Sunday, 24 April 2011

Behold, I Tell you a Mystery

In an ancient legend, Pilate's wife is said to be standing by the cross on the afternoon of Good Friday. She turns to the centurion and says, 'Do you think Jesus is dead?'
'No, lady, I don't,' is the answer.
'Then, where is He?'
'Let loose in all the world, lady, where no man can stop the victory of His Risen Life.'
Olive Wyon

Alastair Miles sings The Trumpet Shall Sound from Handel's Messiah (Stephen Cleobury conducts the Brandenburg Consort with Crispian Steele-Perkins on Trumpet) 

Friday, 22 April 2011

Education; Bishop of Oxford's Advice on Church Schools

I very much agree with the Bishop of Oxford, the chair of the Church of England's Board of Education, who is reported, today, as having said that all church schools should be open to a wider cross section of society, perhaps retaining as little as 10% of their places for children of practising Anglicans, in some contexts. It has long troubled me that voluntary aided church schools, in particular, allow the church to focus educational and clerical resources on a relatively narrow section of the population in some places when I believe that we should be there for everyone.

I also favour parishes being involved, by the invitation of headteachers and governing bodies, in all the schools on their patch, going in to take assemblies or help with lessons in relevant areas of the curriculum by invitation, and being willing to provide governors and other expertise. This is particularly important in places where there is deprivation and a low level of educational opportunity and choice.

A change in admissions policies in voluntary aided church schools (perhaps not quite as drastic as the Bishop suggests) would make an enormous difference to the educational choices available to families in some of the of the most deprived areas of the country, where real child poverty (material and in terms of opportunities) exists in a way that is shocking in the UK of the 21st century. In effect, what we often do under the present system is 'cream off' valuable resources which are then focused on the few. In some areas, at secondary level, the creation of academies has helped to offer children better educational chances but even this has its problems; as more and more academies and free schools spring up, the resources available to other schools diminish and, inevitably, there are fewer academies in areas of low educational achievement while it reamians to be seen how free schools will be distributed. 

John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford is, I believe, urging us towards a change which will no doubt be resisted in many places, but his reasoning is based on gospel imperatives. The church, the body of Christ, does not exist to hug resources to itself. We are commanded by our Lord to share and to bring opportunity and hope to all. As William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury, famously said, 'The church is the only body that exists for the sake of those who are not members.' An authentic church education policy would seek a high standard of education with a Christian ethos for everyone who wishes to participate.

However, there are clearly difficulties in reducing the number of families who are practising Christians and are involved with the life of a school while maintaining a Christian ethos. John Prichard's statement is, in this sense, rather brave. I think he has probably set the percentage a little low. Church schools vary a great deal but I have, over my 22 years as a minister, detected difficulty in some schools in preserving more than simply an ethical approach which is based on what might pass for Christian values. It becomes very difficult to maintain a sense of lived faith with its heart in worship, prayer and a counter-cultural emphasis on self-forgetfulness and service, if most of the pupils and many of the staff are not believers. We need many more vocations among Christians to teach; we need a willingness among Christians (and not just those who are or have been parents) to serve as governors and volunteers in schools, with the encouragement and interest of their parishes (and maybe at the expense of PCC membership); we need to actively train clergy, readers and lay ministers for their role in ministry to schools. And, by this, I don't mean a few theoretical sessions during their initial training and a couple of IME (in-service curate's training) days. The skill required to communicate effectively with large groups of pupils and students of varying ages is considerable. The exploration of spiritual insight and theological concepts with children is something which has to be learned over time and requires proper supervision and feedback.  Experienced teachers would say that it is one of the most challenging things they do. Clergy and ministers need in-depth help to learn to do it well, with good quality feedback from experienced teachers (not just other clergy.) 

All sounds a bit too much of a challenge? It will certainly demand some different thinking on the churches' part. It is all bound up with our ability to be in real communication with younger people in our communities and, as followers of the blog will know, I believe that this is one of the most pressing areas for reform in the life of our churches today.  (BBC report and video.)

For further discussion of the issues at stake, see also

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Palm Sunday Processions

On Sunday, churches all over the area marked Palm Sunday (Jesus' entry into Jerusalem) with processions round their churches or ventured further afield into their towns and villages. You can enter into the moment as it unfolded in Ripon market square by going to the photo gallery on the cathedral website.

Almighty and everlasting God,
who in yur tender love towards the human race
sent your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon Him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross;
grant that we may follow the example of His patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of His resurrection,
through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Dales; A Place to Find Joy?

