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Author: James Woodward

Take this Journey with Rohr

Take this Journey with Rohr

Richard Rohr The Universal Christ SPCK 2019 ( £9.99)

It is an often stated conviction expressed by a wide variety of individuals and groups that the Church, Organised Religion and (important for us here at Sarum College) Theology are in decline. The statistics certainly bears this assertion out. However this should not be our final word that may spread gloom and despondency as we human beings are often drawn into the inhabiting such negativity as life, places and institutions change. We must look beyond the immediacy of some of these signs to understand and affirm the ever present cogency and power of the spiritual dimension of our living and longings. We know ourselves to be much more than physical beings. We have capacity to explore what living means for us. For many there is a deep sense of the spiritual integrity and reality of our human longing to flourish and see our communities cohere around building common good for all. It is into this space that a trusted guide can help us navigate the journey of our souls. We human beings have been engaged in the activity of living for many centuries and religion, at its best, has guided, deepened and transformed our sense of how best life might be lived in the light of the reality and truth of God. Richard Rohr has captured our imagination as a teacher, a contemplative and an agitator a radical compassion especially for those who are socially marginalised. He is also a prolific writer but the quantity of his output has not diminished the quality of his books. Rohr has a wonderful attention to detail and a profound capacity to unfold what it means to see the reality of Christ in creation and in and through our human struggles. This is a remarkable book that will soon find a prominent place by your side. Rohr takes his reader carefully and steadily into a journey of deepening discovery and rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the practical implications for each one of us as we live within the proclaiming of the Kingdom of God. Deeply rooted in Scripture, history and spiritual practice we are offered here what it might mean to live with in the Christ shaped liberating and life giving expression and presence of God. Be aware also that this is not an entirely comfortable read – Rohr offers to those who journey with him in this narrative some radical theological wisdom. I challenge those who attend closely to these seventeen chapters not to be shifted in their sense of the meaning purpose and practice religion.

This book is tremendous value for money! SPCK have printed the book with skill and style. The challenge is how the reader puts this theology into practice. From this perspective engagement with Rohr might best be done in a small group over a period of time.

In Praise of the larger book ( all 1100 pages ) Churchill by Andrew Roberts

In Praise of the larger book ( all 1100 pages ) Churchill by Andrew Roberts


Well three months later and I actually finished it – though some chapters were given more attention that others. A kind present from a friend following a bereavement this heavyweight acted as a kind of  self improving distraction for which in the end I am grateful. I have dipped in and out of modern political biography and autobiography for three decades. It is a variable diet – much of the autobiographical stuff fails to distinguish between the objective and subjective wandering as they    (perhaps understandably ?)  into the realm of self justification. Getting the right distance between self, time and event is notoriously difficult!

The most memorable biography of Churchill on my shelves is by Roy Jenkins. I have some of Gilberts work but they remain unread waiting for retirement perhaps. I was astonished to learn  there have been over 1,000 previous studies of Churchill’s life. what more is there to be said ?  Roberts rises to the occasion with rigour and a determination that makes one wonder whether he has eaten or slept for some years.

It is readable and Roberts has a fluency and admirable grasp of detail. I do not possess the detailed knowledge of history to make any absolute judgment about the accuracy of this text. The sources are meticulously documented alongside excellent maps and illustrations. It is a life in two parts:  with an unambitious thesis that divides the life into a game of two halves: from Churchills birth in 1874 almost as preparation for the trials of 1940, followed by the extraordinary response to the threat of Nazi invasion.

Several things intrigue. Its hard to know how attractive or admirable Churchill was. Ambitious certainly and (almost absurdly) self-confident seem characteristic of the early years. When does self confidence become arrogance or even dangerous? Upon what is it based? For Churchill his own self absorption drove him into a single minded commitment to his own political power and self advancement. The man in this narrative is (like us all ) a bundle of contradictions. He is (amongst other things ) a soldier, journalist, artist and a wit.

My own sympathies were kindled by Roberts and his deeply pastoral understanding of Churchills childhood. Unsettled, lonely, lacking might characterise these years. An only child that experienced loneliness and boredom largely ignored by his Father and with a mother, Jennie,‘who was largely absent. The most important figure that featured prominently in his life was his nanny. I am familiar with the pattern of this separation and its consequences in private and public. It is intriguing to ask how far these fragilities played out in the second half of Churchills life. In this painting Roberts is generous and forgiving and this makes these pages ‘lighter’ and more endurable.Despite of all of this Roberts shows us a picture of a character that believed we can rise above anything and do something magnificent with our lives.

There is also some interesting ‘correcting’ of Churchills drinking habits. Roberts argues that this inveterate drinker was rarely the worse for wear. He claims, oddly, that Churchill was only drunk in wartime on 6 July 1944.

Churchill’s power was immense and in the second world war he used it with zest and concentrated vigour. The description of the events of 1940 need reading and re reading as a sober reminder of the fragility and unpredictability of War. Roberts is convinced that without this towering force of nature we would have lost. Here is a man of gravitas, judgement, courage and a generosity of heart.

As I pen these reflections at the beginning of a New Year I can’t help but feel that Brexit politics needs a Churchill to rescue us from impending doom. Pessimistic ? Perhaps – let us see what 2019 will bring. If you want to take your mind off matters European then these 1100 pages will certainly do that.

Back to my Roots? The legacy of Brooke Foss Westcott

Back to my Roots? The legacy of Brooke Foss Westcott

I finished reading Isabel Hardman on turned to thoroughly researched life of Westcott. There were many resonances and connections. As the son of a miner the title was arresting. Ordained in Durham after theological studies at Westcott House Cambridge there were further connections. I have a copy of his commentaries on Hebrews and St Johns Gospel and am in awe of this great mans scholarship, though his style of prose makes its demand on the reader !   Graham Patricks attention to detail in this  carefully researched portrait did not disappoint.

Of course we live in a different age and as a new year beckons us the Church of England faces particular challenges and opportunities. It is always wrong to idealise the past but equally reprehensible not to learn from is and especially those whose lives have been grounded, faithful and prophetic.

In Westcott we are struck in this biography by his scholarship. His prodigious devotion ( with Hort) on their edition of the Greek New Testament took years of care and devotion. Westcott show us what reverence of Scripture looks like and how these words have the power to transform. Much is made in our day of our distracted busy lives but there is something here about attention, reflection and the wisdom that comes from listening to the tradition. Theology isn’t a luxury but a necessity for love and growth in the Way.

In Westcott this study was grounded and contextualised in a deep sense of community. From the incarnation he derived a belief in universal human connectivity. He cared about the poor and disposed within an urban Birmingham and Durham.In 1892, he helped miners to a strike settlement.

Westcott House Jesus Lane Cambridge

Westcott House, the durable theological college at Cambridge that issued from his efforts to nature an educated clergy. It stands in a tradition of open, generous orthodoxy of forming men and women for ministry within a broad and liberal tradition. Unconcerned about his own comfort Westcott ( we are told ) treated people as human beings. He was a pastoral Bishop who bothered very much about people and their lives.


An enriching read with plenty of connections and challenges. An encouragement to see the value of theology, to relate faith into the context of peoples lives and above all to nurture the value of a pastoral heart.

Brooke Foss Westcott

Christmas Reading – what kind of politicians do we have or need?

Christmas Reading – what kind of politicians do we have or need?

I wonder what you will dip into over this holiday season by way of escape or relaxation?

I took a risk with this book. The title was arresting and the author the recognisable voice of BBC Radio 4s Westminster  Hour. Of course we live in a complex and contested world and one where the quality of public narrative is inevitably variable but what are we to make of modern politics and those who choose this profession?

Hardman is a skilled guide for anyone who wants to understand how our political system works. It is baffling and full of pitfalls and ( to be frank ) shocking and at times unbelievable limitations and subjectivities. The most informative  section of the book is its examination of how politicians get selected as candidates and then elected to parliament.  Hardman draws upon her experience of listening to many candidates who did not succeed in getting elected. The cost and culture of this process reveals a deeply unsatisfactory collusion with a small group of unelected  people who demand collusion and approval rather than independence and a spirit of service. The costs associated with the search for a nomination to a seat in a constituency  limits the scope and character of those who succeed. In this and other ways, Hardman argues, our politics has real power to force individuals to be good or bad. Many examples are shared about the latter category. The core thesis that we get the wrong ‘sorts’ of people in politics is starkly put within this examination of the selection procedure.

