Monday, 21 July 2014

Crying with Gaza

Crushing Israeli state sponsored violence is meted upon Gaza and is defended as the necessary and proportionate response to extremist Palestinian rocket fire and claims that Israel should not exist as a state at all.

The strange thing is that people like me who are tempted to point a finger have been there before.  I think of Americans wiping out of ‘Red Indian’ warriors.  I think of the English army putting down revolts from Ireland to India.  I think of white South African massacres in black South African townships.

East Jerusalem remains annexed, Gaza remains besieged, and the West Bank remains occupied and gradually settled, all it seems from an apparent conviction that the existing population of those areas has as many rights as people like me felt native Americans, existing Irish and Indian populations and black South Africans had as we moved in around them. 
It seems entirely logical.  Gaza is pounded it seems from the same apparent conviction people like me have had that if a native population’s resistance ever overflows into violence then a failure to be systematic and overwhelming in stamping out such terrorism and cowing the whole local population would fatally undermine who we are.

In a hundred years time, will Palestinians be isolated groups living on reservations or natives of an independent state, on partitioned land or in a rainbow nation?   This is the range of results people like me have left behind in America, India, Ireland and South Africa.   And how will the story of the present pounding of Gaza be told by the neighbouring peoples to each other then?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

George Mullins' grave

I’ve been sent this photograph of the grave in Oxford of my grandfather’s grandfather in the direct male line.  This may not be that interesting to anyone else, but I posted a short piece about him nearly six years ago as he is an important person in my sense of who I am having appeared in the first edition of the Crockford directories of Anglican clergy.  I am absolutely delighted to have it and am already making plans to visit it next month.  The photographer has helpfully set the largely illegible gravestone in the front of the picture in the context of the clearly named one beyond it to assist me locating it when I go.

It fills in a gap – I’ve visited the graves of his son, grandson and great-grandson (my great-grandfather, grandfather and father) and I’ve visited the graves of his father, grandfather,  great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather (all in the same churchyard at Box in Wiltshire), so this now provides a continuous set of burials back over nine generations to the first in 1733.  As I point out to enquirers in our churchyards, it is rare to find gravestones much older than that in any churchyard.

I knew his burial in 1867 was recorded in the registers of St Giles’ , Oxford, and have from time to time walked through that churchyard assuming he was buried somewhere near-by in a grave whose marker no longer survives.  I’d missed one important point.

In the middle of the nineteenth century many urban churchyards became full.  Here in Grimsby there are gory details of attempts to fit in new graves in St James’ churchyard before it was shut in 1854 and burials began to take place in the Doughty Road Cemetery instead.   The same thing was happening in Oxford at the same time – and St Sepulchre’s Cemetery in Walton Street was opened in 1848 to take all future burials for St Giles’ parish and three other city centre parishes.

I now find that it contains the graves of a number of representative figures in Anglican history.  My earlier piece identified George Mullins as having been the Master of a set of west country almshouses in the year Trollope published his first Barchester novel The Warden.  I now know he lies not that far away from figures like Benjamin Jowett (one of the leading figures in the Broad Church movement which embraced new German biblical criticism and accommodated Darwin’s discoveries) and Marion Rebecca Hughes (one of the leading figures in the High Church movement as the first Anglican to make vows as a religious sister) - movements which began to reshape the Church of England during his lifetime.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Siesmic shift

Forty-one youth worker jobs (full and part-time) are to go in North East Lincolnshire and the Council has little public idea about whether or how the remaining Youth Centres will be staffed at the beginning of the new academic year in a few weeks time.

This is just the first major sign of a seismic shift taking place.  Let us take this step by step, crudely, but as far as I can understand it.

The level of cuts required – nearly £1 million is being taken out of the budget – means that it isn’t possible to take a small slice out of every department, nor make large cuts in departments which deliver services required by law, so swingeing cuts take place in departments which deliver services which, however desirable, are not required by law.

