The reflections of a rural archdeacon on life and issues in the Yorkshire Dales. Supporting over 180 churches in an area that covers Teesdale, Swaledale, Wensleydale, Nidderdale, Harrogate and Wetherby, a Church of England archdeacon shares some of the questions and challenges that everyday ministry throws up.
The annual Swaledale festival got under way on Sunday with the Festival Service at Holy Trinity, Low Row. As well as the amazing range of concerts and exhibitions (three or four events to choose from each day) there is a less well known progamme of education and outreach work. This year, it includes workshops in schools by The Huts and the Absolution Saxaphone Quartet and master classes by violinist Alexander Markov. There will be a children's clay modelling project, a puppetcraft workshop for young children and workshops by the Blaize theatre company. Most of this programme is delivered free of charge thanks to the Festival's commitment to its educational and cultural work with young people. The Festival runs at venues around Swaledale and Wensley until 11th June and it would be almost impossible not to find something to your taste in the varied programme of concerts, plays, lectures, walks and art and craft exhibitions displaying both international and local talent.
As the Scottish Church and the House of Bishops of the Church of England once again display the churches' preoccupation with and inability to solve issues around sexuality, I have been very struck by the hymn I re-discovered in my mother's old Congregational Praise as I was searching for appropriate hymns for her funeral service, this week. I remembered that she had said that she had always liked the sentiments expressed in this hymn. It seems to me to impart something of the openness to the future, inclusivity, and trust in the continued work of the Holy Spirit through human hearts and minds that I associate with the best of Congregationalism. It is based on the parting words of Pastor John Robinson to the Pilgrim Fathers in 1602 and was written by George Rawson (1807-1889).
We limit not the truth of God To our poor reach of mind, By notions of our day and sect, Crude, partial and confined: No, let a new and better hope Within our hearts be stirred: The Lord hath yet more light and truth To break forth from His word.
O Father, Son and Spirit, send Us increase from above; Enlarge, expand all Christian souls To comprehend Thy love; And make us all go on to know, With nobler powers conferred, The Lord hath yet more light and truth To break forth from His word.
I resonate with the notion of truth breaking forth from God's Word - not simply emerging or shining, but struggling to get out. Scripture has been interpreted in ways that have done untold damage to people and to the earth, as well as in ways that have brought life and hope and insight and education. Christians have so often been, and so often are, wrong or limited by preoccupations with our own very insular understanding of culture and how God speaks through it. Things that have seemed immutable laws in the past come to be seen in a new light as our understanding and knowledge develop; scripture requires constant interpretation in the light of what the Spirit is telling the churches. A change in understanding does not necessarily imply inconsitency in scripture or God's wisdom, but rather in the human capacity for understanding and wisdom. I am grateful to God and to my mother for the insights of her cherished theological tradition and a life which included service in WRNS during the second world war and in Ghana.
We were recently visiting family in Devon and I was impressed to find a very well stocked and managed community shop in the tiny village where we stayed. As well as offering Post Office services, there were a couple of tables where you could sit to have a cup of coffee and read the newspaper or to hold a meeting - business or pleasure. The lady in charge told us that this 'cafe' style service was proving a popular addition and people could make their own drinks if staff were busy. It set me thinking how, for a fairly small sum of money and with a bit of imagination, many churches could offer the facilities for a community shop. This would certainly bring the church (people and building) more into the centre of community life and enable the church to provide a hospitable forum for the many connections and partnerships that are at the heart of any local community. In her introduction to the Big Society last night at Bedale, Alice Ullathorne (our Buildings Officer) introduced us to some valuable resources for thinking about this kind of project. She also told us the story of churches where rural shops had been set up in the Chelmsford and St Albans areas. The cost in one case was surprisingly low (£10,000); the 'cost' was, in fact, more accurately measured out in the time and effort to bring people together to share the vision and then set up and run the enterprise. Profits go to local charities.
Many thanks to Alice for the resources and helpful insights she shared with those who attended the seminar on the Big Society, last night. We need more discussion of the changes in thinking that these developments are going to necessitate. The current changes in political outlook about the provision of many services are quite radical and are going to create new ways for churches to relate to their communities. They may bring about a return to some of the needs and opportunities the churches took a lead in responding to before the creation of the Welfare State (especially in social care). We need to keep a close eye on developmets and on what is being asked and offered in the way of grants and commissions.
