Between 1988 and 2009 Leech Fellowships were held for periods of up to five years at Durham and Newcastle universities. In that period four distinguished theologians carried out work which has contributed significantly to the life of the Church, both regionally and nationally. All of them actively engaged with clergy and congregations of all denominations across the north-east and played a leading role in training and in regional charitable trusts.
The Revd Canon Dr Robin Greenwood
Dr Robin Greenwood held a Fellowship between 2013 and 2015, working on the theme of ‘Blessing and Conversation as Leading Themes in Renewing the Local Church’. The primary object of his research was to walk as “companion” with several local churches (ecumenically) primarily in the North East of England – though others (ecumenically) further afield joined in – to experiment with approaches to building confidence and capacity for being Church in transitional and challenging times. It was intended as an antidote to churches living with failure, nostalgia and pathos as a negative response to lost certainties and assumptions.
His approach centred on researching with rather than on churches, engaging churches in a participatory action research project that did not propose a blueprint for what churches should be and did not assume traditional models of ‘strong leadership’, but trusted that people participate in the life of God. What emerged was the value not just of constant organizational change, but the more holistic and less clearly tangible values of living from blessing, companionship, journeying and conversation-based transformation.
A more detailed report is available here. The full results of the research will be published by SPCK in 2016 as Sharing God’s Blessing: How to Renew the Local Church.
Dr Jamie Harrison
In 2012-13 the Fellowship was held by Dr Jamie Harrison. Jamie is a GP in Durham and formerly Deputy Director of the Postgraduate School of Primary Care, NHS Northern Deanery. He is married to Anne and they have three grown up children. He was previously a GP Advisor to the Department of Health and has been a Lay Member of the Church of England’s General Synod since 1995.
The research is concerned with exploring perceptions of healing amongst church ministers in the North East. In conjunction with his research assistant Dr Rich Bregazzi, a series of in-depth interviews has taken place, involving a variety of clergy from across the denominations. In addition, Jamie has undertaken structured conversations with a number of senior church leaders and theologians. The aim is to explore how the ministry of healing is perceived within certain church traditions and to discuss with leaders how they see healing manifest and managed – to include matters of training, governance and instrumentality. Jamie is keen to reflect on current practices of healing in the light of New Testament patterns, as well as in relation to modern expressions of health care as seen in the NHS.
The report is available here.
Since his Fellowship, Jamie has set up the Centre for Healthcare Resourcing, based at St John’s College, Durham University (see www.dur.ac.uk/st-johns.college/healthcareresourcing/). Jamie can be contacted via email at James.Harrison@durham.ac.uk.
The Revd Dr Roger Walton
From 1 September 2010 the Research Fellowship was carried out by the Revd Dr Roger Walton. Roger is a Methodist minister and former Director of the Wesley Study Centre, Durham. He is married to Marion and they have two grown up children. Before directing the Wesley Study Centre, he worked for the central offices of the Methodist Church with responsibility for Adult Learning and Training, having served three circuits, in Wolverhampton, Liverpool and St Albans areas.
The research was concerned with new patterns of discipleship nurture and support. Roger was particularly interested in groups that sustain and enable the individual discipleship of members. The aim was to explore what was happening across the Christian churches in the North East and to discuss with individuals and groups how they saw their discipleship and what structures helped and strengthened their Christian living, in home, community and employment. Roger heard from individuals, ministers and groups who were intentionally involved in groups seeking to strengthen the living out of Christian faith and the practice of being a follower of Jesus in today’s world.
Roger’s book The Reflective Disciple (Epworth Press) was published in 2009 and the investigation builds on this earlier work.
The research was carried out through Durham University and Roger was based in the Department of Theology and Religion. Roger is appointed President of the Methodist Conference for 2016-17.
Professor Philip Sheldrake
Professor Philip Sheldrake held the Leech chair from 2003-2008, based in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University. As part of his work he collaborated throughout with the Diocese of Newcastle’s Urban Theology Project in Byker, East Newcastle, and also with the Centre for the Study of Cities & Regions of the Dept of Geography, the Institute of Advanced Study and St Chad’s College in organizing the 2007 international colloquium on “Faith & Spirituality in the Postsecular City”.
