Friday, 30 December 2011

Queen Anne

Been reading an inspiring biography of Queen Anne, just lately. Her reign saw the union of Scotland and England to create the United Kingdom and the establishment of the economic basis for both the stability and the excesses of the eigtheenth century. Anne has often been overlooked as a weak monarch - someone of inferior education who could barely spell. Yet her story shows her to be a dutiful and stubborn person of great integrity and amazing firmness when it came to her beliefs and her sense of what was good for her people. She endured 17 pregnancies in the bid to provide an heir and it is utterly remarkable that, despite the demands on her physical well-being, she ruled with attention to detail and moral constistency.

In her day, the Church of England was beset with problems - the Tory party adopted the slogan 'The Church in Danger'. The problem was that the Church, of which she was Governor, was rent in two between 'High' and 'Low' parties. The Toleration Act of 1689 (which granted freedom of worship to all Trinitarian Protestants) had undermined the monopoly position of the Church of England, proving conclusively that there were a great many more Dissenters in the country than had previously been thought. The High Church Party emphasised loyalty to the Stuart line, the sanctity of the priesthood and the importance of ceremonial while the Low Church Party were wedded to more radical Protestant reform and all that that meant in terms of political alliances. Anne's personal sympathies were more in tune with the High Church party, but, like her predecessor, Elizabeth I, she had a great distrust for anything that tended to divide the nation, cause factions or boulster factious clergy. Henry Compton, the bishop of London, had taught her when she was the Lady Anne and had instilled in her a great respect for the doctrines of the Church of England as representing the true catholic faith.

The things that stand out for me in terms of Queen Anne's reign are to do with balance, duty, family, compassion and determination to assert her own views and independence of mind in a world in which she must have felt inferior in terms of her education and gender. I am not aware that anyone has appraised Anne as a feminist activist or politician but I think that she has something valuable to contribute to the 'can women have it all?' debate. She herself would not understand or sympathize with the question. Yet she is, I think, very much a woman who successfully blended personal belief, the call of family, professional or (in her case) constitutional duty and a real compassion for those for whom she had responsibility. I am not sure that she would have used the word 'successful' or indeed that most political commentators would use it. However, a close reading of her life reveals that Queen Anne worked with the personal, political and religious influences of her time to achieve a great deal that was valuable for the good of the nation.

Her chosen belief that the Church of England embodied a true interpretation of Christian tradition was, frankly, amazingly costly. It set her apart from her own, father, James II . Most historians downplay the significance of this; it is deeply costly to espouse beliefs which alienate us from our families, however remote. From an early age Anne showed her own independence of thought by very decidedly and even calaculatingly placing herself on the Protestant side of the national debate. Her Christian faith and understanding were deeply important to her and she adhered to her beliefs consistently and persistently even when under considerable pressure to give way.

Of course, the need to supply a Protestant heir and the power which accrues to a woman who can fulfill this role shaped Anne's life. Much has been written of the political outfall of her 17 pregnanacies. As someone who has, from time to time, been rendered very ill through gynaecological conditions, I marvel at Anne's capacity to undergo the physical and psychological trauma associated with bearing an heir while also coping with the day to day demands of monarchy in a time when the constitution was emerging and modern notions of monarchy taking shape. Were history to be written predominantly by women, I feel that Anne's contribution would be differently assessed.

Queen Anne's reign demonstrated a new departure in terms of compassion. Her reign had the singular distinction of being the first before 1760 during which there were no political executions despite the capture of several Jacobites who might have been executed for treason. She was recorded as having decreed that it would be 'a barbarous thing' to hang a woman when she was with child or to hang a man 'who has to support a wife and six children.'  Anne also shaped much of her life through friendships, notably with Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, but also with other prominent women of the day and, in this, she is very like modern women for whom a series of profound if somethimes turbulent friendships may turn out to to be the defining relationships of their lives.

She established Queen Anne's Bounty, a fund formed in 1704 to augment the livings of poor clergy and which was later used to build and repair parsonages. This was a very practical way of shoring up the ministry of the Church of England and in this, she showed her willingness to support in real terms the outworkings of her theological position as regards the church.

So Queen Anne gets my vote as someone who lived out her theological beliefs in very costly and practical ways and who was also ready to tread the difficult path of combining the moral duties which arise from a working (ie. constitutional or professional) life with the psychological and emotional demands of family life. To my way of thinking, she was the first truly modern monarch and a worthy mother of women who try to combine familial, theological and political vocations. To put it in contemporary language, she is an inspiration to women who wrestle with the demands of family, work, social expectation and traditional models of morality for the sake of our faith and our beliefs. She was more radical than ever she would have thought herself to be and she achieved some notable political advances through a balanced and undramatic sense of duty. 

Make your own assessment by reading Edward Gregg's  Queen Anne  Yale University Press 2001          


Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Greetings

A Very Happy Christmas to all readers!
Llawen iawn nadolig i'r holl ddarllenwyr!

O God who has made this most hallowed night resplendent with the glory of the true Light, grant that we who have known the mysteries of that Light on earth may enter into the fullness of his joys in Heaven.
Christmas Eve Midnight, Western Rite

Almighty God who has poured upon us the new light of thine Incarnate Word, grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives though Jesus Christ our Lord.
Mass of Christmas at Dawn, Sarum Rite

Thursday, 22 December 2011

St Peter's Harrogate; Fresh Start for Christmas

Many congratulations to St Peter's Harrogate who are now back in their church building ready to celebrate Christmas after a long sojourn at nearby Wesley Chapel while St Peter's was reordered and extended. The £2.3m project will allow St Peter's much more flexibility in extending its town centre ministry, with space to welcome people to over 25 services every week, to its well-known breakfasts, cafe church, civic events and concerts and to much, much more. We look forward to seeing all sorts of new plans take shape over the coming months and years. You can read all about it at

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Prime Minister Praises Biblical Values

So the Prime Minister likes the resonances of the King James bible and believes that values that come from the bible should shape our society! Christians should hold their heads up high, be confident and contribute to public life. David Cameron was speaking at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford as part of the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the King James bible.

