Sunday, 26 February 2012

University of Leeds Diamond Award

The Queen has been giving Anniversary Prizes for higher and further education achievments to mark her diamond jubilee. At an investiture at Buckingham Palace she made awards to 21 academic insitutions (chosen from 140 applicants) for projects which have shown innovation and excellence and which have made a significant difference in their field. The Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering at Leeds University was one of the intstitutions recognized. Here, academics have worked to improve the quality of the second half of life by developing longer-lasting hip joints, improving joints and techniques in surgery for knee reconstruction and pioneering a 'biological scaffold' that allows a patient's own cells to grow into a heart valve implant ensuring that the valve will last longer than the 10-15 years currently attainable. This technique, which does not provoke a response from the patient's own immune system, makes the use of such heart valves particularly suitable in children. 

The Joint Director of the Institute, Professor John Fisher, is an engineer who came to medical research after another career designing parts for the motor industry and he works jointly with his wife, Professor Eileen Ingham, who specialises in immunology. The work of the Institute has attracted recognition because of its wide-reaching contribution to the care of tens of thousands of patients around the world. Research carried out in Leeds has enabled many to have medical interventions that have lasted considerably longer than they would have in the past. Professor Fisher said, 'The goal of 50 active years after the age of 50 is within reach' and, of course, the more active people can stay, the more that reduces the incidence of many serious diseases.

Congratulations to all the staff at the Institute of  Medical and Biological Engineering in Leeds! Professor Fisher is also Deputy Vice Chancellor of Leeds University.    

Friday, 24 February 2012

Clare Short on International Development and Aid

Clare Short MP

Clare Short gave a very interesting lecture, last night, which kicked off the 2012 St Wilfrid Lecture Series Questions of Right and Wrong at Ripon cathedral. The gist of her argument was that giving development aid alone is not enough, to be both effective and morally pure, it has to go hand in hand with foreign policy and a development policy which puts the needs of the country to which aid is given before the gains of the country giving aid. She gave us many examples of aid which is tied to trade and aid which is less effective than it could be because each donor country imposes conditions of their own which may look nonsensical on the ground. (For example where three separate countries give ambulances and spare parts from their own country, making it difficult to run the ambulance service coherently.) 

A foreign policy which creates markets in which developing countries find it difficult to participate or which promotes the sale of arms to unstable governments negates the positive effect of aid. Aid which simply provides a service and then withdraws is not really going to solve a country's problems - much better to work with local projects to educate and empower local populations. Where governments are corrupt, it may be better to give aid to local leaders who will ensure that it is used to transform their own community. These were some of the many challenges to change our approach to aid about which she spoke. There has, she stressed, to be a coherence between policy and, local strategy and action, 'You can’t be doing the wrong thing over here and the right thing over there.'

She used Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats to reflect on the moral imperative to give aid but said that she would understand the threat of hell, about which the parable so graphically speaks, as continuing to see a conflict ridden world of suffering in which we draw a protective circle around ourselves and what we have in order to protect ourselves from the turbulance, trouble and terrorism that will undoubtedly overtake us if we do not learn to share resources and live in sustainable ways. Moral imperative and intelligent self interest are thus brought together; she gave lots of examples of how governments fail to grasp this.

The lecture was peppered with insights from her years as Secretary of State for International Development and from her struggles with both the Blair government and the Cameron government to get them to adopt consistent approaches to foreign policy and aid. She is certainly a politician who 'walks the talk', often to her own cost - a thinker who knows the subtleties of her own field and is therefore able to speak with authority.

I look forward to the rest of the series. menawhile, if your conscience or interest has been aroused by any of this, you might like to look on the Africa Humanitarian Action website  whose whole approach to aid is based on sound scholarship and a holistic approach to what are usually complex situations.

Keeping Up to Date for Lent

On Wednesday, I discovered one reason why people don't go to church! It was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and I was in the unusual position of not having committed myself to take part in a service anywhere particular. So I went online to find the times of services nearby. Six church websites later, I was none the wiser. Three did not even mention the fact that 22nd February was Ash Wednesday. Two appeared to have no service (or possibly no section to advertise midweek services). One listed the service but gave no time. One had last been updated in November. Hmmm. Rather like a hotel website that doesn't tell you how to make bookings. It was tempting to stay by the fire but then Lent is all about wrestling with temptation....

