Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The little Plastic Box that Saved Our Lives

We have all read the tragic stories of poorly serviced gas water boilers and people dying of carbon monoxide poisoning on holiday or in rented accommodation. 

If you have had a wood burning stove you we will also know that the Hetas qualified fitter will have supplied you with a Carbon Monoxide monitor and will have instructed you to keep it in the room where the stove is located

What you may not realise is that carbon monoxide can still be a potential killer even in a house equipped with a band new gas boiler if other factors come in to play.

The other day at 3 am I was woken by a loud beeping coming from the kitchen, I nearly ignored it thinking that the timing clock on the cooker was going off for some reason. After a few minutes it annoyed me so much I popped on a pair of shoes and headed for the kitchen.

The timer wasn’t going off but the noise was coming from a plastic box on the ceiling which looked like a fire alarm.  I thought oh bother it must be the batteries I know I will change them.   As I changed them I noticed it was a carbon monoxide alarm. Any how the beeping stopped and I was about to go to bed when it started again.  Okay, it's got a fault I thought, I know to be sure I will get the carbon monoxide alarm out of the lounge and put it next door to the alarm on top of a cupboard.  It didn’t come on so I thought okay I am safe to go back to bed not realising that Carbon monoxide take a few minutes to activate the alarm.

Just as I was about to go to sleep the new alarm went off.   I swore as I realised what an idiot I had been. I checked the controls on our new boiler in the bathroom cupboard, which is above the kitchen and found that the flame had been going out. I then opened the windows and checked that my sons sleeping in the bedrooms next to the bathroom were alive.

Once the house was ventilating and the alarm stopped I relaxed, I thought this has been serous I wonder what’s being going on. Finding the number for the gas emergency helpline which is open 24 hours a day I called the number 0800 111 999

In less than an hour Geoff, a gas safety engineer had arrived. We identified that some plastic sheeting moved by the wind had obstructed the boiler vent and prevented it working correctly and carbon monoxide had entered the house.

Geoff told me he had to cut off the gas to the boiler and it was really important that it wasn’t used again until the problem had been made safe and a gas safe engineer had checked the boiler for sooting up which could prevent it working correctly.

Afterwards he told me that if I hadn't allowed him to disconnect the gas to the boiler he would have called a works team that would have disconnected the gas supply to the house as the situation was that serious.

So that we were also kept warm he left a small electric fan heater for our use. I was so glad Geoff had come, not only did he make sure we were safe from the life threatening danger of the Carbon Monoxide gas which had very nearly killed the whole family he was reassuring and made sure we understood what we needed to do next.

What was also good to hear was that because of the seriousness of carbon monoxide Geoff would have come out even if our home was heated by oil or solid fuels.

What had been so frightening about the situation is that at 3am in the morning I was not thinking straight and I had doubted what that little plastic box on the kitchen ceiling, was trying to tell me.

The only reason in fact that it was there is that it remained from the days of the old gas boiler which had been mounted on the kitchen wall and removed earlier in the year.

So what did we do next?

First of all I started to realise what a near miss it had been and gave thanks for being alive. When someone said good afternoon to me in a petrol station it really hit home, it was indeed a good afternoon, my two sons and I were alive and when my wife returning from Scotland later that day found us all alive and well hadn’t opened the door to find the rest of her family dead in bed.

The next priority was to make sure the problem of the blocked flue wasn’t going to happen again and the boiler engineer was called to make sure the boiler was safe to use and to reconnect the gas.  

After this I went to Screw Fix and bought four additional carbon monoxide alarms. One of which I placed next to the boiler and the other three in each of our bedrooms. At the same time I also purchased additional fire alarms for each room in the house.

Then my wife and I looked up at the grubby little plastic box on our kitchen ceiling and realised that it had saved our lives so we renamed it “Saviour”

Finally I think the big lesson out of all this is even if you live in a modern house and you have gas, oil or solid fuel heating, make sure you have a carbon monoxide alarm and check the batteries. They only cost a few pounds and could save your life just as “Saviour” saved ours.

If you have a gas emergency or a carbon monoxide alarm goes off, get people out of the house call the emergency number on 0800 111 999 as Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odourless and silent killer. 

