Just James - the rock and roll minister

James Woolford at Lower Wyke Moravian Church.
James Woolford at Lower Wyke Moravian Church.

It’s often said that performing and preaching have a lot in common - and one person who combines both worlds is James Woolford, the new student minister at Lower Wyke Moravian Church.

A keen singer who performs a musical act as ‘Just James’, he was set on a career on the stage until a change of heart prompted him to train for the ministry.

“I did a drama degree in Belfast and I was working as a professional singer, performing in hotels and so on. But, though I loved performing, I never really felt I belonged in that world whereas I always felt I completely fitted in to the church,” he said.

Thirty-year-old James grew up in Birkenshaw, where his mum was a Moravian minister, and he went to Mirfield Free Grammar School.

“My mum worked as a part-time minister and a teacher, then when she retired from teaching at 50, she became a full-time minister.

“The Moravian church has always been part of my life and I suppose it made it an option for me. I’m hesitant to say that my mum was the reason I became a student minister but she must have had an influence.”

James trained at Northern College, the URC training centre in Manchester, and has been at Lower Wyke since the summer.

“I suppose you could say I gave up my day job to go into the church. My ambition was to be an actor and singer and in a way the preaching part of being a minister is the part that I’ve found easiest.

“It’s like second nature to me to stand up in front of an audience - or a congregation.”

James was working as an entertainer at a Warner Hotel in Hereford when he began to have doubts about his choice of career.

“I loved singing and performing but I was getting fed up of the long hours. It was very hard work. I decided I wanted to go into the church but I didn’t know when it would be - I suppose I was waiting for the right moment.

“Then about five years ago I attended a big ordination service in Coventry. One of the bishops was talking about the challenges of ministry and it really struck a chord with me.

“I felt as if God was saying ‘why wait any longer?’ It was a decisive moment. A couple of days later I sent off my request to go for training.”

James admits that one of his concerns in choosing to go into the church was the fact that he was a single man - but a couple of days after sending off his request he met Annette, the woman who became his wife two years ago.

Though his training exposed him to different kinds of church teaching, James always knew that he belonged in the Moravian Church.

“There is a real emphasis on equality which appeals to me. Everyone in the church gets paid the same amount and call each other brother and sister. There is a very strong sense of community and of belonging.

“I sense that there is a real growth of interest in spirituality and community spirit - and that’s what the Moravian Church provides. We have an active social calendar and we all know each other and look after each other.”

James and Annette live in Mayfield Grove, Bailiff Bridge, with their baby son Edward who was born on Saturday.

“I’m expecting to be at Lower Wyke for about five years and to be able to build on the strong traditions of the church as well as looking to the future.

“The annual Christingle service (pictured right) is an important part of our festive season and we opened our doors to visitors for Heritage Open Day. A lot of people came along who were interested in tracing their family heritage. A lot of fund-raising goes on here and the Sunday School has recently been refurbished.

“We have set up a Facebook page and I will be using social media to spread the word about what we are up to at Lower Wyke!”