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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

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



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


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.

Waiting and Wondering

Waiting and Wondering

I find myself along with others caught up in quite absurd activity as ‘ the Christmas rush’ bears down. I discover that in this maddness I have no evenings free before Christmas and wonder how much of this is of my own making! An early flurry of sleet and the promise of snow for some tomorrow  took me back to my childhood and our open fire – filled with coal not wood as in this image. The heat and warmth and reassurance from a coal fire is one of those extraordinary experiences of life….my only essential requirement from a retirement house will be an open fire!

The fire somehow slowed things down – it transfixed its glow and helped those in the room to stop and wonder. Contemplation – the here and now – the nourishment that comes from Doing Nothing ( as Stephen Cottrell puts it in his book Do Nothing to Change your Life ). We all need to slow up and dig deeper – allow some time to wait and wonder – and see what emerges from this process.

RS Thomas expresses it in this way:

Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

and imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but it is the eternity that awaits you.

One of the things that older people teach me is the deep joy that can emerge out of this waiting and contemplation of the ordinary in everyday life. Its there if we will but stop and see and wonder.

Lent Books 2017

Lent Books 2017

Here is my wander through a number of Lent books offering you a little glimpse into some of what is available.

Justin Welby, Dethroning Mammon.
This short book well organised into six chapters and offers the possibility of a basis for lent study on the challenging question of what might a Christian make money and materialism. It is focused and grounded in Scripture and asks persistent and searching questions of the reader. How do we handle the power of money? Who will direct our actions and attitudes and how does following Jesus bring hope and freedom in a world ever obsessed with individualism, consumerism and materialism.

Ian Adams, Wilderness Taunts
This is an attractive collection of 20 meditations in word and image focused around the theme of being a hopeful human being. Adams asks his reader to listen to their fears, embrace and name them and in doing so work towards transformation. He is ingenious and creative in using the 40 days in the wilderness of Jesus as a springboard for exploring taunts and difficulties that face us today and so often throw us off balance.

David Bryant, Glimpses of Glory
This is a wonderful book written after the author was diagnosed with terminal cancer and published following his death. He draws widely on poetry, literature, art and music. The text is grounded, refreshing, moving and revealing. Forty short chapters cover a very wide range of themes such as kindness, laughter, guilt, alienation, peace, voyaging and possessions. There is an intensity and focus which you will find transformative. The book will work well for a home group at any time of the year.

Paula Gooder, Let me go there: the spirit of Lent
Sarum College bookshop supporters will be familiar with Paula’s work and approach to opening up Scripture. This completes her series of short books tackling various seasons of the churches year. The question for us is this: how does God meet us in the desert? Written certainly with an eye to providing resource material for lent groups each of the chapters offers a focus of questions for discussion and pointers for further reflection. Accessible, clear and engaging – are part of this writer’s attraction for the general reader.

Samuel Wells Hanging by a Thread: the questions of the cross
The arresting and compelling organising theme of this book is this ‘there was a time when the cross was an answer – today the cross is a question’. This short, tightly argued but fluent book considers the risk, cost and suffering of the cross in the light of six key contemporary concerns. They are the reliability of history; the fragility of trust; mortality; meaning; the nature of power and the character of love. Rich, engaged and stimulating – this book would make a good base for a study group at any time of the year. It is easy to see why Wells is such a popular communicator in today’s church.

Mark Oakley (editor) A Good Year
Talks do not easily translate themselves into the written word but Oakley has gathered together seven bishops who explore the simple question: what can we do to make the seasons good? Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost are all looked at from a rich diversity of perspectives. The final chapter on Pentecost is offered by our own Karen Gorham, Bishop of Sherborne. Stimulating and mostly helpful this book could be profitably used for private study or as a base upon which to explore our journey through the seasons of the churches year

Stephen Cottrell The things He did
Cottrell continues to engage and communicate with an energy and connectivity which are attractive and stimulating. Six chapters concentrate on the events around holy week from Palm Sunday through to Good Friday. The writing is focused and reflective and digs deeply into Scripture. There are helpful pointers for reflection around passages of Scripture at the end of each chapter.

Paul Cox No Body but Yours
For the reader who wants to put their Christian faith into practice this may well be the book that enables and empowers such social action. Cox users the prayer of Teresa of Avila to open up the simple but profound question: how do we show Jesus? This book is written specifically for groups and includes a short act of quiet and worship. Scripture is often used to be read dramatically and for the participants to reconnect with familiar passages. At all points the reader within the study group is asked to think about action.

