Saturday, 30 January 2010

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Psalm 68

In about 800 someone inscribed the opening words of Psalm 68 (a little crudely written, and slightly misspelt) on a gold cross or possibly on a strip of armour decoration. The same words also occur in Numbers 10: Arise, Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and those who hate you be driven from your face. If the cross was taken into battle against a pagan army or even a rival Christian army, then this could almost have been a talisman.

It is one of three Psalms attached to my Canon’s stall in Lincoln Cathedral so I read it often. The poetry of the Psalm is striking. It goes on to wish that evil is dispersed in the way that smoke disappears and the way wax melts at the edge of the fire. A modern reader can interpret this either as being God’s gracious work (it goes on to see him as defender of orphans, widows and the poor in a way that Isaiah and the New Testament would like) or his vindictive work (anticipating dipping our feet in the blood of our enemies while our dogs lap it up in a way that seems to justify holy war).

But, either through defeat in such a battle or by other means, the strip of gold (alongside similar metal work removed from a number of swords and other crumbled crosses) came to be part of a single hoard (collection? booty?) buried in what is now Staffordshire, and discovered by a metal detector last summer. There is an irony in the Psalm itself promising that through God’s victory even those back at home who have never been part of the battle will be among those with booty such as a dove’s wing covered in gold.

I had to be in London yesterday for a meeting about the Inspiring Communities programme here which was held near the British Museum, and I saw the strip of gold and its inscription there (the Museum has temporary custody of hoard on behalf of the Treasury) and was incredibly moved by it. Just a handful of the items were on display, including part of an eagle’s wing covered in gold (which may be part of the decoration of a shield). It was worth the trip to London just to see it, although it doesn’t make the regular recitation of the Psalm any easier.

I haven't got an appropriate picture, but this is one of the lectern in the Lady Chapel at St Michael's (previously in Bishop Edward King Church) which I took last week.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Lessons from New Clee

The social engagement of the church in Grimsby is not a trendy post-60s liberal activity. The early Parish Magazines of St John’s, New Clee turn out to show this above anything else.

As the population of Grimsby exploded from the middle of the nineteenth century, housing began to be built which crossed out of the town itself eastwards across what had been fields in the north western corner of the parish of Clee (either side of the present Cleethorpes Road). These closely packed terraces were some of the nearest housing to the docks. A new Curate held a first service in a schoolroom in June 1872 and a new church had been built and consecrated within seven years; it stood where a police station has recently been built.

Its very first magazines record providing a clothing and coal club and a lending library. These are followed by the establishment of a winter soup kitchen (with a sixty gallon copper); it benefited those who did not want to appear to take charity who paid a small amount for soup and bread, but initially about a third and eventually about half was given away free. Within a few years there are records of ‘maternity bags’ available to loan those near giving birth, and a Juvenile Benefits Society where subscription of 1.5d a week secured future medical attention and medicine, one year’s sick pay, and a death grant.

St John’s came down when Cleethorpes Road was widened in the 1970s. So did the subsidence ridden neighbouring parish church of St Stephen’s (which, like our St Michael’s, had been designed by Sir Walter Tapper). The new St John & Stephen’s (church and youth centre) was built to replace them on the St Stephen’s site. It serves one of the most deprived areas of town. Today about 175 young people access it each week and about 700 each year, provision which those who attended the original St John’s would fully appreciate.

This week, at the annual gathering of Churches Together in North East Lincolnshire, plans were launched for a Street Angels scheme to care for some of those who get in trouble pouring out of night clubs on Friday and Saturday nights in Cleethorpes. Some people appeared to feel that the church should use this as an explicit opportunity for evangelism rather than simply a demonstration of the value Christians and others place on each person; I suspect they have missed out on some of this local history of the church.

The picture of the inside of St John’s (with a temporary chancel screen erected for Harvest decorations) is tucked in the back of its bound volume of early magazines.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Preparing for 6-8 March

I went with the Bishop of Lincoln at lunchtime to meet the Cathedral mason who has carved the Edward King memorial which the Archbishop of Canterbury will dedicate in the Cathedral at the major diocesan service on Saturday 6th March and which will be placed in King's old Chapel at the Old Palace for Monday 8th March (the centenary of his death), and, among all the things I loved about it, I noticed above all else the detail of the stone which shows it was once living creatures.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Investing in people

One of the local Secondary Schools employs eight additional non-teaching members of staff to support its pupils all of whom come from one of the most vulnerable areas in town. I was at a presentation last week when one of those involved in establishing Havelock Academy was talking about it. This level of staffing isn’t something which other Secondary Schools which are not Academies can afford to provide, but the importance Havelock attaches to it is an acknowledgment of how factors quite outside the life of any school impact on learning within it.

