Friday, 23 September 2016

Some Thoughts on Rural Mission

Many years ago I heard a lecture on missionary work by Lynn Green, the then International Director of Youth with a Mission. Lynn outlined the work of Don Richardson an American Missionary who worked from the principle that God is always ahead of a missionary and it’s the missionary’s role to identify where God is already working and to connect with this and interpret the signs of God at work to the community.  See Don Richardson’s books: Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts.

In my mind this is what Jesus may have meant by "Seek First the Kingdom of God", i.e. our first priority is to identify where God is already at work in our communities and then and only then to proclaim that God is already at work in that community and the good news that God has come among us in Jesus.

One example of this is the concept of redemptive analogies; these are stories and traditions embedded in a culture which speak of the Trinitarian God of love.  For example Don Richardson refers to Saint Paul on Mars Hill using the altar to an unknown God as the starting point for his proclamation of the good news of Christ. He goes on to recall stories from his missionary work in various cultures, contexts and the different redemptive analogies and how building on these this has resulted in the successful proclamation of the gospel and how whole communities have been turned to Christ.

In many ways the work of Don Richardson is similar to the work of the Catholic Missionary, Vincent Donovan, who engages in a process of dialogue with the Masai people of East Africa. Donovan had identified that after over the 100 year of traditional missionary work in the area where the Masai people lived, providing schools and hospitals, very few had connected with the church and become Disciples of Christ.  He therefore left the apparent security of the mission compound and travelled to be with the Masai people and engaged in a process of dialogue and discussion.

Donovan finds that in Masai culture there are many stories which can be used to point to the one true and living God.  Donovan’s work is outlined in his seminal book “Christianity Rediscovered”, which tell the stories of how through dialogue and discussion and establishing relationships with community elders, whole Masai community together turn to or reject Christ.

This aspect of working with whole communities may come as a surprise to many evangelical Christians today with what has become a traditional emphasis on personal salvation and individuals turning to Christ. However, I suspect it was how many communities in England where originally evangelised. If we look at scripture we see that the great commission in Mathew 28v19 also implies working with communities rather than individuals:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

The word for who is to be made disciples is clearly “nations” and thus Jesus is not referring to individuals but rather groups of people or a community with their own identities. In fact the Greek word that is used here is “ethnic” from which we get our word ethnic i.e. a community of shared values and culture rather than a political state.

Now I know from a career working with rural communities in Shropshire, Cumbria and Yorkshire that each rural village and community is different and has its own shared values, understanding and belief structures which will be different from a neighbouring village, that may be just a couple of miles away.  This is possibly one of the reasons why it’s difficult for different villages to work together as multi parish benefices and why it’s unlikely to find people from village willing to travel to another community to worship. As many rural clergy will tell you it is like pushing mud up hill and more often than not we are better off finding ways for people to gather in their communities to worship.

Now if the emphasis is on bringing a community to Christ rather than an individual how do we go about this in rural England particularly, if the community has become alienated from the life of the local church?

If we are first to seek the Kingdom of God, our first priority must be to observe and listen to the community and discern where God is already at work. I.e. where are there signs of his Kingdom emerging? Where are captives being set free, where is love being sown rather than hatred, where are people finding ways to love and serve there neighbours and who are the people of peace, that Jesus in Luke 10 tells us to connect with.

One way to do this is to follow the footsteps of Vincent Donovan by this I don’t mean by making a trip to Africa. What I mean is that we must leave our church buildings and church community and engage with the wider community where they are at, rather than expecting people to come in to our buildings and to join our communities. I.e. church starts with the church community going out rather than expecting the wider community to visit our buildings and to join our communities.

A good example of this is the “Church About the Dale” project. This is an ecumenical project based in Wensleydale. Here different churches have worked together; have purchased an exhibition trailer which they take to the local agricultural shows.  Besides providing children’s activities and literature on various support services such as the Farm Community Network, the space provides an opportunity for people from churches to listen to the stories of the local community and to connect with people in their environment rather than expecting them to come in to a church building.

In a similar way the Church on Show stand at the Great Yorkshire Show provides an opportunity for thousands of people each year to connect with Christian spirituality in a friendly and welcoming context without the need to visit a church because the Church has come to them.

If we are to work with communities rather individuals we may first have to find ways in which communities can gather together around shared experiences and understanding and baptise these activities for Christ.  If we look at English history and culture stretching back over the years we find that the seasons of the year are profoundly important. It’s something that is imbedded in our culture and is a key driver of our conversations which are often about the weather and the changing seasons. 

