Monday, 31 October 2011

Drama at Kirkby Overblow

 Kirkby Overblow Dramatic Society is now an award winning organisation having walked away with four prizes from this year's Wharfedale Festival of Theatre Competition (where the competition is, indeed, keen.)

The cast are preparing to tread the boards again from December 1st - 3rd. This year’s production is now deep into rehearsals and Rumour has it that it is going to be a corker. The story goes like this… anniversary dinner descends into farce when its affluent guests arrive to discover that the staff have deserted, the hostess is missing and the host has been shot through the earlobe. All hope of dignity is abandoned in their frantic attempts to uncover the truth and prevent a scandal, with hilarious consequences.

The production begins with a ‘Charity Preview’ performance on Wednesday 30 November. Despite the fact that it is free you do still need a ticket for this. Perfomances continue on Thursday 1 December to Saturday 3 December. Tickets are on sale at the Shoulder Shop Kirkby Overblow.

Count People Because People Count

I sort of know this post is going to get me into trouble! In the church, we put so much emphasis on the importance of each individual that we are sometimes very suspicious of research that asks 'how many?' We perhaps fear the consequence of discovering 'not many'. Yet there is plenty of evidence that large numbers of people use open churches during the day for prayer, peace and quiet and as places to visit as pilgrims and tourists. At the last tourism group, we were discussing the importance of churches being open and ways of knowing just how many people come into them during the day. In larger or very historic churches with several focal points of interest, it would also be important to know which parts of the church inspire people and why they come. Now don't get me wrong, I am not into counting heads for the sake of it or so we can boast about how many people we see. But it does seem sensible to know how many people use a church. When I was a parish priest we used to count the number of people who attended all services, not just Holy Communion services, and these figures were often the basis for suprising 
conclusions about which services were actually growing and, therefore, for decisions about how to develop the worshipping life of the church. Our church warden used to say 'Count people because people count!'

Of course, when it comes to pilgrimage and tourism it is vital to know how many people are attracted to your church and what they come to see - this influences all sorts of decisions such as what to put in the guide book and on the website, where to put places for prayer, what hours of the day and seasons of the year to open. Apparently, Exeter Cathedral has recently installed a 'people counter'. Andy Rylands, our rural officer, did some research and discovered that you can obtain a small, smart digital counter for as little as £150. It would need an archdeacon's license to install and, over a period of time, it could be moved around to different parts of the church if you want to find out what people go to see while they are in the building. I suppose it could also record your Sunday attendance more accurately, or at least more easily, than a sidesperson can. You can find details of one version of counter on

Spirituality, pilgrimage and worship are not primarily about numbers, but it sure does help to know when people come and where they linger, especially if you are making decisions about encouraging more and about how to prepare the best welcome when they do come.  

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Winter Fires and Christmas Trees!

As the clocks go back, the evenings get longer and colder and my thoughts and toes turn gratefully to our wood-burning stove and to the wood pile at our door. The Forestry Commission has a woodfuel plan, designed to increase the number of people using wood as a major source of fuel over the next 5 years. Woodfuel (logs, chips and pellets) is a sustainable, easily replaced, low carbon source of energy that can be used to generate both heat and electricity and it could become an increasingly important part of the UK's renewable energy supply. Woodfuel supplies can be operated best on a local basis and the Forestry Commission is working to develop the supply chain on a sub-national scale, co-operating with regional contractors and businesses (again, saving further energy by reducing transportation.) There is something very satisfying about creating the winter's wood supply, stacking and drying the logs in good time for the cold weather and knowing that it has all been locally grown and the trees felled have each been replaced.

There has been some (in my opinion) nutty discussion of the need to avoid real Christmas trees for the sake of the environment. In fact, real trees take five times less energy to produce than artifical ones and ten times fewer basic materials (many of the plastics used in artificial trees require the release of carbon in their production.) Real trees can be used to make compost after you have finished with them (or burned as fuel). The Forestry Commission gives a guarantee that all its trees and all trees grown on sites that it inspects are sustainably grown; for every tree felled, one is planted. And what could be better than the smell of sap from a Norway Spruce - the traditional Christmas tree? A Nordmann fir or a Lodgepole pine is also good, but my personal favourite is the Douglas fir with its bluey tinge and robust needles that do not drop.  