Well, it was an interesting and perhaps unexpected speech. It was refreshing to hear a senior politician acknowledge the central place that religion has had and still has in shaping the moral landscape we inhabit. Secular neutrality and the pretence that religion can simply be assigned to the private sphere don't measure up - they collude to tell a story about society that is untrue and misleading. Mr Cameron clearly sees crises like the recent riots in London and other cities, the MPs' expenses scandal and the collapse of parts of the banking system as symptomatic of the growing absence of a commonly accepted moral code or any sense of accountability based on coherent moral principles. And he seems inclined to look to the Church of England as well as other faith communities for help to find a set of values which will restore Britain to 'a nation whose ideals are founded on the bible' to quote Margaret Thatcher. He challenged the Church of England to be more vocal and also to be sure that it speaks to and for the whole country (he had a little go at us for our non-inclusivity) and even went as far as to say that 'the values we draw from the bible go to the heart of what it means to belong in this country.'

What are these values? According to Mr Cameron they include responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self sacrifice, love and pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another and to our families and our communities. In many ways commendable, but not all values I necessarily think come straight from the bible - or at least they don't necessarily pick up on the rich complexity of biblical morality or the priorities we find in scripture. Love, compassion, humility, self sacrifice, yes, but what about care for the marginalised, the call to care for those beyond our families, sometimes even at cost to our families, radical forgiveness of an enemy and prophetic challenge to institutions? These themes take up a large chunk of scripture. And I'm not sure I recognize pride in anything, even working for the common good if you can identify it, as a biblical value. The trouble with Mr Cameron's approach to Christianity or more specifically the bible is that it rather sounds as though he has made up his mind about what he means by proper ethical values and then looked at the biblical text to find support for them. It's a bit fuzzy about the actual content of the bible.

Now don't get me wrong. I am delighted that our Prime Minister took the opportunity to articulate what he personally finds relevant in the Christian tradition.  And perhaps especially delighted that he acknowledged a place for faith perspectives in public debate and in the ordering of the life of our country. But I think his speech showed him falling into the same trap that so many people who say 'we should get back to Christian morals' fall into. 

You can't have Christianity or a biblically shaped view of morality without the content, the commitment and the disciplines of the tradition. I would go so far as to say that I think religion can be quite damaging when we just pick the bits from tradition or scripture that support the beliefs we have anyway or would like to have. Because then we are taking fallible human wisdom and calling it the wisdom of God, investing it with a power that it has no business to have... and we all know where that can get us. People of all faiths know this. Secularists and religious dabblers usually overlook it. 

The hard fact is that the secular agenda has now taken the people of Britain so far from any serious engagement with the Christian tradition that most people really do not know what the content of the Christain faith is or what moral demands and disciplines the scriptures make. And of course these are very complex, can be apparently internally contradictory and are open to diverse interpretations. Perhaps most seriously, many people entirely miss the fact that at the heart of Christianity is a profound relationship with God, not a set of moral imperatives. The moral codes of religion that politicians so much like to talk about really don't work and can become ugly tools unless they arise out of a relationship grounded in worship and a sense of awe about who God is.

Perhaps I can put it like this - you wouldn't join a political party or a sporting or artisitc movement unless you were going to find out what the underlying principles and activites were and practice them until you were familiar with them! At least, if you did , you would probably acknowledge that your membership would not have very much meaning. So-called Christian morality only gives value in society when it is practised in a disciplined way by people of faith. We can  no more wake up one morning and decide to put society right by adopting some parts of 5,000 year old scriptures (written in languages and for a culture that we do not readily understand) than we can put society right by becoming Marxists or Keynesians and not reading Marx or Keynes. Christian morality comes of a steady, profound, lifelong engagement with all that the Christian tradition has to show and teach. It demands willingness to worship and pray, to wrestle with doubt and complexity and to be continually changed by what is grasped. So, while I partially welcome the Prime Minster's speech, I do so with some reservations. If Christianity is going to have an impact on future society in the way he suggests, two things are needed. Firstly, people who are willing to engage with the content of Christian faith rather than simply to use the Christian faith to justify the way we live anyway. (And this takes time and real commitment and immersion in the tradition.) And secondly, a relationship between people of faith and secular society that fosters two-way respect. People of faith must show that they can be trusted, that they try to live according to their beliefs especially concerning love, care for neighbour and forgiveness, and that they have the welfare of those who do not share their faith at heart. Secularists should have a care not to cariacature people of faith but to discover where they have values and ways of working in common with those who live by belief in God and transcendence.    


Big apologies to Kirkby Overblow Dramatic Society! They invited us to their production of Rumours, a farce by Neil Simon, on 3rd December and this is the first opportunity I've had to sit down and write about it. So, 280 Christmas cards and a lot of visiting, caroling and shopping later, I cast my mind back three Saturdays to what was a really entertaining night out. The farce itself was reminiscent of the Brian Rix type farces of my childhood, though with an American flavour rather than a British one, and we laughed a great deal, caught up in the sheer madness of the fast unfolding and ever more ridiculous plot. (The skill of farce is surely that it could just actually happen that way?) The timing of all the actors was good - it needed to be - and although the play was fast moving, as is the way with the best farces, in fact, not as much happened as you might initially think would be the case. A crime that became more of a terrible misunderstanding with consequences for everyone who had been invited to the party would be my take on events. The set was ambitious - a two storey creation by Bruce Noble which stood up well to the constant dashing from one level to another (and, the Vicar tells me, vanished speedily to return the church to a worship space in time for the Christmas services!) The lead part was played by the director Adam McKenzie and we especially enjoyed the performances by Simon Stockill, Alice Sheepshanks and Simon Vale. Vanda McKenzie's eye for detail showed up in her handling of the production; as with other KODS performances I've seen, the set was rather beautifully presented with attention to colour as well as style. 

