Saturday, 31 March 2012

Looking After Your Church

Time Out but not Off

March has been an unusual month. I've been away from my desk and office for a large part of it. People somehow expect you to be in constant touch these days, don't they?  i phones, wifi in every hotel, 24/7 availability to answer texts. The tyranny of the email. Where have I been?  At a conference for all the  archdeacons in the northern province of the Church of England, at a training course for church leaders about transforming conflict into opportunity, and on a retreat.

At the archdeacons' conference, lots of us were constantly on phones outside the meeting room and scrolling down e mails if the sesssions did not grip. I gave up on the technology and decided that I really wanted to be 'present in the moment' for the excellent lecture and discussion with Professor John Barclay of Durham University on the question of how grasping the concept of 'gift' as it was viewed in the ancient world helps us to understand what St Paul meant by 'grace.'  This profoundly affects the way in which we relate to others. I will blog about that separately. It seemed to me that to miss even part of such an excellent presentation which distilled someone's reasearch and thinking over several years would be a missed opportunity. I also didn't want to be interrupted at the Stone Masons' Yard at York Minister where the quality of work and the attention given to detail were astonishing. We saw inspirational figures that might take a mason 3 months to carve which were exquisite; they will shortly be installed a couple of hundred feet above eye level where presumably God will enjoy them but human eye will rarely venture - perhaps once in a hundred years?  A text that breaks into that kind of experience has no business to be there.

Then on to the Bridge Builders' (Mennonite) Conference about how to deal with conflict. The stuff of life for many archdeacons! This was a week of fairly intense learning including role play and exercises about power, decision making and process that forced us to see things from new perspectives. Insightful, tiring, demanding from us well tuned EQ at least as much as IQ; certainly not a place for the constant infiltration of normal everyday concerns via the phone and screen if we were really going to absorb and learn anything lasting.

The retreat was at Sneaton Castle, Whitby, where we were invited to think deeply about the things that cause us to hide from God, about how we give attention to God and about friendship and concepts of success and failure. Now you could go to the sessions and then not do any further thinking and praying as a result of the constant impetus to return to the ususal world of dates, times , appointments, decisions...or you could, just for two days, attend to what God might be saying to you and your own state of mind.

So what am I saying? Well, partly, I'm excusing myself for not blogging very much this month. But more importantly, I'm saying that we all need spaces, sanctuaries, where we can be attentive to what is going on in the present without distraction. Unless we find these spaces, we are diminished in our knowledge of ourselves, our honesty and our capacity to learn in ways that allow us a real depth of new understanding. In short we are less human and less open to God.

Now obviously, as one who blogs, I am committed to the fantastic opportunities the new world of digital communication offers. But it seems to me that to retain our creativity and our sanity, we must attend to what the saints called the 'sacrament of the present moment' and allow ourselves spaces in which to be silent, to be without distraction, to pray, think deeply and be free from the domination of reacting to the 'urgent' call of immediate demands.     

Friday, 23 March 2012

History that Helps

As every priest knows, you ignore the history of a parish at your peril! Each community has its historical narrative - parts of it repeated over and over in not altogether identical versions, other parts half-remembered and implicit in the things that are held to be important in the community (and woe betide you if you ignore these underlying stories which point you to the things that have taken on the power of symbols in your particular neighbourhood!) The distinct narrative of any community forms the context for contemporary mission and ministry and in fact contains many clues as to how your community reacts to change.

I was grateful to Bishop James for pointing me towards the Building on History Project that has been running in the London Diocese.