He describes his work as “focusing specially on the public dimensions of spirituality, and on spirituality in relation to cities, combining historical, theological and urban studies perspectives”. Philip’s Leech research contributed to some aspects of his book Explorations in Spirituality: History, Theology & Social Practice (Paulist Press, New York, 2010).
However, the main book arising from the Leech Fellowship is A Spiritual City: Theology, Spirituality & The Urban. This was published by Wiley-Blackwell in April, 2014 and received very favourable reviews. After an introduction on why the meaning and future of cities is critically important, and on what the Christian tradition can contribute, the first part examines important examples of urban thought and practice in Christian tradition. The second part reflects on critical themes from a theological-spirituality perspective: Place & Identity; Community; Reconciliation & Hospitality and Urban Values.
Philip is currently Senior Research Fellow in the Cambridge Theological Federation, where he is closely involved in helping the Westcott Foundation to develop resources to assist local faith leaders in urban contexts. He is also part-time Professor of Christian Spirituality at the graduate Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio TX, USA.
Professor Canon Nicholas Sagovsky
Canon Nicholas Sagovsky occupied the Fellowship from 1997-2002. He later became Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey and then Whitelands Professorial Fellow at Roehampton University. He writes: ‘The William Leech Fellowship gave me a chance to do theological research from a base in the North-East, and to be involved in the life of the churches regionally. Most of the research for Christian Tradition and the Practice of Justice(SPCK, 2008) was done in those years (1997-2002) and it is now the backdrop to any contribution I can make in theological reflection on issues in public life. The thinking I did at that time has enabled me to make a contribution at national level on a range of issues concerning justice: asylum, the banking crisis (I knew a good deal about Northern Rock!),human rights, inequality etc. As William Leech Professor, I was also responsible for the MA in Applied Christian Theology at Newcastle University, which gave me an opportunity to contribute to ministerial training regionally. I taught on the Durham MA, where I could make a contribution in an ecumenical context. I was also Chair of the West End Refugee Service, with which I keep continuing links as a Patron. All in all, it was a very rich time for me – a time of preparation for the exciting and demanding jobs I later had. When I celebrated the Eucharist in Westminster Abbey, I could look up at the great window in the South Transept, and there, at the bottom right hand corner, St Aidan would be looking down. I remain deeply thankful for all I learnt in the North East and am still a frequent visitor, since my wife and I have a home near Lindisfarne. There is just one more special link: I am now a Trustee of SPCK, for which William Leech made (as he did with the Fellowship) generous and continuing provision.’
The Right Revd Dr Peter Selby
The Right Revd Dr Peter Selby held the Fellowship between 1992 and 1997 after a period as assistant bishop of Kingston on Thames. He writes: ‘For someone like me who had had quite a demanding role in the Church as a suffragan bishop, the William Leech Fellowship was life-changing: it was the chance – indeed the task – of thinking deeply about faith in relation to an aspect of life, in my case debt and credit that was so nourishing. I could draw on practical examples of inner city experience in the north-east as well as the shared wisdom of the management committee and the Department of Theology at Durham; together these elements made for a type and depth of theological reflection that I could not have managed otherwise. My subsequent ministry has been deeply marked by those privileged years in the North East.”
Peter was Bishop of Worcester between 1997 and 2007. His work on debt and credit appeared as Grace and Mortgage: Language of Faith and Debt of the World (1997) – a work which was influential in the Jubilee 2000 campaign which drew attention to the crisis of unrepayable debt facing the poorest nations.
Professor Robin Gill
Professor Robin Gill was the first Fellow (1988-1992). He writes: ‘During the four years I held the Fellowship I did extensive research on why local churches, first in the North East and then around the whole country, flourish or decline. This led to the publication of The Myth of the Empty Church (SPCK 1993), subsequently revised as The ‘Empty’ Church Revisited (Ashgate 2003). Both of these books have had a significant impact upon the Church of England’s (and that of other denominations) current mission strategy.’ As well as establishing an M.A. at Newcastle, which usefully trained local clergy of all denominations, he also developed a strong interest in medical ethics, chairing the North East Medical Ethics Group (first established by Archbishop John Habgood), and reporting some its findings in Christian Ethics in Secular Worlds (T&T Clark 1991). This interest led directly to his chairmanship (1993-2006) of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Medical Ethics Advisory Group and his long-standing membership of the BMA Medical Ethics Committee. After his Leech Fellowship Robin became the first Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern Theology in the University of Kent.