Programmes like ITV's The Dales are helping to keep a high profile for Yorkshire in the media at the moment. I watched tonight's episode with my nieces who had just enjoyed a day out around Brimham Rocks, Fountains and Brymoors, three of the many places they love to visit whenever they come to Yorkshire. When they arrive, they are so excited, they can hardly contain themselves until they have visited the places they remember and loved from the last visit! So a relaxing program about the Dales was a god-send after a hectic day of exploration. The Revd Ann Chapman's approach to church at Hadraw and Askrigg they found impressive - food, chatter, and interaction definitely captures their attention and interest in a way that conventional sitting in rows and listening does not!

The great thing about Adrian Edmonson's journalism is that he lets people speak and their enthusiasm shows through - shepherding, band practice and church look fun! This can only be good for tourism in Yorkshire, for the profile of the area and for churches!  I suppose Ann's approach to vicaring is a little similar; she lets people speak for themselves and picks up on the fun in life. I am not suggesting that her approach is only about fun, but, as my young nieces clearly feel, it is a whole lot easier to get enthusiastic about a church experience that shows people talking to each other, looking interested, laughing, interacting and remembering to talk to and about God than a church service which is entirely solemn, uses words about God that are incomprehensible and addresses questions nobody is asking (or asks questions nobody can answer.) I believe there are children everywhere, in almost every parish and community, who would like to come to church and who would like to worship God if we could find ways to take on board what our young people are saying to us about where they find God and how they discover life-giving joy and sadness and celebration.     

I recently blogged about the Regeneration Summit at which a couple of hundred young people met our bishops and archbishops. The messages there were that authentic  relationship (listening and talking) and interactive communication (a chance to react, to 'answer back' and to challenge) are as vital as the message itself. Children can listen to God, pray, be reverent, have spiritual insight, have opinions about God and learn through experience and mistakes; they can challenge adults to rethink ideas that have become over-settled and over-comfortable; and above all they know how to be joyous. Was it Teilhard de Chardin who said that 'joy is an infallible sign of the presence of God'? We don't need to be scared of letting go and letting children be themselves in church. We shouldn't insist that they necessarily adopt adult practices and we should be prepared to change the ways we worship to include them if our churches have got to the point where all our worship alientates young people.

We go to Gozo for many of our holidays. Gozo is the north island of Malta, a deeply Roman Catholic country. The small communities there are entirely rural. All the churches  hold vibrant patronal festivals - it seems there is a healthy competitive spirit to see which parish can have more fireworks, better street parties, more impressive processions, more fantasic displays of produce. I went once for Holy Week. The churches were packed out with young people and whole families. I realise there are complex reasons for this, but, certainly, it was all so much fun, you could see why people of all ages just couldn't stay away.

This may seem a strange message for a Holy Week post. Later, I shall be posting some of the talks I'm giving this week at Sharow which are certainly of a much more solemn nature. Even amongst the solemnity, political unrest and fear of that final week in Jerusalem there was space for love and joy, meals, anointings and conversation. It is only as our children are helped to experience these things as part of the normal life of the church family that they will grow into people who have courage and strength and faith to face the suffering and struggles that life also throws up. 

Friday, 15 April 2011

What is the Big Society?

Does the 'Big Society' mean reduction of funding? The devolution of decision making-power from central government and the regions to local government? An expectation that the voluntary and private sectors will pick up responsibility for provision of services while local government and other authorities monitor and regulate them? Or does it mean something more creative and dynamic with opportunities for new partnerships, less red tape and more weight given to local and democratic perspectives on what is needed and how it should be provided?  Who will gain and who will lose out? How will we ensure that the most vulnerable don't slip through the net?  How can human resources, community goodwill and social enterprise make up for a marked decrease in funding?

If you have been wrestling with these questions or if you are interested in how the current social and economic changes will impinge on church and community life, why not come along to this day which has been arranged by our buildings officer, Alice Ullathorne. All these questions inevitably have big consequences for how we use our buildings and in fact the current changes in the provision of social services probably mean that the next few years will see some of the greatest opportunities for churches to get involved in their communities in new ways that have been seen over the last half century or so. Thank you, Alice, for your work on this. Alice also has a must-visit blog for those who are involved in the maintenance of church buildings, development projects, or conservation and funding projects for buildings.

You can contact her to book a place on or go to her excellent and informative blog

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Open Stables Day in Middleham

Brendan Giblin, the Vicar of Middleham writes,

Upwards of 6,000 people visit the tiny town of Middleham for the Good Friday Open Stables Day. The usually quiet Dales town is flooded with people eager to have a look into the inner workings of the racing industry, to meet their favourite horse or just to enjoy a day out in the Dales. The bustle is not conducive to usual Good Friday Services, but it poffers a great opportunity for the church to retell the story of Jesus who died, not only at the behest of the crowds, but for the crowds.