Henshaws Arts and Crafts Centre and Cafe is always a good place to go for a cup of coffee or to meet a freind in Knaresborough. Henshaws is one of the oldest charities in England, supporting people with visual impairment and other disabilities. The Cafe at Knaresborough has just had an overhaul and has recently re-opened. There is always a warm welcome and an appetising range of dishes and you can wander round the gallery, shop and music centre. On the enterprise side, Henshaws has just won a commission to produce four trophies for the Social Enterprsie Yorkshire and Humber Awards as well as having been selected as the Yorkshire International Business Convention charity for 2011 in connection with the support they give the corporate sector in the region.
As well as the cafe, art studio, jewellery and pottery production units there is a new Print Service which offers businesses a wide range of services including converting company literature, menus and signage into Braille. Churches may be interested to know that Henshaws Means Business offers professional consultancy and training in working with people with disabilities and complying with anti-discrimination laws. I always enjoy talking to the people you meet working in the various different locations on site.
Henshaws employs over 300 people around Knaresborough and Harrogate and the college has over 70 students taking a range of courses.
Henshaws are currently inviting people to take part in the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere on 18th and 19th June to raise money for the charity, and they are challenging those with an entrepreneurial spirit to invest £500 as effectively as possible to provided a return over three months in aid of the charity.
I have a new job! No, I haven't given up being Archdeacon of Richmond, but I have taken on the role of Adviser for Non Stipendiary Ministers in the diocese of Ripon and Leeds. (NSM's are ordained people who give their time and do not receive financial remuneration for their ministry.) In order to create the space to do this, I've laid down my role as a residentiary canon at Ripon cathedral. I rather like the symbolism of moving from one of the oldest and most traditional roles in the church to one of the newest and unformed! As the diocesan newsletter states, there are an increasing number of non stipendiary clergy and the exciting thing about these ministeries is that no two are quite the same.
I have long been an enthusiast for what I have always thought of as Self-Supporting Ministry. (I don't much like anything, including ministry, to be defined by a negative! Surely the concept of ministry freely given in response to a call is more inspiring than the tag 'unpaid'?) I am very much looking forward to meeting all the clergy who exercise this kind of ministry. It will take me some months to do this, no doubt, but it is going to be important to hear the stories of the different kinds of ministry they are engaged in and their experience of the church and its mission.
So perhaps I ought to tell my own story. I was a Self Supporting Minister, myself, for a short time while I was a lecturer at St John's College, Nottingham. My 'day job' was teaching a hundred and twenty ordinands and theological students and a much larger group of distance learners liturgy and pastoral theology and overseeing an MA course in Mission and Ministry. My other ministry was exercised through St Michael's and All Angels, a large church in Bramcote, Nottingham. St Michael's had an SSM team who, together with the church wardens and Readers and under the leadership the Revd David Edinbrough, himself an SSM, headed up ministry in the parish. The idea was that the parish would generate its own leadership, freeing up stipendiary ordained ministry to be used elsewhere in the diocese. My role mainly involved planning and leading worship, youth work and pastoral care. The church seemed to take to the 'experiment', as it was called, very well and lay led initiatives and leadership blossomed. A large number of people took responsibiilty very effectively for many aspects of the life of the church. It was, however, quite difficult when the church eventually returned to a more traditional form of ministry under a single incumbent because people had got used to thinking in a new way about the life of the church. And that points to one of the challenges thrown up by self supporting ministry. It asks us to think about ministry in different ways - as something more collaborative, more flexible, more rooted in being present to one another in creative ways and very conscious of life beyond the church. These things have been and are features of good ministry all down the ages, but non stipendiary ministry is raising questions for the church about how we reinterpret some of the more narrowly ecclesiologically focused understandings of ministry that have appeared over the centuries. St Paul and, indeed, all the apostles were SSMs! It is interesting that as the churches in the West emerge from Christendom to a more uncertain, less confident relationship with society, we are seeing a return to forms of ministry that have their roots in a missionary church. Flexibility, the willingness to be known as a Christian and to speak from wherever one is placed in society, and the ability to resource oneself for ministry or share the resources one has with others to enable ministry are key concepts, I believe.
