Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year Hopes

My eye was caught by a news item on our diocesan website. 'More room in the church...' read the headline. It turned out to be about how St Mary the Less, Allerton Bywater have literally created more space in their church. But it set me thinking about what I would like to see given more room in church life during 2011. So here are my top half dozen
  • More room for those who live in real poverty in Britain. There are people in nearly every community who have poor access to transport, employment, good food, heating, holidays, educational and training opportunities. My sense is that Anglican churches all over the place are much less in touch with this than they once were. We need to rediscover our social conscience.
  • More room for education and discussion that helps us tackle global poverty - whether this is trying to understand the financial systems we all depend on or trying to find ways to learn about specific needs and respond to them.  Church members won't necessarily agree on casues or courses of action, but churches should be ensuring that we take responsibility to think about this and that action comes of discussion.
  • More room for people who are isolated as a result of changing demographics and ways of living. This includes the elderly and immobile, the rising number of people who live in single person households and have not chosen this, unpaid carers, assylum seekers, people who do not speak English or communicate readily, and the many people who live hundreds of miles from their nearest family members. We need to take a good look at the shape of the society we live in and stop behaving as though most people live in two parent family units with extended family support.

 18% of people in the UK live in single person households
  • More room for silence, simplicity and directness.
  • More room to acknowledge where we, as churches, have a poor record in recognizing the dignity of all human beings and opposing oppression or exclusion. Room just to acknowledge that we may have been wrong in the past and perhaps still are - nothing will change if we assume we are somehow taking a lead or setting a good example when we are not.
  • More room to take on board the insights and challenges of those who think differently from us. The gift of humility.

Questions of Credit

I suppose I've always had a nagging fear of so called chip and PIN banking - or at least questions about how safe it actually is. Computer scientists at Cambridge University have recently shown how easy it is to make withdrawals from an account without knowing the account holder's PIN. There's quite a row going on between the UK Cards Association (representing leading banks) and the University over the publication, on the net, of details (in a PhD thesis)describing how chip and PIN systems can be breached.

Now what would be the most likely response of the banks to this? Could we not be forgiven for expecting it to be something like, 'We are taking immediate steps to overcome these glitches and rectify the problems they cause our customers?' Perhaps accompanied by a campaign to restore confidence in their services by giving some proof of the urgent and serious nature of the work being undertaken to put things on a safer footing? Well, no, it seems that the main plank of their response is to accuse Cambridge University of recklessness in disclosing too much information. This sounds perilously close to an attempt at cover up and really does nothing for my already shakey trust in the banking system! Professor Ross Anderson, a leading researcher from the Univeristy's Computer Lab, summed it up well, for me. 'Cambridge is the university of Erasmus, Newton and Darwin. Censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values,' he said. 'What will support confidence in the payment system is evidence that the banks are free and honest in admitting weaknesses when they are exposed and diligent in affecting the necessary remedies.'

I have never had much trust in credit transactions and attempt to avoid them whenever possible. However you organise the management of your money, there is risk involved. But the idea that the banks are not giving us an accurate picture of what that risk involves (again) is disturbing. If I am going to take risks with my money, I would prefer to invest in something that, on the way, might produce social and spiritual capital rather than large profits for organisations that dissemble.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Two Good Reads

This year, the sheer luxury of relaxation offered by those glorious after Christmas days has been emphasised by snow and fog. Apart from venturing out to the odd service or party, to collect logs from the garage and to wander along the Ripon canal at twilight in the still crisp snow, the best thing to do has undoubtedly been to stay in and read infront of the fire. For the first time since coming to Yorkshire, we didn't even make the St Stephen's day pilgrimage to Fountains Abbey due to 'flu and chest infections in the family.

So I have finished two really good reads in the last three days. Infact, I think one of them was quite the most remarkable novel I have read in a long time. Lisa Genova's Still Alice  is the story of a Havard professor of cognitive psychology and linguistics who discovers she has early onset Alzheimer's Disease, aged fifty. The novel is a quite brilliant evocation of the slow progress into forgetfulness and disorientation which detatches her from her career (which is at its height), her support networks, her family and even heself. Yet it is not unremittingly depressing. As well as giving the reader some insight into the fear and the increasing sense of confusion felt by those who suffer from dementia, it shows how relationships can continue to change and even to blossom through the early stages of the disease. Alice, the central character, finds that she can increasingly communicate most profoundly with the daughter she has never before got on with. The reason they have continually argued is that Alice is an academic who is intellectually ambitious for her daughter while Lydia, the daughter, wants more than anything to be an actor and is impatient with the notion of studying, theoretically, what she can do in practice. As Alice's grasp on complexity diminishes and her ability to read begins to desert her, she and her daughter find that they can communicate through talking about how character and emotion are developed in the plays her daughter is  in. A long time ago, a geriatrician I knew whose mother had dementia advised me that mood was they key to communication with dementia sufferers. The content of conversations becomes less and less important while picking up on mood and atmosphere and either joining in or purposefully changing them becomes the key to conversation. Alice becomes expert at picking up the atmosphere of an exchange and uses this ability to encourage Lydia as she studies her parts.

The book is choc full of tiny insights into the impact of Alzheimers on both the sufferer and their family but it is written unapologetically entirely from the view point of the person living with the disease. There is humour and hope and a sense that life changes but remains precious as the disease progresses. Probably one of the most chilling aspects of the book is the way it depicts how dementia sufferers become invisible and voiceless. From the colleagues who ingnore her and become embarrassed in her presence early on, to the doctors and family members who discuss her in her hearing later on, and the social worker who is funded to run a support group for care-givers but not for the sufferers themselves, the reader catches a glimpse of what it is like to begin to disappear. Alice manages to capitalize on the transition period where she has the disease but retains some insight and comunication skills in order to deliver a speech at a conference on Dementia showing what the disease is like for the sufferer. I suspect that few sufferers who had not been former university professors would have the support structures to make this kind of thing possible. The poignancy of her achievement in doing this is that she will only remember the contribution she has made and the feeling of restored confidence it has given her for the duration of the day on which it happened.