This project, which has been run by Kings College London, the Open University, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Diocese of London, is aimed at getting churches to look at their own history as a tool for helping them to be the church of the present in their own locality more effectively. It helps parishes to ask the question, 'What can we, the contemporary church, facing similar challenges, learn from our church's response to past challenges in their historical context?' By looking at the religious and social history of an area and understanding how the churches have coped with demographic and theological developments in the past, the project helps churches to gain confidence in facing the changes that confront us now. If you think about the ways in which museums and schools work to help us appreciate local history today and the contribution this makes to our sense of local identity, you can see that for a church to dig deep into its own historical treasures - both artefacts and oral history - will enable its members to make better-informed decisions and will provide practical wisdom about how the community might react to change. Historical awareness contributes inspiration, challenges wrong assumptions and helps us to a better sense of proportion and perspective. As Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London puts it, 'The person who has a sense of history and no sense of destiny is doubtless very tedious. But the person or community with a sense of destiny and no sense of history is very wasteful and even dangerous.' Rowan Williams, in a project podcast, says, 'We often take for granted that things have always been like this. But, actually, of course, to understand the past is to understand how things change.' 

If you go to the website above, it gives you guidelines for writing a church and parish history, gives ideas for how you can use history to inform contemporary mission and ministry and tells you how to conduct a 'history audit' of your congregation. It also helps you prepare a Statement of Significance for your church - a vital document if you are applying for faculties or funding.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Hidden Places

The Soroptimists of Harrogate invited Baroness Caroline Cox to speak at Wesley Chapel, Harrogate to mark International Women's Day on Thursday. She spoke about 'Challenges to Human Rights in Today's World' and told us many stories of peoples suffering oppression in Burma, Nagorno Karabbakh, Sudan, Northern Uganda, Nigeria and the UK. Through her organisation, the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), she is in frequent cotnact with people working in partnership to create justice, hope and better conditions for themselves and their own peoples.  Her message - 'You cannot do everything, but you cannot do nothing'. HART subscribes to the International Red Cross Code of Conduct which states that the humanitarian impulse comes first, regardless of race or creed. Many of the communities it reaches are off the radar screen of even the international aid organisations and virtually cut off from communication with the wider world. Much of the work of the organisation is to do with advocacy. Perhaps we think of such situations as being something that happens in far away places? It was sobering to hear of people trapped in situations dominated by violence in our own country.

Amnesty International also work in the area of advocacy and they meet each second Tuesday of the month at the Friends' Meeting House, Queen Parade, Harrogate. They also hold regular 'Human Writes'  - drop-in letter signing sessions - at St Peter's Church Harroagte and at Gracious Street Methodist Church, Knaresborough. You'd need to check their website for exact dates and times.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Thornborough Henge

We often spend a peaceful half hour at the Nosterfield Local Nature Reserve. This is partly because it is so handy - we can just pop out at lunch time for a quick walk or drive over on a balmy summer evening to watch the avocets, curlew sandpipers, whinchats, ruff, cranes and pink footed geese.

Only a duck, I'm afraid!

When you're there you're always conscious of the nearby presence of Thornborough Henge and its great antiquity. There is really something very special about the atmosphere of the whole area and when we first arrived we were quite suprised to find such a site on our doorstep, relatively unsign-posted and inaccessible. Indeed you could drive around the area and not realise what a national treasure you were missing. English Heritage have designated the site (which dates from the Neolithic and the Bronze Ages - at least 4,000BC) the most significant prehistoric site between Stone Henge and the Orkneys; it is certainly a great deal larger than Stonehenge with its six henges. Given its size one wonders just what it was built for and from how far away people came to worship and  meet there. Clearly it was of great importance.

Now a number of local people have got together to do something about the site's state of neglect. The Thornborough Henge Heritage Trust has been formed to promote the protection and conservation of the henges and to enable archaeological research to be done. The Trust hopes to be able to raise public awareness of the significance of the henges for early British history and to promote education and understanding.

To find out more including how you can help, go to

To read about the birds at Nosterfield Local Nature Reserve which is managed by the Lower Ure Conservation Trust and is the first Nature Reserve in Hambleton District, go to

For the Lower Ure Conservation Trust

Report on Tuesday's Westminster Hall Debate

Last Tuesday MPs debated 'Women Bishops; the Church of England and Exemption from the Sex Discrimination Legislation'. The following report came through today from Hilary Cotton who attended.

'All MPs present were in support of the CofE having women bishops and urged the Church to 'get on with it'. This included MPs from all three major parties, the most urgent pleas coming from male MPs.

