Sunday, 29 April 2012

Nerves, Muscles and Laughter

I recently came across some very simple but helpful guidelines for talking to peole suffering from dementia. Ten things that, if put into practice, really help.  A person with dementia is experienceing loss of memory, mood swings, anxiety and problems with communication and reasoning. 
  • Remember that mood and atmoshpere are very important; how you say things and your tone of voice is more important than what you say.
  • Listen, have chats, laugh, give them your full attention. 
  • Try to find things you can do together, breaking activities down into small steps.
  • Be reassuring.
  • Avoid scolding, contradicting or correcting.
  • Look behind the person's words for their meaning - how are they feeling?
  • Show affection in ways that are acceptable to the person.
  • Be flexible and tolerant.
  • Allow a person time to get to know you - meeting new or unfamiliar people is particularly difficult.
  • Never talk over the person - include them all that you say and do.

As with all communication, probably eight tenths of what we communicate is through body language and tone. To remember this makes understanding the words that are being said less important and both you and the person you are talking to will relax. I had a friend who was training as a doctor and whose grandmother had fairly advanced dementia; she used to sit with her grandmother learning lists of nerves and muscles out loud, but in a tone as though she was reading a story. She was able to spend pleasant half hours with her grandmother when they would laugh alot and take pleasure in each other's company and get her revision done. Her grandmother was helping her and at some level she seemed to know this. It is important that people know they are valued; a sense of not being valued by anyone may make dementia a lonely place to inhabit.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Alive to the Word!

Announcing A Festival of Preaching
Saturday 19th May
Ripon Cathedral

Purple Words on a Grey Background: Is theism getting a bad press?

Purple Words on a Grey Background: Is theism getting a bad press?: I'm not very sure how to phrase this post correctly. I have been musing for a while about a change I've observed over the time I have been o...

A New Economics

I've just finished a stimulating read, Prosperity Without Growth; Economics for a Finite Planet by Tim Jackson (Earthscan, 2009). Described as 'one of the most outstanding pieces of environmental economic literature in recent years', the book asks, 'What does it mean to live well within the confines of a finite world?' Science, industry, digitalization have all brought great advantages. We live longer, we are healthier and better educated and we have a much greater diversity of opportunity than we would have had 100 years ago. And yet...

Even on conservative estimates, 2 billion people are undernourished or lack clean water. A study by Sheffield University (Dorling et al, 2008) shows that, although incomes have doubled over a 30 year period, there has been an erosion of geographical (ie. location-based) community which means that the loneliness index has increased to such an extent that even the weakest communities of the 1970s were experienced as more supportive than the strongest communities of today. It seems we can neither sustain the planet so that all can live nor find happiness ourselves in the societies of the over-developed world. Ben Okri (The Times 2008) puts it well, 'Material success has brought us to a strange spiritual and moral bankruptcy. Our false oracles have failed and we need a vision to live by.'

Jackson's book sets out a thesis for how we can 'flourish within limits'. He debunks the rampant materialism that governs Western economies with its underlying dependence on shaming us into wanting to buy more and more. Shame? Well, yes. Which of us has not wanted to acquire more because of that casual remark, 'Oh, you don't use an i-pad?' 'Oh you're not going to get a new dress for your son's wedding?' 'Ah, you're still driving that?' Just as a poor worker might spend money he can ill afford to have a decent shirt for work, we all feel shamed into keeping up with others or at least keeping up enough to be in the swim of things and to know what's going on and what people are talking about. In the most affluent economies, where differences in wealth are the greatest, Jackson argues that this dynamic of 'shaming' has got so out of control that non-materialistic values are ceasing to impact on the way society is organized. We consume too much, we do not value the contribution made to society by workers who care for those who do not produce wealth and we force anyone who does not want to consume so much to make choices that lead to their partial exclusion from mainstream society (try living without a car, computer or mobile for a month.)

