Measurements of Carbon Dioxide concentrations in a church

The measurements reported in this post were made by colleagues of the School of Engineering at the University of Birmingham – Dr David Soper and Dr Mike Jesson – whose help is gratefully acknowledged.


Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has understandably been increased concern over ventilation within buildings and on buses and trains etc. This has been reflected in church circles where church ventilation has also been much discussed. Whilst more modern churches will have been specifically designed with ventilation in mind, with proper ventilation paths between windows and doors, the same cannot be said about older churches. For many such churches the only ventilation is offered by the opening of doors, and by leakage through windows and roofs. Because of the large vertical size of such buildings, this lack of ventilation is ameliorated by the ability of any pollutants of pathogens to diffuse throughout the large church space.

One such church is St. Michael on Greenhill in Lichfield (figure 1 below), which is essentially two large, connected boxes – a nave, and a chancel, with a main door in the north wall of the nave and a smaller door into the choir vestry on the south side, and internal doors between the vestry area, the nave and the chancel (figure 2). A though ventilation path is rarely established however as the external and internal doors are seldom open at the same time. There are plans to build new parish rooms to the south of the church, on the grassed area of the figure below.

Figure 2. Plan of church (the measurement positions are indicated by red circles)

This brief post outlines a short series of measurements to measure carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in St. Michael’s. CO2 is produced naturally by people during breathing and CO2 concentration levels are often taken to be an indication of pathogen levels when the population is infected. These measurements were made on Sunday May 15th 2022, when the service pattern was somewhat different from normal, with the normal 8.00 and 10.00 Holy Communion services supplemented by the Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM) at 11.15 and a 4.00 service at which a new Rector was Instituted by the Bishop and Archdeacon. As such it gave the opportunity to look at the effects of different congregation numbers (10 in the chancel for the 8.00 service, 50 for the 10.00 service and the APCM, and 150 for the Institution). A screen shot of a video of the Induction service is shown in figure 3 to give some idea of the density of the congregation.

Figure 3. The congregation during the 4.00 service

The measurements

Carbon Dioxide measurements were made with small transducers and data loggers at different points around the church. These were attached to pillars of left on suitable window ledges. These sampled automatically every minute and the results were transmitted wirelessly to a Raspberry Pi computer and from there to a University of Birmingham web site from where the data could be accessed in real time. These measurements were supplemented by measurements of temperature and pressure using further transducers with built in data loggers.

For the sake of simplicity only the results from two of the CO2 sensors will be shown, as the results from them all were very similar. The location of these are shown on the plan of Figure 2 – one on a pillar in the nave, and one on a window ledge in the chancel. The photographs of the instruments shown in figure 4 indicate that they are quite small and discrete and indeed were barely noticed by the congregation. The results will be presented from midnight on Saturday May 14th to midnight on Sunday May 15th.

The results of the trials

The weather on May 15th was quite pleasant with early morning temperatures of 10°C rising to around 20°C in the late afternoon and evening. The external humidity varied from 20% to 100% throughout the day. Inside the church however there was far less variation with temperatures between 16 and 21°C and humidity between 55 and 70%. The was a light southerly wind in the morning, with a somewhat stronger easterly wind from mid-afternoon onwards.

The results of the CO2 measurements are shown on the graph of figure 5. These are shown in terms of parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by volume and are relative to a general background level of around 400 ppm.

Figure 5. The carbon dioxide concentration measurements

The church was opened at around 7.30 am for the 8.00 Holy Communion service held in the chancel, which went on until till around 8.45. Around 10 people attended. There can be seen to be a small increase in CO2 levels in the chancel over the course of the service (A). Later in the morning there was a 10.00 Holy communion service in the nave with around 50 in the congregation, with a small choir of 4 or 5 in the chancel. This was followed immediately by the APCM from 11.15 to 11.45 in the nave with about the same number attending. During this period there can be seen to be a steady increase in CO2 levels both in the nave and the chancel (B). At 12.00 the church emptied and the doors were closed. This led to a steady decrease in concentrations (C) till about 2.00 when people started to arrive at the church to set up for the major service of the day – the Institution of the new Rector by the Bishop of Lichfield. At this point both the main door and the choir vestry door were opened (as Gazebos were being set up to the south of the church for refreshments after the service), and a ventilation path was opened through the church, with major CO2 concentration reductions (D). Around 3.00 the congregation for the 4.00 Induction service began to arrive and the church rapidly filled with around 150 attending, including a choir of around 20 in the chancel. There were significant increases in CO2 concentrations during the course off the service through till around 5.30 (E). When the service was over, both the main door and the choir vestry door were again opened, and there was a rapid drop in concentration levels till around 7.00 when the choir vestry door was closed (F). After some clearing up, the church emptied by around 8.00 and there was a gradual fall off in concentration levels (G).

Two main points emerge from these measurements. Firstly, and quite obviously, the levels of CO2 increase with the number of people in church and with the time they spend there – B and E on the above figure. Secondly it is clear that there are two different types of ventilation – the slow diffusion of CO2 throughout the building and leakage through the building envelope – roof, doors, windows etc. (C and G); and the rapid lowering of concentration levels when there is a direct ventilation path through the building between the two doors (D and F).

Now from the slope of the graph for the times when concentrations are falling, it is possible to get estimates of the time it takes for the concentrations to fall by 50%. For C and G these times are around 2.5 hours, whilst for D and F these times are between 10 and 30 minutes. Thus the through ventilation reduces the carbon dioxide levels much more quickly than simple diffusion and leakage.


The results show firstly that the method that was used is a simple and viable way of assessing the main ventilation parameters in a church. Colleagues from the University of Birmingham recognise that there is still work to on improving the frequency response of the sensors but overall the method has much promise. Secondly there are some implications for St. Michael’s itself – that large congregations in the church for lengthy periods of time can result in significant CO2 concentrations (and thus pathogens in times of infection), and that through ventilation is much more effective in reducing these concentrations than simply relying on diffusion and leakage. In the Parish Rooms developments that are under consideration for the area adjoining the choir vestry, it may be worth investigating if it is possible to design through ventilation paths through the church and the new development.

