Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Fear Should Not Be An Outcome

Many of us have been distressed by the news that Mr Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from Locked-in Syndrome, died from the refusal of fluids and pneumonia just days after a High Court decision that he could not be helped to die by doctors. Lord Justice Toulson and Justices Royce and Macur ruled that he could not enlist medical help to die, 'voluntary euthanasia is murder, however understandable the motives may be.' The Bishop of Bristol, Mike Hill, said that they were 'surely right not to allow Mr Nicklinson the right to die with the assistance of a doctor' because, as the British legal system is based on case law, such a ruling would have opened the way for the assisted death of other much more vulnerable groups. 'It is reported that many vulnerable and elderly people suffer abuse at the hands of their relatives.'

As readers of this blog will know, I have very grave reservations about any change in our current laws to allow assisted suicide. However, I do think that Mr Nicklinson's case and the case of another man which was heard alongside his raise all the questions about end of life care in a particularly sharp way. Let's consider both ends of the spectrum in the debate. Mr Nicklinson is reported as having described his life as a 'living nightmare' and as having said that, after the appeal court's ruling, he was left 'devastated and frightened'. We are not, in this particular case, consigning someone to a situation which they find to any degree tolerable. For those who care on a day to day basis, it is a distressing and morally undermining situation to be forced to sustain life; it raises questions about compassion in a civilized society. To allow someone to get to the point where they feel they have no recourse but to refuse food and die in fear does not seem humane to most of us. At the other end of the spectrum, the Bishop of Bristol is right. There are many people who are unable to speak for or defend themselves who would be vulnerable to other people's pressure to end their life once the legal penalty for anyone who does so is reduced. Perhaps we find this hard to believe. I picked up a copy of Good Housekeeping in the dentist's waiting room recently. In it, Jane Worroll describes how her mother, suffering from dementia, was ill treated in a care home. As her mother became more and more unhappy and withdrew into herself, Worroll had suspicions that she was being maltreated and finally caught the abuse on a hidden camera which she left in her mother's room. The shocking thing in this story is that this was a situation where all the outward signs were that 'this sort of thing could never happen here'. Moved to another home, her mother gradually regained some zest for life. How many other such elderly people are there with no near family who, if the law changed, would become the focus of suggestions about ending their life early?

As medical science finds ever more ways to ensure that life is preserved even when a person cannot perform for themselves such basic functions as breathing, eating, excreting and communicating, we are going to see more and more of these cases.  My question is why we are not doing more mid-ground work? These issues need to be tackled from both ends by the legal and therapeutic communities. Are there ways in law to ensure that relatives or medical practitioners who engage in conversations about a person's thoughts about ending their life and who decide to give assistance when asked to do so are treated with a degree of leniency? I think this in fact happens, but could there be much clearer guidelines about what charges and legal processes will be faced and about suspended sentences in such cases? Are there ways for medics and carers to be enabled to have these very difficult conversations about the end of life with those who have progressive, debilitating conditions and who wish to instigate such conversations much sooner, at much greater depth and to keep the situation under review? Death almost always involves some mental or physical suffering on the part of those who die and those who support and care for them. We cannot eradicate that. Lay people (in the medical sense) tend to believe that modern medicine can deal with every kind of mental distress and physical pain. This is simply not the case, though much more can be done than sometimes is done. Is there not some middle ground where lawyers and carers can give patients more freedom to explore what is best for them and relatives a quicker and more accurate response to questions about the penalty for their actions? Dragging such cases through to appeal with all the publicity that is involved does not appear an appropriate way to deal with these cases. They seem to call for the same kind of specialisation, body of experience and sensitivity of handling that the family courts have developed over time. 

Jane Worroll's story makes me think that education about caring for the elderly is something which should be much more widely available. We run parenting classes because we recognize that bringing children up is demanding and not everyone is a 'natural parent'. Understanding the aging process, caring for those with dementia and doing this alongside work or other family responsibilites is not something that everyone can learn to do without help. As a greater proportion of the population is involved in caring for older relatives, health and social services, churches and voluntary organisations need to give more thought to this. Attitudes to the elderly and an appreciation of ageing should be something that schools tackle in a positive light as well.

I must pay tribute to Mr Nicklinson and his family for the very courageous way they have brought this dilemma to the public's attention and to Jane Worroll for her persistence in bringing to light the truth of her mother's situation.

