Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Advent Inspiration

I often find it quite difficult to discover a focus for Advent as there are so many themes associated with this season of preparation. We wait, in anticipation, to celebrate the Incarnation - not just Jesus' birth, but the difference that the entry of God's life into every aspect of our life today makes. Darkness and light, waiting and consumation, hope and fulfilment, justice and mercy, judgement and forgiveness, disturbance and peace, history and the end of history as we know it - these are some of the dichotomies we tend to think about in Advent. This year, I suppose I've been drawn to emptiness and presence as metaphors for exploration.

I've never been good at waiting and certainly not at being attentive to the waiting. If I do have to wait for something, I tend to fill the time with other purposeful (nor not so purposeful!) activities. I suppose this is to avoid a sense of emptiness or wasting time. Yet, when I stop to think about it, some of the most frutiful times of my life have come about as a result of retreats, of going away and just being with God and myself, of 'dark night of the the soul experiences' when there hasn't been any sense of a God to be with. Times that have eventually driven me to the mystics and to writers who talk about those places of darkness, emptiness, 'unknowing' and, often, those feelings of marginalisation and being outcast by the norms of the society in which we live. These are places where we suddenly become accutely aware of the futility of so many of the things that attract us and call for our attention everyday. We may also become aware of the lack of any system or set of answers adequate to deal with the injustices we see around us, whether things that effect us or things that we see blighting the lives of others. This is an uncomfortable region to inhabit and it is sometimes accompanied by a sense of lurking fear or dread. As we move through the Advent readings, we pass through this place of deep alienation to a place where we find the messangers of God singing and speaking and enacting the hope that God will come to fill the emptiness - light in our darkness, justice for those in despair, truth in confusion, Christ in our midst.

And so we move from that place of abandonment and loneliness to a place where our antennae begin to pick up the rustling of a presence. In Mary's story, we see the slow inner realisation that she is with child and the growth of that child acknowledged, at first, simply by the angel - God's private conversationalist with Mary - then by family members and in the song of her own spirit, 'Magnificat!'. Tiny beginnings of something new that, at first, you hardly dare to believe is there! You hardly dare to speak about it to others. This contasts with the rather proudly public proclamations of the coming presence of God in Isaiah's writings and John the Baptist's preaching,
'Prepare in the wilderness a road for the Lord! Clear the way in the desert for our God! ...the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all humankind will see it!'
Presence can be very full, very weighty, impossible to ignore. Or it can be nothing more than a hint, a question mark on the breath, a changed consciousness.

When you are in an empty place, it can be really difficult to summon up the courage or even the energy to meet and greet someone. Their presence feels unwelcome, like an intolerable intrusion into the space you inhabit. Or an irrelevance. Yet the longer we are in a place of stillness, the greater the urge to bring forth something - to create, to recreate, to find meaning, to face our challenges or even to face the unfaceable. Sometimes, we are jolted into presence by external events - the need to get up, get out, decide and put something right; other times, we have that slow, inner, growing awareness of presence - we find we are not alone in what we are about. An unknown way, full of possibilities, begins to open up before us. An unfolding rather than an imposing. What will be your Advent path, this year? 

A poem of Amy Carmichael (1867 - 1951)

Shadow and coolness
Shadow and coolness art thou, O Lord, to me,
Cloud of my soul, lead on, I follow thee.
What, though the hot winds blow,
Fierce heat beat up below,
Fountains of water flow -
Praise, praise to thee.

Clearness and glory, Lord, art thou to me;
Light of my soul, lead on, I follow thee.
All through the moonless night,
Making its darkness bright,
Thou art my heavenly light - 
Praise, praise to thee.

Shadow and shine art thou, dear Lord, to me;
Pillar of cloud and fire, I follow thee.
What though the way be long,
In thee, my heart is strong,
Thou art my joy, my song - 
Praise, praise to thee.   

One Year On...