The second excellent read I have enjoyed is Juliet Barker's  The Brontes which is a biography of the whole family. Barker's thesis is that the individual Brontes can only be understood when studied in the context of the whole family unit and she has used previously untapped sources to provide a more rounded and (in Mr Bronte and Branwell's cases, a more sympathetic) protrait of family members than the usual hagiography of Charlotte, Emily and Anne at the expense of others in their tight knit circle. She also gives some very interesting insights into the vicinity of Haworth and Bradford in the early to mid nineteenth century and the life and work of a conscientious parish priest in the north of England. Patrick Bronte was extremely faithful in his care of his parishioners throughout his own repeated bereavements and personal worries and it is interesting to read the unexpectedly liberal and far sighted views he held on many social issues. He remained, to the end of his life, a true evangelical yet he accommodated the various theological and spiritual outlooks of his own family with realism and compassion. I had not previously grasped the extent to which Emily lived almost entirely in her own world without demonstrating much empathy for those around her. Home bird she might have been, but this was more about home giving her the space to be independently and unashamedly herself than about concern or sympathy for the others. Charlotte did her (and us) a dreadful disservice in destroying her second novel or the parts of it she left. Charlotte could be amazingly negative and critical of those around her and one wonders whether she over estimated the degree to which Emily's work would have added to mid Victorian prudishness and distaste over the Bronte legacy. Well worth a read, whether you are familiar with the Brontes or not.

The Churchyard at Haworth

Still Alice   Lisa Genova,  Simon and Schuster UK Ltd 2009

The Brontes  Juliet Barker,  Abacus 2010 (first published in the UK by Weidenfield & Nicholson 2004)

Both on Amazon

Friday, 24 December 2010

The Archers

Yes, the Archers celebrates its 60th anniversary on 2nd January! At the Bishop's Christmas dinner party a new pastime emerged - guests indulged in a deluge of speculation about what is going to happen in Ambridge.  Now, you might be like me and feel that the greatest virtue of the Archers is that you can not listen to it for five years and yet when you do tune in again you immediately recognise everyone and more or less understand everything that is going on. This is in distinct contrast to East Enders (my other prefered soap) where not to listen for a couple of months renders it necessary to ring a friend for a synopsis of the latest deaths, preganacies, crimes and dramatic departures from the Square. But for better or worse, the writers and director have decided to stage a repeat of the Grace-Archer-dies-in-a-fire technique for improving listening figures. I never met Grace; she died before I was born but she was nearly as real to me, in my childhood, as Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy both of whom died before we got TV in our household.

So who is about to be immortalized? What is the impending disaster we have been led to expect will strike Ambridge on the 2nd January? Five of us who were at the party would like to invite you to comment with your predictions - we are offering public acknowledgement for the nearest guess.

Best guesses so far;
  • Matt is going to massacre the entire Borsetshire Board and heaven knows the outcome of that. South America with Lilian again perhaps?
  • Freddie is going to comit patricide because Nigel is pushing him to do extra schoolwork in the hols. Chosen weapon - the blade of one of his skates. (Enormous implications as to whether Lily can inherit the estate!)
  • Will is going to finally do for Edward. (How has he waited so long?)
  • David and Ruth are going to have a road accident on the icy lanes, leaving the farm for Pip to run. (There are endless ramifications with all the Archer children and grandchildren expecting a slice of the inheritance. Years of bitter wrangling follow.)
  • Helen and Tony are going to have a major row. Helen will rush out and have a road accident because she is so upset. Tony will be unable to cope with losing a second child and will commit suicide, leaving Pat to bring up Helen's baby (which will be born just before the life support system she has been on for weeks is turned off.)
  • In a not totally uncharacteristic fit of rage, David Archer will murder the bloke who has been threatening him after he (David) accused him of stealing his hay. David will end up in prison serving a life sentence and Jill and Ruth will squander every penny they have on useless appeals, making the family bancrupt. Support the Ambridge One! (Did he really do it or has he been framed?)
  • A gypsom hole will open up and swallow Ambridge in its entirity, leaving only Grey Gables. The story will then continue with an almost new cast as 'the everyday tale of country hotel folk' headed up by Caroline Bone (as was) and Linda Snell (heaven help us all!) This, of course, will come to be known as the 'Ripon ending' because of the incidence of many gypsom holes around Ripon.
Can you do better?  (See the message board for thoughts about the new archdeacon! Who is she?)

La Nativite du Seigneur

Edmund Aldhouse, Ripon Cathedral, Monday 20th December 2010
Organ recitals at Ripon Cathedral are always something to look forward to but Assistant Director of Music, Edmund Aldhouse treated us to a particularly memorable evening, last Monday, which certainly has to be up there in my top twenty best ways to prepare for Christmas. Edmund performed all nine movements from Oliver Messiaen's cycle on the birth of Christ, La Nativite du Seigneur. What I love about this work is that it doesn't simply set out to depict the story of Christmas; it is a truly profound meditation on the whole mystery of the incarnation by a devout and mature Catholic. It is a theological treatise in music. The music shows Messiaen's range of writing for the organ and powerfully blends his sources of inspiration drawn from Indian music, bird song and mystical catholicism. I found the two most Christic movements, The Word and God Among Us, almost unbearbly moving in their portrayal of God who created the universe coming among us, His presence with us today in the church, and the hope of ascension in which the descent of incarnation is reversed to become the ascent of Christ lifting all things to the Creator. Messiaen wrote, 'The eternal outpouring of the Word is impossible to express'. In The Word, he gives us an almost endless melody evoking 'the image of God's goodness' based on the Johannine Prologue and a much less known passage in the Wisdon of Solomon (chapter 7). Here, Wisdom is described as a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty, a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God; 'Although she is but one, she can do all things and while remaining in herself, she renews all things.' Music and foundational text intertwine to evoke a breath-taking, subtle and haunting image of the second person of the Trinity.