I did eventually find a service which was welcoming, simple and moving and included the traditional Imposition of Ashes. Ashes are a symbol of both purification (Numbers 19.9, Hebrews 9.13) and penitence (Judith 9.1, Jonah 3.6, Luke 10.13, Matthew 11.21) and have been used by Christians since at least the tenth century on the first day of Lent as a public sign of penitence for sin. At the Eucharist, each worshipper's forehead is marked with a cross of ashes made by burning the palm crosses used in last year's celebration of Palm Sunday. The ashes also remind us of our mortality and our dependence on God for our existence, 'Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.' These words also remind me powerfully that I am an integral part of God's created order, not separate from it or superior to it and not free to squander the gifts of nature for my own needs.

I'd like to suggest that part of our Lenten discipline this year might be to keep church websites up to date so that anyone who suddenly and unexpectedly thinks, 'I'd like to go to church' - and I can't be the only person this has ever happened to - can find the location, time and date of services nearby. Most of us google everything else so you can bet that people who want to find a church are googling too!   

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Facing the Future

Some food for thought when churches are planning ahead is provided by the monthly bulletin, Future First, from the Brierley Consultancy. I was quite surprised to read that, of around 550,000 funerals which will be taken in the UK in 2012, about one third will be taken by Anglican clergy. This works out at about 15 funerals per active clergy person (though, of course, some areas and some ministries will involved many more than others.) Given that readers and retired clergy also do a great deal to help cover funeral ministry, it does seem that we have the capacity to ensure that our funeral ministry is accompanied by good pastoral back up and that undertakers can make contact speedily and expect a response that meets the different needs of bereaved families. Working more across deaneries may be important in some places where clergy are stretched. It is important for undertakers, parish clergy and hospital chaplains to establish a strong relationship of trust and to meet locally from time to time to ensure that communication processes are meeting the needs of the bereaved. 

I was less surprised to read 'There are signs that there is less interest in teaching courses but relational engagements like Back to Church Sunday and Messy Church remain popular and are growing. So is mid week ministry and attendance at cathedrals and many larger churches - 1 in 7 attenders go to a church with at least 500 in the congregation. The unusual and sporadic is becoming the norm.'  This seems to fit in with what I observe and perhaps suggests that churches should be less concerned to fit everything into a Sunday and more focused on what they do all week and on relational activities which get people meeting, talking, sharing stories, activities, ideas and faith. Many 'big' churches have lots of smaller groups and cells doing different things. Some of these are really quite small but feed into the wider life of the local church and bring a connected but distinctive witness in their own community. This all certainly fits in with what the young people who met the bishops and archbishops last year told us - today, it's all about relationship and interaction between people, taking time to know, hear and understand one another.

One fascinating insight is from a series of articles about contemporary idols that appeared the bulletin in 1991 and which have now been compared with a similar series in 2011. The nature and relative importance of the things people idolize or 'worship' and by which they are therefore motivated has changed over time

1991                                                                  2011
Individualism                                                      Materialism
Economic growth                                                Freedom for sexual expression
Relativism (all perspectives are tolerated)           Individualism
Fascination with the new                                     Facination with technology
Fanaticism (attachment to an ideology)               Gratification (personal satisfaction)
Historicism (desire to make the past accessible)  Celebrity

I think these 'idols' show quite a shift in perpsetive from a society that values historical and collective perspectives and ideological or political aspirations to one that is much more concerned with individual and personal experience and is less interested in the past and more motivated by how it can influence the future. There is plenty in the Christian tradition that urges us to think about the future - God's ways of drawing us forward toward the end of time and the consumation of history. And there is plenty which allows us to reflect on healthy interpersonal relationships and also what can go wrong in terms of how individuals and societies relate. My husband (who works in a very future-oriented industry) has often commented on how focused on the past much of church life is. Perhaps we need a good overhaul of the images, narratives and source texts we use to preach, teach and shape our worship and activities. It could be argued that Jesus shows greater urgency when He talks about the future and that quite a lot of His teaching is focused on what is ahead, what is unknown, where the fate of peoples and nations is headed.    

