Rev. Dr. Michael Wright

 

 
 

I was born in Castleford (1944) during the West Yorkshire town’s 20th century industrial heyday.

Doreen, my birth mother, met my father Jack at a local dance. He was a soldier stationed at Pontefract barracks and, as he was already married, I was adopted at birth by my grandparents: Fred, a miner at the Prince of Wales Colliery and Florence, an assiduous home-maker. The four of us lived in what was known as a ‘two-up-two-down’ terrace house: no bathroom, no telephone, no central heating or electricity; roaring fires but just a gas mantle and candles for light.

What we lacked in facilities was compensated by our home’s location and sense of community. Neighbours called round. Kids played in the street. Our extended family - my mum was one of twelve, my dad one of seven – was full of warmth and support. Family holidays in Blackpool were legendary. During the 80s, when I traced Jack’s family to Australia and Malta, I was fortunate to find a similar approach. And the important lesson, that parenting is more than giving birth, prompted my wife, Barbara, and I to share our life with others. So our rather eclectic family includes birth children, adopted children and foster children: a delight to us both.

 



 

My studies have included theology (BA) research in education (MSc) and the spiritual dimension of healthcare (PhD). Prior to ordination (1965) I trained for the ministry at Wells Theological College. Adjacent to the cathedral and claimed to be the oldest purely residential street in Europe, it was a time of reflection and growth. Not everything went according to plan. During the compulsory teaching practice I experienced an irresistible feeling that this was where I was heading. The 60s were a time of change and there was no exemption for the Church.

 

 

Contemporary writers signalled a new form of engagement with the world. Their ideas combined with contemporary concepts of what were then called ‘specialist ministries’ and ‘worker-priests’ to produce a heady mix of opportunity and expectancy. After much discussion, an enlightened college principal and the Church Commissioners combined to fund a postgraduate course in education for me at Bristol University, alongside my preparation for ministry.

It was this vision of ministry that led me to ordination in York Minster (1967) and my first appointment: the joint position of assistant curate at All Saints Dormanstown (near Redcar) and teacher (two days per week) in the local secondary school.

For more than forty years I have incorporated the demands of a priestly role that has spanned both parochial and sector ministries, and secular roles that have ranged from primary education to youth leadership, the prison (education) service and higher education.

 

My first headship was at Eastmoor High School (Wakefield) where the previous headteacher had been dismissed. Next was the headship of Carleton High School (Pontefract), facing a second re-organisation in ten years. In such scenarios, issues surround the very heart of an organisation. Is teaching of the highest standard? Is the school inclusive, affirming, reconciling and just? So a mix of inter-related professional, social and spiritual dimensions - all to be addressed for the school to be successful.

In 1994 my life changed forever when chest pains and the diagnosis of heart disease led me to a new world where old certainties slipped away. As time passed, however, I became interested in the experience of illness and the concept of woundedness. A year later, symptom free and believing I knew something about living with uncertainty, I was appointed hospital chaplain at Doncaster Royal Infirmary. During the next five years I learned much from the patients and staff, became a member of the hospital’s critical incident de-briefing team, was associated with the pain management clinic and engaged more widely in issues around healing and renewal.

 

In 2001, academic life beckoned and I became a researcher in the University of Sheffield’s Academic Palliative Medicine Unit. Two years later, I was a founder member of the world’s first research-based International Observatory on End of Life Care, located within the then Institute for Health Research at Lancaster University.

My role as senior research fellow was to analyse the global development of hospice-palliative care: an approach that combines medical care with social, psychological and spiritual care.

Though the post involved extensive travel across five continents, the publication of wide-ranging books and academic papers, and a commitment to globally held international conferences, it was very worthwhile.


The most rewarding feature, however, has been to record the countless stories of passionate people, totally committed to supporting the most vulnerable members of their community. Take Wat Prabat Nampu – a Buddhist Temple in northern Thailand. Here, the penniless monks collect people with AIDS abandoned at their gates by relatives from all over the country. They simply take them in, beg for food, money and medicines, and care for them for life.

 

Or view the design of Australia’s Darwin Hospice. Set among an extensive aboriginal population, each room provides outside access so patients can lie on the earth, feel the breeze and see the stars.

It also contains a labyrinth, the pathway marked by locally selected healing herbs, with a seat for reflection in the centre. Most important, it resonates with the cyclical aboriginal journey that begins in the Dreamtime and returns to the Dreamtime.

Then see the women in Africa making papier-mâché memory boxes to take a possession or two. This means that in the future, their children won’t only be defined as ‘orphans’. Instead, they will have tangible evidence of someone who not only loved them, but found a lasting way of demonstrating that love. On one box as written the words ‘I am 36 years old, my mother brought me up, my husband made me a woman, my children made me a mother, and I love you’.

 
 
Barbara and I have lived in Hensall for nearly thirty years and love the place. Now retired, I offer a local ministry and mostly focus my energies on the village. This involves the development of a village archive, producing a local magazine in which the village – its people, history, joys and concerns - are the story. I also maintain the (civil) parish website and have just started a book ‘Hensall Then and Now’ which will weave a past and present story about our community. And, having played rugby till the ripe old age of 47, I coach Selby Rugby Union Club’s Under 7s team which - to my joy – includes my grandson.



Good wishes,