A Christmas message from Father Blair Radford, vicar of St Peter and St John the Baptist and the parish of St Mary Magdalene, Lundwood...

WHEN I was called to serve in Barnsley in July 2018, my Bishop said to me, ‘Blair, I bet you’re surprised to be living in Barnsley?’

I replied ‘I never, ever thought I would be living here’ and now, I know wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Since that time I have seen our town grow and develop in an inspiring way. The positive impact of the remodelled town centre is a great example that I’ve witnessed first hand.

I’ve just become the Vicar of my two parishes, St Peter’s on Doncaster Road and St Mary’s in Lundwood. Our communities are different from the buzz of the town centre and the Glass Works; they are still communities in the true sense, where people help each other, often while in difficult circumstances themselves.

Christmas brings this into focus in a way that is almost unique, that sense of wanting to give and support those in our parishes most in need. This is something of which I am very proud, as a resident of Barnsley.

There is still much to do in our town.

I see daily the problems we face with those who have social problems: drug addiction, mental health and homelessness feature highly.

We need to focus on these issues as much as we need to focus on the progress I have seen. You cannot have one without the other in society if we are going to truly move forward. If not, then the progress in Barnsley could just seem like window dressing.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of leading the service for Armed Forces Day with our mayor, along with Dan Jarvis and Stephanie Peacock, our local MPs, to say thank you for those who serve.

Having been a soldier myself – Dan and I were on the same Platoon Commanders battle course together back in the nineties – we spoke about service and commitment.

Like those serving in our communities, this is also a time to remember those who will be serving us during the holidays, on duty and for some away from family and friends until after new year.

Our police, fire, emergency and rescue services and those in our NHS are among many who will be there for us over Christmas. I know what it is like to be away from family over this season; it’s never easy, but the camaraderie you have with those who serve with you will sustain them.

Our churches will be open over Christmas for all people and communities.

You may want to sing and celebrate or come and sit quietly to rest and reflect. We are here for both those needs.

I pray we will all have peace and goodwill over this time. God bless and a very happy Christmas to you all.