Train services on the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways

The March / April 2022 service pattern

There are ongoing discussions, which at times are becoming quite heated, within the wider Ffestiniog / Welsh Highland Railway community about the nature of the services planned in this post pandemic period. On the one hand, the company sees the need to maximise train loadings and thus reduce the unit costs, to cope with huge increases in fuel and staff costs. This leads logically to the need to continue the successful pandemic style timetable of booked tours – from Porthmadoc to Tan–y-Bwlch / Blaenau Ffestiniog / Beddgelert / Caernarfon and back, with one train journey being filled before another is timetabled, and with no intermediate stops. The service pattern for late March 2022 shown above reflects this and consists of a number of named and themed trains. Without a doubt this meets the needs of most passengers, who are not necessarily railway enthusiasts, but simply want a good day our for them and their family, and is cost effective in that trains are maximally loaded. On the other hand, there is a strong, and as I perceive, growing, feeling amongst Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Society members and supporters that a more normal scheduled timetable with intermediate stops should be reinstated, to restore the railways to what are perceived as their true selves as service providers. I have sympathy with both points of view – the financial challenges are certainly significant and need to be addressed, but the provision of specific tours simply does not meet the needs and aspiration of many. This includes myself, as I nearly always use the railway for journeys to intermediate stops, with walks of varying length between stations and “tours” hold no attraction at all for me. As things stand I, along with others, have no real reason to travel on the railways. As I write there are, I understand, proposals are being worked on to reinstate intermediate stops on some journeys, although it is not clear if this will approach anything like a regular service pattern.

The purpose of this post is to raise just one issue that is of potential significance. Last year I had the privilege of being an examiner for a University of Birmingham PhD thesis by Robin Coombs entitled “The sustainability of heritage railways”. I quote from the thesis abstract.

………In particular, the thesis explores the necessary condition(s) for the successful operation of a heritage railway in terms of governing their sustainability as expressed through consideration of their life cycle trajectory around the three pillars of sustainability – environmental, economic and social. The hypothesis proposed in the study is that good governance of railway assets and management is the key determinate of the sustainability of a heritage railway. This hypothesis was tested through a survey of 39 Directors and General Managers and 252 heritage railway enthusiasts of 104 heritage railways, semi-structured interviews with 15 Directors and General Managers, and the author’s recorded field observations and participation in 52 heritage railway visits and events. The research shows that the longevity of heritage railways does not simply arise from ‘good governance’ but is in fact the product of multiple interlinked variables and processes. Indeed, many heritage railways have survived and prospered despite poor governance, rather than because of ‘good governance’. One of the most significant of these explanatory variables is social capital, a hitherto under-researched governance variable in heritage railway studies. Through case study examples, social capital is demonstrated to have compensated and mitigated for failures of organisational governance and weaknesses in operational conditions on heritage railways. In this respect, heritage railways are argued to be similar to charitable and other public-good organisations. On this basis the hypothesis was rejected, and an alternative hypothesis proposed: that social capital (of which philanthropy, reciprocity and trust are key constituents) is a key determinant of the sustainability of heritage railways.

Robin makes a very strong case for the importance of what he calls social capital in the long-term sustainability of heritage railways – supporters contributing financially and materially and through voluntary activities. To my mind this is of very great importance in the current Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland context. A robust approach to income and expenditure through a business plan is certainly required in these financially constrained times, but if in doing so the relationship with volunteers and supporters is fractured, through the provision of a service pattern that does not meet their needs or their aspirations for the railways, this could potentially have a serious effect on the provision of social capital and thus on the long-term future of the railways, as supporters direct their time, efforts and money elsewhere. This simple fact should not be forgotten as future service provision is considered. I would thus suggest that conserving and expanding the social capital that the railways have built up over the decades is as important for the future of the railways as a financially robust business plan.

Robin’s thesis will in due course appear on the University of Birmingham’s ethesis web site at . In the meantime he can be heard describing his work in this podcast.

The Petits of Ettingshall and Lichfield.

This post appeared in the April 2022 edition of the St. Michael’s church magazine. It is a selection from a number of earlier posts that discuss the Petits that can be accessed here and here.

The monument commemorating Louis Hayes Petit is very prominent at the front of the nave in St Michael’s, and recently a display board commemorating the life and work of his nephew, John Louis Petit has been erected in the graveyard close to the tomb of him and his siblings. But who were the Petit’s? In this short article I will give a brief history of the family from the time they first left France up to the death of John Louis and his siblings in the late nineteenth century.

The monument to Louis Hayes Petit in St Michael’s church

The first of the Petit family to arrive in England was Lewis Petit (1665-1720), a member of the ancient Norman family of Petit des Etans, who, with many other Hugenots, fled to England from Caen on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. He served in the British army as an engineer, rose to the rank of brigadier-general and was appointed lieutenant-governor of Minorca from 1708 to 1713. He was later involved in the suppression of a revolt by Highland clans. He had two sons, John Peter Petit and Captain Peter Petit. The former married Sarah, daughter of John Hayes of Wolverhampton, the owner of the Ettingshall Estate near Sedgley, and they occupied the manor of Little Aston from 1743 to the early 1760s. John Hayes died in 1736, and left Ettingshall to his son, another John Hayes. This John himself died in 1745 and the estate went to Sarah and her sister, and thus ultimately to John Peter Petit. Ettingshall was a large, originally arable estate, that even at that stage was beginning to be exploited for its coal and ironstone reserves. It is from that estate that much of the Petit wealth derived.

