A Sermon preached at Westminster Abbey

on Sunday 25th September 2016  at Evensong

(John 8, 31- 38,48 – end)


John 8;32,33 ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;  and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ 

If you visit Birmingham Cathedral what will strike you is the extraordinary stained-glass of the Burne-Jones windows, vibrant with colour and light. Less striking, but no less powerful, is a simple carved stone in the floor of the Nave, just at the foot of the Chancel steps. The stone commemorates Leonard Wilson – Bishop of Birmingham and Confessor of the Faith.

Before taking up his episcopal role in Birmingham, Leonard Wilson was Bishop of Singapore during the 1930s and 1940s. He was taken prisoner by the invading Japanese forces, and brutally mistreated by them because of his role as a leader of the Christian Community. Leonard Wilson suffered for his faith – but he is remembered by the church as a Confessor not only because of his suffering, but for the compassion and forgiveness he showed to those who tortured him. Indeed, such was his Christ-like love that one of the prison guards was converted to Christianity through Wilson’s remarkable witness, and after the war Bishop Wilson baptised and confirmed him as a follower of Jesus Christ.

The story of Wilson’s faith takes us to the depths of the Christian gospel. As a follower of Jesus he suffered for the faith, as every Christian must be prepared to do. We who are marked with the cross in baptism must expect to take up the cross – though God willing very few of us will be tortured because we are Christians. But Wilson goes deeper – he suffers, and he forgives those who persecute him: “Father forgive them” cries Jesus on the cross; “pray for those who persecute you…” he teaches us as his disciples.

Sometimes it is very hard to embrace a going deeper such as this. We can put up with difficulty or opposition, but forgiving those who hurt us with a love like the love of Jesus Christ is a dimension that baffles or enrages – or simply feels beyond us. This is the challenge for the religious authorities listening to Jesus in the passage from John’s Gospel we hear this afternoon. In their scheme, Abraham’s faithfulness and example is the absolute foundation for what it is to be a child of God: he is the supreme example of God’s goodness and faithfulness towards his chosen people. But then Jesus reveals to them something more, something deeper beneath Abraham’s goodness – “before Abraham was, I AM” – that he is himself of God and with God from the beginning, before the beginning. Jesus reveals that there is more to the reality of God than they had understood, and the implications of this are too disturbing and radical to bear: the nature of God is love, and a love which will go to the farthest extent to save and set free, even love in the midst of rejection, torture and death.

To acknowledge this truth – that God is love, and love who embraces the very worst of human conduct in forgiveness – asks us to confront who we truly are – not just who we would like to be, but also the sinful and flawed dimensions of ourselves. When we think about who we are there can be few of us in this Abbey this afternoon who are not confronted with our boundedness, our flaws, insecurities and, if completely honest, our mistakes. The danger is that we seek to eliminate or overlook these experiences and realities in life and personality as we seek to narrate our lives to self and others. Accepting the revelation of who God is in Christ means we must also face ourselves – who we are in Christ – including some of the painful, contradictory and unbearable dimensions of our own stories. Without this going deeper into ourselves, and trusting in the depths of God’s love which Christ revealed in his own life, death and resurrection, there is no freedom. As Jesus says, it in only the truth which will set us free.

In the present age the person I most associate with freedom is – a man who was incarcerated for 27 years for a fundamental principle Nelson Mandela. He gave up his freedom for the truth that every human being is in doubt with an inalienable, God-given dignity and each person deserves not only equal status in the law but the fullest possibilities of opportunities to flourish as a human being. Whoever met Mandela whether the poorest black child or the most powerful Afrikaner politician testified that he treated them with respect. He recognised their dignity. People who came to revere him found him revering them. Despite his years of struggle and suffering, his cherished ideal gave him the freedom to treat others well – it was the truth that set him and others free.

This freedom and truth that gave Mandela the power to forgive and conviction to build a better world in which all people could have dignity and freedom and life and love.

At the end of his autobiography, The Long Road to Freedom, Mandela wrote this

‘the truth is that we are not yet free: we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey… Or to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’

With Wilson and Mandella – Let us nurture a true freedom in ourselves and for others – freedom to set others free – a freedom that stirs our complacency and gives us a vision of the gospel to fight for a better and freer world where all flourish.