Amy Boucher Pye The Living Cross
This carefully organised and well written book attempts to get inside the freeing and changing nature of forgiveness. Forty Seven reflections cover the whole of Lent grounded in Scripture and tradition offering a searching and challenging engagement with the heart of our faith.

James Woodward
Principal Sarum College

Vulnerability and Care: Christian Reflections on the Philosophy of Medicine by Andrew Sloane

Vulnerability and Care: Christian Reflections on the Philosophy of Medicine by Andrew Sloane


I have recently seen at close hand the work a busy acute hospital having to deal with an older person suffering multiple challenges to well-being caused in the main by intense confusion as a result of the Alzheimer’s disease. The result was shocking and frustrating. Although,of course, a one-off situation which was intensified by my own sense of powerlessness and pain at the way this person was treated – I suspect that this experience may well be replicated across the UK. We keep on being told that the NHS is in crisis principally for financial reasons but the central organising question this book suggests that there challenges are also moral : it asks is how we care for vulnerable people in such a way as to deepen compassion and alleviate suffering.

Fo me, this book came at the right time and Andrew Sloane deserves gratitude and praise for a powerful narrative that asked this question: can the focus of modern medicine change? The implication is that if it does not its very soul is in jeopardy. In the light of my own experience the reader will understand why this plea resonated so deeply and profoundly in my soul.

To return to the anecdotal –  I remember during my time teaching at the Birmingham University medical school exploring with groups of students how far their ethical teaching and curriculum help them make decisions. Since those teaching days a great deal of attention has been given to public and academic debate about medical and bioethical issues. Those groups of students and young doctors taught me that they relied as much on intuition (I need to respond quickly and so do what I feel is right) as much as the body of knowledge oclassified as medical ethics.  Sloane takes one step back from the issue of the relationship between theory and practice and asks his reader to explore the nature of medicine and its role in human community.

The  nine chapters seek to put theology to work by offering a framework of Christian philosophical and theological thinking which might enable us to understand the nature and purposes of medicine and its role in a Christian understanding of human society.

So what does the book do?

First it presents a description of the contexts in which medicine is practiced in the early 21st century, identifying key problems and challenges that medicine must address. It then turns to issues in contemporary bioethics, demonstrating how the debate is rooted in conflicting visions of the nature of medicine (and so human existence). This leads to a discussion of some of the philosophical and theological resources currently available for those who would reflect ‘Christianly’ on medicine.

The core of the text attempts to articulate a Christian view of medicine as a moral practice which might be shaped by a Christian social vision and a number of key theological commitments.

The book concludes with some powerful pedagogical reflections (pp 178 ff ). First Sloane asks that if it is the case that medicine is an expression of a community solidarity with those whose vulnerability is exposed and if its goal is to express appropriate forms of care for the frail then we should rethink how we train doctors. In terms of medical epistemology, the internal goods of medicine and their relationship to other goals always threaten to distort or corrupt the practice of medicine. And in this we all need to take responsibility in relation to our wildly unrealistic expectations about what medicine can deliver.

A final theme, and possibly to be developed in his future writing lies, in the embodied nature of medicine. If we are ‘knowing bodies’ then doctors in partnership with their patients need to understand what is going on in the body: to listen carefully to the story of our bodies as to discern both what matters and how we might embrace frailty and nurture wholeness. The undue focus on investigations, the obsession with tasks and performance  both detract from the human element of the clinical encounter and (in Sloane’s view) wrongly understand the nature and goals of medical knowledge. This reflects an ongoing interest in a number of public bodies in the UK concerning the medical humanities and how these might be built into a more holistic approach of nurturing both medicine and the medical profession. Medical paternalism and powerful self protecting  professionalism needs to be challenged if the world of medicine is to be re-engaged and transformed. However this will require from us that we reconfigure what medicine can and cannot do for us.

This is a stimulating and enriching book. It is inevitably stronger on theory rather than practice but its call and argument is clear and convincing.It deserves to be picked up and developed by those of us who seek wholeness and all those professional groups that are tasked to care for those in need.

I hope to use some of this work in our future learning at Sarum College ( ) and particularly in the Sarum Centre for Human Flourishing.


James Woodward

Principal Sarum College

How do we access the spiritual?

How do we access the spiritual?


Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2015; 280 pages; £19.99 ISBN 9781849054973

I review this book (the second week of July 2016) when two particular conversations were at the forefront of my mind. The first was the smooth transition between Cameron and May into 10 Downing Street and the office of Prime Minister. What followed was much speculation about who would hold some of the key offices of state including the office of health secretary. This speculation triggered a great deal of social media interest in the health service and especially some of the frustrations on the part of healthcare professionals particularly about the culture of change, resource and the over politicisation   of care in the NHS.