The texts which inspired the nine movements were wonderfully read by Loretta Williams and Simon Hoare and the perfomance was thoughtfully illuminated by images put together by Andrew Aspland. This will be the first of other multi-media events in which different art forms are employed together to help us access the theological depths of a work of art. Thank you to all involved, but especially to Edmund Aldhouse for adding something very special to this year's celebration of Christmas.

Something to look forward to:

Music for Good Friday
Friday 22nd April 2011, 7.30pm
Ripon Cathedral
Edmund Aldhouse
Marcel Dupre
Le Chemin de la Croix
The story of the Passion with organ music, readings and images.

PS. Can anyone tell me how to find an acute accent? I can find the grave at alt 0232 but not the accute!

Thursday, 16 December 2010


This Advent, I have been very conscious of those who wait. I have four friends who are expecting babies any day (one has arrived!) I have an elderly relative who can't see or hear very well and so spends much of her life waiting for others to try to communicate or for assitance with things most of us take for granted that we can do ourselves. I have heard the stories of several people who are in a period of unnerving waiting to hear whether their jobs will be cut or not. Then we have all been conscious of prisoners who await trial or release or execution. Many of us rejoiced when An Sang Su Chi's years of waiting ended with her release from house arrest. Many of us have been moved by the plight of Sakineh Mohammedi Ashtiani who, in five years in prison, has suffered torture, lashing, retrial for the same crime and still awaits probable execution. These are just the people we hear about.

I contrast this with my own life, at the moment. Much as I do not want it to be filled with small busyness, it is. I caught myself, yesterday, making up beds for visitors with the mobile clamped to one ear so that I could talk to the doctor about a relative's medication while also listening to a CD from which I was trying to select music for Christmas services as the soup was boiling over in the kitchen. We allow our days to be filled so full of the small. We feel we are forced to, but in truth, we are not. There is time in every day to stop. The people who do wait and their stories could, if we let them, teach us the value of 'waiting and watching' spaces and seasons in our lives. Moments when we are at rest and we become conscious of what the present moment holds - there may be anticipation and fear, there may be peace and serenity, there may be memories to look through, there may be a pregnant emptiness or a great longing. Whatever there is for us, it can rise; it will show us something about what God is drawing us towards. It will reveal our prioirities and expose them in God's light and love. It may spur us to more purposeful, less frenetic action.

In Arvo Part's piece for 'cello and piano, Spiegel im Spiegel, the slow piano part gives a sense of the pianist waiting to place each note at just the right moment. The waiting and the dying of each previous note is what allows the music to rise.

Time is too slow for those who wait,
too swift for those who fear,
too long for those who grieve,
too short for those who rejoice,
but for those who love, time is eternity.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

From Monteverdi to the Messiah

Ripon Choral Society and the Orchestra d'Amici performed Handel's Messiah at the cathedral last night at what is becoming an annual highlight. The Messiah is all the more extraordinary for having been written in 24 days. Handel was a man of deep faith and, as Beethoven said, he, of all composers, knew best how to achieve grand effects and stir the heart and spirit using simple means. Every year, one or other part of the oratorio takes me by surprise and I hear something new in this extraordinary music - it's rather like the scriptures themselves  - there is always something yet to discover! John Dunford manages to keep performances fresh, year by year. This year, the pace of some of the arias and choruses brought a real vigor and precision to the music and words. Duncan Rock, the bass, was indisposed so his part was taken  at very short notice by Dominic Barber, a bass baritone who has recently sung Idomeneo at the Edinburgh Fetsival. All the soloists were excellent and distinctive and sang some of the lesser known versions of arias. Rebecca Lea (soprano) had the most most amazing upper register so that arias like 'And Suddenly there was with the Angel' and Rejoice Geatly' just soared!

There was a story (it may be apocryphal!) that Handel visited Hafod, a stately home in the Welsh mountains near Plynlumon and was inspired by the majesty of the surrounding country to write the Messiah. Be that as it may, my memory of Welsh Christmases is that almost every town could field a choir and orchestra which could give a more than creditable performance of the Messiah. So I come with high expectations! The choirs of Yorkshire are equally wonderful and Ripon Choral Society is outstanding in its ability to make a whole range of music live. Not long ago they tackled the difficult Monteverdi Vespers (2010 is the work's 400th anniversary) which require a very different and strongly rhythmic approach with the choir dividing into ten parts at times. Again the soloists were excellent and the whole performance took us into the rather strange and experimental world of early seventeenth century music where the composers of the day inhabited a space somewhere between the old polyphonic styles of writing and the newer styles we are more accustomed to hearing in Baroque music. I've also enjoyed the Choral Society singing Carl Jenkins and Faure and I look forward to hearing in them in Britten's War Requiem (2nd April 2011) and Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle (18th June 2011).

Unfortunately, I cannot get to Richmond next Saturday where the Richmond Choral Society, under the baton of Kathryn Haworth, are singing Schubert's Mass in G in St Mary's church. I know that last year the snow interfered with their performance and so we hope for better conditions this year and realise how extremely fortunate we are to have such a feast of music across the whole area.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Why blog?