This year, St Mary and St Alkeda's church will be hosting two provocative installations by the artist Shaeron Caton-Rose. Shaeron has exhibited widely in galleries and cathedrals across the country and understands art to be her Christian vocation. The church at Middleham is excited to host her emotive, thought-provoking pieces, 'Mend' and 'Sticks and Stones'. Both pieces explore the theme of reconciliation, taking the viewer to the heart of Good Friday. The installations powerfully engage the imagination and communicate with the soul.

On Good Friday, the church will be open for viewing from 9.30am until noon and will serve hot cross buns, tea and coffee. The installation will be in church (which is open in the daytime) for the whole of Holy Week and Easter day.

For more information about the artist and to see slide shows of some of her installations, go to

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Gift of Ministry; NSM Survey

Would you work 30 hours a week on top of what you already do for the sheer love of it and in response to a sense of vocation? Perhaps you do a certain amount of volunteering or unpaid overtime or perhaps you follow an interest that you find absorbing and fulfilling. Did you know that 27% of the Church of England's priests minister for somewhere between 15 hours and more than 30 hours a week, but receive no financial support from the church other than expenses? (They are not paid a 'stipend' or salary.) In our diocese we call them 'Non Stipendiary Ministers', in many, they are refered to as 'Self Supporting Ministers.'

The Revd Dr Teresa Morgan, a fellow of Oriel College Oxford and, herself, an NSM priest, has produced a new survey of NSMs/SSMs in the Church of England. Many of them report a great deal of satisfaction in their role. Others feel ' ignored, overlooked and underused'. The report challenges dioceses to conduct surveys to find out how their NSM clergy are feeling about the ways in which their ministry is or isn't developed and to help them think about formulating proper strategies for deploying NSMs beyond their curacy (training) years. The survey shows that 46% of NSMs have only ever held one post. Curacy tends to be a good experience and then there is a certain feeling of 'getting stuck', an inability to move on in ministry and use valuable experience for the good of the wider church.

In some dioceses, NSM/SSM clergy are developing their ministry both in traditional roles (as, for example, Area Deans, Priests in Charge, Team Rectors) and in pioneering roles (as, for example, pastors of e churches and internet worship groups or by offering training, HR and finance specialisms within the diocese.) There are probably as many possibilities as there are NSMs. One of the keys to being creative about NSM ministry is developing good relationships of trust between NSM and stipendiary clergy - the roles may demand different approaches to ministry and the use of time, but both are equally valuable within the life of the church and both can be traced back into Christian history.

We have over 40 NSMs in our diocese who come from many different working worlds and bring a huge range of insights and skills to their ministry. I was an SSM parish priest for three short years while I was also a theological college lecturer. A team of three SSMs, together with a number of lay members of the PCC were given responsibility for a large  parish in Nottingham by the then Bishop of Southwell. It was enormously hard work and called for the team to pull together in a big way under the leadership of one SSM priest who ministered pretty much full time, but it was very rewarding and meant that another parish in the diocese which did not have quite the same resources could have a stipendiary priest. It also encouraged a range of other people in the church to become involved in leadership and pastoral ministry. Just one example of the way in which NSM/SSM ministry can work. 

You can read all about Dr Morgan's report in the Church Times (1st and 8th April editions) or go to and click on 'Report 1' and 'Report 2'.

More about this in a week or two when I have digested the report! I'd be interested in your comments.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Clervaux Trust at Croft on Tees

I first met Bill Chaytor about thee and a half years ago when he invited me to visit him at Clow Beck, Croft on Tees. He talked about his plans for the site and I was struck by his vision for the spiritual connection between the land and education. He has long been passionate about holistic approaches to working the land, producing food and learning life enhancing crafts.  Last week, our Diocesan Surveyor, the Chair of the Diocesan Estates Committee and I returned to visit Clow Beck. On a gorgeous spring morning, we arrived to be greeted by Bill and Janine Christley of the Ruskin  Mill Educational Trust, now working in  partnership with the Cleraux Trust. The Clow Beck site is home to a 110 acre, fast expanding and thriving eco farm while there is an Artisan Bakery and cafe in Darlington and residential houses for the workers, closeby.

The Trust provides education and training through a therapeutic, practical life skills curriculum. It provides 24 hour care for young and more mature adults with learning difficulties, mental health problems, autistic spectrum disorders and complex social needs. Working out of the inspiration of the radical educationalist, Rudolf Steiner, the Trust believes in the power of a holistic approach to life and work. Teaching people skills and crafts that improve the land, produce food and allow them to have a pride in what they have created gives self confidence and value. A thriving, healthy social environment helps people to develop meaningful relationships and to begin to make positive life style choices. Celebration is an important part of the community's life. One of the community's strap lines is 'A sustainable life, an engaged life, a community life and a shared life.'