The second was a conversation about church growth and how we face the reality of diminishing numbers (and perhaps even confidence) in religion today. Both of these areas of thought might take up many pages of a blog but they certainly shaped by appreciation and admiration of this book of 16 essays that explore issues of how we think about and deliver healthcare chaplaincy.

Let me give you an outline of book. Its editors are leading academics in the area of health, practical theology and chaplaincy studies. In particular Andrew Todd’s work in the Cardiff Centre the Chaplaincy Studies deserves particular respect and admiration for its quality and professionalism.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part (constructing spiritual care) explores models of spiritual care; discourses of spiritual health care; models of healthcare chaplaincy and how chaplains use the Bible as interpreters in their work. The second part (negotiating spiritual care in public) explores the value of spiritual care and the need for negotiation and persuasion for its value in the public domain; some legal and policy frameworks for spiritual care; the work of chaplaincy in a multi-faith and secular environment and the particular relationship between chaplaincy and nursing.

The third part (researching spiritual care) offers an overview of methodologies for research in spiritual care; deals with the particularities of research health context; looks at the significance of volunteers in the culture of the NHS and offers a particular process of observing, recording and analysing spiritual care in an acute setting. Finally part four discusses the practice of the spiritual care in the context of suffering; opens up the much vexed question of assisted suicide; digs deep into the care of those living with mild cognitive impairment and offers experience of spiritual care in a children’s hospice.

The editors provide a comprehensive subject and author index and throughout the work there is a careful structure and system of referencing. While it is almost impossible to provide consistency across a wide range of essays and chapters the editors have succeeded in providing a very useful and significant addition to the literature in this field.

So this leads to my to opening areas of discussion. The first is developed a little in this book that needs further work. How do we deal with our expectations around care and our experience of care in the NHS? With it’s ever developing technology and increased skill and professionalism is the health service nurturing a culture within which people feel valued, understood and responded to? Put more simply – is the health service looking after people as well as it might ? Are there  some indications that despite our increased investment in resources people feel dissatisfied with the quality of engagement, support and compassion. Perhaps it is inconceivable and impossible to deliver but should we always try to start with the patient and the patient voice when developing a narrative for care? This is of course where chaplaincy is at its absolute strongest – it engagement, understanding and transformative presence in and through the attentive and caring relationship. Chaplaincy needs to beware  of its tendency to detach itself from the patient experience in the ever understandable necessity for organisational security and affirmation. The power is  with the patient! Professionalism is always grounded in the narrative of the experience of illness.

The second and I admit a less obvious area of church growth is yet another area where chaplaincy may be critical in turning around the way in which individuals and groups access the spiritual (hence my organising title).Chaplains meet people where they are and on their terms within their life experience. This is an opportunity to illuminate, enlarge and connect with the spiritual – especially in times of crisis and difficulty. It may be that chaplains are altogether best placed to keep the rumour of Angels alive through their presence and engagement. Investment in agency and chaplaincy should be a key element to the churches strategy for recovering the pastoral as part of deepening spiritual connectivity and faith.

This is a very good book and I commend it as a stimulating, resourceful and informed collection of essays on care.

James Woodward

Principal Sarum College




Improving our understanding of Dementia ?

Improving our understanding of Dementia ?


I am gathering together a small collection of books all published by Jessica Kingsley who is certainly one of the most innovative and ground-breaking publishers working in this       field.

Their list covering a range of books on dementia is well worth examining.  ( )

These first two books handle at first hand the experience of living with dementia

People with Dementia Speak out

Lucy Whitman  2015 JKP 304 pages £14.99


Whatever the hell happened to my brain? Living beyond dementia.

Kate Swaffer 2016 JKP 391 pages £13.99

Whitman has gathered together 23 people from diverse backgrounds and in a well-organised book there is a deeply moving range of accounts of experiences of living with dementia. There is honesty and a searing articulation of frustration and fear. The cumulative effect of the devastating impact of memory loss on people’s lives is both moving and disturbing. The individual accounts of how identity is broken down and reframed service as a reminder of the life changing effects of dementia on people and their families.

My only regret about this text is that it probably will not receive as wide a readership as it might. We need surely to embrace this devastating condition as belonging to the whole community as we attempt to work out what makes the human flourishing as we hold all those who are vulnerable. It demands that we refashion what it might mean to be human and limited and bounded by our bodies and brains. In other words all of us can learn about how to live well as we attend to those who struggle to maintain well-being. There is a quality, integrity and life to these accounts which we can all learn from.