The book examines different types of capitalism and market-driven economics and shows how these relate to sustainable solutions to economic organisation. It attempts to make suggestions about how we could become more value-driven and less consumption-driven. If long term commitment to our near neighbours and global partners were to replace laissez-faire, short-term gratification, Jackson argues, the end result would be greater fulfilment and happiness for us all and we would prosper much more. I would argue that what Jackson says chimes in very well with what I have always thought of as 'Kingdom of Heaven economics' (or the evidence in scripture for the ways we ought to look at economic growth).  The first principle is generosity - share, talk, discover values that unite, develop trust. Wealth comes in the guise of enough - enough to live, to share, to do what is needed in our own communities and not to damage the earth by over- consumption.

I'm very grateful to the Buckfastleigh Abbey (Benedictine Community) bookshop where I chanced on this rich volume; it's a complex and wide-ranging book which covers economics, family politics, psychological motivation, social organisation and much, much more as it stacks up the evidence for its central theme, namely, that, if economic growth based on escalating consumption continues to be the sole basis for delivering prosperity, then inequity and unsustainability will be the twin forces that bring the future of humanity to the brink of annihilation. The evidence presented shows that 'more stuff' does not mean 'more happiness' and 'business as usual' is not an option. The need for a new economics is pressing. Growth is surely needed in under-developed parts of the world but, in the over-developed countries, we need a radical programme, economic, educational , social and, of course, political, that is motivated by the benefits of having less. That's the NOW challenge - what could you do to use less, to have less, to share more and to enjoy yourself more? What would you like to be free of and free for? What would travelling lighter be like? 

Atgofion am Aberfan; Memories

There can't be anyone who lived in South Wales who does not remember what they were doing on 21st October 1966 as vividly as they recall 9/11. I was sitting in our kitchen, off school for half term, with my mother. She put the radio on.  We couldn't quite take in what we were hearing. We were used to mining disasters in those days. Scarcely a year would pass without news of men being trapped underground and the ensuing days of worry as their colleagues worked to get them to the surface. But what we heard that day was on a different scale. I can remember wondering why there were tears in my mother's eyes; she hardly ever cried. Over the next few days, it became apparent that a slag heap had slid down the mountain at Aberfan near Merthyr Tydfil engulfing houses, a railway embankment and Pantglas Junior School and stopping just short of a second school. This had happened at 9.15 in the morning just after the children had begun their last school day before half term with an assembley. 144 people lost their lives including 116 children aged from 3 months to 14. It was a foggy day in the village and no-one saw the tip slide but everyone recalled the tremendous, eerie rumbling sound. The tipping gang further up the mountain, where the early morning mist had cleared, reported seeing the start of the slide but it all happened so quickly that there was no chance to raise the alarm or give a warning. 

Yesterday the Queen unveiled a plaque to open the new Ynysowen Primary School in Aberfan - a celebration of the life and resilience of the village, but with a sober reminder of those days 50 years ago when the coal industry regularly claimed the life of its workers and affected the health and safety of whole communities. I recently visited the Vale of Neath where I was born and was forcibly struck by the lack of much visual evidence that mining had ever taken place there. Where the slag heaps were once evident, there are green forests and, where the roads and buildings were once grimey and grey, there is a spacious and light feel to the valley. Communities have moved on and the landscape has regained much of its former beauty, but I found myself wondering whether we sometimes wipe out the past too completely and too quickly. It is natural and healthy to remember and to want to understand where we have come from and what has shaped our communities and the identity of our parents and grandparents. 

The Queen has kept faith with the people of Aberfan, visiting four times in the years between 1966 and today. I, too, want to retain that sense of keeping faith with an event that influenced my childhood profoundly and that totally and irrevocably changed the lives of people we knew. Yes, we need to move on, to create a life which does not depend on work that leads to ill health, disaster and loss of life, but we also need to remember the close-knit streets of the mining communities where a child growing up was conscious of being part of a great industrial inheritance and where, that day in 1966, 116 children and their families looked forward, as they began their day, to a future that they would never see.    