For more information about Carbon Monoxide Click HERE

Thursday, 10 November 2016

A Weight Loss Pilgrimage

Slowly I have grown to be on the verge of being overweight

I had never thought I would need to diet, for years I had been pretty lean but slowly I took on a bit of weight. I had grown heavier very slowly and in fact I had started to feel okay about this as I didn’t look so thin as I had once looked.

Gradually my belt needed to be let out a notch and then a year or so later another but the weight was only increasingly slowly.

Then one day I bought some new shirts from Marks and Spencer’s. The neck size was right, the chest size was the same but as they were a tailored fit they were rather tight around my tummy. This was a a wakeup call and checking my weight I realised that I was just 200g short of being classed as overweight, in fact I later discovered that due to faulty scales I had just been on the limit of being classed as overweight for my height.

Something had to be done

My wife who’s a GP and has a diploma in sports and exercise medicine advised that to get my weight down I should follow a combination of exercise and calorie reduction and in particular drew attention to my snacking on biscuits during the working day.

I realised that there were several areas I could make an almost instant and painless reduction in my calorie consumption including:
  • Reducing the amount of cheese, chocolate and biscuits I ate
  • Cutting out that occasional glass of wine and replacing it with a glass of Beck Blue non-alcoholic beer.
  • Cutting out the large amount of bread I consumed with my sandwiches at lunch and replacing it with a bowl of soup and a tasty salad. 

In terms of exercise I was already occasionally cycling but rather than go for a longer and harder ride at the weekend, what I decided to do was go for a ten mile round trip bike ride on a purpose built cycleway on as many evenings as possible.  Using www.strava.com,  an on line app for my mobile phone I was able to monitor my rides.  Strava providing details of the height and distance covered plus an estimate of the calories consumed, my evening ride for example being calculated to require about 340 calories of energy.  

What was encouraging with this approach is that almost immediately I started to make some progress at reducing my weight.

However after a few week I started to plateau and I realised I needed to up the ante. Looking at my diet I realised that although I had done something significant with my snacking and high carbohydrate lunch I still was eating a normal evening meal which often included pasta, potatoes and even occasionally chips.

Following the Approach of Marginal Gains

Now I got serious and decided to follow the advice of British Cycling and looked at different ways I could make a number of marginal gains which would  add together to make a significant difference.

For example I decided to replace the carbs in the evening meal with a large quantity of salad with a big bowl of leaves, fresh tomatoes, radish, spring onions and either capers or olives. I also identified that by reading the labels on food items that we could chose brands of foods or products containing fewer calories but tasting just as good. 

Using an on line application www.aktibmi.com  to monitor my daily progress and weighing each morning I was encouraged that I was again gradually losing weight and on average this was by about  200g a day.  Along the way the Akti-BMI app give encouraging little cheers when I made progress or achieved one of the waymarks I had set myself on my path of weight loss.

Dealing with the Plateaus

However there were clearly times and periods when I plateaued or my weight increased. See graph below. However these periods often coinciding with family events such as staying with relatives or a meals out to celebrate birthdays or periods of time when it was not possible to cycle as frequently.  

One of the largest plateaus was when we were away on holiday and although cycling every day I eat a large breakfast and evening meal with wine. 

However I now knew not to be disheartened by this and if I continued with the discipline I had developed when I got home I was soon back on track and making progress.

What was an encouragement was when my wife also decided to join in and to also lose some weight; I think this was partly as a result of her seeing me make progress.Thus each day we were challenging and encouraging one another and watching each other that we didn’t slip by having some feta cheese on our salads or eating some of that dark chocolate I used to enjoy that was still in the cupboard.

Reaching the Finish Line 

One of my biggest challenges came when I again started to plateau when my weight was just a few Kilograms short of my target.   However a conversation with a friendly cyclist on my evening rides gave a possible solution.  To burn fast and reduce weight when cycling requires to be exercising relatively hard. Ironically what had occurred was that not only had I got fitter but I was now some 13kg / two stone lighter and although I was doing my ride at the same speed this now required less effort so I was using less energy. The solution was again to tweak what I did and to increase the effort. Perhaps unsurprisingly this again had an immediate impact and I was again losing weight although now it was down to 100 grams a day.

Final after some four months my weight has dropped nearly 18Kg and is now down to 60Kg and I cannot believe I had lost some 44lbs or three stones let alone that I could lose this amount in a few months.