The end of November sees the first anniversary of this blog. I started blogging when we were confined to the house for two days by snow. It felt like the ideal moment to grasp the nettle and experiment a little. I've always enjoyed writing but seldom had time to indulge the interest or to write at any length. Blogging has turned out to be a very good compromise. Time spent on writing posts has to be regular and limited (it could spill over to fill hours of time) and the form itself helps by imposing a certain discipline. You need to keep posts concise and relevant. Never did I dream that a year later I would still be blogging and that I would be in touch with old friends and strangers from across the world as a result! There are now readers from every continent which is mind-blowing. I sometimes try to imagine what impact a post on churchyards in the dales or a political grumble about decreasing community services makes in China or South America! I also very much enjoy the contact with readers from this region and I'm especially pleased when people send in information about local issues and events they would like advertised or discussed. A very big thank you to all my followers, to those who read the blog irregularly and to everyone who comments by e mail, facebook or in person. We are so fortunate to have such an amazing tool for communication, one that transcends place, age group and national or social background!   

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Living Churchyards

Today I received a list of all the churches in the area that are or have been until recently 'managed for wildlife'. This was sent to me by the Yorkshire Living Churchyard Project which is run by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. From the list, it seems as though churches were entering into this enthusiastically about 10 years ago but that some have fallen back a little in recent years. If you would like information on how your church can develop its churchyard ('God's Acre') so that the environment is sympathetic to the natural habitat and the ecology of native plants and animal and insect species, go to

Churchyard management seminars are held every year to help people learn more about how to take usually quite simple steps to preserve and encourage the presence of wildlife. Members of the Living Churchyard Team are willing to visit parishes and offer advice. They will list the species seen and heard and create an annotated map of the site to help with planning its care. Often, we just don't realise what we have living in our churchyards! Or what we might be destroying by over-managing them.

Muker Churchyard, Swaledale
Some practical  tips
Headstones are important sites for lichen and mosses, depending on the type of stone. There are around 300 different types of lichen found only in British churchyards. Headstones should not be cleaned (for example, with some of the sprays advertised for the purpose!), but left undisturbed. Grass should not be cut too close to the base of headstones as this may damage both the stone and the equipment used for mowing, and, in fact, the longer grass left at the base provides shelter for some small animals such as frogs.

Boundary hedges are the natural habitat of many species of bird and small mammals. Hedges are best trimmed to an 'A' - thicker at the bottom - with a few feet of uncut grass at the base. This provides shelter and food sources for young hedgehogs. The small ferns and mosses that grow on boundary walls are important. Where walls need restoration, if this is done in sections plants can gradually recolonize the wall. Lime mortar should be used wherever possible.

Trees and shrubs provide nesting sites, look-out posts and insects for birds. Native species should be planted, preferably those that grow naturally in the surrounding countryside. Shrubs that bear berries and nuts such as hawthorn, holly and hazel are valuable for food. Ivy provides nesting sites for wrens and, later in the year, nectar and berries after other food sources have been used up.

Many churchyards were created out of meadowland and provide a natural refuge for species of plants and animals that are being lost through intensive farming. Even a small churchyard may contain over 100 different species. Bees, butterflies, moths, frogs, lizards, birds and small mammals find their home territory there and, where sections of the churchyard are left as meadowland or long grass, rarer plants may move in, such as cowslips and early purple orchids, especially where traditional methods of cutting or grazing have meant that fertilizers and persticides have not been used. Most churchyards have sections of close-mown grass around paths and frequently visited graves. Less frequently visited parts of the churchyard may be kept as permanent short grass (about 4-5 inches) and cutting should be avoided in early May to allow for flowering and seeding. It is also a good idea to create areas of permanent long grass around the churchyard though, to avoid scrub invasion and maintain grass species, these should be divided into sections and a different section cut in autumn of each year. These areas of long grass are important for the overwintering of moth eggs and pupae, frogs, lizards shrews and voles. 

Spring meadow plants 
bird's foot trefoil, cat's ear, red clover, cowslip, lady's smock, bugle

Summer meadow plants
meadow buttercup, meadow cranesbill, ox-eye daisy,knapweed, field sabacious,

Hay and grass cuttings
Grass cuttings should be removed if at all possible, to prevent the smothering of smaller flowering plants and to avoid changing the soil composition as the grass decays. Hay cannot be used for livestock if it contains plants harmful to animals such as ragwort. Local councils may operate a composting scheme. If they do not, cuttings are best made into small compost heaps by mixing with the grass with other biodegradable materials such as twigs and pruning waste. This allows air to circulate. Compost left near trees can cause damage to the tree roots. Compost heaps are home to bacteria and invertibrate animals that provide food for frogs, toads, slow worms and birds. Hedgehogs and other small mammals hibernate in them .

