Sunday, 31 July 2011

Mediaeval Church Interiors - the Wow Factor!

The Church of St Teilo at St Fagan's Museum, Cardiff

The exterior of this plain little church, dating from the twelfth century, hides a stunning secret. It is the church of St Teilo which, until the 1970's, was situated on the banks of the River Clwchwr at Llandeilo Tal-y-Bont, near Pontardulais. It ceased to be a parish church in the 1850's and became increasingly damp and delapidated so that worship was all but impossible. The final service was held in 1970 and the building was carefully demolished and brought to St Fagan's Museum of Welsh Life (the National History Museum) in Cardiff where it was painstakingly reconstructed, stone by stone. However, as this ancient building was taken down, it revealed an unexpected surprise. As the layers of paint and plaster were removed, 500 year old wall paintings were discovered depicting many aspects of the life of Christ and the lives of the saints. When the church was rebuilt at St Fagan's, it was decided that the walls should be painted to appear as they would have looked in 1520.  Visitors to the church now walk into a building which looks much as it would have in the Middle Ages. The impact is breath-taking and provides a powerful reminder that Mediaeval churches were full of images which told the Christian story for largely illiterate congregations. We have a wonderful example of the use of such wall paintings in this area at St Agatha's church, Easby, near Richmond; there, in the chancel you can still see the original paintings of the Fall, on one side, and the cross and resurrection - the remedy for the Fall - on the opposite side. In today's society where image is once again such an  important feature of communication , it seems a shame that this element of church interior decoration has largely been abandoned. We are perhaps missing an opportunity to tell the Christian story, to inculturate or localize aspects of it (as the church has always done) and to utilize contemporary art forms to do so.   

The South Porch
The Rood Screen
Christ at the Last Supper with the Apostles
Christ Carrying His Cross
Christ Being Taken Down From the Cross
St Catherine
St Teilo was a Welsh saint, a contemporary of St David and St Padarn. It is said that he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he was consecrated bishop.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Dioceses Commission Gives Little Away

Hi there, folks! If you follow the blog, you may have gathered from the tone of the last couple of posts, and the infrequency of writing over the last week, that we have been on holiday in Wales. It seems that the world has not been on holiday, however - famine in the Horn of Africa, the Norwegian bombings and shootings, the ever-surprising twists and turns in the phone hacking crisis (will it yet bring the government down?), the turmoil in the Middle East and the anxiety in the financial sector make it very difficult to know what to blog about next! The nature of blogging is that you need to be up-to-the-moment but you also need to avoid saying anything so precipitately that your judgements are worthless, plain wrong and make you look foolish within twenty four hours!

Holidaying though we have been, it has not escaped my attention that the Dioceses Commission (which is the body that re-organizes 'executive' areas in the Church of England) has published an interim report stating that it intends to act on its earlier proposals to create a single diocese out of the dioceses of Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon and Leeds, in Yorshire. This will be the first time the Commission has, in fact, substantially reorganised a region and their proposals create both exciting opportunities and the potential to get things wrong if done without a proper understanding of what makes Yorkshire tick. Their initial report, published in November 2010, opened up a period of consultation and the Commission now thinks that it has received sufficient evidence to persuade it to proceed with its plans to dissolve the three present dioceses and create one large one with a diocesan bishop and four area bishops.

Frankly, with the exception of the decisions it has reached about the transfer of some parishes to other dioceses (see below),  the interim report doesn't seem to tell us a great deal. It merely sets out a timetable for future developments. I quote from the Thinking Anglicans website,

'The Commission announces that in the light of the responses they have received, it is drawing up a re-organisation scheme to replace the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield with a single new diocese, as well as draft instruments for the creation of episcopal areas. The draft scheme will be published in October 2011 and will be accompanied by a statement of the effect of the propsals on the mission of the Church of England and a detailed estimate of the financial effect of the creation of a single diocese.'