Hardman turns her attention to political patronage and parliamentary one-upmanship. The system for passing laws is exposed as inadequate and she uses the example of housing policy to expose the flaws of reform that has not been work through.

We all want to make a difference and for some the search for and exercise of power is an important part of this (seemingly ) altruistic ethic. How does politics stay in touch with communities especially when we have such a lack of diversity on parliament? What kind of reality do politicians inhabit? What might it be reasonable of us to expect from them?

The prospect of 2019 is uncertain. Politics has the capacity to bind up, resolve, unite, reconcile and transform. Hardman asks us to listen more carefully to motivations and limitations. We need to engage and inform and take responsibility for the humanising of this power. What do we need to do to make a difference to our work and our communities ?

Hardman has offered a convincing analysis of the Westminster workplace. We glimpse something of the way politics does and does not work. Hardman offers a range of characters where we find obsessive souls, tortured hearts, hopes and dreams along with the inevitable ( perhaps? ) sex, love and scandal. But that as our Mothers would say is life – as we get over the problems this book challenges its reader to examine what we might do to get on with a better kind of politics.

James Woodward

Christmas 2018

Christmas 2018

I wonder what kind of year that you have had? What do we bring into the coming days – our memories, our hopes, our frustrations and disappointments? The picture of the Quaker tapestry reflects the fragmentedness, richness and complexity of all of our lives.

When we turn to the Christmas story we discover a similar richness and complexity ! This is a narrative that contains so much. Angels, animals, shepherds, an unmarried mother and an older father, people filled with expectation, hopeful, but also consumed with political cynicism. It is all in the story – and if you pause to think about some of the story of 2018 – we might see it in our lives today. It is in the diversity of our world, the confusion of our days, the chaos of ourselves. Brexit, unrest, inequality, peace threatened – Salisbury has lived through much of this during this year !

It is difficult to see the whole because we only see the parts.

Perhaps religious people are often too good at sorting the good from the bad, the joy from the sadness, the beautiful from the ugly. We sort and separate, control and organise so as not to contaminate. It is as if, on the desks of our lives, we put the perfect on one side and the imperfect on the other.

It is certainly not God’s way of dealing with us. It is all drawn together as a whole, and we are drawn to it – drawn to the improbably comforting image of that strange, crude diversity of people huddled around a baby. This incarnates what we know to be true.

Life is wild and uncontrollable, unpredictable and gloriously fragile. When we see it altogether, we see it whole – healed of our divisions, our categories, our judgements.
Let us move into 2019 with lives that take shape in light. We can emerge from the cold, lonely, frightening darkness and see ourselves and our life in a new light.

This new light is the light of Jesus Christ and an abiding, dependable, stabilising love that transforms. Let’s live with the world as it is – whole, as God created it and especially as God nurtures it in love.

May these days be blessed and love to you and yours for the coming year. Remember you are loved, cherished and held by God.

Getting Ready for Christmas ? Gratitude and Light !

Getting Ready for Christmas ? Gratitude and Light !

Last week I travelled to the Midlands for meetings in Birmingham. Walking through the centre later in the day I appreciated the lights and colour and smell of the German market. It was great to see families browsing, eating, drinking and laughing. It was also very good to hear German stallholders enjoying theirBrummie customers.

 Three preachers at the bottom of the street braved the cold to proclaim: We are here because of the birthday of Jesus Christ. Don’t forget the message at heart of Christmas. Don’t get lost in all of this frenzy of consumerism.

I wasn’t around long enough to judge whether their bold declarations made any difference to the crowds.  

 But I did reflect on how the power and agency and love of a positive and affirming approach can convey a message better than a negative and denouncing one. Withoutdevaluing those who want passionately to share something of the hope and light of God with others – I was reminded that showing what this means is always better than shouting. We bear witness by the kind of people we are and are becoming more powerfully than a multitude of words.

I suspect that in this run-up to the Christmas season – for Christians it’s Advent – most of you know what it is really all about.

Some will find your way into churches to express your spiritual selves in prayer and wonder and music. You don’t need to be reminded that we are more than just material beings – that all of us need to find space to nourish the human spirit as we say at Sarum College.

Two pointers for a deeper experience of Advent. 

Rediscover your hopeful selves by nurturing gratitude. Count the reasons to be thankful – the security of our homes, good work colleagues, the beauty of the world around us, those who have shown us kindness. All these and more are reasons to be hopeful. Perhaps each of us may resolve to do something that might give others firmer confidence for hope.


Second, light a candle at home or in a church as a sign of prayer for someone or something that is concerning you. These are particularly uncertain times. Most of us will have had points of hardship or upset this year. We will know people for whom this season will be painful or lonely. Many will not know peace and comfort. Light a candle for them. Let us each make a protest against the darkness.


May the coming days bring you and those you love both hope and light. Be that hope for others. Be the light that will empower us to turn the darkness into light!


James Woodward

Principal Sarum College

(first published in the Salisbury Journal)

A Shaking Reality – a new book for Advent from Peter Price

A Shaking Reality – a new book for Advent from Peter Price

A Shaking Reality : Daily Reflections for Advent

Peter B Price

DLT 2018 



Sometimes even the the most faithful of hearts might wonder how our religious words, images and  metaphors make a difference. How do they shape our understanding of the world, God and the practice of believing ? If we desire God to shake and change us then we need to pause and resolve to open ourselves up to the Gospel. On this lifelong journey of transformation we shall need wisdom that often comes from others who know the something of the struggle to believe and faithfulness to Christ. You will find in Peter Price a trusted guide and in these pages you will discover a grounded, honest and humane exploration of why we should take this season of Advent seriously. He understands that our experience of the world can distract and confuse. He understands how Christianity is always drawing us into a changing and a profound shaking.

Acceptance of the soil of this real world does not dilute or distract us from the firmest of convictions with which these series of reflections and prayers are offered for us as a resource for Advent. I promise you that you will be warmed, encouraged, challenged and confronted by the beauty of a prose that takes the reader into the very heart of our faith. I found in these pages a renewal and a call to re engage with with what is authentic and real. There is comfort in the promise and food in plenty for our journey of discovery into the loving invitation into the mystery  of redemption in the incarnation of Jesus.

I shall be sharing this book with others and will tweet nuggets of its treasures during Advent in praise of the ‘heart-led ‘spiritual release into a deeper truth that Price leads us.

On an informative note the book is inspired by a meditation ( The Shaking Reality of Advent ) written by Fr Alfred Deep SJ while he was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War 11 and before his execution. There is a reflection and prayer for each day of Advent with a prayer. Each is short enough for even the busiest of us should be able to carve out some time for reflection and prayer.

Finally worth pondering what is is that made this book so captivating and challenging ? A pen that has been informed by a wider horizon, an engagement with the presence of God in the world and its communities ? A passion to make a difference? Perhaps also the generativity that comes with age? Buy it and you decide! May your journey towards Christmas be blessed by the places Price will take you.

You can buy the Book from Sarum College Bookshop


James Woodward

Principal Sarum College



Spirituality in Hospice Care

Spirituality in Hospice Care

Spirituality in Hospice Care

How Staff and Volunteers Can Support the Dying and Their Families

Edited by Andrew Goodhead and Nigel Hartley Jessica Kingsley Publishers

2017, 240pp (pbk) ISBN: 9781785921025 £19.99


The concepts of spirituality and spiritual care are complex. This book makes a distinctive and important contribution to the growing literature in this area. It is well organised and carefully written. The chapters narrate the experience of engaging in the support of those dying and others who accompany them. Their richness are due in part to the range of professional perspective which include medics, nurses, physiotherapists, educators, managers, artists, volunteers, psychotherapists, chaplains and social workers. There is a quality of reflexivity in each of the chapters. The editors have attracted both a breadth and variety of experience.

The book is published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the opening of St Christopher’s Hospice. It is a fascinating reflection on how our attempts to think about and deliver spiritual care continue to both change and develop.

It is an informative and illuminating book and I shall be certainly pointing some of my students wishing to enlarge their perspective on pastoral care to areas of discussion contained within some of the chapters.

Anyone who risks engaging with those who are embracing mortality will certainly be changed by the sheer complexity and difference within which an individual moves from life to death. It is a messy and complicated business where even the neatest of theories and definitions are bound to reach their limits. The balance, connectivity and gaps between what we know and what remains incomprehensible; between the relationship between religion and spirituality remain important to interrogate. There is further work for us all to do in this area. If we are to be faithful to our commitment to journey with those who are dying then language, metaphor, narrative and silence are wells of wisdom to be drawn from.