I should also add that there is a comprehensive and helpful range of resources and further reading at the back of the book along with a clear glossary. Let Prof Graham Stokes have the final word (global director of dementia care at BUPA)

“for some who read this book the experience will be an epiphany. Therefore might it be possible that what we do to help a person with dementia, in some way to be kind to them, is diminished only by the limits we place on our ambition, imagination and humanity’ ( page 259).

Kate Swaffer  was 49 years old when she was diagnosed with dementia. In this book, she
describes  her experiences of living with dementia, exploring the effects of memory difficulties, loss of independence, leaving long-term employment, the impact on her teenage sons, and the enormous impact of the dementia diagnosis on her sense of self.

There is a profoundly challenging honesty about the experience and especially the stigma associated with dementia and the many inadequacies in care and support. Kate wants to change the way we both think about and respond to dementia and offers some radical suggestions about how a community might hold all those who because of dementia are taken into the difficult area of needing to develop a new and meaningful personal identity.
Let Kate have the final word here: and as I share it I hope to that this book will be very widely read.



These two books remind us that as well as listening to the experiences of people living with dementia there are significant political, economic and social challenges to improving and developing care.

I picked up the first book (Qigong for well-being in dementia and ageing by Stephen Rath JKP 2015 168 pages £15.99 ) with some ambivalence and curiosity but soon moved beyond misunderstanding and prejudice to see how traditional Chinese medicine can support emotional and physical well-being in people with dementia. This book presents a set of exercises and breathing techniques which I tried and found them to be very restorative! The book is carefully illustrated and deserves some careful attention amidst our reductionist and medicalized  approach to care.

Person Centred Dementia Care (by Dawn Brooker and Isabel Latham JKP 2015 224pages £17.99) has very quickly established itself as a leading textbook in guiding healthcare professionals to improve care from diagnosis to the end of life for people with dementia. It embraces a range of contexts and offers guidelines for practice. It is well written, carefully organised and accessible for a busy healthcare professional. The text is clearly earthed in reflective practice and draws upon up-to-date research and development in this area.

Although at first glance a technical book with a limited market the authors open up a refreshingly broad grasp of an individual living with dementia and each of the chapters lead us into a richer understanding of what person centred care should look like. There are many places in my own experience where I should like to take this book and ask that it be used to change care.


James Woodward

Principal Sarum College


Spiritual Accompaniment

Spiritual Accompaniment


Spiritual Accompaniment and Counselling: Journeying with psyche and soul

Edited by Peter Masden Gubi 

Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2015  paperback 192 pages  £16.99

Here at Sarum College ( )  our two year certificate in spiritual direction is very popular to a wide variety of individuals who wish to build upon, reflect and improve their practice. In a world dominated by individualism, consumerism and materialism all of us need places and people we can draw upon for support, friendship and direction. This is particularly the case when we face crossroads, choices or crises.

As I write (10th July 2016) the General Synod of the Church of England has gone into private session to continue its deliberations about how far and to what extent it can embrace the agenda of inclusivity around gender and sexuality. While there are strong feelings on all sides there are far too many individuals and groups who regard Christianity with suspicion and even would want to place a significant health warning to its ability to embrace the ever wider and sometimes more complex horizons of people’s identity and experience. One might argue that there is a great deal that is lost in this political marginalisation. Put another way – who do we turn to when life becomes difficult and perplexing? The danger for the church is that its spiritual wisdom is overlooked in favour of therapy and therapeutic practice.

This volume of essays, nine in all, attempts very successfully to explore what it might be like to attune to the spiritual processes  of other people especially in the area of crisis, abuse, grief and pain. The essays intelligently explore the lifespan and how forgiveness and wholeness might be embedded into practice. The Christian tradition has a great deal to learn from the way in which psychotherapy and counselling seek to embrace a spiritual dimension. One might argue that if one wants to look for creativity and life in matters of the soul and spirit then it is to the liminal edges that one might look. These essays represent the very best of that creative liminal margin.

These are carefully written and skilfully edited essays. They deal with relationship, forgiveness, spiritual crisis, pain, suffering, lifespan development, grief and spiritual abuse. There is an excellent essay by Lynette Harborne on the importance of supervision and as ever with Jessica Kingsley books the book is attractively printed with a clear index and bibliography. Clarity and skilfulness in presenting complex material is one of this book’s key strengths.