The eight are the pastoral Heads of Houses, as well as each contributing an additional role in the life of the school. David Ross, the businessman who is the Academy’s sponsor, valued the House system at the Public School he attended, but I guess that this isn’t as important in itself as the fact that each pupil has a member of staff who not only knows them well but has the time to follow up any issue for them.

I juggle all this in my mind with Neighbourhood Management, with the major investment of Government money in the Inspiring Communities project on this side of town, with the lack of funding for youth work provision evident at our recent meeting at the local Youth Centre, and with the inevitable future reductions in Government spending in the next few years.

Meanwhile, individual businessmen sponsoring local community provision is not new. When taking the picture of the almshouses which headed the previous post, we noticed that one of the houses had been paid for by the man whose legacy paid for the building of St Michael’s, Little Coates a few years later. David Ross’s start came form a fishing firm in Grimsby. Joseph Chapman’s fortune from a timber merchant business in Cleethorpes.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Simple-minded holiness

The diocese of Lincoln knew it was receiving a holy man as Bishop even before Edward King arrived.

The Vicar of St John & Stephen’s, New Clee has leant me the bound copy of the Parish magazines for St John’s for the first fourteen years from its establishment in 1877. I have only dipped in so far, but I have already noticed the following quotations from the national press in 1885.

No High Churchman living is at once so beloved by men of his own school, and so affectionately tolerated by others outside it, as Dr King. He is the most conciliatory of brave Churchmen, the most persuasive of incisive preachers, and perhaps of all men who have had the courage of their opinions, he would occur to those who know him as the likeliest mediator between contending parties, and the link that would come readiest to hand in binging cross controversialists to unity. Beyond all questions Dr King has been for the last ten years the foremost figure in the religious life of Oxford. He has proved himself the possessor of gifts calculated to win the younger and guide the older members of the University in a way peculiarly his own.


The impression which he leaves on those who are brought into contact with him of a simple-minded and profound holiness. He is felt to be in very truth a simple-hearted (simple-hearted sometimes almost to the verge of a quaint childishness) and holy man. That feeling we believe to have been the primary, the deepest, the most abiding source of his influence.

And it is St John & Stephen’s (whose Shalom Youth Project has been mentioned in this blog before) which looks forward to giving the Archbishop of Canterbury lunch on the Sunday in March when he is in the diocese for the Edward King centenary celebrations.

The photograph is the third of Grimsby buildings noticed recently, an almshouse for retired fisherman on the edge of St John & Stephen’s parish; the shutters on the houses due for demolition in Guildford Street are just visible in the background.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Neighbourhood management

North East Lincolnshire, through its Local Strategic Partnership, is establishing a form of ‘neighbourhood management’, which is as much about helping neighbourhoods manage the priorities of the local authority and others as it is about the local authority managing its neighbourhoods.

It is suggested that each of fifteen wards should have a Forward group, a forum in which Councillors and residents meet with those involved in things like local housing and police. The boundary of this parish corresponds closely to those of the Freshney and Yarborough wards. The active Freshney Forward group has featured in this blog before, and I’ve been talking again today with a Yarborough Councillor about how best to relaunch a Yarborough Forward group.

These fifteen wards are then grouped into five areas. For us, a ‘Central Area’ covers the centre of town with the urban area west and south of it (but not east of it, nor as far as Scartho to the south) including our wards and the Park, South and West Marsh wards. For each area, an Area Action Group, with both statutory and community representation, and with a chair seconded from a partner organisation, will meet monthly, and have some teeth.

The structure is thus proclaimed as ‘15-5-1'. Issues and priorities are fed up from 15 wards, analysed and acted upon in 5 areas, and thus provision in the 1 local authority is reshaped. The formal aims are that communities should have more influence on policy making, Councillors should operate more like community leaders, and those delivering services should be more coordinated and responsive.

But I do wonder a little bit whether the model should be something more like ‘100-15-8-1'.

