Getting Friendly at St Clement’s Outwell

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It was very encouraging to be at a well-attended Special General Meeting last night of the Friends of St Clement’s Church, Outwell, home of the famous roof carvings. The meeting was needed for housekeeping purposes, but it took the opportunity to discuss the upcoming project to install a loo and mini-kitchen – vital accessories for the open church of today! Schemes like this in sensitive ancient churches are never easy, but it looks as if an application will be going in very soon for the permissions and grants in aid that are needed. Keep in touch via the website at

Boxted Church (in Suffolk)


We had a final fling in Suffolk the other day, church-crawling with our friends Graeme and Susan. They had been trying to get inside Boxted Church for some time, but always thwarted by a locked door – so there was a grand hurrah when we found it open, and on a perfect day too.

If you know the song “A frog he would a -wooing ago” you may have come across the family commemorated here. One theory of the line “Roley, Poley, Gammon and Spinach” refers it to four families of Suffolk notables, Rowley, Poley, Bacon and Green and the fine statues pictured below are of Sir John Poley, who died in 1638, and Dame Abigail his wife, who died in 1652. The statues though were made and installed after the Civil War in a late and unusual attempt to recreate a sort of mediaeval chantry and perhaps give the illusion of antiquity.

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These memorials contrast nicely with those to a much later couple of the same family remembered in the south chancel window, Edward and Ursula Hallifax-Weller-Poley. The window includes almost naive but I think very fine medallion portraits of the couple – Sir Edward  in WWI uniform, and Ursula in her habit as an Anglican nun, which she became after her husband died in 1948, when she founded the Company of St Francis in Gateshead. She certainly looks dressed for the weather, and hers was clearly a very hands-on ministry of compassion. A Gloria for her from a lad born during her time there but in a clergy house in the slums of Old Sunderland.

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Our church crawling will now be retransferring its affections to Cambridgeshire and West Norfolk. Next up, if I can get in, is Witcham and its very unusual font.

Nearer my God to Thee

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Now here’s a triple-decker pulpit in all its glory! It’s in the parish church at St Martin’s near Chirk (but in Shropshire), which we visited while ancestor hunting during our summer holiday). I just love the children’s toys jostling at the pulpit’s feet; and when we called in we were not only shown in but welcomed at their coffee morning too. Well done that church – and no, I wasn’t in bishop kit so it was pure hospitality.

PS for those unfamiliar with these fine objects: the parish clerk read the service from the bottom desk, the scripture readings were given from the middle one, and the sermon preached from the top.

Attending church is the key to good mental health among older Europeans, study finds

A press release from the LSE reports new research showing that attending church is the key to good mental health among older Europeans

A study of depression among older Europeans has found that joining a religious organisation is more beneficial than charity work, sport or education in improving their mental health.

The surprising findings from a study by the Erasmus MC and the London School of Economics and Political Science also reveal that political and community organisations actually have a detrimental impact on the mental health of older Europeans on a long term basis.

In a study of 9000 Europeans aged 50+ over a four-year period, researchers at Erasmus MC and LSE looked at different levels of social activity and how they influenced people’s moods.

LSE epidemiologist Dr Mauricio Avendano said the only activity associated with sustained happiness was attending a church, synagogue or mosque.

“The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life. It is not clear to us how much this is about religion per se, or whether it may be about the sense of belonging and not being socially isolated,” he said.

The study showed that joining political and community organisations only provides short-term benefits in terms of mental health and seems, in fact, to lead to an increase in depressive symptoms longer term.

“Participants receive a higher sense of reward when they first join an organisation but if it involves a lot of effort and they don’t get much in return, the benefits may wear off after some time,” he said.

Similarly, the study did not find any short-term benefits from sports and participation in other social activities.

According to the recent Global Burden of Disease study, the incidence of depression among older Europeans ranges from 18 per cent in Denmark to 37 per cent in Spain.

While the sample sizes were small, the study by Dr Simone Croezen from Erasmus MC, Dr Avendano and colleagues also threw up some unusual findings:

* Southern Europeans (Italy and Spain) have higher rates of depression than older people who live in the Scandinavian countries (Sweden and Denmark) or western Europe (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands);

* Depression may have less to do with the weather and more with other determinants, such as economic wellbeing or social relationships;

* Northern Europeans are more likely to play sport than their southern counterparts;

* Southern Europeans do not tend to socialise beyond their family networks and less than 10 per cent take part in either voluntary work or educational/training courses.