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Millennium Development Goals

What is an MDG? The United Nations adopted a Millennium Declaration at its summit in 2000 at which it set 8 Millennium Development Goals.  The then General Secretary, Kofi Annan, stressed, in his speech, the 'remarkable convergence of views on the challenge that faces us.' The goals are striking in their similarity to the principles underlying the Beatitudes and the 'Last Judgement' teachings of Jesus, particularly the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 and parables like Lazarus and Dives. Jesus teaches that the way to enter God's kingdom is through transformation. Unlike the kingdoms of this world whose authority is characterized by wealth and power, the kingdom of God is characterized by compassion, generosity and a strenuous activity that shows concern for justice and social responsibility. I have always been struck by the fact that, though Jesus seldom mentions judgement or hell, when He does, it is in the context of the parables that tell the story of people who walk by when others are in obvious need.

So, the goals themselves?
  • Eradicate extreme poverty
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development
Much of the work of NGOs, charities like Christian Aid and Cafod and movements like the Transition Movement (which I have previously blogged about) is bound up with these goals. The aim was to achieve them by 2015 but, although significant progress has been made, the world will fall far short of this good intention. Nevertheless the setting of these goals has provided a very positive starting point for changing attitudes and for bringing governments together to try to work on ways to preserve the environment. Perhaps the most important thing is for more and more people to understand what is meant by poverty. It is a lack of opportunity, a lack of power over one's own life and prospects, a lack of human dignity, a lack of flourishing, a degrading of the natural world. Ending such poverty means enabling individuals, families and communities to make fundamental choices about economic, political, social and personal aspects of their own lives. Simply treating the symptoms of poverty such as hunger and homelessness, while important, will not end true poverty or provide a long term solution to the balances of power that cause extreme poverty. The systemic and structural causes of poverty need to be understood and removed.

Did you know that in 2008, if you had any money at all in a bank account, you were probably among the 8% of the world's richest people? As we prepare for Lent, you might like to consider ordering and working through Christian Aid's Ten Bible Studies inspired by the Millennium Goals. Called Working Together, they are short and pithy and provide excellent material for groups or indeed for you to use on your own to help you understand what your priorities might be in getting involved with the fight against extreme poverty. I think we often feel overwhelmed, helpless and guilty when faced by the scale of problems but these studies help us to have more insight and to choose simple but effective ways that we can all get involved to help and, indeed, to work together to combat poverty. Do not be put off doing anything by the fact that what you can do seems so little.

Contributors include Rowan Williams, Janet Morley, and Kathy Galloway (Head of Christian Aid in Scotland) as well as bishops from around the Anglican communion.  

You can order copies from

In this diocese every member of the clergy has been sent a copy in the Resources for Mission mialing for Winter 2012.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Businesses Working With Christian Aid

Perhaps we don't expect organisations like Christian Aid to have a connection with the private sector? We tend to pigeon-hole charities with the voluntary sector. So I was interested to come across the Good Little Company which makes sausages and has, as one of its stated aims, an ongoing commitment to improving the ability of people in the developing world to grow food. The company's sausages are produced from ethically grown materials and it partners with Christian Aid, making a donation of 7p for every packet of sausages sold. The claim is that each packet provides one family in the developing world with enough seeds to grow staple foods to feed their family for one week. Apparently, the company worked with Christian Aid from its inception in 2009 and is now in a position to look at expanding its product range beyond sausages and meatballs.

Read their own story at

Or find out how your business can work with Christian Aid to help end poverty by e mailing  

Christian Aid has produced an excellent way of marking Lent 2012. Count Your Blessings invites us to do just that everyday - give thanks for running water, free healthcare, light at the flick of a switch, benefits, jobs, pensions, a choice of what to eat, opportunity to travel. Each day we are encouraged to focus on one particular blessing and then make a small response of gratitude by praying, giving or acting. There's a version for children, too. Download copies from 

Sadly, Christian Aid are now drawing our attention to the fact that there has been a severe drought in parts of West Africa. This has led to food shortages in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania. They are asking for urgent donations.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

60 Years of Faithful Service

Today and tomorrow, we mark the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne. Like the majority of her subjects, I cannot remember a time when she was not our Queen. Her reign began five years before I was born; I recall stories my parents told about how they heard of her unexpected accession on the BBC while living and working in Koforidua in Ghana and then followed the preparations for her coronation through BBC radio broadcasts and magazines sent to them by relatives and friends in the UK. It felt like the dawn of a new era with so much promise. Today, we give thanks for Her Majesty's example of faithfulness in carrying out the role to which she is called both as monarch and as Governor of the Church of England. In a speech during the millennium year, she said,

'To many of us, our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example.'