Gubi writes in his introduction that this book is written to heighten practitioners awareness of the spiritual dimension in listening (page 22) – what follows in the subsequent  170 pages will stimulate, illuminate and expand horizons in such a way that we might all be challenged to work for human flourishing and societal well-being.

James Woodward

Principal Sarum College



Performing Pastoral Care

Performing Pastoral Care


Making the case for the relevance of pastoral care today, this book explores the role of pastoral care through the prism of music. Using musical analogies, the author provides a new way of understanding and practising pastoral care, grounded in practical theology. Challenging overemphasis on mission, he shows that pastoral care remains essential to the life of the church, especially when engaging with extreme situations such as dying, suffering or war, and considers the role of pastoral carers in the specific pastoral encounter and in the life of the church in general.

Here is my commendation

‘We live in interesting and complex times. Modernity has given us choice and freedom to shape our destiny in many, often competing, directions. The Church is only one place where the shape of human experience is opened up and attended to in our struggle to flourish. This context provides us an opportunity to reimagine how theology and its practice might contribute to well-being. Performing Pastoral Care is a serious and substantial contribution to our understanding of this practice as it calls us all to rediscover our pastoral heart with imagination and creativity. Interdisciplinary in its focus – music and theology both blend and dialogue to provide a stimulating, intelligent and well-organised narrative. The reader is asked to look outwards through a number of lenses and using a variety of methods to engage with the paradoxes and ambiguities of human experience. It succeeds in providing a significant contribution to the literature around music and pastoral theology and its carefully organised chapters offer practical tools for the resourcing of the shapes of pastoral activity and performance. I hope that it will be widely used as part of the ongoing conversation about what might need to be transformed in and through us as we seek to reach out and serve our world and its peoples. I shall be adding it to core reading lists for my students.’
– Dr James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College



Jim Birren

Jim Birren




One of the towering figures in gerontology has died : James E. Birren, founding

Director of the Andrus Gerontology Center, at the University of Southern California,

died at the age of 97.  His achievements were extraordinary   Foremost among these,

is creation of the Andrus Gerontology Center at USC, as well as the Leonard Davis

School of Gerontology.  His books and other publications are extensive, and many

distinguished gerontologists have been  nurtured by Jim Birren.  To get just a glimpse of

these, visit:


Jim Birren, then in his late sixties, was only getting started. His 30-year

retirement would witness pioneering work in areas far removed from the behavioral

psychology in which he began his own academic work in the 1940s.  Like a small

number of distinguished psychologists (e.g., Jerome Bruner and Leon Festinger),

Birren would “go boldly where no one has gone before” toward the in-depth

exploration of wisdom, autobiography, and the search for meaning.  His generativity

didn’t stop with his retirement nor will it stop now that he has left our world.  Instead,

we are all inheritors of the vision of “positive aging” that he has left behind.

This is the book that has been hugely influential in my own thinking about old age


For more on guided autobiography, visit:

What kind of Ministry? Chaplaincy as Mission

What kind of Ministry? Chaplaincy as Mission


Chaplaincy Ministry and the Mission of the Church

Victoria Slater, SCM Press 2015, 160 pages, pbk, no price marked, ISBN 978 0 334 05315 6


There are three distinctive and attractive characteristics of this book. The first is the authors’ skilful ability to open up her research in an accessible and stimulating way. The second is the quality of theological reflection based, thirdly, in the reflective practice of her experience as a healthcare chaplain.


Six chapters work together towards a conclusion in responding two questions: ‘What is chaplaincy?’ and ‘What is the significance of chaplaincy within the ministry and mission of the church?’ These questions are discussed within the context of the extensive social reach of chaplaincy and in its ability to connect with a range of people beyond the traditional reach of the church. We are reminded of the growth and development of chaplaincy in recent years but also of the need for ongoing theological reflection on practice. Slater shows how critical theological reflection is for the illuminating of our wisdom about mission, the nature of God’s involvement in the world and how discipleship and vocation might be nurtured. This narrative takes seriously the significant and seemingly irreversible decline in numbers across church congregations but also challenges some of the marginalisation of chaplaincy present within church structures and discourse.