Potential and possibility are the hallmarks of these essays. They demand our careful attention and should challenge us into further thinking and action.


James Woodward

Sarum College




















In a Glass Darkly: The Bible, Refection and Everyday Life

In a Glass Darkly: The Bible, Refection and Everyday Life

In a Glass Darkly: The Bible, Reflection and Everyday Life

Zoe Bennett, Christopher Rowland   SCM Press £25



Moments of honesty and candour can be both refreshing and threatening in equal measure. I recently heard an intelligent and energetic parish priest make a passionate plea for Christians to be more honest about change and decline in organised religious life. The question and challenge was put so positively it was difficult to hear the plea as anything else but creative.


There are a number of fundamental theological questions associated with our understanding of contemporary religious experience and practice. This book, by a practical theologian and biblical scholar, reminds its reader of the importance of implementing and practising the fruits of decades of critical reflection on the Bible. We are reminded of the effects of a distorted handling of sacred texts, which lead to inhuman behaviour and broken lives. Religion has as much potential for harm as it has for good.

A further theme embodied here continues to illuminate and stimulate our spiritual curiosity. Art, poetry and music have the power to enable us to understand our human endeavours and give expression to our hopes and fears, our longings and vulnerabilities. In this book Bennett takes John Ruskin and Rowland William Blake and uses the poet and artists experience to dig deeper into their mutual journey of self-discovery as theologians. It is a journey of self-discovery and mutual learning.

The Bible is a core foundation in the Christian life and the chapters of this book model how we might read the Bible in such a way that holds together in creative dialogue with experience of life within our particular context. We see in process of reflection in this book how tradition and experience are inextricably intertwined.

In this commitment to a search for self-discovery and theological truth, we need to be aware of the limitations of tradition and critical of our own seeing and knowing. In this self-awareness both authors continue to demonstrate how we might find in Scripture life, wholeness and salvation.

This wisdom is achieved in and through the authors’ dialogue and reflected creatively in these chapters. There is challenge and a constant demand that we examine our assumptions in the nurture and practice of faith. Criticism, self-examination and a preparedness to be unsettled is a central theme as the text takes seriously Socrates, “For a human being the unexamined life is not worth living.” The reader will need to engage both head and heart to stimulate what might be described as a creativity of suspicion.


The starting point is the revelation of St John. We acknowledge the reality of this present world and express our longing for it to be different. The conviction that the present age has never more been in need of the Christian faith runs throughout the reflective contours of these reflections. What might it mean to celebrate the reality that the present order is passing away and a new order breaking in? What kind of church and religious practice might support this radical transformation? Feminism, liberation theology and a shared commitment to put theology to work shapes the quality of each chapter. Theory and practice must be held together if we are to discover a way of embracing exile. We also need Scripture to help us understand the delusions and corruptions of modern society. Reflexivity is part, a crucial part of our discipleship. This is hard work but hopeful work. It is in the words of St Paul (taken as the title) this is to see in a glass darkly.


Some of theology has become far too fragmented. Scholars and practioners need to model the process of dialogue modelled here. Theologians working across their academic specialisms of philosophy, hermeneutics, systematics, history and practical theology would do well to find a conversation partner and to see what emerges through friendship within intellectual endeavour.

This book will certainly find its way into reading lists here at Sarum College despite its cost – a gentle plea to the publishers to enable accessibility to such good practical theology!


James Woodward

Sarum College and The University of Winchester


Still Growing : The Creative Self in Older Age

Still Growing : The Creative Self in Older Age

Still Growing

The Creative Self in Older Adulthood

Donald Capps

The Lutterworth press 2015, PB 208pp, 9780718893910, £16.50.


This is the most delightful of books in its thoroughness, scholarship and creativity. It has all the potential to transform the readers understanding of the nature of age. In our functional and reductionist world that over values youth, strength and output these seven chapters challenge much negativity around the shape of older age.


Carefully organised into three parts Capps explores some of the questions and opportunities for our transition into older adulthood in chapters 1 and 2. Taking the assumption that older adult hood begins at age 70 this Pastoral theologian uses a blend of his own experience, poetry and scholarship to invite the reader into a richer and more textured view of the complexity of age. It may bring limitation but it also brings wisdom, potentiality and generativity. We are invited to look beyond the immediate and the physical into different expressions of faithfulness and hopefulness. Capps demands positivity and a different frame of understanding for the self in older adulthood.


Part two offers three chapters on the nature of growth and development for older people. Chapter 3 articulates the stages of older adult hood which include the nurture of care, wisdom, gracefulness and endurance. We are reminded of the virtue of wisdom and the necessity for us to have a more meaningful relationship with control and release. Capps (p57 -59) writes and especially insightful reflection on the virtue of endurance .Chapter 4 skilfully articulates the ageing process as forward movement – a process that is described as a continuing development involving many changes. The narrative is grounded and seeks to move us out of a fearful framework of disability into a range of possibilities that enable us to see the gains in ageing. There is no escape from some of the discomforts of ageing but in our embrace of the challenges there is a freedom, a hope and even a serenity. Chapter 5 explores the creativity of older adults and this is described as having or showing imagination or inventiveness. He draws upon the work of Pruyser. Adaptability is explored as an essential quality of creativity.


Part three draws together reflection in a section entitled the artistry of ageing. Chapter 6 captures the essence of this artistry – as Capps explores relaxed bodies, emancipated minds and dominant calm. He invites the reader to consider the creativity of these elements of our embodied existence. In chapter 7 Capps acknowledges the significant mood changes in older adult forward and the opportunities that we all have in expressing our discontent but also bringing our tensions and dissonances into a more creative whole and harmony. Happiness, satisfaction and flourishing form part of this conversation.

The book concludes,

‘perhaps it would be more accurate to say that God created the world – and created us – out of a deep sense of loneliness. And perhaps this means that a similar sense of loneliness in this world that we inhabit is, for us, the underlying inspiration for our own creativity. And maybe it is the older adult who is especially aware that this is so’ (page 175).

The book contains a help for and clear index along with a comprehensive bibliography.

This is an extraordinary countercultural book informed by a passionate embrace of the complexity of human experience alongside a creative theology of vulnerability and human identity. Our faith communities would look and feel very different if we were to begin to practice some of the convictions captured in these seven chapters. It is Pastoral theology at its very best and I challenge anyone to read it and not be transformed by its generativity.


James Woodward

Sarum College and The University of Winchester.





What are older People for ? Reflecting on Care

What are older People for ? Reflecting on Care

‘It’s no fun getting older – just you wait’ was the challenge posed by a woman who in her 80s was embracing some slowing up and her need for help. She had spent four decades teaching children and now felt vulnerable and marginalised. ‘I feel invisible, overlooked and misunderstood’ was how she expressed the challenge and opportunity to flourish in all stages of our lives.


The question: What are older people for, is perhaps one of the most fundamental moral challenges facing modern life. What is the purpose of life in old age? What can older people contribute to our communities? There is a liberation in older age that is rooted in an increased awareness of mortality combined with the wisdom that comes from knowing one’s own limitations and failings. ‘I live more intensely in the present moment’ was the way it was expressed by my friend. This spiritual generativity works to increase a sense of the power and possibility of religion. It is no accident that are churches are full of older people. ‘There can often be a tension between how we ourselves feel and how society sees us.’ This generation volunteers, is generous with time, and cares about the creation of a better world. It is deeply committed to seeing children and grandchildren flourish. Is a time for spiritual adventure and of a deep knowing? Many older people are experiencing an awakened life – an understanding that freedom is the absence of unnecessary restrictions on how life should be lived. Intentional and reflective life experience can bring increased texture, depth and pragmatism to living, our choices and the quality of relationships. These gifts enlarge the purposefulness all life especially for older people.

What then is the relationship between independence and dependence? We are all ageing. Being more intentional about reflecting on the shape of ageing both in and around us might just be a key that unlocks potential for are flourishing. All of us – at whatever age – have to deal with unavoidable dependency. We should not underestimate the social isolation of many older people in our communities. Independence may be just another word for loneliness. Nurturing a community where generations connect, where we resource shared living arrangements for older people, where we are intentional around developing relationships with those who find themselves lonely provides transforming opportunities to strengthen relationships and deepen care.



