Saturday, 30 June 2012

Volunteering Opportunities

Did you know that the Alzheimer's Society is always looking for people who would like to volunteer? The Society offers a great range of support to sufferers and their carers and could not do so without the dedication of large numbers of volunteers. The kind of things they contribute varies greatly. Help is needed with fund raising, administration, maintaining information sites and libraries, providing transport and organising social events. Befriending someone with dementia, giving 2 or 3 hours a week to be with them, can mean that they can can continue a hobby or interest and that their carer can also have a break to do something that allows them to get out and find refreshment. Volunteers say it's fun and there's something for everyone no matter what your gifts. There is a proper induction programme, on-going training, one-to-one or group-based support and expenses are re-imbursed.

There are around 4,800 people with dementia of one kind or another in the Ripon,  Harrogate and Craven areas alone, two thirds of whom live in the community. By 2025 there will be over 1 million people with the disease in Britain and is is essential that adequate support and expertise in caring is built up over the next few years.

If you think you might be able to help, please contact

The Volunteering officer, Alzheimer's Society, Low Mill Units, Phoenix Business Park, Ripon HG4 1NSP  01765 690900  ripon@alzheimer'

The national Alzheimers Society website also has a wealth of really useful information. If you go to the bottom of the home page and enter your postcode, you can find an excellent list of all the services in the Richmond and Hambleton and the Ripon and Harrogate areas.

Ministerial Training at Durham

Good news for theological education in the north! Durham University has been selected to become the Church of England's sole validation partner for training its ministers. While training institutions will be able to continue their relationships with other universities, the church will increasingly look to validate its own recognised courses through the one university. Currently the Church of England provides higher education for ordinands through validation links with 19 different universities. There has long been criticism that the plethora of different validating bodies for a relatively small number of students gives rise to confusion, complexity and extra costs. Certainly, when I worked in theological education, I can remeber crazy years when we were being inspected by two or more institutions who made conflicting recommendations. I sometimes spent more time preparing papers for the inspectors than preparing my teaching!
This move which has been set in motion by the Archbishops’ Council, will mean that Durham University will increasingly build relationships with the Church’s training institutes via its Department of Theology and Religion. This department is ranked as the top Department of Theology and Religion in the country with a great emphasis on internationally recognised research.

Cranmer Hall, Anglican Theological College, Durham

The new partnership will continue a tradition of ordination training at Durham that stretches back over 100 years. Durham is one of only a small number of universities, globally, where vocational training is offered at an internationally respected level in Theology and Ministry from Certificate to Doctoral level. The University has, for many years, validated courses within Cranmer Hall, the Wesley Study Centre for Methodist ministerial training, and, until very recently, Ushaw College, the Roman Catholic seminary. Professor Chris Higgins, the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “Durham is exceptionally well placed to work with the Church in this way because of our world position in theology and religion, and our considerable experience over 100 years of close partnership in ministerial training through St John’s College and indeed at an earlier stage, St Chad’s College. Our history, our current expertise and our long-term sustainability provides a fruitful soil to cultivate such a partnership.We look forward to working with the Church of England on this proposed partnership as we continue to develop the world-leading teaching, research and training available in theology and religion at Durham.”

During 2012, the University and representatives of the Church of England's Ministry Division will be working to develop a suite of common awards. New academic appointments will follow as a research centre for practical theology is set up and the first students will be admitted onto the new programmes in autumn 2014.

Congratulations to Durham University on this exciting new development! Read more at

Church of England announces new validation partnership | Christian News on Christian Today

New Thinking About Health Care

I gave up reading the church press in 1992 as a result of their coverage of various issues which seemed to me to highlight everything contentious. However, I think I just might be tempted back into readership of the Church Times following their launch, this week, of a new Health Supplement. The first issue looks at the impact of new reforms in the Health Service, examines health care chaplaincy and asks how the churches can more effectively work alongside those who have health problems. It's a promising start!

