Thursday, 17 August 2017

Faithful possibilities

Another picture in what I suppose is an occasional series about 'what I've seen on my way back from Matins'.  It is part of the work on the grounds of the bungalow immediately above Haworth Station, work which has already resulted in the creation of new ground before this clearance of space next to it.

Meanwhile, on about half of my first Sundays here, I've been listening to three of my new priest and Reader colleagues preach; I look forward to hearing the other two, but there doesn't yet seem to be early opportunities to do so.

With the 'wheat and tares', not so much 'what do we make of the good and bad around us?' as if this was a finely balanced discussion, but 'given that before all else God is overwhelmingly the source of all good, what do we make of the bad which we find?'.

With the mustard seed and the yeast, the invasive nature of God's kingdom.

With Jesus walking on water, no so much Peter's 'little faith' as 'Peter stepped out in faith'.

So the focus is on God, good, kingdom and faith - fundamental, overwhelming, invasive and bringing out the first instincts and steps of a human response however much it may then falter.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Road to royd

Moving seventy-five miles west has taken me to a new pool of distinctive surnames and place names.

It is a number of years since I posted about surnames with clear origins and frequency in Lincolnshire.  The particular examples then were Blades, Capes and Leggett, along with Motley and Riggall.  Examples I’ve noted since include Jacklin, Haith, Hannath and Mumby.  Each time I suspected a new one, I was able to test it on a website which gives the distribution of the surname in the 1881 census arranged by modern postcode areas (the link then no longer works, but this one does); one knows the surname is local where it shows a high frequency in one area, a lower frequency in some mainly neighbouring areas, and an almost nil frequency in the rest of the country.

So far I’ve stumbled on Emmott, Jowett, Tempest, Toothill and Robertshaw  as surnames with an apparent West Yorkshire origin, each with a much higher frequency in the modern BD (Bradford) postcode area or, for Robertshaw,just a touch further south with the greatest frequency in the HX (Halifax) postcode area.

Meanwhile, local place names also have a different character.  The Old English elements of names for a people (-ing-) and for clearings and enclosures (-ley and its variations, -burgh and its variations and – worth) remain: I’ve moved to near Keigh-ley from near Brad-ley, to near Stan-bury from near Stall-ing-borough, and now travel to the local Cathedral through Cull-ing-worth rather than through Fald-ing-worth (although the very immediate dominance of –worth endings may relate to being in the valley of the River Worth).

But the frequency of the Old English –den ending (for hill – there are more of them here than on the North Sea coast) is striking.  And the almost  total loss of the standard Old Norse settlement endings  –thorpe and –by (Sowerby is the only local occurrence) seems to indicate that later Scandinavian invaders either did not penetrate to the Pennine spine of the country or found little newly claimable (and thus newly nameable) productive land when they did so.

One feature of this lack of productive land turns out to be the frequency of the word royd, most often as a field name (or a consequential road name) than the name of a settlement as such.  The first local history talk we went to included a demonstration of the tools needed for the painstaking work of making a small section of moor into a cultivatable field.  Royd turns out to be the local word for such a clearing.

So I explored this with a visitor with both a West Yorkshire name and a royd address and he made the suggestion that I test on the website surnames ending in –royd.  And there they all are: Ackroyd (and Acroyd and Ackroyde), Holroyd (and Holdroyd and Holdroyde), Murgatroyd and Oldroyd all show up with 1881 occurrences tightly packed into West Yorkshire and all were largely unknown elsewhere at that time; evidence of the backbreaking pioneering work of an ancestor being carried around in a surname today.

The picture is taken above the West End Quarry on Penistone Hill, where we explored yesterday for the first time despite it being only twenty minutes walk from Haworth church.  You can see in the distance how far up the sides of a valley the cultivable fields have been established and then straight line boundaries with the unproductive moor.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Preaching Transfiguration

It has never stuck me so forcefully before that the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration is a story about his approaching death.

It isn’t that I hadn’t recognised the clues before, hadn’t heard the points made year by year.
The version of Luke read as the Gospel yesterday (when the feast of the Transfiguration fell on a Sunday) began ‘about a week after this’, and ‘this’ included Jesus’ teaching ‘the Son of Man has to endure great sufferings and... be put to death...; anyone who wants to be a follower of mine must renounce self; day after day he must take up his cross’.

And, in the encounter with Moses and Elijah on the mountain of Transfiguration, the conversation is explicitly ‘of his departure [literally, his ‘exodus’], the destiny he was to fulfil in Jerusalem’.

So Peter’s babbling on the mountain (‘”Here shall we not make three shelters?”... but he spoke not knowing what he was saying’) feels almost like an attempt to preserve the Transfiguration moment and thus avoid the implications of the going down and facing all this.

And so it struck me particularly this year that a narrative of being found by Jesus and then going deeper into encountering his glory (and our promised glory) will always be in danger of being derailed by the next tragedy to the extent that we might then even say ‘this now disturbs or destroys my faith’, the memory of the Transfiguration feeling like some sort of mirage which has disappeared as we near a reality from which we had hoped Christianity would protect us.

But a narrative of being found by Jesus and then going deeper into encountering his suffering (and our promised suffering) will always open up the possibilities of being refined by the next tragedy to the extent that we might then even say ‘this is what my faith has prepared me to face’, the memory of the Transfiguration feeling like an insight albeit now no longer visible as we near a reality for which Christian hope has readied us.

Here is the view of St Michael’s, Haworth taken from our bedroom window last week.  A peculiar part of the responsibility of being here which also impressed itself on me yesterday is that almost half the congregation I preached to were visitors (including those from America, Austria, Italy and Germany), a congregation which included an English Anglican priest and a German Lutheran Pastor, both on holiday, among those who said they were glad to have this attended to. 