The changing seasons are also intrinsically linked to Anglican churches year and the seasons of the pagan calendar which predated it and can still be found in the traditions of the Sami people of Scandinavia.
Unsurprisingly there is a pattern of community events connected with the changing of seasons.  In fact this pattern is reflected in the historic quarter days and festivals which are often associated with our community gatherings and celebrations.

·         Christmas: December 25   (Christmas parties)
·         Lady Day: March 25   (Around Easter)
·         Feast of John the Baptist/mid-summer: June 24 (Village fates and well dressing) 
·         Michaelmas: September 29th  (Harvest festivals and rush bearing)

In addition to this are other traditional community/ church gathering points which fit neatly in-between.

·         November (bonfire night and remembrance)
·         Feb (beginning of spring – Mothering Sunday
·         May (Whitsun May Day etc.)
·         July/ August (Agricultural shows traditional Lamas or first harvest)

It’s therefore possible for churches either to be present at community events and shows, thereby providing an opportunity for dialogue, service and discussion or to organise events outside their buildings, which connect with the wider community and their interests and concerns.

If these events are arranged on a regular basis is possible to build on the quarterly festivals by adding extra events so there are eight to twelve community/faith events for people to gather around.  Gradually a pattern of regular worship and fellowship by the whole community can be established and whole community can together respond as one to Christ.

For example a year could include the following

Plough Sunday blessing of the agricultural year.
Candlemas or Saint Valentes Blessing of Married couples and those in Love combined with a village Dance
Easter services Palm Sunday processions with donkey and the blessing of cattle as they are turned out of their barns for the summer  grazing
Out-door Lambing Service
Parish /Rogation Walk / Blessing of May Pole linked to Trinity Sunday or Pentecost
Well Dressing / services by the river linked to Fest of John the Baptist and open air baptisms
Village/ Agricultural show service and church stand
Summer Barbecue, Garden Party social fund raising event for the Farm Community Network, RABI, Addington Fund etc. ending with compline.
Harvest service and supper
Pet/ Animal  blessing and service of St Francis
Remembrance/ All souls/ Light party 
Christingle / carol singing around the village nativity on a farm.

Rogation Walk in Nidderdale 
Plough Sunday in Ripon 

Many churches organise some of these events with some developing the strategy in to an informal yet strategic approach in rural mission. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Vertically Integrated Milk - How Some Yorkshire Dairy Farmers are Increasing Their Profit Margins

Many of us will have heard of the plight of British dairy farmers who over recent years have been victims of the way the dairy industry is constructed and wider world pressures.

Milk may seem cheap to the consumers with supermarkets using milk as a loss leader, selling it for less than the cost of spring water. Yet it costs some 30p a litre to produce and some farmers only receiving 15 p per litre. Many farmers are losing money on every litre of milk they produce and therefore are leaving the industry.

Other factors which are outside the control of farmers include currency exchange rates, and low price milk imports which impact on the cost of production and the price farmers receive.

British dairy farmers are not alone in this problem with similar issues of low prices being reported in Australia.

Some retailers are putting in place pricing mechanisms that support their farmers and pay a price above the cost of production – these include Tesco, Sainsburys, the Co-operative, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer.

A number of farmers are also developing ways to increase how much they are paid for their milk by vertically integrating the diary business; by integrating production, processing, bottling and distribution of milk in one business.

One farmer Jeremy Holmes of Delph House Farm near Denby Dale (HD8 8XY) for example has installed a milk vending machine. This enables him to sell raw unpasteurised milk direct to customer cutting out the processors and supermarkets and enables him to be paid a higher price for his milk. Although the milk is triple filtered, it’s not pasteurised, a process which kills off bacteria in milk.  It’s therefore not suitable for consumption by people with low immunity or pregnant women and babies.

Another farming family, the Goodalls, from Scarcroft near Leeds (LS14 3HQ) have for a number of years not only been dairy farmers, they have also been processing their milk including pasteurisation, homogenisation and bottling. This they sell direct to customers via a door step delivery service; which covers north Leeds and villages between Leeds, Harrogate, Knaresborough, and Tadcaster including the town of Wetherby.

The Goodalls are also investing in the latest technology which includes robotic milking machines which milk the cows in the fields and they proudly displayed this equipment along with their cows at the 2016 Great Yorkshire Show.

If you or friends want to support our British Dairy farmers then look out for the Red Tractor symbol on the dairy products you purchase and where possible purchase direct from a farmer who is geared up to retailing their milk.