The question of the transfer of parishes to other dioceses will apparently be covered in a second scheme to be published at the same time (October 2011). However, the interim report states that the Commission intends to write into the scheme provision for the transfer of the parishes of Laithkirk, Romaldkirk, Bowes, Startforth, Brignall and Rokeby to the diocese of Durham (see 3.2.1,2,3,4 and 5.) Wycliffe is to remain in the new diocese. In the case of the parishes in the East Richmond Team and the Lower Swale which were asked to consider transfering to York Diocese, it intends to recommend that a final decision is postponed until a full review of the Diocese of York has been undertaken (3.6.1,2,3 and 4.) In the case of the parishes bordering on the Archdeaconry of Leeds, the interim report remains silent. The parishes concerned will know that this does not, in every case, follow the expressed wishes of the PCCs concerned. In the case of the Durham parishes, the Commission was of the opinion that the responses of the PCCs did not present any persuasive evidence to make them think again. In the case of the York parishes, they were persuaded that to make a decision without a proper review of the York diocese would be precipitate and might lead to a poor decision.   

This week's interim report doesn't give answers to any of the larger questions of detail about the new diocese which we, in Yorkshire, are all so interested in. It does not address the question of the name of the diocese, nor the question of the locations of the diocesan bishop and the administrative centre; it does not make clearer the status and responsibilites of the cathedrals or the financial arrangements for either diocese or cathedrals. It does underline that the impetus for a single diocese is not a response to numerical or financial decline; the Commission belives its proposals will enhance the church's ability to reach out to the communities of the region and to be more effective in terms of its mission. The scheme promised in October will be accompanied by a document clearly setting out the reasons for this, we are told. 

So, all in all, the gist of the Commission's announcement is that it is now committed to a one-diocese scheme with five episcopal areas and the transfer of some parishes to surrounding dioceses. However, it has not yet completed the necessary detailed work on how the scheme will be established and made workable. This will come in October and will be followed by a further statutory period of consultation. The Commission has listened to our request (contained in our Diocesan Synod's response to the initial report) for clarification on how the finances will work and on just why the whole thing will be better for mission. (As I have stated in other places, I think that if you read the original report thoroughly, it is pretty clear on the latter topic.) The point to stress now is that it will be vital for deaneries, PCCs, teams and indiviuals to respond with reasonable speed once the scheme is published. When we see the detail, we will have a much better grasp of the possible advantages, disadvantages and pit falls. This is the part of the process which is, in my opinion, crucial - the bringing together of well researched proposals with local knowledge. So my message is, clear a couple of evenings in late October or early November when you can read the scheme and the accompanying documents and then make sure you send your comments to the Commission before it is too late! And, if they show no signs of doing anything, needle your PCC, Deanery Synod and Chapter into having a proper, informed discussion of the issues and making their response.  Absolutely everbody is free to do this. Obviously, well thought-through and knowledgable responses from groups are likely to make more impact than very subjective or ill informed responses from  individuals.

The Interim report

Thinking Anglicans website
The Bishop of Bradford's blog

Friday, 22 July 2011

A Very Norwegian Place to be

The Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay

We spent a very interesting few hours at the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay, yesterday. Built on Bute Dock in 1868 for the many service men who sailed into Cardiff Bay in an age when Cardiff exported more coal than any other port in the world, the little wooden church is still a distinctive feature of the sky line in Cardiff Bay. Originally it both provided a place to relax and write home for the many Norwegian sailors who came to Cardiff and also acted as the hub for the thriving local Norwegian community. The church fell into disrepair in the 1960's and 70's but was restored in 1982 by a conservation group whose president was the author, Roald Dahl. Dahl was born in Cardiff, of Norwegian parents. Today, the church, which is within sight of the Senedd (the Welsh Assembley Building), has been newly refurbished and houses a cafe and gallery. It was very poignant to be in the cafe, yesterday, as the news of the terrorist atrocities in Oslo was breaking on the BCC's world news chanel. It brought home to us the importance of such missions to seamen all around the world; here was a place where people come together to feel connected with home at times of national anxiety and tragedy as well as at times of rejoicing. Our heart goes out to the people of Norway, a nation well known for its exemplary tradition of democracy. 

The gallery at the church is currently hosting a facinating exhibition of photographs illustrating the message of each of the 66 books in the Bible. Masterminded by Owen Brown, the exhibition marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. I quote from the book which accompanies the exhibits, a paragraph which I think reflects the location of the exhibition at the heart of one of the ports that shaped the Britain and America of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

'You may think our modern world is founded on secular ideals, but arguably the translation of the Bible not only influenced the English language and literature more than any other book, it was also the seedbed for Western Democracy, the driver for the abolition of the slave trade, the shaper of the British legal system and the framework for the Christian culture of both the British and American empires. is also a book which outsells, is read by more people and is being translated into more languages than any other today.'   

