Sunday, 30 January 2011

Archbishops' Meeting Final Statements

I welcome the statements made by the primates (archbishops and presiding bishops from throughout the Anglican Communion) at the end of their meeting in Dublin today

Climate change

The murder of Ugandan, David Kato

Open letter to Robert Mugabe

Violence against women and girls

I would like to see some work and action on poverty, disease, trade, debt and global resourcing.Thought the outcomes of the meeting seemed a bit thin, really.

Dioceses Commission; The Northern Archdeaconry

Above Littondale

Pen y Ghent in January

Ribblehead Viaduct
I've spent quite a bit of the weekend driving around the area of Yorkshire that forms the northern archdeaconry (the new archdeaconry of Richmond) in the Dioceses Commission's proposals for one large diocese for north and west Yorkshire. I have to say that putting most of Richmond and Craven archdeaconries together creates a very large area indeed! I know this is stating the obvious, but perhaps you don't realise just quite how huge until you have been driving on roads with 25% and 16% gradient sections for over two hours and discover you still have not crossed from one side to the other! I can see the coherence of  all the Yorkshire Dales working together and I can see that as regards organising support for parishes there will be advantages in having a dedicated area bishop of Ripon and an archdeacon giving a large part of their attention to rural life. Deaneries would remain much as they are except where parishes on the boundaries decide to move into other dioceses. But I am still wondering about the sheer size of the area. There is, of course, the precedent of the archdeaconry of Cleveland in the York diocese which also covers a vast and diverse area and yet holds together and achieves a sense of identity. Will our geography allow us to do the same? The northern and eastern dales run largely west-east while the western and southern dales run largely north-south and the main routes by which you can pass from east to west are limited; Hawes to Ribblehead, Pateleybridge to Grassington and Blubberhouses to Skipton. The roads in many places in the north are what I call 40mph roads - try to average more and you are likely to arrive late and feeling very frazzled! The eastern and southern areas of the archdeaconry are the populous areas and the A1, A684, A59 and A61 give good access to Ripon but it isn't easy to see how the most westerly areas would readily relate to Ripon. Going back on something I suggested in my initial comments on the Commision's report, it is quite difficult to see how the area bishop of such an area could also be the diocesan bishop and fulfill a role in the House of Lords as travel would be hugely time consuming.

I appreciated stunning countryside and met some lovely people on my wanderings and I popped into a couple of very welcoming churches - I enjoyed the music and the warm atmosphere at Haworth. What an amazing area we have been placed in and called to be stewards of! We must all keep thinking and talking and praying. Do please let me know what your thoughts are.

Friday, 28 January 2011

A Wake Up Call!

The Church of England spends too much time thinking about issues that don't matter very much to anyone outside the church and having arguments that people outside the church have moved beyond. This was the hard hitting message of journalist and actor Gavin Campbell to the assembled archdeacons of the Church of England, this week. Gavin is best known to me as one of the presenters of the ?1970/80's TV program That's Life with Esther Rantzen. He is a recently baptised member of the Church of England, so he spoke as an 'insider' when he challenged a room full of 80 archdeacons to think about whether the C of E is engaging with the nation and whether it is addressing the concerns that people in the street expect it to address. From what he said and from a vox pop he showed us, we were left in no doubt that arguments about women bishops, gay bishops, ordinariats and schisms in the communion are not what people want to see from the church and that, whether they like what they see of the church or not, many do still look to us for moral comment and, more than that, for action to help those who most need it. But they do not think they are seeing or hearing what they hope to see and hear from the Church of England. 

Many of us sat through Campbell's presentation thinking, 'We've been saying this for ages'. As one archdeacon said to me, 'I've been trying to preach this message for the last 20 years. So why does nothing change?' Well, I suppose that one answer is that archdeacons do not in fact tend to shape the messages about the church that find their way into the media - it is very largely bishops, press and communications officers and journalists who do that. Archdeacons, in my experience, often tend to be fairly moderate in their views and don't usually create headline grabbing news. But that wasn't really the point. We, as archdeacons, can't dodge our responsibility; we are part of the leadership of the church and it is up to us to play our part effectively in bringing about change and making sure that the church is both engaged in the things people see as important and able to communicate about them. So are we infact ineffective and out of touch?

Campbell's message was that people want to hear from the church on issues that cut us to the quick - or ought to. We need to review our priorities. Sexuality and justice in terms of how people are treated for their gender and sexual orientation matter and the horrific murder of the Ugandan gay human rights activist David Kato Kisule, which has shocked us all today, underlines the fact that there is urgent work to do on these issues. But Campbell's point was that there are other injustices that should equally outrage everyone one of us to the point of unceasing prayer and action until there is change. And these are  issues people expect the church to talk about and wade into and even make mistakes about; they want to see and hear us getting involved!  Above all they want to see the churches taking a lead in action to help the very poorest of the world - peoples who are starving and dying of thirst and disease and the consequences of war in large numbers every minute of every day. To illustrate the point, Campbell showed us a searing film he had made about starvation and war in the Sudan.  Aren't many of Jesus' parables about compassion in the face of human need and desperation?  He is recorded as reserving His most frightening warnings for the end of the parables which show people overlooking and refusing to respond to the obvious human need that is in front of them - for example, the parables about Dives and Larazus and the sheep and the goats ('In so far as you did not do it for the least of these, you did not do it for me.') Compassion failure - is this the main sin of the churches at the present moment? Compassion means, quite simply, 'It matters to me, you matter to me.'    