The performance supported the work of St Michael's Hospice, Harrogate and The Friends of All Saints, Kirkby Overblow.

KODS took part in the Wharfedale Drama Festival for the first time, this year, and came away with no less than four awards - the Richard Whitley shield for the best overall production, The Yorkshire Post trophy for the most outstanding acting by the whole cast, the best actor (to David Zucker) and the best supporting actor (to Simon Stockill). This is no surprise once you have seen the company perform: I would say that one of the outstanding features of KODS is that every member of the cast and production team contributes to the overall quality and there are no very obvious passengers. We look forward to their next production - I'd like to see them tackle Hedda Gabler (Ibsen) or a Checkov play and see what they make of it!          

Hidden Corners at St Gregory's, Bedale

Q. What does an archdeacon's husband do in the hour before the carol service starts?
A. Find an enthuiastic guide to show him round the church!

St Gregory's, Bedale As We All Recognize It

Lesser Known Features of St Gregory's as introduced
 by Hannah Megson

And finally...

The new Rector designate, the Revd Ian Robinson

Ian will be inducted by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds on 19th April 2012 at 7.30pm

Carols at Thornton Steward

St Oswald's Church, Thornton Steward

St Oswald's Church, Thornton Steward is approached down a long lane leading from the from the village. Driving out to the annual carol service on a dark and frosty evening, you can be forgiven for wondering if you have taken a wrong turn until, suddenly, through the trees - there it is, the lights flickering in the darkness! A dedicated member of the congregation waves a greeting and ushers you into the car parking spaces and there is a truly warm Wensleydale welcome. This church has been here since 1086 (the village, meanwhile, has moved a mile or two away) and today it is still lit by gas lights and candles and the enthusiastic singing accompanied on a foot-pumped harmonium. The site is almost certainly of Saxon origin or even earlier - Thornton Steward features in three of the best maps showing Saxon influence noth Yorkshire as a place of importance.

Decorated for Christmas

The church was beautifully decorated and surprisingly warm and it was three quarters full. We enjoyed a traditional service of lessons and carols followed by mulled wine, mince pies and all sorts of tempting snacks. I could not help but look around and be moved by the fact that the local community has been worshipping like this for so many centuries with little change. Some of the carols we sang could well have been sung two hundred years ago in much the same fashion. As we sang and listened, the story of the incarnation - God's dealings with the world - emerged in time honoured fashion and the sense of joyful anticipation that settles on congregations every year was there among us. Thank you, Thorton Steward, for a wonderful start to the celebration of Christmas! 

The warmth of worship was tangible

John Wesley's instructions for singing (1761)
  • Learn the tunes well.
  • Sing them exactly as they are printed without altering or mending them.
  • Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can.
  • Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
  • Sing modestly. Do not bawl so as to be heard distinct above others, that you may not destroy the harmony.
  • Sing in tune. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before it nor stay behind it and take care not to sing too slow.
  • Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself or any other creature.

What excellent advice which we might follow at our carol services this year! It is amazing how singing heartily and with enjoyment for an hour uplifts the spirit and opens us up to God!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

New Beginnings

Spiritual Director - 'Just try getting some crayons out.'
Janet - 'Oh no, I really don't do art.'

It was liberating!! Try something new this Advent!

Ser dros Yr Wyddfa

Ichthyan Odyssey

Maggi Dawn; Advent Frustration

I do so agree with Maggi - I always get tremendously confused when preaching in Advent!

Motivation and Ambition in Business

It is crucial to affirm the positive role of business in God's purposes and to think about the application of Christian faith and values in business' The Revd Dr Richard Higginson

The Diocese of Ripon and Leeds has been undertaking an exercise called 'Ambition for Mission' through which we hope to research and discover more about what makes churches grow and become more effective in their mission, their ability to encourage true discipleship and their ability to get into partnership with community and business organisations in their own locality. My eye was caught by the details of a conference at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, run by the Faith in Business Initiative, which clearly has something to say in this area. The organizers comment that the level of debate about the economic issues underlying the present, perceived national and international financial crisis has been disappointingly low. (This statement is borne out in the remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury, today, in the Times where he criticises just about everybody from all sides of the debate for over-simplifying the causes of the current financial difficulties.) The aim of the conference is to explore the question of how faith impinges on motivation and ambition. Speakers include

Beverley Shepherd, a mamgement training consultant
Andrew Tunswell, CEO ToughStuff
Graham Codrington, founder TomorrowToday
Jim Wright, consultant Soterio
Harald Holt, chair Noroff AS
Richard Higginson, Director Faith in Business

Topics cover Adventuring with God, Running a Social Enterprise, Motivational Differences, Big Business and the Kingdom of God, Success and Signifiance, Motivation in China.

I have attended some of these Faith in Business conferences myself and the great thing is that I have always come away having met one or two truly inspirational people who have then gone on to affect my life or the life of the churches and organisations I work for in significant ways. I know Cambridge is the deepest south, but it just could be worth the journey...!!!  'A rich diet of inspiring talk and candid sharing lies in store for you. Attending this conference could be a life changing experience.'

If you are in business, are a church or community leader or an entrepreneur, if you care about the ethics behind business and the financial community or the pastoral care of those who work in the financial sector, this could be for you. The conference is at Ridley Hall in Cambridge from 30th March - 1st April (honest!) 2012. Cost £265 or £240 for early bookers.

To book using the secure online system go to

For Art Lovers

The question of what Art speaks to you and inspires you is a very culturally dependent and subjective thing. One of the modern sculptures I like best in any church is Jonathan Clarke's Way of Life in the West tower of Ely Cathedral. It was commissioned about fifteen years ago by the Friends of Ely Cathedral, the Dean and Chapter and the Cambridge-based Theology Through the Arts Project. I don't think I can post an image without infringing copyright, but you can see it at

My eye was caught recently by news of a new £10,000 prize to be awarded by the Jerusalem Trust for the best developed proposal for a new work of art in a church. Could your church be the one to convince the judges that you can capture something unique in a piece of art specially created for your church and enhancing the experience of worshipper, pilgrims and casual visitors who come? The Theology Through the Arts project had a very special way of working in that it brought together small clusters of artists and experts to collaborate closely - an artist, theologian and dancer or a librettist, theologian and musician, for example. I think that this is an extremely successful and illuminating way to promote the kind of creativity that expresses deep truth.