Friday, 25 November 2011

Drive Safe!

The roads of North Yorkshire are said to be some of the most dangerous in the country. I have heard police spokesmen say that the police are more concerned about road safety than about crime levels in the region which are, relatively speaking, low. Last Sunday, I travelled from Ripon to Wetherby on the A1 in fairly thick fog. It was scarey to be passed by vehicles doing easily 100mph while traveling at 50mph in the slow lane. Basically, they were hurtling into the unknown - there could have been anything infront of them including a pile up of vehicles or an unlucky broken-down driver emerging from a car or lorry.  In the summer we also have motor bikes speeding up and down dales, often overtaking round blind bends or in dips. I ended up in a ditch on the way back from Masham a couple of years ago, when an oncoming car emerged from a dip in the road, overtaking a tractor. Farm traffic, horse boxes, cyclists and pedestrians do not stand much chance of avoiding the ill-judged manouvre. When such an accident occurs, the victim's family's life is never the same again, and neither is the life of the person who causes the accident. It all happens in a split second. Clergy hear these stories all the time. 

I was struck, today, by an item on the radio. A school had set up a scheme with the local police. Motorists who were caught speeding past the school were given a choice; they could either take their fine and have the points on their licence, or they could come into the school and meet the children. The children were geared up (apologies for the pun) to explain to the motorists just how their driving habits impacted on the local community in terms of deaths, injuries, fear, noise and inability to be out and about on the streets. Apparently most motorists were embarrassed, moved and even tearful after their encounters with the children. They are likely to remember these encounters long after they have forgotten about the points wiped clean from their licenses.

From long ago, I know someone who was driving, very moderately, at 30mph and who knocked over a child who dashed across the road; not their fault. Because my friend was driving moderately, the child survived but it took my friend a long time to come to terms with what might have been a much, much worse accident. This could happen to any of us. 

It's partly about time, isn't it? Why are we are all so short of time? Why are we so driven? The clergy and readers of this area rush around on Sundays, trying to get from service to service without being late. Sunday is a day when there are always lots of cyclists on the road. Many of my colleagues and I spend our lives rushing from meeting to meeting - and this is as nothing compared to the sales and haulage people who have tight schedules to keep, or the nurses and care workers who have to fit a certain number of calls into an hour. 

I worked in A and E for a while and I have done hundreds of funerals over the years. Friends, it is never worth taking that extra risk to be there on time, if it means potentially endangering others or ourselves. And if we are breaking the law, then we are almost certainly tasking that risk. Be unpopular and be late! Be a nuisance and keep people waiting! Postpone or canel an event if you really can't get there. It might be your life you are saving or it might be somebody else's.

Two Firsts for Yorkshire

Apparently, the first-ever aeroplane flight took place at Brompton Hall, the ancestral home of Sir George Cayley in 1853. Sir George studied the flying patterns of gliding seagulls and decided to work (he was an inventor) on a monoplane. He created a glider with kite- shaped cloth wings, 500 sq. feet in size, a small cockpit for the pilot, a tail and fins for steering and an undercarriage which looked like a tricycle. He somehow persuaded his coachman, John Appleby, to take it on a test flight over a small valley on his estate. Thus Appleby became the first man ever to fly (for a very short while!) He reported a sensation of 'glorious peacefulness' as he soared into the air, followed abruptly, and very quickly, by an enormous smash as he collided into the opposite side of the valley. It is said that he emerged from the wreck, pulled himself up to his full height and declared, 'Sir George, I was hired to drive, not to fly. I wish to give notice!' Sir George's scribbled notes on the principles behind the building of the monoplane contributed to the eventual success of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawke 50 years later.
Flight by an expert!
(Click on this to see the insects which are the attraction)