Chapter 1 offers some historical perspective in the context of our pluralistic and ever-changing culture. Chapter 2 models a practical theological approach with a careful use of experience through three case studies. It deals with role, relationship, self understanding and practice within a theological framework. Chapter 3 looks at the relationship between chaplaincy and mission opening up some of the tensions that are present in the ways in which we value some ministry above others. Chapter 4 deals with the identity of chaplaincy, necessary Slater makes clear for an understanding of good practice. Throughout there is an articulation of the distinctiveness of chaplaincy. With this in mind chapter 5 offers some challenges to the institutional church and the range of ecclesiologies always present when we explore the nature of mission. Chapter 6 keeps an eye on the future as it offers some guidance and frameworks within which to develop practice. It aspires to wanting to support further chaplaincy research and indeed encourage innovation through the setting up of new chaplaincy roles. Dialogue, presence, openness, reflection, faithfulness and transformation are key words fleshed out in and through the shape of the six chapters.

This reviewer shares the authors conviction that part of the future of church will lie in its moving beyond traditional models and boundaries into an engagement that meets and connects with people where they are and through what they are experiencing. This book, therefore, deserves to be used by all those who might want to explore ways in which we might be faithful to the gospel and share its grace. Our structures need this voice to inform this urgent task of reflection on the future shape of being church.

JWW Sarum College

The Quest for meaning in later life

The Quest for meaning in later life

Layout 1

P. G. Coleman, D. Koleva and J. Bornat, eds., Ageing, Ritual and Social

Change: Comparing the Secular and Religious in Eastern and Western

Europe. Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2013. Pp. xviii,

283. Pb. £19.99. ISBN 978-1-4094-5215-7.

This volume is a compelling and authoritative contribution to the literature

that seeks to understand our quest for meaning in later life. The twelve

essays, carefully organised and edited, make a significant contribution to

our understanding of the nature of ageing in human society and within

two different areas of Europe. The technical nature of this writing may

make the book over-specialised for the general reader, but its findings

have significant implications for our understanding of religion and its

practices in Europe today.


In a variety of ways, we are asked to consider whether and in what

way religion might contribute to our well-being, particularly in old age.

We are encouraged to reflect on this intriguing question by a rich variety

of shared narratives that offer the reader insight into the ways in which

value and belief enable individuals and communities to live through

the physical processes of ageing. These discussions are contextualised

within the experience of rapid social change across Europe. A distinctive

feature of this book is that it offers a dialogue between the increasingly

secular culture of the UK and the more traditional religious communities

of former socialist countries where religion has a very different place

in family and community. We learn in these narratives of the essential

and existential support that religion provides to enable people to cope

with social loss and physical frailty. A picture emerges of how older

people play a role in the holding together of religious communities and

in transmitting the Christian faith to younger generations. As the interrelationship

between ageing, ritual and social change is examined, we note

the profound value of older people in religious communities and see how

religion can contribute to a good old age.

The book is organised into five sections. Section One offers a

background which includes an overview of ageing and ritual in Europe;

and a discussion of the methods of investigation and in particular oral

history. The largest section of the book (chapters 3–6) provides an analysis

of the major questions which underlie the research project behind the

book; the emergence of religiosity and non-religiosity in people’s lives;

personal explanations for engagement in ritual practice; and continuing

commitment to religious ritual in otherwise non-religious people. The

next two sections examine the role of religion in enabling adjustment to

ageing. This includes a focus on death and bereavement. The final section

of the book offers a discussion on what conclusions can be drawn from

the project. Throughout the book, there is meticulous documentation of

sources with a helpful set of appendices, bibliography and index.

Why, then, should the general reader of theology take notice of this?

In addressing issues of numerical decline, the Church often laments in

having to inhabit a demography of an ageing Church. It may follow that

many of our strategies (and the theologies that support them) promote

implicit and explicit ageism. This is serious for our understanding of age,

for older people and for our attitudes to them. This book and its findings

show us that it might be possible to hold together some inter-generational

equity whereby we might counteract negative stereotypes and the

marginalisation of our ageing congregations. Older people may be our

natural spiritual constituency and a vital part of sustaining the religious

and spiritual life of our communities.


James Woodward

Sarum College Bookshop : Book of the Month

Sarum College Bookshop : Book of the Month



‘Between Dark and Daylight’ by Joan Chittister

I am busy at the moment embarking upon a major exercise of downsizing in preparation for my move to Sarum. This must include books! The process is illuminating. What do we attach ourselves to? All this ‘stuff’ faces me with the paradoxes and contradictions of living and even confronts me with some quite disturbing questions about attachment, loss and the inevitability of change.

This is the context within which I read this book. Some books emerge as offering us just what we might need when a life faces us with deeper questions, our frustrations and fears. We ignore this at our peril! Embracing the essential contradictoriness of life is the essence of what it might mean to flourish.