Yorkshire Farms that sell milk direct to the public include:

Delph House Farm Denby Dale High Flatts, Denby Dale, Huddersfield, HD8 8XY    01226 762 551
Beech Grove Farm, Scarcroft, Leeds, LS14 3HQ     0113 2892229
Longley Farm  Holmfirth, HD9 2JD  01484 684151
Town Head Farm, Grassington, Skipton BD23 5BL  01756 752 296
Town Head Farm, Askrigg, North Yorkshire, DL8 3HH   01969-650325
Brymor High Jervaulx, Masham, Ripon, HG4 4PG
Lyon House Farm Lyon Road, Eastburn, Keighley, West Yorkshire BD20 8UX
Dean House Farm, Luddenden, West Yorkshire, HX2 6TP      01422 882 234
Old Crib Farm Old Crib, Halifax, West Yorkshire HX2 6JJ       01422 883 285
Heath Lea Farm, Barkisland, Halifax, HX4 0BZ         01422 823 201
Dyson Cote Farm, Snowden Hill, Oxspring, Sheffield S36 8YR  07788 477 825
Cliffe House Farm, Hill Top Road, Dungworth, Sheffield, S6 6GW   0114 233 3697
Lawns Farm, Morthen, Rotherham, South Yorkshire, S66 9JH    01709 700 788

For a Map of farms elsewhere in the country selling milk direct to the public see HERE

If you are a farmer who is selling milk direct to the public please send me your details and I will add you to the list. 

You may also find my blog on: Cows, Cattle Breeds Milk Proteins & Enjoying Milk on Breakfast Cereals, after a Sixteen Year Gap of interest. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

How to Save the Village Pub

Occasionally I get the opportunity to learn more of the work of other organisations that support rural communities. One such opportunity recently presented itself when I was invited to join a group of people looking at how rural communities had saved their village pub after it had been closed by the properties companies that owned them.

The event was organised by the Plunket Foundation which helps communities to take control of their challenges and to overcome them by working together.
Plunket was founded by Sir Horace Plunkett, who believed that rural communities didn’t have to wait for someone else to make life better for them; they had the potential to do it themselves.

The theme of the tour, in addition to visiting three rural pubs which had been saved by their local communities, was “More than a Pub” and hence we saw a number of examples where pubs had developed new ways to connect and serve their local communities.

The First Pub visited was the George and Dragon in Hudswell near Richmond in North Yorkshire.   Following a tenant over borrowing and being unable to keep up his payments, the pub had been re-possessed by the bank and put on the market.

As the people we met remarked during the period the pub was closed there was little focus in the village for community life, it was as though the village had died, the welcoming light in the window, a warm fire in winter and people in the bar had all been lost.
Following a public meeting in the Village Hall it was agreed that efforts should be made to save the pub and bring it into community ownership.

This was done by establishing a Social Benefit Society, a form of Co-Operative whereby local people could invest in the project, be paid a small return on their investment, perhaps 3or4% a year and could after a couple of years have their money back, provided the business was still viable and others wanted to purchase their share. The value of their shares would not increase in value but could go down if the business was unsuccessful. Each shareholder had one vote.

The purchase price was raised with a grant of £50,000 from the Rural Access to Opportunities Fund and the help of the Key Fund which bought £20,000 of shares as well as £120,000 worth of shares purchased by local people and supporters. 

Volunteers helped to renovate the pub and a board of eight directors now manages the operation which included finding a tenant who runs the pub on a daily basis, with the rent set at a level at which they could make a living.

The current tenant has embraced the culture of the project and sources local food and has a wide range of beers on offer from smaller breweries. Following the theme of More than a Pub, part of the premises is now a community shop and stocks mainly essentials, which where possible are locally sourced including local organic milk and cheese.  

With a large part of the pub garden being converted into community allotments where a couple of bee hives are sited. On the front of the pub there is also a community defibrillator.  There is also a small library in the porch.

The second pub we visited was The Foresters Arms at Carlton in Coverdale again in the YorkshireDales National Park .

This time the pub had not only been closed but much of the equipment had been taken out and the owners wanted to turn it in to three houses and were in the process of applying for planning permission to do this.

Again a public meeting was held in the village hall where Martin Booth of the George and Dragon told their story. At the meeting a group was formed to work in a similar way to the group that had saved the George and Dragon in Hudswell.