Why nurture this inclusivity? Attitudes to ageing and older people affect all of our health and well-being. We know that negative attitudes to old age can shorten your life. We tolerate ageist assumptions and attitudes that stereotype older people as lonely, vulnerable, in poor mental and physical health. This discrimination is unacceptable. Justice is an intergenerational issue where marginalisation has no place in a modern democracy. We nurture inclusivity by listening. This listening breaks down the walls of isolation. An ageing society is an opportunity to learn about being human and having very different ways of being and knowing. Older people can offer us an opportunity to model how we live and learn from being human, creatures who are both finite and fragile. Faith communities should lead the way.



The Revd Professor James Woodward

Principal of Sarum College

This is an expanded introduction to the launch of Developing a Relational Model of Care for Older People : Creating Environments for Shared Living by James Woodward and Jenny Kartupelis ( Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2018) at Church House Bookshop 4 June 2018

Chaplaincy in the Workplace

Chaplaincy in the Workplace

Fiona Stewart-Darling, Multifaith Chaplaincy in the Workplace: How Chaplains Can Support Organizations and their Employees (London: Jessica Kingsley, 2017);


As we continue to debate the effects of secularism on the life of faith with, at least, statistical evidence to suggest steady decline, this book begins with the premise that faith and religion are still very much present and important both in the lives of individuals and in the public arena. The story of the Canary Wharf multi-faith chaplaincy is narrated with skill and in the conviction that, through this ministry, faith can positively influence the well-being of employees in global companies.

Present in all seven chapters is a quality of analysis and consequent understanding of the context of the workplace within which chaplaincy seeks to be a faithful presence. The background to this context is the life-changing consequences of the global financial crisis, which offered important opportunities for this chaplaincy team. The strength of chaplaincy provision often depends on the character of the individual chaplain and their capacity to form and develop strong relationships. This liminal work, often with few immediate or obvious results, is often best enabled within the context of a team. Multi-faith teamwork is examined in Chapter 3, with some insightful contributions from Muslim and Jewish chaplains. Chapter 4 explores the nature of wisdom alongside ethics, values and culture as it seeks to understand how people can make the best decision possible, especially given the nuances and contradictions of many business decisions. We are asked to think about the nature of anxiety about religion in the workplace in Chapter 5.

A positive and mature vision of religious practice as one nurturing respect and value is offered, although how tolerant of diversity and difference some religious ideologies can allow themselves to become deserves further consideration. The relationship between chaplaincy and faith communities is opened up in Chapter 6. There is an intriguing and attractive discussion of the role of chaplain as translator of the world to the faith community along with an expressed commitment to practise theology in the workplace.

The book would have been strengthened with a more comprehensive bibliography, especially in the area of chaplaincy studies. It would also be interesting to know whether there are any plans to engage in further independent research about the nature of the impact of this innovative ministry. Visibility, approachability and personality seem to be key qualities in the relative success of such a work-based ministry. Freedom from both buildings and ecclesiastical structures should certainly not be underestimated as a means of enabling human connectivity and Christian witness. Stewart-Darling offers a radically distinctive model of Church and poses challenges to inherited models of ministry, which deserve further consideration. There remains a set of unanswered questions about the Christian nurture of laypeople and their empowerment to engage theologically with the world. Released to do this, we might live within a very different and creative spiritual confidence about the living and practice of faith. Perhaps a new revolution of ministry from community (of parish) to workplace beckons?


James Woodward


Sarum College


Not for Profit – what kind of education will equip us for the future ?

Not for Profit – what kind of education will equip us for the future ?

Looking backwards and wondering ‘what if’ is an exercise that requires care and some measure of wisdom. However, we need to engage in the ‘what if’ questions to nurture reflexivity and so challenge ourselves to be energised by the possibilities of change.

So here is a question – if you could turn the clock back what would you change about the way you were educated? What have the processes of formal or informal learning given you for life? Where are the gaps in our understanding? What perplexes us still? What might you need to equip yourself for this present stage of your living and loving?

In my northern grammar school the regimented and often over-controlled systems and processes of teaching were focused on output, exams and success. The teaching was variable and I now lament the sheer lack of space between lessons, between days and between subjects. At one level, my secondary school education served me well in giving me an appetite for hard work, a capacity for good organisation and an ability to absorb information quickly. It opened the door to university and I have since then more or less been engaged in further education, research and writing. In addition, of course, I belong to a generation that has never paid a penny for their higher education and I doubt I would be writing this piece today had the current system been in place in 1979. However, I can see its limitations and feel its inadequacies in its formative influence over my attitude to work, productivity and aspirations.

These questions are the background to some of my thinking when I picked up this extraordinarily bold and adventurous question that Martha Nussbaum asks in her widely acclaimed book, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. (Princeton University Press 2010), ‘What kind of education might enable us to inhabit our complex and often fragmented democracy?’

The argument goes something like this. We are nurturing a generation of young people whose lives have been dominated by the idols of individualism, materialism and consumerism. This shaping of our values within a capitalist economy often controls our choice of subjects at school and university. Once upon a time we wanted to be educated – we now want to be, Nussbaum argues, schooled for financial success. This has so dominated our curriculum that we are producing a generation incapable of living with paradox, contradiction and anxiety.

Drawing down upon Western and non-Western philosophy and educational theory the reader is asked how we might embrace a more imaginative capacity that can nurture perception, human growth, a wider horizon of what it might mean for us to flourish as human beings in community. We need to be skilled in these arts. We neglect the imagination and the cultivation of our inner eyes. This deficiency has extraordinary dangers for all parts of our life. We are alerted to a silent crisis in which nations either disregard or discard the skills that the arts and humanities give to society in favour of national profit. As the arts and humanities are diminished, we live with the consequences of an erosion of the very qualities that are essential to democracy.

The arguments and questions here are reflected in so many ways in our churches. If we are to embrace diversity and good disagreement principles, we need to teach one another how to nurture the critical thinking skills required for an independence of spirit and action. We all need to learn an intelligent resistance to the power of blind tradition and authority. The nurture of curiosity and imagination offers a more textured approach to growth and change. When we step outside of our own preoccupations and limitations learning to imagine the situations of others is a fundamental requirement for a successful democracy that is committed to everyone’s flourishing.

Our churches are no exception to the misuse of power and the exploitation of our human limitations. In some ways, we all need a lesson in how we can get along with others without maintaining total control. To do this we need to open ourselves up to the experience of vulnerability and surprise, to curiosity and wonder. This adventure in learning is made possible through music, poetry, art, theatre and storytelling. They can all help us live with the limitations present in all of life and powerful in the way that they face us with pernicious and dangerous dynamics of anxiety, disgust and shame. These powerful emotions are a universal response to our human helplessness.

Perhaps I am bound to say that theology and good spiritual formation can help us through the realities of that culture that both shapes and mis-shapes us? Churches are wise in their understanding of our mutual need and interdependency. We must learn to step out of our small worlds into a larger horizon of radical transformation that comes with identifying with common human predicaments. When we see the world through the lens of many types of vulnerability then imagination is released to do its work.

So we might ask ourselves: how do we come to see people as real and equal? How does our public theology help us to cultivate imagination so that we are able to be an equal amongst equals? The churches have a role and responsibility to enable our commitment to global citizenship for the good of all. Slowing up, taking a longer view, and asking what we can do to contribute to well-being through the relational, the pastoral and the releasing possibilities of empathy are concrete ways of putting our education into practice.

I am reminded of words I heard from Maya Angelou at an international conference in Washington DC some 10 years ago: ‘I have learned that people will soon forget what you said, they will eventually forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel.’

So – go on – think about a conversation or some practice that will nurture and imagination in your community. Consider the gaps and your power and ability to make a transformative difference within a larger horizon of love.


Professor James Woodward

Principal of Sarum College

Reminiscence Work with Older Adults

Reminiscence Work with Older Adults

The Multi-Sensory Reminiscence Activity Book

52 Weekly Group Session Plans for Working with Older Adults

Sophie Jopling and Sarah Mousley

Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2017 ISBN: 9781785922398


There are few of us in early middle age who do not know someone who is living with some of the opportunities and challenges of growing older. Sadly for some of our loved ones this includes a significant amount of confusion and memory loss caused by dementia -related illness.

Jessica Kingsley continues its reputation for providing practical books informed by learning and theory to support professionals in their engagement with older adults. This book offers what it describes as multi-sensory group sessions for each day of the year.

Here is an indication of the range and scope of the starting points: train travel, coffee, the Queen and her Coronation, summer, apples, bonfire night, chocolate and  school days. Reminiscence is used to stimulate memory and sensory function.  When reading and reflecting on the exercises it is possible to glimpse the carefulness with which each session is planned to see and feel the difference that this engagement might make.