During the National Archdeacons' Conference at which Gavin Campbell spoke, we also heard a moving address by the Rt Revd and Rt Hon Lord Eames, former Primate of Ireland, in which he spoke of the Irish 'Troubles', the peace process and the effect of sectarian terrorism on a whole society. From his experience at the centre of church and community life and as an instigator of the peace negotiations, he challenged our behaviour and asked us to think, as priests, about how reconciliation is possible, about the absolute necessity of being with people in adversity no matter what the cost or how difficult, and about the place of story and memory in the process of suffering and reconciliation. People are shaped by memories - this is what makes humanity unique - and memory cannot be disregarded as Jesus showed when he placed memory at the centre of the eucharist - 'Do this in remembrance of me'. 

What came through to me from both speakers' challenges was that the Church of England is being too narrowly selective about the stories - the 'memory chains' - that it gets involved with and gives attention to. And it is colluding with the religious affairs media who are also guilty of this and seem even more obsessed than the church with a very small range of issues. In fact, throughout the conference, there were many examples of how the churches are engaging in places where there is great adversity and where the stories of our country and our time are shaped - following the floods and the recent shootings in Cumbria, in the board rooms of London banks, at the beds of the dying and at gravesides, with soldiers on the front line in the theatre of war, with asylum seekers, with charities that work tirelessly to bring education in places where there is none, to name but a few. But how often do we hear about this? Part of the problem is undoubtedly that, as one archdeacon pointed out, representatives of the church are usually working in situations where we would not want publicity or attention drawn to the work of delicate negotiation or to the anguish of individuals. But that is only half the picture. I believe that Campbell's wake up call was not unjustified and that he has a picked up on something real in claiming that the Church of England has taken a direction which is deeply uncongenial to the nation in allowing such an excess of its synodical debate and so much of its public life to be concentrated around unresolved sexuality issues. And to do this in a way that seems to most people to pay almost exclusive attention to negative expressions of the place of sexuality and gender in human experience. People on the street (and, in my experience, many of the people in the pews) are saying 'Enough!' and have been saying this for a long time if they haven't walked away.

Four areas in which we could be taking a lead to work for social justice and the alleviation of poverty are
  •  ensuring that there is employment for all who want and need it - working with government and the private sector on the needs of those who are beyond the reach of employment and, as a consequence, pass this lack of opportunity on to their children. There is an overdue need for a major report about this along the lines of Faith in the City.
  • changing people's approach to what and how and how much they consume.
  • reassessing the use of alchohol and drugs and their effect on the lives of many people.
We seem to many people to be a 'two message church' at the moment. Can we not change the track?  Most importantly, and if we do nothing else, we should be
  • systematically working with government, NGOs and charities to address the global imbalance of resources, to find ways of reducing poverty and to create sustainable ways of earning a livelihood in areas of the world where there are disastrous levels of poverty and absolute starvation.
Taking on the challenges of global social injustice and poverty reduction is, I believe, the great spiritual, moral and political imperative of our time and the Church of England and the Anglican Communion should be at the heart of movements which are addressing these challenges. Indeed, the Anglican Communion is well placed to tackle some of these issues with representation from each of the continents at Primates' meetings, at Anglican Consultative Council meetings and at the Lambeth Conferences. I would like to see the current General Synod of the Church of England doing more work in these areas during its five year term and generating headlines that provoke national debate in these areas and not about schism and tolerance of intolerance over gender and sexual orientation. I will commit myself to try to act and pray and speak more on social justice issues and only speak when absolutely necessary on internal church politics. Campbell's message was certainly that unless we all do this, the Church of England and the Anglican Communion are in danger of being so found wanting that they will cease to occupy any significant place in national and international life in the future.

See the Archbishop of Canterbury's statement about David Kato Kisule's death today
Holocaust Memorial Day
The Moscow Airport terrorist attack

A New Manifesto

It is forty years since the Sussex manifesto was published, having an effect on the thinking of the UN and other world organisations. It argued that investment in world development should utilise the insights of science and technology; that science and technologically driven innovations have major roles to play in solving some of the most intractible problems of disease and hunger.

The Social Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability Centre (STEPS) has now published a new manifesto
suggesting fresh ways to link investment, science, technology and sustainable development. Its contents are being acclaimed as a 'new politics.'  Annual spending on development research is now more than one trillion dollars. In this context, the manifesto sets out a three dimensional approach to innovation. Every area of development (health, education, agriculture, trade, energy, distribution, military and so on) presents infinite possibilities for innovation and often these can be suggested and led by local agents rather than imposed from outside. It is also the case that continent-spanning infrastructures employ strategies that need to be scrutinised for new directions and and that these are best identified and prioritised by approaches which include insights from science and technology, distribution and politics. Of every development possibilty, at every level, questions must be asked about what different strategies and innovations will mean for justice and equity. The manifesto calls for governments to create platforms for science and technology to work more directly for social justice, poverty alleviation and to lessen environmental destruction. It also looks for a world where  scientists work more freely and creatively with framers, users, customers and businesses to find innovative solutions to problems and to create new ways of working that are more in tune with local situations. If it hasn't been done before, it might be worth investigating!     

To take an example, in parts of Africa where global markets have pushed populations to concentrate on growing only one type of crop, increased agro-biodiversity with the growing of many crop types, chosen by local farmers, makes for a far better fit with local agricultural practices and social contexts. Plant varieties are selected and tested by farmers and local businesses are innovative in finding ways to opening for their produce in the markets, finding niches among the uncertainties of global markets and climatic changes. This is driven locally and, despite flying in the face of conventional market-driven wisdom, these ventures often work and are providing sustainable solutions to 
problems of local food supply, employment and trading.

