Sunday, 17 June 2018

St James', Thornton, Bradford

The Bronte sisters were not born in Haworth but five miles away.

And they were baptised in this font in an older church.

Which would have been earlier than this unusual Churchwarden's stave.

And earlier than the William Morris windows in the present church, showing St John the Divine with St John the Baptist here.

And showing St Columba and his companions crossing from Ireland to Iona here.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

A Key to the Heart

Emergency hospital admissions in Frome have fallen by nearly a fifth in three years.  In the rest of Somerset, they have increased by nearly a third.  It seems it has been done by prescribing not medicine but community.

One imaginative doctor has worked away at a ‘Compassionate Frome’ project.  It points people towards the support or community group they need.  It notices gaps in provision and badgers people and churches to fill them.

Some of us in some of the churches along the Worth valley have been praying and thinking about this. 

First we noticed how much is already going on.  The Place of Welcome on Monday mornings at St James’, Cross Roads, part of a scheme across the whole Bradford Council area.  Christians Against Poverty’s local debt advice centre in Keighley being in touch about support it can give in the Worth valley.  A group of those with learning difficulties being invited to serve the local community out of a weekly session at West Lane Baptist Church in Haworth.  And those are just three examples someone has spoken to me about this week.

Secondly we noticed how willing people are to talk about the possibilities, at our local Medical Centre, among those fundraising for better mental health care provision in the Worth valley, by Bradford Council’s Ward Officer, in the activities of the local Methodist Circuit, and so on.

If you hear things soon about work for a ‘Healthy Haworth’, remember you first read about it here.  Or rather, you may have already read about it in the history books.  I’m proud to be the successor of the Revd Patrick Brontë.  In the nineteenth century he had schools built in Haworth and in Stanbury.  His work to get new sewage systems for Haworth saved literally thousands of lives.

My piece in the Keighley News this week; the opportunity to contribute a three hundred word reflection only comes round about once a year..

Meanwhile, the photographs are one of our favourite flowers in our garden at the moment and one of the Bishop of Bradford gesturing towards the 'Key of Return' when he opened my wife's first solo textile art exhibition this week; the flow of interested and appreciative people through Haworth's Old School Room has been the real pleasure of the week.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Your servant is listening?

There are a few stories in the Hebrew Scriptures which have captured the spiritual imagination of Christian people in a quite a different way from the other stories in what is our Old Testament, stories which, as often as not, provide particular phrases which shape our personal devotion.

There is Moses at the burning bush: take off your shoes for you stand on holy ground.

There is Elijah on the mountain side: speak through the earthquake, wind and fire [perhaps a slight misrepresentation of the thrust of the story], oh still small voice of calm.

There is Isaiah’s vision of God (we were reading this at our services again a week ago): behold this has touched your lips and your sin is taken away; here I am, send me.

But there is a huge danger in simply locating these stories in this personal devotion.  The temptation to wallow in them as a nice spiritual experience can be deeply challenged by reading the next few verses in each case.

Why was God appearing to Moses at all?  What message did Elijah’s encounter with God give him?  Where was Isaiah being sent?  As soon as the questions are asked, it is obvious that standing reverently in inspiring silence ready to make an act of personal dedication isn’t the end goal at all.

Moses, in self imposed exile having undertaken what today might even be called an act of terrorism, is told to go back to the dictator from whose reach he has fled and become the instrument to liberate a whole enslaved people.

Elijah, a member of a tiny hunted remnant of those opposing another oppressive regime, is told to create a resistance cell before his own time runs out.

Isaiah, being commissioned as a prophet, has the picture of an utterly desolate land opened up in front of him.

So, last Sunday, the church gave us two options to develop our spiritual imagination when reading 1 Samuel 3. 

We could read as far as verse 10, get a spiritual fix when remembering the boy Samuel being helped to discern God calling and responding ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’ - and sing the chorus ‘Is it I Lord? - I heard you calling in the night’ several times over.

Or we could read on a further nine verses and be challenged by the message God has for Samuel – something so strong that it was to ‘make the ears of those who hear of it tingle’.

Years earlier, Eli the priest had reproved a distressed woman who had come to his temple apparently drunk; she was to be Samuel’s mother.

Now, he turns a blind eye (almost literally – he is much older and we are told his eyesight is going) to the corruption of his own sons who exploited those who came to sacrifice at the temple.

The message to Samuel is to confront Eli, perhaps his own supervisor and mentor, with God’s judgement and punishment.

And perhaps the purpose of reading on these nine verses is not just to notice yet again the rigour and challenge. 

It is also to notice the uncomfortable similarities with what the Church of England (and I) can be like: we can very easily be more concerned about trivial external morality (such as suitable decorum at worship) than fundamental internal morality (such as collusion with injustices endemic among those like us).

