It must be rare for a Methodist minister's sabbatical project to be taken to heart by so many people.
There have been regular Facebook references to the Rev Rob Hilton's dream of building a shepherd's hut as part of his exploration of what it means to be a shepherd. Minister of Christchurch, Ilkley, he explains:
"Having built an ordinary shed dedicated to prayer, I decided to build a mobile one that I can take with me as and when I move. I call her Hilda. As a minister ordained 22 years ago, I found myself reflecting on what shepherding means. Jesus was described as The Good Shepherd and ministers are shepherds of a flock".
"Shepherd's huts are becoming popular as garden rooms or studios. I have yet to find another one used for prayer. Researching how to build my own was an insight into tradition. Apart from the chassis and roof, everything is salvaged material — a valuable lesson in the teaching that God's love can make the best out of anything or anyone. I have appreciated having so many materials given to me. I feel cocooned in the goodwill, encouragement and support of those who gave me bits and pieces."
Hilda, who is parked in the Manse garden, is currently kitted out with a comfortable chair; has an electricity supply and a small wood-burning stove. But Rob has an ambition to install a double bed and maybe a small bookcase........ but strictly no TV, phone or WIFI!
A member of his Christchurch congregation comments: "A sabbatical means giving a minister space — to rest, to study. So we all respected that. However, we were all intrigued by his project and kept track of developments on Facebook. We can't wait to meet Hilda!"
Friends from further afield have also been keeping in touch with the project. A contact from a previous church, remarked on Facebook, "In my opinion it is the best use of a sabbatical I have ever seen and is clearly good for Rob in body, mind and spirit."
Whilst Rob has appreciated being left to pursue his dream, his days haven't been entirely spent with Hilda. He has worked alongside shepherds and farmers, and is full of admiration for their dedication and wisdom. Some are modern and hi-tech whilst others are very traditional in approach. "I've worked with dogs, tractors and quad bikes. I've been lambing, castrating, worming, you name it. I'm going shearing next! "
But why Hilda?
Rob explains, "Saint Hilda of Whitby is one of my favourite British saints. She is known for her wisdom and guidance, qualities I'd like to emulate. I am hoping I will eventually have an artistic representation of Hilda alongside my amazing stained glass window of St Colman — another one of those amazing ancient British Saints."