Now the real challenge begins of keeping it down and continuing the good practices I have learnt over the last few months, whilst changing my diet again this time to plateau my weight and keep it within acceptable limits.

It’s interesting to see and hear the reactions of friends and work colleagues, both of us have found that many people are concerned that we may have lost weight due to illness and ask questions such as. “Are you all right?”    Often when I explain I have been deliberately losing weight the reaction is clearly one of obvious relief but also sometimes the comment. “You have lost enough”.
My wife has found that many of her friends make comments such as you look brilliant but have also found that we need to purchase new clothes and finding clothes that fit our new slim shapes isn’t always easy.

Clearly what we have both achieved is counter cultural. The pressure to eat food and portions that encourage weight gain in our country today is immense. However it’s encouraging to find that more cafés now list the calories on menus or have low calorie options.  

Finally what does my experience of weight loss teach me about my Christian discipleship?

·        First of all was the realisation that I needed to make some changes and to develop a plan which was achievable to make some progress, with the realisation that this was going to take some time

·    Secondly by monitoring the progress I was making and the things that improved my performance on the journey of weight loss I was able to fine tune what I was doing so that I could make further progress.

·         Thirdly it wasn’t just do one big thing like a 70km bike ride at the weekend or missing lunch my steady weight loss was achieved by doing lots of small things. I.e. there was no quick fix or magic pill. My weight loss was achieved through lots of small actions like regular short bike rides, cutting out those biscuits and cheese and glasses of wine and choosing lower calorie brands of pickles.

·         Fourthly having the support, advice and companionship of my wife made a real difference to enable me to make a plan and follow it through effectively.

·         Realising that occasionally things would not go as planned but with the ability to look back on the progress I had already made enabled me to regroup and continue to press on towards the goal that was set before me.

·         Being open to listening and evaluating the comments made by others to constantly strive for the goal set before me.

·         Even what appeared to be simply little cheers from the Akti-BMI app on my phone was an encouragement to make further progress.

·         Finally nearing my target my daily reading from Richard Rohr pointed out that Christian discipleship is not only about worshipping Jesus, it’s about following him and the way up is in fact the way down of self-denial and the cross. This struck a chord with me about my journey as I had used the very phase with my wife about weight loss  as to achieve our goal we had to deny ourselves and it had been achieved through effort i.e. with weight loss just as in our walk with God there are no quick and easy fixes or short cuts. 

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Why is the Church failing to Connect With Men?

Research quotes by Christian Vision for Men suggests that there are two women for every one man in our churches.  Whilst I don’t have access to this research my own experience is that this is the situation in many churches although there are some churches which achieve almost equal numbers. I don’t think I have every experienced a church where men predominate women in terms of numbers.
Christian Vision for men also suggests that the most likely person to be attending church is a middle class women and the least likely is a working class man.

The research they quote also suggest that if a dad finds Christ then in 93% of cases their family will follow yet if a mum finds Christ then only in 17% of cases their family will follow and if a child finds Christ only 3.5% of their families follow. 

As Bill Hybel said:
The key to reaching unchurched families was to reach husbands.
The key to reaching husbands was to create church where men weren’t embarrassed to worship.
Once Dad was in the door, the family would happily follow.

While Richard Rohr points out:
We are not a healthy culture for boys or men. Not the only, but one reason is that we are no longer a culture of elders who know how to pass on wisdom, identify and set boundaries to the next generation. Most men are over-mothered and under fathered.
So it’s worth asking the question why in our mission activities isn’t a greater priority given to working with men alongside initiatives aimed at children, young people and women?

Issues for Men
At the same time there are some serious issues that affect men, for example, the most likely cause of death for men under fifty is suicide.

Obesity is also higher for men and data for 2014 showing that 61.7% of adults were overweight or obese (65.3% of men and 58.1% of women).  (England, 2016)

There are other issues of isolation, loneliness and depression particularly for older men who are no longer working, their former working environment having provided a group of daily companions and a sense of value through their work.  The danger on their retirement is that a man’s daily activity can drift in to passivity watching day time television or sitting in a pub or working men’s club bar, making a drink last all afternoon. For some men there can be a drift in to alcohol abuse, obesity and the use of pornography, which sadly is high in towns such as Harrogate. 

