Monday, 30 March 2020

Speaking Truth to Power - Ash Wednesday Climate Emergency Pilgrimage - CCA Leeds

Ash Wednesday 26 Feb 2020

My report of my visit to the Christian Climate Action Ash Wednesday Pilgrimage at Leeds.  Summary first: 

I was on the way to a "Pilgrimage" - walk in Leeds with five outdoor stopping points / reflection areas. This was organised by a recently formed group called Leeds Christian Climate Action.  One of the aims was to end up outside Barclays Bank in the pedestrian precinct in the  Shopping Centre at Leeds and hold a short Ash Wednesday Service 

and to make sure that the bank manager and public would hear.

Would hear  the leader saying that Barclays investments in industries causing climate change amounted to 85 billion dollars.

And to ask the manager to  move the money to funds that do not damage the climate.

(Our leader had arranged to meet the manager beforehand).  

Two police officers had been assigned to come with us. 

There were about 24 people. Three people were videoing and interview some of us. They were students  #Leeds Hack - on a journalism course. 


In many ways the context of the trip is as revealing as the service itself.  Read on..  

as I set off at Settle Railway Station at 7.28am. Settle is 45 miles west of Leeds, on the Leeds-Settle-Carlisle Railway

I buy a cup of coffee from the railway station and perch it on the bridge as I await the train. I wish I had brought my own cup instead of having to use a disposable one.  (I must add this picture to my "44 places within three miles of Settle where you can eat or drink!" blog post) 

 There is a light covering of snow from the previous evening - we have had hardly any snow this winter apart from one weekend in November. 

The train arrives - four carriages today. Long Preston Deeps (River Ribble ) are flooded. Then 8 miles and we go past Gargrave and we are in the Aire Valley.  The Aire flows east through Leeds to the Humber. After Skipton  the Aire Valley is significantly flooded. Still - it is doing its job - holding water here so there will be less flooding downstream.  The road and the railway have been built on strategically high platforms.

Six days earlier late Fri 21 the River Ribble had flooded into Watershed Mill car park near where I live and into the Mill itself. - It had been midnight or I would have gone out to watch. - The post in the river that I see from my bedroom to record record flood heights of water in the Ribble was washed away by record flood heights of water the previous week. We are getting used to records being broken.. but think..  each record of water level depth must be deeper that the last. 

The views to the north of the line looks like Switzerland with a lake in the foreground and snow capped hills beyond.
THE LAKE SHOULD NOT BE THERE. It should just be cattle grazing land.  The train follows the Aire down to..

Leeds Station, 

and I walk thorough the being-dug-up streets.

I am an hour and a half early so I fill in time by visiting Leeds Library. I recommend this a place to visit.

I photograph a Caxton map of Yorkshire on the wall there.

See it marks Settle (on the Ribble) and the River Aire which starts just to the NE of Settle and flows down, past Leeds  and Pontefract to Snaith after which it joins the Humber. See how so many different rivers are converging on that area, like the fingers of a hand.
Snaith from drone, on BBC Website

No wonder Snaith is in the news on the BBC website this week for flooding.

Later  I buy several "Library throw out" books including one on "Getting things done". (It is still sitting on my shelf a month later unfinished, "not done". Hey Ho) 

It is a quarter to 10 and I meet up with people at Millennium Place. Although I haven't met any of them before I soon find links and people we know in common.

The leader, Rev Jon (Jonathan) Swales gives us a handout service sheet on grey recycled paper. 

The first Station, at Millennium Place  is Confession:

"Desmond Tutu said "Twenty-five years ago people could be excused for not Knowing much about climate change. Today we have no excuse."
"Climate breakdown requires extensive and sustained action to prevent the unfolding of a disaster of apocalyptic proportions." 

We have readings, sing a short hymn and have prayers.

Second Station: War and Climate Breakdown:

We hold this at the war memorial

Jonathan points out that if people and countries had held back, the first world war need not have happened.

If only....

If only. ..

If only ..

I photograph the garden with crosses planted in it and the war memorial.

Then the  deafening noise of pneumatic drills hammering into the adjacent road  covers up the next part.

This is the Leeds Pipes Network: 
Can't complain as it is very sustainable and laudable: 

Leeds Pipes "have been working with Leeds City Council to develop a low carbon energy solution connecting 1,983 properties and numerous businesses to an efficient district heating network."

 Hymn - O Lord hear my prayer.

The main group then shoot off south led by the gentleman carrying the cross. 

Jon stays behind to be interviewed by the journalists. 

I photograph the pipes. 

See the insulation!!

I look up and everyone has gone!! 

O deaarrrrr.

I hurry south and meet the couple in the pilgrimage who have come from Great Ayton.  40 miles to the north east.

"They have gone to Trinity," they say. "They said they were going to Trinity"

"Trinity? "

"Trinity Church or Trinity vast huge great labyrinth of a shopping centre?" I ask.

We go to Trinity Church. Not there.!

We are stumped. Trinity Shopping area, according to the map, is huge. We find Jonathan's mobile phone number and try, but he does not answer .. by now he must be leading the next Pilgrimage station session, with his mobile switched off


To come all this way and loose them!

We decide to go to a Barclays Bank since that is to be the final station. The wrong Barclays as it turns out. On the way however we spot the group. 


We sing "Amazing grace."

We skip the fourth station location as we are getting behind schedule  but say the prayers elsewhere (Litany for the Earth) and head for the correct Barclays.

On our programme, this station is labelled 

"Ashing and Protest"

For the first time Jon uses the hand held microphone, and he uses it to good effect. 

- and lets rip

 - speaking to us 

- to the shoppers passing by 

- and to the Barclay's bank manager who politely does not shut the bank door on  us.

pointing out that the bank has invested billions of pounds in the industries which are causing climate change.

He gives many more Jeremiah like forecasts 

We sing "When I survey the wondrous cross" to the folk tune "Waley Waley - (The River is wide)

A gentle man who had been approaching the bank came up and said to me "I had been planning to open an account here. Perhaps I should find a different bank".

We line up to be "Ashed".

I have never been to an Ash Wednesday Service before.

The ash used in this case seemed to be very, VERY black - not ash coloured at all.

Jon makes the mark of an ash cross on our foreheads.

"Ashes to Ash, Dust to Dust" he says  as he does so.

It is rather poignant to me. A good friend of mine, who might even have been with us today, is now enjoying palliative care at home, having said "No" to further hospital treatment.

It also reminds me of my own mortality.

We finish  the  service:

"God our father
you created us from the dust of the earth:
Grant that these ashes may be for us
a sign of our repentance from our addiction to consumerism
a reminder of our sinful indifference to the plight of the world's most vulnerable and a symbol of our mortality and frailty."


I revisit the Leeds City Library. I visit Waterstones bookshop and buy three (language) books. Is that consumerism? (Maybe not .. Little do I know I will be restricted to my house and making good use of them the upcoming months) 

I sit in the cafe at Leeds railway station, resting my feet, making a list of some of the people I have met, and notes on the day. The girl opposite me is Italian speaking and is filling in an official looking form. "Is that related to Brexit and getting a visa to stay in the UK?" I wonder.

I travel home safely by train.

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