This time the asking price was a lot higher and over £250,000 was raised through a share issue for the purchase and £150,000 for refurbishment. Some 60% of investors are local people with many others being owners of holiday cottages.  Amazingly the committee reported they didn’t have a problem raising the money for the project with investments ranging from a few £100 to £20,000.

Through the building project there was a requirement for considerable liaison with officers of the National Park Authority as the building was a listed structure and could easily have contained a bat roost.   However a full refurbishment has now taken place which has made the rooms much lighter and attractive. Again, like the George and Dragon, a tenant was found and appointed. 

The final pub on the study tour was the Dog Inn in Belthorn near Blackburn.

In 2014, the pub closed its doors for what could very well have been the last time. The owners at the time were unable to find a suitable landlord so in February 2015 they put the pub and adjoining land up for auction. That sale was completed in early March and Belthorn’s last remaining pub had actually closed its doors for the very last time… or had it?

However local people registered the pub as a community asset with the local authority. This would give the community time to develop a bid to purchase the pub. A meeting was arranged in the school hall to gauge support and following this, discussions where started with the developer who had purchased the property. In March 2015 an agreement in principal was reached for the community to acquire the pub. A business plan was developed and a Limited company established and a share offer issued to raise the £180,000 to purchase the pub and some working capital.
In June 2015, sufficient funds had been raised to enable our acquisition to proceed and contracts were signed.

This was followed by intense work on refurbishing the bar area and on 15th November 2015, the pub once again opened its doors, with the pub managed by a manager employed by the directors of the Social Benefit Society.  

Along with the bar, a café area has been developed, which is an informal and family friendly area. A shop is planned in addition to upstairs community meeting rooms and outside, community gardens are being established.

What for me has been so exiting about all three visits is that communities have risen to the challenge of saving something that is important to them and that through this they have been able to fulfil the vision of Sir Horace Plunkett: “That its possible for rural communities to make life better for themselves”, in these cases by saving local pubs and making them in to a foci for community life.

For more details of the Plunket Foundation see
For Details of Assets of Community Value Right to Bid click HERE
The George and Dragon

Thursday, 30 June 2016

“Have we lost the glue that holds our rural communities together?”

At a recent meeting of Christians who work or are involved in rural matters from local authorities, businesses, agriculture, the third sector and churches, one of the concerns that became apparent was the loss of the glue that binds rural communities together.   This glue was not one particular aspect of rural life which had been lost but rather something less physical; something like magnetism or the rhythm of the tides, the loss of which has meant that people are less connected and less supportive of one another.

For several months I have been reflecting on this and then a comment at Rural Action Yorkshire staff team meeting the Chair, Jan Thornton used the words “Social Ballet” to describe community life.

This was like firing the starting gun in my mind and I was quickly making some notes as I reflected on this phrase and the idea that living in a rural community is like being part a “dance”.  What’s more I could see connections with the idea of God as Trinity.  In some branches of Christian theology is the idea, that the three persons of the Trinity (Father Son and Spirit) are not only co-equal but that they are in a perpetual loving and supportive relationship as they dance together.  As Jonathan Marlowe puts it “The early church fathers and mothers looked at that dance (perichoresis) and said, (That’s what the Trinity is like.) It’s a harmonious set of relationship in which there is mutual giving and receiving.”

Reflecting on this I can see that in a traditional villages such as the one where I was born there were several shops, church, Chapel, village school, women’s institute, pub, village hall committee running events such as fruit and veg shows and a Cricket club which held an annual barn dance and pig roast which was attended by young and old.

I can even remember the first village hall folk dance I attended where a band lead the music, a caller explained the steps and called the moves of dances such as Strip the Willow and the Gay Gordon’s.

Since then many of these touch points where people meet and interact have been lost. The result is that people see each other less often, have less interaction and will clearly know and appreciate one another other less well as the relationships have become weaker.

It also perhaps explains why people in towns and cities feel they are isolated. As although there may be a myriad of places to shop, play sport, eat out or worship, the people that are at each of these places are different so relationships are, as a result, likely to be superficial and shallow.

In terms of addressing the loss of glue in our rural communities it’s not so much as their being one magic bullet or even one particular initiative such as a luncheon club, fresh expression of church that’s required to turn things around. It’s the development of a whole series of these so that people are able to make connections throughout the week with all members of the community at some point.

Two things I think are needed to be borne in mind in this process. Firstly, the need to realise that community and context has changed. Patterns of work and demographics have changed in rural communities so that the age profile is likely to be older. So perhaps rather than say constantly trying to prop up a cricket club perhaps  the answer is for a cricket club to transform itself into croquet or bowls club.  