John Peter and Sarah’s only son, John Lewis Petit (1736-1780) qualified as a doctor in 1767 and was physician to St. George’s Hospital from 1770 to 1774, and to St. Bartholomew’s from 1774 until his death. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society from 1759 and was clearly regarded as a leader in his profession. He and his wife Katherine had three sons John Hayes Petit (1771-1822), Peter Hayes Petit (1773-1809) and Louis Hayes Petit (1774-1849), but clearly lacked imagination in the giving of names. Peter Hayes was a lieutenant-colonel of the 35th Foot and died of a wound received at Flushing in Holland during the Napoleonic war. Louis Hayes (he of the monument) became a barrister and, from 1827 to 1832, was MP for Ripon. He bought property at Yeading, Middlesex, and a house in Tamworth Street, Lichfield. After ceasing to be an MP, his remaining years were largely devoted to literary and philanthropic pursuits.

The eldest of the three brothers, John Hayes Petit (1771-1822) inherited the Ettingshall estate, but also followed an ecclesiastical career. He was ordained priest in Chester in 1798 and served a curacy at Ashton under Lyme near Stalybridge in Cheshire.  During his time there he married Harriet Astley of the nearby town of Dukinfield. Harriet was born in 1779 to the painter John Astley (1724-1787) and his third wife Mary Wagstaffe (1760-1832). John Astley had a colourful life, painting portraits of many 18th century notables, arousing strong passions of admiration (mainly in women) or distaste (mainly in men). His first wife was an unknown Irish lady who died in 1749. The second was Penelope Dukinfield Daniel (1722–1762) widow of Sir William Dukinfield Daniel, 3rd baronet, and a daughter of Henry Vernon, former High Sheriff of Staffordshire. John and Penelope were married with some rapidity after she intimated that the original of the portrait he was painting of her would be available if he wished. On Penelope’s death, and the death of his stepdaughter, Astley inherited the substantial Dukinfield and Daniel estates in Cheshire and was able to lead a life of some luxury and idleness thereafter.  Harriett was one of three sisters, known as the Manchester beauties, and her marriage to John Hayes would have brought him both a beautiful wife and a substantial supplement to his already considerable income.

In 1811 John Hayes Petit was appointed Curate of Donnington, and then in February of that year he was also appointed as a Perpetual Curate at Shareshill, to the north-east of Wolverhampton. Around 1817 he leased Coton Hall at Alveley in Shropshire from Harry Lancelot Lee, which was a very substantial property that once belonged to the Lee family. In 1636, Richard Henry Lee had emigrated to the US, and the family became rich through the ownership of tobacco plantations with a large slave population, and from whom the US Confederate General Robert E Lee was descended. It would not have been a cheap place to lease. After John Hayes Petit’s death in 1822, Coton Hall was bought by James Foster (1786 -1853), the very successful and wealthy ironmaster and coalmaster of Stourbridge.  After his death his wife Harriet and her unmarried daughters moved to the house in the house in Tamworth St, Lichfield that was owned by her brother-in-law Louis Hayes Petit.

John Louis Petit

John Louis Petit, the artist, born in 1802, was the eldest of  John and Harriet’s nine children. He inherited the Ettingshall estate on the death of his father in 1822, and also inherited the bulk of the estate of his uncle Louis Hayes Petit when the latter died in 1849. In total they formed a very substantial estate in the Wolverhampton area, that was being heavily exploited for coal, iron ore and limestone. He and his sisters also had a less tangible inheritance from his mother and his grandfather – the passion and the ability for painting and sketching.

After he graduated from Trinity College in Cambridge in 1825, John Louis Petit firstly pursued an ecclesiastical career being curate at St Michael’s in Lichfield from 1825 to 1828, under the Perpetual Curate Edward Remington, and then curate at Bradfield and Mistley in Essex from 1828 to 1834. During his time at St. Michael’s, the registers tell us he carried out 61 baptisms, 35 weddings and 163 funerals, as well as presumably leading the Sunday worship – a not inconsiderable load. He married Louisa Reid, the daughter of George Reid of Trelawny in Jamaica in 1828. The Reid family derived much of their wealth from slave plantation ns in Jamaica and the family received considerable compensation for their lost income when slavery was abolished in the 1830s.He gave up his post in Essex in 1834 and from the mid-1830s onwards he devoted his time to his painting and architectural criticism, and his story is told elsewhere. His artistic career is well described on the website of the Petit Society –

The Petit tomb in the churchyard hold the remain of John Louis and his siblings. The inscription reads

LOUISA PETIT sixth daughter of the Rev. HAYES PETIT deceased and HARRIET his wife. From a life of almost uninterrupted suffering which she bore with true Christian patience and cheerfulness she was released by a merciful providence on the 30 day of November in the Year of our Lord 1842 aged 30. Also of LOUIS PETER PETIT of Lincolns Inn, Barrister at Law, third and youngest son of the Rev. JOHN HAYES PETIT, and HARRIET his wife. He died on 28th May 1848 aged 32  years. PETER JOHN PETIT Lieutenant Colonel of Her Majesty’s 50th Regiment died February 15th 1852 aged 46 years. ELIZABETH HAIG daughter of JOHN HAYES PETIT born September 11th 1810 died July 5th 1895. Hic J acet quod mortal e est viri Reverendi JOHANN LS LUDOVICI PETIT AM, died 2 Dec. 1868 aet suae 67. EMMA GENTILLE PETIT born August 7 1808 died January 30 1893. SUSANNA PETIT died February 12 1897 aged 83.

The Petit Tomb

Football leagues – development sides and lower divisions

From time to time, the coaches of Premiership football clubs call for their development teams (usually for under 23s with a limited number of older players) to be allowed to play in the Championship or League 1 to give them more competitive games. Such proposals are usually strongly resisted by the lower leagues, as an attack in the integrity of their divisions. In this short post, I will try to show that league competitions can be constructed in a way that allows for the needs of the higher league Development teams and yet retains the integrity of the lower league competition and perhaps even enhances it. The method outlined is not just applicable to the football Premiership and Championship, but could be applied to other sports at all levels where there is a similar of “second” trams playing those in lower leagues.

