Thursday, 11 July 2013

With Great Gratitude!

I am not continuing to write on Archdeacon in the Dales, but I see that quite a few people still read it. Exceptionally, after the decision to create a new Diocese of Leeds (West Yorkshire and the Dales - not forgetting North Yorkshire and parts of Co Durham!) I'd like to send you all a brief message and this seemed the best medium - 

'Greetings! Following the General Synod's approval of the Dioceses Commission Scheme on Monday, I want to send my good wishes to everyone in the three dioceses as you come together. I am sure this will prove to be a move that opens up an exciting future with a good many possibilities for parishes, cathedrals and staff to work together to be effective in mission and service. I keep the three dioceses and everyone affected by the decision in my prayers. I also want to thank you for all the many, many kind messages you have sent over the past few weeks which Dave and I have greatly appreciated.  We have received so many it is taking some time to respond to them all, but we are grateful for friendship, love and prayers.'

Janet Henderson and Dave Challoner

New blog is at It's about social justice, community development and theology, trying to be forward looking!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Moving On

The blog's author is moving to the Diocese of Llandaff in the Church in Wales. She will be installed as Dean of Llandaff Cathedral on Saturday 2nd March 2013. Llandaff's association with St Teilo dates from around 546 and the cathedral is dedicated to Ss Peter and Paul, and Ss Dyfrig, Teilo (whose tomb is situated in the presbytery) and Euddogwy. Llandaff is on the banks of the River Taff, about two miles from the centre of Cardiff.  Thank you all for reading Archdeacon in the Dales over the past two years. Look out for a new blog from Llandaff in due course!

A Celtic Blessing
On our hearts and our homes, the blessing of God.
In our coming and going, the peace of God.
In our life and believing, the love of God.
At our end and new beginning,
The arms of God to welcome us and bring us home.
                                                                                      The Iona Community, Shorter Evening Liturgy


Life seems to have been ridiculously busy over the past two weeks with talks to give about the Dioceses Commission, training days for area deans and lay chairs, meetings at Church House and the usual run of services and other meetings. As well as that, organised by Vicki and the good folk of Christ Church Harrogate Centre, we have succeeded in moving the Archdeaconry office to Harrogate. My successor, the Revd Nicholas Henshall, has now been 'in post' for three days he is contactable on 

So, sadly, it is time to say 'goodbye' on Archdeacon in the Dales. Thank you to all who have read regularly and to those who have dipped in occasionally. Thank you to all who have commented, encouraged or admonished either on the bolg or by e mail or when we have met. I now realise the potential of digital space to create community. Yes, it is a different sort of community from the one that meets face to face, and it not unrelated to that community as it brokers introductions of people with similar interests and concerns. It is also a community that can lobby for things. I have been astonished how many casues or concerns I have been drawn into through the online community and how much difference can be made by using the internet to organise debate, protest and mutual support. It is also an effective way to get into deep conversations with people about matters of faith. And it can be fun!  

I was delighted to see so many at my farewell service at St Mary's Richmond on 20th January despite the appalling road conditions. A huge thank you to all who braved the elements and also to those who sent their apologies - having broken my arm in the snow in 2009 I am always pleased when people decide to stay at home rather than risk their safety. I cannot reply to everyone individually, but I do thatnk you you all most sincerely for your thoughtfulness, love and friendship. St Mary's choir once again sang a superb evensong and the hospitality flowed. Thank you, too, to John Chambers, Antony Kirby, Colin Hicks, Gillian Lunn and the refreshment team for organising the occasion. It was good to be among freinds and, though we will miss you all a great deal, I am sure we will be back from time to time to visit - we definitely have North Yorkshire on our (short) list of places for future holidays!

Someone asked me what my most abiding memories of the Archdeaconry will be. 'Too many to say,' is the answer, but here are some:

  • Slithering around on the ice in Aldbrough St John's on the way to an induction and being rescued by two kind people - one in a landrover and the other who had braved the elements to walk across the ice rink that was the village road.

  • Visiting the church at Kirkby Wiske to take a harvest service and finding it almost entirely surrounded by water.

  • Carols by candle light and harmonium at Thorton Steward.

  • Arranging to meet a farmer in the fog 'at the third cattle grid' on the moors above Nidderdale. I had my doubts, but we connected up OK!

  • Chips sitting on the wall with the bikers at Hawes after an evening meeting.

  • An open air ordination at Stalling Busk on a sultry summer's evening over looking Semerwater. (I had to remind the congregation that even the mosquitoes are God's own creatures.)