Spare a Prayer for Our Prisons

In the wake of the rise in the prison population following the recent street riots in several of our cities, the Prison Fellowship are asking all Christians to be more aware of those in prison and those who work in the prison service. 1,300 people have been sent to gaol as a result of the riots meaning that there are now over 86,000 people in prisons and young offender institutions such as HMYOI Deerbolt and Wetherby (both situated in this archdeaconry.) The Fellowship are calling on churches to pray for prisoners, governors, prison staff and their familes as the number of people locked up reaches an all time high in England and Wales. Apparently the number of prisoners is expected to fall to about 83,000 in 2012. 

The Prison Fellowship has a presence in many prisons and I know that volunteers from local churches are certainly active in Deerbolt and at Wetherby. The Fellowship is committed to working to bring down the rates of re-offending through the work of the Sycamore Tree Programme. This well-established programme runs six-session courses in prisons to help offenders think about the effect of their crimes on victims and the offenders themselves and to encourage them to think about restorative justice. Each course is led by a qualified tutor but the programme is always looking for more volunteers to help - there are currently about 1,500, nationwide.

To see what they do and to read the stories of some of the volunteers, go to 

A spokesperson for the Prison fellowship said, 'We are trying to address the issue of breaking the cycle of re-offending by working proactively with those who want to address the causes of their crimes in the first place. As Christians, we believe that prayer is a good place to start.'  

Monday, 24 October 2011

Rural Officer's Pumpkin Expertise

Photo taken from the Ripon and Leeds
 Diocesan website

Read all about our Rural Officer's amazing ability with pumpkins on

Health Care Assistants

Baroness Masham of Ilton, a cross bench life peer who campaigns for health causes and comments on health and disability issues, used the debate in the Lords on the Health and Social Care Bill to call for a mandatory register of health care assistants. This follows a comment from the health minister, Earl Howe, which showed that nurses who have been struck off the register can still be employed as health care assistants. The Nursing and Midwifery Council is obliged to inform the Independent Safeguarding Agency of any nurses who are struck off and who pose a risk to patients but others can work as health care assistants under the assumption that they will always be supervised. As any of us who have visited wards or nursing homes at night know, supervision is often not always exactly first hand and immediate.

Baroness Masham is planning to put forward an ammendment to the Bill which will make a register of health care assistants mandatory. At present, the Bill makes provision for a voluntary register only. I agree with her concern that, at present, there is no protection for some of our our more vulnerable patients from carers who maybe just don't make the grade and don't offer the good standard of compassionate care given by the vast majority of carers. Baroness Masham wants to see some very basic training given as a condition of entry to the register. She herself has spent periods in hospitals recently and points out that, during busy periods, carers spend a lot of time carrying out vital basic care unsupervised by nursing staff. The fact that most give high quality care does not prevent some from falling far short of accpetable standards, as we have seen in some recentrather worrying reports on hospitals and nursing homes. I am sure that most carers would welcome the opportunity to receive training and update their understanding of resources and equipment available.

Baroness Masham, who lives in North Yorkshire, has been a tireless campaigner for health issues  She is the senior female life peer in the House of Lords, commenting, especially, on health and penal affairs, drug abuse, farming and horticulture. As a Roman Catholic, she is patron of the Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge which provides theological education for lay women. The Institute is an inspirational community whose students I was privileged to teach and supervise during my years with the Cambridge Theological Federation. It sets out 'to offer transforming experiences for women, the community and the Church through theological education, professional pastoral practice and personal formation, assisting women to discern God’s call and preparing them for lay ministries and Christian discipleship in today’s world.'

She also runs the Masham Riding Centre  

Friday, 21 October 2011

Church Wardens and Night Clubs...