Three significant points were:

1. The warnings given by a number of MPs to the House of Bishops not to amend the Measure or otherwise frustrate the clearly expressed wish of the dioceses that this draft Measure goes forward to Synod for approval in July.

 2. The message from Tony Baldry MP, 2nd Church Estates Commissioner and an ex officio lay member of General Synod, to all members of General Synod about the final approval vote:
"When we come to the Church of England’s General Synod in July, I very much hope that even those who have been opposed to women becoming bishops will recognise the overwhelming support within the Church of England for the Measure to go forward. In fact, if 42 outof 44 dioceses have voted in favour of women becoming bishops, it would look very perverse—indeed, it would look ridiculous—if the General Synod in July was to use its convoluted voting mechanisms not to allow that Measure to move forward. Between now and July, I hope that everyone will search their soul and I also hope that, if people are opposed to the Measure, they will recognise that there comes a point when it is necessary to acknowledge that, in the interests and well-being of the Church of England, the Measure must make progress. 
We have always wished to continue to be a broad Church, maintaining space for all those who wish to remain within the Church of England. However, there must be a recognition that this issue has been deliberated for a long time and that it has been considered carefully, with everyone in the Church of England having had the opportunity to make a thoughtful and deliberative contribution to the debate, and that—as demonstrated by the votes in the dioceses during the last year—the views of the members of the Church of England are very clear."

 3. The fact that the 2nd Church Estates Commissioner has already paved the way in the Parliamentary timetable for Parliament to get the Measure approved by the end of this year, giving General Synod the opportunity to complete the legislative process early in 2013.'

I was also very struck by these words of one of our Yorkshire MPs, Diana Johnson (kingston Upon Hull North, Labour)

'When I looked at this issue, I was struck by the fact that women have actively engaged with the bishops in the discussions that have been held so far. In June 2008, senior lay and clergywomen attended a meeting of the College of Bishops to discuss proposals for women bishops. Since then, no women have been part of the discussions in the House of Bishops. It is inconceivable to anyone engaged in equality and diversity work in other contexts that the Church would make the decision about consecrating women as bishops without seriously engaging during this last phase with those who will be most directly affected by that decision.'

Schmallenberg Virus

Not perhaps the best start to Spring. Andy Ryland, our Rural officer writes

You may have heard in the news about the Schmallenberg Virus that has been detected in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and now the UK. It is similar to some other animal diseases, which are transmitted by vectors, such as midges, mosquitoes and ticks. The virus has been associated with brief mild/moderate disease (milk drop, pyrexia, diarrhoea) in adult cattle and late abortion or birth defects in newborn cattle, sheep and goats.

No known Risk to humans

At the moment, a Europe-wide risk assessment has concluded that Schmallenberg virus is unlikely to cause illness in people. As yet, no human cases have been detected in any new country, and the most closely related viruses only cause animal disease. There is no treatment or vaccine currently available for this disease. As this is a new disease further work is needed to determine what control measures may be appropriate. 


This is not a notifiable disease, but farmers are asked to contact their veterinary surgeon if they encounter cases of ruminant neonates or fetuses which are stillborn, show malformations or are showing nervous disease. Veterinary surgeons should then contact their AHVLA/SAC laboratory if they suspect infection with the virus.  There is currently no blood test available but work is in progress to develop one.

For more information have a look at this Defra web site
Treatment and control

Help for the Farming Community

Various help is at hand to the farming community and you may wish to make a note of the Farming Help website at  which has links to the various support agencies.

Farm Crisis Network

FCN is a UK network of Christian volunteers from the farming community and rural churches, providing a national helpline and visiting service to farming people and families facing difficulties. They provide pastoral and practical support for as long as it is needed, helping people to find a positive way forward through their problems. FCN works closely with a number of local support groups providing a similar service.

Bob Baker and his team at the Churches' Regional Commission, Thirsk Rural Business Centre, Blakey Lane Thirsk, YO7 3AB Tel: 01845 525757 Mob: are also able to provide support to the farmers who perhaps are getting in difficulties with their farming businesses.