Previous studies have found that people who are involved in the church, clubs, sport, political groups and voluntary activities enjoy better mental health than the rest of the population. However, little research has been done on whether any of these activities in themselves actually cause happiness or whether people who are happy to begin with are more likely to engage in these activities.

“Our findings suggest that different types of social activities have an impact on mental health among older people, but the strength and direction of this effect varies according to the activity,” Dr Avendano said.

“One of the most puzzling findings is that although healthier people are more likely to volunteer, we found no evidence that volunteering actually leads to better mental health. It may be that any benefits are outweighed by other negative impacts of volunteering, such as stress.”

Social participation and depression in old age is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. It is authored by Dr Simone Croezen (University Medical Centre Rotterdam), Dr Mauricio Avendano (LSE Health and Social Care), and Dr Alex Burdorf and Dr Frank van Lenthe (Erasmus MC).

The paper is available at:

A new church: West Walton

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I drove over in lovely weather last Sunday morning to the spectacular church at West Walton, near Wisbech. Its belltower is a separate building – like some others nearby – which takes the breath away. The main church has great architecture and wall-paintings, and a very effective curtain system to allow the chancel to be used for worship-in-the-warm. All that and genuine Yorkshire parkin courtesy of a church member who used to be in my dad’s northern parish, and it was a visit to remember. Thankyou!

G.W. Bernard: The Late Medieval English Church: Vitality and Vulnerability Before the Break with Rome

This is tonight’s reading – and probably a few nights more as it is a substantial volume (and has a whole chapter on Bishops). It’s right on the money for my interests, and its opening preface gives a fascinating and personally written approach to the search for a way through the pass between the Dickensian (A.G. that is) orthodoxy that the Reformation was a Good Thing and everything before it in the mediaeval church deeply suspect, and the Duffensian (Eamon that is) that the the wanton stripping of the altars destroyed a flourishing church, busy rebuilding itself in Dec splendour. Bernard quotes the Catto Challenge (reproduced below) and I’m looking forward to seeing how he will enter the fray.

The independent paths of the contributors going in every direction are an impressive monument to the historical tendency (hardly a school) that might be termed Harlaxtonian Empiricism. The variety of the contributions shows that they recognize no master, not even Barrie Dobson. Yet there are limitations to the Harlaxton formula. The study of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England needs the stiffening wind of controversial general ideas, developed at length. It cries out for a vigorous comparative and European approach. Wyclif and the Lollards, who offer hope of refreshing historical disagreement, need the company of foreign religious leaders like Jean Gerson, Gerard Groote and Catherine of Siena to rescue them from suffocating insularity and narrowness. England was one sector of a north-west European theatre, which was integrated in the Lancastrian empire in France and its Burgundian associate in the early fifteenth century – an economic and cultural phenomenon as well as a political entity which needs radical new approaches. All these contributors – and your reviewer is as guilty as any of them – would help to sweep the comfortable dust from these centuries by going to fewer conferences and writing longer, single-authored studies which challenge the tired assumptions of conventional late medieval English history. They would then certainly fall to sharp and invigorating controversy among themselves, as well as with other historians. It is time for the Harlaxtonian Empiricists to do some fighting.

Bernard’s book was published this year by Yale ISBN-13: 978-0300179972

The Census: BBC Radio Cambridgeshire – Sunday Breakfast

You’ll find me being interviewed about the Census at about 2hrs 10mins into this programme. (The slot was recorded down the line earlier in the week so the sound is rather flat. And I’m afraid I do get called the Bishop of Ely!)

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire – Sunday Breakfast with Suzie Roberts, 16/12/2012

Join the National Energy Audit

I am pleased to let you know about the launch of the national Shrinking the Footprint Energy Audit for the Church of England. The energy audit aims to build a better understanding of our energy usage and total carbon footprint so we can support energy saving actions and meet our commitment to protecting God’s creation.

ALL churches and schools are able to access the online energy audit for FREE at

The four good reasons we are promoting measuring church energy

§ A better understanding of building efficiency

§ Compare energy usage with others

§ Share your commitment with the local community

§ Save money

Diocesan Environment Officers are being sent materials to promote the energy audit in their area and we very much hope that you will support them in this so that as many church buildings as possible will benefit from understanding their energy usage and can begin taking meaningful steps in reducing this.

Many thanks

Kate Symonds

Shrinking the Footprint Energy Audit Project Manager

020 7898 1484