Although not the oldest of Belper’s Churches, Christ Church has stood at ‘The Triangle’ end of Bridge Street, where the roads from Derby, Matlock and Ashbourne meet, for 167 years. The parish of Christ Church is that part of Belper west of the railway line but people from all over Belper and the surrounding area come to worship God here.
In the early 19th century the rapid rise in Belper’s population, a result of the development of the Strutt Mill in 1776, meant that, despite alterations, the little Chapel of St John was too small to serve the town adequately. It was replaced with a new church – St Peter’s. But as the population continued to grow, it soon became obvious that another Church of England Church was needed and so, in 1845, a sequence of events began which led to the establishment of the Parish of Christ Church.
The impetus for a new church building appears to have come from the wealthy mill-owning Strutt family. A letter, dated 24th April 1845 to Jedediah Strutt, from the Rev’d William Barber, Rector of Duffield, provides the earliest evidence of a desire to create a new parish, stating that the Bishop of Lichfield (the Diocese of Derby was not created until 1927) would be prepared to appoint a vicar.
Today Christ Church stands confidently – but not defensively – in the ‘Catholic’ or ‘High Church’ tradition of the Church of England, with colourful vestments, ‘bells and smells’, altar servers and a robed choir. The dignified and uplifting style of worship has, over the years, helped foster strong links with the community and local government – links of which Christ Church is justly proud and keen to preserve. Today, Christ Church continues to strive, as it has always done, to be the Christ’s Real Presence in the community, serving the people of Belper and the surrounding area today and into the future.
This time of year is an extremely busy one for us. Being Anglo-Catholic means that we tend place more emphasis on Holy Week (the week before Easter) than is perhaps usual, and also the celebration of Easter itself. From Palm Sunday to Easter Day there are 22 services in church, through which we mark the last days of Jesus’ life in ‘real time’, as it were. It is a week of pure drama.
On Palm Sunday we recall Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, whilst the crowds cheer and wave palms to greet their Messiah. Then, as the week unfolds, we mark the change of tone as the atmosphere turns from celebration to betrayal. On Wednesday (‘Spy Wednesday’) we mark the shadows of betrayal falling on Christ and candles are extinguishes, one by one. Maundy Thursday sees the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, where we celebrate Jesus’ institution of the Mass, re-enact the washing of his disciples’ feet recalling that he came to serve, not to be served; and finally, we strip the altar to express his desolation before watching with him at the altar of repose until midnight, when we commemorate his arrest. On Good Friday we remember his trial, punishment and death, proclaiming and venerating the Cross on which Jesus died for us; we leave church in silence.
Because the Bible tells us that Jesus rose from the dead sometime during the night, we gather after dark on Holy Saturday evening in a darkened church. We move through the Easter Vigil and Service of Light, to the Resurrection when, suddenly, the lights come on, the bells sound, the organ thunders and we celebrate the First Mass of the Resurrection in grand and triumphant style, finishing off with fireworks! Then we enjoy a party with wine, cake and chocolate!
Of course, our celebrations continue on Easter Day when we have Sung Parish Mass as well as Choral Evensong and Benediction in the evening. Then, on Easter Monday, we relax!
Details of services and events at Christ Church can be found at www.christchurchbelper.co.uk
With every good wish and blessing for Eastertide,
By Father Jonathan Page, Vicar of Christ Church, Belper
Photo: The High Altar, Christ Church Belper, Holy Week 2017