And this will go on.  Further equally sharp reductions in budget will follow – a figure of 30% of the local authority’s budget is mentioned.  It is difficult to conceive of desirable but not legally required services surviving at all.  The whole profile of a local authority will change.  Present protests on this and other issues predicated on the local authority continuing to play its present role will come to be seen as almost literally antediluvian.  

I’m told that part of the sea change (please allow the mixture of seismic and flood images) is the local authority making each of its delivery wings into social enterprises of their own.  I'm not entirely clear what this means.  

Meanwhile there is some expectation that the voluntary and community sector will step up to the tasks.  This sector is of course well represented locally and a body like Voluntary Action in North East Lincolnshire has been playing a significant coordinating, supporting and policy forming role.

There are professional voluntary organisations – by which I mean ones which have the infrastructure to bid for contracts and employ staff.  But it is hard to see how these could ‘take on’ things (like, the example in hand, Youth Centres) without the sort of income generating contract to which they have been used with which to pay staff. 

There are amateur voluntary organisations – by which I mean ones like our churches most of which have not traditionally entered into legal agreements nor employed staff.  But is hard to see how we could generate the volunteer hours and professional supervision to do significant work.

There are grant making bodies to support both ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ voluntary organisations – by which I mean everything from European Union funding to the social justice funding stream being made available in the diocese.  But is hard to see how this can respond to the level of demand which these changes will quickly come to generate.

I went along to a form of consultation at the Town Hall this week the invitation to which said that the first thing would be information about the changes taking place in local authority funding but which actually passed on no new concrete information at all.

The consultation turned out to be part of an external review of the local authority’s relationship with and the robustness of the voluntary sector, although the invitation had actually made no reference to this review.  A public report is due in early September so I will see soon whether the sorts of things we found ourselves saying contribute to any meaningful plan.

The Grimsby coat of arms is from one of the floral tributes at the recent funeral of Ken King.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Our Curate's priesting

We've recently welcomed Alex Barrow to our Team.  He was among fourteen ordained priest yesterday evening in Lincoln Cathedral.  The top two photographs were taken after that service.  He presided at a Eucharist for the first time in St Nicolas' this morning.  The bottom photograph is the cake he had just cut at the end of the service - with symbols for St Michael, St George and (at the bottom, three bags of gold he gave away) St Nicolas.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Ken King

We said farewell to another member of St Michael’s congregation today.  Ken King was ninety years old.  He had spent nearly fifty of those years working on and then supervising local dust carts - and twenty of those years as one of our Churchwardens.  He was quiet and unassuming at the back of church each week in retirement, but with a mischievous smile with which to alert me to his depths. 

I knew he had seen St Michael’s through some particularly difficult moments in the years before I arrived, but I had no idea until I read in advance the text of the family’s eulogy how significant today’s funeral would be as perhaps the last of a member of the congregation who had served in the Second World War.

One of his granddaughter’s spoke confidently and eloquently about him.  In the course of what she said she spoke of his joining up on his eighteenth birthday in 1942 two years ahead of his landing in Normandy on 7th June 1944 (D+1) where he had immediately to begin to clear the bodies of paratroops from crashed gliders. 

As a member of the Reconnaissance Corps he then spent most of the rest of the war in front of the front lines observing the movements of the enemy troops, was once blown out of a car which hit a mine, once passed on information about a close encounter with enemy troops for which the absent officer to whom he reported the information was decorated, and being among the first allied troops to reach Belsen about which when he rarely spoke of it the smell at a distance was what he mentioned.

We held him in high regard before we knew any of that.  We do so even more.  It was a privilege speaking the words to commend him into the hands of God.

The picture is a close up of a view already posted in the middle of May from the diocese’s store of redundant furnishings.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Revd Edward Thompson

We have been working at what at first appears to be an almost illegible memorial slab on the floor of the chancel in St Nicolas', Great Coates in the south-eastern corner.  The 'Thomp' near the bottom caught my eye because Edward Thompson was Rector of Great Coates 1707-1733; I wondered whether perhaps his widow had died in 1741 which is a date beneath the 'Thomp'.