As an incumbent, I also trained and ministered with an SSM curate and learned a huge amount about utilising gifts, especially the gift of time, effectively. I think we both came to see that the key to blending different kinds of ministry in a parish is to spend time and care on communication and trust building. Once there is real honesty of relationship, it becomes much easier to respond to the needs of an area in mission and ministry by using the distinct gifts and perspectives of different kinds of minister, welcoming the differing degrees of time, availability and experience that each person brings.
Many SSMs and NSMs minister mostly in their place of work and that is an area of ministry that I look forward to learning more about. Some SSMs have developed a ministry that is more to do with vision for an innovative project (for example an e church and an internet service offering friendship and pastoral care for the business community.) I hope we can listen to the creative and innovative among our ministers and see what can be developed - God has called us to reach into every corner of society and NSMs and SSMs are sometimes a lone voice, trying to draw the church's attention to important possibilities for mission, ministry and Christian presence.
These are some of the things that excite me about this new role! If you are interested in finding out more about this kind of ministry, see also my post dated 11th April The Gift of Ministry.
Did you know that Cundall (set near the river Swale, just east of Ripon) is one of the rarest villages in England? How so? Well, it is a Thankful Village - a village whose men and women all came home safely from the First World War. Of course, such villages were unusual in having no war memorials, though they often dedicated a monument of some kind in recognition of their gratitude.
Arthur Mee (whom I mainly know as the editor of a children's encyclopoedia, a phenomenon now almost rendered extinct by the internet!) first coined the term 'thankful village'. He idenified only 31 such villages in England. Others in Yorkshire are Catwick (near Beverley), Cayton (near Scarborough) and Norton-le-Clay (near Ripon).
Cundall is also one of a number of villages around the area to boast a Saxon cross. The church, which was restored in 1854, sits on an interesting series of mounds near the river, a site which has an intriguing feel of antiquity about it.
A big thank you to all the wardens and clergyof the Ripon and Harrogate deaneries who came to the visitation on 18th May at Holy Trinity Ripon. I think there were one or two from the north as well - certainly the furthest travelled was from Arkengarthdale! We very much enjoyed the hospitality laid on by the Holy Trinity team. As ever, it is good to meet friends and to look round a packed church realising that everyone there represents a hard working ministering community, reaching into every town and village in this area.
You can read the Charge if you go to the post below (14th May Archdeacon's Charge).
Thank you all for the various messages you have sent!
Thank you to all the church wardens and clergy who came to the Visitation at St Mary's Church Richmond, last night. It is always so very encouraging to see everyone and to able to worship together. Thank you to St Mary's, too, for their warm hospitality. (Incase you are wondering - archdeacons have 'visitations' at which they meet the church wardens and admit them to office each year and the 'charge' is the address which is given on the occasion!)
The East Window, St Mary's Richmond
ARCHDEACON OF RICHMOND’S CHARGE 2011
John I. 35-51
I was woken up very early on Easter Sunday morning by the clock-radio beside my bed. The first thing I heard on the news was that one of the Roman Catholic archbishops had denounced secularism. My first thought was ‘What a shame!’ The church ought not to be known for denouncing things. We Christians ought to be known for what we are for, not what we are against. The very first Christians were most certainly known for what they were for, for their unshakeable belief that Jesus had risen from the dead and that He held the key to life – and the key to life beyond this life. Wouldn’t it have been great if the archbishop had said: ‘Today, we’ll be rejoicing in all our churches because Jesus is alive; come and join us if you’d like to’. That’s the line Jesus took with people when they met Him. Often, they asked: ‘What are you up to?’ and he said: ‘Come and see.’
Philip (in tonight’s reading) learned very quickly, didn’t he? Straight after his first meeting with Jesus, he finds Nathaniel and, when Nathaniel expresses scepticism, Philip says: ‘Well come and see!’