The authors are state registered occupational therapists and as such are aware of the importance of clarity both in relation to objectives and resources. Activities range from word games and poetry to food tasting, music and group discussions. Downloadable colour photographs and word cards are offered in addition as tools for conversation.

We should also note the carefulness with which the writers have planned activities for people with a range of abilities in order to support memory, sensory function communication and connection. There is imagination and fun – engagement and practicality running throughout this workbook.

Faced with significant fear around memory loss and the immediate sense of not being able to connect and help it is not an overstatement to note that this book has real capacity for transformative support and care. It is much needed as we consider how best to support and develop our responsibility to older adults and their experience and place within the community.


James Woodward


Poetry and Dementia

Poetry and Dementia


Poetry and Dementia: A Practical Guide

John Killick

Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2017   ISBN: 9781785921766   £16.99


I wonder what your relationship to poetry is? I have met some people that simply do not get this way of expression; others who simply haven’t got the time or the inclination to attend very closely to the shape and form and sound words.

Others live by its art form as a profound expression of truth through the limitations of human language. They delight in the way in which poets use language and see its power to enlarge, transform and change. Certainly, poetry has the ability to convey emotion and offer picture, which other forms of language seem sometimes to appear inadequate or limited.

Poetry has a musical quality to it. It is multi-layered. It has the capacity to generate meaning and feeling. It can be radical. It can be beautiful. It can completely transform our relationship to an experience, an image, a person or some experience. It is always work in progress – while there might be some good interpretations of the word set out on a page, they can never be a definite interpretation!

John Killick is a pioneer and his work has had a profound effect on a whole variety of people, situations and institutions. He is brave and adventurous. He is bold and imaginative. He has strong convictions but is open to ambiguity and paradox. His work is gathered together in this short but well-written book.

Chapter 1 offers an introduction to poetry. Chapter 2 explores the reading of poetry and Chapter 3 the writing of poetry. John goes into deeper reflection about what emerges from the reading and writing of poetry in Chapter 4 then offers us some conclusions in chapter 5. There are resources in relation to books, organisations and websites at the end of the book.

There is an accessibility and a surprising intimacy and immediacy to this book, which reflects John Killicks style. He clearly explains how to use the poetry in a way that offers – at least on paper – an exciting possibility of enabling people with dementia to have a voice. Fundamental to this is the capacity to listen carefully and to be adventurous in stimulating exchange in conversation.

The poems by people living with dementia were especially and significantly both moving and beautiful in different ways.

It would be naïve to imagine that in terms of organisation and delivery there will be a significant take-up of this kind of individual and group activity amongst people living with dementia. Resources are limited and so is our imagination and so this shapes a limited and less holistic approach to an individual and their relationship to memory.

It would be wonderful to put into the hands of all those who are responsible for organising dementia care a copy of this book and to ask them to write poetry with the people they serve and support.

This is quite simply a brilliant book from the hand of an extraordinary, inventive and creative hand and mind and heart.


James Woodward

Sarum College







A crisis of Care ?

A crisis of Care ?

Contrast two scenes. The first is a restaurant – where the food is carefully prepared and warmly served in an atmosphere which seeks to delight its customers.  The second is a hospital.  Parking the car is nearly impossible – the long impersonal corridors where people avoid eye contact.  The noisy ward – the short temered administrator; the disinterested receptionist; the doctor talking over the patient who feels ignored.  There is no space or time or sensitivity.  If we were treated like in a restaurant we would complain and ensure that we warned friends against any contact with that place.

We are proud of the NHS and its values.  It is deeply rooted in a philosophy of care for all – it aspires to mend and heal; to prevent and support.  It inspires great public service from energetic practitioners who want the best for those they serve.  We have all benefited from the developments and investments in health.

However, there is a crisis deep within our culture.  It is a crisis of care – the way we treat people; how we engage and listen to our service users.  If we believed that patients paid our salaries then we simply would not go on failing them.  Managers have a responsibility to oversee the shape of the culture within which health targets are delivered.  We are shapers of both systems and structures.  Are they fit for ‘care’ purpose?  How radical is our commitment to the patient and their experience in all its complexity?  How responsive and people-centred are our transport access, reception areas, our wards or consulting rooms?  Would an ordinary older woman be empowered to respond to her doctor with gratitude for his time and compassion?  Are hospitals places of understanding?  Is the  Board meeting a place where feedback from the patients is as important as the financial results or the latest set of targets?  If we want to develop and grow, then managers should take a lead in asking: ‘Don’t tell me what is going well here – let’s look at what is wrong!’  I do not doubt the intentions of those who work in the service – but there are preciously few people who are angry at not getting it right enough for people.  We exploit their fear and dependence at very vulnerable moments of life by failing to enlarge humanity through the sharing of power and control.

Dismiss this plea at your peril.  There can be no improvement of quality without attention to creating communities of compassion where the person is the beating heart of our work.  We must make the jump from seeing things from others’ perspectives.  Here are some actions that might help you explore the added value of putting care firmly on your organisational agenda.

1.  Find time and places where you can observe your organisation at work.  Take note of those things that would be unacceptable to anyone about whom you care.

2. Invest in listening to the patient experience.  Respond to complaints as opportunities to deepen care.

3. Ask others how they would describe your place of work with one adjective.  Be energised by the gaps between how we describe our aspirations and what the actual practice is!  Let us do away with the minimalist functionality of much of the space where we deliver care.  What about the imaginative use of colour, light and texture?

4.  How much power and control do we give to the patient?  Are they partners in decision making?  Let them decide what is appropriate – we do not always know what is best!  In Birmingham, our Palliative Care Network has launched a compaign to ensure that choice is given back to people at the end of their life.  What shape would your campaign take?

5. Discover what makes your staff tired and de-motivated.  Invest in programmes of staff support so that we can be energised by service.  Too often our staff makes the experience of going into hospital like going to a foreign country – an alien land where no-one tries to understand your language let alone engage with your vulnerability.  Our staff need to be supported to deliver care differently.

Holiday reading (1) Gordon Brown My life, Our Times Bodley Head 2017.

Holiday reading (1) Gordon Brown My life, Our Times Bodley Head 2017.



Having  successfully downsized my living and therefore ‘storage’ arrangements I  think twice about buying a book! I was, however,  immediately drawn to this political autobiography, not least because on the two occasions I met Gordon Brown I found him humane, reflective and generous. Retired politicians, we are told, are generally more attractive than practising ones because possibly they can no longer do any harm.

This is a life meticulously well written with a careful attention to detail. There is an openness and self-awareness to his narrative alongside some inspiringly articulated set of  convictions about wanting to create a better and more equal world,

Politics was more than the art of the possible; it was about making the desirable possible’.

Interesting to ask how any of us maintain a balance between the pragmatic and the ideal. In this at the beginning of the first chapter Brown describes the leadership in this way:

‘leaders need a command of substance, mastery of detail, problem-solving skills and an ability to see the big picture… Leaders need to communicate a positive vision of the future that can inspire and motivate people and mobilise enthusiasm for progress and change’.

I share some sympathy with Brown as is honest about the relationship between the public and the private in his life and character. Over and again he stresses how private he is, how out of sympathy with what he calls “public displays of emotion” in a “touchy-feely era”.

And lest we moved too quickly into judgement or condemnation we all want to feel that ours is a life well lived and even perhaps that we have left the world a better place as a result of our energy and passion? It is understandable therefore that Brown wants to put the record straight and indeed go further in articulating what he felt he achieved in high public office.

Brown tells us very clearly that Blair did break a promise that he would step down as prime minister in favour of Brown during the second term. We also learn, despite a wide variety of accounts to the contrary that she and Blair were not permanently at loggerheads. Brown put some distance between his role in the Iraqi war and informs his reader that it was he that saved Britain from membership of the euro. It is, perhaps, impossible for any reader to evaluate some of these judgements except to say for this one  there is a quality of reflectiveness in this text that was encouraging, illuminating and  convincing. We glimpse a picture of the almost impossibility of survival in 10 Downing Street given the sheer pace of change and movement in communication. The relentlessness of it all is tiring even in the reading of events, challenges and difficulties.

Brown is most disarming when he describes his upbringing. The security and influence of being born a minister’s son clearly shaped his values and worldview. His passion for Scotland and especially Fife where he now lives. His fortitude and driven us at Edinburgh University. His love for John Smith and a reminder of the sheer unpredictability of politics. His heart-breaking loss of the death of his baby daughter Jennifer and his own, quite literal, blindness in one of his eyes. Brown’s honesty and vulnerability are disarming and attractive in equal measure.