Monday, 31 July 2017

New favourite windows

This newish window in St James’, Cross Roads gives me pleasure each time I go in, but all the more so yesterday when the light was streaming through it.

Meanwhile, at St Michael’s, Haworth, I’ve been doing some amateur work (substantially helped, and at a couple of points just slightly hindered, by a brilliant set of notes made for the church’s tour guides) on the East Window of 1880.  Here is just one panel, including two of twenty-six occurrences in the window of the shout of praise Te deum laudamus.

On the left, apparently not identified recently, is clearly John Keble.  He is carrying his then very popular volume of poems The Christian Year (the fact that it appears to read Christian Near may not have helped recent identification).  The hymn New every morning is the love is almost all that survives of The Christian Year in regular use today.  

Keble only died in 1866 so it is striking that he is being represented in stained glass just fourteen years later (mind you, an entire Oxford college had been opened in his memory in less than half that time).  His presence is a clear indication of the then parish priest's Anglo-Catholic leanings.

On the right is John Milton, easily identified, and portrayed as already having gone blind, with his great work Paradise Lost at his feet.

Friday, 28 July 2017


We are five minutes walk from a station on a heritage railway, and having an overnight visitor yesterday means we have now travelled the length of it for the first time.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Weaving grief and hope

Among the thousands of requests left on the Prayer Tree in St Michael’s, Haworth, I was told early on that the most frequent refer to cancer and to early death.

Given that Patrick Brontë lost his wife to early death by cancer, one of my first thoughts was whether a Haworth-branded leaflet about his bereavement would be a helpful thing to have available by the Prayer Tree.

Here is an initial version which I have just drafted.

The Revd Patrick Brontë had only been the parish priest of Haworth for seventeen months when his wife Maria died of cancer of the uterus on 15th September 1821 aged 38.

It had been a long and harrowing illness.  There was no pain management such as a modern hospital or hospice can now provide.  Maria was also extremely distressed at leaving her six children.  Among them, Charlotte was five, Emily was three and Anne was one.

Soon afterwards Patrick wrote these words to a friend:

Tender sorrow was my daily portion; oppressive grief sometimes lay heavy on me and there were seasons when an agonising something sickened my whole frame, which is I think of such a nature as cannot be described and must be felt in order to be understood.  And when my dear wife was dead and buried and gone, and when I missed her at every corner, and when her memory was hourly revived by the innocent yet distressing prattle of my children, I do assure you, my dear Sir, from what I felt, I was happy at the recollection that to sorrow, not as those without hope, was no sin; that our Lord himself had wept over his departed friend, and that he had promised us grace and strength sufficient for such a day.

Several things stand out from those words.

First, his grief was so extreme that he could not even explain what it was like.  It is rarely helpful to tell someone that we ‘understand what you are going through’. 
Secondly, he did not feel that there was anything wrong in expressing that grief (‘to sorrow was no sin’); he remembers that Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus.  There are cultures in the world where bereaved people are expected to wail, and the modern English habit of trying to hold everything together probably doesn’t help anybody.  

Third, it is striking that he doesn’t say: ‘my faith has saved me from feeling extreme grief’.  Nor does he say the opposite: ‘this tragedy has destroyed my faith’.  Those would be far too simplistic reactions.  The much deeper genuine reality for him was that his human ‘agonising’ and his Christian ‘hope’ were woven together in his grief.

His friend would have recognised two quotations from the Bible in what Patrick wrote; these were the threads of hope which he was able to weave around what he said ‘sickened his whole frame’.

The first comes from the earliest Christian writing in St Paul’s first letter to Christians at Thessalonica: 

I do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope, for we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

The second came when St Paul wrote later to Christians at Corinth, telling them that several times he had pleaded with God to take acute pain away from him

But God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Lord Jesus,
you wept
at your friend’s graveside;
weep alongside us,
alongside those whose
grief is indescribable;
mix resurrection hope
with our tears;
grant enough grace to us,
enough strength to them.

Last week's picture was the view from the vestry window at Stanbury, so here is a view inside the church, including the pulpit from which Patrick Brontë preached when it was actually in Haworth Parish Church.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Real presence

A first piece of scriptural exploration with a congregation has been around Jesus’ promise that those who give ‘a cold drinking cup’ to ‘these little ones’ (I enjoy the fact that this is literally ‘microns’) will not be unrewarded. 

In the process I’ve revisited my sense of how sacramental this appears to be.  The Church of England has taught from the start that the two sacraments of Baptism and Communion are such because they are commanded by Christ, have a clear outward sign, have an equally clear inner grace, and are a means of conveying this grace, so I can’t see why the giving of a cold drinking cup to those others would miss doesn’t count.

It would certainly turn the stale debate about whether there are two or seven sacraments on its head if one was to propose that there in fact thousands of them.

The picture is the view from the vestry at our smallest church on the edge of the moor at Stanbury.

A first piece of potential faith exploration with the community sadly revolves around the prevalence of young adult suicide: one of the local Baptist Ministers identified this as a local issue to me independently of the request to take a funeral for a young mother who had taken her own life, and I find it identified as a national issue too.

Being involved in the funeral has actually been a privilege for all sorts of reasons, including what a remarkable young women she was and the quality of her family and friends who I have encountered in the process.

I need to take care rather than jump in, but I have the feeling that what we display in the heavily visited church at Haworth and how we talk about meaning with those who prepare for their children’s Baptism and for their own Weddings may be just some of the things affected by this. 

The picture is a close-up in our greenhouse; having sadly left behind in Grimsby a substantial fruit cage and it growing crop, we have been fortunate to inherit a carefully developed garden with much fruit of its own, and we have certainly not had a vine before.