  • Complimenting a vet on his goat, only to discover it was a Norwegian sheep!

  • Stopping the car in numerous places (The Stang, Buttertubs, the road from Leyburn to Grinton above Swaledale, the road down from Green How across Bewerley Moor to Pateley) just to thank God for the majesty of the land and to drink it in for a few moments.

  • Going to countless churches and homes and schools and receiving a warm welcome.

  • The wonderful food - I can truly say I have never tasted better food than in Yorkshire!

  • Worshipping with 12 people or with 350, using the Book of Common Prayer or a powerpoint projector and Twitter, in a Grade 1 listed building or a tent, sitting on bales.

  • The liveliness and willingness to serve of the people who identify themselves as Christian in every community.

Thank you all for 6 years I will never forget. I will keep you in my prayers, especially over the next few months as decisions are made about the future shape of the Church of England in Yorkshire, and hope you will keep me in yours! 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Suchet on Beethoven

Along with about a quarter of the population, we had flu over Christmas. So I was very grateful to have been given John Suchet's new book  Beethoven, the Man Revealed published by Elliott and Thompson Ltd, London 2012.  I almost read it in one sitting. Suchet himself insists that the biography is primarily about Beethoven the man - this is not a study of his music but rather a book that gives us insight into his life (and especially his early formation) which then helps us to listen to his music with greater understanding.

Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler 1819

Beethoven had a singularly chaotic early life, born to parents who were simply not capable of giving him any stability or modelling for him a disciplined approach to everyday living, let alone giving him the personal skills needed to organise the life of a practising musician. The picture I had had of Beethoven's early life was that his later problems stemmed from the ill health, poverty and neglect of his parents. Suchet paints a picture that is a bit more complex - a well connected grandfather whom he hardly knew but of whom he could be proud and a somewhat sporadic relationship of affection with his mother and siblings, for whom he had to assume responsibility in his teenage years as his father's alchoholism took a grip. The memories of contemporaries who knew him as an unkempt and unsociable child tug at the heart strings.

Things started to go rather better for him in his late teenage years and early adulthood. Suchet takes great pains to describe for us a formative trip along the Rhine with fellow musicians showing Beethoven as a young man on a spree with friends who had similar interests. You can imagine the gesting and ribbing that took place though music was never far away and the trip ended with Beethoven giving an 'unparalleled display of virtuosity' at an inprovisation contest with the pianist Sterkel. By the time he was 26 he had moved to Vienna and was demonstrably the city's most accomplished all-round musician, mixing with aristocracy and royalty and making a fair income. His fame was spreading across central Europe and, as well as being outstanding (but often reluctant) at the contemporary fashion for improvisation, he had a good number of compositions to his name - though not yet a symphony. He had not been lucky in love but, in most other respects, it looked as though he had a great future ahead and was well positioned to devote himself to a life of perfomance, conducting and composition. Then disaster struck. He found he was going deaf. He began to lose his hearing shortly after a 'frightful attack of typhus' (it may not have been typhus but it was described as such by contemporaries.) We cannot be sure that the two occurrences were related, but gradually, over the next three years, Beethoven was forced to face the fact that the worst possible fate for a musician had befallen him.

Throughout this time, as at every other period of his life, he continued to pour out a constant stream of compositions, working on ever more demanding and complex works. -At this time he produced his first symphony and the Pathetique Sonata which represented a huge stride forward in the genre. But his increasing deafness was a disaster for him and, as denial gave way to realisation and acceptance that he could no longer hold a normal conversation or hear his own music well enough to conduct without embarrassment, he became depressed.  He sought solitude in the country and considered suicide. His heroic spirit won through. This was the man who, in his early life, admired Napoleon. We can only imagine what superhuman effort it took, but he decided that, for as long as he could compose, he would not end his own life. Although it was his musical genius that made his deafness such a very cruel blow, perhaps it was also this genius, expressing itself in an unstoppable urge to creativity, that saved his life.

The most striking thing about Beethoven is that whatever was going on in his personal life, whether he was in a happy phase, hoping for success in his latest flirtation or tormented by illness, loneliness or business problems, he just went on and on composing. Music, and music such as had never before been conceived of, flowed from him. Chaos, repeated disappointment in love, constant moving around from apartment to apartment, the success or failure of his music - none of these prevented him from composing, advancing all the while in the scope of his creative imagination. In many ways you get the impression that Beethoven did find comfort and fulfilment in his art. Yet he struggled so much in so many areas of his life. A deeply affectionate man, he never found the longed for wife to settle down with and he had to battle with the increasing social isolation that deafness inevitably brought in an age where there were no aids and there was little understanding of the difficulties. 