Who says that training for Church Wardens is a modern invention? Canon Peter Midwood drew my attention to a gem of a book called Directions to Church Wardens for the Faithful Discharge of the Office published in 1723. It was written by Humphrey Prideaux D.D., Dean of Norwich and Archdeacon of Suffolk (so dual role posts for clergy are not something invented in recent years, either!) His introduction begins

'My Worthy Brethren,

The ignorance of the church wardens as to the duties of their office which they have been sworn to, making visitations, in a manner, ineffectual, and also frequently causing great differences and disturbances at home among their neighbours, through the errors and mistakes which they run into, about the repairs of your churches and the levying of rates for the same; I have thought it necessary to draw up these directions for the preventing of like mischiefs and inconveniences for the future...'

He goes on to ask the clergy to make sure that they instruct their wardens, 'that they may better know their duty both in preventing such things as are amiss in your respective parishes and also repairing your churches; I would then hope that Sin might be more effectually corrected.'

There follow 110 short chapters on such subjects as presentments, calumny and slander, absenters from church, Lord's Day observance, public houses, swearing in of wardens, tithes and glebe land, monuments, who sits where in church, fees, accounts, terriers, registers, sequestration, diocesan synods and civil government. Nothing much changes it would seem! You can see why the Church of England is so very wedded to some of its odd customs (such as sitting in the same pew in church every week!) So much of what we do and what we react against is rooted in generations of instruction to do things in a certain way. I have to say that Dean Prideaux's Directions are pretty short on theology or  pastoral care and seem to be largely to do with keeping order and the level of fines which wardens can charge offenders! Some passages read quite like the book of Leviticus!

I like the advice on pubs - 'and if they find any tippling in Alehouses or mispending the Sabbath in idleness or looseness in the Taverns or other public places of debauchery, they are to make them pay three shillings and fourpence, and the owner of the house ten shillings for entertaining them; and if it be the time of divine service, they may make every one of them pay also a shilling for being absent from church.' When I was growing up in Wales, our county was still one of three 'dry' counties where the pubs could not open on a Sunday. I wonder what Dean Prideaux would make of our newly appointed Minister to the Night Time Economy in Leeds, Beth Tash, whose ministry is with those who frequent the bars and night clubs of the city?! You can read all about her exciting new ministry here and, by the way, she gave a really excellent interview on Woman's Hour this morning. For more information go to

But back to wardens. I just wanted to say that I think I have much less trouble with our wardens than poor old Dean Prideaux. This afternoon I have been visiting a churchyard with someone who wanted to find a grave; the warden had given hours of her time and care to make sure the person was helped to set their mind at rest. I was also speaking recently to a DAC secretary who said that, despite all the worry over finance and red tape, he thinks our parish churches are better cared for then they have been at any point in history.

So tonight, folks, as you relax, raise your glasses to our dedicated band of church wardens (only don't let me see you doing it on Sunday!)

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Inspiration for Bible Sunday

This Sunday is Bible Sunday. The parish where I served in Nottingham, Nuthall St Patrick, was the home of one of the protestant martyrs associated with the Reformation movement to make the scriptures available to people in English. Anne Ayscough (sometimes written 'Askew') lived, for a time, in the small village of Nuthall. She married Thomas Kyme, a Lincolnshire farmer, and had two children. She believed that the ordinary people should be able to hear the scriptures read in their own language. She herself read from the bible, in English, at a lectern in Lincoln cathedral and she became a public preacher. Eventually she was caught up in the unsuccessful plot to have Catherine Parr (Henry VIII's last wife) branded a traitor for religious reasons and she was racked and burned at the stake aged around 26, having refused to give the names of her alleged accomplices. Her story is told in Foxe's Martyrs.