Going in last week on a dull day and making use of a strong lamp it was surprising how much we could read after we got our eye in. 

 [In] M[emory of]
[Edward] Thom[pson]
[Rector of] this Parish
[who] died [...]
[and x his] W[i]fe wh[o]
[Died ...]6th 171[...] A[ged ...]
[and] their Son [...]
[William] Thompson Re[ctor of]
[Brock]lesby who Died
[...] 1 Novr 1741 Aged [...]

Letters in normal type can be read clearly on the memorial stone.

Letters in italics are uncertain readings from the memorial stone.

Letters in [brackets] are simply speculation, so beware.

A William Thompson, Rector of Brocklesby, is recorded as having died in April 1742 and a William Thompson, Rector of the next door parish of Great Limber, is recorded as having died in November 1741, so it is seems likely that they are the same man (in which case perhaps April 1742 is the date a successor filled the vacancy rather than the date of his death).  But we can’t assume this.

We also can’t assume that the memorial stone marks where they are buried; the sanctuary area of the church appears to have been repaved during a Victorian restoration and this memorial stone is very likely to have been moved at that time (like the one immediately west of it commemorating Edward Thompson’s successor as Rector of Great Coates).

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Palestinian conundrum

We would like non-violence to be the way.  Those who have a rocket lobbed at their village or who were bereaved by a suicide bomber want it.  Those who have ‘price-tag’ violence meted out on them or who were bereaved by a soldier’s bullet want it.  Pacifists want it and so do those who have Gospel aspirations yet are embroiled in being ready for war.

Yet somehow this wanting doesn’t quite establish the claim that those who have been engaged in terrorism should never be brought to negotiating tables or into government.  Such a claim might have kept members of the French Resistance, as much as some of the founding Ministers of the State of Israel, out of office post-War, and would have kept many in the ANC away from the new beginning in South Africa and many from Sinn Fein away from power sharing in Northern Ireland.

We heard Dr Yohanna Katanacho, a Palestinian Baptist theologian who was one of the authors of the Palestine Kairos document, speak at the weekend; we had heard him before speak in Jerusalem to Sabeel (the Palestinian Liberation Theology organisation).

In the last few weeks we had been involved locally in evenings - one showing the film ‘The Stones Cry Out’ about Palestinian Christians and one exploring the YMCA’s work in Jerusalem - and now we joined in the Friends of Sabeel UK’s annual day conference in Oxford.

He spoke of ‘loving you enemies’ not as some sort of emotional position but as a set of daily decisions about specific things.  He added that such an approach doesn’t duck issues of justice but says they must be pursued from within the logic of love.  He suggested that, where this was the case, there would be no need to view any Israeli or Palestinian as a threat but instead as a gift from God.

He spoke in particular of Christian ‘creative resistance’ to any evil or oppression (which he suggested was a positive take on the negative term ‘non-violence’).  He mentioned the reference to ‘DBS’ (‘disinvestment, boycott and sanctions’) in the Kairos document.  He suggested that, if the authors had known that this one brief reference would have got all the attention, it might have been left out.  It was just one example of what creative resistance to long-term occupation might mean.  What other creative options remain?

He didn’t mention David Cameron’s recent speech in the Knesset.  Cameron encouraged generous moves towards peace, inviting members to dream with him about the positive outcomes.  But he was openly critical of those who used repeated United Nations resolutions and those who advocated DBS as the ways to seek change, encouraging the members to disregard the legitimacy of either.  What creative options did he think this left?

And no, this isn’t to excuse kidnapping or to argue for violence instead.  It is to squirm in the face of the horrid conundrum facing those who wish to resist being occupied and gradually annexed and see some of their neighbours lash out in violence.  How can those who have used violent means in the past be accepted into genuine negotiations for peace and operations of peace if these were really on offer?  How can those who might even be tempted to use violent means in the future find genuine creative alternatives now?

The picture is another set of symbols of the passion and another picture from our recent visit to St Margaret's, Wispington.