Beethoven showed his worst side in the way in which he relentlessly pursued the guardianship of his nephew in flagrant disregard for the wishes of both the boy himself and his mother. Why did he do this? Was it a mixture of loneliness, fear, hurt family pride and the obsessiveness which also drove him towards the family weakness - alchohol abuse? Gradually the paradox of a life that was falling apart and music that was reaching sublime heights deepened. At the time he was composing the Missa Solemnis, he was mistaken for a tramp and arrested. The constable who arrested him described him as wearing a moth-eaten old coat and no hat, having a suspicious manner and yelling at the top of his voice, 'I am Beethoven'. Clearly a madman. At the height of his arguments with his remaining brother, sister-in-law and nephew he was composing the sublime late quartets including the String Quartet in F, opus 135 with its almost light-hearted sections.

John Suchet's book achieves its end. He succeeds in telling the story of Beethoven's life in a way that gives some new emphases. He offers some personal theories where there are gaps or mysteries in the available data. But, above all, he presents us with the very moving and human story of a man called to live with an absolute imperative to produce music such as the world had never dreamt of while also bearing the burden of deafness. That he transcended this potent cocktail of potential and limitation is the miracle of Beethoven's life and legacy.   


Friday, 4 January 2013

A Sense of Place

Did any of you watch the programme in which Rowan Williams said Goodbye to Canterbury over the New Year? I think it was a BBC 2 production. In it, he took the viewer round Canterbury cathedral and spoke very movingly about what it had been like to live with the building over the past ten years. It is a place where you cannot but be conscious of history in the making, a place that reminds you that even the most seemingly permanent things change and a place of incessant pilgrimage. It looks two ways - inwards to Britain and outwards to mainland Europe and beyond. The most moving bit was, for me, when he spoke about what it does to you to have to preside at the eucharist in the place and on the date when one of your predecessors was brutally murdered. It must be difficult to live humbly and calmly with the spectre of Beckett's martyrdom yearly, if not daily before your eyes.

The programme set me thinking about what the buildings and places we worship in do to us. How do they shape what we focus on in worship, what we see as important (or perhaps don't see) and what we think about ourselves and our place in the order of things?  I was, for a number of years, Priest-in-Charge of St Patrick's church in Nuthall, Nottingham. Anne Ascough (of Fox's Martyrs fame) lived in the village for a while before her marriage. She espoused the Reformers' ideas and was said to have read scripture, in English, from the lectern in Lincoln cathedral.  She became a member of the Queen's court and a lay preacher but was eventually (aged around 24) tortured, tried and executed at the stake for her theological leanings in a plot that was really aimed to flush out Katherine Parr's Protestant sympathies and remove her from her position as Queen. Once I knew the story of Anne, I could never read from the lectern in Nuthall without thinking of her and what she and people like her had gone through so that we can read the Bible in our own language. I used to feel very ashamed of myself if I had not prepared my sermon properly in a way that I haven't quite done before or since. It seemed somehow deeply disrespectful to treat scripture lightly in the shadow of Anne's presence.

I think all the buildings I have worshipped in regularly over the years have had quite a profound influence on the person I have become. The fourth century foundation and early manuscripts of one church spoke inspirationally of the connection of our faith to its origins; the lack of imagery and the plain furniture and decor of another chapel focused me on the word, both scriptural and rational, and taught me not to leave my intellect behind when worshipping; the constant vandalism against the church buildng in another place focused the whole Christian family outwards to care beyond the bubble of church life and to campaign and work for social justice that was specific and tangible. My present job as an archdeacon means that I live the life of contrasts - one Sunday caught up in wonder by the possibilities of transcendence held out in the splendour of a vast building with a wonderful choir, another Sunday humbled and touched by the sincerity of a tiny gathering which materialises determinedly and courageously from the flood and fog-clad countryside. One Sunday, caught up suddenly in the realisation that about the same number of people would have been engaged in Prayer Book worship in that very church nearly 400 years ago, using the words we are using and sitting where we are sitting, gazing at the hills framed by the East window and a great oak tree. Another Sunday feeling the excitement of being part of a group worshipping together for the first time in a cricket club bar with the staff pulling pints and looking on in some puzzlement.

How does your church building challenge you and tangle with your life?