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Archbishop of York visits many of our confident Christian communities

First published on: 23rd April 2024

The whole diocese of Leeds welcomed the Archbishop of York on a missional tour that helped launch our 10th anniversary year.

The Most Reverend Stephen Cottrell met Christian communities and projects from the region’s tip to its toe as he visited each of our five Episcopal Areas.

The first of many conversations began over coffee high in the north at St Matthew’s Leyburn in our Ripon EA. Thanks to new audio visual kit provided by the diocese, Archbishop Stephen joined in morning prayer, led by Revd Stephen Hanscombe - who was, unavoidably, some 200 miles away. Serving such a rural location, the equipment helps worshippers keep in contact and also lets lay readers access valuable training.

“I love Leyburn and Bellerby, it’s a fabulous part of the world!” said Archbishop Stephen. ”I came for a quiet week in a cottage when we were social distancing due to Covid and my wife and I came in our masks (incognito, we thought) to this church on Sunday morning. So, thank you for respecting us and only letting me know a week later that I’d been recognised.”

Leyburn Auction Mart was next, for a guided tour by its chaplain, Revd Chris Lawton, who works within the farming community. Revd Chris said how farming can be a lonely life and while some people just need friendly conversations, he also served those in desperate need of emotional and spiritual support. Young cattle were on sale in the pens, and after meeting calves and stirks, Archbishop Stephen chatted with their owners over breakfast in the bustling café.


Young people convicted of serious crimes are looked after to the best of everyone’s abilities at Wetherby Young Offenders Institution and Archbishop Stephen was keen to talk with some of them and its managing chaplain, Revd Andy Rowe who has been in post since 2013. Its governor, Pete Gormley said the Church of England’s positive presence, together with chaplains from other faiths, is an important part of the framework needed to help young people with extremely complex problems. On the faith centre wall a handmade poster read: “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never, ever, give up.”

Some of the brightest and best (there are many) at Bishop Young Academy in the heart of Seacroft, welcomed Archbishop Stephen and the Rt Revd Arun Arora, Bishop of Kirkstall, when he moved into our Leeds EA on the Friday afternoon. In a Q&A session, one student asked him how young people could balance pride and self respect when faced with life’s challenges. “Self respect means loving and respecting ourselves and Jesus calls us to love ourselves, so that we can then love others – Love your neighbour as yourself, is one of his greatest commandments. Pride, however, is when you worship yourself and can tempt you think you are above others,” Archbishop Stephen explained. Head of School, Rachel Lacey-Cole told of transforming work which is now bearing fruit at Bishop Young Academy and said how they were grateful for the “absolutely brilliant” support from the diocese’s Education Team.

Children, cake and fun featured at St Richard’s, Seacroft – an estate church which engages lovingly with its people in a hard-pressed part of Leeds. Family feasts, combined with arts and crafts form part of its outreach work and Archbishop Stephen met Team Rector Revd Anne Russell and Wellsprings Together’s Parish Development Officer Siaa-Liane Mathurin to learn all about it. A Thursday lunch offer that serves some 45 meals on a pay-as-you-can basis is just one example of a church that welcomes all its neighbours, all the time.

Archbishop Stephen’s first day in the diocese ended with evening prayer at St James’ Seacroft where he gave the sermon, met and talked with worshippers from across the benefice.


An early start at Lighthouse at St George’s Crypt, Leeds gave Archbishop Stephen the chance to join its morning service for a Christian community “battered and bruised by the storms of life” in the words of founder Revd Jon Swales. Homeless people, many of whom are battling addictions or fleeing violence find safe shelter at the Crypt and those who wish to, are welcomed into the Lighthouse pattern of worship and support. Some grow in faith and become baptised, as did one young man who spoke movingly of finding new friends and meaning following the deaths of his parents. “This Lighthouse shines bright in this city and is a place where you help people to cry, bind their wounds and help them to flourish as they come to know Jesus,” Archbishop Stephen told those gathered in its Assisi Café.