Secondly the answer is not one particular initiative or one group such as the church or the village hall to see themselves as the saviour of community life but for each to look for ways to act in concert so that all may thrive.  Generating different occasions and providing places where people can come together and build their common life together.

Rural Action Yorkshire has perhaps put their finger on this by producing a list of 52 (Almost) Painless Things Your Community Can Do!. With ideas ranging from: Setting up an oil-buying cooperative, starting a community choir or holding a wine-tasting evening.

From a church perspective this isn’t about the church being the centre, it’s about recognising that God works through all people of peace and goodwill in the community to bring about change for the common good.  We are called to seek and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom.  If we open our eyes and ears we see and hear stories of the Kingdom all around us, of God at work in and beyond our churches. If God can use an ass to direct Balham in Numbers 22 or the King of Salem known as (Melchizedek) to bless Abraham then surely he can use people beyond our churches to speak and bless our communities. We shouldn’t be like Balham and his ass and ignore them at our peril but rather like Abraham and Melchizedek seek out people of peace, acknowledge the blessings they bring and then working with others as co-workers bring blessings to the whole community.

Perhaps this is what’s so special about the rural church. Where the edges between church and community become fuzzy and where people in churches embed themselves in the community so that everyone is blessed.

Producing a myriad of initiatives providing opportunities for people in our communities to come together building up our common life and join the social dance as Jan puts it.  Rather than sitting on the side watching others.  May be we will then regain that community glue of the social dance.  Perhaps we can then dance like the community of Mabou on Cape Breton Island in Canada I once visited. Here folk-dancing is so imbedded in village life that there was no need for a caller at the village Cèilidh, everyone joined in and all knew the steps and the tunes. 

Watch the people of Mabou dance in their village hall here 

Cows, Cattle Breeds Milk Proteins & Enjoying Milk on Breakfast Cereals, after a Sixteen Year Gap

Since I was young I had always had milk on my breakfast cereals and was partial to real dairy ice-cream, hot chocolate made with milk as well as strong cheeses such as Stilton and Shropshire Blue. 

Then some sixteen years ago I started getting bouts of severe upset stomach, we thought at the time this was due to a recent visit to India and so after a discussion with my G.P. I was treated for Giardia, as one of the side effects of Giardia can be as intolerance to dairy products and I had noticed a connection between being ill and eating cheese or ice cream.  The majority of my symptoms got a lot better immediately but still some sensitivity remained.

It was therefore suggested that I was tested for lactose intolerance at the local hospital. The day came and the test involved drinking a lactose solution and then breathing into a machine that measured expelled hydrogen; as it has been found that people with a lactose intolerance on eating lactose expired hydrogen. I fully expected the needle to jump but nothing happened. Afterwards it was explained to me that it must be the milk protein I was having problems with rather than lactose.  

I was still having a grumbling problem and it was suggested I consulted a dietitian who explained that milk and whey found its way in to many products such as bread and margarines so after I removed even the slightest element of milk from my diet I found I was completely back to normal. Unless I accidently ate a product containing milk, I even joked I could be used as an expert witness to detect milk in cakes and biscuits.

One day I was eating in an Italian restaurant with a colleague, who I discovered had a similar problem.  He explained to me that different animals produced different milk proteins and that I would not find any problems from eating Buffalo mozzarella cheese.  I enjoyed my pizza and to my surprise he was right, I next tried goats and sheep’s milk feta cheese all produced no ill effects but was still affected by cow’s milk.

So now sixteen years later with a taste for black tea and coffee, high cocoa fat dark chocolate and goat’s cheese has come the latest twist in the story. For a while I had been wondering whether different breeds of cattle produced different milk proteins. So I decided to do a web search to check this out.  To my delight this was indeed the case and the story is even more fascinating.

There are two main types of cow’s milk protein know as A1 and A2, however a few thousand years ago there was only one type A2 then due to a genetic mutation cows started producing A1 protein as well.   So now most cattle herds in the UK are made up of cows which produce milk containing either both A1 and A2 protein or only A1 protein, with only a minority of cattle producing solely A2 protein.  However certain breeds of cattle in India, Africa and Guernsey cattle produce nearly all milk only containing only the A2 protein. In fact it is thought that 95% of Guernsey cattle and some 50% of Jersey cattle produce milk only containing the A2 protein.

