Town centre events to mark 27 years of Harrogate ministry

Canon Tony ShepherdLong serving Harrogate vicar, Tony Shepherd, retires

Special events and tributes are being planned in Harrogate this weekend (June 13/14) as the Vicar of St Peter’s in the town centre, the Revd  Canon Tony Shepherd,  retires after no less than 27 years in the post.

In that time, St Peter’s an iconic landmark in the centre of Harrogate has been transformed from a blackened, decaying, rubbish filled church building, threatened with demolition to make way for more shops and tiny congregation to a thriving town centre church with glass fronted entrances, new meeting rooms and one of the largest congregations in the diocese.

Tributes have been paid to Tony's ministry. The Bishop of Ripon, the Rt Revd James Bell said, "Tony's remarkable ministry has resulted in the complete renewal of St. Peter's. It is now a vibrant church with several congregations and a hugely significant role at the heart of Harrogate. His gift of knowing and naming each person and releasing their own gifts for building up the church has generated the vision for the transformation of the building in service of God's mission. His contribution to the wider diocese not least as Chair of the House of Clergy and Canon of Ripon Cathedral has been significant for our sense of direction and confidence. Thank God for a good friend and great servant of the Church of England!"

Tony was ordained a deacon after leaving Westcott House in Cambridge in 1974 and served his curacy in Folkestone before coming to Ripon in 1979 as the Bishop’s Chaplain and Diocesan Communications Officer from 1979 to 87.

St Peter’s Church at the time was in dire straits. “We didn’t know at the time just how bad things were” writes his wife Anne, “but knew it was possibly going to be closed, sold and knocked down with a commercial building being built in its place ….Fortunately planning permission was not forthcoming. So it needed a new Vicar.”

Tony and Ann with their children Judy and David moved to Harrogate in the autumn of 1987 to take on the role and over the years the church has developed and grown. During that time Tony was for many years chaplain to the Mayor of Harrogate, Chair of the Ripon and Leeds House of Clergy, an honorary canon at Ripon Cathedral and an Honorary Chaplain to the Queen. 

Curate, Revd Richard Nolan, spoke for many. “Tony is a truly inspirational leader, mentor and guide… He is a true gentleman of the utmost integrity, an inspiring role model and a good friend who will be greatly missed.”

Interim Minister, the Revd Tim Hurren said, “Many involved in the church and town today are blissfully unaware that just before [Tony] arrived there was a real possibility that Marks and Spencer (then our immediate neighbour) were seeking to expand. Furthermore the diocesan authorities were seriously contemplating selling the land, as church life was at a very low ebb in those days.”

To say farewell and thank-you to Tony and Ann, the church is holding a weekend of celebrations this weekend, June 13 and 14  - there will be an evening of entertainment and fun at St Peter’s on Saturday night, and a a Faith lunch on Sunday.  To coincide with the weekend of celebrations there will be a display of photographs showing A Year in the Life of St Peter’s.  The display will be shown from 11 – 20 June.

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