Suppose we have 20 higher division developmemt teams and 24 lower division teams (the current numbers in the Premiership and Championship). We divide each group into two – HD1 and HD2 for the higher division development teams (10 in each group) and L1 and L2 for the lower league teams (12 in each group). The teams would play each other as follows.

  • L1 teams would play all the other L1 teams home and way (22 matches), the L2 teams once, half home and half away (12 games) and the HD1 teams once at home (10 games), giving 44 games in total (27 home, 17 away).
  • L2 teams would play all the other L2 teams home and way (22 matches), the L1 teams once, half home and half away (12 games) and the HD2 teams once at home (10 games), giving 44 games in total (27 home, 17 away).
  • HD1 teams would play all the other HD1 teams once, half home and half away (9 games) and the L1 teams once way (12 games), giving 21 games in total (4/5 home, 17/16 away).
  • HD2 teams would play all the other HD2 teams once, half home and half away (9 games) and the L2 teams once away (12 games), giving 21 games in total (4/5 home, 17/16 away).
  • L1 and L2 teams would be ranked separately on the basis of all games played, with the winners of each playing for the L title of that division. Both would be automatically promoted to  the league above, with the second and third place teams in each section playing off for other promotion places.
  • HD1 and HD2 teams would be ranked separately on the basis of all games played, with the winners of each playing for the title of the HD section of that division .

This format thus ensures the following.

  • The lower league teams and the development teams of the higher league teams would be ranked in separate divisions, even though there is some cross over on the teams that are played.
  • All teams would be ranked only alongside those teams that have played the same opponents the same number of times, ensuring integrity of competition.
  • The lower leagues teams would play a similar number of games to those that would be played in a conventional competition (44 as against 46), but with an increased number of potentially attractive home games against the higher league development teams.
  • The higher league development teams would play a significantly smaller number of games than the lower league teams, which conforms with current practice for such sides (for example on the Premier 2 league, teams play around 14 to 15 games in a season). All the games they play against the lower league sides can be expected to be very competitive.

The World Test Championship

The cricket World Test Championship is perhaps one of the most impenetrable of all sports competitions, with playing regulations and points coring systems that are not all easily understood by any except those who devised it and those with advanced statistical training. Details can be found here for those interested. The result of this complexity is to make it poorly understood by media and public, and it does little to generate interest (and perhaps financial sponsorship) for the test match format. But it needn’t actually be so. In this short post I describe a simple format for a World Test Championship that would be easily understandable; would result in meaningful matches and series; and would produce an undisputed champion every year. There is a snowball in hells chance of anything this sensible being implemented by the ICC, but its formulation has proved to be intellectually satisfying at any rate.

The basic principle would be to divide test playing countries into divisions of three. Based on current rankings (January 2022) these would be

  • Division 1 – India, New Zealand, Australia
  • Division 2 – England, Pakistan, South Africa
  • Division 3 – Sri Lanka, West Indies, Bangladesh
  • Division 4 – Zimbabwe, Ireland, Afghanistan

Given the current political climate Afghanistan’s position in Division 4 might be untenable, and it might need to be replace by another side (perhaps Netherlands or Scotland).

The basic principle would be that the sides in each division each year would play each other in a three-match series – one home series and one away series. The position in the division would be determined by giving 2 points for a series win and one point for a draw, or, if these points are equal, on the number of matches won. The top side in each division would either be declared world champion for the year, or be promoted to the next division, whilst the bottom side would be relegated. It would be no more complicated than that.

Essentially this would give a baseline for the number of test matches per year of six per team, which ought to be achievable. It does not preclude other series (such as the Ashes) being played as required – and indeed the world championship games could be designated tests in, say, a five-match series.  Each team would play different teams in succeeding years, apart from the top two in Division 1 and the bottom two in Division 4.

 The main requirement would be a need for flexibility in arranging fixtures on an annual basis, rather than as part of the longer-term future tours programme. This may be easier if designated periods were kept free from other series. The real advantage of such a method would be that it would greatly increase the profile of the long form game, with each of the series that are played being meaningful in terms of promotion and relegation, and gives the possibility of the championship finding a significant sponsor.

A new rail connection for Blaenau Ffestiniog?

In a 2019 issue of the Ffestiniog Railway Society magazine, a brief article described the early days of a project to restore the Dinas branch at the Blaenau Ffestiniog end of the line, thus reconnecting the town centre with the area in the midst of the slate heaps to the south of the Conwy Valley line tunnel (see the above map from Wikipedia which shows the complex FR layout around Blaenau). A useful history of the branch is give here.  It was lifted in the 1950s but the trackbed remains visible and accessible to the west of the Conwy Valley line south of the Ffestiniog tunnel. The main driver for the project would have been to provide a connection between the town centre station and the Llechwedd quarry, to the east of the Conwy Valley line near the tunnel portal, which has become a major tourist attraction, both in terms of its mining heritage but also as a mountain cycling and zip line venue. Unfortunately, with the advent of the pandemic, this project seems to have dropped from view, which is hardly surprising. The idea was raised recently once again on the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways Insider Facebook page, and the large potential costs of re-opening the branch against the potential income was again emphasized as the main barrier to taking this idea further.

Whilst I quite understand why the project has not progressed, it still seems to me that the initial reason for the proposed re-opening still remains. The centre of Blaenau has been transformed in recent years, but it is still an area that requires much investment in its future. To have its major tourist attraction an inconvenient mile and a half out of town with no public transport links, does little to help with the development of the town itself – indeed visitors to Llechwedd have no real need to stop off in the town centre at all. And of course the lack of any public transport connection simply encourages what is being increasingly appreciated as the unsustainable use of the private car. Thus in this brief post I suggest a way in which this project could be taken forward in what might be an affordable fashion (although I present no sort of cost benefit analysis at all).