It won't have escaped your notice that blogging has caused one or two members of the clergy trouble just lately. So 'why blog?' I ask myself. 'Is it sensible, is it a good use of time?' There are many forms of communication and many ways of extablishing relationships and let me put it on record that I think nothing can replace the actual presence of priests and ministers of the gospel in their communities. 'The Word became flesh' - God came personally and physically among us. For this reason, the greatest proportion of my time will always be going out and about and joining people in the places where they worship and pray and have fun or meet to discuss difficult issues and make decisions. Then there is always going to be a place for 'analogue' communication - the printed word, the piece of paper in our hands. We enjoy reading the Sharow parish magazine that drops magically through our door (with no effort on our part) every month. It keeps us in touch with neighbours and village concerns. I still like the mailings that drop through the front door and that I can browse through in a leisurely way over a cuppa. Somtimes it's easier and more pleasant to read these than spend yet more time looking at a computer screen.

However, these, like, to a certain extent, traditional preaching, are forms of communication when used by most parish churches that wing their way outwards and produce.... well no-one quite knows what effect. Rather as 'the Spirit blows where it wills.' One of the interesting things about digital communication is the potential it offers for reciprocal communication. I write something; some of you comment or email in to say 'You got that wrong from my perspective' or 'But have you thought about it like this?' Of course, I'm not suggesting that the range of comment you recieve as a blogger is truly representative of all that is out there, but it is a valuable tool for keeping in touch with what people are thinking and what they are interested in. And I can see that it may sometimes be easier for people to be honest and to give criticism objectively in an electronic exchange than it is face to face.

So yes, I do think that blogging and other forms of electronic communication have an important place in the ministry of some priests, provided that they are used alongside other forms of communication and provided that they are kept in their place. I am aware that they can become addictive or overly time consuming. I am aware of the danger of becoming inappropriately personal or of over reacting to something without taking proper time for thought.

I've been blogging for a couple of weeks. It takes me about fifteen minutes to write a blog and sometimes a few minutes to get the photos sorted out or the references to other websites correct. Already, I'm beginning to sense what the readers are most interested in. So far, the most read posts are Advent Preaching and No-one Under 40? closely followed by End of Life Care, Shrinking the Carbon Footprint and Apostolic Women. Celebrations at Kirkby Overblow is creating quite a stir too!  

I am hoping that blogging will prove to be a useful way to share information and to promote discussion in an archdeaconry as geographically widespread as Richmond.  Already, commenters have made me aware of things I did not know or had not thought about and have said things like 'I thought I was the only person in my church like me, but I see that there are others out there who are interested in the same things.' Some have commented that the book recommendations are useful and others have felt connected to events they couldn't get to. (Mind you, I'm hoping it won't snow too much more this year!)

I also hope that, becasue the blog is read beyond the archdeaconry and diocese, it will keep our pressing issues and interests connected with wider thinking and insight. So far there are readers in the USA, Croatia, Austria, Slovakia, Germany, Kuwait, Malaysia, China and the Czech Republic!

Keep telling me what you think. And thank you for your patience if I take a long time to respond - I am determined not to spend more time than I can realistically give each week but I do think about the things you tell me!

The Armed Forces Community Covenant

With the large number of Armer Forces personnel in the area, I've been giving some thought to what the Military Covenant means. For those of you who, like me, until a few days ago were a bit hazy on its contents, the Covenant (which has existed since 2000) states that the Government
 'expects the Armed Forces to carry out their duties in defence of the state to the best of their abilities, up to and including the possibility of death in action. In return, the Armed Forces expect that they and their immediate dependants will be cared for both during and after service. The nation should respect, honour and endorse the sacrifices made by the Armed Forces on its behalf. This must be a two way relationship and, just as the Armed Forces expect the nation to recognize their 'right to be different', so they must respect the values of the society they represent and defend.'

The Prime Minister recently asked for a report showing how the Military Covenant can be rebuilt and strengthened. The Task Force commissioned to do the job reported in September 2010 with, among other things, a recommendation that an Armed Forces Community Covenant be established. This will enable 'central and local government, charities and society more widely to join together to support the 'Armed Forces Family' - serving personnel, veterans, reservists and their families.

What might the Community Covenant mean? The report recognises that this will have to be worked out differently in every area but some examples of good practice are given - closer links between military services and civilian services and charities, Welfare Pathway Schemes which help families access support from MOD, Local Authority, statutory providers and the voluntary sector from 'one stop' access points.  Some areas already have Armed Forces Community Champions. Scarborough has a 'Heroes Welcome' scheme which allows military personnel discount from local businesses. Help with legal aid, financial management, insurance and finding local employment could also be provided, as could discounted driving lessons and car hire in rural areas and schemes that provide special help for children moving schools. The report gives examples of schemes that benefit both the local community and the military personnel such as provision of extra dental care,  schemes for early learning and greater support for local cultural activites.

Some of the military chaplains and the local clergy are planning a study day together in February to look at what it is possible for the churches and the civilian clergy to get involved with. The report describes Firm Base Programmes where there are Army Super Garrisons. Catterick is one such garrison (others are at Aldershot and Tidworth) seeking to provide geater stability for Armed Forces personnel so that families will not have to move around so much and soldiers will have a better sense of identity with the community to which they return between tours of duty. We need to do some creative thinking around what response we can make to this new approach to working in partnership with our military personnel. All part of the Big Society agenda, I think, and, as much as some scepticism about political motivation might be justified, we would be ill advised to ignore the opportunities to create better social cohesion and to recognise the special place and needs of those who serve their country and their dependants.
or put  army community covenant into your search engine and click on FAQs

Monday, 6 December 2010

Cities of Sanctuary

Sheffield, Huddersfield, Hull, Bradford, Leicester, Bristol, Swansea, Leeds...what do all these cities have in common? They are 'Cities of Sanctuary'. Cities of Sanctuary is a movement to create a culture of hospitality in towns and cities across Britain for those seeking asylum. These places commit to becoming places of safety and welcome for people who have fled persecution and terror in their own countries. Have you ever told someone you thought you could trust something in confidence only to find that it has been used to harm you? For many asylum seekers this kind of experience where the harm escalates into violence and deprivation for themselves and members of their family has been an everyday occurrence. A book that tells the story of two women - one British and the other fleeeing persecution - and gives a glimpse of the way that asylum seekers may experience their 'welcome' to the UK  is the Other Hand by Chris Cleave, Spectre 2008. It's an unusual and gripping story - certainly one you'll never forget once you have read it.

