SALTAIRE FOLK: Rev. Paul Breeze
Note from the Editor: The saddest news... Rev. Paul Breeze, died on 20 January 2014, following heart surgery. He was 62 years old. He leaves behind his wife Kate, his two sons, Dan and Josh and countless friends.
The Rev. David Cowan was Minister of Saltaire Congregational Church in 1871. He lived in the Village, in one of the “executive” houses on Albert Road, with his wife and 6 children, plus a servant. His congregation came from the Village community (synonymous with the Mill workforce). Many of the senior members of the Church were also senior staff at the Mill. Rev Cowan regularly preached to congregations of 400.
A very different picture presented itself to when he came to Saltaire in April, 2003. To find out how much different, I called unexpectedly at his home in Nab Wood, and found this modern cleric very much in demand. I thought at first that we had the religious equivalent of Jonathan Silver, with a mobile phone in each hand, trying to balance the request for a baptism with other commitments in his diary. The similarity was compounded because of his tallness and his designer stubble, and his decisive, businesslike manner – although his salt and pepper crew cut is Paul’s own.
We arranged to meet at the Church a few days later – a very different encounter. No phones, he’d cleared an hour of his busy schedule to talk with me, and he presented a contemplative figure looking out across the Church grounds. He’s easy to talk with, considering each question with a thoughtful frown before giving a considered response, which took my ignorance into account, and didn’t hold it against me.
We started with the Church. Approximately 15 baptisms, 30 weddings, and 20 funerals each year. A worshipping congregation of 90, including up to 20 children. Most of them come from outside the Village now, mainly from Shipley, but some from as far away as Eldwick and Micklethwaite. Apart from the services, the Church is used for bible study and prayer groups, and for Beavers, Cubs and Scouts. There are Brownie and Guide troops at the Methodist Church. The two ministers work co-operatively together.
Paul thinks that they are a welcoming Church, keen to enjoy the fun side of being Christians. The social activities held in the Church include a pancake supper, and a 1940’s concert to celebrate VE Day coming up in May. Local Rotary Clubs are hosting concerts by the Hepton Singers and by Kings College, Cambridge.
What about Paul himself? He’d been described to me by a Villager as “a good bloke, but he’s only just arrived!” – which says more about Saltaire than about Paul, since he’s coming up to his second year here. He’s been a United Reform minister for the last 18 of his 53 years, so what did he do before this?
Coming from a Methodist family in Liverpool, he joined the Congregational Church in his teens. His career began in industry and commerce, but he soon found that pressures to become more involved in Church life led him to consider training for the Ministry. But the process within the Church of “testing the call” gave him some hard decisions to make. Should he give up his job to obtain the entry qualifications for Training College? He decided not to do so, but the internal struggle led him to re-evaluate his life and to move to London to work for Social Services in a Childrens Home, preparing young people for fostering and adoption. He spent 8 years there, until Church involvement built up pressures again (“it’s because I have an uncommon surname, so people remember it” – typically self effacing – I guess they recognized his unique qualities more!) This time doors began to open for him. His time with Social Services gave him an acceptable equivalent entry qualification into Training College at Cambridge in 1983, a year after marrying Kate. She was training as a Church related Youth and Community Worker, which also involved theology. She did this in Birmingham, so Paul went there too, as Minister in Inner City Birmingham and “the leafy suburbs of Solihull”. Then on to Dronfield, and finally to Saltaire. He asked to be considered for the Ministry here, and believes that this is where God intends him to be – “it feels as if this is the right place for us”. Their sons are being educated in local schools – Dan at Albert Road (where Paul is a Governor) and Josh at Salts.
As to his job for the future, he sees a continuing role in the “uniting and reforming” function of the Church, and there are many attempts to work more closely together with other denominations. He’s team leader with colleagues and the Elders. They seek ways of meeting the needs of the local community as well as the Church congregation, but recognize that this is a difficult task given the changing population – which includes tourists. As to the ministry in a World Heritage site, who knows what could be involved here? – certainly participation in the Saltaire Partnership, the Aire Valley Tourist Scheme and the Village Society. On top of all this, there’s maintaining the fabric of the Church as a Grade II Listed building. The next job here is to improve the steps and the canopy, and to install disabled access.
Finally, I asked Paul to identify his most enjoyable times here. All involve working for a common cause, and having fun – the Summer Fete, the Festival, Carols by Candlelight – and bell ringing!! All the members of the family are involved in this, and it’s a skill they’ve all gained since being at Saltaire. As a trained flautist, does Kate have an edge over the others? And does Paul use the excuse of “having other things to prepare on a Sunday morning” to opt out of the competition, because the boys are musical too!