The basic idea is simple – instead of relaying the former Dinas branch, the existing track formation of the Conwy Valley line should be used instead. With the current level of service provision on the line, in normal times the section from Roman Bridge just north of the  tunnel is occupied for only 45 minutes every 3 hour period. With a little imagination in the development of a signaling system to ensure safety, I would suggest that the line between the town centre and Dinas could be used for a shuttle service to take visitors between the town centre and the quarry complex when that section of track is not occupied. This could be done in two, relatively cheap, ways – either through the use of (lung destroying) standard gauge heritage DMUs, between the Conwy Valley line platform and a new platform at Dinas (which could be positioned on the eastern, Llechwedd side of the track and would avoid the need for a foot crossing that would be inherent in the relaying of the FR Dinas branch) and an access road to the quarry. More interestingly, a narrow-gauge track could be laid within the standard gauge track, with switches to allow narrow gauge trains to access these rails from the FT station, and a short station branch at Dinas. This would of course allow existing FR stock to be used.

Both these alternatives should be much cheaper than the relaying of the branch and could provide an attractive link between town and quarry. Realistically however they are likely to meet with strong opposition from the very conservative Network Rail culture, with its massively inflated approvals procedure, and great determination would be required to take forward these or other similar ideas.

At some stage in the future, I will write another blog post on the development of public transport links within the World Heritage Slate Landscape region – there is much to be said about transforming the current private vehicle dominated system into something that could be accessed by public transport. But that is for another day / week / month / year.

Eschatology, environment and evangelism.


The astute reader of my blog posts will know that I rarely post on theological or ecclesiastical matters, even though I am an Anglican clergyman, a role that consumes much of my time. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, most of my church-based output is in the form of sermons, which, being delivered to specific congregations at specific times and places, do not lend themselves to a written blog post format. For those interested in that sort of thing, some videos of my sermons, particularly from the lockdown period, can however be found here, along with those of others. But my main reason for not posting much in this area, is something of a feeling of inadequacy. Whilst I consider myself to be more or less on top of the recent literature and developments in my technical fields discussed on other pages on this site, and also to have a good grasp of the local history issues that I study, I really do not feel the same degree of comfort when considering biblical or theological sources – where my knowledge and reading barely scrapes the surface of what is after all a two thousand year old body of literature. There are however perhaps areas where I can contribute something to theological or ecclesiastical discussions. One of these is in the field of environmental issues, and it is that area with which this post is concerned.

In this post I will argue that a consideration of the overarching story of scripture of creation / fall / redemption / new creation, and in particular the eschatological aspects, has considerable implications for how Christians should regard environmental issues such as biodiversity and climate change, and, at least for a portion of our society, is a potentially useful tool for evangelism. In what follows I thus look at the big picture of the biblical narrative, come to what can only be a limited and provisional view about the overall purpose of God in creation, and discuss the implications for environmentalism and evangelism.

The big picture – the scriptural narrative

Although not often emphasized in ordinary church sermons and teaching, scripture as we have it presents a coherent overall narrative, through its multiplicity of literary forms. It begins with the creation of all that there is by God, culminating in the creation of humanity.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters… So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1,1-2,27, NIV)

This is followed by the narrative of the fall and, throughout the Old Testament, the unveiling of God’s “rescue plan” as Tom Wright would put it, through the covenant with Israel, the giving of the law and the message of the prophets. This plan finds its fulfillment in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as outlined in the gospels and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit onto the church. The narrative culminates in the eschatological visions of Paul and in particular of John of Patmos, the writer of the book of Revelation, and his vision of the new heaven and the new earth.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21, 1-3, NIV)

Clearly the core of this narrative is in the events that surround the life of Jesus. Different parts of the New Testament focus on these events in different ways. The earliest gospel, that of Mark, simply concentrates on Jesus’ life and death, his teachings and healings, and of the miracles that accompanied these. For him and the writers of the other synoptic gospels, this teaching is summed up in Jesus’ summary of the law.

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12,29-31, NIV)

In Matthew and Luke, the field of vision is wider with the story of his birth and resurrection from the dead. Luke expands this a little more in Acts to describe the Ascension of Jesus to heaven, the coming of the Spirit and the outworking of that in the life of the early church. In John’s gospel the field of view becomes markedly wider. At the opening of the gospel we read

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1,1-3, NIV)

which takes the Jesus story back to the creation itself.  Later in the gospel we read how Jesus is described as coming from heaven, to where he will return.

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. (John 3.13)

This broader vision is further elaborated by Paul who gives little emphasis to the earthly life of Jesus, but rather views him as the eternal son of God, through him all things were made, who is now exalted with his Father in heaven, and through whom all things will be made new. He writes the following in the majestic words of the letter to the church at Colossae.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1.15-20, NIV)

In talking of God reconciling all things to himself through Jesus, Paul implies that Jesus’ death and resurrection were not just concerned with the salvation of individuals. He also writes in his letter to the Roman church, words that are of considerable importance for the discussion of environmental issues, explicitly including the whole of creation in the redemptive work of Jesus.

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans  8.19-21, NIV)

Finally, John of Patmos, in the visions of the book of Revelation, describes Jesus at the culmination of the biblical narrative.

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 22.12-13, NIV)

But why?

This overall narrative is a stirring one indeed – but the story stops at the description of the new creation, heaven on earth. Perhaps that is all we are meant to contemplate. But I am left with a nagging question. Put simply, why was the created order, both physical and biological, so important to God that it merited the extreme intervention of the incarnation, death and resurrection of God himself as revealed in Jesus? And this is my starting point on the reflections that follow in this post.

Now I freely admit that my perspective on all this is not the divine one, but it seems to me utterly unsatisfactory that the narrative of scripture should be an end in itself, leaving us with the rather static picture of humanity and God together in the new creation into eternity. I am reminded of my least favourite carol which describes the fate of the redeemed in the words “where like stars His children crowned, all in white shall wait around”. There must be something better than that! I am thus led to conclude that the purpose of God in creation is to bring it, in its entirety, to a point of perfection, as outlined in the visions of Revelation, where it is fit for whatever purpose might follow – not as an end in itself. I am unable to suggest anything further as to what that purpose might be, but it does seem to me to suggest that there is something very, very special about the created order – something that cannot be achieved in any other way than through the physical and biological processes inherent within it.