Sitting in the quiet twelfth century church in Nuthall, I used to wonder how such an ordinary girl could have sustained such a passion for people to hear and know the Word of God through the scriptures. In her own way, she took up a cause that she believed would make a contribution to the faith of the ordinary folk of the church at a time when national debate was raging around the Reformation issues we understand through the eyes of hindsight today. Where did her commitment to the cause come from? How was she educated and what well-springs of personal courage saw her through her terrible ordeal? What happened to her children? What did they know of their mother's cause and the sacrifices she chose to make? Not very much is known about Anne and the questions that hang in the air are more tantilising than the facts we have. Her intelligence, theological knowledge and bravery under interrogation and torture were legendary.

At Nuthall, a local farming family gave the lectern bible to the church; as they said, the farmer works to bring bread to people and so it was also appropriate that they should provide knowledge of the true bread of life (one of the ways Jesus refers to Himself in scripture) by giving the bible that was read at very service. The lectern was a particularly poignant symbol in St Patrick's Nuthall, a place where many generations were reminded of the cost of having the scriptures available in translations that everyone can understand.

To read Anne's very moving story, see

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the translation of the King James Bible, a special evensong was held at Ripon Cathedral last Sunday at which the preacher was the Very Revd Dom Henry Wansbrough, a biblical scholar and a Benedictine monk from the community at Ampleforth Abbey. To read about this and to see photographs of the 1611 and 1613 ('Judas') bibles owned by the cathedral Chapter, see

Friday, 7 October 2011

Steve Jobs

Those of us who have loved Apple since the days of our first Apple Macs were saddened to hear about Steve Job's death. He has been hailed as 'a man who saw the future and led the world to it'. He started Apple in a Silicon Valley garage with a friend in 1976 and has been likened to Einstein in terms of the effect his thinking has had on the world. On Nick Baines' Blog, there is an excellent post about things Steve Jobs has said about the significance of death for the way he lived his life. I can't do better than direct you to it.

All Saints at Sharow

All Saints Day, this year, is 1st November (a Tuesday) so many churches will be celebrating  on Sunday 30th October. At St John's, Sharow, there will be a special All Saints Celebration for all the churches of the Ripon cathedral benefice. This will be at 6.30pm. Singers from across the benefice are invited to join together to form a choir for the service. The conductor will be David Andrew and there will be two rehearsals at 7.30pm on Tuesdays 18th and 25th October. Just come along and join in if you'd like to sing. The service itself is open to everyone and is a particuarly meaningful way of remembering and saying 'thank you' to God for all the people who have influenced your life and whom you love but who are no longer with us. You can also suggest a favourite All Saints hymn by filling in one of the forms available at the back of any of the churches in the benefice. (Bishop Monkton, Burton Leonard, Littlethorpe, North Stainley, St John's Bondgate, St Mary Magdalene, Ripon or Sharow itself.) One of my favourite hymns is

Ye holy angels bright,
who wait at God's right hand,
 or through the realms of light
fly at your Lord's command,
assist our song,
for else the theme
too high doth seem
for mortal tongue.

Ye blessed souls at rest,
who ran this earthly race,
and now, from sin released,
behold your Saviour's face.
God's praises sound,
 as in His light,
 with sweet delight,
ye do abound.

Ye saints, who toil below,
adore your heavenly king
and onward as ye go,
some joyful anthem sing;
take what he gives
and praise him still
 through good or ill,
whoever lives.

My soul, bear thou thy part,
triumph in God above,
and with a well tuned heart,
sing thou the songs of love; 
let all thy days,
till life shall end,
whate'er he send,
be filled with praise. 
Richard Baxter 1615-1691
and John Hampden Gurney 1802-1862

Here's a thought for the season from Hubert Northcott CR in his book The Venture of Prayer, London 1954 (p.53)

'Perhaps one of the joys reserved for us hereafter will be to learn what became of our intercessions, and to meet the souls they supported in time of need. And, for ourselves, there will be the joy of meeting those who have prayed for us and so of realising from a new angle our share in the Communion of Saints.'

Thursday, 6 October 2011

New Bishop of Doncaster.