Another Yorkshire first occurred 35 years later in 1888 when the City of Leeds became the location for the first moving pictures ever seen.The photographer, Louis Alme Augustin le Prince, using a single lens camera he had designed, filmed members of his wife's family in their garden at Oakwood Grange Road, Roundhay, on 24th October. We can date it exactly because his mother-in-law, Sarah, who appears in the film, died on that day. The film also shows his father-in-law, Joseph Whitley, and Louis' eldest son.  Louis himself was employed as a designer with Whitley Partners in the City. His films were a great local success. A few days later, he filmed the moving traffic on Leeds Bridge from a window in the building that housed Hick Bros., the ironmongers. People flocked to see this new miracle.  His reputation grew and, in September 1890, he went to Paris to visit his brother and demonstrate his new invention. Mysteriously, he caught a train at Dijon, bound for Paris, and was never seen again. 

Two men who modestly gave Yorkshire immortality and disappeared, pretty much, without trace, never captialising on the huge contributions they made to the world we know today! 

Saturday, 19 November 2011


St Mary's Richmond is holding a Christingle Service on 27th November at 4pm to which everyone is most welcome! The music will be by Upbeat and Anacrusis and Scott Lund will be speaking. This is a very atmospheric service full of fun, awe and meaning for everyone taking part. Do come and join in if you live in the area. Many churches will be holding Christingle Services before or just after Christmas - there will certianly be one in your area. The custom in Anglican churches is for the money given at Christingle services to go to the Children's Society

The Children's Society does inspirational work with children and young people who live on the streets, who have run away from home, who are refugees or who are disabled. They work with young people who are part of the youth justice system and with children who carry responsibility as carers. Please visit their website and consider whether you could give something towards their work this Christmas. I have worked in parishes where they have enabled children to see their parents at Christmas - and you cannot imagine the joy that creates! I have also seen how their work can enable a child who has run away to ring home and say 'I'm OK' which brings unbelievable relief and the possibility of reconciliation.   

At Christmastide 1747, in Germany, Bishop Johannes de Watteville wondered how he could explain the love of Jesus. What did Christmas really meant to the children?  The Pastor gave each child a lighted candle wrapped in a red ribbon with a prayer that said, "Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these dear children's hearts". This was the first Christingle service. Today, a Christingle service is celebaretd in most parishes around Christmas. A story of the origins of the Christingle that is often told is that there were three children, who were very poor, but wanted to give a gift to Jesus. The only thing of value they had was an orange, so they decided to give Him that. The top was going slightly green, so the eldest child cut it out, and put a candle in the hole. They thought it looked dull, so the youngest child took a red ribbon from her hair and attached it round the middle with toothpicks. The middle child decided to place a few pieces of dried fruit, chocolates and nuts on the ends of the sticks. They took it to the church for the Christmas Mass, and the priest, realisng the love that lay behind their gift, took their it and showed it to the whole congregation as an example of a true understanding of the love of God, shown in Christ and in His birth into the world at Christmas. He explained the meaning of the Christingle 
  •  the orange represents the world which God created and loves, 
  •  the red ribbon around it represents the blood of Jesus who died for love of the world,
  • the dried fruits or sweets on cocktail sticks represent the fruits of the earth and the four seasons,
  • the candle in the centre of the orange, represents Jesus Christ, the light of the world illuminating all things.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Festival Evensong for Remembrance Sunday

Royal School of Church Music
Ripon & Leeds Area

Festival Evensong for Remembrance Sunday
 St. Mary’s  Church Richmond, North Yorkshire.
Sunday 13th November

Singers are invited to join the choir of Richmond Parish Church, under the direction of Regional Director Gordon Appleton for a Festival  Evensong on the occasion of  Remembrance Sunday.  The Organist for this event will be Andrew Christer.  The service will be led by Revd. Antony Kirby, Curate of St. Mary’s.

Rehearsal at 3.30pm in the choirstalls at St. Mary’s Church followed by refreshments.  
Remembrance Sunday Choral Evensong at 6.30pm. 

Choral Music to include:

View me Lord: Richard Lloyd
Responses by William  Smith of Durham.
Magnificat and Nunc  Dimittis in A by Herbert Sumsion
Psalm 24, setting by Philip Marshall.
Anthem: ‘Greater Love hath no man’  John Ireland.
‘We will remember them’  from ‘In Proud Thanksgiving’ by Sir Edward Elgar.