Monday, 27 August 2012

A Useful Read for Rural Christians

Bishop James and I attended a national conference called Faith and the Future of The Countryside in 2010. It was the subject of my very first ever blog post back in November of that year (when, as I recall, the countryside was under a thick blanket of snow and the farmers were struggling to get out to feed their livestock.) Alan Smith and Jill Hopkinson have now published material that came from that very significant conference and their book is an excellent resource for churches, providing theological reflection and practical pastoral insight for everyone who is concerned about rural life and the place of Christian communities. It tackles more than just churchy issues. There are chapters about

England's Rural Economies
Land and Human Well-Being
How Should We Eat? The Principles and Practice of Just Food
A Theological Perspective on Sustainability
Planning and Housing; Power and Values in Rural Communities
Older People in the Country
Rural Mental Health and Well-Being
The Metaphor of Trees, Woods and Forests as Symbols of Creation
A Rural Perspective on Christian Formation and the Big Society
The Contribution of Church Tourism to the Rural Economy
The Spread of the Gospel Through the Occasional Offices in a Small Rural Village

12 really engaging chapters (perhaps one a week as a focus for preaching or for reflection at prayer groups?) I am still in the middle of it and finding that the themes of the chapters chime in very much with my everyday ministry. Alan Smith is Bishop of St Albans and co-author with Peter Shaw of The Reflective Leader. Julie Hopkinson is the National Rural Officer for the Church of England and has attended training events for rural and multi parish benefices in our Diocese recently. She co-edited Re-Shaping Rural Ministry. The book is published by Canterbury Press, 2012.

Ambition for Mission

The Diocese of Ripon and Leeds has taken a good look at the degree to which we are 'fit for growth' and the things we need to do to sustain parishes and other places where mission and ministry are happening.  You can read all about this on the Diocesan website and also download a pdf document 'Preparing the Way With Prayer' that has some really good suggestions for how your parish or group can pray about mission and how your meetings can become more focused on mission, growth and realisitc sustainability. 

One of the main things to come out of the work was the suggestion that EVERY PCC sould have a MISSION ACTION PLAN. I wrote about these in my Visitation letter, earlier this year. 'I am encouraging every PCC to review the way in which planning happens and to ensure that they have a Mission Action Plan. This is a short document which sets out the PCC's vision and aims and includes a brief plan stating its priorities and identifying what the PCC is going to focus on and achieve over the coming year. For some PCCs a 3-5 year period will be more appropriate. There is great advantage in a PCC setting aside time to pray and take a good look at its vision and ways of working. What is God calling you to be and do? What resources do you need? An awayday or an evening to consider these questions will help a PCC to prioritize, draw up a plan of action and identify what it needs in terms of people, buildings, finance and outside expertise.'  Adrian Alker, our Director of Mission Resourcing, has compiled a leaflet explaining how to go about this for PCCs who would like to undertake this sort of planning for the first time. e amil me if you would like a copy or if you would like one of the diocesan or bishop's team to come and work with you on preparing a Mission Action Plan  

During the Ambition for Mission process, three working parties came up with the following recommendations which I quote from the Diocesan website.

'Financial sustainability

The consequences of the economic downturn are being felt in communities across the diocese. The impact of job losses, service cuts, VAT increases and other economic factors mean that finances will remain tight over the coming few years. We need to look together within the church, and other sectors, to sustainable solutions. Four objectives were identified:
Objective 1
A diagnostic tool- a viability toolkit - will be developed to better understand the viability and long term sustainability of individual parishes.
Objective 2
To consider alternative or complementary models for share management.
Objective 3
To examine the best fundraisers and identify best practice in stewardship and fundraising, seeing how this can be effectively communicated across the Diocese.
Objective 4
To review our strategic approach to housing management.

Mission innovation and development

The second set of proposals aim at reversing downward trends which suggest that by the middle of this century worshipping Christian communities in large areas will have disappeared altogether. The report proposes prayer, strategic planning and a creative focusing of resources to stop that happening.
The following objectives were identified:
  1. A programme of prayer for the overall goals across the Diocese, led by the Bishops.
  2. A strategic, mission-focused assessment model for mission.
  3. Encouragement of Mission Action Planning across the Diocese. MAP skills should be developed in each deanery.
  4. The diocese should recognize, affirm and resource the significant gifts of lay people in the Diocese.
  5. Further resource and accelerate the Leading Your Church into Growth programme across the Diocese with the opportunity to share in the Growing Healthy Churches process.
  6. There should be joined-up, well planned strategic thinking about church planting, Fresh Expressions and ‘missional ‘communities in the Diocese.
  7. Resource and accelerate the Interns Programme across the Diocese.
  8. Encourage each local church to have an annual nurture course.
  9. A Mission Innovation Fund should be piloted for two years in areas of social justice, eco and social action projects in parishes to grow new and refresh existing discipleship.
  10. Train, resource and exploit new technology and new innovation in communication.
Clergy and Lay Development and Employment.

