‘Bonkers but beautiful’
Caroline Andrews on being the minister of a tourist attraction
The building of Saltaire United Reformed Church is like a folly – bonkers but beautiful. Saltaire is a Unesco World Heritage site, an industrial village built by the mill owner Titus Salt for himself and his textile workers in the 19th century and kept intact ever since. The church is a copy of one in Bologna. Apparently Titus and Dame Caroline went on a second honeymoon, stumbled upon this church, and Titus thought: ‘I’d really like one of those.’ Inside the church there are signs of his presence all over the place – loads of ‘TS’s littered around the building. There’s a bit of an ego there.
Coachloads of tourists come here constantly. When I arrived, I foolishly assumed the tourism was seasonal, but it’s every day of the year. On a Sunday, we might have people in the congregation from Nicaragua, Australia, Canada, Wales. In my four years here, I’ve never once led worship to just the regular congregation.
We open the building daily from April to September. If a walking tour group wants to come in and see me, I will always go. I’m conscious that when people enter a church it might be the first time since the funeral of a loved one, so it brings up all kinds of stuff. They often have a very emotional response. People are moved and don’t know how to put it into words. Talking to the visitors can be difficult because there are a lot of languages I do not speak, and I rarely find out what has happened to them after spending time with them. Sometimes they email about how they’ve sought out a church in their local area, which is lovely…
Caroline Andrews is minister of Saltaire United Reformed Church in Bradford, and Ecumenical Chaplain to the Saltaire World Heritage Site. She was talking to Stephen Tomkins
This is an extract from an article that was published in the May 2019 edition of Reform