The Bishop of Burnley, Rt Rev Philip North, will be pulling on his walking boots this Friday and trekking east to west across the County of Lancashire … raising money towards the reopening of a redundant church hall as a community hub in one of the most income deprived parishes in the country.
The Bishop will step out from St Bartholomew’s Church, Chipping in the Forest of Bowland to walk 53km to the Freedom Church on the Mereside Estate in Blackpool on Friday, June 18 and the event has been appropriately titled ‘Chip-in to Mereside’!
Bishop Philip’s long day will begin with an early morning mass at Chipping St Bartholomew’s and end with a ‘chip butty’ celebration on the Fylde Coast with butties courtesy of the local 'Mereside Chippy'. The two parishes have built a mutual friendship over time, hence the route chosen, which will see the Bishop calling in at 10 other churches along the way for prayers.
The churches where the Bishop will call in are …
The walk will raise cash towards the refurbishment of the ex-St Wilfrid’s Parish Hall on Langdale Road in Blackpool. This will enable it to be re-opened as ‘The Freedom Centre’ serving the residents of Mereside Estate through practical service … as well as being a reinvigorated venue for the congregation of Freedom Church to worship in.
Bishop Philip, who also has a national role in an estates church context as Chair of the Archbishops’ Estates Evangelism Task Group, said: "Freedom Church, on one of the most deprived estates in the country, cheers my heart with the outstanding service it offers to the community and in the confidence with which it proclaims the Gospel. Their big problem is that they have no building. They have been meeting in a small community centre which they have now outgrown. This enormously limits what Freedom Church is able to put on midweek, while the church as a whole will never feel established or permanent until it has its own place to meet.
“Linda and Pete Tomkinson, who run Freedom Church, have a plan which is to reclaim the old Church Hall and improve and modernise it to be ‘The ‘Freedom Centre’. However, it is incredibly difficult to raise funds for Christian ministry on estates and, despite bringing huge energy to the task, they still have some way to go.
“So, I have decided to do my bit, walking a distance from Chipping to Mereside - that is more than the length of a marathon - to support this marathon fundraising push! This will be more than a fundraiser. It will be a way to demonstrate how parishes in our Diocese feel a responsibility for each other and are all part of the same family.”
Rev Linda Tomkinson said: “We want to open the Freedom Centre to make it a place to offer hope, support, friendship and much more. Our community here on Mereside has faced a steady withdrawal of services for too long now. We have been meeting as a church for four years without our own building and we have seen lives transformed in that time.
“We believe that having the Freedom Centre open will enable us to reach many more people from Mereside and beyond. The fact that Bishop Philip is offering up his time, his energy and his support is just so uplifting and inspirational for us.
“He has encouraged us every step of the way so far on our church’s journey and here he is demonstrating his belief that estates are important to today’s church. We are very grateful for all the support we receive from so many different areas because it is so encouraging in the face of such a massive task.”
Rev Fiona Jenkins from St Bartholomew’s added: “I am very excited by the deepening friendship between St Bartholomew, Chipping and Freedom Church, Mereside. Despite, or perhaps because, of our very different contexts, we are building a true partnership in which we can learn and laugh together on our journey of faith. I hope the friendship between our churches will encourage similar partnerships between parishes across Lancashire in our wonderfully diverse Diocese.”
Bishop Philip has set an initial fundraising target of £10,000. Donations can be made via the Justgiving.com page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chipintomereside2021 and he will have a collection bucket with him on the day.