Last August, we had a training evening for ‘Back to Church Sunday’ at which the speaker was Michael Harvey. Michael’s message has stuck with me ever since. He challenged us not just to turn our churches into places of welcome, but to go further and create a whole culture of invitation. Invite people to ‘come and see’ – just to try it out or perhaps to join in. Michael’s point was that if, over the course of a year, you invite say a dozen people to come along, perhaps 10 will say: ‘No thank you’ but 2 may say yes. If we never invite anyone, no one will come! And Michael’s research suggests that most people like to be asked, even if they say no. So fear of being rejected, of having someone say ‘no’ shouldn’t put us off! We can all invite someone to a social event, a service, a Bible Study, a working party, a choir practice. 34 million people – that’s almost 9/10 – people in Britain went to a place of worship for a service, an event or an activity last year! But most only went once. Let’s keep inviting! I was talking to someone the other day who is a new churchwarden because she was invited to join a working party to clear the churchyard. One of my friends is now a vicar because my dad said to him, many years ago, ‘You can go along to Sunday School with Janet if you’re bored.’ You never know where an invitation leads! Jesus’ first disciples thought that they were going to spend a couple of hours one evening at his house… they had their lives changed!
One group that I am specially concerned that we invite and welcome and listen to are our youngsters. In March, I attended a wonderful event in Sheffield at which 33 bishops and 2 archbishops put aside a day to meet 250 young people from all over Britain and to listen to them. (I’ve never seen so many quiet bishops!) What came over very powerfully was that young people are just as interested in faith and theology and ethics as older people, just as passionate about God, about their own spirituality and about serving others, but they communicate differently.
Immediacy, reciprocity, discussion, relationship, relationship, relationship, choice to dip in and out were all key concepts
No chance to respond, heavy authority, hierarchical structures were out.
On the day, I learned that the average age of a member of the Church of England is 61 (based on electoral rolls, I think, where, of course the under 16's don't figure - but it's still a sobering statistic). And I learned that the Church of South India had a similar situation a few years ago. Their response? They pledged that every group, committee, synod, would aim to draw 35% of its membership from people under 35 and that it would allocate 35% of its finance for activities with the under 35's. Archbishop Sentamu addressed us and encouraged us with stories of how he had seen God at work in the lives of children and young people – he reminded us that Samuel was only 8 when he was called!
I am proposing – and I shall be writing to Area Deans and Lay Chairs – that every Deanery Synod elects a Young People’s Ambassador. Not necessarily a young person, but someone who will champion young people and keep the concerns and interests of younger people on Deaneries’ agendas. Someone who will ask the questions: Are we inviting, welcoming, listening to the young people in our communities? And who will liaise with Nic Sheppard and Graham Richards, our Youth Team, to get information about events and opportunities out.
Speaking of which, there are invitations available at the back, to the Big Night Out, an exciting event for young people at LightwaterValley near Ripon on the 21st of May. Please take one for the young people of your church or village, or see www.northernsaints.org/northeast
I wonder what Philip and Nathaniel and Andrew and Simon and the other disciples talked about on that first evening with Jesus? I bet that, at some stage, they talked about their communities and their political (with a small ‘p’) concerns – in their terms, the domination by the Roman authorities of Jewish ways of life and organisation. You can just hear them, can’t you, telling Jesus about their concerns for the farmers and the fisherman and for the poor – and grumbling about the supposed ineptitude of those who were in the local and national government of the time? Jesus’ period was a time of massive political upheaval and He was most certainly looked to to show ways to respond to the changes.
We are all, I think, conscious of the far-reaching consequences of cuts and the reduction of services in our communities. We may be sceptical about all the talk of the Big Society but we are beginning to see how the voluntary sector is going to take on more responsibility for getting things that need doing done in communities. We may feel a bit daunted, but this is an opportunity for us. Churches have resources to share – local knowledge, a track record of service, buildings, partnerships. We have much to offer. Can I encourage you to do 3 things:
PCCs to be in contact with the voluntary service agencies in your area to find out what they are doing and to see if there is anything your churches can appropriately be involved with? (You may already be doing this.)
Send someone to attend the training evening on the Big Society which is being held on May 27th at the Chantry Hall, Bedale, 7-9pm (to book a place, ring 0113 2000 544 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
To be in contact with our new Rural Officer Andy Ryland to come and meet you at PCCs and Synods to help in your thinking about our response to the political and social changes that are happening. For an introduction to Andy's work see http://www.riponleeds.anglican.org/press_290.html
Of course, the other big area of change and uncertainty for us is the report by the Dioceses Commission. The Commission is responsible to the Archbishops and to the General Synod. It has been asked to produce a proposal for the re-organisation of the Yorkshire dioceses and has chosen to report first on the North and West of the county.