A “resurrected church” is how Revd Jimmy Hinton describes St Stephen’s West Bowling, which Archbishop Stephen visited along with the Rt Revd Toby Howarth, Bishop of Bradford. Curates from the Bradford EA were also there in building which was earmarked for closure 20 years ago, but now speaks of new life and serving the community six days a week. Food support and classes to improve literacy and language skills are part of its local engagement in partnership with the charity Shine. Some 250 people are helped each week and referring to Simon of Cyrene, Archbishop Stephen praised St Stephen’s ministry and the curates for steadfastly helping carry Christ’s cross in our communities despite times of doubt and sorrow, as well as in times of joy.


Bang in the centre of Bradford is our new Fountains Church in a former nightclub now being redeveloped and already serving a range of folk – including wrestling fans. It is home to Wrestling Church, where narratives of good and evil are told in physical bouts in the ring. Civic dignitaries including the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire and the city’s Mayor joined Archbishop Stephen in a tour of the impressive building led by Revd Linda Maslen. He heard how it will not just be a key space for Bradford’s City of Culture 2025, but for the future far beyond that celebration. “It’s an honour to be back in Bradford – this is a city of faiths and great partnerships and we stand alongside each other, sharing what we have to offer,” Archbishop Stephen said. “This is an inspiring city and can be a world leader in showing how people can live well together.”

Bradford Cathedral was the next venue for the Archbishop, where a special service to mark the 10th Anniversary of the formation of the Diocese of Leeds took place, a report of which may be read here 

Sunday morning began at St Mary’s in our Wakefield EA with the Rt Tony Robinson, Bishop of Wakefield and Revd  Phil Maries of the Central Barnsley Benefice welcoming the Archbishop for a Eucharist service in the town centre church. “I came to St Mary’s many times when I lived and worked in Huddersfield as a diocesan missioner for nine years,” Archbishop Stephen said. “Two of my three children were born here and it’s one of several places with which I have a very strong connection and very wonderful memories." Reflecting on a private meeting with the Pope, Archbishop Stephen said how we are all called to walk together and tell the world a better story by showing Christian unity and preventing disagreement from leading to division and conflict.


The Jo Cox More in Common Centre at Huddersfield University hosted a large gathering of lay people, clergy and guests including local MP Kim Leadbeater, for a discussion of the diocesan prayer project Rhythm of Life. The Rt Revd Smitha Prasadam, Bishop of Huddersfield asked Archbishop Stephen about the importance of prayer and how he defined it as an act of belief. “Prayer is the lover coming into the presence of the beloved and saying ‘I love you’.” the Archbishop said. He spoke of the importance of a dedicated time of daily prayer and highlighted “Give us this day our daily bread” as a key message to modern society. “For me it means, teach me to live with what I need, to live with what is enough.” In a Q&A session, he was asked about the risk of theological division within the Church of England and he reflected that rather than disagreements being negative signs of division, it was a sign of strength that challenging conversations could take place without leading to conflict.

As the sun dipped over Mixenden, Archbishop Stephen, Bishop Smitha and Archdeacon of Halifax, Bill Braviner rolled up for Rock Mass at the its Holy Nativity church. The simple hall is home to an exceptional monthly service advertised as ”for those who like it loud” and led by heavy rock guitarist Revd Robb Sutherland and and his wife Ruth, singer with their band Metanoia. Some 60 people including children and young people, had gathered from across the diocese, for a very different form of worship and where the Archbishop preached powerfully, without turning it up above 10. He preached on Jesus’ first words following his resurrection: “Woman, why are you weeping?” and he stressed the message they carry, of Christ’s eternal love and care for everyone.

Speaking at the end of his special visit to the Diocese of Leeds, Archbishop Stephen said: “Thank you for your hospitality and generosity these past few days. It was a joy to be with you to help you celebrate your 10th anniversary. I’m greatly encouraged to see all that is going on to share the Gospel message in this beautiful and diverse part of Yorkshire. 

“From Leyburn to Bradford, from schools to Rock Mass,  your witness to the joy and hope that we have in God is being lived out daily in your communities. As you look ahead to the next 10 years, I pray God’s blessing on all you seek do, to serve your communities and proclaim Christ in this land.”

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