All music can be provided on the day.

There is no charge for this RSCM event and we encourage all singers to come and share in this event.  
You do not need to be a member of an established choir to come and sing.  Come and be part of this event.

To register yourself for this event please contact
Colin Hicks 07854 028621

Metal Theft Meeting

Taken from the http://www.riponleeds.anglican.og/

Our Buildings Officer, Alice Ullathorne has organised a meeting at the Diocesan Office in Leeds this coming Wednesday (16th November) which will be very helpful to churches who are concerned about metal theft. The meeting is at 3pm. Representatives of the police, Ecclesiastical Insurance and English Heritage will be present. You can see the details on

And, if I'm not much mistaken, the picture is one of this archdeaconry's churches (won't say where!)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Dioceses Commission Draft Scheme

For Yorkshire readers, the Dioceses Commission published their second report at the start of last week. It accompanies a Draft Scheme for the reorganisation of the three dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield into one large diocese with 5 episcopal areas. There are no great shocks in the report. The main new recommendations are that the Diocesan Bishop will be in Leeds (not Wakefield), the diocese will be called 'Leeds to be known informally as the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales.' The three cathedrals (Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield) will be retained with equal status, three Chapters and one College of Canons.

If you look on my Dioceses Commission Page, you can read about it in more detail, including the recommendations made about individual parishes. 

The report says this about the Archdeaconry of Richmond,
4.8 We propose that the Archdeadonry of Richmond should be renamed the Archdeaconry of Richmond and Craven and expanded to include those parishes in the Archdeaconry of Craven which are not transferred to another diocese and also four parishes in the Bradford Archdeaconry that are in the Harrogate District. Some of the responses we have received have questioned whether, given the distances involved and the nature of the roads this area is capable of being looked after by a single archdeacon - even if, as we propose, that archdeacon had no other duties. We recognise that such considerations might make it necessary for the archdeacon to live at a location which would offer easier access to the whole archdeaconry. Whether the distances would be manageable and the workload tolerable - or, alternatively, whether the two archdeaconries into which the rural episcopal area might be split would include sufficient numbers of parishes and clergy to justify having an archdeacon for each - cannot finally be determined until the precise boundaries of the diocese are definitively established. At this point, we are not convinced that retaining two archdeacons would be justified. We have therefore included in the draft reorganisation scheme the proposal to extend the Archdeaconry of Richmond to include all those parishes in the Archdeaconry of Craven not transferred elsewhere.

Such an archdeaconry would have a population of 270,000, an area of 1,569 sq. miles, 139 parishes distributed across 72 benefices, and 94 licensed clergy of whom 67 are stipendiary. (To give a comparison, Leeds would have a population of 767,000, an area of 184sq. miles, 77 parishes in 71 benefices and 105 clergy of whom 84 are stipendiary.)

The proposed Archdeaconry of Richmond and Craven will be in the Ripon Episcopal Area, one of the five Episcopal Areas in the new diocese (Ripon, Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and Huddersfield) each with their own bishop and archdeacon under the overall authority of the diocesan bishop and supported by a joint diocesan team. 

Do I see any advantages in the Scheme as a whole?