Spiritual Care in Practice : Case studies in Healthcare Chaplaincy

Edited by George Fitchett and Steve Nolan

Paperback 2015, 320pp, ISBN: 978-1-84905-976-3

It seems as if English bank holiday weekends bring out the some of the more gloomy of stories in our newspapers. I imagine journalists finishing their holidays in France have left some of these pieces for their editors to fill in copy as and when needed. Whatever the case August 2016 has brought with it some profoundly disturbing reflections on the significant financial crises that face our National Health Service. Faced with the economic realities of overspend (where the causes seem less than clear) clinicians and managers are faced with some difficult choices to make in relation to priorities in health care spending.

It is against this background that George Fitchett (working out of Chicago) and my colleague Steve Nolan offer this collection of case studies and critical reflections that speak very lucidly about what healthcare chaplains do from day to day in and through their presence and engagement in this ministry.

Take a look at the cover above and it will give you some insight into two or three of the key characteristics of chaplaincy as embodied by Steve Nolan who is pictured there. There is a quality of listening and engagement. It is done together and across professional boundaries. Look at Nolan’s hand – it appears to indicate some assertion, perhaps responding to a disagreement within that small group but with a gentle but determined sense of direction. I am guessing that the conversation focuses upon the patient and their care.

Whatever the picture conveys to you – inside the book is a treasure chest of experience. None of the authors are unafraid to open themselves up to critical self reflection. There is careful attention to experience. All of this is evaluated with responses from professionals within chaplaincy, psychology, psychiatry and nursing as together the team explores the central focus of the importance of spiritual care for healthcare. This element within the work of human flourishing is an absolute necessity and certainly not a luxury!

The book is carefully edited and I should be wanting to use some of it in facilitating learning around the nature of the pastoral and Pastoral engagement here at Sarum College. Again and again the chapters remind the reader of the vital role of story and the necessity for imagination if there is to be some measure of transformation and flourishing in both the practice and experience  of care. This is certainly Pastoral and practical theology at its very best.


Here is some further information from the book:
“From a 16-year-old with a belief that God would enable a miraculous recovery from paralysis, to an African man with a history of psychosis and depression whose cultural belief in witches complicated his treatment, to a dying Jewish man, aggressive and isolated due to his traumatic life experiences, each case includes insight into the patient’s needs and chaplain’s perspectives, discussion of spiritual assessments and spiritual care interventions, and accounts of significant encounters and dialogues.

The nine paediatric, psychiatric and palliative case studies and reflections in this ground-breaking book will enable chaplains to critically reflect on the spiritual care they provide and communicate their work more effectively, help healthcare professionals develop a clearer understanding of the care chaplains deliver, and provide an informed perspective for those who develop policy around spiritual care and need to make the case for chaplaincy services. ”

James Woodward

Sarum College


Here at Sarum College our aspirational strapline is Learning to nourish the human spirit ( see something of our work  at http://www.sarum.ac.uk) and as I complete the first year of my presence, engagement and leadership of the College I have been much intrigued about what it is that enables such nourishment and learning to take place. Over the course of August we have attracted many varied individuals and groups into the College. At the moment we are busy recruiting to our MA programmes having just published the new academic course brochure. This is the context within which I offer this short review.

It is impossible for any of us to sit still and this book Transformative Imagery ( Ed by Leslie Davenport JKP £19.99 ISBN 9781849057424) happily landed on my desk at the right time for reflection and review. We have just embarked upon a re-organisation of  the colleges learning into a number of centres and  have established the Centre for Human Flourishing. In conversation with my skilled and creative colleagues on Friday we began to explore how best to communicate and convey of vision for connection and gathering with those who come here. We want to do this in such a way that can dig deeper into our human condition and what it might mean to work together for wholeness through personal and social change.

In the context of this conversation  I was glad to be challenged to look again at the images and pictures we use when we attempt to try to capture some of that work together.