All very complex indeed and hard to grasp, but the Manifesto is well worth a look.         

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Largest Change in Land Ownership Since 1945?

In October 2010, James Paice MP, Minister for Agriculture and Food anounced government proposals to sell off around half the forest estate belonging to the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission was set up in 1919 as a non ministerial government department to propect and expand the nation's forests and to provide a higher percentage of the timber used in the years following the first world war, thus reducing the amount of timber that was imported. In 1919, the UK had remanining only 5% of its original forest cover and over the years since, the Forestry Commission has doubled this. It currently manages about 1 million hectares of land, 26% of which is in England. The Commission focuses on sustainable forest management and maximising public benefit from forestry. It also regulates private felling. Following crticism, in the 1960-70's that it was over-using conifers it has developed an approach to forest management that balances timber production, landscaping amelioration (ie. judicious use of a number of species with an eye for factors such as the appearance of the forest and the needs of different wildlfe species), ecological restoration and recreational provision. Protecting, managing and expanding Britain's forests and increasing their value both in environmental and economic terms is a very long term project and plans take a minimum of 30 years to come to fruitition.

Well, I ask myself, is it sensible to sell all this forest estate off and what might the effects be? What will be the impact on the uplands of England and the communities that inhabit them? There is perhaps an argument that says that those who own the land will manage it with greater commitment than a government department. Or is Caroline Lucas MP, of the Green Party, right in judging the sale of forest estate to be an act  of 'unforgivable environmental vandalism' which will lead to the exploitation and mismanagement of Britain's forests?

I recently came across some research, reported in the Economic and Social Research Council's annual magazine, which had looked at the future of the Uplands. These areas of mainly moorland and forest are highly significant in ways most of us hardly ever think about for the environment in which we live. Soils such as those found in moorland and peat bog provide the largest carbon reserve in Britain, storing over three billion tonnes annually and, of course, trees take in and process carbon. Given climate warming and growing  concerns about flooding, carbon capture and storage is of prime importance, helping as it does to reduce the impact of flooding and to improve the quality of the national water supply. There will increasingly be twin and sometimes conflicting pressures on those who manage the Uplands. On the one hand they will be asked to intensify production of livestock as pressures on worldwide food supplies grow and, on the other hand, to restore and retain the peatlands, moors and forests for reasons to do with climate change and carbon reduction. Sometimes overlooked in all this is the question of what the Uplands communities themselves need in order to sustain their own life and make work in the Uplands viable.

I don't have any easy answers to the intricate balancing act that is required but I do think that the voices of those who work and live in the Uplands need to be heard and that there is a wisdom among people who farm the hill country and manage the moors which is not sufficiently heard and acknowledged. Their perspectives should be contributing to the debate and the decision making process. Yes, the local farmer may be focused on the needs of his business but those who look at the long term outcomes of Upland management often overlook the factors that motivate the people who live and work there and in fact have to bring about changes in land use.  I remember the debates in the 1960's around the damage the Forestry Commission were doing to the Upland habitat through their policy of indiscriminately planting conifer forests. It was, as I recall, largely through argument and dialogue with the farmers that a more balanced approach to planting regimes was achieved.  

I would be interested to hear what people think about the government's policy as they launch their sale of forest estate. 

And just finally, there is increasing concern about phytophthora ramorum, more commonly known as Sudden Oak Death although it attacks other species as well as oak, including larch and bilberry.  It is getting a real hold in Devon and Cornwall. Forest walkers are asked to report any signs of the disease they see to the Forestry Commission. The signs are mainly browning of leaves or needles and resin bleeding from the trunk or stem.

Read Giles Fraser's view Woods: It's All About Scale in the Church Times

Friday, 21 January 2011

Durham News

Congratulations to Revd Dr David Wilkinson on being awarded a professorship at Durham University. David (currently Principal of St John's College Durham) was one of our lecturers in the 2009 St Wilfrid's Lecture series at Ripon Cathedral - and has the distinction of being the person who introduced me to Gavin and Stacey! Those who listen to the Today programme on Radio 4 hear him regularly in the Thought for the Day slot. An astro physicist and theologian, he wrote God, the Universe and Everything; 42 Days Through Faith and Popular Culture  Epworth Press, London 2007 (42 of course being the answer to everything!) and, most recently, has written Christian Eschatology and the Physical Universe, Continuum, London 2010.

Congratulations, too, to the Revd Mark Tanner who has been appointed Warden of Cranmer Hall Theological College in Durham. Yes, you thought Mark was Vicar of Holy Trinity Ripon? Well so did I until a week or two ago! We shall be very sorry to lose him from Holy Trinity, as Area Dean of Ripon and OCM and from the archdeaconry. You can read about his new post at 
or see the Cranmer Hall website at

Durham is an exciting place to train for ministry or study theology. Professor John Drane wrote of the Theology and Ministry courses taught through the Department of Theology at Durham University, 'This is one of the most sophisticated professional degree schemes I have come across anywhere in the world. There is no doubt this programme is at the cutting edge of its subject.'

You can read about the St Wilfrid Lectures at Ripon Cathedral for 2011 and see the scripts for past ones at - put 'St Wilfrid Lectures' in the search box. There is an excellent line up of speakers again for this third year of the series. Don't miss it!