Well, it will certainly enable the Church of England to be more effective in Leeds by getting the whole of the city into one diocese and one area of that diocese. This will improve relationships with civic authorities and also between the parishes of Leeds who will be able to work together, for the first time, for effective mission their city. It will also enable Richmond and Craven (everywhere north of Skipton and Ripon) to pull together and focus on rural affairs without being dominated by the large urban conurbations but, also, without losing contact with them altogther. It may be possible to have a full time rural officer. In such a huge archdeaconry a lot will depend on really good access for the parishes to the central departments - DAC, finance, mission resourcing, training - and on excellent communications. A larger diocese is likely to attract more interest from clergy applying for posts; clergy often move within a limited geaographical area once they have settled in a diocese and the new arrangement will give greater scope for moving within the diocese. (60% of clergy spend all their ministry in one diocese - attracting them here in the first place is important!) The cathedrals will be able to develop focused, distinctive ministries - Ripon would clearly be well advised to develop a ministry that supports rural life and the life of the Dales; Bradford might concentrate on interfaith and business issues; Wakefield might be the civic focus for West Yorkshire. The three dioceses have very different strengths, interests and ways of working but we will be able to learn from one another's expertise and we do already have some experience of joint working in areas such as education and training, ministry with the deaf, evangelism and the MSM course, and through sharing ecological knowhow. The most important aspects of the Scheme seem to me to be twofold. Firstly, the tidying up of boundaries so that we can work better with civic partners. We cannot underestimate the difficulty of trying to work across different districts and authorities and replicating effort over and over again in order to do so. Secondly, the episcopal areas will allow area bishops to lead mission in a way that is closer to the interests and needs of their particular area while retaining relationships with the wider diocese especially where sharing vision and resources makes that sensible. So yes, I do see advantages. The financial report that accompanies the Scheme seems to suggest that one diocese will cost around £0.8 million per anum less to run after the initial set up costs. I guess it will be like installing solar panels - over 10 years you reap the benefits though there is an initial outlay. Our finance teams are looking at this and also talking to the Commission about the spread of costs to include a proportion borne by the national church. No doubt there will be much more to say about this in due course. You can read the detail of the estimated financial effects of the proposals in document YDCR4 on the Dioceses Commission website (see Dioceses Commission page for the link to the site.)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reality Rev

The Revd Adam Smallbone returns to our screens this Thursday evening and it seems likely that 2.2million people or so will tune in to Rev - many of them having dashed home from the latest PCC meeting, bible study group or welcome service for their new Vicar, no doubt! Why did the nation take to Rev so whole heartedly? For Anglicans, and perhaps especially for anyone who has lived in a vicarage in an urban parish, the answer has to be because the writers did their homework so well!' It really does feel like that! Vicarage events that stick in my mind include
- wondering why some notes on the piano wouldn't sound and finding jam doughnuts had been stuffed into the strings by members of the toddler group.
- having the lawn strewn with organ pipes the same day we were interviewing four people for the post of youth worker.
- getting up feeling rather ill to find the kitchen inhabited by church wardens, tramps and an area dean.
- finding a lad with learning disabilities had wandered off the street into a party we were holding; everyone went home, thinking he had come with someone else and he couldn't tell us his surname or where he had come from.
- having a traveller turn up at midnight on New Year's Eve, locate a precious video tape we had lost and predict the downfall of President Clinton.
- making ash for the Ash Wednesday service in the freezing cold on the patio with a blow torch and getting locked out along with a visitng monk.
- fielding 192 phone calls in two days enquiring about a community development post we had advertised.
- looking out of my study window to see the Social Services Building opposite ablaze (it was an arson attack by a 7 year old.)
- holding a meeting for 14 people with 19 different languages spoken in the room.
- forgetting to tell my long suffering family that 24 people were coming for supper and a meeting.
- nearly burning the kitchen down while answering the phone at the same time as cooking for an Alpha supper.
- having a garden full of archbishops, bishops and archdeacons from four continents.
- having the whole church turn up to transform my garden from a building site into a lawn.
- having a visitor come for a night and stay 10 months.
- entertaining someone to lunch at short notice (and with some grumbling, I'm ashamed to say) who unexpectedly donated a very large sum 'for the children in the community'.
- lending a room for a coffin after a mix up over the date of a funeral.

And those are just the ones I can tell you about!

People often say that clergy live in ivory towers. Well that may be so, but they are very crowded, busy ivory towers with a range of life in all its forms that many people don't get to see - and certainly not all at once and probably not when they are at home! Tom Hollander's comedy has been hailed as 'rehabilitating the Church of England.' While preparing to write the first series, he and his fellow writers, James Wood and Richard Coles (himself a vicar), 'spent time with vicars and discovered how interesting it was that they sat right in the middle of society, although everyone thinks of them as marginal, because we are a secular society. But the church is still right at the heart of it with weddings, funerals and schools. You can look at what is going on in our lives through the perspective of a priest, because he has access to everything. Also their lives are full of tragi-comic stories and their beleaguered status seems to chime with our feelings about ourselves as a nation. From looking at the Church of England, it's not so very far to seeing where we are with ideas about England.' This is the kind of insight that makes the show what it is and explains its wide appeal. Hollander also recognises the enormous number of demands that are placed on the clergy by people from every part of society and comments that they live through a series of 'minor crises all the time in the same way that doctors do.'