City of Sanctuary is a volunteer-led, grassroots movement which encompasses a network of clubs, charities, businesses, individuals and faith groups. To find out more, visit and read about what has happened in several cities. There's also a blog spot which you can access through the site where you can read the stories of asylum seekers. Very moving and interesting.  Leeds is just becoming a city of sanctuary....what about Ripon? There are towns invloved, too.

PS. I've just tried the link I've given you and it's not responding very well. If you can't activate it, try putting 'Sheffield city of sanctuary' into your search engine and it will take you to the site. Sheffield was the first such city. Links that don't work have to be high on my list of 'don't likes'!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Light Up a Life

Every year, St. Michael's Hospice and Ripon cathedral host a special service in the cathedral to which people come to remember those they love who have died. In the words of Dean Eric Milner-White's wonderful bidding prayer, written in 1918 for the service of nine lessons and carols at King's College, Cambridge, we hold in our hearts at Christmas time all those who 'rejoice with us but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number....'

Here are some images of today's service

Bring us, O Lord,
at our last awakening,
into the house and gate of Heaven
to enter into that gate and dwell in that house
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light;
no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity
in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen.
                                                                                    John Donne 1572-1631

Christmas At Marrick

Archery in the snow; Marrick Priory 2010
I'm very sad that the weather has meant that  Christmas at Marrick has had to be cancelled, today. I am sure I speak for lots of us when I say that I look forward to a postponed celebration in January (possibly with a new theme!)  Marrick Priory is always a wonderful place to visit - there's a warmth of welcome and a sense of happy purposefulness that cheers and refreshes you, whatever state of mind you arrive in! Marrick is an outdoor educational and residential centre aiming 'to provide a positive and enriching experience of countryside and community life in a Christian envirnoment that will be remembered for a life time.' In our risk averse culture, it provides adventure activities for schools, youth and adult groups and groups with special needs. People of all faiths and none are welcome. The membership of the Trust who run it is drawn from the local community and from the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds. A wonderful place for time away, whether to enjoy the outdoors or to hold a parish awayday or a meeting. As you can see, Robin Hood was at work there, teaching archery skills, just the other day!
Christmas greetings and good wishes to all the staff!

Celebrations at Kirkby Overblow

All Saints, Kirkby Overblow have just completed an ambitious project which has transformed the pew lined nave of their church into a 'creative and empowering space for both church services and community events' in the words of Stuart Lewis, their parish priest. Last night, and for the two preceding nights, audiences have filled the church for performances of Ranjit Bolt's The Grouch by the Kirkby Overblow Dramatic Society. This was an inspired choice of play by their director, Alice Sheepshanks. The Grouch is a contemporary adaption of Moliere's Le Misanthrope by playwright and translator Ranjit Bolt. It moves Moliere's satirical and witty observation of the hypocrisy of French aristocratic society, first seen in 1666, to 21st century London life. The central character, a well known literary critic, rails against his perception of political correctness-run-mad and hypocrisy during the Blair years. The all important crossing in love, so central to the plot, is accomplished by using the device of the indiscreet email. The reason I thought the choice of play so apt was that, here we were in a medieaval church that has been re-envisioned for contemporary needs and use, seeing a seventeenth century play that has been skillfully reworked to produce a witty commentary on recent political life and changes in society. Yet both the church building and the play remain faithful to the spirit of their original purpose and roots. New possibilites emerging from a true understanding of tradition.

The director and cast carried off a difficult challenge very well indeed and made the characters and situation speak through a script entirely in verse. This was not easy as the stylized verse and the contemporary situation created an initial dissonance which the actors managed to turn to the advantage of the satire. Fairly subtle stuff that called for a confidence many amateur actors do not possess!  David Zucker played the lead with authority. Olivia Murray who played Celia - 'She's pretty, sparkling and witty, it's true, just make sure the joke's not on you' - is right at the beginning of her acting career and is  someone to watch out for.

As Robert Henderson, the producer, told us, the church will be back in use for worship today at 8.30am and with the Christmas services and activites to prepare for, there must be a small army of dedicated volutneers. Thank you for an enjoyable evening, but more than that, showing us what can be done when a community, together, decides to make greater use of the space in its church.  

Dementia Care; Time is the Greatest Gift

I recently came across the Acorn Charity, a group in the Ripon and Harrogate area who raise money to help people with dementia and scleroderma and their carers.

 You may remember that about three years ago there was an ITV documentary, Love's Farewell which showed Malcolm Pointon, a dementia sufferer and his wife, Barbara, as they moved through Malcolm's illness to his death. I had seen the hubub in the media about the rights and wrongs of showing someone close to death on TV but, somehow, I had not registed the names of the people involved. I started to watch the documentary not realising that it would turn out to be about the tutors who taught me when I studied music at Homerton College, Cambridge in the 1970's. Both Malcolm and Barbara, gifted musicians and broadcasters, were on the staff of the music department there. I well remember Malcolm's honest and helpful advice about my attempts at composition for the piano. So I was deeply moved to hear him still making music at the piano despite a considerable degree of dementia. Watching this program and then various visits I have made to groups who provide day care for people with Alzheimers and other forms of dementia in this area sparked my interest in the provision of care for sufferers. Much of the standard care that is available does not suit the needs of people with dementia very well. Their great needs are for time (not being rushed) and for continuity (it's more difficult for someone with dementia to cope with making new relationships). We all know that the pressures on services that provide care mean that these two things can be almost impossible to achieve.