Street games, Neath, 1964

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Power of Letters

In this season of resurrection, I had a rather powerful reminder of the way in which parts of life that we think have moved beyond us return in new and transfomred ways. We went to see my aunt, after Easter, and she produced 70 dog-eared letters in an old brown envelope. They were written on fragile sheaves of airmail paper (now smellling musty) by my parents when they were working in Ghana nearly 60 years ago. At that time my aunt was back in the UK doing her children's nurse training at Manchester Children's Hospital and the correspondence, which is mostly between the two sisters (with occasional interpolations from my father), is fascinating. Clearly there was a great affection between them and daily life unfolds over nearly four years in Tacoradi, Koforidua, Accra, Manchester and Colwyn Bay! Those were the days when Ghana and Britain were, for most people, a sea voyage apart and there was no coming home for a couple of weeks holiday or flying out to visit friends and relatives. Mum and Dad were making a new and completely different life, getting to know local people and customs, often trekking into the forests (my father was a forester) and living in tents for days. It's actually quite hard for me to imaging my home-comforts-loving mother in a tent wearing mosquito boots! Meanwhile Mum's sister was nursing at the 'fever hospital' in Manchester, looking after patients with infectious diseases for which there were often no cures - a reminder that nursing was a more risky profession in those days when, to an extent, you risked your own health.

I sat on a balcony overlooking the sea in Devon for three days absolutely transfixed by these letters, devouring every one of them for details of what Mum and Dad did, how they felt, who they met (it was a turbulent political period in Ghana). It was like meeting my parents, both of whom are now dead, all over again. They spoke with the same voices in their mid twenties that I recognised and knew so well from their later years. The contents of the letters brought back many of the stories I  loved to hear as a child about life in West Africa but with more detail and more vivid  descriptions. It also enabled me to identify some of the places and goings-on in Dad's many photos.

I found myself thinking that this experience was a metaphor for resurrection - to find past experiences brought into the present, transformed and able to give new life and new perspective on people and events and especially the parents whose voices I had never expected to be hearing again.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Proclaim the Faith Afresh in Each Generation

Every time the bishop welcomes a new priest and gives them a license to minister, we hear those words, ''to proclaim the faith afresh to this generation'. Here is a book that argues that 'fresh expressions of church' (ie. doing things differently yet in ways that resonate with the traditions of Christianity) are a normal part of the church's DNA. There have always been new shapes of church emerging. What makes them authentic? And what makes them different from the shapes we already have? This newly published book, written by two of the staff of Cranmer Hall theological college in Durham and the Director of Training for the national Fresh Expressions Team, is an introduction to fresh expressions of church and pioneer ministry in today's society. It is written as a study guide for churches who might be thinking about doing something differently.  It also explodes some myths and misunderstandings about what constitutes a 'fresh expression'. The final chapter tackles the thorny question of how a fresh expression becomes part of the ongoing life of the church without becoming a stale or  directionless expression!  The book is conceived as a boat to take you on a voyage. David Goodhew provides the rudder - a look at how fresh expressions are central to the Christian tradition - part of the life blood of the body of Christ - and he gives a rationale for their appropriateness in 'such a time as this'. (Interesting that this should come from Durham where I recently heard Mark Bryant, the suffragan bishop, preach an eloquent sermon on the need for the church in the north east to recapture the understanding of 'fresh expressions' which it so clearly and enthusiastically showed in the nineteenth century under the challenge to respond to the new urbanisation of the country.) Andrew Roberts builds the hull, looking at the issue of what so-called fresh expressions are and what they aren't and examining some examples of good practice. Michalel Volland hoists the sails with a chapter on God's call to pioneer ministry and a look at what the long haul means. The book provides scholarly analysis while also drawing on practical experience and is well worth a read if you are thinking about new directions in your own living out of your faith, particularly  if you are doing this with others and feel a call to something new.

There will be a book launch at Cranmer Hall (Tristram Room) on Tuesday 25th April at 5.45pm. You can go along and meet the authors. Or contact them at  

Garden Tomb

Setting up the Easter Garden on the Easter trail at Pateley Bridge
Churches Together in Niddedale

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Sax and Strings at Kirkby Overblow

All Saints Kirkby Overblow 'Ready to Entertain'

First Sit Down and Hot Food Concert

Snake Davis Concert - the evening gets under way

Snake Davis Sax and Strings at Kirkby Overblow

Kirkby Overblow held its first concert with full dinner recently. It's amazing what you can do in a beautifully re-ordered church! My thanks to Robert Henderson for the pictures. I only wish I could reproduce the sound of the Snake Davis ensemble - you can visit his website for more on 'saxology and strings'.