Brown reveals himself as a profound intellect and thinker. He knows about the depth and seriousness of our alienation from politics. He describes accurately the fraudulent Tory rhetoric misrepresenting a global banking collapse as a failure of Labour politics. He connects this decade’s two referendums (Scotland and Brexit) on the consequence of previous political dishonesty. His anger, his greatest anger is kept for what he describes as a callous enforcement of austerity that has generated inequality and inflicted needless suffering on the poor and unprotected. We would all do well to consider, whatever our political allegiances, the fact that the financial sector has paid out a total of £128 billion in bonuses since 2008.

Such a life narrated will have its limitations, its shortcomings and even flaws. The reader will take a variety of judgements on those. We need more stories that can help us understand the world we are living in. We need more people to empower individuals and communities to work together for sustainable inclusion and change. Politics is part of the picture not the whole canvas and we would be right to be cautious in so assigning responsibility for failure in the direction of politicians that we absolve ourselves of any part in working for solutions to some of the serious challenges that face us.

We all have partial sight and live with significant dollops of ignorance which constrain and limit us. Self-knowledge is a long, a lifelong journey. Honesty is painful. With this in mind we might forgive Gordon some of his own limitations but also be prepared to honour and respect his contribution, his struggle, his challenge to us all to play our part in delivering a bigger, fairer and more equal society.

Bradbury on Practical theology and Pierre-Andre Liege : Book Review

Bradbury on Practical theology and Pierre-Andre Liege : Book Review

Practical theology and Pierre-Andre Liege : Radical Dominican and Vatican II Pioneer

Nicholas Bradbury

AshGate 2015 £65.00 ISBN 9781472418708


This is giant of a text from the priest with long experience of ministry, learning, leadership and reflective practice. The coherence and authority of this experience and skill as a reflective practitioner is demonstrated through the ten chapters that explore the life and work of Pierre-Andre Liege. One of the foremost French theologians of the 20th century, Liege influenced John XXIII and Paul VI. He was present during some of the committee work of the Vatican II with both the future John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Bradbury establishes a legacy forged out of struggle, critical engagement with the nature of theology and some innovative pioneering pastoral work. There is an authenticity about this work, which is rooted in decades of engagement, reflection and practice.

Its central thesis is that this French Catholic friar, who died nearly four decades ago has much to teach us about Pastoral theology. The arguments set out in these 10 chapters is all the more compelling as Bradbury applies some of this theological legacy to engage with ministry and theological learning 21st-century Britain. Here is a framework that offers us the opportunity to see the world in the name of the gospel. In order to do this we have to be both inculturated and countercultural.


Timothy Radcliffe in the forward offers us this image,


‘The church is like a tree. She can only flourish if she is herself, with her own character and life… But the church is only alive if it is interacting with all that is around it, like the tree, open to the air and the soil, in constant exchange with its environment’ (p ix)

A challenging and organising presupposition of this volume is transformation and a commitment to theology as a source for rejuvenating the People of God. It follows that in order to deepen the wisdom of our faith as something which is both pastoral and practical then we shall need to fall in love (again) with theology. This is a significant task as we learn the language of theology and connect it with the struggle to live authentically.

Very few research projects do not have a significant element of personal autobiography. In the introduction, Bradbury explains his journey of faith influenced by the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield and as a choirboy at Christ Church Oxford. Theological study is influenced by Nineham, Tillich and H.A. Williams and was put to work in testing and demanding communities in South London and North London. As these influences are mapped, the reader notes the fundamental importance of how and where we learn our theology. The process of growing and maturing that takes place across the life-cycle opens up an acknowledgement of our ‘knowing’ as a constant and never-ending process. Bradbury sets a tone in these opening pages of being ready to live with questions and seek always to go deeper into our experience.

Chapter One sets Liege in the context of mid-20th-century French Catholicism and an anachronistic theology largely inherited from the Middle Ages that had become defensive and created a church under siege. Perhaps implicit in this picture is the encouragement to 21st-century European Christians that ironically and paradoxically despite all of the marginalisation and decline of the Church the years from 1930 to 1960 became the golden age for French theology. If we in our day are feeling marginalised, misunderstood or dismissed then what might be the potentiality for theological transformation? Bradbury is drawn into the militant and progressive voice. We learn about a movement of lay people demanding to be taught a realistic apologetic. Rejecting authoritarian prohibitions there was a call for a spirituality, which takes human love seriously.


The argument here is that those of us who would wish to develop a systematic and coherent Pastoral theology must be fully immersed in new contexts and practices. What might it mean for us to re-constitute theological soil for new and different practice for human flourishing? What does theological renewal look like? There are some implications here as Bradbury describes the significant and ongoing conflict with Rome (pages 19ff) for the necessary resistance of any centralised authority (in this case the Pope) to control belief or practice for mission and ministry. We need, perhaps to reassess the nature of authority and how it is exercised in order to become more radical, more theological, and more transformational. The context within which Liege wrote was not in any way anti-intellectual or obsessive about social activism. It committed itself to a deeper understanding of theology which liberated its ideas from second-hand constructs locked into doctrinal  armour. The adventure of learning theology was to engage with the sources of the faith so as to be able to know and love them personally.


Chapter 2 paints a portrait of Liege the man. His family background, education, Dominican studies, ministry and theology are described giving the reader a sense of the man and his motivations, his church and his drivenness. Here is innovation, a deep desire to make a difference and a theology that manages to be both concrete and experimental. We learn of his work with the Second Vatican Council (p42ff) and something of Liege’s personality, his passionate confidence in God and rootedness in faith. ‘Where was the eloquent witness of joy in life and freedom as children of God who were able to radiate simply because of the knowledge of being immensely loved? ( Liege asks) It follows that it is up to each of us to show the Church as an assembly of free people, concerned with the liberation of the whole being’ (p49).


In Chapter 3 Bradbury looks set how theology, and what kind of theology shapes Pastoral theology. He is realistic about both the possibilities and problems associated with getting inside Liege’s thought world and modes of expression. Here perhaps we see some of the foundations of why Bradbury finds the tradition of French Catholic theology so attractive. There is a quality of the training in depth in philosophy (and possibly history too) before theology. This rigorous and lengthy process seems hardly imaginable in today’s academy or church. Bradbury describes a distinctive quadrilateral – the Word of God; faith; theology and the life of the church as set out by Liege. The Section on the description of faith is especially compelling – we learn about a grasp of the nature of faith, which is always and successively seen as conversion, justification, illumination and penetration of the Christian mystery. (Page 66). Faith is also described as knowledge of interiority (page 68). We should also note the originality of Liege, especially as a theologian who used the phrase –People of God – long before its popularisation. We are drawn into an admiration for the argument for a modern, reformed approach to the world. The world belongs to the divine intention and should not be regarded as alien or godless.


Bradbury sets out Liege’s pioneering pastoral theology from 1955 to 1977 in Chapter 4. There is something contemporary in this discussion. How do we make theology more practical? (page 81). Our sense of the man is enlarged as we read, ‘for Liege faith was a living, breathing affair; a personal adventure and commitment costing not less than everything. It combined head and heart. It was not an emotional enthusiasm disconnected from thought. On the contrary, it was the fruit of hard philosophical and theological labour enriched with sharp observation of people and nature, a passion for literature and an interest in the human sciences.’ (p77). There is here also some anticipation of some of the realities of 21st Century church life. During this period in the mid-20th century we learn of the conviction that the era of Christianity was over and that it was important to move forward and articulate the gospel to the modern world in different and more credible ways. Traditional Christianity as currently expressed by the church is described as moribund and theology had an inability to communicate, inspiring more fear than love; more negativity and constriction than life and creativity. (p79). Liege expresses a deep desire for human, spiritual and congregational growth.


As Bradbury describes this pioneering pastoral theology it is clear that there is a heavy emphasis on content and its relationship to dogmatics. It is always related to action (‘Pastoral theology’s task is to work out how faithfully to adapt appropriately rather than to get stuck in unmoving, fixed positions. It must unite freedom and truth as the spirit is united to history’ (p88)). The inevitable implication for this is the integration of Pastoral and practical theology in every aspect of Christian living in community. We note the radical place of this discipline in building a transformed picture of the church and its very purposes (page 127). This is a Pastoral theology, which has many functions: contemplative and doxological, apologetic, critical, hermeneutic and poetic (p100).