The poster above gives the the information you will need about the competition and may I invite you to think further and certainly to contact Diana Coulter at the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division  if you are interested in knowing more? Go on, have a go! You can also read about the things you need to consider in commissioning a new work of art in this publication  

Published by the Archbishops' Council
Cathedral and Church Buildings Division

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Advent Inspiration

I often find it quite difficult to discover a focus for Advent as there are so many themes associated with this season of preparation. We wait, in anticipation, to celebrate the Incarnation - not just Jesus' birth, but the difference that the entry of God's life into every aspect of our life today makes. Darkness and light, waiting and consumation, hope and fulfilment, justice and mercy, judgement and forgiveness, disturbance and peace, history and the end of history as we know it - these are some of the dichotomies we tend to think about in Advent. This year, I suppose I've been drawn to emptiness and presence as metaphors for exploration.

I've never been good at waiting and certainly not at being attentive to the waiting. If I do have to wait for something, I tend to fill the time with other purposeful (nor not so purposeful!) activities. I suppose this is to avoid a sense of emptiness or wasting time. Yet, when I stop to think about it, some of the most frutiful times of my life have come about as a result of retreats, of going away and just being with God and myself, of 'dark night of the the soul experiences' when there hasn't been any sense of a God to be with. Times that have eventually driven me to the mystics and to writers who talk about those places of darkness, emptiness, 'unknowing' and, often, those feelings of marginalisation and being outcast by the norms of the society in which we live. These are places where we suddenly become accutely aware of the futility of so many of the things that attract us and call for our attention everyday. We may also become aware of the lack of any system or set of answers adequate to deal with the injustices we see around us, whether things that effect us or things that we see blighting the lives of others. This is an uncomfortable region to inhabit and it is sometimes accompanied by a sense of lurking fear or dread. As we move through the Advent readings, we pass through this place of deep alienation to a place where we find the messangers of God singing and speaking and enacting the hope that God will come to fill the emptiness - light in our darkness, justice for those in despair, truth in confusion, Christ in our midst.

And so we move from that place of abandonment and loneliness to a place where our antennae begin to pick up the rustling of a presence. In Mary's story, we see the slow inner realisation that she is with child and the growth of that child acknowledged, at first, simply by the angel - God's private conversationalist with Mary - then by family members and in the song of her own spirit, 'Magnificat!'. Tiny beginnings of something new that, at first, you hardly dare to believe is there! You hardly dare to speak about it to others. This contasts with the rather proudly public proclamations of the coming presence of God in Isaiah's writings and John the Baptist's preaching,
'Prepare in the wilderness a road for the Lord! Clear the way in the desert for our God! ...the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all humankind will see it!'
Presence can be very full, very weighty, impossible to ignore. Or it can be nothing more than a hint, a question mark on the breath, a changed consciousness.

When you are in an empty place, it can be really difficult to summon up the courage or even the energy to meet and greet someone. Their presence feels unwelcome, like an intolerable intrusion into the space you inhabit. Or an irrelevance. Yet the longer we are in a place of stillness, the greater the urge to bring forth something - to create, to recreate, to find meaning, to face our challenges or even to face the unfaceable. Sometimes, we are jolted into presence by external events - the need to get up, get out, decide and put something right; other times, we have that slow, inner, growing awareness of presence - we find we are not alone in what we are about. An unknown way, full of possibilities, begins to open up before us. An unfolding rather than an imposing. What will be your Advent path, this year? 

A poem of Amy Carmichael (1867 - 1951)

Shadow and coolness
Shadow and coolness art thou, O Lord, to me,
Cloud of my soul, lead on, I follow thee.
What, though the hot winds blow,
Fierce heat beat up below,
Fountains of water flow -
Praise, praise to thee.

Clearness and glory, Lord, art thou to me;
Light of my soul, lead on, I follow thee.
All through the moonless night,
Making its darkness bright,
Thou art my heavenly light - 
Praise, praise to thee.

Shadow and shine art thou, dear Lord, to me;
Pillar of cloud and fire, I follow thee.
What though the way be long,
In thee, my heart is strong,
Thou art my joy, my song - 
Praise, praise to thee.   

One Year On...

The end of November sees the first anniversary of this blog. I started blogging when we were confined to the house for two days by snow. It felt like the ideal moment to grasp the nettle and experiment a little. I've always enjoyed writing but seldom had time to indulge the interest or to write at any length. Blogging has turned out to be a very good compromise. Time spent on writing posts has to be regular and limited (it could spill over to fill hours of time) and the form itself helps by imposing a certain discipline. You need to keep posts concise and relevant. Never did I dream that a year later I would still be blogging and that I would be in touch with old friends and strangers from across the world as a result! There are now readers from every continent which is mind-blowing. I sometimes try to imagine what impact a post on churchyards in the dales or a political grumble about decreasing community services makes in China or South America! I also very much enjoy the contact with readers from this region and I'm especially pleased when people send in information about local issues and events they would like advertised or discussed. A very big thank you to all my followers, to those who read the blog irregularly and to everyone who comments by e mail, facebook or in person. We are so fortunate to have such an amazing tool for communication, one that transcends place, age group and national or social background!   