This drift from being active, physically engaged and in control of one’s life in to one of being passive and being done for, with limited control is dis-empowering,  demotivating  and can lead to a lack of self-worth and respect and in my view may lead to the alcohol and other abuse noted above and even suicide. Which sadly is the main cause of death for men under 50 and in areas such as Kirklees is a great deal higher for men than it is for women. 

In addressing this there is a danger that well-meaning caring professionals and in particular women, may in fact further dis-empower men as they take control and organise or do things for men whilst trying to be helpful. The result can be a further erosion of men’s confidence and self-worth resulting in a loss of joy and fun and potentially leading to depression.

As Carl Beech the president of Christian Vision for Men puts it “There is an epidemic of loneliness among men and real lack of joy”

As was reported in a recent article the New York Times research in to longevity has also shown that having good friends is one of the most important contributory factors in increasing life expectancy by as much as 22%. So isolation and loneliness will have a major detrimental effect on the life of men in our communities.

Addressing Isolation
If we look at places when men socialise these are often associated with engaging in some form of activity such as participation in sport or practical task group such as railway modelling, helping at a heritage railway or being involved in a men’s shed. Often the conversations are one to one or in a small group of perhaps just two or three people will talk as they work together on a project.

The general pattern is of engaging in activity together rather than being passive recipients even attending to watch a football match can hardly be described as a passive activity.
These interests are reflected in the titles and content of men’s magazines with cars, fitness and sport being titles being featured on newsagent’s shelves.

The Australian Men’s shed’s movement has identified this pattern and describe this way of communication as talking shoulder to shoulder. At the same time socialising may take place after an activity for example in a sports club, bar or village pub after game of rugby or cricket. However even here the layout of the bar will encourages men to talk shoulder to shoulder as they stand at the bar or sit on a stool at the bar.

Richard Rohr in his book Adam’s Return says.
“Men crave male attention at all ages but cannot openly ask for it. So they hang around other men at sports events, in bars, in Lions Clubs, at military academies, in wars and at work sites and hope that it will rub off somehow. It looks too much like weakness and neediness to name it consciously, so we garner male attention in all kinds of macho ways. As strong as the sexual drive is, and as beautiful as the company of women is, men all over the world create venues and situations where the can be together.”

Why is Church failing to deliver for men?

One of the reasons why the church may be off putting is that it can seem very feminine for many men.  To those of us familiar and brought up with a tradition of attending  church we are used to our patterns of worship and other gatherings but to a man unfamiliar then church can be a very alien and off putting environment and especially if numerically dominated by women and women’s culture.
Richard Rohr puts it like this: “I would assert that Jesus was being very much a man and very much a layman in the way that he practiced religion. Today’s religious male has been told that to be religious he should be feminine, sensitive, churchy, and what some call SNAGs (Soft New Age Guys) and it is not working or even appealing to most men of the world”.

An example is the pitching of songs in keys which are in appropriate for deeper mail voices and as Dr James Melton, Chair of the Department of Music at Vanguard University puts it  in Designing Worship for Men that:

“Often our songs are pitched too high for the men (and often the average women) to sing comfortably.  Many songs are taken straight from the latest worship CD or studio to the worship service, and often don’t work practically.  The melody is often in the upper registers, even for tenors, so men that are baritones or basses just “drop out.”  Often, the rhythms may be too difficult for the average guy to pick up as well.”

With David Murrow pointing on the Church for Men’s website pointing out that the lyrics may also be inappropriate for a guy and uses the example of the words of a worship song:
“Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate
I feel I’m moving to the rhythm of Your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place

Why do worship leaders choose such girly songs, filled with romantic imagery, even when they perform at men’s events?”

Compare this to hymns and songs such as Rise up O Men of God.
Rise up, O Church of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.

How great is our God
How great is our God
Sing with me
How great is our God
And all will see
How great, how great is our God

This may seem funny if it wasn’t true but the surplice warn in many Anglican churches for those unfamiliar with church traditions and history  may appear to men visiting, that the male leaders are dressing in a feminine style by wearing a surplice are in fact wearing a women’s dress or even night attire.

Not only this but churches with pretty lace alter cloths and linens, which would appear more at home in a tea room than a place of a working man’s world, give the impression that a church is no place for a hard working bloke.