The exhibition takes each book of the Bible and illustrates one verse with a photograph which captures the theme or the flavour of the book. I was struck by the power of this simple idea to communicate something of the essence of the scriptures in a way that gets people thinking and talking and brings out the contemporary relevance of the Bible's themes. You can find more information about the exhibition and see some of its stunning images on

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Farm Shops

One of the interesting stalls at the Great Yorkshire Show was run by the Farm Business Support and Development Project. Talking to people there, it is evident how much ingenuity and enterprise goes on behind the scenes and just how successful a simple idea can be if it is the right thing in the right place at the right time and if it is developed with passion and commitment. Over-complicating a business idea can, in fact, be its downfall.

Supporting local businesses and learning how they have been developed is an important part of life in rural areas where the weight of population makes new business enterprises especially difficult to sustain. We shop at farm shops in Kirkby Hill, Kirk Hammerton, Baldersby and Ripley and try to support small businesses where ever we come across them. This leads to a different way of shopping - you buy things that are in season, as and when you are in the area. This creates a much more relaxed attitude to acquiring what you need and means that you look forward, with anticipation, to the next occasion when you can get the walking socks or the tools or the ice cream or the cheese that you particularly enjoy! It also means that you have a greater variety of dishes as you have to be more flexible about using the ingredients that are available instead of just rushing to the supermarket to get what ever you need now.

For more about the Great Yorkshire Show see    

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


One of the the most popular things we started in the parish where I was Vicar in Nottingham was an afternoon tea for older people. As well as providing a slap up tea and lifts, we always had a speaker and a short service. It just seemed to meet a need - a place to come for friendship and the exchange of news and for uplift, a prayer and a chance to discuss issues of interest. So I was interested to read, recently, that apparently afternoon tea is back! Statistics suggest that while many of us are cutting back on eating out (including, it seems on alchohol) we are compensating by splashing out on afternoon tea. Sales of scones have gone up 42% in the last year while cream doughnut sales have soared by 51%! Restaurants like the Savoy in London and Bettys in Harrogate are reporting that afternoon tea is currently the fastest growing part of their business. Afternoon tea had fallen out of favour in the eighties when American style coffee shops became popular but it would appear that the British are returning to their roots in a time of recession!  

Many country (and town) churches are branching out into cafe style services and it does seem that there may well be something of a niche to fill here. People really enjoy getting together in a relaxed atmosphere and mingling chat with some focused discussion around a theme or topic. Add an opportunity for some quiet or a little music to listen to or join in with, and you have a winning mix. Church services have always reflected something of the culture in which they arise and there is no reason why relaxing to eat together and linger over a pot of tea should not be part of our worship together as Christians, to which we invite our friends and visitors! In fact, Jewish worship from which Christian worship sprang, was and still is centred around two homely meals - the Passover and the Sabbath;  so churches that base some of their worship around meals are returning to their deep roots.

If you haven't tried it, why not consider at least one worship event a month which is based around a simple meal like afternoon tea?

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Mozart; Traces of Transcendence

W. A. Mozart: Unfinished portrait by Lange 1782

I've been re-reading Hans Kung's little book, Mozart; Traces of Transcendence at the same time as I've been teaching a module on Worship for York St John's University. I first read the Hans Kung book years ago and was quite disappointed by it.  I thought perhaps I had missed something in it so I decided to give it another go. But try as I might, once again, I couldn't find the depth of understanding of music I was hoping to discover. Yes, it sets the phenomenon that was Mozart against his historical, political and religious background and (for my taste) tries to squeeze the work of Mozart into theological shapes that suit the writer's understanding of the Mass but were probably not entirely in the mind of Mozart himself. But the reason the book disappointed me was that Kung either portrays music as a vehicle for concepts carried by tradition and words, or he tips over into a slightly mysterious and emotional approach to music which makes grand claims about bliss, transcendence and universal appeal.  True, he acknowledges that 'The music of this incomparable composer is accessible to anyone who is open to it. It really does not need words.' But his entire discussion of Mozart's motivation and achievement in composing religious music is based around the history and content of texts and theological concepts.