The third area looked at as that of decisions about deployment and appointments of clergy, idenitfying and supporting leaders and fostering a vision among church leaders for spiritual and numerical growth. Again, four main objecties were identified:
Objective 1
To review current appointment practices in order to prioritise spiritual and numerical growth.
Objective 2
To look at the strategic deployment of laity and clergy for spiritual and numerical growth.
Objective 3
To look at how we can identify and train leaders who can support spiritual and numerical growth.
Objective 4
To investigate how the Diocese might increasingly foster a vision for spiritual and numerical growth, developing deanery plans that have mission as their main driver.'


August has had a different feel, this year. I think, in the first part, the country was so taken up with the Olympics that no one was doing more than they really had to. There seemed to be a sort of collective, national relaxation even amongst those who were only following the progress of Team GB with half an eye. And then a lot of people went on holiday. We've been here all summer, having been away earlier in the year. So I've been conscious of a sense of empathy with people for whom it is not possible to get away on holiday. One church even runs a 'Holiday at Home' scheme so that people can have a break in their year-long daily routine and find company and fun without having to go away. There are daily activities, talks and entertainment at church and trips out to places of local interest, films and cafes.
Refreshment of spirit (not to mention the relaxation of body that comes with it) is something we all need. A break in routine, a chance to meet new people, an opportunity to be with those who make us laugh and help us forget ourselves. Although we've not been away, August has been a time of renewal. Inspired by the Olympics, I've enjoyed teaching myself to swim back stroke. I've also relished unhurried quiet prayer at the start of the day and time to choose, cook and enjoy the food we eat in a more leisurely way (so often my husband does this and/or we have rushed meals which are largely pre-prepared.) I know life will get back to a more hectic pace but, today, I'm just gratefully savouring the shalom of not having to keep to a tight schedule!  

Church in Wales Review Sketches Future Directions

The Church in Wales recently commissioned a review of mission and ministry and the structures which will support the church of the future. The report of the review group was published in July and you can read it (45 pages) here

The group visited every diocese in Wales and spoke to around 1,000 people who attended open meetings. "The overwhelming impression we have received from these meetings and submissions is an awareness of the need for change, a desire to change, and a commitment to change." I think the report has resonances for dioceses and regions like ours. Having grown up in rural mid Wales, I can see parallels between how our most rural areas relate to their ministry areas - there are similar complexities. 

The report contains 50 recommendations which have been acclaimed as quite radical.  Perhaps they are radical if you read them from a church perspective, but they strike me as much less so if you read them from a 'change-in-organisations' perspective, from which angle they border on common sense and cumulative learning-from-experience. My impression on reading the report was that we are doing or talking about quite a number of these recommendations already except for those that require substantial legal or structural change. (For example creating new ministry areas and teams and reviewing buildings for their sustainability and community use, both of which we have begun to talk about but are only doing in a rather half-hearted way, hoping that real change will not be necessary, in my opinion!) The most notable recommendations from the report include 
  • Replace parishes with larger ministry areas, containing around 25 parishes, which would, where possible be aligned to the catchment areas of secondary schools. These ministry areas will be served by a team of clergy and lay people. Small parishes in groups of 8 or 10 are no long sustainable; one priest alone cannot serve as many as 10 parishes, bearing the burden of all the extra attendance at meetings and administration which this kind of multiple of small units necessitates.
  • Train lay people to play a more active part in church leadership.
  • Engage with young people by working more closely with all schools, not just church schools. Train clergy and lay people to do this.
  • Use social media as a norm of communication and, again, train people in the church for this.
  • Develop new forms of worship to reach out to those unfamiliar with church services; hold them at times other than Sunday morning, and, where appropriate, in other buildings such as schools and village halls.
  • Adapt some church buildings for use by the whole community; close other church buildings that are not needed.
  • Sell parsonages so that clergy can buy or rent their own homes.
  • Work more closely with other denominations.
  • Make it a priority to nurture Welsh-speaking ordinands in the church.
I've left in the recommendation about Welsh speaking ordinands for two reasons. Firstly, to remind anyone who reads the report to read it carefully - the Church of England is not the Church in Wales and is rather differently placed in the social structures of community life. The Welsh church has a very different history in respect of its relationship to other denominations, to schools, to government and civic life and you cannot jump directly from the Welsh situation to the English. Secondly, it reminds us that to stay alive, every church, in every kind of cultural setting, should be producing indigenous ministry, lay and ordained. Without this the future is precarious. I also like very much the recommendation about schools. I have always thought (and tried to put into practice) that a parish church should be relating to every school in its area, not just the church schools!

There is a lot of food for thought in this report. It may not be directly applicable to our situation but there is certainly enough similarity in the questions we should be asking about how the future is going to be sustainable and how we work toward change in places where there is resistance or a 'let's bury our heads in the sand and hope for the best' approach. This makes it a worthwhole read. The members of the review group were prominent thinkers with a blend of experience in dealing with matters ecclesiastical and organisational: Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the former Bishop of Oxford; Professor Charles Handy, the eminent writer and adviser on business and organisational theory (and son of a Church of Ireland archdeacon); and Professor Patricia Peattie, former Convenor of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Standing Committee and the first chairwoman of the Lothian University Hospitals NHS Trust.