Chapter 5 discusses Liege and practical theology in France and Canada since his death in 1979. It is interesting to note that Protestant theologians did not keep abreast of Roman Catholic Pastoral theology. Bradbury argues (page 114) the Church of England’s failure to read the signs of the time and engage critically with its culture is part of its defensive resistance to new and different thinking. There are important and ongoing questions about who does theology and the relationship of power and agency within those institutions that make competing claims about the authority and ownership of the tasks of theological education. Bradbury reminds us that there has been an institutional loss of authority and a general loss of faith as the gap increases between what is official and what people actually practice. (Page 117).


Chapter 6 is an impressive contextualisation of Liege in the place of British Pastoral theology as an emerging and developing discipline. The reader is faced with intriguing questions about how we train clergy and what the curriculum might look like. We are asked to reflect on why British practical theology has no equivalent to writing like Liege’s. Bradbury asserts that corporate Christian life and the Church of England seems more a matter of taste or local tradition. There is no corporate catechetics, mission or formation (page 127).


Here we see articulated by Bradbury what we might learn from the distinctive vision of Liege – ‘Deep in the Church of England’s mind-set there is a reluctance to act on the corporate nature of belonging to the church. It seems acceptable to belong as a consumer on your own terms to suit your own tastes.….. Learning and mission are not its core activities. Learning is optional.’ (p127).


It is worth noting that Bradbury offers a very realistic but often unarticulated view of the role of the writing of Wesley Carr. He critiques Carr’s work and its language as too abstract, too difficult, too theoretical and insufficiently illustrated with concrete examples to be of any practical use (page 141). We listen to a plea for a popular and accessible discourse that can change practice. How can we interpret people’s experience of life in relation to God and thus put them into a divine perspective? The challenge continues when we explore an ecclesiology of Anglicanism which is described as an organisation more based on religion than on faith (page 147). If religious attitudes in Britain are an amalgam of beliefs constructed from upbringing, education and the culture of eclectic secular pluralism then we need a theological revolution with pastoral and practical theology at the heart of the task of learning and making connections.


Chapter 7 translates some significant and at times over stated assertions into a fictional narrative about a parish and its life between the years 1948 and 1984. Bradbury demonstrates what putting Liege’s theology into practice might look like. He maps out a programme of teaching, a model of ministry, an approach to witness and discipleship. Bradbury emphasises the importance of the training of the leader. This is a playful, aspirational narrative but one which could be profitably used for theological formation and reflection. Bradbury demonstrates his own ability as a practical theologian in offering a plan of action for praxis.


Finally chapter 8 and chapter 9 articulate learning about catechetics and practical theology. How is the lived experience of the church to be one in which Christians are nurtured in faith? How is the call to lifelong conversion into Christ to be realised in practice? How are Christians to relate to the culture around them? What does it mean to be a holy congregation? How is the sacramental life of the church to find practical expression in a congregation and issue inappropriate missionary, Pastoral and political response to the world? (Page 182). Part of the solution, Bradbury is convinced by, is that the Church of England will continue to slowly die if it continues to neglect the shape and content of catechesis. We need leaders, especially bishops who can continue to ask fundamental practical theological questions.


Bradbury argues that it is diffuse and needs to recover a heart and a centre.

‘British practical theologians seem willing to let this discipline be a meeting room in which diverse conversations are encouraged. The role of practical theologians is to hold the ring, provide methods, ask questions and contribute some, always fragmentary, ideas from their own, nearly always highly specialised, particular area of interest and research’ (page 190). Bradbury challenges the practical theologian to develop a much more systematic approach, with a controlling centre and clear paths to the periphery. Is it possible to have a systematic British Pastoral theology? This is perhaps the heart of Bradbury’s learning from the work of Liege.


In the final section of chapter 9 Bradbury offers what he describes as a plan of action – a proposal for a response to the challenges of the church in the British context. He organises his schema around the following areas of reflection and question: a wholescale review of church praxis; a map of where we are; establishing why the gospel is still good news for today; the organisation of parish life on the basis of theological criteria; the forging of accessible discourse; the rediscovery of French practical theology and finally establishing a vision of what the church is for and why – and how this should be expressed in practice.


The final chapter offers a short reflection on Liege’s legacy. Bradbury sums up the radical prophetic approach in this way – ‘to do the wrong thing is a serious as to believe the wrong thing’ (page 203.). This establishes radical criteria for action by attacking the non-theological pragmatism of current catechetics that offer no clear principles or content to practical theology.   Bradbury offers this attractive summary,


‘He (Liege) was committed to incarnating the love of God in action. Despite the depth of his loyalty to the church, faithfulness to God as his theology understood God, required him to stay true to his thought and convictions even when they brought him into conflict with the church in terms of theology, church practice or moral teaching. He did not compromise his beliefs for any institution. He was a man of friendship for whom shared eating and drinking were milestones of life and a primary model of celebration.…

British prophets like Trevor Huddleston or Ken Leech are perhaps parallels. But in general the British model of Christian life is more compromised and more domestic. ‘Liege would press practical theologians to face up to a radical question, his abiding challenge to 21st-century church: what form of Eucharistic community living is suitable for Christians in an era of post Christianity?’ (Page 208)


There is a comprehensive bibliography of over 30 pages, which indicates the nature, and scope of the author’s readership and scholarship together with a comprehensive index. The questions and challenges that Bradbury faces us with some of the work core to the aspiration of this journal and demands how we integrate our theology into practice.



Professor James Woodward

Sarum College





Conundrums in Practical Theology : Book Review

Conundrums in Practical Theology : Book Review


Conundrums in Practical Theology. By Joyce Ann Mercer and Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, Boston: Brill, 2016. 320 pages. $76. (PBK). ISBN 978-90-04-32423-7.

Reviewed by: James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College, Salisbury and Visiting Professor of Theology, the University Winchester UK


All those engaged in learning and teaching will have a system for organising books and resources of information. They may be, inevitably, a number of systems that may range from ad-hoc freedom through to absolute order. I have never had the courage to organise my books according to the colour of their spines but was assured that the academic who followed this colour-guided rule never had any difficulty in finding a book!

Consider what kind of system might enable the section of the library to ‘organise’ those volumes that might fall broadly within the area of pastoral and practical theology. To give a sense of the complexity of this area of theological study, consider the broad headings of volumes that might fall within this section of a library: history and development of pastoral care; textbooks or readers in this area; sociology; psychology; cultural studies; theological reflection; political and public theology; leadership; reflective practice; chaplaincy; ministry and mission; ecclesiology; ethics; self-care and volumes dealing with specific issues (disability, the nature of pain, end-of-life care, etc.).

This review article begins with an acknowledgement of the scope of the field of practical theology. This discipline embraces a number of interconnecting fields. How do they connect? How should practical theology be taught?

It is against this image and these questions that this significant contribution to the literature is reviewed. The book is demanding, informative and fundamentally challenging in its framing of a range of conundrums. The editors and authors are to be commended for consistency and quality across 11 chapters. Practical theology, as we have acknowledged, has a complex identity and a variety of aims and locations. This book seeks to explore how we navigate academic structures that shape and distort intellectual life in this field. It engages our imagination with some arresting images and metaphors. The reader is asked to be a boarder crosser, a boundary walker and even a scavenger that should look for truth in many places.

At heart is this question – what does it mean to be a practical theologian? Mercer and Miller-McLemore gather 11 contributions from American pastoral theologians alongside a Scandinavian pastoral theologian. The areas covered include the theological nature of practice; the use of case studies in practical theological research; the public benefit of scholarship; the nature of reflexivity, normativity and interdisciplinarity in practical theology; racism; the politics and complexity of practical knowledge and the nature of the Roman Catholic contribution to the reframing of practical theology.

The introduction opens up the field by exploring definitions and acknowledging the complicated position and history of the discipline of practical theology. It articulates an ambitious aspiration that hopes practical theologians might be facilitators of change by contributing to the transformation of individual and communal life through putting to work the practices of religious traditions. This narrative holds together a realistic dynamic and tension between academy and context. Pastoral theology involves engagement with the conceptual, the emotional, and the political (3). Good pastoral theology begins in conversation and community. In relation to our sources of information in the work of practical theology, there is a question of naming and even locating the audiences of practical theology. We are asked to consider how far this body of knowledge contributes to the common good in our social and political arenas.