This week another diocese has published another report about another safeguarding failure, and again the core cause of the failure appears to be church leadership setting aside concerns about an individual close to them and liked by them.  Like Eli.

And a strange thing is that Eli is not wicked.  Reproving Samuel’s mother and ignoring the exploitation perpetrated by his own sons is, of course, a fatal part of the story.  

But he is also the experienced priest without whose guidance Samuel would not have recognised God’s voice being spoken.  He is the one (we see if we read as far as verse 18) who appears to recognises God’s justice when finally confronted his own failings.

Perhaps we should stand reverently in inspiring silence ready to make an act of personal dedication.  And expect and heed the call to confront the oppressors and colluders.  

And then hold both our own compromised and flawed efforts and our partial spiritual insights before God’s fire and judgement.

My attention was drawn last week to the face, almost a green man, in the decoration around the south door at St Michaels’, Haworth.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Seeking the welfare of city

The pictures both come from a walk at Hardcastle Craggs on a Day Off last Thursday (a first discovery for us); the smell of the wild garlic was just one of the many pleasures.  There is a sense of direction here.  

Meanwhile, twenty-five years ago, I well remember the way Bishop Bill Ind used to refer to Jeremiah 29.7 ('seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for its welfare to you will find your welfare') as a key text for the concern of the diocesan training team (of which I was then part under him) for issues of justice and peace.  

So I was particularly struck yesterday evening, as a choir from the German Lutheran Christuskirche in London came to sing at Bradford Cathedral, when one of those who spoke also referenced it.  She was Faraha Mussanzi, who manages the Millside Community Centre in central Bradford.  

Her father was a peace activist who had to flee the Congo seventeen years ago - and she followed into exile as a refugee aged ten.  It was the text she said had eventually enabled her to see a calling for what she now does.  

And the choir sang five poem settings by Orlando Gough; new to me, and very welcome discoveries.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Bingley Five Rise Lock

Not far from us, but we only got there (for a canal-side walk into Saltaire) for the first time on my Day Off on Thursday.

Meanwhile, among all the appreciations of the service and sermon at yesterday's royal wedding, I haven't seen any comment that (unlike Prince William's wedding seven years ago) it was the Common Worship form of service which was used; it is strange that it was apparently unthinkable so recently and it is good that it is now literally unremarkable. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Hope deferred

Garth Hewitt performing in St Michael's on Sunday night, praying and encouraging prayer for the peace of Jerusalem.  An inspirational evening, but the Director of the Amos Trust (which Garth founded) now blogs with quotations from two of the most prominent workers for peace, one Palestinian ('I have no more hope - Jerusalem, Gaza, Israel at war with Iran - the young people despair and will become more extreme') and one Jewish ('It is not about hope... you just wake up in the morning and do the right thing'). 

The Churches Together Pop-Up Shop on Main Street, Haworth opened today.  The shop owner goes on holiday for a few days each year to allow this major fund raising (and awareness raising) event all this week.

A picture taken through the vestry window at St Gabriel's just before the service on Sunday morning, here for those who travel in places made dark by the shadow of death.

Monday, 7 May 2018

The race marked out for us

Here is the main pack of the Tour de Yorkshire passing the end of our road yesterday.  Their much prepared for and welcome but fleeting passage through the parish has been a disproportionately dominant feature of our lives – and happened to make our morning service at Haworth inaccessible to the less determined on just this one Sunday in the year.

Meanwhile, I’ve been dipping into the public conservative Bible Study material prepared for American legislators, praised by the President and supported by the Vice President.  Influential campaigners for the election of Christian representatives expressed their disappointment that such elections did not make the difference anticipated and have consciously moved into the work of strengthening the biblical understanding of those in danger of being liberalised by the arguments and the give and take  of the legislative process.

The authorship of the first five books of the Bible are attributed to Moses (because otherwise Jesus would have been lying in his references to them).  The possibility of human influence on ecosystems is dismissed (because God is sovereign in creation).  America’s prosperity is explicitly linked with its unconditional support for the policies of the government of the present day State of Israel (because the flourishing of God’ s chosen people and its supporters is so characterised in biblical material).  The validity of State support for the vulnerable in society is rejected (because no such structures are characterised in biblical material). 

Perhaps there is a helpful clarity in seeing (at least a major important element of) the fundamental difference between right wing reasoning in Britain and in America as being these theological starting points.   Policies which (to take the obvious but very disparate examples) bring wealth at the risk of polluting the environment, affirm Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, and reduce state support for affordable medical care for the poorest, are consistent and predictable - and are certainly so based as not to be vulnerable to secular argumentation.