up the Advent hope of new heavens and new earth.
Aided by some written resources, participants were able to reflect on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ journey to Golgotha and beyond. They were encouraged to use their imaginations to look beyond the Bible stories into the experiences of those who were there as witnesses. There was opportunity for them to focus on their own life and journey with God, and to pray for others.
As well as the Stations, other artworks caught the imagination: the lovely Leonard Walker stained glass windows; the figure of Mary depicted as a Bradford mill girl; a statue of Joseph carrying the baby Jesus. One participant commented on how he had never seen Joseph as a step father, yet in a sense he was just that. He found himself thinking about friends he had who shared that same status, and the difficulties they face.
Another said that as she looked at Mary, she noticed the design of the window beyond, which reminded her of bobbin ends. She found herself reflecting on the value of work and productive employment: a call to prayer during times of economic challenge and rising worklessness.
Each person who attended is engaged in one way or another in urban life and work. Some work in community or youth projects. Others were ‘ordinary’ Christians who belong to urban churches. In the midst of their busy lives, this quiet day was an opportunity to remain in the city and yet come apart to find peace and renewal. It brought affirmation that they are part of his story: God remains with them just where they are. As Zechariah assures us, the Lord is still in the city.
Ruth Smith, a Community Mission Advisor for Livability in Leeds
[Acknowledgment and thanks to Fr. Eamon who allowed us to use the church and church hall for this day]