Thursday, 5 May 2011

Does the Church Make a Difference?

The appointments of our new Rural Officer (Andy Rylands) and a new chaplain for St Michael's Hospice, Harrogate (Revd Dr Jonathan Bowers) were marked by services of Commissioning (at Bolton on Swale, for Andy) and Licensing (at Christ Church Harrogate, for Jonathan), this week. Both were long anticipated and joyful occasions. Reflecting on a very busy week I realise that, since Monday, I have  met medics and representatives of voluntary bodies such as the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), the Great Yorkshire Show, a university college council and the Citizen's Advice Beareau. I've also agreed to do a role play with NYCC's emergency planning team (I may regret that!) and done an evening's voluntary teaching for a nearby college. Many clergy and many members of our churches would have had a similar range of meetings and projects throughout their week. This demonstrates very practically that the church has been doing  the Big Society for a long time before the government thought it up!, As Archbishop Sentamu reminded us when the first talk of the Big Society was heard, last year, Christians have been doing the Big Society for approximately 2,000 years (as have people of many faiths).

Andy's role is very much about our 'Big Society' commitment to the countryside and rural communities at a time when issues in food, farming, world markets, sustainable living and a shrinking public sector are all putting more and more pressure on small, sometimes remote though resilient communities and willing volunteers within them (who probably don't even think of themselves as 'volunteers' though they support their neighbours in all sorts of ways). Andy's background with the Yorkshire Dales National Park, his track record in identifying issues and forming partnerships and his theological interests will be put to great use in helping the rural churches serve their communities and in communicating the challenges of rural living to the national church and the various policy-making bodies. He will be out and about meeting people and getting 'inducted' over the coming weeks. For more information see (for an introduction to Andy) (for news about his Commissioning at Bolton on Swale)

Jonathan's role at the Hospice is, I believe, very much about showing a compassion that bears influence beyond the walls of the hospice. He will work with the other staff to be there for those whose life is nearing its end and to ensure that their unique story is honoured, the pain eased, peace, reconciliation, acceptance and hope discovered. Jonathan brings much practical and academic experience which will be used in and beyond the immediate hospice as St Michael's seeks to reach more and more people who need care near the end of life. Or to be there for anyone who has suffered a bereavement through the Just B counselling service. At his licensing, last night, we reflected that one of the things a hospice does is to symbolize the importance of compassion in a society which is often too busy, too self-obsessed and too risk-averse to value and provide the simple things the dying need - time, attention, kindness, a chance to still contribute and hope for this life and beyond.

'For the love of God is broader
than the measure of our mind,
and the heart of the eternal
is most wonderfully kind.'


Sometimes we, in the church, get it right in terms of service in our communities, sometimes we get it badly wrong. Sometimes people notice, sometimes they don't, but there we are...and there we have been for a long time ...and there we hope to be, involved in service inspired by Christ's example for a long time to come.

Good wishes to our new Rural Officer and our new hospice chaplain at the start of their ministries in the archdeaonry and diocese!

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