Chittister is a wise, humane and honest spiritual guide. In 32 short chapters she faces her reader with life as it is; materialism, loneliness, doubt, insecurity, failure, noise, distraction and much more. Faith offers no escape but a deeper wrestling with life. The book draws deeply upon the Christian tradition to enable and empower the search for wisdom in the geography of our loving. She describes those liminal spaces where human beings best grow with   disarming common sense. Optimism is rooted deep within the soil of a realism about the journey into those darker places of what makes us hurt. In this struggle prayer lies at the heart of the transformation.

This really is an extraordinary book and no reader will be disappointed. However I am challenged to ask how far the community of the Church can live and share this wisdom when so much of its organisational life seems so unfocused and distracted. Can we recover our pastoral heart and listen more carefully to our questions and experiences? Indeed how might we work together in imaginative ways of nourishing the human spirit?

In this task Chittisher is a voice we shall want to listen to.

And don’t forget to visit the Sarum College web page and especially the Bookshop







Writing the Self: David Lodge

Writing the Self: David Lodge


‘Quite a good time to be born’ – by David Lodge


As an avid reader of biography and autobiography it is intriguing, I think, to wonder about the criteria of choice at work in the writing of such texts. Put simply, what you put in and what you leave out? What might any of us want to do if we wrote the story of our lives? What would we want to say about ourselves? What might we want to conceal? So the writing of texts goes on in life – some things are talked up, others talked down and the complexity of our inner story remains often untouched and possibly therefore unhealed.


It may be that such introspection is simply not good for us! David Lodge is well known for his novels and a character familiar to me from my time in and around the university area of Birmingham where I was the University Hospital Chaplain. His early novels had a very particular influence on my reading, mostly, as I now remember, to offer much pleasure and amusement. Lodge has an eye for the ridiculous and can certainly tell a tale! David Lodge is now 80 and he offers us the first part of his life which brings us to the age of 40 when he produced his breakthrough campus novel, Changing Places, about an American and an English academic who exchange universities for six months.


He tells his story with care and diligence as it is and without any detectable side of self-justification or excuse. He traces his roots, describes his family in careful detail and offers us an utterly unadventurous and undramatic upbringing which he describes as a “quiet, monochrome existence of unsophisticated and temperamentally cautious” young man. Not surprisingly (perhaps) he’s completely open about sex and there in the pages begins his increasingly strong alienation from Roman Catholicism as he charts his inhibitions and indeed insecurities caused, in part, by faith. There is love after a long and celibate courtship with Mary and then children including the birth of a third child, Christopher, who has Downs Syndrome.


For someone so distinguished and famous, it is refreshing to read how candid he is about how he is perceived by others. He is completely honest about being looked over for jobs and not getting them.


Although Lodge is honest about his lapses of memory, I can’t quite help but admire the detail with which he tells the story. I imagine him drawing on many boxes of family archives and photographs in order to tell the story with care. Social historians will also be grateful to Lodge for his insightful description of the fifties and sixties. Although I myself have lived through some of this time, I was surprised and even shocked at points to note what an extraordinary social revolution we have experienced in these last few decades of the twentieth century.


The reader can certainly see now that much of Lodge’s life is lodged (excuse the pun) in his novels. While I would have wanted to know more about why Lodge wrote the books that he did, there is a clever inter-weaving of the novel and the autobiography in these chapters. One cannot but marvel at a very different picture of university life which offered some space to embark on such an ambitious novel-writing career. One is also reminded of what a significant generation of English scholars the University of Birmingham nourished, including Malcolm Bradbury and Richard Hoggart. Those interested in the universities and university education will learn about how English was taught and indeed how long it took some of the newer redbrick universities to free themselves from Oxbridge models.


I like David Lodge. He isn’t much of a crusader or indeed like many other people who have written their lives, a mythmaker – he is an educationalist through and through. His distinguishing mark is his determination, a patient resolve to deal fairly with the world, to look out for his family and to enjoy what opportunities come his way. Some of the more interesting chapters are his mid sixties American tour offered by the Harknes fellowship. With all this in mind I wait with some eager anticipation the second volume and at this point simply remain grateful for an honest, reflective narrative which shows Lodge as a man full of drive, creativity and integrity.


Strange Glory : A life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Strange Glory : A life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer




‘Strange Glory’ by Charles Marsh

It is always extraordinary to be reminded about the gaps – and sometimes very significant indeed – in our knowledge. The life and death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of these areas. Born in 1906 and executed by the Nazi regime in 1945, this is the story, the biography of a man of enormous contradictions. A German Lutheran with a high-minded and stringent theology seeks to engage in what he believes to be an essential meaninglessness caused in some part by modernism and its violence.