For men, who as boys found academic subjects at school a struggle and who chose a career perhaps in construction or a practical subject, listening to a sermon and worshipping in a word ordinated world is going to be the last thing that appeals and perhaps reminds them of how at school the girls dominated academic achievement, which caused them to follow other paths.  

From what we have seen above about the way men socialise the idea of a bible study or fellowship where members are sit in a circle and talk about beliefs in a group will be not only be unfamiliar but its structure and style may make it inherently difficult for many men to participate.

As David Murrow points out in Why Men Hate Going to Church: “Women and elderly are more security orientated than men and young people.  This is why we see so many women and old folks in church. They’re in the market for security. But the missing men are looking for adventure, risk, independence, and reward. If they can’t find these things in church they’ll look elsewhere”. 
It is therefore perhaps not surprising that that there are few working class men and their families in our churches. 

Jesus Ministry
Jesus in his ministry seemed to have the knack of connecting well with the working men of the fishing villages and perhaps there is something we can learn from his approach.

Often when people talk about Jesus’s method of discipleship they refer to the twelve disciples; however I believe when we read the New Testament we find that Jesus was in fact working with a core group or team of 3 or 4 guys.

First of all we see him down on the shore of Lake Galilee where he called Peter, James, John and Andrew, Matthew 4:18-22. We she him showing them what he did, one example is the healing of Jairus’s daughter, Luke 8:40-56. Jesus tells everyone else to leave and takes with him the parents and Peter, James and John. The same three were with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Much of his discipling also took place in the outdoors around boats including some adventurous night and rough weather sailing. We also often find him teaching in small groups over meals ether in people’s homes or fish cooked on open fires on a beach.

Developing Discipleship Programs for Men
Jesus commands us in Mathew 28v16 to go and make disciples and I very much believe he is ahead of us in this mission. Therefore we can assume he is ahead of us drawing men to himself so we can adopt a discipling relationship with all that we meet.

As the Christian Vision for Men’s (CVM) evangelism strategy points out, the first stage must be to develop friendships through engaging in activities with men. It’s not about inviting them to church or a gospel message but about building good solid friendships. As we have already noted men socialise through doing activities together and therefore  CVM suggest that we should engage and invite men to be involved in activities such as cycling, canoeing, paintballing, bowling, walking, i.e. activities that emphasise having a bit of fun together and also the opportunity for the challenge of a project or an adventure together.

Following this CVM suggest that men are invited to share a meal together perhaps a curry and a decent spread, during which time perhaps a guest will tell something of their story.
Over a period of time through regular activities together and occasional meals together friendships and trust are built.  

It’s interesting to see that one of the Methodist churches city centre outreach projects in Liverpool “Somewhere Else “developed by Barbra Glasson combined both the activity of making bread and eating together.  This connected with a significant number of men. This seems to be a strategy which can be replicated in engaging in an activity where men talk whist working, sharing food together with the development of a worshipping community. See https://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/resources/dvd1/08

The conclusion for me is that discipleship is developed by inviting men in to doing things together; in serving the community together rather than teaching and head knowledge discipleship and is transferred through following the example of other men in the doing of the Kingdom and in following the call of Christ in a particular context.

Men’s Sheds
In terms of developing deeper and longer term friendships particularly with retired men a Men’s Shed could be a good way to do this. Men’s sheds were initially developed in Australia with some being run by Churches a few years later. There are over 900 and they have also taken off in the UK with the UK Men’s Sheds Association reporting over 300 and some 84 in development.

A Men's Shed is a larger version of the typical man’s shed in the garden – a place where he feels at home and pursues practical interests with a high degree of autonomy. A Men's Shed offers this to a group of such men where members share the tools and resources they need to work on projects of their own choosing at their own pace and in a safe, friendly and inclusive venue. They are places of skill-sharing and informal learning, of individual pursuits and community projects, of purpose, achievement and social interaction, a place of leisure where men come together to work.

A few churches have developed including Kiaros Network Church in Harrogate where a group of men gathers in a church basement under a group name Resurrection Bikes  to repair donated bikes to support mission charities as a group project.    The group has already drawn in a number of men on the fringes of the church and men unconnected and have occasional gatherings to share meals and hear speakers from the Christian charities they support. 