All this has set me wondering. One of the students on the module I've been teaching chose to give a presentation on why he percieves music as a distraction from worship rather than an aid to it. His main argument centred around the fact that music often obscures our hearing of texts and therefore our apprehending and understanding of the concepts and emotions they carry. In a way, both Kung and my very thoughtful student seem to have taken the same approach to the place of music in worship and I would say that they have fallen into the same trap.

Music is not principally a medium for carrying words or for communicating the same concepts that texts express. It is not some kind of parallel or alternative way of communicating the same thing. To say it with words and play it in music does not help us say the same thing twice over. Music is a 'language' or, I would prefer to say, a means of communicating that stands in its own right and operates on its own terms. It conveys truth in a complex manner and in a different way from language. It has an intelligence which is quite separate from language and linear, reasoned thought. And the reason we reach for all the superlatives to speak about composers like Mozart and Bach - sublime, transcendent, universal, divine - is that they were masters of the means of communication that is music.

Why do Mozart's Agnus Deis move us? Not, I think, because of his theological understanding of the sins of the world and the reconciliation and peace brought about by the cross but because, as he himself tells us, 'I never lie down at night without reflecting, young as I am, that I may not live to see another day.' Why do his Dies Iraes have power to warn and terrify? Listen to the darkest parts of Don Giovanni and you will begin to perceive the strength of the wrath of God when it is pitted against evil. Why does his music point us toward things transcendent? Listen to the final chord of the (incomplete) Lacrimosa; it conjures up hope by being the obverse of the final chord of Purcell's Dido's Lament which conveys utter despair. Of course, it communicates a feeling of hope per se, but I can only find a reason for that hope by contrasting it with music that does the opposite; to say that is hopeful because the composer is 'thinking of eternity' does it an injustice.  Ultimately, I think you can only respond to Mozart's music as music: any religious or theological insight (cognitive or affective) that emerges is most clearly grasped through parallels and contrasts with other music or with Mozart's own music. I once played the double bass for a performance which sought to portray the crucifixion and resurrection. A lady asked my fellow performer, a pianist, 'Did you think of God as you were playing?' 'No, madam,' he said, 'There are about 15,000 notes in the piece we have just played. I mostly thought about getting them all in the right order.' Yet the music elicited stories of deaths and suffering and inexplicable experiences of the presence of God from other members of the audience in ways that showed that many in the room had thought about or experienced again things they identified as death and God-found-through-death.        

Mozart once said he did not trust people who were not religious; clearly he was a person of faith and someone who had an experiential relationship rather than a scholarly relationship with the Roman Catholic faith of his time (and, to be fair, Kung does make this point.) He strove for truth in his music. I am not sure that the words or the marriage of the music with the words are at all the point. Perhaps I am a purist when it comes to music in worship. I have no objection at all (unlike my student) to music being used as a vehicle for texts. It helps us interpret them, it beautifies them, it comments on them, it fixes them in our memories and it enables us to join in and and participate by singing or listening. But the real point of music is that it has the potential to communicate truth in and of itself. Let's avoid being sentimental about it, however! Bad or inappropriate music does this badly or not at all and even sublime music can only reach falteringly for penultimate truth, just as sublime words or visual images do. For the purposes of worship, we ought to let music speak for itself from time to time and strive for standards that are appropriate to our setting, neither over reaching our abilities nor settling for the lowest common denominator. And if we can't do this, an absence of music enables text, word and silence to speak.        

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Ripon Summer Organ Festival

Ripon Cathedral's Harrison Organ
 For those who like organ music, there is a treat which spreads itself out across July and August. Come to Ripon cathedral at 7.30pm on a Tuesday night (you can have a really good meal in one of the bistros on Kirkgate or in the market square beforehand) and enjoy a feast of music! The recital which really intriques me, this year, is on 9th August when Josephine Peach and Edmund Aldhouse will play a programme of music for piano and organ. Not two instruments we necessarily associate with one another! The programme includes works by Stanford, Jongen, Messiaen and Vierne for either piano or organ - it will be interesting to compare the way the same composer writes differently for the two instruments - and a rare Concerto for organ and piano by Flor Peeters. I don't recall ever hearing a concerto for both together. 

The other recitals are 19th July - John Scott (St Thomas, Fifth Avenue NYC) 
                                26th July -  Edmund Aldhouse (Ripon Cathedral)    
                                2nd August - Andrew Bryden (Ripon Cathedral)
                                9th August - Josephine Peach and Edmund Aldhouse
                                16th August - James Lancelot (Durham Cathedral).

