By Rachel Peters, an undergraduate student doing a BA in Theology, Mission, and Ministry at Cranmer Hall on the Free Church Missional Leadership Track.
“There are large and desolate places, certainly up in the North-East, where there is plenty of room for fracking…” – Lord Howell.
This area of our country can often be overlooked and spoken badly about so let us take a brief look at the rich history of the North East, its beauty, challenges and hope.
The North East is rooted in a culture that speaks of community founded in the mining villages and families of steel workers, which has created a unique sense of pride, identity and community for the people of this region. This area of the world is steeped with beautiful countryside, as observed in the Yorkshire Dales, and the majesty of the Lake District, places that attract people from all over the world to enjoy. The North East has also been a large contributor to global history, for example, we have made our mark with the Sydney harbour bridge, the invention of the match, the first railway line from Darlington to Stockton and many other significant influencers in history.
As well as the North East being home to some significant inventions, it also has a rich history of faith. The spread of Christianity throughout Britain was significantly contributed to by Holy Island being central to this. St Aidan, the first bishop of Lindisfarne, along with other Celtic monks went out and shared the Gospel throughout the North. Although the North East has changed significantly since this time, this period in Church history was undeniably influential for the development of Christianity across the country.
What does this mean for our region in the 21st Century? Our history has shaped us into being a robust, passionate, hardworking, community-centred area, rooted in the values of Christianity. This is reflected in the work of a number of charities based here in the North East, for example, ‘Away out’ providing services for vulnerable women, ‘Safe families for children’ providing support for children and families and ‘Cornerstone’ a local Christian adoption agency. There are many more community building charities that could mentioned in that list also. Although this is the case, the identity of parts of the North East has been challenged in different ways, funding has been cut all across the country but most recently has had a detrimental effect on SSI steelworks in Redcar, and in turn has stripped people of their jobs, a great source of pride especially in this industry as it has been a significant part of our identity. This is among other factors that have shaken the roots and challenged the faith of this area.
However, I don’t not believe that God has forgotten the North East. There is life springing up here. It is claimed that the Church is declining in our region however this is not the case. I see churches that are booming, with inter-generational congregations, history makers in our towns and cities – people who are seeing injustices and are responding to them with passion and creativity. This has proved to be evident in the research accumulated by David Goodhew, who drew together a document called, ‘New Churches in the North East’, including promising statistics. It is stated, “125 new churches have been founded in the North East of England between 1980 and 2015.” He goes on to say, “of the 12000 people who usually attend a Sunday worship at ‘new churches’ in the North East, around 2500 are under the age of 16.” This shows how the Church in this region is sprouting up with new hope, along with a new generation.
Yes, we have our problems and we come with challenges but we were born into a region with a deep well of Christianity, God is moving, he has not forgotten us.
I started with a statement of hostility about the North East, but now I want to end with a proclamation over the North East.
“They will be called the Holy people, the redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called sought after, the city no longer deserted.” – Isaiah 62:12.