Saturday, 14 May 2011

Archdeacon's Charge 2011

Thank you to all the church wardens and clergy who came to the Visitation at St Mary's Church Richmond, last night. It is always so very encouraging to see everyone and to able to worship together. Thank you to St Mary's, too, for their warm hospitality. (Incase you are wondering - archdeacons have 'visitations' at which they meet the church wardens and admit them to office each year and the 'charge' is the address which is given on the occasion!)

The East Window, St Mary's Richmond

John I. 35-51
I was woken up very early on Easter Sunday morning by the clock-radio beside my bed. The first thing I heard on the news was that one of the Roman Catholic archbishops had denounced secularism. My first thought was ‘What a shame!’ The church ought not to be known for denouncing things. We Christians ought to be known for what we are for, not what we are against. The very first Christians were most certainly known for what they were for, for their unshakeable belief that Jesus had risen from the dead and that He held the key to life – and the key to life beyond this life. Wouldn’t it have been great if the archbishop had said: ‘Today, we’ll be rejoicing in all our churches because Jesus is alive; come and join us if you’d like to’. That’s the line Jesus took with people when they met Him. Often, they asked: ‘What are you up to?’ and he said: ‘Come and see.’

Philip (in tonight’s reading) learned very quickly, didn’t he? Straight after his first meeting with Jesus, he finds Nathaniel and, when Nathaniel expresses scepticism, Philip says: ‘Well come and see!’

Last August, we had a training evening for ‘Back to Church Sunday’ at which the speaker was Michael Harvey. Michael’s message has stuck with me ever since. He challenged us not just to turn our churches into places of welcome, but to go further and create a whole culture of invitation. Invite people to ‘come and see’ – just to try it out or perhaps to join in. Michael’s point was that if, over the course of a year, you invite say a dozen people to come along, perhaps 10 will say: ‘No thank you’ but 2 may say yes. If we never invite anyone, no one will come! And Michael’s research suggests that most people like to be asked, even if they say no. So fear of being rejected, of having someone say ‘no’ shouldn’t put us off! We can all invite someone to a social event, a service, a Bible Study, a working party, a choir practice. 34 million people – that’s almost 9/10 – people in Britain went to a place of worship for a service, an event or an activity last year! But most only went once. Let’s keep inviting! I was talking to someone the other day who is a new churchwarden because she was invited to join a working party to clear the churchyard. One of my friends is now a vicar because my dad said to him, many years ago, ‘You can go along to Sunday School with Janet if you’re bored.’ You never know where an invitation leads! Jesus’ first disciples thought that they were going to spend a couple of hours one evening at his house… they had their lives changed!

One group that I am specially concerned that we invite and welcome and listen to are our youngsters. In March, I attended a wonderful event in Sheffield at which 33 bishops and 2 archbishops put aside a day to meet 250 young people from all over Britain and to listen to them. (I’ve never seen so many quiet bishops!) What came over very powerfully was that young people are just as interested in faith and theology and ethics as older people, just as passionate about God, about their own spirituality and about serving others, but they communicate differently.    
  • Immediacy, reciprocity, discussion, relationship, relationship, relationship, choice to dip in and out were all key concepts
  •  No chance to respond, heavy authority, hierarchical structures were out.
On the day, I learned that the average age of a member of the Church of England is 61 (based on electoral rolls, I think, where, of course the under 16's don't figure - but it's still a sobering statistic). And I learned that the Church of South India had a similar situation a few years ago. Their response? They pledged that every group, committee, synod, would aim to draw 35% of its membership from people under 35 and that it would allocate 35% of its finance for activities with the under 35's.  Archbishop Sentamu addressed us and encouraged us with stories of how he had seen God at work in the lives of children and young people – he reminded us that Samuel was only 8 when he was called!

I am proposing – and I shall be writing to Area Deans and Lay Chairs – that every Deanery Synod elects a Young People’s Ambassador. Not necessarily a young person, but someone who will champion young people and keep the concerns and interests of younger people on Deaneries’ agendas. Someone who will ask the questions: Are we inviting, welcoming, listening to the young people in our communities? And who will liaise with Nic Sheppard and Graham Richards, our Youth Team, to get information about events and opportunities out.