Acorn has been supporting the Alzheimer's Society which is based at Phoenix Park in Ripon. From that office, the Society covers Ripon, Harrogate and Craven. Besides running a 9-4 Monday - Friday Helpline, the Alzheimer's Society support befriending servies, lunch clubs and cafes, holidays for sufferers and carers and home visits by dementia support workers who have some specialist knowledge and skills. In a little on-line presentation Why Skillful Care Matters, Barbara Pointon describes the things that make a difference. The right kind of care can mean that someone is able to stay in their own home and  relatives are able to continue life's journey with their loved one without becoming completely overwhelmed by the demands of caring.

Barbara and Malcolm's bravery in sharing their story has produced greater national awareness of the plight of people with dementia. People like Acorn and the Alzheimer's Society co-ordinate efforts locally and help to get care to the people who need it. This is an area of health care that is going to become as big a concern as the fight against cancer in future years. It is part of the story of growing older, a story that must be told and given its place in our thinking about priorities for how and where we deliver care and what research is funded. The course of the disease is slow and doesn't attract the sustained sympathy or interest that some conditions do; the fact that caring for someone with dementia requires a different set of prioirites and communication skills from those normally used and valued in social settings makes carers isolated. 60,000 deaths a year, in the UK, are attributable to dementia and the incidence of the various forms of dementia is rising. Many families are caring for someone affected by it.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Supper with von Balthasar

Bishop James Bell (the Bishop of Knaresborough) delivered a most thought-provoking Advent lecture entitled 'Church, Ministry and Gender' on St Andrew's day. One of his themes was that the church should be corporately (not individualistically) figured (shaped, imprinted) by Christ and that ministry is essentially about building up the church so that 'the Christ-form is more fully planted in the ecclesial body'. Humility, service, and a diverse church that is, among other things, 'multi gendered', and using the gifts of all its members are the keys to this. Well, 'Amen' to that!

published, Blackwell 1997 - a useful reference tome!

Much of what Bishop James said about the sacramentality of the church was based on the writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar, so this sent me to re-acquaint myself with this unusual (for his context and time) catholic theologian. He was not an academic but a devout churchman and priest (he died a few days before he was to be made cardinal in 1988). He was influenced by friends in the literary world and especially by his friendship with Adrienne von Speyr, a doctor and mystic. Together, they set up a religious order. The sources on which he drew for inspiration were very wide. On the one hand, he was immersed in the Johannine and Ignatian traditions (he was a Jesuit for a while). On the other, a questioning of Thomas Aquinas' doctrine of grace and nature led him to a friendship with Karl Barth and serious engagement with Barth's work on analogy and revelation. His own theology was wide ranging but, despite sounding radical and open to  the new, there is a curiously conservative streak to it. To take one example which relates  to gender, in his work on the incarnation, he speaks of the analogy between the Divine emptying out of self and the receptivity of Mary in ways that suggest the Creator-creature relationship is replicated in the male-female relationship. (Not a million miles from Barth's 'man is to woman as A is to B..') It is not therefore surprising to find that he pronounced against the ordination of women, just as he, more famously, pronounced against Rahner's notion of 'anonymous Christians' and some of Kung and Schillebeekx' more progressive ideas.

Bishop James, in his lecture, talked about the ordination of women as being an example of what St Vicent of Lorins called 'development of faith, not alteration.' He cited 1 Peter 2 where there is no gender differentiation in the 'royal priesthood' and spoke of the deep significance of women in Jesus' ministry, suggesting a gender diversity at the heart of Christ-shaped community. It seems to me that, however much we protest that the diversity of human nature is taken up and shaped into a new kind of community in Christ, women are always going to be viewed as theologically problematical unless we move away from understandings of the Creator God that allow 'God' to be accessed primarily or exclusively through male metaphor and analogy. Bishop James addressed this briefly at the end of his lecture by quoting Genesis 1.27 'so God created humankind in His image...male and female He created them'.  The work of uncovering the riches of female as well as male imagery for God, the Creator, sits alongside anything we can say about Christ and therefore about the church because, unless we see that Christ was revealing the glory of a multi-gendered (to use Bishop James' phrase) God, we will always see Christ-shaped inclusion of women as somehow being a culturally-relative concession to women - and that is where we get into discussions of 'rights'. I agree with Bishop James in thinking that gender debates are not about rights but about a true understanding of sacramentality. 'Rights' necessarily come in where a skewed understanding of the sacramentality of life-in-the-image-of-God allows some persons to be badly treated or harmed. It is theologies that fail to see the appropriateness of female as well as male imagery for God that are responsible for many of the ways in which women have been or are harmed. 

Thank you to Bishop James for a most interesting, stimulating and challenging lecture - there aren't many people who could get me reading von Balthasar over my supper!  Please can we have more lectures like this - and more debate?   

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Shrinking the Carbon Footprint

Our diocese has recently produced a very practical little booklet Caring for God's Earth  temporarily out of action - please use links at foot of post for further information (07.01.11)

Apparently, the Church of England leaves a larger carbon footprint than one of the leading UK supermarkets and we, in the Ripon and Leeds area, are committed to trying to do something about this. The booklet outlines five areas in which the local church can make a difference
  • Energy use at church and home
  • Buildings
  • Transport and travel
  • Purchasing and supplies
  • Theology and worship
If you're like me, you perhaps worry about what you can realisitcally do. I have a job that depends heavily on driving long distances every day. I use a very small diesel fuelled car which does a huge milage to the gallon; it would be far more convenient (especially in the snow!) to drive a four by four but my fuel consumption would triple. We all have to make such decisions and  sometimes we are dicouraged by feeling that our contribution is a mere drop in the ocean '..but the ocean would be diminshed without that drop'.