The report was published in December and the first period of consultation has just come to an end. The Commission will now revise their report in the light of the many responses they have received and produce a final report in the autumn. At that stage, it will be essential to ensure that we make our voices heard about the final recommendations. Anyone and everyone can respond. Individuals, PCCs, Synods, groups beyond the church. The General Synod will then, probably in July 2012, vote on whether the recommendations should be implemented.
The Diocesan Synod has voted to accept the principle of a larger diocese and episcopal areas, but to reject the proposed name and location of the diocesan bishop (which is Wakefield). They have asked the Commission to consider Leeds instead. The Synod has also asked for a detailed report on the financial and asset management risks and on the proposed procedures and structures for creating a new Diocesan Board of Finance. In addition, Synod asked for clear information on proposals for merging administrative and legal structures.
The Bishops, Diocesan Secretary and I know that this is very unsettling for us all and perhaps especially for those parishes who are on the geographical edges of the proposed new diocese some of whom have been asked to consider moving to another diocese. I know that all those parishes have now given their clear responses to the Dioceses Commission and I thank you for all the work that that has involved.
The important question to consider in forming a judgement is, what will best enable the mission of the church in this part of Yorkshire for the coming 100 years? Can I advise you against forming judgements based on things like parish share levels (in working with parishes who have been asked to transfer diocese, we have discovered that there is remarkably little difference in the level of parish share between dioceses) Also, beware of forming judgements based on personalities – clergy, archdeacons and bishops change!
The important things are, will the new diocese enable us
to be more visible and accessible in our areas and communities?
to work efficiently with our bishops, supported by strong and effective central administrative, legal and buildings services?
to exercise good financial stewardship and to generate the resources we need for mission?
to attract clergy to minister in the area?
to address rural and urban issues effectively?
to work with secular and ecumenical partners?
The Bishops, Diocesan Secretary and I are all willing to come to meetings to discuss the proposals further and also to explain matters that might not be immediately clear. The archdeacons of the surrounding dioceses are also very willing to be consulted and have already been very helpful.
The most important thing to say is that, while all these things go on, we continue to be the church, engaged in mission and ministry in all our communities. That will continue, come what may. Bishop John, Bishop James and I are all committed to do our very best to serve the interests of the parishes and to ensure that the outcome of all the discussions is the best it can be for the future mission of the people of God in Yorkshire.
We never get through one of these addresses without mention of money! May I take this opportunity to thank you, your PCCs and treasurers for all the hard work you have done towards paying parish share? Our share collection rate this year was 94.6%. This is very good in such economically difficult times. We can do even better! Please use the services of our Stewardship Officer Paul Winstanley and our Director of Finance Norman Gardner. I have three
things to ask:
Please ensure your PCC has a standing order for monthly payments towards parish share. This really does help us to keep down the overall level of share
Please have a stewardship campaign or similar if you have not had one recently (in 5 years)
Please use the Giving for Life resources (on http://www.archdeaconinthedaels.blogspot.com/ - click on publications) to ensure that your parish does an audit of its stewardship practices and does its forward planning, producing budgets which are driven by your mission priorities rather than allowing finance to drive your priorities.
Finally on finance, with regard to clergy expenses: the mileage rate, after many years at 40p, has now been increased to 45p per mile.( I think the cost of diesel and petrol has risen by more than a third in the 4 years I’ve been archdeacon!)
On the buildings front, Alice Ullathorne, our new Buildings Officer, is available to advise churches on care and development of buildings and on working with your community and the various grant-making bodies to generate funding. She has an excellent, easy to use, informative blog at http://church-community-building.blogspot.com/ (or go to http://www.riponleeds.anglican.org/ and click on ‘Alice’s blog’) and this keeps you up to date with training events and useful information.
English Heritage and Ecclesiastical have produced a useful booklet and DVD about caring for places of worship 9enclosed in your pack). This includes information about security, lead theft, insurance and health and safety matters. From it, I learned that
There are 14,500 listed places of worship in England?