Fuel Poverty

Today, it's so cold I have my heater on, I'm wearing a coat and walking boots as I write and I'm still not what you'd call warm!  Yorkshire and Humberside have the second highest levels of fuel poverty in England with 160,000 or 7.7% of households designated as suffering from fuel poverty and 123,000 in danger of falling into it, a report called Fuel Poverty, the Hard, Cold Facts tells us. You can read about this on the Yorkshire Futures website at Households that spend more than 10% of their disposable income on fuel are deemed fuel poor and those who spend more than 20% are said to be in severe fuel poverty. The causes are a combination of low income, rising fuel prices, lack of alternative sources of energy (specially applicable in rural areas), poor energy efficiency and under occupancy of a building. Homes where people are in and out all day (true of farms and vicarages) are particularly hard to keep heated. Adequate warmth is said to be 21 degrees centigrade in the living room and 18 degrees in other rooms occupied during the daytime. Poor heating leads to increased levels of illness, especially in children and the very elderly and, in the most extreme cases, an excessive number of winter deaths in the population. Britain is more vulnerable to high levels of winter deaths than many northern European countries.

So what can we do? Well obvious things like making sure houses are insulated, heating only the rooms we need to use, trying to share the heated space in the house rather than use different rooms and shopping around for the best power deals. Wood stoves and combination fuel burners give good value. But the problem is set to get worse as oil and other fuel prices rise. (I'm definitely getting a lot fewer miles for £30.00 of diesel since November). There is an organisation called National Energy Action which campaigns for warmer homes. Their web site has lots of useful information under the 'grants' section including useful tips for keeping your home warmer.  There is also talk on the Unison website of campaigning for a fuel tariff where vulnerable householders pay a reduced tariff for their fuel compared with other customers.

In this very cold weather it's vital, too, to be extra aware of elderly people and to make sure neighbours are OK and getting a hot meal every day and regular hot drinks.

Stewards of the Future

I was struck by something I read on Nick Baines' blog. In his 13th January post What the Church is Really For about a recent theological conference at Meissen, he quotes from a lecture given by Graham Cray on ecclesiology, culture and mission,

'Perhaps we have given too much uncritical emphasis on the church as steward of the inheritance of the past and too little on the church as an anticipation of the future.'

Graham has always had a way of putting his finger on something important. His great phrase 'roots down, walls down' which was originally crafted to describe the ecumenical opportunities for learning in the Cambridge Theological Federation now echoes around the churches wherever people are trying to be both true to themselves and open to others. So I was intrigued by this idea of the church as, as much steward of anticipation of the future as steward of past inheritance. It has been jangling around in my head ever since, tapping into something very deep that I have felt since I was a teenager first consciously doing theology. 

Perhaps I should confess that whenever I do personality tests I always come out as being more future-focused and risk-taking than past-conscious and conserving, so there is clearly a psychological predisposition to want to hear something, here. I can remember, as a young person, being deeply frustrated by the fact that in so many theological traditions creativity and the freedom to explore - to think the previously unthinkable, to ask the unacceptable question - is curtailed by such a respect for a rather static view of tradition that everything has to be limited by what has already been held to be true and by what it was possible to experience in the past. That is not to say that I don't think that truth can emerge from tradition. However, when tradition is given too prominent and uncritical a place in the life of the church, problems of imbalance arise. For example, questions of how history is written and who makes the selection of what is preserved are often overlooked; emerging world views and seismic cultural shifts throw up possibilities of thought and behaviour with which tradition does not necessarily connect in straight forward ways. Obviously all this causes problems in areas like the dialogue between theology, science and medicine, in liberation theology and for the new ethical dilemmas we face as a result of things like increased awareness of other cultures, genetic research, the information explosion and new means to preserve life and predict disease.

So, retruning to Graham Cray's statement, I find myself asking, where, in the Christian tradition, do we see the church actively behaving as a 'steward of the anticipation of the future?' What does a good steward do? In Jesus' parables he or she looks after, looks out for, manages, builds up, ensures fruitfulness, capitalizes, makes sure a thing has its place, pays attention to something on behalf of another person, keeps an estate or a vinyard moving forward and not just viable but profitable, grows and multiplies things. In contempoaray thinking, stewardship is often about creating more resources or wealth, being responsible and generous, passing on an inheritance. Much of church life has become an attempt to conserve, to sustain and keep things as they have been, yet these are not the primary aspirations of the steward.

How different might it be if churches spent a bit more time actively picturing the future? By this, I mean using every means at our disposal to do so. Instead of just discipleship courses that are grounded in history and tradition, courses which explore contemporary developments in ethics and prayer, economics and world church growth and which use contemporary issues as a prism to examine our faith (rather than vice versa - the usual approach). As well as the usual magazine articles and sermons on age old stories about saints, stories about contemporary individuals facing challenges. Why don't we make much more use of the research that is done about social trends and trends in church life? Admittedly some of it is pretty scarey and holds out huge challenges to the numerically declining churches in the west. There's a bimonthly publication Future First produced by the Brierley Consultancy which locates statistics based on research about church life within research about wider social trends. While this publication does embody some particular theological assumptions, it often debunks assumptions which almost all Christians make about the impact of church life on wider society. And then, in the churches' calendar and lectionary, as well as the usual round of commemoration, there ought to be a season dedicated to the lives of prophets - old and new - and to interpretation of prophecy, and prayer for the future.

So where and when does the church anticipate? If you think about it, many of the eucharistic prayers we use look forward and long to see the full coming of God's kingdom. The old, old practice of anamnesis (remembering) is all about re-enacting the past story of God's dealings with humans in the present in order to shape the future. In other words, remembering in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is all about the future! Aspects of penetcostal and charismatic worship long for and attend to the tangible difference the presence of the Holy Spirit will make in the immediate future. The mystics are people who see beyond what is and has been - often they are ostracised, misunderstood and silenced by the church because of the unacceptable quality of their message. The ecological movement within the churches is one that is based on future oriented (albeit disputed) research.