 I have to admit that it took me some time to become convinced that global warming is a real threat. The thing that did it for me was a visit to the Alternative Technology Centre near Machynlleth where I was introduced to the Transition Movement   This is a global movement, based on wide ranging, reputable reaseach, that seeks to identify possible future scenarios resulting from climate change and peak oil issues and to discover positive solutions. It seems to me to be a locally driven and intelligent response to the begining of the end of the Oil Age and it encompasses food, water, transport, 'social capital', health care and more.

Edward P. Echlin (an echological theologian who is an Honary Research Fellow at the Universtity College of Trinity and All Saints, Leeds) has recently published Climate and Christ; A Prophetic Alternative the Columba Press 2010. This builds on his earlier work The Cosmic Circle: Jesus and Ecology, Columba Press 2004 which looks at the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth as a source of inspiration for ecological and environmental concerns (an angle that was new to me) and then relates the suffering creation to the cosmic significance of the cross and resurrection. In a sense this earlier book gives the theological framework for Climate and Christ which I found more applied and therefore more directly useful in thinking about my own response to climate change. Echlin quotes a Chinese proverb

'If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end upwhere we are headed.'

So how can the churches help to open the gates to new paths of living without so much oil dependency?

Middlesmoor Church
Well a good start might be to read the diocesan booklet and get your PCC discussing it. And then, thinking about our own daily bread is a good place to make an impact - all of us can examine what we eat and follow the 'LOAF' principles - Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly and Fairly traded. Or you might like to look at one of these websites and take some action:  (a conservation charity for churchyards and burial grounds)

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Advent Preaching: God's Graciousness Can Be as Unsettling as God's Displeasure

Two really good reads on preaching I've just discovered are

Can Words Express Our Wonder; Preaching in the Church Today Rosalind Brown, Canterbury Press 2009

The Word Militant; Preaching a Decentering Word Walter Bruggemann, Fortress Press paperback edition 2010

I've long been a big fan of Bruggemann, but Brown's writing is new to me. In some ways the two authors both come from similar places in that they understand preaching as the activity of the imagination engaging with secripture.  Brown uses a musical metaphor to talk of preaching as 'Singing the Lord's song in a new land' (Ps.137) The preacher learns to make their own melody from the raw materials of scripture and tradition, that is, tradition in the sense of the community which is already engaged in the adventure of preaching. I loved her insight that preaching is engaging for the listener because of the preacher's 'immersion in, not ingenuity with God's word.'  And her wisdom that preparation for preaching involves a challenge to live differently, not simply to speak creatively. This is why preaching has always been one of the main well springs of spiritual renewal in my own life - and also an unnerving barometer of my own spiritual health at times. The book is full of practical help for the preacher and an enjoyable read.

If you know Bruggemann, then there is nothing very unexpected in this volume but I found two chapters particularly helpful. The first, 'An Imaginative Or' sets out very clearly Bruggemann's  understanding of how the Old Testament leads to the New; it does not lead there 'singularly and necessarily' but only with 'immense interpretive agility'. The connection is grounded in the character of Yahweh and the character of the people who are called out of one kind of existence to something new and radical by their relationship (experienced in absence as much as presence) with this God, a God who holds out a series of moral either/or's. (Think of some of the NT parables.) When the people are under threat or in despair, these moral alternatives give the key to survival and transcendence of the threat through the possibility of living differently. Two examples; either it's every man for himself at the expense of others, or read Deuteronomy 24.19 - 22 where the three-cornered relationship of land owner, land and landless produces a way for all to live together; either become a 'punctilious community of religious discipline, engaging in religious scruple with amazing callousness about the world of human transaction' or read Isaiah 58.1-9 and learn to commit to your oppressed, hungry or homeless neighbour. And the thrust of all this? Decide, by an act of will ,to turn your back on the way things are and look for One who will show you how to live in new ways....

I also like the chapter called 'The Shrill Voice of the Wounded Party'. In it Bruggemann debunks the stereo-types of the Old Testament that portray the God of the Old Testament as unbending and unmerciful, governing through a rigid system of punishment for sin. He gives four examples that show brilliantly how subtle the Old Testament is in its understanding of sin and how sinners are dealt with. There are no absolutes here. Jonah, for example, finds God disturbing precisely because he percieves a forgiveness (for the transgressing but supposedly repentant people of Nineveh) deep within God that he had not expected or wanted. God's graciousness can be as unsettling as God's displeasure.

Chapters like these are giving me plenty to think about and chew on this Advent!

Monday, 29 November 2010

No one under 40?

The Band With No Name is greeted with enthusiasm during Gracefest 2010 at Ripon

One of the myths that is around about rural life is that there 'aren't many young people'. (I hear that said by churches approximately once a day.) Actually one source of research suggests that under 16's account for only 0.9% less of the population in rural areas than in urban ones. It is true that the 16-24 year old age range migrate to the towns and cities in large numbers, but 43.4% of all migrants to the counrtyside are aged between 25 and 44.  There's young and there's young, I suppose. But all this suggests that, even though we do have an aging population in the region, there ought to be quite a few under 40's around. And I think the evidence of my eyes tells me this is so! So I was interested when our Children and Young People's Officer told me about a conversation he had had with NYCC's Children's Strategy and Commissioning Officer who alerted him to the fact that there are young families who are isolated and perhaps needing help across the area, especially in the Ripon, Wensleydale and Richmond areas. On Sunday, at Sharow, the congregation was collecting toys for churches to distribute over Christmas and this got me to thinking about what we can do to support and encourage older young people and particularly young parents. Some of our churches have after school activities (not necessarily - indeed, often not - in church) and many of these result in parents coming to pick children up and stopping to chat, join in with activites and share refreshments. Several of these 'clubs' are bigger and more regularly attended than Sunday services. It's very good when the lines between Sunday worship and community celebration get blurred like this and great fun when the church goes to where people are.