Congregations find a massive £73 million per annum for repairs?
7 out of 10 people think churches are an important part of the community and would be willing to support work to keep them open and repaired?
Jesus asked his first disciples: ‘What are you looking for?’ They had no idea that their encounter with Jesus that day would lead them on an adventure that would take them to the heart of God. Jesus saw the truth in people – He knew Nathaniel through and through, He saw what Simon Peter was capable of, He invited them all to come and join in and to make a difference for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
But there is one word in this passage that is probably more important than all the others. It’s the Greek word for ‘stay’. We read, they saw where he was staying and they stayed with him. This word is the same word as abide. You remember, in John 15, Jesus tells the disciples they must abide in Him as the branches on the vine are attached to the vine itself.
We cannot fulfil our calling as disciples, as churchwardens, as clergy, as diocesan staff unless we abide in Jesus. We come in and make our home with Him and He with us. Begin and end every day in company with the Risen Lord; pause at times during the day or even during a meeting, to recollect that we do His work. Seek from Him whatever we need, whatever we are looking for – wisdom, inspiration, encouragement, strength. Nathaniel was meditating under a fig tree, deep in prayer and thought, perhaps. Jesus gives Nathaniel a vision of a ladder up to Heaven, opening the way between God and human activity. Jesus Himself is the ladder enabling us to come into God’s presence and to receive whatever He has to give us. Jesus encourages Nathaniel for his lifelong journey of discipleship: ‘You will see greater things than the things you have already seen’. Do we believe that we will see greater things than we have already seen?
Two useful books Church Wardens, A Survival Guide; the Office and Role of a Church Warden in the 21st Century – Martin Dudley and Virginia Rounding, SPCK 2003 PracticalChurch Management; A Guide for every Parish – James Behrens, 2nd edition, Gracewing Publications
I've received a remarkable number of e mails and comments from clergy observing that the liturgy (service) used at the Royal Wedding was a real mixture of traditional and modern language and epressed a veritable smorgasbord of theological ideas about marriage drawn from almost all the liturgies the Church of England has ever used. It's interesting that a similar approach was adopted to that of so many of the couples we marry who have what I call a 'pick and mix' attitude to all the available liturgies. This sometimes does interesting things to the theological coherence of a service. It certainly makes for some lively conversations about just what people do believe and hope for in their married life. How exactly do you explain the difference between plight (the husband's promise) and give (the woman's promise) in relation to a troth? And did I hear right - the groom gave his troth? (Answers on a post card...)
For those of us who worry (a little) about sticking to rules and about oaths we have taken to use only the set liturgies canon law appears to allow, perhaps we might feel encouraged by the example of the Archbishop and Dean to relax a bit and work with couples to be more creative. This is where real skill comes in - helping them think through what the words and symbols communicate.
I thought the prayer the couple composed for the occasion was moving and I hope their example will encourage more couples to try and encapsulate something of what they feel about their marriage in a united and unique way during the ceremony. I also thought the scripture reading chosen was much more appropriate than so many of the more popular options and it was engagingly read by James Middleton who appeared to have almost memorized it (or has Westminster Abbey gone over to auto cue?)
We had a smashing Royal Wedding day in Devon where we were indulging in an after Easter break and meeting up with a cousin and her fiance whom I shall be marrying in June. So wedding festivity was very much in the air and we enjoyed watching the service in the village pub and picnicing on the village green afterwards. Later, we listened to an excellent local jazz band The Panama Kingswhile gazing out to sea in the general direction of the Scilly Isles which was rumoured to be a possible desination for the happy couple. (We didn't spot any helicopters!) Is this why Royal Weddings never cease to enthrall most of the country - because a royal wedding is both totally different from and just the same as everbody else's wedding? It combines aspiration and affirmation - a winning duet!
Ah well, back to work this week - but looking forward to June!
