Keld: From ruins to wifi
David Peel reflects on the changing nature of rural mission
In 1789, Keld Chapel in the Yorkshire Dales was in ruins and overgrown with vegetation, when, Dales folklore says, the Revd Edward Stillman entered the ruins, to plant his stick in the ground and declare: “Here will I have my chapel built, and here I will preach the Gospel.”
For more than 200 years, Keld United Reformed (née Congregational) Church has provided not only resources for people’s journeys with God, but a hub for community life, through the building of a school (1845) and a literary institute (1861). Many Swaledale children got their first taste of education here, and adults benefited from lectures, the library and the social life at the institute. Just how progressive all this was may be lost on generations who take education as a universal entitlement and surf the internet for their information; but it underscores a basic theological truth: the Christian gospel addresses the whole person, transforming people and communities.
New occasions offer fresh challenges and opportunities. Once the clank of miners’ boots resonated along Upper Swale’s footpaths; now we hear more gentle footsteps of hill walkers who travel to Keld on either the Coast to Coast or Pennine Way footpaths. De-industrialisation of the countryside has led to tourism and the era of the holiday cottage.
Edward Stillman could hardly have imagined the two-fold challenge now facing Keld: To maintain a worshipping presence in a depopulated hamlet, and to build upon its witness to visitors to Keld. But recent developments suggest that this adventure in mission and ministry will continue…
This is an extract from the March 2014 edition of Reform.