The questions the review group were asked to address are good ones for every diocese

1) Are the resources available being deployed efficiently and effectively to enable the mission of the Church?

2) Is the organisation of the Church in Wales one which enables the Church to be effective
in addressing the nation of Wales?

3) How should the organisation be adapted to enable the Church to live more fully into a
model of Church life which is theologically and missionally coherent and sustainable in the long term?

Saturday, 25 August 2012


Last time he went to Banks Music Shop in York, I asked my husband to get me some music by Schumann, 'Anything!' I said. He came back with the Abegg Variations and Kreisleriana. An interesting choice. The Abegg Variations are one of Schumann's earlier pieces (1830), not really difficult to play and 'transparent' for want of a better word. They seem to come from the same stable as his cheerful programme music for students. Kreisleriana, by contrast, was written in 1838 in a period during which Schumann and Clara struggled to marry against the wishes of her family (they finally achieved this in 1840, the day before her 21st birthday) and at a time when the fragility of his mental state was becoming obvious. 

Robert Scumann 1810 - 1856

Kreisleriana is a very demanding piece. It is so difficult to make sense of it that I completely gave up.  After several attempts to bash through parts of it, I ordered a recording so that I could hear how someone else  made sense of it. (I always feel that this is defeat, but anyway, it has helped me make some progress!) The work is exhausting and disturbing and strangely, powerfully addictive as it draws you into its rich melodic and harmonic patterns. Schumann himself wrote that it is 'music which is fantastic and mad.' It certainly takes huge amounts of energy and concentration to play and always leaves you feeling you haven't quite got there in terms of understanding what it is that the music requires of you. The Larrousse Encyclopedia of Music puts it like this, 'His piano compositions are nearly always based on short themes which he develops by harmonic progressions which, in turn, affect the melodic line, a dialogue which is very revealing of Scumann's troubled state of mind...his compositions seem rather like pages from a personal diary, fragmented, precise and profuse in musical invention.' This is nowhere more true than with Kreisleriana, I feel. As well as being technically almost impossible (especially if you keep to the indicated tempi), it is a piece that continually yearns toward resolution then abruptly resolves in a short cadence and moves on to a new idea that turns out to be a reworking of an old idea....a hovering, again and again, around the same theme which is not quite the same.

Playing it, living with it, makes me aware of paradox - that mental illness and profound creativity often co-exist, that obsessive ideas can reveal the way to a release that is breath-taking in its strangeness, that yearning can break out in unspeakable beauty or surprising playfulness that is suffused with joy. There is a darkness about this piece of which I am not afraid - it is rich and majestic and ultimately welcoming but, of the restlessness, I am afraid; it possesses a 'no-place-to-lay-your-head' manic quality which runs on to madness or exhaustion.

The work has been described as a psychological music-drama and it is based around the character of Johannes Kreisler from the writings of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Throughout much of his life, Schumann identified with two characters who represented his inner world - the cheerful, instinctive, open Floristan and the dark, brooding Eusebius. Kreisleriana has its 'Floristan' moments but it is, I think, more noticeably from the world of Eusebius. I find it fascinating to discover how grappling with a piece like this reveals the composer to you in ways that words or biographies cannot.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Chancel Repair Liability

Some of you may have seen the article in the Telegraph (July 2012) about Chancel Repair Liability. I have received a number of enquiries as a result and so I thought it would be helpful to clarify the situation.

What is Chancel Repair Liability?

 Many churches which were built before 1850 have Lay Rectors who, for historic reasons, have some liability, acquired through ownership of land and enforceable in law, for the financial burden of repairing the chancel of the parish church.

 All such land-based liability must be registered by 12th October 2013 at H.M. Land Registry. If the liability is not registered, it will lapse when the land next changes hands. Should PCCs fail to register such a liability, it could be argued that they have failed in their duty to manage their assets according to the guidance set out by the Charity Commissioners. This might adversely affect a PCC's ability successfully to attract grant aid in the future. It is essential that all PCCs with buildings dating from before 1850 check to see if there are any Chancel Repair Liabilities on their church’s chancel. If your PCC has not yet done so, it should  check now, in good time before October 2013.  Note that the reigstration is 12th October not 31st!