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Living Churchyards

Today I received a list of all the churches in the area that are or have been until recently 'managed for wildlife'. This was sent to me by the Yorkshire Living Churchyard Project which is run by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. From the list, it seems as though churches were entering into this enthusiastically about 10 years ago but that some have fallen back a little in recent years. If you would like information on how your church can develop its churchyard ('God's Acre') so that the environment is sympathetic to the natural habitat and the ecology of native plants and animal and insect species, go to

Churchyard management seminars are held every year to help people learn more about how to take usually quite simple steps to preserve and encourage the presence of wildlife. Members of the Living Churchyard Team are willing to visit parishes and offer advice. They will list the species seen and heard and create an annotated map of the site to help with planning its care. Often, we just don't realise what we have living in our churchyards! Or what we might be destroying by over-managing them.

Muker Churchyard, Swaledale
Some practical  tips
Headstones are important sites for lichen and mosses, depending on the type of stone. There are around 300 different types of lichen found only in British churchyards. Headstones should not be cleaned (for example, with some of the sprays advertised for the purpose!), but left undisturbed. Grass should not be cut too close to the base of headstones as this may damage both the stone and the equipment used for mowing, and, in fact, the longer grass left at the base provides shelter for some small animals such as frogs.

Boundary hedges are the natural habitat of many species of bird and small mammals. Hedges are best trimmed to an 'A' - thicker at the bottom - with a few feet of uncut grass at the base. This provides shelter and food sources for young hedgehogs. The small ferns and mosses that grow on boundary walls are important. Where walls need restoration, if this is done in sections plants can gradually recolonize the wall. Lime mortar should be used wherever possible.

Trees and shrubs provide nesting sites, look-out posts and insects for birds. Native species should be planted, preferably those that grow naturally in the surrounding countryside. Shrubs that bear berries and nuts such as hawthorn, holly and hazel are valuable for food. Ivy provides nesting sites for wrens and, later in the year, nectar and berries after other food sources have been used up.

Many churchyards were created out of meadowland and provide a natural refuge for species of plants and animals that are being lost through intensive farming. Even a small churchyard may contain over 100 different species. Bees, butterflies, moths, frogs, lizards, birds and small mammals find their home territory there and, where sections of the churchyard are left as meadowland or long grass, rarer plants may move in, such as cowslips and early purple orchids, especially where traditional methods of cutting or grazing have meant that fertilizers and persticides have not been used. Most churchyards have sections of close-mown grass around paths and frequently visited graves. Less frequently visited parts of the churchyard may be kept as permanent short grass (about 4-5 inches) and cutting should be avoided in early May to allow for flowering and seeding. It is also a good idea to create areas of permanent long grass around the churchyard though, to avoid scrub invasion and maintain grass species, these should be divided into sections and a different section cut in autumn of each year. These areas of long grass are important for the overwintering of moth eggs and pupae, frogs, lizards shrews and voles. 

Spring meadow plants 
bird's foot trefoil, cat's ear, red clover, cowslip, lady's smock, bugle

Summer meadow plants
meadow buttercup, meadow cranesbill, ox-eye daisy,knapweed, field sabacious,

Hay and grass cuttings
Grass cuttings should be removed if at all possible, to prevent the smothering of smaller flowering plants and to avoid changing the soil composition as the grass decays. Hay cannot be used for livestock if it contains plants harmful to animals such as ragwort. Local councils may operate a composting scheme. If they do not, cuttings are best made into small compost heaps by mixing with the grass with other biodegradable materials such as twigs and pruning waste. This allows air to circulate. Compost left near trees can cause damage to the tree roots. Compost heaps are home to bacteria and invertibrate animals that provide food for frogs, toads, slow worms and birds. Hedgehogs and other small mammals hibernate in them .

Friday, 25 November 2011

Drive Safe!

The roads of North Yorkshire are said to be some of the most dangerous in the country. I have heard police spokesmen say that the police are more concerned about road safety than about crime levels in the region which are, relatively speaking, low. Last Sunday, I travelled from Ripon to Wetherby on the A1 in fairly thick fog. It was scarey to be passed by vehicles doing easily 100mph while traveling at 50mph in the slow lane. Basically, they were hurtling into the unknown - there could have been anything infront of them including a pile up of vehicles or an unlucky broken-down driver emerging from a car or lorry.  In the summer we also have motor bikes speeding up and down dales, often overtaking round blind bends or in dips. I ended up in a ditch on the way back from Masham a couple of years ago, when an oncoming car emerged from a dip in the road, overtaking a tractor. Farm traffic, horse boxes, cyclists and pedestrians do not stand much chance of avoiding the ill-judged manouvre. When such an accident occurs, the victim's family's life is never the same again, and neither is the life of the person who causes the accident. It all happens in a split second. Clergy hear these stories all the time. 

I was struck, today, by an item on the radio. A school had set up a scheme with the local police. Motorists who were caught speeding past the school were given a choice; they could either take their fine and have the points on their licence, or they could come into the school and meet the children. The children were geared up (apologies for the pun) to explain to the motorists just how their driving habits impacted on the local community in terms of deaths, injuries, fear, noise and inability to be out and about on the streets. Apparently most motorists were embarrassed, moved and even tearful after their encounters with the children. They are likely to remember these encounters long after they have forgotten about the points wiped clean from their licenses.

From long ago, I know someone who was driving, very moderately, at 30mph and who knocked over a child who dashed across the road; not their fault. Because my friend was driving moderately, the child survived but it took my friend a long time to come to terms with what might have been a much, much worse accident. This could happen to any of us. 

It's partly about time, isn't it? Why are we are all so short of time? Why are we so driven? The clergy and readers of this area rush around on Sundays, trying to get from service to service without being late. Sunday is a day when there are always lots of cyclists on the road. Many of my colleagues and I spend our lives rushing from meeting to meeting - and this is as nothing compared to the sales and haulage people who have tight schedules to keep, or the nurses and care workers who have to fit a certain number of calls into an hour. 

I worked in A and E for a while and I have done hundreds of funerals over the years. Friends, it is never worth taking that extra risk to be there on time, if it means potentially endangering others or ourselves. And if we are breaking the law, then we are almost certainly tasking that risk. Be unpopular and be late! Be a nuisance and keep people waiting! Postpone or canel an event if you really can't get there. It might be your life you are saving or it might be somebody else's.