The ‘100' is an approximate guess about how many genuinely local neighbourhoods there are in North East Lincolnshire. For example I’ve observed before that Freshney Forward has operated quite well as a sort of ‘Willows Forward’ for one third of the ward (which is where the energy and common purpose has been), but it has struggled to engage with Wybers Wood and Aylesby Park (except when there has been a single strong presenting issue), and seems not to have related at all to Great Coates (which has its own Parish Council anyway).

It seems to me that the Willows’ Tenants and Residents’ Association, the Willows’ Youth Centre’s Members Committee (with some members of which a group of us met last week), any Wybers action groups, the Great Coates Village Council, and the Whitgift Comprehensive’s Student Council might each be among the hundred groups whose concerns need feeding through the system.

The ‘8' is also a guess, but it does seem that five areas is too few, and our own Central Area is huge, with a population of about 55 000 (larger than a dozen cities in the United Kingdom), divided across what I’m guessing is at least thirty different local neighbourhoods whose concerns have had to be focussed down once already into five Forwards. I can’t quite see how a single Action Group can hold together the all the concerns of Great Coates and the town centre, the Willows and People’s Park, Laceby Acres and Nunsthorpe, but we shall see.

The picture is a recent one of the old Hope Street hostel.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

New Year possibilities

The funeral takes place today for the parish priest of Frodingham (the central parish in Scunthorpe) who has died in his mid 50s, and our prayers are with his family and parish.

My thoughts as a Rural Dean are also with his Rural Dean. As we operate in both Scunthorpe and Grimsby with strikingly fewer clergy, any illness or vacancy (let alone the death of one of the clergy) stretches us even further. I may have blogged the figures for here before: when I arrived ten years ago the two Grimsby Teams and the Scartho Group had thirteen parochial clergy in post (two working half-time); today we have four (one working half-time).

Actually, my particular sadness at the moment isn’t in our local provision of parochial clergy but in the difficulty of recruiting to non-parochial posts; both the local Mental Health Trust and F.E. College have been willing to finance and deploy Chaplains but we have not been able to come up with suitable candidates.

Thankfully, things look a little brighter at the New Year for our neighbouring parish (the central parish for Grimsby) where announcements are being made in turn of an MBE for the Rector (after more than twenty years positive engagement with the local community), the actual appointment of a new colleague, the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is coming to main Sunday service there when he is in the diocese for the Edward King centenary weekend in March), and the expected elevation of the Parish Church into a Minster.

The picture is the sweep of one of the most loved terraces near the centre of that parish, known locally as the 'spectacle' terrace because of the shape of the windows along the roof.

Meanwhile, regular users of the local swimming baths can’t wait for others’ New Year’s resolutions to wear off, so some of them told me yesterday. Apparently, the baths are always crowded in the first couple of weeks of the year until the crush of such people suddenly thins out. We will see what the pressures and opportunities of the New Year does to us.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Packing away the crib

I have made:

The Ormulum
(lines 3316 to 3331)

& sante maryes time was
and St Mary’s time was
that yho tha sholde childen
that she then should have child
& taer yho bar almahtiy god
and there she bore Almighty God
dat all this woereld wrohte
that all this world made

& wand him sone i windeclut
and wound him soon in swaddling
& leyde him in a cribe
and laid him in a crib
forthi that yho ne wiste whaer
because she not know where
yho mihte him don i bure
she might him put in chamber

& toh that god was boren thaer
and though that God was born there
swa daernelike on eorthe
so secretly on earth
& wunden thaer swa wreccheliy
and wound there so wretchedly
with clutes in a cribe
with rags in a crib

ne wolde he noht forholen ben
not willed he not hidden be
thohwhethre i thyre clutes
nevertheless in their rags
acc wolde shaewen what he was
but willed show what he was
thurh heofenlike taken
through heavenly token

Bourne Abbey, Lincolnshire about 1145


Hide and Seek
(Luke 2.12)

When Mary’s time
to give birth was
she bore as son
Almighty God,
who had himself
this whole world wrought.

She wound him round
in winding rags
and put him in
the cattle trough,
without much clue
what else to do.

He did not wish
to hide from men
so secretly,
so wretchedly,
in cattle trough
bound up in rags.

Instead he chose
the rags as clues
to who he was,
to where God is,
which heaven shows
to those who watch.

Grimsby, Lincolnshire 2010