The Otley Council of Christian Churches


Churches Together on Otley

Until the introduction of Methodism to Otley in the 1750s, the Parish Church would have been the centre of religious activity in the town. During the Reformation in England the Monarch replaced the Pope as head of the Church but the organisation remained episcopal (administered by Bishops), as was the Roman Church.

By the 1920s, a multiplicity of religious groups had settled and built churches in the town.

A detailed historical study of Otley would probably show the influence of the rise of Methodism on the community of Otley in the 18th century and the effect of influx of the Catholics from Ireland in the 19th century.

There have been Quakers living in Otley and Wharfedale for the last 350 years and there is evidence of a Quaker Meeting House in Otley in 1776

In the 1960s and 1970s the present day United Reformed and Methodists were formed and in 1966 most of the churches agreed to work together within the organisation of the Otley Council of Christian Churches.

The Early Days of the Otley Council of Christian Churches

The OCCC was formed in November 1965

The first meeting was held on 29th Nov 1965 with Father Backhouse elected Chairman. Fr Backhouse was pleased to be working with the other churches at such a time and noted that he was concerned that of the population of Otley only 200 were churchgoers.

A United Service was planned for 18th Jan 1966 during the Christian Unite Week of Prayer.

Finances would be need for publicity so Mr Moxon was elected Treasurer

The Second Meeting was held on 7th Feb 1966 with Rev Leon Cook as Chairman. Secretary to be Gladys Mary Vance.

Considered a joint service for Holy Week and an open air reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday and an open air Service on Easter Sunday afternoon.

No collection would be taken at either service.

At the Fourth Meeting the campaign of People Next Door was raised and proposed that it should be run in Lent.

At the meeting it was suggested that the church together should support the Christian Aid campaign.

There is record of the bank account for the Otley Council of Christian Churches opening in January 1966 and the budget for the first year was £34 - 17 - 3 in pounds shillings and pence. Money was spent on Hymn sheets, and an advert in the Wharfedale, a poster for Holy Week and for roping off the market place and Amplifier Hire in November.

By 1968 there were regular sub. from all 5 churches.

In 1985 the Quakers in Otley were invited to join the OCCC and in 1993 the New Life group.

The minutes of the first four meetings and those of the first AGM are available on the website as are a numbers of the early documents.

By the 1970ís the OCCC was well established and the committee was joined by Fr Finn and Rev Tillison.

In the minutes of the time, there is reference to a Ministers Fraternal and joint services in the market place with a Market Place Cross from early on. As has been mentioned elsewhere the Chevin Cross was installed for the first time in 1969. By 1971 there was discussion about the problems of put up the Chevin Cross and the possible need for a tractor as well as "40 men".

In 1971 there was formed a subgroup of the OCCC, An Action Group for World Development.

Each month there was held a Social Lunch on the Last Friday of each month.

Processions ( a Procession of Light) and services were held on Palm Sunday and in one year the churches worked together to distribute copies of St Markís Gospel.

Issues were raised in the meeting regarding "Common Communion" and the churches were quick to offer help to the council to prepare properties for 2 Ugandan families.

There was discussion of a Holy week drama in 1971.

In the early 1970ís the Good Neighbour Scheme was started up out of the work of People Next Door.

In 1974 there is reference to the putting on of the Christmas lights on the 16th December.

The Run up to Churches Together

During the 1980ís the OCCC started study group during lent with daytime and evening sessions in most days of the week. One significant year was 1986 when the title but out by the British Council of Churches was "What is the Church For". The Catholics, as a result of Vatican 2 in 1962-65, where beginning to look at there position in the modern world and becoming, willingly, more involved in the work with other churches. The National Church Conference in 1989 at Swanwick took on board reports back from the Lent Study Groups in the country from the previous years and the churches made a commitment lead to restructuring and new names.

We now had Churches Together in England and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. The need for a multiplicity of organisations, including for Scotland and Wales, reflected growing national interests and the specific issues regarding Ireland.

A very large number of Churches in Great Britain elected to participate fully in the new joint organisations,

As a result of the impetus of Swanwick the Otley Churches made a Covenant to the Town of Otley at Pentecost 1992 to establish the needs within the town and to pray and take appropriate action.

In 2001, the OCCC changed its name to the Churches Together in Otley and the organisation included United Reformed Church, Methodist, Salvation Army, Roman Catholic, Church of England, Quaker and New Life. The Bethel Church and the Brethren had been invited to join in about 1987 but turned down the offer. The Church on the Way participated for a while.

In 2012 the Hope City Church which had just moved into the area, joined the group with new energy.

We have archived minutes from 1985.

There have been many spiritual initiatives from the Churches Together over the years including special unity services, processions, and Songs of Praise. 1995 was the start of the Prayer Breakfast on the first Saturday of each month. At 8.00am members from all the churches meet for tea and a roll followed by 30minutes or so of Prayer.

The style of the Prayer varies with the particular church that is running the session that morning.

At Easter in 1992 the churches presented a community street play called Son Rise which was written and produced by local people. Currently members from all churches come together for breakfast and prayer on the first Saturday of each month.

In the 1980s groups of people from all the churches met for study at Lent and at other times and were well prepared for the changes in Church Unity structures in 1989 linked with the Swanwick Declaration, in which the Leaders of all the Churches at National level made a commitment to work together more than previously. For many years the local church ministers have meet on a regular basis for mutual support and to check that they are, where possible, fulfilling the needs of the people of the town.

There is one moving example of when by the ministers meeting together they were able to ensure that all those involved in a dreadful local murder were best cared for.

In addition to the witness of voluntary work carried out by many Christians in the town, the Churches Together has been active on many practical levels in the town as well as being represented on other town organisations.

The Cross on the Chevin, which was installed for the first time in 1969, has now become a well known and loved Easter symbol of hope. The cross, which was replaced after 31 years for the new millennium, was the brainchild of the Otley Council of Christian Churches and is a fine example of a co-operative initiative, which has become a source of comfort and inspiration to many people.

The divisions of the past can still be seen in the differences of detailed theology and practice between the churches, however there is an understanding by each church that all are journeying in the same direction, albeit on different routes. The variations between the churches are seen as offering creative choice for people in their search for God.