Two Firsts for Yorkshire

Apparently, the first-ever aeroplane flight took place at Brompton Hall, the ancestral home of Sir George Cayley in 1853. Sir George studied the flying patterns of gliding seagulls and decided to work (he was an inventor) on a monoplane. He created a glider with kite- shaped cloth wings, 500 sq. feet in size, a small cockpit for the pilot, a tail and fins for steering and an undercarriage which looked like a tricycle. He somehow persuaded his coachman, John Appleby, to take it on a test flight over a small valley on his estate. Thus Appleby became the first man ever to fly (for a very short while!) He reported a sensation of 'glorious peacefulness' as he soared into the air, followed abruptly, and very quickly, by an enormous smash as he collided into the opposite side of the valley. It is said that he emerged from the wreck, pulled himself up to his full height and declared, 'Sir George, I was hired to drive, not to fly. I wish to give notice!' Sir George's scribbled notes on the principles behind the building of the monoplane contributed to the eventual success of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawke 50 years later.
Flight by an expert!
(Click on this to see the insects which are the attraction)

Another Yorkshire first occurred 35 years later in 1888 when the City of Leeds became the location for the first moving pictures ever seen.The photographer, Louis Alme Augustin le Prince, using a single lens camera he had designed, filmed members of his wife's family in their garden at Oakwood Grange Road, Roundhay, on 24th October. We can date it exactly because his mother-in-law, Sarah, who appears in the film, died on that day. The film also shows his father-in-law, Joseph Whitley, and Louis' eldest son.  Louis himself was employed as a designer with Whitley Partners in the City. His films were a great local success. A few days later, he filmed the moving traffic on Leeds Bridge from a window in the building that housed Hick Bros., the ironmongers. People flocked to see this new miracle.  His reputation grew and, in September 1890, he went to Paris to visit his brother and demonstrate his new invention. Mysteriously, he caught a train at Dijon, bound for Paris, and was never seen again. 

Two men who modestly gave Yorkshire immortality and disappeared, pretty much, without trace, never captialising on the huge contributions they made to the world we know today! 

Saturday, 19 November 2011


St Mary's Richmond is holding a Christingle Service on 27th November at 4pm to which everyone is most welcome! The music will be by Upbeat and Anacrusis and Scott Lund will be speaking. This is a very atmospheric service full of fun, awe and meaning for everyone taking part. Do come and join in if you live in the area. Many churches will be holding Christingle Services before or just after Christmas - there will certianly be one in your area. The custom in Anglican churches is for the money given at Christingle services to go to the Children's Society

The Children's Society does inspirational work with children and young people who live on the streets, who have run away from home, who are refugees or who are disabled. They work with young people who are part of the youth justice system and with children who carry responsibility as carers. Please visit their website and consider whether you could give something towards their work this Christmas. I have worked in parishes where they have enabled children to see their parents at Christmas - and you cannot imagine the joy that creates! I have also seen how their work can enable a child who has run away to ring home and say 'I'm OK' which brings unbelievable relief and the possibility of reconciliation.   

At Christmastide 1747, in Germany, Bishop Johannes de Watteville wondered how he could explain the love of Jesus. What did Christmas really meant to the children?  The Pastor gave each child a lighted candle wrapped in a red ribbon with a prayer that said, "Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these dear children's hearts". This was the first Christingle service. Today, a Christingle service is celebaretd in most parishes around Christmas. A story of the origins of the Christingle that is often told is that there were three children, who were very poor, but wanted to give a gift to Jesus. The only thing of value they had was an orange, so they decided to give Him that. The top was going slightly green, so the eldest child cut it out, and put a candle in the hole. They thought it looked dull, so the youngest child took a red ribbon from her hair and attached it round the middle with toothpicks. The middle child decided to place a few pieces of dried fruit, chocolates and nuts on the ends of the sticks. They took it to the church for the Christmas Mass, and the priest, realisng the love that lay behind their gift, took their it and showed it to the whole congregation as an example of a true understanding of the love of God, shown in Christ and in His birth into the world at Christmas. He explained the meaning of the Christingle 
  •  the orange represents the world which God created and loves, 
  •  the red ribbon around it represents the blood of Jesus who died for love of the world,
  • the dried fruits or sweets on cocktail sticks represent the fruits of the earth and the four seasons,
  • the candle in the centre of the orange, represents Jesus Christ, the light of the world illuminating all things.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Festival Evensong for Remembrance Sunday

Royal School of Church Music
Ripon & Leeds Area

Festival Evensong for Remembrance Sunday
 St. Mary’s  Church Richmond, North Yorkshire.
Sunday 13th November

Singers are invited to join the choir of Richmond Parish Church, under the direction of Regional Director Gordon Appleton for a Festival  Evensong on the occasion of  Remembrance Sunday.  The Organist for this event will be Andrew Christer.  The service will be led by Revd. Antony Kirby, Curate of St. Mary’s.

Rehearsal at 3.30pm in the choirstalls at St. Mary’s Church followed by refreshments.  
Remembrance Sunday Choral Evensong at 6.30pm. 

Choral Music to include:

View me Lord: Richard Lloyd
Responses by William  Smith of Durham.
Magnificat and Nunc  Dimittis in A by Herbert Sumsion
Psalm 24, setting by Philip Marshall.
Anthem: ‘Greater Love hath no man’  John Ireland.
‘We will remember them’  from ‘In Proud Thanksgiving’ by Sir Edward Elgar.

All music can be provided on the day.

There is no charge for this RSCM event and we encourage all singers to come and share in this event.  
You do not need to be a member of an established choir to come and sing.  Come and be part of this event.