 Chancel Repair Liability will be recorded in one or more of the following places

·        Your church’s Terrier

·        The local Records Office

·        The National Archives at Kew in a document called the Tithe Redemption Commission Record of Ascertainments (1936) index no. IR104/107-8

·        The Diocesan Registry

Some Chancel Repair Liabilities are individually held by Lay Rectors. Others are corporately held (eg. in the case of the Church Commissioners, a college or a cathedral.) Once you have identified the existence of a lay rector(s) or a corporate liability, the PCC should discuss the line of action to be taken. Most of the publicity that has arisen has been around the liability of individuals who do not have the means to fulfil their responsibility under law. Such cases give rise to moral and pastoral dilemmas for PCCs.  Legal advice should be sought in all such cases. It is essential that all PCC discussions of Chancel Repair Liability and any resolutions be fully recorded in the PCC minutes. In most cases, discovery of Chancel Repair Liability will lead to registration at the Land Registry.

More information can be found at

 Church of England FAQ’s on Chancel Repair Liability  

The National Archives Website (for £135 they will search their records for PCC's)  (type chancel repair liability into their search box)

The address of the National Archive is

The National Archive,

 Tel. 02088763444

Postscript; Simon Martin of the Arthur Rank Centre has sent in another two very helpful links to advice on the Arthur Rank Centre Site, though I must stress this is not only an issue for rural churches! 


Monday, 13 August 2012

Well Done Team Yorkshire!

Had Yorkshire been a country, it would have come 12th in the Olympic medals table, with 7 gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze. What an achievment for one county! The first British medal of the games was won by cyclist Lizzie Armitstead from Otley and that set us off on a roll! Well done to Yorkshire's wonderful athletes!

Ed Clancy (Huddersfield) Cycling
Luke Campbell, (Hull) Boxing
Nicola Adams (Leeds) Boxing
Nicola Wilson (North Allerton) Eventing
Jessica Ennis (Sheffield) Heptathlon
Alistair Brownlee (Leeds) Triathlon
Jonathan Brownlee (Leeds) Triathlon
Tom Ransley (York) Rowing
Kat Copeland (North Yorks) Rowing
Andy Triggs-Hodge (Dales) Rowing

We also celebrate all their team colleagues who contributed to the remarkably high standard of sporting achievment and the great atmosphere. Lots of the volunteers came from the region and many gave up precious weeks of holiday to support the Games with enthusiasm. Wasn't it amazing? I'm looking forward to the Paralympics, starting on 29th August.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

FunKey Newsflash

The FunKey Service at St Mary's Richmond has three bits of exciting news! After less than six months they will soon have their first baptisms AND on September 21st the Archbishop of York will be visiting them to join in with a service AND they have just launched a splendid new blog with absolutely up to the minute info and great pics! Well worth a visit.

God bless Roger the Rabbit from the FunKey website

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder

Sarah Airey of the Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders Trust has sent in some information asking churches to consider getting involved in FADS Day in some way. There are plenty of suggestions here for things you might do. There is a variety of medical opinion about the effect of a very small amount of alcohol in and just before pregnancy, but the tragedy, today, is that many women drink quite a bit even just socially without even realising this can affect their unborn child. We have friends who have adopted a child with the Disorder and the effect on her life because of the difficulties caused is far reaching and will be with her for the whole of her life.

National FASD Day - 9th September 2012

Helpline 01608 811599

The FASD Trust  (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) is organising a BIG BREAKFASD on 9th September. The Trust is urging people to abstain from alcohol for 9 days and organise a BIG BREAKFASD to fundraise and heighten general awareness of the condition. FADS Day is on the ninth day of the ninth month every year. The date signifies the nine months of pregnancy. 
The purpose of FASD Day is to promote awareness of the risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy, and to provide support and encouragement both for women during an alcohol-free pregnancy, and for the families and carers looking after children and adults affected by FASD.
Julia Brown, from The FASD Trust says, “Mums to be get mixed messages in pregnancy and social changes have led to an increase in female drinking, especially binge drinking and for younger women.”
“People are now well aware that smoking is bad for the unborn baby, but medically alcohol is more dangerous than cigarettes.  The most dangerous time is the first and last three months of pregnancy. The first three is when the foetus is forming physically; the last three is when the brain can suffer significant damage.”

“The message should be that there is No Safe Time and no Safe Limit for Drinking if you get pregnant.”

“FASD Day, our alcohol abstinence FASD and BreakFASD are aimed at drawing attention to these facts, and fundraising so that we can raise awareness of the problem.”

FASD is a series of wide ranging and preventable birth defects caused entirely by a woman drinking alcohol at any time during her pregnancy, often even before she knows that she is pregnant. Problems include both physical difficulties and memory, learning and attention disorders (see below for more details.)

·         1% of the general population suffer from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)

·         A significant percentage of children being released for adoption suffer from FASD – with figures as high as 90% in some areas of the UK

·         Only an estimated 18-25% of those with FAS are able to live independently as adults.

Suggestions for drawing people's attention to FASD

1.    Abstain from alcohol for a 9-day FASD

Abstain from alcohol for the first nine days of September and donate the money that would normally be spent on alcohol to The FASD Trust.