Speaking of which, there are invitations available at the back, to the Big Night Out, an exciting event for young people at Lightwater Valley near Ripon on the 21st of May. Please take one for the young people of your church or village, or see

I wonder what Philip and Nathaniel and Andrew and Simon and the other disciples talked about on that first evening with Jesus? I bet that, at some stage, they talked about their communities and their political (with a small ‘p’) concerns – in their terms, the domination by the Roman authorities of Jewish ways of life and organisation. You can just hear them, can’t you, telling Jesus about their concerns for the farmers and the fisherman and for the poor – and grumbling about the supposed ineptitude of those who were in the local and national government of the time? Jesus’ period was a time of massive political upheaval and He was most certainly looked to to show ways to respond to the changes.

We are all, I think, conscious of the far-reaching consequences of cuts and the reduction of services in our communities. We may be sceptical about all the talk of the Big Society but we are beginning to see how the voluntary sector is going to take on more responsibility for getting things that need doing done in communities. We may feel a bit daunted, but this is an opportunity for us. Churches have resources to share – local knowledge, a track record of service, buildings, partnerships. We have much to offer. Can I encourage you to do 3 things:

  1. PCCs to be in contact with the voluntary service agencies in your area to find out what they are doing and to see if there is anything your churches can appropriately be involved with? (You may already be doing this.)
  2. Send someone to attend the training evening on the Big Society which is being held on May 27th at the Chantry Hall, Bedale, 7-9pm (to book a place, ring 0113 2000 544  or  email
  3. To be in contact with our new Rural Officer Andy Ryland to come and meet you at PCCs and Synods to help in your thinking about our response to the political and social changes that are happening. For an introduction to Andy's work see

Of course, the other big area of change and uncertainty for us is the report by the Dioceses Commission. The Commission is responsible to the Archbishops and to the General Synod. It has been asked to produce a proposal for the re-organisation of the Yorkshire dioceses and has chosen to report first on the North and West of the county.

You can see the report on It is also accessible through the diocesan website – click on ‘Boundary Changes’ on the welcome page - and my blog – click on ‘Dioceses Commission’ where I hace aslo posted some comments. The proposal is for one diocese comprising most of the present dioceses of Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon and Leeds, with episcopal areas focusing on the rural north and the cities and urban areas.

The report was published in December and the first period of consultation has just come to an end. The Commission will now revise their report in the light of the many responses they have received and produce a final report in the autumn. At that stage, it will be essential to ensure that we make our voices heard about the final recommendations. Anyone and everyone can respond. Individuals, PCCs, Synods, groups beyond the church. The General Synod will then, probably in July 2012, vote on whether the recommendations should be implemented.

The Diocesan Synod has voted to accept the principle of a larger diocese and episcopal areas, but to reject the proposed name and location of the diocesan bishop (which is Wakefield). They have asked the Commission to consider Leeds instead. The Synod has also asked for a detailed report on the financial and asset management risks and on the proposed procedures and structures for creating a new Diocesan Board of Finance. In addition, Synod asked for clear information on proposals for merging administrative and legal structures.

The Bishops, Diocesan Secretary and I know that this is very unsettling for us all and perhaps especially for those parishes who are on the geographical edges of the proposed new diocese some of whom have been asked to consider moving to another diocese. I know that all those parishes have now given their clear responses to the Dioceses Commission and I thank you for all the work that that has involved.

The important question to consider in forming a judgement is, what will best enable the mission of the church in this part of Yorkshire for the coming 100 years? Can I advise you against forming judgements based on things like parish share levels (in working with parishes who have been asked to transfer diocese, we have discovered that there is remarkably little difference in the level of parish share between dioceses) Also, beware of forming judgements based on personalities – clergy, archdeacons and bishops change!

The important things are, will the new diocese enable us

  1. to be more visible and accessible in our areas and communities?
  2. to work efficiently with our bishops, supported by strong and effective central administrative, legal and buildings services?
  3. to exercise good financial stewardship and to generate the resources we need for mission?
  4. to attract clergy to minister in the area?
  5. to address rural and urban issues effectively?
  6. to work with secular and ecumenical partners?