To register yourself for this event please contact
Colin Hicks 07854 028621

Metal Theft Meeting

Taken from the http://www.riponleeds.anglican.og/

Our Buildings Officer, Alice Ullathorne has organised a meeting at the Diocesan Office in Leeds this coming Wednesday (16th November) which will be very helpful to churches who are concerned about metal theft. The meeting is at 3pm. Representatives of the police, Ecclesiastical Insurance and English Heritage will be present. You can see the details on

And, if I'm not much mistaken, the picture is one of this archdeaconry's churches (won't say where!)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Dioceses Commission Draft Scheme

For Yorkshire readers, the Dioceses Commission published their second report at the start of last week. It accompanies a Draft Scheme for the reorganisation of the three dioceses of Bradford, Ripon and Leeds and Wakefield into one large diocese with 5 episcopal areas. There are no great shocks in the report. The main new recommendations are that the Diocesan Bishop will be in Leeds (not Wakefield), the diocese will be called 'Leeds to be known informally as the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales.' The three cathedrals (Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield) will be retained with equal status, three Chapters and one College of Canons.

If you look on my Dioceses Commission Page, you can read about it in more detail, including the recommendations made about individual parishes. 

The report says this about the Archdeaconry of Richmond,
4.8 We propose that the Archdeadonry of Richmond should be renamed the Archdeaconry of Richmond and Craven and expanded to include those parishes in the Archdeaconry of Craven which are not transferred to another diocese and also four parishes in the Bradford Archdeaconry that are in the Harrogate District. Some of the responses we have received have questioned whether, given the distances involved and the nature of the roads this area is capable of being looked after by a single archdeacon - even if, as we propose, that archdeacon had no other duties. We recognise that such considerations might make it necessary for the archdeacon to live at a location which would offer easier access to the whole archdeaconry. Whether the distances would be manageable and the workload tolerable - or, alternatively, whether the two archdeaconries into which the rural episcopal area might be split would include sufficient numbers of parishes and clergy to justify having an archdeacon for each - cannot finally be determined until the precise boundaries of the diocese are definitively established. At this point, we are not convinced that retaining two archdeacons would be justified. We have therefore included in the draft reorganisation scheme the proposal to extend the Archdeaconry of Richmond to include all those parishes in the Archdeaconry of Craven not transferred elsewhere.

Such an archdeaconry would have a population of 270,000, an area of 1,569 sq. miles, 139 parishes distributed across 72 benefices, and 94 licensed clergy of whom 67 are stipendiary. (To give a comparison, Leeds would have a population of 767,000, an area of 184sq. miles, 77 parishes in 71 benefices and 105 clergy of whom 84 are stipendiary.)

The proposed Archdeaconry of Richmond and Craven will be in the Ripon Episcopal Area, one of the five Episcopal Areas in the new diocese (Ripon, Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and Huddersfield) each with their own bishop and archdeacon under the overall authority of the diocesan bishop and supported by a joint diocesan team. 

Do I see any advantages in the Scheme as a whole?

Well, it will certainly enable the Church of England to be more effective in Leeds by getting the whole of the city into one diocese and one area of that diocese. This will improve relationships with civic authorities and also between the parishes of Leeds who will be able to work together, for the first time, for effective mission their city. It will also enable Richmond and Craven (everywhere north of Skipton and Ripon) to pull together and focus on rural affairs without being dominated by the large urban conurbations but, also, without losing contact with them altogther. It may be possible to have a full time rural officer. In such a huge archdeaconry a lot will depend on really good access for the parishes to the central departments - DAC, finance, mission resourcing, training - and on excellent communications. A larger diocese is likely to attract more interest from clergy applying for posts; clergy often move within a limited geaographical area once they have settled in a diocese and the new arrangement will give greater scope for moving within the diocese. (60% of clergy spend all their ministry in one diocese - attracting them here in the first place is important!) The cathedrals will be able to develop focused, distinctive ministries - Ripon would clearly be well advised to develop a ministry that supports rural life and the life of the Dales; Bradford might concentrate on interfaith and business issues; Wakefield might be the civic focus for West Yorkshire. The three dioceses have very different strengths, interests and ways of working but we will be able to learn from one another's expertise and we do already have some experience of joint working in areas such as education and training, ministry with the deaf, evangelism and the MSM course, and through sharing ecological knowhow. The most important aspects of the Scheme seem to me to be twofold. Firstly, the tidying up of boundaries so that we can work better with civic partners. We cannot underestimate the difficulty of trying to work across different districts and authorities and replicating effort over and over again in order to do so. Secondly, the episcopal areas will allow area bishops to lead mission in a way that is closer to the interests and needs of their particular area while retaining relationships with the wider diocese especially where sharing vision and resources makes that sensible. So yes, I do see advantages. The financial report that accompanies the Scheme seems to suggest that one diocese will cost around £0.8 million per anum less to run after the initial set up costs. I guess it will be like installing solar panels - over 10 years you reap the benefits though there is an initial outlay. Our finance teams are looking at this and also talking to the Commission about the spread of costs to include a proportion borne by the national church. No doubt there will be much more to say about this in due course. You can read the detail of the estimated financial effects of the proposals in document YDCR4 on the Dioceses Commission website (see Dioceses Commission page for the link to the site.)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reality Rev

The Revd Adam Smallbone returns to our screens this Thursday evening and it seems likely that 2.2million people or so will tune in to Rev - many of them having dashed home from the latest PCC meeting, bible study group or welcome service for their new Vicar, no doubt! Why did the nation take to Rev so whole heartedly? For Anglicans, and perhaps especially for anyone who has lived in a vicarage in an urban parish, the answer has to be because the writers did their homework so well!' It really does feel like that! Vicarage events that stick in my mind include
- wondering why some notes on the piano wouldn't sound and finding jam doughnuts had been stuffed into the strings by members of the toddler group.
- having the lawn strewn with organ pipes the same day we were interviewing four people for the post of youth worker.
- getting up feeling rather ill to find the kitchen inhabited by church wardens, tramps and an area dean.
- finding a lad with learning disabilities had wandered off the street into a party we were holding; everyone went home, thinking he had come with someone else and he couldn't tell us his surname or where he had come from.
- having a traveller turn up at midnight on New Year's Eve, locate a precious video tape we had lost and predict the downfall of President Clinton.
- making ash for the Ash Wednesday service in the freezing cold on the patio with a blow torch and getting locked out along with a visitng monk.
- fielding 192 phone calls in two days enquiring about a community development post we had advertised.
- looking out of my study window to see the Social Services Building opposite ablaze (it was an arson attack by a 7 year old.)
- holding a meeting for 14 people with 19 different languages spoken in the room.
- forgetting to tell my long suffering family that 24 people were coming for supper and a meeting.
- nearly burning the kitchen down while answering the phone at the same time as cooking for an Alpha supper.
- having a garden full of archbishops, bishops and archdeacons from four continents.
- having the whole church turn up to transform my garden from a building site into a lawn.
- having a visitor come for a night and stay 10 months.
- entertaining someone to lunch at short notice (and with some grumbling, I'm ashamed to say) who unexpectedly donated a very large sum 'for the children in the community'.
- lending a room for a coffin after a mix up over the date of a funeral.

