Monday, 23 April 2018

What do you see?

Here is Peter’s slightly imperious gesture inviting, in the name of Jesus, a man who has been lame since birth to get up and walk.  He is in the east window of what has become the Brontë Memorial Chapel in St Michael’s, Haworth. 

And here is the lame man’s imploring gesture, a begging hand outstretched.  The position of the two figures in the window gives the direct eye contact which is mentioned in the story in Acts 3.

Having recently got one surprised congregation to sing the doggerel of a redundant eighteenth century hymn which expressed the central readings for that day, I got another to sing a 1970s hymn (which I well remember from being in a church Youth Group then but which hasn’t made it through subsequent winnowing into the best used hymn books of today) saying he ‘asked for alms and held out his palms’ and ended up ‘walking and leaping and praising God’.

My surprise was the discovery that it isn’t a story read at a main service in our three year cycle of Sunday readings.  What we have read on the last two Sundays are the consequential passages beginning ‘Why do you stare at this?’ and going on to find Peter arrested for it.

It seems important that this is the very first story after Luke’s account of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost.

And it seems important that this first product of the pentecostal church directly reflects Isaiah’s language of what it will be like when God comes to save (‘the lame man will leap like a deer’) – which is the passage which Luke gives Jesus as quoting when asked ‘Are you the one who is to come?’ (‘Go and tell John what you have seen... the lame walk’) (Isaiah 35.6, Luke 7.22).

So, ‘what you see’ is not just a healing miracle but more fundamentally the church (which has witnessed the resurrection, which has recently received the Spirit, and which acts in the name of Jesus) freeing people from what hobbles them so there is a skip in their step, and this is precisely what tells us that God’s new saving thing is actually happening.

And from the start the church’s leaders have been arrested for it.  I’m only half reminded of the threadbare trope ‘If they arrested me for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?’  I’m more drawn to (and worried by) the question ‘Why haven’t I ever done anything liberating in the name of Jesus which has made respectable people want me arrested?’. 

From the fiftieth anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King to the necessity of protest at deliberately hostile ways of implementing policies which drive immigrants and benefits claimants into joblessness, debt and despair, there ought to be enough opportunity to do some things which should both make the vulnerable leap with joy and make me arrestable.

What do I see?  The congregations at St James’, Cross Roads on Wednesday and Sunday, with whom I shared some of these thoughts, and who would not otherwise be mistaken for members of a pentecostal church, included those who run its weekly ‘place of welcome’, who help sort at the Keighley Food Bank, who help staff Keighley Shared Church’s Saturday Night Shift, who help run an English conversation group for refugees and asylum seekers, who draw injustice to the attention of our MP, and who support fragile neighbours.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Three views

An emergency shelter erected in St Michael's, Haworth  by the local Rotarians on the platform on which our forward altar normally stands, all part of an awareness raising day; I was almost sad it was taken down before Sunday and I couldn't celebrate Communion from within it.

Things beginning to happen in our garden; I like the images in the water droplets in particular.

And also in the boot of your car as we unloaded our shopping - this particular incursion is a minor feature of the problem of our neighbour's chickens ranging freely.

Monday, 9 April 2018

On Brow Moor

St Michael's, Haworth is easy to spot...

... but St James', Cross Roads (in the centre of this picture) isn't.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Preachers to avoid

Anne Brontë and her father Patrick shared the same aversion to a particular form of self-regarding preacher - an aversion which, I guess, he would have inculcated in her during her childhood and early adulthood.

My low grade programme of Brontë awareness has now gradually taken me not only through both her novels but also into the first volume of poems which he published before she was born, and I greatly enjoyed spotting both this shared view and the witty literary treatment both give it thirty-six years apart.

One of the Cottage Poems (1811) is Patrick’s To the Rev J Gilpin on his improved edition of Pilgrim’s Progress.  The late Victorian editor of Patrick’s collected works helpfully places a footnote that Joshua Gilpin ‘was Rector of Wrockwardine and his re-dressing of ‘Pilgrim’ met with the failure it deserved’.  Wrockwardine was very close to Wellington where Patrick had recently been Curate and the two were among a mutually supportive group of like-minded evangelical clergy.

Patrick’s praise of his friend’s work comes later in the poem but it begins with the fear he had before reading it that anyone so presumptuous as to attempt this ‘re-dressing’ would mean John Bunyan

Would take him for some Bond-street beau,
Or, for that thing – it wants a name –
Devoid of truth, of sense, and shame,
Which smooths its chin, and licks its lip,
And mounts the pulpit with a skip;
Then turning round, its pretty face,
To smite each fair one, in the place,
Relaxes half to vacant smile,
And aims with trope, and polished style,
And lisp affected, to pourtray [sic]
Its silly self, in colours gay:
Its fusty moral stuff t’unload,
And preach itself and not its God.

The theme is picked up by his daughter in Agnes Grey (1847) where Agnes dislikes both a former Curate’s sermons and the

still less edifying harangues of the rector.  Mr. Hatfield would come sailing up the aisle, or rather sweeping along like a whirlwind, with his rich silk gown flying behind him and rustling against the pew doors, mount the pulpit like a conqueror ascending his triumphal car; then, sinking on the velvet cushion in an attitude of studied grace, remain in silent prostration for a certain time; then mutter over a Collect, and gabble through the Lord’s Prayer, rise, draw off one bright lavender glove, to give the congregation the benefit of his sparkling rings, lightly pass his fingers through his well-curled hair, flourish a cambric handkerchief, recite a very short passage, or, perhaps, a mere phrase of Scripture, as a head-piece to his discourse, and, finally, deliver a composition which, as a composition, might be considered good, though far too studied and too artificial to be
pleasing to me.

The picture was taken in our garden.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The Lamb and Flag

I've noted before the Lamb and Flag as a badge of Jesus' death and resurrection, one of a number of religious symbols which came to badge medieval hostelries and thus become a pub sign of today.  This example is at the top of the Jonah window in St James', Cross Roads.  There is another at the very top of the East Window in St Michael's, Haworth which I've failed to capture. 

'Christ our passover lamb has been sacrificed for us' (1 Corinthians 5.7) we shall sing on Easter Day, but Matins this morning brought us to Jeremiah's non-passover awareness that he himself 'was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter not knowing it was against me they devised schemes' (Jeremiah 11.19) which pre-echoes our Good Friday service's 'like a lamb led to the slaughter, and like a sheep before its shearers, is silent, so he did not open his mouth' (Isaiah 53.7).

I think I'd negligently always thought the 'servant songs' of this part of Isaiah were a unique development, so I'm weighing up what I should never have missed which is that this similar concept is in his contemporary Jeremiah.  Jeremiah's human predicament is universalised by Isaiah before it feeds Jesus' self-identity (Maundy Thursday is in the mix now) and is taken by the first Christians to reveal things to us about Christ?

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Our three churches

A new boiler is being installed in the vestry at St James', Cross Roads so a new flue was needed; we look forward to the additional work to improve and add to the radiators in due course.  We are grateful to those who fund-raised and permission-raised for all this.

The plaster (damaged by water ingress before the recent roof renewal) has been stripped away from two walls in St Gabriel's, Stanbury; we don't know when the stonework was last exposed and look forward to the replastering and repainting in the next few weeks.  We are grateful for those who have steered this project thus far and those who cleaned the dust-laden church which resulted from this stage of the work.

And this is what it looked like when we opened up for the service at St Michael's, Haworth this morning.  We have water coming through the (newly restored) north aisle roof here at the moment as well, so all three churches are having building-work attention at the moment.