Bradford: Service in a stable

04 January 2013

AT ST JOHN's, Greengates, a parish to the north-east of Bradford, they did not bring a donkey into a service, but took the carol service to a real stable. The Curate with responsibility, the Revd Tracy Milne, called it "a carol service with a twist", and said that it had been the children's idea to move it to the stable on a neighbouring farm, owned by their churchwarden, Muriel Gabbutt, and to use the farm's Shetland pony to impersonate the traditional donkey.

Not many people know that there is a farm so close to the busy Bradford Road, Ms Milne says, but they were expecting such a crowd at the service two days before Christmas (and doubtless in view of this winter's weather) that they were putting up a marquee as well.

Ms Milne says that she likes walking round the parish chatting to people, and drawing the community together as much as possible. "We focus on the children, with friendly and interactive services, but, when the parents come with them, they are amazed to discover that the church is relevant and appropriate for them.

"As well as traditional services, we have a café church, when we sit round with bacon butties, decent coffee, and the Sunday newspapers. We read the papers and swap them around, and then pray about some of the things they bring up." They have WOW (Women of Worth) evenings for women, and a Tuesday event for children, when they make their own props and become part of the action of the story that they are telling. "It's great to see how ready people are to get involved," Ms Milne says. "We've put up banners on the railway bridge, and the hairdresser's was keen to display the Christmas services."

They had a toy service in the middle of December, when more than 60 presents were given for vulnerable members of the community, and, on Christmas Eve, their communion service started at 9 p.m., "to coincide with midnight in Bethlehem". And the Christmas Day family service, she says, is "where I get to play with all the children's presents, and they get to eat my chocolate".

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