The appointments of our new Rural Officer (Andy Rylands) and a new chaplain for St Michael's Hospice, Harrogate (Revd Dr Jonathan Bowers) were marked by services of Commissioning (at Bolton on Swale, for Andy) and Licensing (at Christ Church Harrogate, for Jonathan), this week. Both were long anticipated and joyful occasions. Reflecting on a very busy week I realise that, since Monday, I have met medics and representatives of voluntary bodies such as the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), the Great Yorkshire Show, a university college council and the Citizen's Advice Beareau. I've also agreed to do a role play with NYCC's emergency planning team (I may regret that!) and done an evening's voluntary teaching for a nearby college. Many clergy and many members of our churches would have had a similar range of meetings and projects throughout their week. This demonstrates very practically that the church has been doing the Big Society for a long time before the government thought it up!, As Archbishop Sentamu reminded us when the first talk of the Big Society was heard, last year, Christians have been doing the Big Society for approximately 2,000 years (as have people of many faiths).
Andy's role is very much about our 'Big Society' commitment to the countryside and rural communities at a time when issues in food, farming, world markets, sustainable living and a shrinking public sector are all putting more and more pressure on small, sometimes remote though resilient communities and willing volunteers within them (who probably don't even think of themselves as 'volunteers' though they support their neighbours in all sorts of ways). Andy's background with the Yorkshire Dales National Park, his track record in identifying issues and forming partnerships and his theological interests will be put to great use in helping the rural churches serve their communities and in communicating the challenges of rural living to the national church and the various policy-making bodies. He will be out and about meeting people and getting 'inducted' over the coming weeks. For more information see
Jonathan's role at the Hospice is, I believe, very much about showing a compassion that bears influence beyond the walls of the hospice. He will work with the other staff to be there for those whose life is nearing its end and to ensure that their unique story is honoured, the pain eased, peace, reconciliation, acceptance and hope discovered. Jonathan brings much practical and academic experience which will be used in and beyond the immediate hospice as St Michael's seeks to reach more and more people who need care near the end of life. Or to be there for anyone who has suffered a bereavement through the Just B counselling service. At his licensing, last night, we reflected that one of the things a hospice does is to symbolize the importance of compassion in a society which is often too busy, too self-obsessed and too risk-averse to value and provide the simple things the dying need - time, attention, kindness, a chance to still contribute and hope for this life and beyond.
'For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind, and the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.'
Sometimes we, in the church, get it right in terms of service in our communities, sometimes we get it badly wrong. Sometimes people notice, sometimes they don't, but there we are...and there we have been for a long time ...and there we hope to be, involved in service inspired by Christ's example for a long time to come.
Good wishes to our new Rural Officer and our new hospice chaplain at the start of their ministries in the archdeaonry and diocese!
'…Q: Do you believe that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is justice for the 9/11 attacks and indeed other attacks? And was the US morally justified in shooting him even though he was unarmed as the White House now admits? A: I think that the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done, in those circumstances. I think it is also true that the different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not done a great deal to help here. I don’t know the full details anymore than anyone else does but I do believe that in such circumstance when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a ‘war criminal’ as you might say in terms of the atrocities inflicted, it is important that justice is seen to be observed.'
My sense is that it is too early to comment definitively as we really don't understand the circumstances. But I echo the unease that is around. We have here two very unsettling notions - the idea that Pakistan's intelligence forces could have been ignorant of Osama bin Laden's presence and the idea that one nation can enter another's territory without that nation's knowledge or agreement. Is the government of Pakistan being truthful? As David Cameron challenged - are they supportive of, or opposed to terrorist acts? Where can we place our trust? Was the operation carried out by the USA justified ? Surely, illegal or uninvited entry into another country's territory does not embody a principle we would wish to see adopted by those we consider our enemies. And might it not have been preferable to bring Osama bin Laden to justice in a court rather than to risk making him an apparently unjustly treated martyr?
However, I absolutely acknowledge that my perspective as someone who is neither American nor Muslim and who has not lost loved ones through either acts of terroism or war demands a humility and a willingness to listen to other people's wisdom and perspectives on this deeply complex and impenetrable sitaution.