And those are just the ones I can tell you about!

People often say that clergy live in ivory towers. Well that may be so, but they are very crowded, busy ivory towers with a range of life in all its forms that many people don't get to see - and certainly not all at once and probably not when they are at home! Tom Hollander's comedy has been hailed as 'rehabilitating the Church of England.' While preparing to write the first series, he and his fellow writers, James Wood and Richard Coles (himself a vicar), 'spent time with vicars and discovered how interesting it was that they sat right in the middle of society, although everyone thinks of them as marginal, because we are a secular society. But the church is still right at the heart of it with weddings, funerals and schools. You can look at what is going on in our lives through the perspective of a priest, because he has access to everything. Also their lives are full of tragi-comic stories and their beleaguered status seems to chime with our feelings about ourselves as a nation. From looking at the Church of England, it's not so very far to seeing where we are with ideas about England.' This is the kind of insight that makes the show what it is and explains its wide appeal. Hollander also recognises the enormous number of demands that are placed on the clergy by people from every part of society and comments that they live through a series of 'minor crises all the time in the same way that doctors do.'

Speaking as a member of the clergy, it's deeply refreshing to be hailed as relevant and at the heart of society! Usually we are told that we are out of touch. Families of vicars and vicars themselves tend to smile wrily when this is said - we know we are in touch with a lot of people who see what we stand for and what we do as relevant. It's just that many of these encounters tend to be counter-cultural and, paradoxically, can be seen by those involved as deeply valuable and by those not involved as completely valueless. That's the space we inhabit. So Thursday evening will see me and my cuppa installed with the Rev who seems to understand my world, odd as it may be.   

(The above quotation is taken from Tom Loxley's interview with with Tom Hollander in the Radio Times 5-11th November.) 

Olympic Torch

The Olympic Torch will be passing through the archdeaconry on 20th June 2012, the 33rd day of its journey from Land's End to the Olympic Stadium in London. Its route from York to Carlisle lies through Thirsk, North Allerton, Aiskew, Bedale, Aysgarth, Leyburn, Richmond and Barnard Castle. The whole journey takes 70 days, beginning on 19th May and ending, in London, on 27th July.

To Beacon or Not to Beacon?

Some of you may have read the suggestion that, to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, beacons should be lit on church towers on June 4th 2012.

There is information about the plan for the beacons and their history on
As this website points out, there is a long tradition of lighting beacons around the country to mark Jubilees - it was done in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria's 60 years on the throne and I can remember the beacons lit to mark our present Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. We spent a very wet day in a punt on the River Cam with some umbrellas, a wind-up gramophone and a picnic and then went to a very wet barbeque on the Magog Hills where an enormous beacon was lit as part of a chain of beacons across Britain. The beacons symbolized the unity of the Queen's realm. It was a day I shall never forget. Many of you will recall other national occasions such as the 400th anniversary of the sighting of the Spanish Armada in 1988, Beacon Europe (to mark the opening of the single European Market - possibly less memorable!) in 1992, the fiftieth anniversary of VE Day in 1995, the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002, and the bicentenary of the battle of Trafalgar in 2005. 

All great fun and the stuff of forging a common national identity. Being a huge fan of the Queen and the monarchy myself, I certainly think we should all do something really notable to celebrate such a remarkable reign and a wonderful monarch. However, I am somewhat dismayed at the suggestion that beacons should be lit on church towers! In the past, most of the beacons have been lit on the ground. Of course, a beacon needs to be conspicious - that is what makes it a beacon! However, the notion of churches carrying heavy(40kg) cylinders of liquified petroleum gas up narrow spiral staircases and setting light to it in sometimes very confined spaces is worrying. The gas is extremely flamable and combines with air to form an explosive mix. Locating the beacon on a tower will bring the flames into very close proximity with the building and with flag poles. The emergency services will already be stretched that day and, should an accident occur, it will not be easy for them to gain speedy access to anyone injured at the top of a mediaeval tower and to get them to hospital quickly.

OK, I'm sounding very archdeacon-like and unusually risk averse, but I really can't see the problem with celebrating her Majesty's Jubilee by ringing a peal of bells and having a party, with beacon or bonfire, on the nearest piece of open high ground; this has been the tradition for hundreds of years. Ecclesiatical have issued some guidelines which begin by stating that a beacon does not need to be located on a tower and there are significant hazards in doing so. They strongly recommend that the beacon is situated at ground level, away from any buildings; I have to say that I agree. If your PCC is determined to go ahead with a beacon on the tower, Ecclesiatical set out some useful, indeed vital actions that you need to take, including ensuring that the LPG is safely stored before the event, informing the emergency services of your plans and removing all combustible and heat vulnerable substances and possible ignition sources from your tower. You really do need expert advice if you are going to go ahead with a tower-top beacon and you can begin by visiting  

You will also need the permission of your archdeacon and insurance company and our Chancellor will be issuing some guidelines for this diocese in the near future. My plea is that you find something memorable to do with fire (or even without it), in safety, on the ground!!