Many congratulations to Peter Burrows, the Archcdeaon of Leeds, on the announcement, today, of his forthcoming appointment as Bishop of Doncaster in the Diocese of Sheffield. Peter has been a great friend to this archdeaconry, not least in the months between Ken Good, the last Archdeacon of Richmond, leaving and my appointment in 2007. We shall miss his energy, sense of what is realisitc and concern for mission. Read all about Peter's move on the diocesan website. 

St Peter's Harrogate Lays a Good Foundation!

135 years to the day after the original foundation stone was laid, the Mayor of Harrogate, Councillor Les Ellington, laid the foundation stone for the new extension to St Peter's Church, Harrogate. On the very windy afternoon of Monday 3rd October, members of St Peter's congregation, the clergy, the architect, head teachers and representatives of local schools and organisations met at St Peter's to witness the laying of the stone which was also blessed. The warm breeze seemed to suggest the breath of the Spirit giving new energy to the church, both the building itself and the living stones - the people. This project, which has been some years in the shaping, is going to bring exciting new opportunities for worship and community service to St Peter's. There will be new meeting rooms, a hall and facilities for people with disabilities on three levels, new kitchen and cafe areas in the church and a new entrance and welcome area with space for exhibitions. The whole interior of the church has been cleaned and light now floods into the building from the west end, where the once rather forbidding doors have been opened up to create an  entrance which gives visibility and better access from the street. Watch this space - all will be revealed in a few short weeks as the congregation hopes to be back in the building for Christmas, enjoying their re-ordered space. This ambitious project will provide much better scope for the many activites at St Peter's including their breakfasts and cafe style-services, as well as creating extra space for new ventures. For those of you who have wondered why the sub station next to the church has recently taken on a strangely incomplete new look, all will become clear once the new extension is in place.  These photos are courtesy of Steve Martin who was recording this very significant stage of the project - we wait with bated breath to see the completed project. The architect is Stephen Calvert of Pearce Bottomley Architects.

Pictured here are the Mayor and Mayoress, The Vicar, the Revd Tony Shepherd
 and Church Wardens John and Patricia Stableford


Harvest celebrations have been taking place all round the archdeaconry. If you have any photos of your parish's special services send them in and I'll post them on the blog - or any good ideas, things that worked well that we can all try out next year! On Sunday evening our most northerly parishes celebrated up at St Romald's, Romaldkirk with a service that included prayers for the farming community and the presentation of gifts including an empty bowl to remind us of our responsibility towards those who do not enjoy rich harvests or even enough to eat and drink. The service was led by the Ven. Stephen Adesanya and the choir sang a harvest anthem. There was a suitably sumptious spread in church afterwards and it was lovely to find there were guests from London and someone who had newly moved into the village as well as people from across the parishes of Laithkirk, Romaldkirk with Cotherstone and Bowes. It was wonderful to enjoy the warmth of hospitality and fellowship.

 On Sunday morning, the cathedral celebrated Harvest with the help of some members of the Bethany Project from Tanzania and you can read all about this on the cathedral website. Bishop John preached and the cathedral band played.

God, the beginning and ending of all things
in Your providence and care, you watch unceasingly over all creation;
We offer our prayers and thanksgiving that, in us and in all people,
You will may be done according to Your wise and loving purpoes
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

We pray for all through whom we receive sustinance and life,
for all farming families who work so hard, often in adverse conditions,
to provide our food and look after our countryside,
for packers, distributors and retailers.

We pray for young people in farming, for Young Farmers clubs,
for those studying at argricultural college and for the next generation of farmers
as they bring new skills, energy and vision to the care of the coutryside
and the produstion of food in sustainable ways.

We pray for governments and aid agencies in areas of the world
where there is disaster, drought and starvation,
for all involved in agricultural research who face the challenge
 to produce more food for a growing world, without harming the environment;
grant us all generous hearts in the face of immediate crises.

We offer ourselves to Your service, asking that, by the Spirit at work in us,
others may receive a rich harvest of love and joy and peace.