God of time and eternity,
whose Son reigns as servant, not master;
we give you thanks and praise
 that you have blessed this nation, the realms and territories
with Elizabeth our beloved and glorious Queen.
In this year of Jubilee,
grant her your gifts of love and peace
as she continues in faithful obedience to you, her Lord and God,
and in devoted service to her lands and peoples and those of the Commonwealth
 now and all the days of her life,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

This prayer was written at The Queen's Direction by the Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral for Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee. It will be used in the Jubilee Thanksgiving Service in St Paul's Cathedral on Tuesday, June 5th. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have commended it for use throughout the Church of England and other Churches are also welcome to use it.

Published alongside other new prayers for adults and children, and liturgical resources for use in the Church of England during Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee year, the new prayer is available online on the Church of England's Diamond Jubilee web pages where you can find more information about how the Church of England is encouraging parishes and communities to join in with the celebrations through the Big Lunch and Big Thank You initiatives.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

A Conference for Rural Church Leaders

Andy Ryland, the Rural Officer for the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds writes,

Growing the Rural Church: a Conference for Rural Church Leaders and Members at Scargill House
There are clearly challenges facing rural churches, whatever denominational stream they are from.
With pressure building on a reduced number of paid leaders and clergy, historic buildings to be maintained and communities made up of a cross section of new arrivals and families that have lived in an area for generations, it is not easy pulling the threads together to grow the rural church.
However there are many positive signs of growth from around the country as rural churches have responded to these challenges. 
To help church leaders, clergy, PCC’s and church members learn from others who are making progress growing the rural church, Andy Ryland, Diocesan Rural Officer for Ripon and Leeds, has worked with the Scargill Movement to bring together some of the country’s leading practitioners so that we can learn together how to address three key issues associated with rural church growth.
·         Reaching rural communities both new and long standing
·         Buildings - burden or blessing
·         Enabling participation - empowering the people of God       
The three day conference will address these themes on separate days so you can attend as a day delegate or stay for the three days and enjoy the hospitality and good food that Scargill is building a reputation for, since it reopened in 2010.
Day one: Tuesday 6th March 2012: Reaching rural communities both new and long standing
Bishop James Bell, Leslie Morley, Simon Mattholie, Bob Baker, Pauline Broadwith and Karin Shaw
Day two: Wednesday 7th March 2012: Buildings - burden or blessing
Peter Aires, Leslie Morley, Nigel Walter, Alice Ullathorne

Day Three: Thursday 8th March 2012: Enabling participation - empowering the people of God       
Pete Atkins, Leslie Morley, Elizabeth Clarke, Sian Lockwood OBE, Cursillo Volunteers
To book your place phone Scargill House, where staff will be able to design a package around how you want to attend the conference, either keeping the cost down as a day delegate or staying over and enjoying the special experience of staying at Scargill at the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
1 Conference Day (including lunch) £19
1 Conference Day and 1 night’s stay £53.75
2 Conference Days and 1 night’s stay £72.75
All 3 Conference Days and 2 nights stay £126.50
All 3 Conference Days and 3 nights stay £180.75
Monday 4pm- Friday 10 am (including Conference) £215
Scargill House, Kettlewell, Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 5HU, Tell (01756) 761236   

A Useful Read

An thought-provoking book by Peter Brierley has just appeared. Peter is known to many of us through the Brierley Consultancy which provides statical data on religious trends. Focusing on questions asked by God in scripture, it helps the reader think about the nature of vision, strategy and growth in church life and reflect on the kinds of ministry and leadership needed in today's church. What sorts of questions does God ask?  'Adam, where are you?' 'Moses, what's that in your hand?' 'Elijah, what are you doing here?' 'Amos, what can you see?' 'Ezekiel, can these dry bones live?' What kind of question might God ask you?

The book helps the reader to identify his or her place in the bigger picture, to clarify prioirities, understand strengths and, perhaps most importantly, to have the faith to believe that things can change. In his forward, John Drane describes the author as someone who writes 'always in the context of encouragement' and who 'understands the realities of the church.' The book is rather episodic but it did give me insights which helped me to think differently about church growth in the UK context. It contains ideas that you may be able to develop for yourself rather than a systematically argued approach.