90th Annual Cyclists Church Service at Coxwold

Since 1927 there has been a church service held in Coxwold, bringing together cyclists from the region. They meet partly for the tea, cake and conversation among old friends, but mainly to give thanks to God – both for the pleasure that cycling brings to so many people and also to remember those who’ve lost their lives cycling.
There is a great deal of organisation which goes into an event like this and so many people to thank for laying on such an excellent mixture of worship and community. I’m not a member of the organisational team (rather I’m simply an appreciative participant), so I don’t know everyone involved but I suspect that Judy Webb and CTC North Yorkshire have a great deal to do with pulling it together. I really enjoyed the hospitality and the church service, so ‘thank you’ to everyone involved!
First thing in the morning I wasn’t in the mood for a ride all the way from Durham, so caught a train down to Northallerton and took a leisurely ride to Coxwold from there. I didn’t ride straight there though, I enjoyed the scenic route via Snilesworth Moor.
I’d found a quiet lane from Northallerton heading directly east and followed it through Bullamoor over the lumpy landscape and with a sense of continual climbing. I reached the A19 and discovered the dual carriageway cutting me off from the North Yorkshire Moors. I had to – safely – navigate this junction, joining the dual carriageway on the left…
(google streetview)
…and following the slip-road on the left hand side, I rode along to the right hand turning where I had to negotiate the width of the A19 to get to the turn right lane. Trucks, Cars, Coaches: all going at 60mph (or much faster).
(google streetview)
While this junction sounds horrendous, I was able to achieve the crossing sensibly and safely, however it would be nice if the local council were to put a segregated cycle path to the left of the road from the junction with Bullamoor Road, and then a central refuge beside the turning to Thimbleby. There is a similar scheme to cross the A66 outside Stockton-on-Tees which is really helpful.
Once across the A19, the lane into Thimbleby was buttery smooth and through lush fields, and although the morning mist was hanging around the hilltops I could sense the day warming significantly.
Osmotherley is a hard climb up from Swainby, or a slog of a climb from Ellerbeck, but from Thimbleby it was hardly a climb at all; perhaps because most of the climbing has been done consistently since Northallerton. Firstly though was the ford to cross Cod Beck and although it was only a foot deep, it was sufficient to cool my toes as it splashed over my shoes.
(google streetview)
My plan was to ride through Snilesworth and Hawnby, on to Helmsley and Ampleforth and get to Coxwold in time for a bite to eat and the church service. There were loads of cyclists out today and shortly after starting the Burnthouse Bank climb I saw familiar faces descending towards me: Jonathan, Stephen, Mark and Paul had been out for a 100km ride including the climb of Boltby Bank and Snilesworth Moor, so they were well on their way home.
It was such a beautiful day to be riding. The road drops and climbs, then drops and climbs again and again around Arden Great Moor, Snilesworth Moor, Hawnby Moor and dropping down to cross the River Rye at the heart of Ryedale. I was choosing to join the B1257 for the fast descent to Helmsley and have spotted on the map that I passed through the rudely named ‘Tup Hag Wood’.
Helmsley was full. It was late morning on a Sunday and there were hundreds of motorists, motorcyclists and one or two road cyclists like myself. I refilled my water bottle and applied more sunscreen lotion. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the heat of the day was building up, additionally there was a forecast for high UV levels.
While I cycled out of Helmsley towards Oswaldkirk I found myself thinking about the church service ahead, and this brought me back to the essays I still have to get written: on the next Monday I was being recorded and assessed giving a funeral address. This was to be part of the training for Christian ministry around the end of life. The following Friday I have to get an outline for a ‘Structured Assessed Conversation’ submitted. I’m answering questions on the Holy Trinity.
I love working these topics out in my head while I cycle, I love thinking about God and praying and cycling and enjoying the gift of being immersed in God’s good creation. The Holy Trinity for example, is central to Christian faith, it’s the subject of the phrase, “I believe in…” I don’t just believe in any old God, I believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, not three Gods but one God. So trying to answer the question, “what is the Trinity?” becomes really important. Rublev’s painting of the three angels is often held up as a Trinitarian inspiration mainly because of the loving invitation extended to the fourth person in the painting, the observer, you.