One of the things that the Mission Resourcing Team is looking at in this diocese, at present, is how to support churches better to keep in contact with and care for the very elderly and those suffering from dementia. So often, after committed membership of a particular church, an elderly person moves away and into a nursing home and is somehow lost sight of by the community of faith just at the point they are vulnerable to isolation and most need the friendship of a loving church family. I'm looking for people with a commitment to the elderly - whether this arises from interest, experience, expertise or a love of being with older people - to join an advisory group who will look at the provision being made for the elderly in our diocese in terms of visiting, worship, practical and spiritual support by churches. The brief of the group will be to and encourage and inform good care, enabling us to offer effective support and friendship to more people. If you would be interested in this, please contact me. The group will meet about every three months.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Tentmaking as a Way of Life

The idea of 'tentmaking' comes from St Paul's writings. He worked tirelessly to make the gospel known and to minister to the churches he had been responsible for founding or teaching. His 'tentmaking' was, famously, the trade by which he funded himself to do all this (I suspect there was also quite a degree of financial support for him from churches, and a certain amount of free accommodation in the form of medium-term hospitality.)

I've been reading a fascinating book Perspectives on Self Supporting Ministry: Tentmaking. Edited by James Francis and Leslie Francis (not, to my knowledge, related), it reflects on the concept and practice of ministries that do not command a stipend or direct payment of any sort to support them. The interesting thing about this collection of essays is that it is drawn from a wide cross-section of cultures and denominations in Africa, South and North America, Europe and Australasia. Theological, biblical-critical, social and personal comment is brought to bear on the phenomenon of ministry which is freely given and supported through secular work and whose focus may be primarily church and communtiy or workplace or some combination of both. 

In his foreword, David Jenkins (previous bishop of Durham) questions the wisdom of the church placing too much emphasis on a solely stipendiary form of ministry (he quotes from an article written as early as 1926 questioning the 'making of the whole church a slave of the stipendiary system') and says,

If we worship a God of revelation, creation, incarnation, redemption and fulfilment who pursues His purposes and promises, revealed decisively in jesus, through the power, presence and perseverance of the Spirit, then the call must be, in the first place not to consolidate managerially under financial pressure but to seek to identify the prophetic questions which the financial pressures are forcing upon us.

The whole book encourages us to be a bit more radical in our thinking about how ministries of different kinds are valued and located within the church so that engagement with social reality is deeper. This is not simply about 'saving the church money', it is about fostering ways of life which give rise to effective ministry and which can be sustained by both the church and the individuals engaged in such ministries, long term. 

It's well worth a read and there's something for everyone given the breadth of perspective.

Published by Gracewing 1998. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

More Tennants

Having got rid of the squirrels, we now have new tenants in our garden where the plants obviously taste much better than boring old grass!

We are also mourning the loss of one of our pigeons. Nick-named 'Virgil', he had resided in and around the garden for a few years but unfortunately decided to commit suicide by flying into our patio doors last Thursday. His mate is looking very sad and lost.

Friday, 22 June 2012


With all the talk about marriage that has been going on in the wake of the 'Church of England' statement about same sex marriage, I thought I would find out a bit more about the history of marriage. My sense is that it has evolved as an institution over time in ways that would scarcely be recognisable to our ancestors. Almost everyone you talk to seems to have some 'ideal' in their heads that probably either never existed or was in vogue only for a relatively short period of history. We are especially prone to hark back to a Victorian ideal of the family while overlooking the large number of women who chose to live together and the large number of people who had extra marital affairs and raised two or more families.