The Bishops, Diocesan Secretary and I are all willing to come to meetings to discuss the proposals further and also to explain matters that might not be immediately clear. The archdeacons of the surrounding dioceses are also very willing to be consulted and have already been very helpful.

The most important thing to say is that, while all these things go on, we continue to be the church, engaged in mission and ministry in all our communities. That will continue, come what may. Bishop John, Bishop James and I are all committed to do our very best to serve the interests of the parishes and to ensure that the outcome of all the discussions is the best it can be for the future mission of the people of God in Yorkshire.

We never get through one of these addresses without mention of money! May I take this opportunity to thank you, your PCCs and treasurers for all the hard work you have done towards paying parish share? Our share collection rate this year was 94.6%. This is very good in such economically difficult times. We can do even better! Please use the services of our Stewardship Officer Paul Winstanley and our Director of Finance Norman Gardner. I have three
things to ask: 
  1.     Please ensure your PCC has a standing order for monthly payments towards parish share. This really does help us to keep down the overall level of share
  2.     Please have a stewardship campaign or similar if you have not had one recently (in 5 years)
  3.    Please use the Giving for Life resources (on - click on publications) to ensure that your parish does an audit of its stewardship practices and does its forward planning, producing budgets which are driven by your mission priorities rather than allowing finance to drive your priorities.
Finally on finance, with regard to clergy expenses: the mileage rate, after many years at 40p, has now been increased to 45p per mile.( I think the cost of diesel and petrol has risen by more than a third in the 4 years I’ve been archdeacon!)

On the buildings front, Alice Ullathorne, our new Buildings Officer, is available to advise churches on care and development of buildings and on working with your community and the various grant-making bodies to generate funding. She has an excellent, easy to use, informative blog at (or go to and click on ‘Alice’s blog’) and this keeps you up to date with training events and useful information.

English Heritage and Ecclesiastical have produced a useful booklet and DVD about caring for places of worship 9enclosed in your pack). This includes information about security, lead theft, insurance and health and safety matters. From it, I learned that 
  •      There are 14,500 listed places of worship in England?
  •      Congregations find a massive £73 million per annum for repairs?
  •     7 out of 10 people think churches are an important part of the community and would be willing to support work to keep them open and repaired?
Jesus asked his first disciples: ‘What are you looking for?’ They had no idea that their encounter with Jesus that day would lead them on an adventure that would take them to the heart of God. Jesus saw the truth in people – He knew Nathaniel through and through, He saw what Simon Peter was capable of, He invited them all to come and join in and to make a difference for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

But there is one word in this passage that is probably more important than all the others. It’s the Greek word for ‘stay’. We read, they saw where he was staying and they stayed with him. This word is the same word as abide. You remember, in John 15, Jesus tells the disciples they must abide in Him as the branches on the vine are attached to the vine itself.

We cannot fulfil our calling as disciples, as churchwardens, as clergy, as diocesan staff unless we abide in Jesus. We come in and make our home with Him and He with us. Begin and end every day in company with the Risen Lord; pause at times during the day or even during a meeting, to recollect that we do His work. Seek from Him whatever we need, whatever we are looking for – wisdom, inspiration, encouragement, strength. Nathaniel was meditating under a fig tree, deep in prayer and thought, perhaps. Jesus gives Nathaniel a vision of a ladder up to Heaven, opening the way between God and human activity. Jesus Himself is the ladder enabling us to come into God’s presence and to receive whatever He has to give us. Jesus encourages Nathaniel for his lifelong journey of discipleship: ‘You will see greater things than the things you have already seen’. Do we believe that we will see greater things than we have already seen?

Two useful books
Church Wardens, A Survival Guide; the Office and Role of a Church Warden in the 21st Century – Martin Dudley and Virginia Rounding, SPCK 2003 
 Practical Church Management; A Guide for every Parish – James Behrens, 2nd edition, Gracewing Publications

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