The expertise and professional skill of Leslie Davenport is demonstrated through this book and its careful organisation and intelligent accessibility. It covers an extraordinary amount of ground. Part one opens up the foundations of guided imagery through four chapters that look at the history and overview of the use of guided imagery. Part two offers four further chapters which examine imagery for health and healing. Part three explores the subject area in relation to depth psychology and Part four offers five chapters that discuss the nature of spiritual images in wisdom traditions. The final part gathers together seven chapters challenging the reader and practitioner to apply some of this good practice and thinking in and through their work. The book is clearly printed and offers comprehensive resources. It is not surprising therefore that Davenport has succeeded in pioneering the adoption of guided imagery into the mainstream practice of medicine and psychotherapy.

Much of our learning is diminished through a dualistic approach that emphasises the cognitive, the physical and the tasks and functions of relating and living at the expense of meaning, mystery and transformation. I have an intuition that many individuals and groups who seek places of learning beyond school or university are longing for something more beyond these materialistic and capitalist models of controlling truth. The chapters of this book demonstrate the extraordinary capacity of human beings for imagination – for moving beyond the immediate and obvious into a deeper place of connectivity and fulfilment.

In the formation of lifelong learners who will engage in living with an emotional intelligence so sadly lacking in many areas of our society this book is really important. However written as it is out of the American context and experience some of it will not be easy to translate into northern European structures and cultures. This reviewer, nonetheless, is determined to use this framework of learning and expertise to shape the work of the Sarum centre for human flourishing. For that inspiration and encouragement this review expresses admiration and gratitude for this volume of essays.


James Woodward

Principal Sarum College


Andrew Walker, Notes From A Wayward Son: A Miscellany, ed. by Andrew D. Kinsey (Cascade, 2015), 322pp. no price marked. ISBN 978 – 1– 62564 – 161 – 8.


This is an intriguing, stimulating and rewarding book that offers a space within which Andrew Walkers rather original and distinctive voice can be heard. Some will know Walker through his groundbreaking study of the 1970s and 80s house church movement Restoring the Kingdom (Guildford Eagle, 1998). Others will have been influenced by him through his teaching and oversight of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College London.

For over 45 years, Walker has witnessed the church change, die, move and grow – and the central question for him (and for us) is this ‘what kind of church will survive and flourish in the twenty-first century?’ For Walker only a ‘deep church’ will suffice and one that is attuned to the impact of modernity and therefore appropriately and suitably able to resist it. You will find in these chapters astute observation and intelligent interpretation of both church and culture. These gifts and skills are very often absent in contemporary ecclesiological strategy.

The book is divided into five probing and chapters. Part I: “Journey into the Spirit: Pentecostalism, Charismatic, and Restorationist Christianity” offers history and sociology in an analysis of self-styled renewal Christianity. The piercing questions about such approaches to the gospel provide the reader and reviewer with endless opportunity for marking the text. Walker speaks as an insider and an outsider within such the particular Christian tribe.

Part II: “Mere Christianity and the Search for Orthodoxy” offers pieces on C.S. Lewis, potential affinities between Lewis and Orthodoxy. The pieces on Lewis are especially good and offer shape to the ambition and shape of what a deep church might be.

Part III: “Orthodox Perspectives”, takes us inside Walker’s own denomination and as an orthodox Walker argues for the prophetic contribution Orthodoxy can give to our culture. The highlight of this part is the interview with Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh.

Part IV: “Ecumenical Thoughts on Church and Culture” includes an interview with Bishop Leslie Newbigin. Walker is unafraid to distinguish between good and bad religion and points out the distortions of a faddish, privatised, pop church that simply distorts both religion and Christianity. Trendy and attractive but in the end failing to nurture a deep wisdom.

Part V: “Shorter Pieces” offers a number of articles that continue to demonstrate the thinness of much modern Christianity. Here we have a lifetime of study, prayer, theological adventure that shape Walker’s questions about has so much of modern religion masks the face of God.

Do not be deceived by this book – it is as radical and searching a narrative as my desk has seen for some time. It will demand a disciplined to pay attention and listen to its voices. We need more wayward sons and daughters to offer to both church and world a maturity of presence and engagement that can deconstruct our fetishisms and build a deeper well from which our thirst for the mystery and knowledge of God can be quenched.


James Woodward

Sarum College



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





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.  ( http://www.jkp.com )

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 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 ( www.sarum.ac.uk )  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