Please come along and support the appeal for the restoration of one of the best instruments in the country! Tickets £8 in advance, £10 on the door.

(Sadly, I have blogged too late to advertise Robert Quinney's recital which introduced the series on 12th July. Quinney is sub organist at Westminster Abbey and was the organist for the recent Royal Wedding!)

King James Bible

In this 400th anniversary year of the publication of the King James' version of the Bible, I've been looking out for phrases and images that we use in everday language which come from this wonderful translation of the scriptures. I'm sure there are hundreds. But, for now, how about

'Eat drink and be merry'
                                                                'Am I my brother's keeper?'                  
                   'The writing on the wall'
                                                                                              'Filthy lucre'
                                                 'A drop in the bucket'

Title page of the 1611 King James Bible

Luke 12.19 (The Parable of the Rich Fool)
 'And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry.' But God said unto him, 'Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee; then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?''

Genesis 4.9 (Cain murders his brother Abel and tries to hide it from God)
'And the Lord said unto Cain, 'Where is Abel, thy brother?' And he said, 'I know not. Am I my brother's keeper?''

Daniel 5.5-6 (Daniel interprets a sign given at a banquet in King Belshazzar's palace to predict the King's death which occurs that very night.)
'In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosened and his knees smote against one another.'

1 Timothy 3.3 (The character of a Bishop)
'A bishop, then must be...not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, but patient...'  (It is worth noting that, in scripture, it is not generally money or wealth than is seen a bad or corrupting, but a person's attitude to money.)

Isaiah 40.15 (The vastness of God)
'Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket and are counted as the small dust of the balance; behold, He taketh up the isles as a very little thing.'

Do comment if you can identify others!

Of course, some phrases that sound as though they come from the King James bible in fact come from Shakespeare, writing for the most part a little earlier than the publication of the bible. Both Shakespeare and the KJB were strongly influenced by the English of John Wycliffe (1328 - 1384) whose translation of the New Testament into vernacular English from the Latin Vulgate heavily influenced most later translations. Wycliffe was born at Wycliffe, near Barnard Castle, in this diocese. St Mary's church, Wycliffe (just over the border of County Durham and on the bank of the swiftly flowing River Tees) is a gem and well worth a visit.  

St Mary's Church, Wycliffe

All Change to Secure your Seat of Learning!

Changes are coming thick and fast due to new government policies and legislation. Reading the reports coming out of the General Synod of the Church of England (meeting in York, last weekend) you realise how difficult it's becoming to keep up. I guess we all tend to keep moderately abreast of the things that most interest us (health care in my case). But while we are watching out for changes in our own particular areas of interest and expertise, changes in other areas others creep up and take us unawares.

The changes in how education will be provided are difficult to assimilate. More free schools and academies, less control by Local Authorities, a great deal more responsibility for governors (who will need to manage pensions and employment conditions as well as standards and resources), new processes for admitting pupils to church and faith schools (called for by some of our leading bishops and I agree with them!) - all this means that it is very difficult to predict where the churches should be putting their efforts and their money. Diocesan Boards of Education and their systems for finding and training governors are going to need to be more robust than they are. That is no criticism of current Boards and governors, but they will, quite simply, need to be able to do a lot more than they have done under the present system. They are therefore going to need increased levels of expertise and personnel and they will have to offer more training and support. This is where the Big Society really begins to bite; being a governor is going to demand amounts of time, knowledge and commitment that exceed what is presently required. 

Opening church schools up to a wider section of the community and basing admissions criteria less on evidence of church attendance is double edged. I believe that church schools should be available to the widest possible cross section of children and I would welcome a new openness; this ties in with my thinking about the ways in which Christians need to be far more ready to welcome all who want to work in partnership with them. However, it does raise big questions about how the Christian ethos of schools can be maintained. Christian faith communities, ie. the local churches, will have to put more resources into working more intensively with schools (and that means finding people with skills in communicating with young people) to present lived examples of what having a faith means. It is questionable whether it is possible to inspire genuine curiosity about faith, never mind faith itself, by teaching it in an abstract way or third hand. (Teaching about faith while not particiapting in a faith from the inside is rather like teaching the theory and histry of music without every playing or listening to music! It often does quite a lot to put people right off faith!)  Already many schools present 'faith' as 'ethics' and 'grace' as 'obligation' and this will only increase where fewer people of faith are involved. So we are going to need readers, clergy and ordinary members of congregations who will dedicate time and effort to working with staff and young people through the schools in quite new ways.