To think of the future takes imagination and creative exploration and is a speculative and therefore risky exercise. To dwell too much on the past is to allow a failure of imagination. One way for the churches to become more focused on and motivated by what will be is for us to give a deeper place to the imagination in our work. Perhaps the churches rely too much on what is called left brained thinking. Things which depend more on right brained activity such as poetry, story telling, sculpture, painting and music open us up to possibilities we did not know exist. (I recently went to a tarining day where 'notes' on the sessions were recorded by an artist as huge cartoons. The plenary session at the end was a great deal more interactive, humourous and lively than usual, everybody in the room participated and I can remember a lot more about what happened than I usually can after a conference!) Another way is to listen; wherever voices that come of disciplined thinking speak, take notice and ponder before dismissing. Strange words, unfamiliar ways of doing things always teach us something, challenge us to re-assess what we are doing and make us uncomfortable in ways that open us up to change. 

Of course, Graham Cray was thinking about mission in his lecture. I recently heard a sermon from Mark Bryant, the Bishop of Jarrow. It was preached at Michael Volland's licensing as a lecturer in mission at Cranmer Hall, Durham. In it, he spoke of how the North East had grown and changed out of all recogntition in the nineteenth century, during the Industrial Revolution. As people migrated to the towns, pit villages and cities, the church had had to respond quickly and find new ways of doing things that took account of huge numbers of people, poorly educated, living lives of hard work and poverty in crowded urban areas. The largely rural Church of England had adapted. If people like Graham Cray are right, the cultural shift we face today is probably even more profound. In terms of the communication revolution and the clash of absolutist cultures with cultures that espouse relativity, it is more akin to the invention of printing and the Copernican revolution. Is the fact that so many 'fresh expressions' of church look really quite like 'old expresssions' of church due to a failure of imagination on our part and a lack of time spent listening to cultural clues and to God? If God is asking us to do something new, it will surely come out of sustained interaction with what is new in our culture, it will probably be led by those most of us find a bit 'off the wall' and challenging and, like a new baby in a family, it will disrupt us and require revised priorities and structures.

I think that one of the greatest treatises on change that we have in the churches is the Fourth Gospel. Tradition says that is was written by, or depends on, the distilled thought of John, the long-lived 'favourite disciple'. Many would argue that is is in some ways more profound in its appreciation of Jewish tradition than the other gospels. It shows a depth of reflection, intuitive percpetion and creativity in its expression of the meaning of God's self revelation through Jesus Christ that is perhaps unique in the New Testament
scriptures. Yet, it also shows what a new community can become in a relatively short space of history by opening up to the demands and opportunities of the cultures around. We are stewards of the anticipation of future as well as of the past. We have a responsibility to prepare the ground for the future in such a way that our inheritance as Christians is handed on and not fossilised or poured into the sand. 

Nick Baines' blog

Future First can be obtained via 

The Revd Michael Volland is Dirctoer of Mission and Pioneer Ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham He poineered the feig community        

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Faith in the World

The Archbishop of Canterbury has launched a competition for an essay about  Faith in our World. It's for people aged 13-15, 16-17 and 18-21 and essay titles can be downloaded from the archbishop's website

The judges include Baroness Warsi, Benedict Brogan, Dr. Jane Williams and Canon Lucy Winkett. 

 They will be looking for a good grasp of the subject and engagement with the issues involved, creativity and communication skills and, especially in the older categories, signs of some orignal thinking. Wouldn't it be great if someone from North Yorkshire could take on this challenge and win? Or what about readers from abroad? A good way to launch a career in writing, journalism or theology, to improve your confidence with words and to make your mark!

I would also like to offer anyone between 16 and 18 who would like the opportunity to write a post for this blog as a guest writer to do so.....why not have a go! If you enjoy writing it's a great way to get your writing read! For older writers we can help you think about your own blog!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Dioceses Commission; Yorkshire Review

For those who are interested in the Dioceses Commission report which contains some radical recommendations about a new, single diocese for North and West Yorkshire, I have posted some general comments and personal thoughts on a page (at the top of the blog) entitled Dioceses Commission. The report was published on 9th December 2010 and comments are invited by 9th May 2011. These should be addressed to the assistant secretary of the Commission, Mr Simon Hughes Carew at

You can join the discussions going on in the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds and read some interesting comments and ideas by going to  and clicking on Boundary Changes; have your say, on the home page.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Education for Women in Afghanistan

I welcome the news, yesterday, that Farooq Wardak, one of Hamid Karsai's ministers, has reportedly said that the Taliban are lifting their ban on education for women and girls and that this indicates a cultural and behavioural shift on their part. They have not (and probably will not) anounce anything themselves but this statement seems in line with the fact that, since the draconian bans in the 1990's, there has been a drift back to educating girls at the insistance of local populations. For example, in Chadara, in the Taliban dominated Kunduz province, there are said to be a considerable numbers of girls' schools.

Western feminists and campaigners for women's human rights are often accused of misunderstanding Islamic culture and trying to impose unwanted patterns of behaviour on a culture they don't appreciate and which is far more subtle and nuanced than we, in the West, often understand. There are values about community and family and about educating the sexes separately that are at odds with the values of a liberal western democracy. I  hope and pray that any peace deal which is eventually done in Afghanistan does not, in practice, jeopardize the access of women to education and health care and does not threaten their ability to earn a living or curtail their access to a justice system that defends them from abuse. It is vital, therefore, that any such peace process is shaped by the educated views of the women of the region and that their voices are heard. Peace processes that are negotiated and imposed on the women of Afghanistan by all male groups, or by western diplomacy are not going to work. So, a return to education for all girls is, at least, a step in the right direction.