What was even more pleasing to find out was that an Australian company had started selling a brand of milk which only contained the A2 protein. Via an arrangement with a British dairy company they have worked with a select group of British farmers to supply milk only containing the A2 protein to supermarkets in the UK and this was available in my own town, sold under the banner A2 Milk.  

I decided to take things slowly at first drinking what amounted to less than 5cc of A2 milk. Over a few days I built this up with no adverse effects whatsoever culminating in a mug of hot chocolate.  The next day I enjoyed milk on my cereal the first in some sixteen years. My next idea is to make some yoghurt and to track down some ice cream and cheese made from milk containing only the A2 protein.  

Not only am I pleased that I can enjoy milk on cereals but I am also pleased that I can once again personally support the British dairy industry by consuming their products as dairy farmers have been suffering from low farm gate prices for their products down as low as 18p a litre.

One farmer supplying milk to the A2 milk company in May 2026 was being paid 30p a litre. 

So if you find, if you have a problem digesting cow’s milk you may find that A2 milk is the answer to your problems. However; if you are allergic to milk you must check with a doctor first before trying any milk products.

One a wider scale many people in Asia are intolerant to A1 milk protein so this potentially offers new markets for milk which can be produced free of the A1 protein.  

A recent Radio 4 You and Yours program looked at the issue of A1 and A2 milk protein; you can listen to the program by clicking HERE and then on  A2Milk. 

To find a supplier of A2 Milk click here:

Farmers wishing to test their cows to identify the cows which only produce A2 protein should contact a DNA testing laboratory.  One company that carries out this service is Weathersby’s Laboratory  

DNA Laboratory
Weatherbys Ireland Laboratory
c/o The Irish Equine Centre
Co Kildare
Republic of Ireland
00353 4587 5521

The test is noninvasive and simply involves sending a sample of  c15 cow's hairs with their roots to the laboratory and costs around £8.00p per sample. Samples must be clearly labeled to identify the cows it's from and that the test is for A1 A2 DNA testing.  (Cost correct in June 2016)

More information on some of the science of the genetics of cow's and A1 and A2  Beta-Casein in milk see

Let's hope that greater awareness of the difficulties that some people have digesting A1 milk protein and the solution will go someway in restoring the fortunes of the British dairy and farming industry and may even open up new markets.  

You may also find my post: Vertically Integrated Milk - Mow some Yorkshire Diary Farmers are Increasing the Profit Margins of interest. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

Lessons From Two World Wars - Peace in Our Time

When I was a child I remember talking to Charlie who was in his 80's about the Great War. He told me about the mud and cold most of all he told me about the mud. Guess he couldn't say anything about the death and mutilation of the other men from the village whose names are on the long list on the war memorial in porch of the village church.

I also remember talking to my uncle and asked him about the war. He told me about Dunkirk and being rescued by the little ships, most of all he told me about the little ships and how the rescued him and his colleagues from the beaches.

My dad's memories of the war including being in a convoy from East Africa to India with a regiment of Africa soldiers to fight in the Burma campaign, one of the troupe ships was torpedoed and half the regiment was lost including a group of Queens Alexander nurses.

My mum worked a Red Cross nurse working in England nursing soldiers and airman who had been injured some had lost legs or suffered terrible burns.

So why am I telling you these stories now? It's because one of the reasons we have lived in one of longest if not the longest periods of peace in Europe is due to the vision of leaders such a Winston Churchill who saw the need for a united Europe and the need for the European Community.

So if you have the slightest bit of respect for those who fought for peace in Europe learn from history and don't follow the rise of nationalism. Our place is in Europe contributing to a community which in so many ways has brought peace in our time.

My Mother, as a result of what she has seen and experienced says vote remain for the sake of our children, she for one has seen the consequences of a divided European.

On this occasions I am going to do what I am told, but I was anyway.

Lessons from Bremen on Living in Community for the Common Good

A few years ago I had the privilege of visiting the city of Bremem to study the local authority’s work on sustainable transport. Their work on cycling and integrated ticking, combining the transport pass with a pass to tourism attractions was both innovative and excellent.

My friend and colleague on the morning we meet rather than take me to the bus station or to see a cycle parking scheme or the way cycle routes had priority at a roundabout asked if I had visited the church. 

I don't think was due to faith reasons as faith or God was never mentioned but rather to see the list of names on the war memorial.  There were literally 100s, if not 1000s, and these were just people from Bremen that had been killed in the bombing of the city during the Second World War. In fact most of the city centre was a 1960 concrete rebuild with only a few buildings of the historic centre remaining.