Born into an aristocratic, patriotic and accomplished family, Bonhoeffer decided at the age of 13 to become a theologian. There is a rigour and challenge and authenticity to his theology – a lived conviction. Faith, he stresses always, can only be found in actions of faith: “only he who obeys believes”. And it was in the actions of the entire German church, Catholics and Protestants that Bonhoeffer saw the frightening way in which they gave in to Hitler and his ideology. In his intense movement and action against Hitler, writings of all sorts, letters, fragments, sermons and poetry poured out of him. They reveal the strength of his character and his existential serenity even as things grew truly awful – Bonhoeffer suffered degrading, painful torture and was finally executed in April 1945.


Marsh tells the story with skill and a rather beautiful attention to detail which allows his reader to get inside the richness and complexity, both of the culture within which Bonhoeffer was nurtured and the ways in which his convictions were shaped and practiced.

This is a very rich and  beautifully written book  which  will illuminate  and challenge  its readers.

Understanding Age? Face the Future….

Understanding Age? Face the Future….

It has been a great pleasure to offer a Forward to this stimulating contribution the literature on old age by the delightful William Cutting


Foreword – (Face the Future. Book 2. Challenges, Joy and Faith for Seniors)


Like many of you reading this book I am thankful for my satellite navigation system.  It is one of those advances in technology that has helped us all to move with confidence to our desired destinations.


However I regret the loss of maps and have happy memories of holidays in Europe with friends where a map was shared between us. We often turned it around and looked at it from different angles until someone discovered where we were going! On our journey it can be interesting, demanding and sometimes even fun getting lost.  Perhaps we are constantly in the process of finding and re-finding our sense of direction.


If this is true for a geographical journey perhaps it is also an analogy we can apply to other aspects of our life journey.  We shall need some kind of direction, a map, company and sources of information, wisdom and challenge.


I reflected on this journey analogy in my experience of working alongside a vast range of individuals and groups considering and reflecting upon the nature of age. Many fear the possibility of indignity and loss in old age. We wonder what we may become. We might reflect on the relationship between our younger and older selves. On our journey ageing offers us an opportunity – of becoming more fully ourselves:  more, and not less, individual.  Ageing, at each stage of life, can be actively enriching.


In order for this to happen we need to consider the nature of age and what shape age might take in us.  We might think of ourselves like wine connoisseurs laying down bottles that will improve with age; fostering in ourselves spiritual qualities that deepen and enrich over the years.  Perhaps those who age best are those who travel lightest, who can let go of some thought patterns which might have been helpful at one stage of life but need discarding when they are ill-suited to another.  A certain suppleness of spirit is needed.  A certain sense of zestfulness and adventure is also required if we are to face the ageism present in others and ourselves.  Those who study the process of growing old have puzzled over this unique feature of ageism:  that it is a prejudice against one’s future self.  It is fuelled by our inability to look at the map, ask others and embark upon the adventure of older age.


In all of this William Cutting proves himself a trusted companion on the journey.  This book is the second in a four part series addressing a range of topics – most specifically here the challenges, joy and faith for seniors.  It builds upon the inspiration of book one that shows us how older people can inspire and offer us wisdom.  It is honest about the difficulties and the vulnerabilities of getting older but has a tremendous sense of adventure, engagement and transformation.


I commend it most warmly as a trusted map from a wise man. I wish you a happy journey through its pages!


The Reverend Canon Dr James Woodward

6 The Cloisters, Windsor Castle, Berkshire SL4 1NJ

Canon of St Georges Windsor, author and teacher (“Valuing Age: Pastoral Ministry with Older People” SPCK 2008);

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Psalms Redux & Prayers for the Day by Carla Grosch-Miller

Psalms Redux & Prayers for the Day by Carla Grosch-Miller

Here is a wonderful book to look out for from a skilled and humane theologian  and my commendation for my friend  Carla



Psalms Redux & Prayers for the Day by Carla Grosch-Miller


We human beings become so easily distracted and even bored with the familiar. The comfort of the ‘well-known’ so easily can ossify into complacency. We need, perhaps, to be shaken out of our relationship with metaphor and language into a new and more imaginative perspective. Carla does just this in a book which restores and refreshes these ancient texts. There is a life and energy and beauty in this particular struggle for a birthing of metaphor and language that both does justice to the mystery of God but grounds us in the realities of our embodied striving attempts for flourishing. This book is  beautiful, disturbing, compelling and wise.


James Woodward