Higher education is also changing so fast it's hard to keep up! A very able young member of my family has recently decided not to go to university because she doesn't want to take on the amount of debt it would involve. I admire her sense of responsibilty. The church is talking about offering its own (presumbly cheaper to deliver) degrees, therefore ceasing to support clergy-in-training in accessing the theology and ministry degrees awarded by university faculties. This seems like a very significant withdrawal from the univeristy forum. If this happens, Christian ministry will no longer be in the mainstream of education and academic life and my guess is it will become less fully a part of public life in general. 

I am not an expert in systems for delivering education or the changes that such systems have recently undergone but I can see that Christians, and perhaps especially Anglicans,
are going to have to do some very quick, sure footed and careful re-acting to stay abreast of the game, at all levels of education. Urgent cross-diocese and cross-denominational thinking are needed to ensure that the insights of the Christian tradition (on which much of Western education has been based) remain an integral part of our places of learning. This calls for joined up thinking at national and regional level. Such thinking is beginning to happen but there is a sense that we are somewhat on the back foot. The Big Society, while throwing up new opportunities, is not going to be an easy ride. It is not simply about doing a few more community focused projects. We are in for the long haul and people of faith are going to have to be sacrificially committed and work harder than ever to ensure that we resource and fund the things we are committed to because of our Christian faith .          

Monday, 11 July 2011

Horn of Africa

The plight of many populations in the Horn of Africa looks set to degenerate into a full scale famine. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, asked for 'massive support' from the world for these countries suffering the worst drought for 60 years. There has been a lot of coverage of the situation in NE Kenya and Ethiopia; the drought has also affected Sudan, Djibouti and Uganda. Guterres is reported as saying that currently, 'Somalia represents the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.'  The lack of rain this year has led to the failure of crops, the death of animals (even animals such as camels that normally survive in arid conditions) and serious malnutrition, so that families are now going without food altogether and begging on the roadside for water. As ever, these conditions are causing displacement across the region, with the accute suffering that brings, particularly to the very elderly and the very young; it is reported that elderly relatives are staying behind to face starvation as the younger members of families migrate. Schools and hospitals are closing due to lack of water. Organisations like Christian Aid, UNICEF, the Disasters Emergency Committee and Oxfam are appealing for £10m to
  • supply water by providing water tanks in villages
  • construct additional water points
  • get food to families who are not already on food programmes
  • provide extra nutrition for infants and pregnant mothers
  • distribute animal feed
  • help communities to become more resilient to face further droughts
If your church would like to hold a collection, you can obtain envelopes from (ref. no. F1952E) or you can gift aid contributions through the Disasters Emergency Committee at most high street banks.

For more information go to http:// and click on the Horn of Africa appeal on the home page.

    Monday, 4 July 2011

    New Deacons!

    Congratulations to the seven new Deacons ordained at Ripon cathedral by John, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds on Sunday morning! We look forward to their ministry in parishes across the diocese. From this archdeaconry - Bernadette Hegarty at High Harrogate St Peter, Anthony Kirkby at Richmond St Mary's with Hudswell St Michael and All Angels and Downholme St Michael and Marske St Edmund,  and Lynn Thorius with the East Richmond Team Ministry.

    For brief biographies of our new deacons go to

    As the Revd Canon Jacqui Jones, preacher at the service and retreat conductor reminded us, they have a wealth of experience in many different walks of life which they are laying down in response to a call to serve in the church. They will surely use all that experience in new and different ways but it is a courageous thing to be willing to empty oneself of previous securities in order to minister. Jacqui prompted us to remember that the authentic marks of the church are joy and a share in Christ's sufferings.  

