“This conversation was going well until someone brought God into it” and, “Please, don’t mention religion!” are protests we have all heard at some time. Our secular culture recognises there is such a thing as belief, yet is keen that it should not interfere with the priorities and standards of modern life. We don’t need God, because we can manage perfectly well without him, it seems!

As we look around this country, and at the towns and villages in these North Yorkshire Dales it sometimes appears that God has taken the hint. Empty churches and chapels converted into quirky cottages, confirm the story. God has left the building, and we are better off without him.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the many in my generation who walked away from the religion of their parents and who struggle to believe that the God who was worshipped here in years past is relevant today. Many of us on entering adulthood moved away to study and work in places where there were more opportunities, and of those who stayed, those who have since returned, and those who have moved here from other towns, few have found what they needed in the religious buildings of the past. But yet as I drive along our Dales’ roads, and speak with you, its people, it is clear to me that Yorkshire remains “God’s own county” and God is still in this place.

2024 marks the 250th anniversary of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley’s, second visit to the town of Richmond. It was his preaching and the spiritual revival which was associated with it, that resonated in the lives of many of the Dales’ people. They built meeting rooms and schools and became a force for good and a focus for community in almost every village, alongside their friends and neighbours who gathered in the Parish churches. But these days are gone.

In recent weeks, a number of you have asked me, what I believe God has in store for Bedale and for the Dales for this New Year. It’s a great question, but yet not one that is easy to answer.

I must respond first of all, by saying that contrary to popular belief I see no evidence that God “has left the building”.  The writer of Psalm 24 declares that “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” and that includes this beautiful part of Yorkshire! The Jewish writer Paul, in a letter that can be read in the New Testament of the bible, reminded his friend Timothy that God desires that everyone should come to know him through Jesus, who gave himself to save us all. And this tells me that the God who transformed our communities 250 years ago, still desires to do the same again today. God is still here, and he is still at work.

So what am I expecting to see? What is God doing here, in and around the North Yorkshire Dales at the start of 2024? What is he doing in Bedale, where I live? Firstly I know that he is meeting people. He is present with those who call on his name, he is in the answered prayers of those who trust that he can meet them in their need. He is comforting those of you who have lost someone. He is blessing, encouraging, and strengthening those of you who have asked him to intervene in your life situations.

Now, maybe, if you have never met him, may I encourage you to just ask him to make himself known to you because I have never known him to refuse. There are people living in this place I know, who have risked hoping that he might answer their first tentative words spoken to him in the darkness of their circumstances. I have heard their accounts of his responses to them, and I have seen the transformation that he has made in their lives.

Secondly, I know that he is present in the communities who are faithful to the teaching of his word. He will be in your times of worship and with you as you serve your communities in his strength and in his name. He will also be present when two or three of you meet up over a coffee or a cup of Yorkshire tea, in your home or in the town, and you chat about what you have seen him do, and where you have met him that week.

Jesus promised all his followers that he would never leave them and that wherever he was at work we would see the signs of his coming kingdom. So my prayer is that we might all be on the lookout for more and more signs of this increasingly present kingdom of grace and peace, as we pray together, “Your kingdom come”. And my constant prayer is to God, the Lord of the harvest, that he would send his workers out into the fields, the roads, the towns and villages of these North Yorkshire dales, and that together we might love and serve our families, friends, neighbours, and communities, in His name and in His strength. So that together we will see God at work, bringing his healing, wholeness, and hope to the heart of these Yorkshire Dales.

Be encouraged.

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