We met some wonderful young people; one was making sausages while another showed us how to plane wood for a chair he was making. Many of the buildings themselves have been contstructed by those who come to live and work with the Trust - and in them we saw some of the results of weaving, textiles, blacksmithing and animal husbandry. There are also workshops and courses in food production, green woodwork, biodynamic agriculture, animal management, mechanics, catering, and computer skills. The bakery in Darlington allows people to learn to bake bread (a group of young people had got up at 4am, for the first time, that day, to bake the bread we ate, which was delicious!), but more than that, it is an outlet for the organic produce from the farm and a social enterprise in which people can gain the skills and confidence they need to work in a small business setting. 

Re-connecting people with the land is a major aim of the Trust. In today's society there is often a major dislocation between people and the natural cylces and proceses of production. The project aims to help people reconnect with the skills and knowledge that allow us to sustain life through its natural rhythms and it does it in a visionary and exciting way.

There is an open day when anyone can visit and I would say that it is well worth a visit - there may well be activities and events which you, your family or your church would be interested in getting involved with! There are also opportunities to become a volunteer. 

The open day is 21st May 2011 10am - 4pm 

For more information visit

And a very big thank you Bill, Janine and all the people we met for an inspiring day out which I shall remember for a long time!    

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Claire Rayner; Compassion in Nursing

I was interested to read that the late Claire Rayner OBE was concerned, as I have been, about the place of compassion in nursing care (see my post 'Do We Support Nurses to Care?' 22nd February.) During her life, Claire, a labour supporter (though latterly she joined the Lib Dems as a protest over Labour's plans for the NHS) was President of the Patients' Association, a member of the Prime Minister's Commission on Nursing and a patron of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture

It has been recently announced that her family and the University of Huddersfield's Centre for Health and Social Care are co-operating to establish a new scholarship for doctoral research which makes a significant contribution to understanding how more compassionate care can be delivered by nurses and midwives. Although I expressed some misgivings about the effect the over-academicisation of nursing has had in discouraging those who are motivated primarily by practical compassion from going into the profession, I do welcome this development as one way to get compassion back onto the agenda. Perhaps the research will be able to point us in directions which will allow nurses to nurse in ways that heighten both their sense of vocation to show compassion and their patients' sense that care is given with compassion. Can research 'prove' that compassionate care is more healing than dispassionate, objectivised care, I wonder?  Claire, like Jo Brand, always seemed to blend great intelligence and humour with tough compassion. 

The inaugural scholarship has been awarded to Barbara Schofield, consultant nurse for older people in the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust. She will study dignity and compassion in care. For further information, go to

The Anglican Covenant

I guess Church of England readers of this blog will have, at some level, taken on board the discussions which are around about the adoption of a Covenant (not to be confused with the Anglican/Methodist Covenant) which is intended to keep the Anglican Communion together (ie. keep all the different provinces within the Anglican Church talking to each other.) Sounds a good idea? Well yes, but Anglicans have never had formal structures of this kind to keep the church together and the worry is that once we start defining who is 'in' and who is 'out' by signing up to fixed statements, there will inevitably arise the frought question of who is 'out' and why and by what means they are kept 'out'. There is also the danger that, despite all the very laudable things the Covenant says about listening, the Communion will then spend more time than it already does arguing about divisions instead of the constituent churches talking to each other and learning from one another. Of course, some existing members of the Communion will undoubtedly refuse to accept the Covenant and so the Covenant will then, in effect, strengthen the barrier between the provinces who do accept it and those who don't. Some people simply think that this way of being church is un-Anglican, while others see it as the only way to save as much of the present Communion as possible and to ensure the continued existence of world wide Anglicanism.

If, like me, you are wondering how to make sense of it all,  you might be grateful to know that the Church in Wales has produced a very helpful and mercifully shortish(12 pages!) commentary on the proposed Covenant and its significance. The Governing Body of the Church in Wales has a very good record of dispassionate, courteous and intelligent debate around difficult issues. The Secretary of the group that produced the proposed Covenant is the current Bishop of St Asaph, so that might also explain their clear approach to the subject. Below are the sites where you can find (first) the proposed Anglican Covenant itself and (second) the Church in Wales' commentary on it.

Do make your views known to your elected members of the General Synod of the Church of England as they, too, will be voting on whether the C of E should sign up to it. This is an important issue and, though complex, it is worth thinking about because the decisions which provinces make will radically affect the shape of worldwide Anglicanism in the future. I have always been very glad to belong to a church which has deep, shared roots with churches in provinces across the world but which allows each province to bring to the table its own unique insight about what it means to be an Anglican Christian in a particular context. I have learned so much from the provinces with whom the dioceses where I have served have had links (Natal, Malawi and Sri Lanka.) And I have also derived a great deal of inspiration from the Episcopal Church in the USA which, itself, has dioceses on several continents.