I’m fascinated by the response to the announcement that our neighbouring Grimsby Parish Church will next month become known as Grimsby Minster, not least by the quantity of response with a range of different people inside and outside the church who I know well or only a little bit beginning conversations about it with me.
One side of the coin is their pleasure at the idea: ‘Good news about St James’’ or ‘How exciting to have a Minster in Grimsby.’ They see the area being affirmed. They seem simply to like the idea that the town might be seen to rank with Beverley rather than with Scunthorpe. They don’t quite see that the ancient title has been used for churches as different as the village church in Stow and the cathedrals in Lincoln and York. They haven’t picked up the title being newly used in Doncaster, Huddersfield, Rotherham and Sunderland.
The other side of the coin is their puzzlement at the idea: ‘What is a Minster?’ or ‘What criteria are there for deciding whether a church is suitable to be a Minster?’ They are not quite sure what this alien word means. They can’t quite work out how a change in historic status like this can simply happen. Trying to share any sense that the move is aimed at enhancing the church’s impact on and service of a whole local authority area hasn’t proved easy, probably simply because the idea is quite abstract.
The press coverage has also been interesting in itself. When I asked the Bishop’s office for sight of the Press Release (this isn’t something the diocese thinks it needs to provide automatically to the local Rural Dean) I discovered how ungrammatical, wordy and repetitive it is, but also that major features of the reporting aren’t in it at all; either the local press found it too difficult to understand or some of the briefing went off in different directions.
A potential boost to the local tourism industry isn’t something it suggests. This is the thing on which the comments column on the local paper’s website pours most scorn, about equally balancing the comments of pleasure expressed there. The redevelopment of St James’ House isn’t something it mentions. This has perhaps has been rightly talked up as an illustration of the consequences of the commitment of the present Grimsby Parish Church to the town’s ‘renaissance’ planning.
The idea that the Minster will become a hub from which local clergy will go out to serve churches as far as Cleethorpes and Immingham is also not in there at all. The Press Release is actually quite careful to say in different places that the ministry of the Minster would complement rather than replace that of neighbouring parishes and ecumenical partners. It would be fascinating to know how this alternative impression has been given.
And none of the reporting seems to have noticed the sentence ‘an important part of Grimsby Minster’s work will become its advocacy for the poor, its calling for social justice and for providing hospitality to the many organisations in the town who are working to build capacity within the community’.