    Saturday, 2 July 2011

    Markenfield Hall

    What better way to spend a weekend afternoon than visting one of England's oldest continuously inhabited houses? Markenfield Hall stands as a moving testimony to the history of the region from before 1310 until the present day. It is first mentioned in the Doomesday book, was expanded by the Markenfield family who played a significant part in the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536) and the Rising of the North (1569) during the Reformation period, and then developed by the Grantleys from the eighteenth century until its recent twentieth century restoration by the Grantleys and the Curteises. The Markenfields were a loyal Catholic family who contributed at great cost to themselves to the resistance to the Protestant Reformation. Although the chapel was briefly used as a Protestant place of worship it eventually fell into disuse. Fittingly, it was restored in 2001 and Mass is regularly celebrated in the chapel today. Anglican (BCP) services are also held frequently. House and chapel are briming with history - stories from almost every period that bring the families who inhabited the house to life. Sir Ian and Lady Curteis open their home to the public for 28 days every year and the services in the chapel are also open to the public. It is an enhchanting and hospitable and place where you feel that you are touching the deep roots of English history!

    The Hall is situated on the A61 between Ripley (Harrogate) and Ripon.

    Friday, 1 July 2011

    Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

    We don't have enough priests training in the Church of England. This will not be news to anybody! The imminent ordinations (taking place all over the diocese and at the cathedral, this weekend) have prompted me to think about this. Why are people not coming forward to be ordained? The answers are many and have mostly been well rehearsed by others. Maggi Dawn and the Ugely Vicar have both blogged on this topic in the last few days and Ronni Lamont, in her book Leaping the Vicarage Wall; Leaving Parish Ministry, Continuum 2001, sets out some of the reasons she discovered while doing her recent research (p.51 -Theological Education.) 

    So I thought I'd try and set out some of my thinking on the subject. Firstly, I have long thought it strange that, when something needs doing, we don't just say, 'X needs doing - please come forward if you think you might be able to do it!' I learned from Jewish colleagues and from African and Asian Christians that some religious communities are much less precious about the notion of 'calling' than the good old Church of England. They take the line, 'If God really wants us to do this, He will provide someone to do it from the resources we have!' Contrast the Church of Engalnd approach. I was talking to a friend, 
     this week, about someone we both know who has just taken early retirement from a fairly senior post in one of the caring professions. He wondered if the church might be able to see, in his life-long, sincere commitment to his faith and his working experience, a reason for ordaining him. He was told that the whole process of discernment will take nearly four years. Well I ask you, no wonder we don't have enough priests! Do we deserve them? I'm not jumping to the conclusion that this person has a call, merely saying that there has to be a quicker way to test it out.

    I get asked about twice a month (often by a bishop) why we don't have more young women coming forward. Do they really need to ask? Would you expect young women to wonder if they are called to serve a community which distinguishes itself from other communities (legal, medical, educational, scientific, business......) by being the only one actively to exclude women's presence and voices from senior leadership roles? Again, I am not saying that there isn't sometimes an absence of women in other spheres, but at least the absence isn't upheld by the rules of the organisation or the law of the land. And in all the endless debates about women priests and bishops, have we ever actively sought to learn about the shape of priesthood as it is inhabited by women? Can most dioceses tell a young woman who might need to be on maternity leave what the arrangements are for covering her period of maternity leave? I think the Church of England is pretty much classed, in most people's minds, with groups who do not honestly believe women are as capable or as able to lead as men. This is not likely to inspire women to offer themselves for a role in which the church is increasingly looking for leadership qualities.

    Then there's the spirituality angle. Vocations conferences seem to me to be shaped largely by the kind of spirituality which appeals to introverts. Absolutely nothing wrong with this; except that the majority of the population are extraverts. People who are capable of profound insight about the active world, making wonderful leaders and organizers and giving effective service in some of the most demanding areas of life are at least as likely to be extravert as introvert. When I was selected for ordination training, my selectors seemed only interested in finding out if I could read, pray and think. They weren't particularly interested in what I could do or whether I could influence people to work and learn with me. At theological college I quickly learned to show the part of my personality that was drawn to reflection and to keep quiet about the side of me that liked to get things done, usually noisily and with other people - indeed getting things done was treated with great suspicion. A theological college principal to whom I once said that maybe the church would have more members if ordinands were taught to do a good funeral, run a youth club and read a balance sheet told me, 'We are not into mere training, here, we are educating people to think'. That seemed a bit patronising - don't people who get things done think as well? So I wonder if the selection process puts off a number of potential priests who would like to learn to be better at reflecting and integrating their prayer with their life but would also fear having to sacrifice a part of themselves that has to do with service and communication and enterprise to do it. (It is strange that, in the church's selection process, self denial nearly always seems to involve giving up activity and involvement; it is seldom about giving up a tendency to too much reflection in order to be more active.)

