Farming chaplaincy seen at close quarters by Bishop Helen-Ann

Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley, the Bishop of Ripon, has been seeing the work of farm chaplaincy at close quarters, visiting Leyburn Auction Mart, meeting farmers and auctioneers and even entering the auction ring to see the animals for herself.

Leyburn is one of ten Chaplaincies across the region established by the Farming Community Network.  “The Chaplaincies involve small teams of lay and ordained from the local church who attend the Marts on a weekly basis to listen to the farmers who are having to cope with high levels of stress”, says Canon Michael Hepper, Area Dean of Wensley, who along with Revd Chris Lawton is a local chaplain  and showed Bishop Helen-Ann around.

“It was lovely to have Bishop Helen-Ann with us at last Friday’s Auction Mart in Leyburn”, he added. “We were able to do a tour of the site, beginning with the loading area where the young calves are brought in for sale.  The Bishop was able to talk to the Auctioneer as well as meet some of the farmers and hear their stories.  She witnessed the judging of the Ewes with their lambs and had the opportunity to enter one of the rings during the calf sales.”

As part of getting to know the large Ripon Episcopal Area better, Bishop Helen-Ann has been  meeting a wide range of people, businesses and  institutions across the region.

“It was excellent to spend time with Michael and Chris at the Leyburn Auction Mart”, she said. “I had wanted to do this for some time, recognising that the Marts are key places where farmers gather, and that far more goes on at the gatherings than the trading and judging of animals.  

“It was obvious to me how highly regarded Michael and Chris are, and how important their chaplaincy role is.  We have many clergy in the Ripon Area that are chaplains to Auction Marts, and this is something that needs to be recognised and celebrated.  This is the mission of God in action!”

Canon Michael explained about the process for helping farmers. “If farmers are found to be in difficulty they are referred to the Farming Community Network helpline. 

“There are all kinds of pressures including death, disease and disasters, not least poor weather conditions.   The very wet Spring has affected the number of lambs surviving and the price of lamb has risen as a result.  The wet weather has also caused shortages of hay, silage and straw. 

“The Royal Benevolent Institute has made record levels of grants in the North to support farmers in difficulty, especially those who are  having to borrow money to feed their livestock.”

One issue facing farmers, says Bishop Helen-Ann , is the uncertainty of Brexit. “Farming faces many challenges at this time, particularly in the light of the uncertainties around Brexit.  Of course many of our farming communities voted for Brexit, but the conversations I had last Friday suggest that they did so (like so many) under false pretences.  

“The reality is far more unsettling than they had thought it would be.  But regardless of the political narratives on both sides of the debate, we are called first and foremost to be bearers of hope.  That is at the heart of the Christian Gospel, and that is the message that we should be holding firmly to as we navigate our way forward in support of those who work so hard to work on and care for our land.”

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