Societies and groups where decisions about the way general life is ordered are made without the direct contribution of women seem to me to lack a roundedness and a charity and, often, to overlook information and perspectives that are pertinent. We have plenty of examples of this in the Christian churches down the ages. Yet the wisdom tradition within the Judaeo-Christian tradition has always portrayed Wisdom as both male and female and has imaged Wisdom as a woman, in a way that gives as central a place to specifically female concerns and social perceptions as to those of men. 

For more information about women in Afghanistan Put 'Afghanistan' in the search box (near the bottom of the page) - this brings up lots of articles.

Help women in Afghanistan

Did you know that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, passed on 31st October 2000 calls for women to participate equally in all processes of conflict resolution, peacemaking and reconciliation?   


Thursday, 13 January 2011

Ripon and Leeds Eco-congregation

Congratulations to the Diocesan Office on being the first Diocesan Office in England to win an Eco-congregation Award. 
You can see what the diocesan office has done to win the award on
Measures taken by the office include increasing their recycling, decreasing waste, using Fair Trade products and creating a wildlife friendly area in the grounds. The office is trying to move away from so much dependence on paper. Those who receive communications from the office need to think about this!  It's obviously no good simply transfering the printing of documents from one office to another. Educating ourselves to read things online is not easy; persuading and training people to do this is part of the work of the communications group. But are there things we can do - take documents to meetings on a laptop or netbook? Read mailings on screen over a week, a few minutes a day? Avoid producing hand outs or notes at meetings where verbal communication will in in fact do the trick? I have to admit I find this extremely difficult myself, coming as I do from the era of banda machines then photocopiers then printers and an education system that insisted a lesson wasn't a lesson without handouts.  But I think that it's important to try to adapt. I know someone who works for an IT company from home and who never has a piece of paper on his desk! Something to aspire to, perhaps, but we, in the churches, need a lot of help in reveiwing our communication practices if we are to get even an eigth of the way there! 

Churches in the UK have a fairly paper-dependent culture, perhaps even more so in the Church of England since the introduction of Common Worship. We seem to require freshly processed service sheets on every possible occasion, these days. Perhaps one contribution to reducing the amount of paper we use might be to think about our worship; could we return to the age old practice of memorizing texts? Could aspects of our worship be more spontaneous and less driven by reading? Could we learn to listen more and to extemporize when appropriate? Could we depend on cantors, audible readers, intercessors and presidents rather than having everything written down?  Some churches opt for digital screens where this is appropriate, but there is lots we can do, quite  simply, without resorting to this. Personally, I would much prefer to follow a cantor or hear a well read passge from the Dramatised Bible than to have my eyes glued to either a bit of paper or a screen. 

Possibly another thing we could all think about is not using processed food, especially in the middle of the day, when we are all busy and need that calorie or caffeine fix in a hurry! What could be better than fruit and raw vegetables? When I was at theological college, we always had a bread and soup lunch once a week. How about offices having a fresh veg and fruit lunch once a week instead of a sandwich, crisps and cake one?

Around the Glassy Sea; History Made in Aldbrough, Forcett and Melsonby

Have you ever wondered exactly what a 'glassy sea' looks like as you've sung the hymn, 'Holy, holy, holy, all the saints adore thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.'? Well, I discovered on Sunday evening as I stood outside the the parish church in Aldbrough St John, surveying the cross roads. In every direction, I could see nothing but sheets of rippling ice. The prelude to this was having to abandon my car in the hedge on Doctor's Lane after it skidded badly on a hill. I've never before experienced losing control of a stationary car with handbrake on, but there I was, slowly slithering towards a wall and a hollow at the bottom of the hill - a very unnerving sensation. I decided that the least worst option was to steer the car into the bank. As I was sitting dejectedly at the wheel, discovering that there was no mobile signal and thinking 'Help, I'm going to be awfully late for the induction service at Forcett,' and, 'Can I manage to walk on the ice to the village?' a car appeared from the opposite direction. The driver got out, surveyed the hill and took the wise decision not to attempt it. She offered me a lift back into the village. I have never been so grateful to accept a lift and would like to thank her for her wonderfully opportune appearance and her kindness if she ever gets to read this.

So angels do exist! The scripture passage for evensong on Sunday was Hebrews 1.1-12 and in it, of course, the writer contrasts Jesus with the angels. Well now I have a concrete picture of an angel - someone who arrives unbidden to protect and deliver! The hospitality of the countryside which helps the stranger and looks out for those who need help in appalling weather conditions was marvellous to experience. No sooner had the lady dropped me off than a church member appeared, walking across the treacherous ice to ask if I was alright.  A few minutes later Stan (the Vicar whose Induction it was) appeared to give me a lift to the right church, St Cuthbert's in Forcett. Here the choir was ably keeping spirits up by singing carols. This was a rural benefice that could muster a choir that was capable of singing unaccompanied Gibbons service settings!  Not to mention a congregation who had turned out on an icy night with patience and good humour!

The Revd Stan Haworth is one of our Area Deans and has been priest in charge of the benefice of Aldbrough, Forcett and Melsonby for nearly ten years. He clearly has a talent for attracting memorable circumstances. His licensing as priest-in-charge was during the foot and mouth crisis when travel was limited and it was also snowing then. At the second attempt, so to speak, his induction as Rector on Sunday, the snow almost prevented the service again. But Richmond Deanery is made of sterner stuff and, despite everything, Stan was duly inducted and prayed for. There was a tangible sense of thankfulness and warmth in the worship and we wish him and all the people of the benefice well for the coming years of ministry. This was the last induction of a priest to the freehold in the archdeaconry and, I think, the diocese as, from January 31st, all new appointments to office will be by Common Tenure....but that's another story. 