Chapter 1 establishes the importance of experience and practice as a source of theological engagement and knowledge. Theologians in this field must explore how they develop the capacity to show how practice constitutes theological knowledge. A clear sense of distance is maintained between the activity of theological reflection and the work of Christian churches. A broader more outward facing focus should challenge some of the internal contradictions and conflicts of religious institutions. What becomes clear here is the significant distance of thought, culture, and experience between American and European contexts. There are some key questions for us to consider: What is our experience of theology and where and how might we find it boring, irrelevant, or just wrong? How does theology help us or enable us to come to terms with living? How independent should theology be from the church? In what way is theology the servant of the church? (17) This is picked up in more detail in Chapter 3 (The Tension between Scholarship and Service) as Cruz explores the nature of service as empathetic knowing. There is an insightful exploration of the vocation of the reflective practitioner (64–65) with key discussions about ways of knowing and the importance of developing enough intelligence to discern what can be solved and what simply needs to be lived with (79). In this context, the Pastoral theologian needs always to evaluate scholarship and develop the skill of making space for adaptive change in patterns of teaching, learning, and scholarship especially in times of institutional transition (81).

Chapters 2, 6 and 10 by Campbell-Reed, Kaufman, and Turpin highlight the limitations, problems, and difficulties around interpretation. We are reminded by a number of writers in this volume that whenever a story is narrated, there are always issues around power. Our view is limited and interpretation partial. We always only see part of the story. We are asked to consider how far theology runs the risk of self-justification and the extent to which we see the dangers of summarisation – and therefore by implication oversimplification? Campbell-Reed argues that there is a continuing uncritical use of the word theory, which runs the risk of practical theology either overpromising or mispromising what can be delivered. This results in an ongoing maintenance of the split between theory and practice (47).

Turpin offers some useful and practical tools to enable students to reflect on their experience particularly if they are being trained for public ministry. She asks how far meanings are so contextualised to the history of a particular community in time and place that it is difficult to imagine whether it might be translated or related to similar practices elsewhere. Turpin articulates the layers of complexity in shaping an account of local knowledge and describes why this complexity matters both in the context of professional practice and in the ‘production’ of the Christian tradition. It follows that irreducible complexity is a hallmark of the practical wisdom necessary for the discipline. It follows, further, that we need to be observers that are more creative and attentive to the multidimensional realities of lived religion.

In this context, we should attend carefully to the social, cultural, and political challenges posed by the power of racism and the ways in which we devalue and underestimate the diversity and necessity of looking beyond a particular ‘white’ perspective on life. Shepherd explores this in Chapter 9 (Raced Bodies: Portraying Bodies, Reifying Racism) and it has particular relevance in the light of Trump’s election and the decision of the British people to exit the European Union. Here is the core challenge, ‘the vocation of the Christian theologian is to hold tightly the spirit filled, prophetic, critical and creative edge … Our theology must stand with society’s most abject, despised and oppressed. In the twilight of American culture, telling the truth about white racist supremacy is a theological obligation, no matter how cauterizing those truths may be. To speak about theology as truth telling is to accentuate its core responsibility … ’ (245)

In terms of listening to different and too often minority voices, Wolfteich in Chapter 11 offers us a plea to listen more carefully to Roman Catholic contributions and conundrums as she asks how far practical theology has a home in Catholic structures. The reader is reminded about the critical nature of attending to the content of theology as we are asked to explore the development of a theology that moves from life to Christian faith to renewed faith for life. The Roman Catholic tradition has much to offer in this generative task of articulating the content of faith.

The theme of the conundrum (as a puzzle or riddle without an apparent solution, an enigma that baffles, frustrates, and evades resolution) continues throughout the volume but particularly in Chapters 4, 5, and 6. Dreyer (91) reminds the researcher that all knowledge is mediated knowledge, and that there is a constant conflict of interpretation. Bias, researcher subjectivity, and positionality play a role in these interpretations. This is described as a basic epistemological dilemma: ‘the point of this chapter is that reflexivity cannot heal the epistemological wound of researcher subjectivity, bias and personality … Our reflexive efforts will therefore always be trapped between apodictic certainty and perpetual suspicion. This is the conundrum of reflexivity’ (92). Gotto picks up some of these themes as we are asked to appreciate diversity especially in the areas of race and gender. In other words, ‘through whose eyes do we view theology and theological task?’ (116). Researchers should explore the significance of power and privilege within their discipline. Kaufmann (Chapter 6) asks about the nature of normativity. What do we mean when we critique a text as being insufficiently theological or insufficiently normative? He discusses (137) the correlational approach – what should be given priority in a mutual, critical conversation between human experience and theological tradition or normative systematic theology? Where does authority lie? Who decides? Some important connections are made with systematic theology as this chapter asks us to consider the shape and content of our theological anthropology (154)

Finally Chapters 7 and 8, written by the editors (Mercer and Miller-McLemore), explore interdisciplinarity as a practical theological conundrum and the politics of the theory-practice binary. Mercer asks how we are to define interdisciplinarity and in doing so reminds us that practical theology, with its focus on the lived practices of a person and communities within their social contexts, is inherently interdisciplinary, since this kind of work necessitates not only knowledge of theology but also of human personhood alongside social and contextual knowledge. (163)

This takes us into fundamental questions about understanding the nature of personhood and the limits of divine revelation. In dialogue we are bidden to consider that we do not add theology to social science, nor do we add social science to theology. Both are present and interacting in a practical theological analysis of a person or community. Mercer is constantly aware of the complexity of the teacher’s task in enabling students to grasp a complex range of subjects. The skill and contribution of the teacher of practical theology are affirmed, Practical theologians become quite adept, even expert, scanning and selecting the usable element from a much larger canon of literature. We become skilled in the art of collaborating with others who can assist us toward a more appropriate and adequate level of knowledge in a new field we need to employ. (145)

Miller-McLemore reminds us of the modern divorce of academic theology and life (193) adding to the authority of this discipline as one that aspires to empower and transform living and understanding.

This volume of essays is to be commended for its range and scope. The authors are consistently committed to opening up confusing and conflicting problems and questions. Together the volume highlights the state of a discipline in the process, on a journey of discovery and development. Part of establishing our authority within the field of theology will depend upon our ability and preparedness to tackle some of the difficult questions posed here.

I return to those bookshelves and the acknowledgement of the sheer scope of the field and discipline of pastoral and practical theology. This book perhaps encourages us to sit lightly to over defined boundaries and make deeper and more imaginative connections between the disciplines that shape practical theology. While this is not a book for undergraduate study, it is essential reading for researchers and supervisors. It demands close attention and careful reflection. It is the task of practical theology to continue to articulate its conundrums and to attract a range of voices into its life and work.

    Advent Offers an Invitation to Wait and Hope

    Advent Offers an Invitation to Wait and Hope


    We are midway through the season running up to Christmas, which is called Advent. One of its key themes is the importance for us to see the possibilities that waiting might bring or us.

    I overheard a child in Tesco this week say to her brother, “I can’t wait for Christmas”. In her eyes, I glimpsed how children are caught up in the excitement of waiting. The experience of waiting is a common one and it shapes the rhythm of all our lives. We wait for trains, for the postman, or for pay day.

    When I think of waiting, my own mind most immediately goes to the hospital as a place of waiting. Patients waiting at the start of the day for a bath, waiting for the doctor to come, for the bed to be made. They wait for the results of tests, for surgery, for the day of discharge or perhaps, they even wait for their death.

    Experiences of waiting can lead to what we might call enlarged perceptions. Waiting might just help us to see things differently. In waiting, instances of enduring, because they are intimate, are vexingly uncomfortable. We fidget, we pace, we complain, we consult our watches.

    Although the experience of waiting is a common human experience – we live in a world where we want or create a culture within which waiting is undesirable. This shapes our financial culture. Do you remember the advert with the first credit card: “Access takes the waiting out of wanting”? At regular intervals, the bank sends me offers for the loan of money with suggestions how to spend it. It is a sharp contrast to my grandmother telling me before I went to university that I should never buy anything until I had saved up enough money to pay for it. We live in a world where we are promised that we can have what we want and have it now – and more than that, that we can have now what we do not want or need.

    Waiting has its own value and dignity. Advent is the invitation to wait with hope. We live in a time when thoughts of the future may fill people with fear – and not with hope and joy. We must learn to hope, to rest, even to pray and to wait.

    So think about waiting this week. Spare a thought for those who wait anxiously or are in need. May these days running up to Christmas be for us a time when we open to see living in a different light and in a deeper trust in hope and love.


    First published by the Salisbury Journal 14th December 2017