It wasn't that he wanted to be critical of the RAF as he also knew, what had occurred in cities such as Coventry and London but rather as we both knew that it was a complete and utter tragedy that our countries had been at war. We both agreed that this must never happen again.

The war was never mentioned again by either of us yet we both knew that part of the reason we should be cooperating on helping each other’s cities and regions improve their sustainable transport infrastructure was to build mutual understanding and respect across European countries so that we all might prosper. This is part of what it means to live in community to forgive the past and to cooperate for benefit of the common good of each and every one who lives in that community.

Therefore consider the lives that have been lost in our country and those in cities across Europe and please like me commit yourself to the common good of us all both in this country and in the rest of Europe. Now is the time to remain not run.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Rebuilding Dry Stone Walls & the Renewal of the Church in the Yorkshire Dales

In the Yorkshire Dales dry stone walls are everywhere and are an important feature of what makes the Yorkshire Dales special. Some date from the medieval period, others are monastic boundary walls and many result from the various Acts of Enclosure, which divided up  common land and laid out the field patterns we see today.

Many dry stone walls are well maintained providing boundaries for fields in which cattle and sheep graze and are an important habitat for wildlife.  Regrettable some dry stone walls have gaps and holes, have lost their tops stones, or are simply piles of stones lying in a field or are just lines on maps as the stones have been completely removed for other building projects.

So it is with the churches in the Dales, we can see patters of churches going back centuries with remains of ancient Abbeys and other places of worship from small remote chapels of ease to larger parish churches and non-conformist chapels.  Some churches have been closed and are looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust and some chapels have been turned in homes or even knocked down.

The renewal of the dry stone walls in the Dales is gradually underway. Different agencies from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Committee, The Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust farmers, land-owners and contractors are working to renew the Dale’s walls and barns and restore them to their former glory. The pattern of restoration may seem, opportunistic, uncoordinated, and sporadic yet over a period of time we can see a significant difference as these important features of the Dales landscape are being restored to their former glory.

So it is with the renewal of churches in the Dales in some areas congregations are small and declining, in other area there is a lot going on. People are actively engaged in seeking, proclaiming and demonstrating the Kingdom of God in word and deed and in making disciples.

We see different denominational streams working together on youth projects such as the Lower Wensleydale Youth Project and Reverb in Wharfedale.  In some villages Christian communities are being reformed as congregations agree to worship together and share resources such as in Hebden, Kettlewell and Grewelthorpe.

In other places congregations have been totally rebuilt for example  at Bolton Priory, where at one time the church was proposed for closure yet is now one of the largest congregations in the Dales.

There are also new worshiping community’s springing up in different places or around different themes such as the Forest Church congregation at Grinton or Splash that meets in a children’s play area in Brompton on Swale or Funkey Church in Richmond.

On top of this there has been death and renewal of the Christian Community at Scargill House in Wharfedale; which less than ten years ago was closed and put on the market. Also in Wharfedale, Yorkshire Camps has with the help of the Brammel Trust purchased Netherside Hall as a home for their evangelistic youth camps.

We also see churches developing their work of loving service with; food banks in Richmond and Skipton and debt advice services being offered by Hope Debt Advice in Bedale and Skipton Baptist Church.

So just as with the dry stone walls, progress with the renewal of the Church in the Dales may seem, uncoordinated, and sporadic. Yet if we are prepared to stand back, we will see that there are many encouraging and significant signs of growth as people respond to the spirit of God and the new contexts they find themselves in. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Good King Wenceslas 19th Century Carol with a Contemporary Message for Rural Communities

I was recently reflecting on the words of the Carol “Good King Wenceslas" and realised that the song may have a contemporary relevance for rural communities today.  For the words to the carol Click HERE

The fictitious story depicted in the carol was made up by Czech poet Václav Alois Svoboda in 1847.  (Hymnal) However there was a Duke of Wenceslas who lived between (907 & 935) in Bohemia, which is now part of the Czech Republic. Wenceslas was a Christian who ruled the country well, establishing education and law and order systems. However when he was 22 his brother Boleslav plotted against him and Wenceslas was murdered by Bolslav’s followers while on his way to church.  (

The words of the Carol based on the story were written by the 19th century writer J M Neale who put the words to the 13th century Swedish Easter (Flower Carol); which compares spring to resurrection and praises the maker who brings resurrection to all.      (Hymnal)
However despite its lack of historical accuracy the carol I believe has a powerful and relevant message for us today.