(View the sermon preached at the induction on the Sermons page.)  

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Grumpy Old Woman?

January seems as good a time as any to have a bit of a moan about how life is changing! Or at least to express some concern about what kind of values are creeping into our everyday dealings. Am I getting too old to adapt or should I be worried? I have encountered three things which have given me pause for thought recently.

The first was reading a report that the Musicians' Union have given advice in a training video that touching children can expose teachers to charges of inappropriate behaviour and therefore teachers should avoid all physical contact with pupils. Although some music teachers now insist a parent is present for lessons, many may be in one to one situations with pupils. I can understand the dangers both from the child's point of view and the teacher's. However, I just can't see how you can teach things like how to hold an instrument or a bow, or hand and arm positioning, or aspects of breathing without ever making physical contact. This is madness! Michael Gove, the education Secretary, accused the MU of playing into (I'm not sure if he intended a pun?) a culture of fear. What is our increasing fear of any contact at all outside (and sometimes even inside) the family doing to our children, to their spontaneity and creativity, to their emotional development, to their proper, healthy sense of being at home in their own skins and bodies? Medics and hairdressers, therapists and coaches find ways to ensure that physical contact can be monitored and professionals trusted or chaperoned. Touch is one of the five senses. Without it, we experience sensory deprivation. Isn't it time that we made sure we employ it properly in education too, so that children can be taught skills appropriately, comforted when they need it and, above all, so they can learn to be physically confident and spontaneous? 

The second incident occurred when I learned from a friend that large quantities of well stored, unopened and unused nursing equipment and sealed medication could not be returned or re-used when no longer needed. The remote possibility of tampering, whether deliberate or accidental, renders all these extremely costly resources fit for nothing other than scrapping. As I surveyed the boxes, I couldn't help feeling that there is something deeply wrong with our priorities. Is it the threat of being sued that makes the unlikely possibility that hygeinically stored and re-used equipment will cause harm carry more weight than the scandal of throwing away costly items that, in many countries, would be gratefully used? The drugs industry is deeply dependent on oil and contributes a great deal to the twin problems of the peak oil scenario and carbon emission. I quite see that there are issues around infection control but, as with my first scenario, I object to an approach to the problem that refuses to see the sheer madness of the situation and accepts waste without question.

The third scenario was described to me; in a secondary school class, the students had been talking generally about greeting people and being helpful and how far you could reasonably be expected to go, in the context of Jesus' sayings about going the extra mile and sharing the coat on your back. The teacher's comment was that it was OK to do these kinds of things in school, but they should be avoided out of school. Again, one immediately sees where the teacher is coming from in terms of protecting children from strangers. But these were 15-16 year olds and I find myself asking, is there a point at which it becomes too late, or at least very difficult, for people to reconsider the habits of non communication which are being so well taught, early in their lives, for protection? How and when and where do people move into a zone where they may choose to question some of these values? They may decide for themselves that spontaneous communication with other people, with the risks that always involves, is a vital part of what it means to be human and to respond to the humanity of others - a means of deep joy and unexpected friendship?  

Of course, I can see both sides in all these situations but my gripe is about what all this adds up to. I don't relish living in a society that (a) fears and abuses touch, (b) removes all risk to our own wellbeing at the expense of the environment and of other people who live in places where resources are scant (c) supresses and teaches people to avoid natural communication even where there is an element of help or kindness.       

The Archers (2)

Does anyone feel, like me, that we have been rather misled over the impending tragedy which was going 'shake Ambridge to the core'? Nigel was a much loved character whom we will miss greatly but his untimely demise seems merely to follow in the stream of untimely deaths that occur every few years in the Archers - Grace, Polly, Mark, John, Sioban, Betty, Sid. Once again we are to be treated to a close up of a community in shock and mourning, a family facing the considerable challenge of keeping a business going and farms running at a time of personal crisis. Once again listening will become harrowing for some, catheractic for others and dispensable for others, depending on our mood and whether we have recently faced bereavement or crisis ourselves. We  may simply feel in need of more laughter, intrigue and cerebral challenge at the start of a new year. In the middle of the coldest winter for ages which is causing extra work and travel, heating and utilities difficulties, if we are sitting in a snowbound traffic jam on the A1, are we not going to feel more inclined to tune in to something a bit more cheerful or gripping?

I suppose that the Archers tends to try to reflect ordinary life whereas other soaps often  seem to over-dramatize life. However, is a steady diet of 'more of the same' really so true to life?  Once every sixty years doesn't seem too often for something really complex to shake the village or for a series of seemingly unrelated changes of fortune to impact on the whole community. But perhaps I am jumping the gun. Is the unfolding story line going to be about Kenton and David's guilt reaching competitive heights - or is there something more dramatic lurking? Will the police think that David pushed Nigel ? Will Elizabeth be inclined to blame someone?  

I think the nearest guess from my post on 24th December was Keith's suggestion that Nigel would die as a result of patricide. Well scented on the character front!  Graham Seed, we will miss you! I think Nigel was pretty much my age, so I grew up empathizing with many of his struggles from the days when he and Shula first dated.  

