A NEW minister has joined the Methodist Church in County Durham and will tomorrow be walking 27 miles around 15 churches to introduce himself (Monday, August 31).

Reverend John Purdy was officially welcomed into the Bishop Auckland and Shildon circuit at a special service on Friday (August 28), taking up his ministry at the Methodist churches at Cockton Hill Road, Bishop Auckland and Rosemount Road, South Church.

Rev Purdy was previously minister with the Dunkineely and Ardara circuit, County Donegal, in Southern Ireland where he was also minister for two churches.

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he replaces Rev Keith Phipps and is originally from Dunganen, Northern Ireland although his work so far has been in the Republic of Ireland.

An environmentalist by nature, he was co-chair of the Methodist Council on Social Responsibility, and, as such, responsible for the church’s environmental policy.

His last ministry served a fishing and farming community whose people shared many of the concerns of people in Bishop Auckland.

He said: “I went there just as recession hit and it was quite a deprived community.

“I was working with a lot of folks who had lost jobs in the construction industry. It was also quite close to the border with Northern Ireland. I worked closely with the Catholic priest and the Anglican rector there, trying to bring communities together during the years of the Troubles.

“In the early stages of my life, I went to Bradford University at the time of the first Gulf War (1990 to 1991) so we were talking about different community tensions at that stage. The Berlin Wall was falling, Nelson Mandela was released and societies seem to be changing. And folk were saying to me that there needs to be a change in Ireland too.

“So I went back to Ireland and was involved in youth and community work in some of the troubled areas of Belfast.

“It’s the peace-building part of Methodism, reaching out to people, that I want to continue here. The walk is an opportunity to listen and find out how we can be there for people here.”

Rev Purdy begins his walk from Cockton Hill Road at 7.30am and hopes to finish before sundown. He will be trekking through Heighington via all fifteen chapels around Hamsterley, Bishop Auckland, Shildon and Newton Aycliffe. He will be joined by Superintendent Minister for the circuit, Rev Andy Bryer.

“We are hoping that we can walk round and pray for the different congregations as we pass. We are also hoping people will walk with us and tell us their stories, their hopes and fears. It’s a listening exercise, really.”