Every year churches hold special services and events which move through the stories of Jesus' last week in Jerusalem, His death on the cross and His resurrection. Sometimes, at points, it is really a bit more than one can bear. This year, for example, I went to hear an absolutely wonderful performance of Dupre's Le Chemin de la Crois given by Edmund Aldhouse at Ripon Cathedral on the evening of Good Friday and, had it been only the music, I would have coped. However, Dupre's evocative music was accompanied by the poems of Paul Claudel which inspired the composer. These were beautifully read by Loretta Williams and Simon Hoare - each one evoking a particular station of the cross and the emotions and spiritual and theological ruminations associated. Andrew Aspland had put together a visual display of a number of artists' depictions of the stations of the cross. Between the poetry (too cloying and overwrought for my taste), the art (which was deeply insighful and harrowing) and the music which led me to one of the most profound senses of journeying with Chirst I think I have ever experienced, I and a number of others, came out of the cathedral feeling we had reached a point of almost unbearable pain. That is surely where the cross of Christ leads us.
Among other vividly remembered moments from this year's Holy Week was a wonderful Tuesday evening service at Copt Hewick - a delightful little church at the centre of a tiny village. Just before we began, around twenty people arrived, including some children. Together, in that beautiful, quiet, glory-filled place overlooking the village, we meditated on the almost inexpressible idea that Christ being lifted up on a cross has power to transform our lives today.
Maundy Thursday saw us at Sharow church where the vigil after the service of Holy Communion found a tiny number of us sitting in darkness, thinking and praying and listening to the sounds of the world about us as darkness fell and we knew that, as the disciples had all crept away from Jesus, so we would creep home sooner than we needed to.
Easter Sunday saw the joy of two good sized congregations at Sharow who had clearly come torejoice!One of the Scottish Roman Catholic bishops had been reported as denouncing secularism. We reflected that we had every cause to celebrate Jesus' resurrection - His intimation that there is life with God beyond death and a future and purpose in this life for those of us who remain when a loved one dies. We really wished the bishop had said, 'Hey everyone, we're rejoicing today and you're really welcome to come and join us if you'd like to!' The first Christians were undoubtedly known for what they were for and not what they were against. They clearly had powerful experiences of a Jesus who had transcended death. Whenever will the church re-learn the lessons that the early church learned - people are passionate about positive expressions of what we experience not aboutcensorious judgements against unexamined and supposed evils? At the dawn service (up at 5.30am, bacon sandwiches at 7.30am!) the children and young people who had slept in church overnight told the story of God's actions in the world through drama and art. They helped us all greet the resurrection morning with a sense of hope and joy. One of my strong images of the whole week is of our priest, Peter Clement, followed by lots of children and parents, at first light, bringing the Easter candle into church and pausing to sing ' The light of Christ, thanks be to God' three times as we processed. John Coulston's singing of the glorious, ancient Easter anthem, the Exultet, was deeply moving in its simplicity and directness.
So why, or perhaps how, does all this matter?Why do we put ourselves through all this pain; does the joy outweigh it? I suppose the answer to both those questions is 'Sometimes it feels worthwhile and other times it is a struggle which leaves us feeling curiously detatched, unmoved and barren.' I have been doing this for 23 years since I first experienced the liturgies of Holy Week during my student days as a member of the Ichthyan Singers, a Christian choir in Cambridge. We led Holy Week services in parishes, prisons and hospitals around the country. I also remember a profoundly moving Holy Week at Christ Church, Swindon where I was a placement student and we all got up in time to cycle to an ancient chapel in the park where the sun rose and shone through the East window just as the eucharistic prayer was said...and so it goes on down the years. What is the point? Well, I can only say that from the experience of walking through Holy Week, I have drawn images, metaphor, language, insight and, above all, strength to help me in moments of profound crisis and grief. I have found a poetry and wisdom that has enabled me in my nursing, my ministry and my personal life to grieve and to celebrate, to experience and speak of death, fear and desolation and to recognise healing, hope and signs of new joy. Holy Week observance is not for the faint hearted; it is a discipline that Christians enter into simply because they love Christ, but is also a profound means of finding courage to live life with intergity, joy and hope even when circumstances are full of pain and struggle.
To understand the Bishop's advice, it is necessary to grasp that while a small number (less than a third) of all church schools are voluntary aided and therefore eligible to set their own admissions policy, many of these are secondary schools and their policies have a very influential effect on educational opportunity in the areas they serve. (See my post 22nd April Education; the Bishop of Oxford's Advice on Church Schools) for earlier comment and for a link to the Bishop of Oxford's own words on the matter.)