We're thinking about you, Richmond!

Richmond Castle from the Green Howards' Memorial
It's been a great day for sharing a shovel with a neighbour, having long chats on the phone with people you can't get to see, walking across snow-clad fields, drinking tea with the residents of a nursing home and researching places to buy 4X4's on the internet. But I know the snow has caused a little disappointment for Richmond where their new Rector, John Chambers is being welcomed, this evening, in the weather-bound absence of many who would love to be there but daren't venture out. John, we hope your new ministry will be very happy inspite of the chilly start.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

As Winter sets in....

Snow in the Village
Just a pretty picture to remind us of the importance of good neighbours to help us get through the cold spell. And to remind us to pray for all who have to venture out on the roads in adverse conditions, especially farmers, emergency services, nurses and carers, clergy and those who work in transport, mail and haulage.

O God, our Creator,
You are present in Your power in every place.
Preserve, we pray, all who travel in treacherous conditions;
Surround and warm them with your loving care,
Protect and separate them from every danger,
And bring them in safety to their journey's end,
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Lost in Wonder, Love and Praise?

Christmas at Ripon
I've just spent a snowy day preparing a course on worship for York St John University and marvelling, yet again, over what it is that makes worship live (or conversely appear static, incomprehensible ritual.) For 12 evenings from Easter to July, in Ripon, we shall be examining the deep roots of Christian worship. What transformed it from a group of people basically following Jewish worship practices and recalling Jesus in a simple meal, to  a year-round, world wide celebration of Christ's birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension? How do Christians understand the freedom, insight and 'fresh take' on tradition that the Holy Spirit brings in diverse cultures? And how do our experiences of worship today emerge from and draw on these traditions while speaking of new experiences of God in the lives of believers? For nearly 20 years, I've taught worship (liturgy) to students in Britain, Sri Lanka and the Czech Republic and to students from across Africa. It is always an adventure in which we discover afresh how God communicates with and renews people whether in a grand cathedral mass or a tiny country church where Prayer Book Mattins has been the bedrock of worship for four centuries, whether in  rediscovering the path of the Celtic saints or serving breakfast to people with no home and missing morning prayers to find them dry clothes and a food hamper. Today I have been planning a twelve week module for Readers which will be based at Thorpe Prebend in Ripon, in the spring. If more people are interested, comment here, and we will run a second group for others.

Apostolic Women

Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori
Chief Pastor and Primate ECUSA

Apostolic Women, Apostolic Authority ed. Percy, Rees and Gaffin, Canterbury Studies in Anglicanism is a good read. The articles in it mainly came out of a conference of women bishops, clergy and lay leaders at Ripon College Cuddesdon around the time of the Lambeth Conference 2008. I was intrigued by Emma Percy's 'What Clergy Do, Especially When It Looks Like Nothing.' She compares the ministry of parish clergy with learning to be a mother. Based on the research of Naomi Stadlen, she argues that, as with mothers, a lot of what clergy do looks straightforward, even instinctive, and it is quite difficult to articulate exactly what has been achieved. Yet, just as we notice disturbed, unhappy children, we notice unhappy congregations. The parallels Percy develops between motherhood and priesthood are interesting - two 'jobs not like other jobs'. She writes, for example, about the skills involved in taking the story of an unknown person and, working with the family during a pastoral visit, creating the narrative picture that speaks of the person's uniqueness at their funeral. She highlights the ability most clergy have to shift between different contexts and 'modes of being' in the course of a day; from a big funeral to a finance meeting to a toddler group to an adult study group. Being truly present in each of these circumstances demands the kind of letting go of other things that may be on one's mind that caring for a young child so often requires. The book also has the results of Revd Canon Jane Hedges' research on attitudes to women in leadership in the Church of England and the sermon delivered by The Most Revd Katherine Jefferts Schori (pictured above) at the conference.

Ripon Cathedral New Website

Ripon Cathedral 2009 D.M. Challoner

Bede (Ripon Cathedral Reredos)
   Congratulations to the cathedral on their exciting new website - one of the best I've seen lately and well worth a visit if you are looking for ideas for days out, services, educational, arts and recreational events. It amazes me that one community can be engaged in so much!  I am looking forward to the Advent services tomorrow and then, of course, all the Christmas services which the choir are busy practising for. The cathedral looks spectaular after today's snowfall.

Faith in the Future of the Countryside

This recent conference about life and faith in the countryside a was a source of inspiration and some good practical recommendations came from it. With speakers like Prof. Michael Winter (Exeter Universtiy), Prof. Mark Shucksmith (Newcastle University), the Archbishop of Canterbury and input from deleagtes from the four corners of Britain, it is hoped the government and churches might take notice.  There was an urgent call for the government to support affordable housing schemes by making provision for planning decisions based on parish plans rather than on complex, expensive referenda. Another recommendation asked the government to remove barriers to churches accessing public funding for projects that benefit the community. The churches were challenged to provide better training for rural clergy, specifically for the unique demands of multi church ministry. As the daughter of a forester who did some of the replanting of reclaimed land in the South Wales mining valleys, I was delighted with the recommendation that the government safeguard the economic, ecological and recreational benefits which  public forest estate brings when Forestry Commission land is sold. For more information visit