Society's understanding of marriage has continually evolved, as has the relationship of marriage to both state and religious life. Clearly, in Old Testament times, wives were the property of their husbands; this view has prevailed in many societies across many centuries -in English law, until the Married Women's Property Act of 1882, a man and a woman became a single entity in law on their marriage and all the woman's property was surrendered to her husband - she needed his consent to make a will. For much of history, the family has been patriarchal, organised so that male progeny could be identified and enabled to inherit, while today many would argue that it is more dominated by the developmental needs of children. At many periods of history (and still, today, in a few societies) women have married as early as 13 or 14 while at other times, notably in England in the eighteenth and twenty first centuries, the avergae age for marriage for both men and women has been the late twenties. In the Mediaeval period, common law marriage was very widely practised - two people needed simply to state their intention to take each other in marriage, until the thirteenth century, without even the presence of witnesses. The Marriage Act of 1753 brought common law marriage effectively to an end but, still, during the industrial revolution and into the twenthieth century large numbers of couples simply co-habited, often for life, without any formal ceremony, and this remains the case today. Marriage has moved from being seen as primarily a legal contract to being understood as primarily an affective union. It has been viewed as being largely about procreation at times, and equally about companionship at others. It has been seen as a covenant between two people, as a covenant between God and a couple and as a sacrament. 

Marriage has been and is, at times, regulated by the church, mosque, temple or synagogue and at other times and in other places it has been and is regulated by the state, with those who choose to solemnise their marriage through the ceremonies of their religion doing so in an additional ceremony.

It therefore seems odd for the Church of England to overlook this complex history and to be defensive when the state wishes to consult about the status of marriage. The situation seems far more complex than is suggested in the recent statement to which so many have responded 'not in our name'. I would like to see a much more thorough and widely-consulting debate of the whole issue of marriage. I am not sure that we know who put the so called Church of England statement together, but it can be read at,-family-and-sexuality-issues/same-sex-marriage.aspx

What do you think?

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

British Farmers Best in the World

A warning about changes in food markets and methods in farming from our Rural officer, Andy Rylands, also points out the high standards of farming in Britain. Well worth a read.

Ripon Welcomes the Olympic Torch

19th June 2012
Photos by Dave Challoner

The Mayor and Councillors, the Dean and Chapter, the Horn Blower, members of the Army and the emergency services and many of the good folk of Ripon welcomed the Olympic torch into the city this afternoon. I understand it made a wonderful spectacle. Dave was there to take these photos. I was meanwhile dodging the ensuing traffic jams to be in Harrogate, at the Pavillions, where I was teaching a course on conflict (how to resolve it, not how to create it!) for the Clergy Leadership In Rural Churches programme. However, I did have the chance to see the torch while we were on holiday two weeks ago when it came through Machynlleth in mid Wales. In fact, I almost got to see it twice because we went up Snowdon the same day as the torch (though not at the same time!) Our thoughts are with everyone who is preparing for the Olymics - athletes, coaches, hosts, transport and emergency services and a lots of other people.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Back in the Blogging Seat

Apologies to readers for the long silence! I have been on holiday in Wales (you may have gathered) and I was then away leading a retreat for the clergy of Brechin Diocese, in Scotland. It has been interesting to be in both Scotland and Wales in quick succession and to realise how very different the history and make up of the Anglican church is in each province. The relationship bewteen the indiviual church vestry and its priest is quite different in the Episciopal Church of Scotland from that of the priest and PCC in England. Ecumenical partners are much more likely to be predominantly Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland. In Wales, dis-establishment and the degree to which the Anglican church has had to define itself in the context of 18th and 19th century non-conformity has led to a very different place in the public arena for the Church in Wales and to a different background in terms of working within the education system. In 1900, there were about 190,000 Anglicans in Wales while there were nearer three quarters of a million non-conformists and one of the big issues at the time of dis-establishment was that the Church of England catechism was taught in schools instead of the more bible-based teaching that the chapels advocated. In the environment, the University of Wales, whose constituent colleges were set up between 1843 and 1893, adopted a constitution that forbade the appointment of chaplains. Today, 92 years after dis-establishment, I think there is a greater sense that the Church in Wales has its roots down in the soil of Welsh society and that it plays a significant role in linking Welsh Christians with the early sites and sources of pre-Roman Christianity.

