Yorkshire churches prepare to welcome the Tour de France
Yorkshire churches are preparing to welcome cycling legends Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins this summer... as the Tour de France begins in, wait for it, Leeds.
The Tour is famed for bringing together teams of world-class cyclists, who each compete for the elusive yellow jersey over an agonising, and exhausting, 23 days.
This year, the route will take competitors over a total of 3,656 kilometres, travelling from Leeds through Harrogate, York, Sheffield, Cambridge and London before arriving in France and finishing up in Paris.
Last year's winner Chris Froome will be looking to defend his title, and is likely to be joined by fellow Brit and former winner Bradley Wiggins, who is fresh from winning the Tour of California at the weekend.
It will mark the first time that Yorkshire has played host to a stage of the Tour, and churches across the North of England are preparing to give the international audience a proper welcome.
Scores of churches from all denominations line the route, and a dedicated website has been set up to allow them to share ideas and resources, and give every community the chance to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"New ideas are coming in every day, and churches are signing up on a daily basis," says Canon John Carter, communications officer for the diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, which will be home to the whole of the first day of the Tour.
"It's very much an ecumenical thing, and it's about encouraging churches to work together with their local community which has been really good – to see communities brought together is excellent.
"Churches of different denominations are linking together as well, and what's been a real surprise is the amount of enthusiasm we're seeing," he says.
The bid to get the Tour to come to northern England was placed by Welcome to Yorkshire, and Carter has been encouraged to see church communities work closely in partnership with this secular organisation, as well as local authorities.
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"Welcome to Yorkshire wants to put Yorkshire on the international map as a tourist destination, and they figure rightly that as cameras are focused on Yorkshire, people who have never heard of it will see how beautiful it is," he said.
"Churches in our area have also been thinking about attracting visitors, and we see ourselves as part of the tourist mix – people come to see our ancient churches, one or two of which go back to the 9th century, and then we've got the great Abbeys and Ripon Cathedral. We've got some amazing church buildings all around Yorkshire, and so it's been a great thing to work with Welcome to Yorkshire with this.
"Our emphasis is obviously how to we make people's visit to churches meaningful, but whatever our motives we all want to encourage visitors."
The website dedicated to church involvement in the Tour offers dozens of ideas for those churches which want to be part of the action. Suggestions include offering tea and coffee, holding international worship services, litter picking the local area and giving out water with a Bible verse attached.
"Locally there's a huge amount of excitement for this," says John. "There really is a big build up, and churches are a part of that.
"It's really up to each community to do what they can, and make the most of this opportunity. The Church is in such a strategic position, forming the actual grandstand for one of the world's greatest annual sporting events. We're in a prime position, a prime location, so how do we make the most of that? As a church, how do we respond, how do we help people and show Christian hospitality? How do we celebrate and work this into our church programmes?"
A plethora of resources are available online, including Tour de France tracts and a pack designed specifically for use in schools. An events page is also updated regularly, explaining what exactly individual churches are planning on offering during the Tour.
"[We hope] to give visitors an opportunity to visit some of our many beautiful church buildings and experience faith through the welcome and hospitality they receive," Carter finishes.
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