Register your interest in the 9-day FASD from alcohol by emailing for a joining pack. Each day during September, we will be e-mailing you a note of encouragement.

We would like your photos, tweets, Facebook comments, etc in return.

2.    Big BreakFASD

Menu Suggestions:

On 9th September at 9.09am (or even 9.09pm) invite all your friends round for a delicious Big BreakFASD for a donation.
·         Continental selection of croissants, Danish pastries, toast and preserves, coffee/tea orange juice

·         Bagels, scrambled egg and smoked salmon

·         Eggs Benedict

·         Kippers or Haddock

·         A pile of pancakes with maple syrup

·         Traditional bacon, egg, sausage

To register your interest in holding a BreakFASD, send an e-mail to Patrick at for a poster, invitations to send to your friends, suggestions on how to make your event successful and a link to a video to show your friends explaining about FASD and the work of The FASD Trust.

3.    Church Involvement

As 9th September falls on a Sunday, we are inviting churches to take 9 minutes of their service to stop and pray for all those affected by FASD and the work of The FASD Trust.
Register your interest in praying for us and more details of how your church can be involved in this project, including daily prayer points for the 9 days, Powerpoint slides for your church notices, and how to organise a church BreakFASD, please e-mail Julia at

To find out more about plans to mark FASD Day in 2012 and to see how you can take part in the planned activities or to make a donation, please see

Make a donation

Donations can be made through the Charity Choice web site:


More about FASD

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term for several diagnoses that are all related to prenatal exposure to alcohol (i.e. while a baby is still in the womb).  

FASD is a series of preventable birth defects caused entirely by a woman drinking alcohol at any time during her pregnancy, often even before she knows that she is pregnant.

·         1% of the general population suffer from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)

·         A significant percentage of children being released for adoption suffer from FASD – with figures as high as 90% in some areas of the UK

·         Only an estimated 18-25% of those with FAS are able to live independently as adults.

These defects of the brain and body exist only because of prenatal exposure to alcohol. Often the condition goes undiagnosed, or is partially diagnosed / “misdiagnosed”, for example as autism or ADHD, and this can lead to secondary disabilities.

The challenges a person with FASD faces may include

The Brain                                                                  
Intellectual Disability; lowered IQ    
Memory Disorders
Learning Disorders
Attention Disorders
Sensory Disorders
Speech and Language Disorders
Mood Disorders
Behavioural Disorders
Autistic-like Behaviours
Sleep Disorders

The Body

Visual and Eye Defects
Hearing and Ear Defects
Mouth, Teeth and Facial Defects
Weak Immune System
Liver Damage
Kidney Defects
Heart Defects
Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Defects
Height and Weight Deficiencies
Hormonal Disorders
Skeletal Defects
Genital Defects

Secondary Disabilities

School Expulsions
Chronic Unemployment
Unplanned Pregnancies
Depression and Suicide

About the FASD Trust

The FASD Trust provides support, training and information to those affected by FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders), their parents/carers and the professionals, such as teachers, doctors, social workers and others seeking to assist them.

In addition, The FASD Trust seeks to raise awareness of FASD, in order to improve the understanding of those affected and the support offered to them by the wider community and to seek to lower the incidence rate of FASD in the UK, as people begin to understand the potential risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

The FASD Trust was set up in 2007 by Simon & Julia Brown who have an adopted daughter affected by FASD. After their daughter was diagnosed, Simon & Julia were surprised by the lack of support and information available and The FASD Trust was set up in response to the "gap" they encountered in support services and the lack of knowledge about this condition.

The FASD Trust reaches out to all sectors of society, to ensure the vulnerable individuals with FASD are supported and protected. They now run support groups for families across the UK, have a Medical & Healthcare Professionals Forum, have guides available for teachers, and are developing a number of other resources, especially for social workers, foster carers and adopters, as many of the most severely affected children are found in the care system.

The FASD Trust also works with young teenage parents, grandparents, birth parents and seeks to be compassionate in its response to anyone affected by this lifelong, but not life-limiting condition.

To register your interest in holding a BreakFASD, send an e-mail to Patrick at and we will send you a poster, invites to send to your friends, suggestions on how to make your event successful and we will send you nearer the time a link to a video to show your friends explaining about FASD and the work of The FASD Trust.

Ruth Etchells

I was deeply saddened today to hear of the death, yesterday, of Ruth Etchells, the former Principal of St John's College Durham. Ruth inspired a generation of young people, many of whom have given their lives to the service of Christ in different ways. She preached a wonderful sermon about Esther (the only book in the Bible not to actually mention God but full of characters behind whom there is a great sense of God's activity) at Holy Trinity Cambridge in the early 1980's which I can only describe as one of the reasons I am a priest in the church today. I have so much for which to be grateful to her - in my generation, she opened our eyes to what was possible and believed we could, by the grace of God, and only by the grace of God, achieve it.