Following on from this, I would suggest that the uniqueness of creation lies in its complexity and diversity, and that this could not be achieved in any other way than through what we know as the evolutionary processes. The laws that govern the physical creation are both deterministic and stochastic, and it is this inherent stochastic component that leads to the observed complexity that we see around us in our physical world and its geological, atmospheric and oceanic processes. The stochastic element arises from the essential element of chaos that lies at the heart of creation, chaos being used here in its scientific sense where it refers to the sensitivity of physical processes to small changes in the initial conditions, rather than its theological sense. This same mixture of deterministic and stochastic processes is found in the biological creation, with the main mechanism of its outworking being through the genetic / sexual reproduction process, resulting in the massively wide variety of plants and animals (including humanity) that comprise our biosphere. Taking this further, from the biological genetic variation in humans flows the immense variety of intellectual and cultural achievements that make our society what it is. My suggestion is that it is this very variability and complexity that is important to God – and the created order has been specifically designed to have this characteristic for some future purpose that is yet to be revealed.

Now, however one interprets the story of the fall, it is clear that in some way, the creation has been marred and become less than perfect. How this occurred is a matter for further speculation – through external agency or simply because this was always a possibility through the operation of the stochastic processes within it. The effects of the fall show themselves in what theologically is described as sin – the tendency to selfishness and self-interest, both individually and corporately, that mars our humanity and makes it incompatible with its continued existence beyond the grave. As such, Jesus, through his death and resurrection, can be thought of as removing this incompatibility in some way, through taking the human condition in its imperfect state, into the Godhead (perhaps here I am verging on one of the old heresies!). In doing so it was made possible for humanity to pass through death and to play whatever future role it might have in God’s ongoing purposes.

Sin also of course has wider effects and injures the wider human community and the whole of the created order. The injuries caused to society and to creation at any one place and at any one time, then spread throughout the physical and biological creations through the normal evolutionary and stochastic processes within the physical, biological and social creations. However, through Jesus’ earthly life we were given an example and the moral resources to live the sort of life that is a true reflection of our humanity, based on the love of God and neighbour as outlined in Jesus’s summary of the law. The giving of the Holy Spirit to his disciples was the act by which we are enabled to live the eternal life of our restored humanity in the present. In the verses from Colossians and Romans quoted above, there is the strong suggestion that one aspect of living this restored life is to take the needs of God’s creation seriously and work for its restoration in all its forms. Creation has been badly degraded by the actions of humanity and it is our responsibility to reverse that process – to begin the process of restoring creation in a specific time and at a specific place, that this restoration might then spread more widely, again through the stochastic evolutionary processes, so that the wider creation too might become fit for whatever future purposes God has for it.

A model for evangelism?

I wrote above that the scriptural big picture of creation / redemption / new creation is not often presented in traditional church teaching. However, I am struck how many of the younger generations are quite happy with such “big picture approaches”. Overarching narratives occur time and time again in fantasy fiction (many tracing back to Tolkien’s work of course) and many TV series will have a “series” arc that connects individual episodes. There is also an increasing environmental consciousness of the young, as has been evidenced by their approach to the recent COP talks and to other environmental issues.

Now Christianity has perhaps the greatest and most exciting narrative arc of all, and one in which care for our created world is of the utmost importance. If the argument I made above is accepted, then the physical and biological creations are of vital importance to God for his future purposes and need to be preserved and enhanced in all their amazing diversity. I would suggest that not really using these concepts in our apologetics, evangelism and overall mission is a quite significant omission. Properly presented, they could provide a way into the church for a wide sector of the currently unchurched society in which we live – with environmental concern and activism being used as a way to bring them to Christ, and thus to personal transformation and discipleship. Some would say of course that this is the wrong way round – and that personal transformation should come first, and then lead to service and mission. To counter this, I would simply argue that there are many ways of reaching the same end – and is the disciple who prioritises service to his community and world over his individual experience of God, eternally any less well off than those who experience an inner conversion and transformation that never fully finds its way into a life of discipleship and service?

The English domestic cricket schedule


Following the recent Ashes debacle, there has been much talk of why the England cricket team’s performance has been so poor. One of the reasons (but by no means the only one) seems to be the lack of emphasis given to the red ball game in the domestic structure.

Ben Stokes bowled at the MCG

In addition the fact that red ball cricket has been increasingly pushed to the margins of the season to accommodate more and more white ball cricket, and in particular the abomination called the Hundred (and here I let my prejudices show clearly), and thus not allowing the development of batting skills in dry, hot conditions – which are the normal conditions in most other cricket playing countries. Thus in this blog post I set out a possible programme for the domestic season that, whilst allowing the financially lucrative white ball cricket proper exposure, also allows for red ball cricket to be played in the high summer months. I think it would be workable, but, inevitably, others will disagree.


In setting out the proposal, I adopt the following principles.

  • The domestic season should have a clear, identifiable structure that allows for each of the three formats to take the limelight at appropriate times.
  • All formats should be contested by the existing county teams, rather than by multi-county franchises based on the larger grounds, thus allowing for equitable treatment of all counties based on performance, and thus acknowledging the importance of history and tradition.
  • That there should be space in the high summer months for both red ball and white ball cricket.
New Road Worcester

What I propose is for the men’s game – I am afraid I simply don’t know enough about the structures, resources and finances of the women’s game to be able to make coherent proposals. That being said, it would seem to me that something mirroring the proposals below might be quit feasible, albeit with a reduced number of teams and matches.

Fifty over format

  • Three groups of six county teams, perhaps geographically based, playing each other twice (10 games) with quarter finals, semi-finals and final.
  • First round of five group matches to be played in last two weeks in March in southern hemisphere countries, and perhaps marketed as a cricketing holiday to county members and the public.
  • Second round of five group matches to be played in last two weeks of April in England (which will thus give an interesting variety of conditions overall).
  • Quarter finals on the Friday before May Bank Holiday. Semi-finals a week afterwards.
  • Final on Late May Bank Holiday Saturday.