Another approach is to use metaphors. My current favourite metaphor is that of a stone fountain: the stone structure is the fountain, but so is the water shooting up in the air, and so is the very action of pouring the water upwards. All three are the fountain, but all three are different. Sure, you could have a fountain with just the stone and water, but we all know those are boring and we wish someone would switch it on. Sure we could have the fountain by simply pointing a hosepipe in the air and turning it on, but it lacks something majestic. We could even have a fountain with the stonework and the pump running, but without the water it’s a little dry. The stone is not the water or the pouring. The water is not the stone fountain, and it isn’t the act of pouring either. To be true to its nature as a fountain it really needs all three. Of course, all metaphors break down when describing God because we’re trying to get our heads around the reality of love which is delimited from time and space. I still like the fountain example though, for one extra reason: who hasn’t seen a fountain on a sunny day and wanted to splash around in it? The fountain invites us in – which speaks of the joyful and selfless love of God, who invites us into his eternal life to splash around.
Well, it was what I was thinking about while I was cycling – joys of Spring and all that. The sound of diesel engines chugging towards me drew me out of my theological musings. There must have been a tractor rally at Ampleforth College because coming towards me was the longest queue of traffic I’d seen all day. Ancient but colourful tractors were moving at walking pace towards the sounds of a fayre in Ampleforth. I waved and smiled at all the tractor drivers as I passed going the other way.
Not too long later, after passing Byland Abbey, I reached the picturesque village of Coxwold, not that it was any more picturesque than any of the other beautiful villages that I’d ridden through, but more because it was my target destination. The village hall was stuffed full of cyclists. Bikes were everywhere, lent against fences and walls and hedges – there were seats out the front and the hall inside was absolutely crammed full of cyclists in their various club kits.
There were easily over two hundred cyclists inside and outside, who’d either ridden there together or were meeting old friends who travelled in separately. I saw Gerry Boswell, the VC167 rider who organises a series of Brevets including the genteel 100km ‘Gerry’s Autumn Brevet‘. The people of the village of Coxwold had laid on an expansive spread of delicious sandwiches, cakes, and refreshments for everyone – their hospitality was delicious.
After the hubbub of the hall, I cycled to St Michael’s Church and arrived slightly early, so I volunteered  to hand out the service sheets. Being on the front door is one of my favourite ‘church warden’ experiences because you get to say hello to everyone as they arrive – such a brilliant way to meet people. I met other VC167 riders; Chris Boulton and Keith Benton. Keith had been running the Wiggy 300 the day before and there had been a great turnout for that ride too.
The Rev Liz Hassall led the service gracefully despite the rather immodestly dressed, yet brightly coloured congregation. She has remarked before that we are consistently her most colourful congregation – I wonder if this could be a gauntlet thrown down to the people of Coxwold. During the service Kathy White sang a beautiful solo, and later sang with the choir of cyclists too. It was nice to see Eddie Grainger from CTC Teesside reading scripture, and I loved the way the whole congregation engaged with the service, the singing and the sermon wholeheartedly. There must have been over 120 cyclists filling the church, in the pews and above in the balcony – we raised the roof with our hymns.
The sermon was given by the Bishop of Selby, who’d also cycled to Coxwold, and was on the subject of being a pilgrim, or more precisely a ‘pedal pilgrim’. There was much within the sermon of his personal journey with Jesus. I found his links between ‘passion’ and the effort of using ‘all your heart and strength’ were helpful and I was also encouraged that he takes bicycling prayer retreats occasionally. I’m writing an ‘Independent Learning Project’ on the theological case for physical exercise as worship, so I’m probably going to quote him.
The weather was still warm and sunny as we all headed back outside. Some were riding back to the village hall to finish off the tea and cake, but I wanted to get home to Carol – she’d been preaching at two churches and I wanted to cook her dinner and take the dog for a walk so she could put her feet up. So I made a fairly straight line back to Northallerton with only a slight wiggle to ride through Sowerby because it is more pretty than the A19. In Thirsk the remains of celebrations for the Tour de Yorkshire were still everywhere, and I particularly like this setup outside St Mary’s Church – it reminded me again of Revd Hassall’s colourful congregation.
So I enjoyed a nice 50 mile bike ride, in perfect weather and through stunning countryside. I spent time thinking about the nature of God, and praying. I celebrated God’s love with a community I feel very connected to, and I worshipped with heart and strength – what a brilliant day.

One comment

  1. Glad you enjoyed the service, Graeme. Lovely write-up, I've never been described as graceful before! See you next year I hope. All the best for your continuing studies and theological reflections.
    Liz Hassall

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