The context is the feast of Stephen, December 26th or Boxing Day. In medieval times the arms boxes in churches would be opened and the money distributed to the poor in the community. In later times it was a day when the servants of big houses would be given a day off and Christmas boxes would be distributed.

However this can be a cold period in the year as hinted at by (the moon shining brightly) a sign of clear skies resulting from a high pressure weather system. If a high pressure system settles over the country this can result in severe frosts and if there has previously been snow and a slight thaw the ground will be frozen hard like iron making it impossible to collect any wood, which may be lying on the ground and frozen under the snow’s surface.  Hence the peasant has wandered far from his home to gather winter fuel. The distance he has traveled being a league which is about five and a half km and even in good walking conditions would be over an hour and half walk illustrating his desperation to find fuel to keep warm. Ironically the page notes that the peasant lives near the forest fence, so why had he wandered so far if he was in need of fuel when there was forest near-by?  Perhaps the forest was fenced and that peasants were banned from entering it.  
The carol starts with King Wenceslas looking out and observing and then asking his page about what he saw.  This is perhaps an example to us all to look around us and observe what is going on in our local community and then asks others about what we see.

The king’s response, when he understands that the peasant is in need is to gather supplies and to go to where the peasant lives. He gathers together both quality food and drink, illustrated by the flesh or meat, which is sustaining food and also considers, in addition to the food, the need to provide fuel so that the peasant can cook and keep warm.

He then proceeds to journey with the supplies assisted by his page to where the peasant lives.  The king is personally getting involved in this incarnational task and at the same time involving others in the task.  Just as in our churches we might consider inviting others to partner or join with us in the service of the community. In fact it’s clear that in this charitable action the King and the page are journeying together. Perhaps a reminder of the story in the Gospels where Jesus sends out the disciple’s in twos ahead of him.  Luke 10v1

As they journey the page expresses anxiety about the task and refers to the darker night and the wind blowing stronger.  The King encourages the Page to keep close and follow in his very steps. Certainly to be separated when conditions are deteriorating would have been treacherous  for both the King and the page and emphasises the importance, that this is not a solo task.

The last verse highlights that it’s not only by keeping together and working in partnership that all can be blessed through engaging in service to the most vulnerable in their community. In that it doesn’t matter if you are a King or a page or have little yourself your will be blessed as you look around you at your community identifying the communities needs and inviting others to join with you in meeting those needs.

On reflecting on the Carol and looking around at our rural communities I can see that perhaps it also has a prophetic word for us today as fuel poverty, which just like in the carol, can be particularly acute in rural areas.

Fuel poverty is when a household’s fuel costs are above the national average and were to cover the costs of the fuel would mean the household is left with a residual income below the official poverty line.
Patterns of fuel poverty are often higher in rural communities for several reasons.

Firstly rural communities are usually well beyond the reach of the national gas grid which provides one of the cheaper ways to heat properties so people have to rely on oil, bottle gas or solid fuel which is more expensive. Even the price of logs has been rising steeply over recent years due to the popularity of wood burning stoves making logs less affordable.

Secondly properties in rural areas are often old and poorly insulated. With planning restrictions in areas of protected landscape such as conservation areas and National parks making it either more expensive or impossible to fit heat conserving features such as double glazing or to clad a building.

So how might rural churches and other people living in rural locations respond to the needs of the poor or vulnerable as winter approaches?
Firstly we can follow the example of King Wenceslas and look around is to identify those who are vulnerable or are likely to be in fuel poverty and then we can invite others to work with us to make sure people are looked after.

This might be as simple as providing insulation advice or helping people insulate their homes.  It could also involve making sure people are on the cheapest tariffs for electricity or gas if available. As a community we could perhaps start a fuel purchasing co-operative so that everyone can befit from lower prices for heating fuels.

As Christmas is a time of giving and receiving gifts we might also follow the example of King Wenceslas. For example, in Greystoke in Cumbria, a parish charity used to provide a sack of coal for older people, which in more recent years has been replaced by a gift of a Christmas hamper.  In Skipton, the Baptist Church provides Christmas hampers which has evolved in to the establishment of a food bank.  

More ideas on how your community can help people cope with winter weather and fuel poverty check out the Rural Action Yorkshire website and their Energy and Fuel Poverty Resources by clicking HERE and for Winter Weather Resources click HERE  

Bibliography, W., n.d. Some Stories behind Christmas Carols. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 28th Oct 2015].

Hymnal, C., n.d. FLOWER CAROL. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 28th Oct 2015].