Two innings format

  • First division of eight county teams, each playing each other twice (14 games) with bottom two relegated to second division.
  • Second division of ten county teams, split into two groups of five, which may or may not be geographically based. Each team to play the others in the group twice and those in the other group once (13 games). Top team in each group promoted, with play off for the divisional championship.
  • Games to be played from Sunday to Wednesday from first week in May to second week in August (15 weeks) with some exceptions to accommodate the twenty over format (see below). This would allow games to be played in high summer conditions.

Twenty over format

  • To be played in two stages. County teams in first stage to be divided into three geographical groups of six, each playing each other twice (10 games), with games on Friday evening or Saturday afternoons between the start of May and end of July. Games would thus not be spread through the week which might not please broadcasters. There might need to be some slight modification of the schedule for two innings games to accommodate two games on one or two weekends. Top two in each group and two best third place teams to Premier league, and others to National League.
  • The ECB to give contracts to twenty or more overseas players with different skills, who would be allocated to the Premiership counties at the start of August, based on the county’s requirements.
  • The Premier league would run in the last two weeks in August and the first week in September, with each team playing the others once (7 games). It would be desirable for their to be no international games during this period to allow England players to compete. A “hundred” format could be used if felt desirable (although I can think of no reason why it should be so). Finals day on the second Saturday in September would consist of a play off between second and third place teams, and a final between the winners of that tie and the first placed team.
  • The National league would consist of ten counties, play six franchise teams composing those displaced from premiership squads, second eleven, university and academy players etc. over the same period. These would be divided into two groups of eight, and each play each other once (7 games). The franchise teams would be based at holiday destinations, or conurbations normally without top level cricket as a means of widening audiences. The top teams in each group would contests the final, on the same occasion as the Premiership finals day.

Final thoughts

I would suggest that the advantages to such a system would be as follows.

  • The format would thus give a structured approach to the season, with the three formats contented sequentially, with manageable overlap between the formats.
  • There would be three high points in the season – the fifty over final on the late May Bank holiday; the climax to the two innings game in early / mid-August; and the short form finals day in mid-September.
  • The international / domestic structure for the fifty over competition would both be attractive in its own right for at least the more affluent spectators, would give players experience of a range of conditions, and would also take some scheduling pressure off the domestic season
  • The structure would allow two innings games to be played in high summer conditions. The proposed second division structure would enhance the integrity of the competition with teams only being judge against teams that have played the same number of games against the same opponents.
  • It would also maximise audiences for the short form game on summer evenings and during the last two or three weeks of the school holiday period.

As a final point, such a schedule would also allow space in late September for a regional championship between, say, teams drawn from northern south eastern and south western counties with three four day matches over a two week period. This would give the players some experience of cricket between county and international level. But this is not an integral part of the proposal.

Covid-19 – how risky are church services?

As I write, in late July 2021, Covid-19 infection rates are increasing rapidly, at the same time as restrictions are being eased, and people from all walks of life are becoming increasingly nervous about being infected. This nervousness is, quite understandably, shared by church congregations, and some are questioning whether it is actually safe to come to church in the current circumstances. Is it therefore actually possibly to be a bit more precise about what the actual risk of attending church might be? The answer is a qualified, yes, it is possible, very approximately, to calculate the risk of infection at church services, and, in this article, I will describe the risks of attending church for different scenarios, based on the current situation at St. Michael’s church in Lichfield, where I serve as a minister.

The method I will use is that developed by Prof Jose-Luis Jimenez at the University of Colorado – Boulder in the USA. This is a simple spreadsheet-based model of Covid transmission and infection using the latest scientific knowledge and which can be used in a variety of situations – residential homes, shops, public transport and places of worship for example. It is more fully described here. It is based on aerosol transmission of the virus, which is now regarded as the main way in which the virus is transmitted, particularly if simple hygiene methods are followed, such as regular cleaning of services and washing of hands, to reduce the risk of picking up the virus by touch. Prof Jimenez would be the first to admit that the method is very approximate and comes with lots of uncertainties, not least because the understanding of the way in which infected people emit the virus is at the moment poorly understood. Nonetheless it does give a rough indication of risk.

The situation I have looked at is effectively the current practice in St. Michael’s in Lichfield – a large, fairly poorly ventilated area, with a congregation of about 60 and a choir of 6. Social distancing is assumed, together with everyone wearing masks and only the choir singing, for a one-hour service, with the current community infection rate of about one in a hundred people being infected with Covid at any one time. 80% of the congregation are assumed to be double vaccinated. Plugging this lot into the spreadsheet gives a risk of any one member of the congregation being infected with the virus at a particular service of 1 in 26,700. To give some perspective, the risk of being involved in a road vehicle accident in Britain in the week following the service is 1 in 22,000. Thus, attending a service at St. Michael’s with the current practice is very safe indeed, even allowing for the very approximate nature of the calculations – we are all likely to be in much more hazardous situations at other times in the week.

As restrictions ease, churches across the country are considering easing their own restrictions, and Jimenez’s spreadsheet gives a way of how this might change the risk. Again, for St Michael’s, having 100 people in the congregation in church as opposed to 60 (and reducing social distancing) increases the risk to 1 in 17,500. Doing away with masks as well increases the risk further to 1 in 6,100. This is a big jump, as masks both restrict the spread of the virus from those who are infected, and also give some protection to those who aren’t. Taking the next step and letting the congregation sing hymns increases the risk to 1 in 2500. This is because singing, or speaking loudly, increases the breathing rate and allows more virus to be both exhaled and inhaled. As an interim step, should we keep social distancing and mask wearing but allow congregational singing with masks on, the risk of infection comes out as 1 in 10,200.

