The Revd Matt Woodcock writes:
THE Revd Derek Wooldridge died on 12 November, aged 83, after slipping on ice while out on his morning prayer-walk in the Lake District. He had been on holiday with his wife, Anne, near Grange-over-Sands.
Derek, who was Vicar of St Paul’s, Holgate Road, York, from 1970 until 2000, was a man of infectious faith and drive. His life’s mission was to find ways to communicate the Christian faith in an accessible way. He ministered to tens of thousands of children and teenagers over a 40-year period, having set up a Pathfinder Camp on a cow field in Criccieth, north Wales, in 1962. It is still going today.
Derek’s passion for mission to young people originated from his own conversion as a teenager at a Crusader camp. His experience of hearing the Christian message delivered in such a clear and all-embracing way greatly influenced the trajectory of his own ministry. He felt the call to ordination while studying social and economic history at Nottingham University. It was at the Christian Union there, in 1953, that he met his future wife.
He trained for ordination at Oak Hill, before serving his title at Holy Trinity, Chesterfield, from 1959 to 1964. He was Curate-in Charge of St Wulstan’s, York, from 1964 to 1970, before embarking on his 30-year stint at St Paul’s.
While at Chesterfield, Derek became frustrated that youngsters from the parish had to change trains five times to get to their nearest Pathfinder camp in the summer. He was inspired to set up a camp which would be particularly accessible to children from the north, of all social backgrounds.
With a fellow curate in tow, he scoured the coast of north Wales for a suitable campsite with accessible rail links. They discovered a rentable pasture on the outskirts of Criccieth. Campers could get a direct train from Chesterfield and other northern cities. Derek had found his mission field.
Many young people would come to faith at Criccieth Pathfinders, including significant numbers from non-church backgrounds. To counter what Derek saw as a southern, middle-class bias inherent within the Church of England, a polite notice on the booking form for the camps read: “Priority given to people from the north.”
Derek relentlessly encouraged his leaders to recruit the poorest and most troublesome young people from their parishes. No one was excluded. The campers — who were all boys until 1973, when girls began to attend — were given the opportunity to take part in outdoor pursuits. It was the first taste of the countryside for many of the young from the industrial urban areas. Before the days of strict health and safety rules, they would often climb Snowdon in their wellingtons.
After a spate of ill-health, Derek handed over leadership of the Criccieth camps to his son Dave in 1988. The ministry had grown to include a CYFA camp for 15- to 19-year-olds; but Derek wasn’t quite finished yet. Ten years later, he discovered that the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS) needed new venues to accommodate more Explorer camps for seven- to 11-year-olds.
During a fund-raising event at Bishopthorpe Palace, Derek heard a talk by the then Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope. He expressed a desire to see Christian youth work flourish in the north, and said he would do all he could to help. Ever the shameless opportunist, Derek asked him afterwards: “Can we please use the palace garden to run an Explorer camp?” So, that summer, the Bishopthorpe grounds were peppered with ridge tents, and in a large marquee Derek communicated the Christian story in his own inimitable style. Dr Hope occasionally joined the campers at mealtimes. In 2001, the camp moved to Wensleydale, where it still attracts young people from across the north.
Derek was also instrumental in securing the move to York of the renowned evangelist and Charismatic renewal figure David Watson. When the city’s university was about to open in 1965, Derek told him about the opportunity to minister to the incoming students, at St Cuthbert’s near by. Watson’s arrival there — and his later ministry at St Michael-le-Belfrey — would spark a revival of international significance.
Derek’s gospel opportunism, and his zeal to see ordinary working people, and those marginalised by the rest of society, discover a living Christian faith, leaves a lasting legacy. His wife, Anne, and four sons, Chris, Dave, Tim, and Jonny, survive him.
More than 500 attended a thanksgiving service at St Michael-le-Belfrey on 10 December to celebrate Derek’s life and ministry.