Speaking as a member of the clergy, it's deeply refreshing to be hailed as relevant and at the heart of society! Usually we are told that we are out of touch. Families of vicars and vicars themselves tend to smile wrily when this is said - we know we are in touch with a lot of people who see what we stand for and what we do as relevant. It's just that many of these encounters tend to be counter-cultural and, paradoxically, can be seen by those involved as deeply valuable and by those not involved as completely valueless. That's the space we inhabit. So Thursday evening will see me and my cuppa installed with the Rev who seems to understand my world, odd as it may be.   

(The above quotation is taken from Tom Loxley's interview with with Tom Hollander in the Radio Times 5-11th November.) 

Olympic Torch

The Olympic Torch will be passing through the archdeaconry on 20th June 2012, the 33rd day of its journey from Land's End to the Olympic Stadium in London. Its route from York to Carlisle lies through Thirsk, North Allerton, Aiskew, Bedale, Aysgarth, Leyburn, Richmond and Barnard Castle. The whole journey takes 70 days, beginning on 19th May and ending, in London, on 27th July.

To Beacon or Not to Beacon?

Some of you may have read the suggestion that, to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, beacons should be lit on church towers on June 4th 2012.

There is information about the plan for the beacons and their history on
As this website points out, there is a long tradition of lighting beacons around the country to mark Jubilees - it was done in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria's 60 years on the throne and I can remember the beacons lit to mark our present Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. We spent a very wet day in a punt on the River Cam with some umbrellas, a wind-up gramophone and a picnic and then went to a very wet barbeque on the Magog Hills where an enormous beacon was lit as part of a chain of beacons across Britain. The beacons symbolized the unity of the Queen's realm. It was a day I shall never forget. Many of you will recall other national occasions such as the 400th anniversary of the sighting of the Spanish Armada in 1988, Beacon Europe (to mark the opening of the single European Market - possibly less memorable!) in 1992, the fiftieth anniversary of VE Day in 1995, the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002, and the bicentenary of the battle of Trafalgar in 2005. 

All great fun and the stuff of forging a common national identity. Being a huge fan of the Queen and the monarchy myself, I certainly think we should all do something really notable to celebrate such a remarkable reign and a wonderful monarch. However, I am somewhat dismayed at the suggestion that beacons should be lit on church towers! In the past, most of the beacons have been lit on the ground. Of course, a beacon needs to be conspicious - that is what makes it a beacon! However, the notion of churches carrying heavy(40kg) cylinders of liquified petroleum gas up narrow spiral staircases and setting light to it in sometimes very confined spaces is worrying. The gas is extremely flamable and combines with air to form an explosive mix. Locating the beacon on a tower will bring the flames into very close proximity with the building and with flag poles. The emergency services will already be stretched that day and, should an accident occur, it will not be easy for them to gain speedy access to anyone injured at the top of a mediaeval tower and to get them to hospital quickly.

OK, I'm sounding very archdeacon-like and unusually risk averse, but I really can't see the problem with celebrating her Majesty's Jubilee by ringing a peal of bells and having a party, with beacon or bonfire, on the nearest piece of open high ground; this has been the tradition for hundreds of years. Ecclesiatical have issued some guidelines which begin by stating that a beacon does not need to be located on a tower and there are significant hazards in doing so. They strongly recommend that the beacon is situated at ground level, away from any buildings; I have to say that I agree. If your PCC is determined to go ahead with a beacon on the tower, Ecclesiatical set out some useful, indeed vital actions that you need to take, including ensuring that the LPG is safely stored before the event, informing the emergency services of your plans and removing all combustible and heat vulnerable substances and possible ignition sources from your tower. You really do need expert advice if you are going to go ahead with a tower-top beacon and you can begin by visiting  

You will also need the permission of your archdeacon and insurance company and our Chancellor will be issuing some guidelines for this diocese in the near future. My plea is that you find something memorable to do with fire (or even without it), in safety, on the ground!!