How these results should be interpreted is of course a matter for the individual. I personally would find a risk of 1 in 5000 acceptable but would begin to get a bit twitchy if the risk were as high as 1 in 1000.  Importantly though it should be remembered that the risks are more or less proportional to the number of infected in the general population. So as the community infection rate drops, as one hopes it will, the risk decreases. For example, if the community infection rate was 1 in 500, the risk of being infected at a church service with no social distancing, no masks and with singing, falls to 1 in 12,500, which I, for one, would regard as very acceptable and quite safe.

The calculation of Covid-19 infection rates in churches


In a recent post, I looked at the risk of Covid infection on GB trains, based on the spreadsheet calculation methodology of Professor Jimenez and his team at the University of Colorado – Boulder. This method is based solely on aerosol transmission, which is now regarded as being of much more significance than transmission by surface contamination, and the risk of the latter can be easily reduced by normal hygiene precautions. In this post, I apply the same methodology specifically to the case of churches and include a downloadable EXCEL spreadsheet that might be of use to others. There is a level of self-interest of course, as I am a minister at an Anglican church which will shortly be faced with decisions concerning the nature of worship as the Covid restrictions are removed.  Essentially the spreadsheet gives a numerical value for the risk of Covid infection with specified amelioration methods in place (social distancing, masks, no singing etc.) and allows a rational assessment of safety to be made.

At the outset, it needs to be made clear that there are very many assumptions in the methodology of Jimenez, with some of the parameters not well specified, and the base values of risk that the model gives must be regarded as indicative only and it is best used in a comparative sense. In what follows, I first describe the input and output parameters of the spreadsheet, and then look at how it might be used to compare risk levels for different situations.

Screenshot of spreadsheet

Download the spreadsheet from here

The spreadsheet

The spreadsheet is quite simple and straightforward, and requires no specific expertise to use. A screenshot is given above. The brown cells are input parameters, and the blue cells the output parameters The former are as follows.

  • Length, width and height of worship area. The model effectively assumes that the worship area is a three-dimensional box. This is clearly not usually the case, and some degree of judgement will be required in assigning the length, width and height. All dimensions are in metres.
  • Duration of worship is specified in hours.
  • The ventilation with outside air is specified in air changes per hour. For most old churches that have been well maintained, this will be small and a value of 1.0 can be assumed. For particularly drafty churches, this could be rather higher (at say 3.0). For air-conditioned worship areas a value of 10.0 is appropriate.
  • For the decay rate of the virus and the deposition to surfaces standard parameters are assumed. Normally the value for additional control measures will be zero unless there is filtering of recirculated air.
  • The number in the choir and congregation are self-explanatory. Ministers should be included in the latter. Because of lack of reliable data on breathing rates and virus emission rates in children, no breakdown by age is required. This is probably a conservative assumption.
  • The fractions of time that the choir sings and the fraction of time that the congregation sings are both values between 0 and 1.0. The choir fraction is when they are singing alone – it is assumed they will join with the congregation when the latter sing.
  • The fraction of population that is immune is taken to be the proportion of the population that have received a full course of vaccinations, multiplied by 0.9 to allow for virus escape. At the time of writing in the UK, this parameter has a value of around 0.5.
  • The parameter that allows for virus transmission enhancement due to variants has a base value of 1.0, a value of 1.5 for the alpha variant, and a value of 2.0 for the delta variant.
  • A choice of values for masks efficiency for both breathing in and out are given.
  • The fraction of the congregation with masks is a number between 0 and 1.0.
  • The probability of being infective is taken from regional ONS data. For example, if the ONS figure of those infected is 1 in 500, then the probability will be 1/500 = 0.002.
  • The hospitalization and death rates of those infected can also be taken from ONS data and have small values just above 0.0. At the time of writing the hospitalization rate is around 0.02 (2%) and the death rate is almost negligible and is taken as 0.001 (0.1%).

The next set of parameters in the spreadsheet are those that emerge from the calculation process and are not of direct interest to users. These lead on to the output parameters, which are as follows.

  • The probabilities of covid infection, hospitalisation and death of a person attending the service of worship.
  • These probabilities expressed as risk – for example a risk of 1 in 1000 of infection.
  • The number of covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths arising from attending the service.

Comparing risk

The absolute values of probability and risk must only be regarded as approximate. Indeed, Jimenez emphasises that there is a great deal of uncertainty around many of the assumed parameter and urges caution in the interpretation of the results. At best, the results will be accurate to within an order of magnitude. The main utility of the model would seem to be to assess changes in risk – for example, any particular congregation may be comfortable with a certain set of Covid amelioration methods (no singing, masks etc.) and the method can be used to see how this risk might change as these measures are relaxed.

As an example of this, let us consider a church (which is not dissimilar to the one where I am a minister), where the congregation is currently capped at 60, there is 100% marks wearing, and only the choir of 6 sings. For the current infection rate of 1 in 150, this gives a risk of infection of 1 in 18100 for a one-hour service. This level of risk would seem to be acceptable to the congregation. Indeed, for one person attending similar services each week for one year, the risk of covid infection is close to the UK risk of injury in a vehicle accident in a year.

Firstly, suppose that a capacity of 100 is allowed (i.e. social distancing regulations are abolished). This increases the risk of infection to 1 in 11800. Now suppose that in addition masks are no longer required. This leads to a risk of infection of 1 in 4100. Allowing congregational singing raises the risk further to 1 in 1600. As all these figures are dependent upon regional infection rate, they also allow for the congregation to decide at what infection level restrictions can be removed. Should the infection level fall to 1 in 1000, then the overall risk with no amelioration measures decreases from 1 in 1600 to 1 in 11300. Whilst these figures are themselves only approximate, they nonetheless give any congregation the information to make a rational choice of how to proceed as restrictions are eased.

Closing comment

In order to make the spreadsheet as easy to use as possible, I have deliberately kept it simple and have not included too many options. However, if anyone has any suggestions for improvements / useful additions, then please contact me on