The Revd Professor David Wilkinson, present Principal of St John's College writes   

'Ruth was the first female Principal of an Anglican College and was the architect of seeing John's as a place of academic excellence coupled with an ethos of a gentle and confident Christian faith. 

'She was a person who embodied such an ethos.  Many of us were deeply influenced by her pastoral encouragement, wisdom, inspiration and life of prayer.  A gifted preacher and teacher, we were privileged that her last sermon was given as part of College Communion last year.

'We give thanks for such a rich and fruitful life and that at death she looked forward to resurrection with her Lord.

'A few years ago, [Dr] Margaret Masson and I nominated Ruth for an award from the University.  She was awarded the Chancellor's Medal for services to the University.  In what we wrote on that occasion you will get a sense of Ruth's unique contribution to St John's:

''Without Ruth Etchells' vision and tireless work, St John's may not have survived as a recognized College in Durham University.  In addition, she has been a gifted academic, a groundbreaking leader and a servant of the University beyond Durham.

''Ruth Etchells arrived in Durham in 1968 to be a lecturer in the English Department and also to be a resident tutor at Trevelyan College where she was later Vice Principal.  Her first and continuing contribution to the University was as an outstanding and inspiring teacher of undergraduates.

''For many years, she taught a groundbreaking course on Modern Drama which allowed students at the time to study cutting edge, even shocking material - it was the era of Beckett, Osborne, the emerging Pinter - and all this was new and radical within the context of Durham English.  Ruth's course gave students exciting new insights into what it meant to study English Literature and in particular, ways in which it might have something to say about issues of ultimate meaning in their own lives and culture.  Derived from her teaching, Etchell's popular book, "Unafraid to Be" was influential on a whole generation of students across the land and was one of the early catalysts to the emerging discipline of Theology and Literature.  She influenced countless students to continue this kind of cross disciplinary exploration and engagement with contemporary culture; some of them in turn went on to become influential figures in their own right.

''Influential, inspiring and groundbreaking though she was as a teacher, Ruth's key contribution to the University was in her ten year Principalship of St John's College between 1979 and 1989.  When Ruth took up this appointment in January 1979, it seemed like a risky and courageous choice.

''It was unexpected in a number of ways: Ruth was a lay person taking on the leadership of a college which was responsible for training clergy.  Her discipline was English Literature, not Theology.  And she was a woman - the first female Principal of a Church of England Theological College and at a time when the Church did not ordain women to the priesthood.  The college had only started admitting women as students five year previously.

''There is no doubting that Ruth's dynamic leadership established St John's as a flourishing modern college respected in both University and Church.  But her most exceptional contribution has probably been the fruit of her remarkable personal and pastoral skills, her perceptive ability to read people as well as she read her beloved literature and her capacity to inspire others to see even the most mundane as ablaze with meaning.  Her sometimes uncanny prescience about people was always accompanied by a kindness and humanity and a sureness of touch that helped to restore perspective and hope.  Confidante of shy undergraduates and Prince Bishops of the church alike; wise, forgiving, humane, and utterly confidential - Ruth continues to be a much valued advisor long after she has retired.

''Ruth's was one of the leading lay members of her time of the Church of England.  She served most significantly, on the Crown Appointments Committee, using all her political, personal and spiritual skills to help shape the Church of England through the eighties and nineties. 

''In retirement, Ruth has served on a number of significant national and local committees, continuing to serve both Church and local community wherever she could.  She has also continued to write, most notably publishing a number of volumes of prayers. She also took up a new craft: working in stained glass.

''She has excelled in this new medium and her works continue to be in demand around Durham and further afield.

''Uncompromising yet deeply human, utterly serious yet with wonderful taste for the absurd, Ruth Etchells is a remarkable woman whose leadership and life has made an indelible impression on countless individuals and as well as on one small but much loved college in Durham.''

Thank you to Dr Margaret Masson and Professor David Wilkinson for those words of tribute which bring Ruth so vividly to mind. Margaret's address at the time of the award of the Chancellor's Medal to Ruth in 2010 can be read at

Ruth was a poet, so I will end with her own words which, like her, gently challenge us to think differently.