Fun-Key Goings-on at Richmond

Gillian Lund writes about an exciting new deanery venture based in Richmond. The very first event has led to the setting up of a new, monthly service for children, young people, families and friends at St Mary's called the FUN KEY service (yes, I like it!)

The first FUN KEY Service will be on Sunday 29th April
4pm St Mary's Richmond 
God Cares for Ewe
Open to all 

'On Sunday 25th March, St Mary's Church Richmond hosted a Deanery Exploring Easter Children's Event.  Graham Richards the Children and Young People's Development Worker for the Richmond Archdeaconry had held a meeting at The Station in Richmond regarding children's work and provision, and from that came a desire for churches in the Deanery to hold a larger event to encourage future children's work.  After an initial meeting, four weeks before the event at our Rectory, we set to work planning our craft, art, baking and musical activities. 

To cut a long story very short, we were blessed with some very enthusiastic volunteers from the church and area, including some from Richmond Methodist Church.

Prior to the event, Graham emailed clergy throughout the Deanery and between word of mouth, blatant advertising at meetings and local groups, school assemblies and even a global text message being sent out by our local Richmond C of E Primary inviting children to attend.  Although we did not have many guests from across the Deanery we were thrilled to welcome 41 children aged 5 to 11 years old and approximatly 35 adults (parents, grandparents etc) from around Richmond.

The church was a hive of Easter activity, and we used all the space available - we had Chocolate Easter Nest making, Resurrection Bun baking in the MU area (Graham led this event and the church smelled beautiful!), collage and card making up the centre aisle, music making in the Green Howards Chapel with Rev'd John, story telling with plastic eggs to open (and when the children were treated to beautiful buns and juice provided by kind members of the congregation) at font area, jam jar easter decorations in the altar area, pom pom chick making in the middle of the choir area, Nic Shepperd and his Prayer Pool at the High Altar (the sun was shining and it provided a very atmospherid space for everyone) and banner making in the side aisle! 

The children were free to move round the activities at their own pace which worked very well, and towards the end of the event we all went outside to hunt for laminated eggs with our names on them and returned back in to church to claim our chocolate egg prizes. 

The afternoon culminated in a short service with a story and song to pull it all together, led by Graham.

We were very fortunate that a photographer from the Northern Echo visited part way through the afternoon and took some beautiful photographs that were published in both the Northern Echo and D&S Times.

The event has acted as a launch pad for future children's activities.  Rev'd John has always been most enthusiastic to nurture school and church links, and increase the provision of childrens' events and activities in our church.  This Expolring Easter Event provided something fun, interesting and meaningful for children representing all the primary schools in Richmond, and all denominations which has been fantastically encouraging for us as a church.

We have now decided that we would like to hold a children and young person's service on the last Sunday of every month, and our next newly-named FUN-KEY Service for friends and family of all ages is on Sunday 29th April between 4 and 5pm at St Mary's Richmond.  We have already decided on our theme for the service - God Loves and Cares for Ewe!  as the readings for the day are Psalm 23 and John 10 The Good Shepherd!  Our volunteers are already beavering away with the preparations - a large banner with a sheep made out of many different sheep, sheep bisuit/cake making and decorating, cardboard sheep making and culminating again in a time of worship to be led by John with some music making and time to reflect on all we have done together. 

This is then to be followed in June by our now Annual Pet Service when we welcome children and adults to bring their pets to church to give thanks for the love and happiness they give us.

So, it's all go at St Mary's at the moment!'

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Ripon Cathedral as Never Seen Before

 Ripon Cathedral has completed its Narthex project in good time for Holy Week. The new internal glass porch and doors mean that light now floods into the West end of the building and the interior of the cathedral can be seen from Kirkgate making it much more welcoming to the approaching pilgrim. Regular worshippers are seeing features of the building they have never noticed before! If you are near enough, come and see for yourself - the effect is stunning! The contractors were Anelays of York, the architect is Oliver Caroe of Caroe Architecture, Cambridge and the artist who designed the etching on the glass panels above the doors is Sally Scott. The panels were executed at Nero Design Studios, London. The etchings depict the life of St Wilfrid. For more photos, reaction and comments visit

for the story of the project, visit