Also in Harrogate a group of men as part of the Joshua Project works to support people on low incomes by helping renovate their properties so they can have a pleasant and attractive place to live.
In a way this is like in the early church, where Christian engaged in social justice issues caring for widows, visiting prisoners and it was through these actions that people were attracted to the Christian community and joined it. However it wasn’t until after a long period of involvement and teaching by a catechist and the demonstration of a changed lifestyle that induction through Baptism in to the church took place.


Perhaps men could be attracted to the church community through being invited to take part in activities which make a difference in their local communities.

Through volunteering in this way, they will not only make friends and but can potentially address issues which bring men down such as passivity and lack of self -value and thereby address negative habits and self-harm as noted above and be brought in to the community of the church and become disciples of Christ

Discussion Starters
  • What are the needs and issues of men in our community? Do men suffer from isolation and a lack of joy and depression amongst the men we know and if so what are the reasons for this?

  • What is the gender split in our churches and what might be the reason for this? Could for example our pattern and style of worship be off putting for men and in particular working class men?

  • How might we best connect with men in our community? Are there projects or activities that men could gather round?

  • As relationship form and the opportunity arises to invite men to be part of our Christian community is inviting them in to the existing pattern of worship the way forward or should we look to other structures cantered around activities and active participation and sharing food together? 

Books and Resources

Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly Link:www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0712610707 (This is an amazing book and a core reader about men)

Christian Vision for Men www.cvm.org.uk http://cvm.org.uk/thecode   ( A rule of life for men)
CVM have a number of resources and the DVD called Men is quite interesting see http://cvm.org.uk/men

From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality Richard Rohr Link: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0867167408

Adam's Return - Five Promises of Male Initiation:  Richard Rohr www.amazon.co.uk/dp/082452280X

Why men hate going to church revised by David Murrow Link: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/078523215X See accompanying web site http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/why-do-men-hate-going-to-church/

The Map by David Murrow Link: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0785227628

UK Men’s Sheds Association http://menssheds.org.uk/
Designing Worship for Men: http://www.vanguard.edu/churchrelations/designing-worship-for-men/

Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul by John Eldredge www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0785268839

The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom by Alan Kreider Link: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1556353936

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Masham Sheep Fair

One of the great joys of living in a rural county like North Yorkshire is the number of events organised by local communities to support local charities.  Masham is no exception and this year the Masham Sheep Fair celebrated thirty years. Each year different local or regional charities are supported and this year it was the turn of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance

What amazed me, being at the fair for the first time was not only the fantastic atmosphere but also the number of different local organisations that co-operated and worked so hard to make the event so successful.

Local businesses such as Black Sheep Brewery and Theakston’s were there, as were teams of Morris Dancers including Ripon City Morris and both the Church of England and Methodist churches were fully involved.

The event was also a great social opportunity to catch up with friends and to network with other organisations.

Graham Lilley of the Farm Community Network and Revd David Cleves of Masham

Food always helps people enjoy themselves and it was good to find that wood fuel was being used by the “Wood Fire Dine” company of Leeds to cook some really great pizzas. (Insert Picture) and the members of the Methodist church were busy serving refreshments.

What was good to see were the different varieties of sheep on display not just the ones well known in the Dales such as Swaledale and Masham but also Ryelands (White and coloured)  Dorset and Zwartbles which originate from Holland, just to name a few of long list in the schedule.


White and Black Ryeland sheep

Entertainment was provided by a series of sheep races, a sheep show, processions, and sheepdog demonstrations as well as the judging of the different breeds of sheep and commentary and explanations of the different attributes of the different breeds.

The Saturday evening entertainment included “Sheep Tales” with a Pie and Pea Supper which raised funds for two important rural charities the RABI and The Farm CommunityNetwork.

In the Parish church there was a spectacular display of flower arrangements as well as demonstrations of hand bell ringing.

The weekend finishing with a Songs of Praise service in the Methodist church.

All in all, a great weekend with lots to enjoy and in aid of great causes. Next year’s Sheep Fair will again be held in a weekend in late September see www.mashamsheepfair.com for details. 

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. See Donovan's Book Christianity Rediscovered 

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 www.plunkett.co.uk
For Details of Assets of Community Value Right to Bid click HERE
The George and Dragon  http://georgeanddragonhudswell.co.uk