All this has reminded me how very difficult it is for the whole Anglican Communion to stay together. Every province has its own extremely disinctive context and it is important to honour the unique struggles and attempts to define effective mission that have gone on in each place across a great spectrum of global religious and political history.

One thing the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Churh have in common is the pervading sense of their having their roots in forms of Christianity that go back to the earliest times in the history of Christianity in these islands. The retreat I led was held at the Brechin Diocesan Retreat Centre in Glenesk, where the local church is dedicated to St Drostan. Drostan was of royal blood and active around 600AD. We do not know a great deal about him, but what we do know comes from two (not always consistent) sources, the Brevarium Aberdonense and the Book of Deer which is a ninth century Manuscript. He was certainly a pupil of St Columba for a short period; together, they established a monastery at Deir, about 60 miles north of Aberdeen. When Columba returned to Iona, he left Drostan in charge of the new foundation as Abbot. Later, Drostan became Abbot of Holyrood before feeling called to a life of greater seclusion; he left his position as Abbot and moved further north to become a hermit in Glenesk. He is reputed to have preached from many sites around the area (some associated with stone crosses) and to have attracted the poor and needy by his humility, sanctity and kindness. Tarfside, where the Centre is situated, is, to this day, a beautiful place of sanctuary, hospitality and peace. 

Should Courts Ram Treatment Down Throats?

I must admit that I am somewhat peturbed by the ruling by Mr Justice Peter Jackson that a 32 year old patient suffering from anorexia nervosa who does not want treatmtent, and whose family support her decision, must be given treatment which amounts to force feeding, possibly for a considerable period, in order to preserve her life. I had assumed, when I heard the news, that the patient was unconscious or was not able to express a clear wish. However, reading the report of the case, this does not seem to be so. I do not want to get into the merits or demerits of the particular case - that is not appropriate - but I do want to say that the judge's decision has given me pause for thought. He appears to be arguing that the courts have grounds for becoming involved in an individual's treatment in order to save life, even when the individual concerned is opposed. Of course, the State already permits this in cases where doctors section patients and, no doubt, there are grey areas, here, when psychiatrists, patients and families disagree on whether there are sufficient grounds for sectioning a person and compelling them to have treament. However sectioning a person does not quite seem to equate with a ruling to force feed them. As far as I can tell, you would have to physically restrain someone two or three times a day in order to do this or repeatedly sedate them against their will and, if you were to do the latter you would hardly be helping to restore them to patterns of eating that would sustain a life that was to any degree 'normal'. Passing a naso-gastric tube on someone who is willing can be distressing enough; to hold someone down and do it against their will time and time again could be described as very cruel. One wonders whether the psychological trauma caused would militate against the patient ever recovering and, indeed, it would be a pretty dehumanising procedure for nursing and medical staff to have to undertake.

I've just been reading A.N. Wilson's After the Victorians; Arrow Books 2006. In the chapter The Accursed Power, he discusses the treatment of suffragettes by the Liberal government of the time. What is striking is that several members of the militant wing of the movement who had been imprisoned and were on hunger strike were straight-jacketed and force-fed on the order of the then Home Secretary (Winston Churchill), again, on the grounds that they were hysterical and did not know their own minds and that it was in their own best interests for the State to intervene to save them from themselves (not to mention the Liberal party's interests!) There is something rather disturbing about State or Courts (which certainly were in Churchcill's time and still are largely male) sanctioning this kind of treatment of women with all its overtones of physical abuse. When a person is sectioned it is usually for their own safety and so that they can have the best possible chance of being restored to health - it is for their demonstrable good. I cannot see that consigning a fully aware person suffering from anorexia to repeated interventions of a distressing nature is going to be anything other than very psychologically damaging - it might well be argued that it will work against their health or any chance of recovery that remains. Should the patient not recover, this will certainly not allow them a dignified or peaceful death.

I can see many of the arguments for intervention to preserve life, but I am uneasy about this decision to intervene in the treatment of an individual in ways that will undoubtedly cause a great deal of distress.