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Generosity Reviewed

I've just posted, on my Publications page, the details for how to get hold of the latest Church of England report on Giving (it used to be called stewardship in the old days!) I was part of the group that wrote it, so I suppose you could say I have a vested interest in its uptake. I hope that the really useful thing about it is that, although it originated as a report to General Synod, it comes along with booklets and other material for parishes to download (free of charge!) to help them think about budgeting, giving programmes, stewardship campaigns, communication, preaching and teaching about giving and much more. I really hope that churches will at least have a look at the 18 page booklet Encouraging Generosity in Your Parish. On pages 7 and 8, there is a checklist of 8 things to do. Research shows that churches which are doing all 8 things are growing financially (and often in other ways, too!)

This post comes with apologies to those of you who have no interest whatsoever in Church of England finances! If you have not already moved on to another article, I am sure you can appreciate that helping churches think about their finances is an important part of what an archdeacon does and that we do rely on some hopefully well thought out principles to help us in our quest to generate both income and contribututions to other projects and organizations. Many churches try to give 10% of their income to support other agencies.

The undergirding theology of Giving for Life is that all our giving is a thankful response to God's overwhelming generosity in creation, redemption and the gift of the Spirit and that all Christians are invited and called upon to give so that the values of God's kingdom can be seen at work in the world as well as in the churches. This includes giving to organisations and projects that bring life in so many ways - through justice, healing, agriculture, education, care, service, hospitality, ecological concern. It also includes giving so that the work of the Christian churches and in particular, if we count ourselves Anglicans, the Church of England, can go on. Almost all the finance that supports ministry in the Church of England is directly given by church members through parish share. Research undertaken in 2007 shows that, while UK givers are generous, (average £203 per annum) Church of England givers donate to charity twice the national average per annum. The percentage of household income given by church members has increased from 2.8% to 3.2% over the past ten years. The ideal held out in a ten year old report First to the Lord, was 5%. The new report asks all church members, in this time of recession and financial uncertainty, to consider their giving. It recognises that people give to all sorts of things besides the church - hence, the title 'Giving for Life', which encapsulates the two thoughts that we give throughout our lives and we give so that true life and health can be experienced in as many places as possible. The report also suggests that giving is prayerful, prioritised, planned, sacrificial, communal and joyful! 

Giving can be fun! I was recently talking to an 83 year old man who told me how he had been taught by fellow Christians at university to give away a proportion of his income each year. He had maintained this discipline throughout his life, even though he had sometimes struggled. Now, in his ninth decade, he looked back with great pleasure on all the interests, friendships and opportunities his giving had brought into his life. Infact, he felt that he had gained more than he had given. There's something strange about the economics of God's kingdom, isn't there? The more you give away, the more you receive. So many of Jesus' parables tell us that, and challenge us to act on it! 

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Ripon Earthquake

The British Geological Survey has reported an earthquake at 9.03pm last night, epicentre just north west of Ripon, magnitude 3.6ML, intensity 4EMS. It felt and sounded as though several heavy military helicopters were taking off. Friends at Pateley Bridge reported feeling the house shake. Earthquakes of this magnitude and depth can often be felt up to 120kms away. Apparently the last earthquake of a similar size in the area occurred in 1970 (2.8ML, epicentre in the Pennines) and there were earthquakes in 1900 (3.1ML, epicentre Skipton) and 1780 (4.8ML, epicentre Wensleydale).  

Monday, 3 January 2011

Trees for Life.

The Lake at Thorp Perrow

One of our favourite places to visit is Thorp Perrow Arboretum, near Bedale. Trees have always been significant for me. My father was a forester in Ghana and then the UK and my earliest walks were through coniferous forests over soft layers of fallen pine leaves and spagnam moss to the open mountainside where you could pick bilberries or lie in the heather, smelling the resin and listening to the trees creaking and the curlews and sky larks rising. Trees are very significant in the Bible narratives, too. You could say that the story of God's dealings with the world, the very story of salvation itself, is framed by trees. In Gensis we hear about the garden in which the Lord plants  'every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food' as well as the two trees which become central to Adam and Eve's relationship with God - the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The cross is often represented as a tree. The tree of life appears again in Revelation 22 where its leaves are 'for the healing of the nations' and its twelve fruits symbolize the passing of time. The tree straddles the river of the water of life. Such powerful, life giving images! Trees have been associated with food and refreshment, healing, wisdom, shade and fruitfulness, longevity and transformation in many cultures and none more so than the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Our walk today reminded me of the hidden potency and promise of trees. Dressed in their

Branches over ice
winter apparel, they were showing a sombre face to the world. Yet, in a few months time, they will burst forth with vibrant colours, shapes and smells bearing the promise of fruitfulness to come.

There is a charity called TREE AID that works to bring life through trees to families in rural Africa. When trees disappear because of drought or exploitation, this is usually followed by soil errosion, crop failure and the displacement of communities. TREE AID helps villagers in Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia make the best use of trees to generate food, housing, fuel, medicine and income for health care and schooling. Since 1987, TREE AID has helped 300,000 people plant 6.5million trees which provide an alternative to both poverty and environmental destruction. Take one example - the fruit of the Shea Tree can be used to produce Shea butter which is used as a cooking oil, for candle making and as a water proofing wax on cloth or wood. It also has medicinal properties and can be used on burns, eczema and as a sun block. We probably know it better as Yoruba and might be aware of its usefulness in cosmetics. One tree which can bring nutrition, business and healing to a community.

Thorp Perrow 3rd January 2011

 An arboretum is a wonderful place to meditiate on the wisdom, balance and healing power which are found in the natural world and there for the use of all. All anglicans are committed to 'strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.' This is the fifth mark of mission and today was a good reminder that water and trees are two of the most important and straightforward keys to making this more than wishful thinking.  to see a film of their work in Mali.

The coldest crocodile in the northern hemisphere?