The Ballad of the Judas Tree

In Hell there grew a Judas Tree
Where Judas hanged and died
Because he could not bear to see
His master crucified
Our Lord descended into Hell
And found his Judas there
For ever haning on the tree
Grown from his own despair
So Jesus cut his Judas down
And took him in his arms
"It was for this I came" he said
"And not to do you harm
My Father gave me twelve good men
And all of them I kept
Though one betrayed and one denied
Some fled and others slept
In three days' time I must return
To make the others glad
But first I had to come to Hell
And share the death you had
My tree will grow in place of yours
Its roots lie here as well
There is no final victory
Without this soul from Hell"
So when we all condemned him
As of every traitor worst
Remember that of all his men
Our Lord forgave him first

© D. Ruth Etchells

Celebrating Mary Sumner

When I was in Wales, earlier this summer, I picked up a little book of short stories called All Shall Be Well. It's edited by Stephanie Tillotson and Penny Anne Thomas and published by a Welsh company - Honno, Dinas Powys - this year. To my surprise, the second story in the book was by Jan Fortune, one of the first women to be ordained priest in the Church of England in 1994. In fact the title of the compendium is taken from her story. A priest who had four children in the first 10 years of her training and ministry. Interesting, I thought.

The story which unfolded was one of sheer inability on the part of senior members of the church and PCCs to accommodate the fact that young women need arrangements that will allow them time to bear and care for their children as well as to work. On one occasion it was suggested that she return to ministry ten days after having a Ceasarian.  Her husband and also the husband of another woman mentioned in the story gave up their jobs at one point to care for the children yet PCCs, archdeacons and bishops acted together to force one of these women into a situation where she was only allowed to work part time (40 hours!) and only paid £5,000 pa so that the family had very little income. The story gets you inside just how this feels when you are young parents trying to hold together your home and family and cope with pregnancy in a parsonage. Sadly, Jan concludes, in the story, that she can no longer go on bringing her children up in the midst of these pressures. 'I walked into my youngest child's room and held him tightly. I remembered the pristine promise of each baby, the immensity of love and hope that came with each birth. 'This is life in all its fulness,' I said aloud to the half-asleep child. 'You, not them.' She feels she can no longer go on 'chasing parishes that seemed only to be afraid of mothers and resentful of children' . She is forced to choose. 'And I knew that all would be well.' She has since returned to parish ministry for a time and is the author of novels, poetry and several books about education.

All this happened a decade ago. Although the church does now have a maternity policy I still hear, on a regular basis, from women ordinands and priests who find the inability of the institution to see pregnancy as more than an inconvenience hard to square with the glorious rhetoric of support for family life and mothers that is heard on a regular basis in prayers and sermons, especially on Mothering Sunday and at festivals of Mary the Mother of Christ. I spoke to someone last year who was thrown out of a cathedral for breast feeding her baby near a statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus.  I heard recently from a young parish priest whose child had accute appendicitis; she had a funeral to take that morning and it took many phone calls before she could find cover and get into the waiting ambulance to go to hospital with her child. Yet I'm constantly told that we either can't or don't need to arrange for someone in every diocese to carry a bleep and be on call for such emergencies. I've heard so many sermons about bringing up children and supporting parents being the responsibility of the whole church, yet when it comes down to it we have (probably today) women in vicarages who just can't get hold of the help they need when a family crisis coincides with a serious ministerial need.    

I wish I had £5 for every bishop who has asked me 'why don't more young women come forward for ministry?' Well, I'm going to point them to Jan's hearbreaking story in future.

Today is the day the church remembers Mary Sumner, the founder of the Mothers' Union. It was complete chance that I stumbled across Jan's story last night, but it did give me pause for thought as I presided at the Eucharist in the cathedral this morning. 'O Lord, bless all families...' What are we doing to support the real, lived, messy lives of mothers who are actually bearing children at this moment in time? Will the Mothers' Union campaign for proper treatment of women employed by the church and women clergy who are pregnant? We can't influence or inspire wider society when our own house is in disarray. Wouldn't it be good if churches could be communities that offer all mothers and fathers the kind of support and understanding they need to cope with the uncertainties that are a normal part of parenthood, recognising that this is a phase of life which requires flexibility and creativity in shaping life's routines. 

The Revd Dr Jan Fortune-Wood has been a parish priest at various times. She and her husband home educated their children and she has written two books about non-coercive parenting and autonomous education, Doing it Their Way and Without Boundaries, published by Educational Heretics Press. You can find her educaton website at You can also read an interview with her about her current work as an author on AmeriCymru at  

A little post script about Honno, the publishing company, too. It has quite an inspiring story itself.

''Twenty-five years ago Honno began a revelatory publishing history that has become an essential facet of the whole culture of Wales. From classics, forgotten or neglected, to contemporary work across the creative and critical divides, it is Honno which has placed writing by and about women where it should always have been, at the centre of our past understanding and our future sensibility.'' --Dai Smith, Chair of the Arts Council of Wales

''Honno's story is one of heroic and necessary endurance; for a quarter of a century its workers have committed themselves to discovering new and innovative voices and to resurrecting unjustly neglected ones. A wonderful and incredible achievement that proves the colossal value of the written word.'' --Niall Griffiths