    I've kept quiet about most of this over the years, but I am beginning to think that the Church of England needs to take a close look at the theology underlying its selection processes. Is part of the problem that we put far too much emphasis on a personal sense of call (and then, ironically, suspect people who have too much of that very same sense of call - 'I just know God is calling me.') Conversely, we put too little emphasis on the responsibility of the church (ie. all its members) to recognize that God is calling people - should we not be spotting people with the gifts we need and saying to them, 'Have you thought about offering yourself for ordination?' And then supporting them as they think about the things they would have to give up to follow such a call. To give an example, I can think of a couple of people with profound prayer lives and enormous financial skills who would make excellent vicars but would, I suspect, not get through the selection process. They just wouldn't be aware that they needed to play the game of 'I think being de-skilled is a really valuable means of education'. Actually they almost certainly would be faced with their own vulnerability during the training but they would not start from a point of acknowledging this to be a useful aim. And that's probably true for some younger people, too.

    Then there's joy! I remember saying to my theology professor, 'I've enjoyed every moment of studying theology!' That was meant as a compliment - his had been an excellent course. He looked slightly shocked and I realised I had (again) said something flippant. Some people do  find they love praying, they love studying and preaching and teaching, they flourish in leadership roles, they rise to the challenge of sharing their faith winsomely, they know how to inspire trust and create a following in communities. I think we make it all far too complicated! Ministry is demanding and asks things of you you never expect. It leads you to places of dereliction at times. What you most need is a sense of adventure about your relationship with God, some humility, and joy at following in a tradition - you are not called to do it all, merely to do faithfully that part which you can see in company with others who may not see exactly what you see but are also faithful to what they see. Could we perhaps talk a little more about the joy of ministry and the needs and opportunities of the church and a little less about that oh so off puttingly serious and self important notion of individual ministerial formation which puts all the emphasis on the interiority of the person called and by so doing actually implies they are more important than the God and the church we are serving? 

    If we had a bit of a rethink, we might find more people coming forward to have vocations tested.       


    Radiance; a book review

    Dan W. Hardy's last book (co-authored and published posthumously by his daughter, Deborah Hardy Ford, the Jewish philosopher, Peter Ochs and his son-in-law, the Regius professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, David Ford) is well worth consideration. Wording A Radiance; Parting Conversations on God and the Church, SCM Press 2010, is remarkable because it records the conversations of a dying theologian with a psychotherapist, a Jewish philosopher and a Christian theologian. The conversations grew out of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the book sets out some of Dan's last thoughts on God and on ecclesiology. It is not an easy read. As anyone who knew Dan will realise, he had a way of inventing new theological terms which he then explored from every possible angle and used to throw light on concepts which brought together theology with other disciplines. 

    In this book, he speaks a lot about 'abduction', a term he takes from his beloved Samuel Taylor Coleridge to refer to our capacity to be drawn by light and to see more than our perception without this light would allow. This process is associated by Coleridge, always, with God. It produces something akin to Hooker's 'divinely infused rationality' though Coleridge applies the term to moral, affective and somatic aspects of human life as well as to rational and cognitive ones.

    Dan, in his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and in his mind (he had a brain tumour), is seeing light and seeing with eyes that lead him away from self engagement to attention to God and others. This leads him to reflect on both the church and the way in which society comes together. He talks about 'measurement' - a way of speaking about human attraction towards God (or lack of it), seeing Jesus' physical presence in Palestine, the scriptures and the eucharist as means of measuring the power of abduction in the world. This is heavy stuff, not easy to grasp per se, but additionally difficult because there is a real sense that Dan was running out of time to say  all that he desired. The insights come thick and fast and are densely packed. The book (partly written by Dan and partly by his three co-authors) brings together personal narrative, a mature and distinct approach to theology and a mystical sense of the relationship between life and death, or at least of the sensibility of someone who is caught between the two.

    Transcendence, Ripon Cathedral
    The Eucharist; a means of attraction Godwards

    To those of us who learned some of our systematic theology at Dan's lectures on ecclesiology, all this will come as no surprise.  The book is very recognisably Dan at work, in full flow, asking, 'What is is that grows a good, whole human being and a good society?' and finding the answer in his own abuction Godwards.