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

K&WVR





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.
Amen.

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.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Twelve days in



I’ve been meeting all ages at St James’, Cross Roads whose ‘usual Sunday attendance’ is about two dozen but who will also pray with at least as many toddlers, Primary School children and mothers at Toddler Praise and Friday Church each week.
 
I’ve been including at Matins prayer requests picking off from those left by hundreds of visitors on the prayer tree in to St Michael’s, Haworth, and the tree was cleared after the service yesterday morning as these requests were all distributed round praying members of the congregation.

And at St Gabriel’s, Stanbury yesterday a third of the congregation at the Book of Common Prayer Communion resolved themselves into a Gospel Choir and followed the service with enthusiastic performance.

Meanwhile Cross Roads Village Gala (at whose procession the pictures were taken), Haworth’s ‘Poetry at the Parsonage’ event, Stanbury church’s annual Fun Dog Show and Bradford’s Literary Festival means I’ve been at everything from a workshop led by the poet Kei Miller who I admire to listening to Keertan Rehal sing Sikh prayers.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Smiles



Two happy pictures from June.

First, at St James' Palace early in the month, the Princess Royal with the Master of the Haberdashers' Livery Company presenting Deborah with her prize from the Company for outstanding performance in stitched textiles.

Second, at St James', Cross Roads last Wednesday, the Dean of Bradford (as a Patron), me and the Bishop of Bradford after my Institution and Induction as Rector of Haworth and Cross Roads.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Typically Christian 2



It is Pliny the Younger, early in the second century, who gives the first external impression of Christians at worship, information he says he gathered from lapsed Christians:

... on an appointed day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to sing responsively to Christ, as to a God, and to bind themselves by a solemn vow, not to commit a specific crime but rather to avoid theft, robbery, adultery, breach of faith, and not to deny a loan claimed back.  After this ceremony ended it was their custom to go and meet again for food...

We’ve worshipped in turn on the last three Sundays at Haworth Catholic Church, Lees Methodist Church and Haworth West Lane Baptist Church, and I can report that these services had the following things in common (strictly excluding things which two of them had in common but a third did not).

There is quite a level of overlap with what Pliny had been told.  But, like his account, it is interesting to speculate how true or complete a picture is given.

Worship happens at 10.30 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

The main participation of the adults is to sing together, many of the songs coming from sources held in common.

The youngest people present contribute something specific to the service themselves very briefly.

A passage from a Gospel is read.

A significant attempt is made by the ordained person leading the worship to apply the message of the reading to the way Christians live.

The individual Christian's failure to live as he or she is called to do, his or her recognition of this, and God’s willingness to go on loving and working with him or her none the less, is the one message in common.

Prayers are said for the church’s engagement with the community and for others.

The Lord’s Prayer is said by all.

Refreshments are served after the worship.

There is a large cardboard collecting box for the same local food bank.

Meanwhile, a scooter procession past the steps leading up to St Michael's, Haworth was just one of the things going on at the 60s Weekend a few days ago.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Community Chapel, Mirfield






A few nights here for the first time as a pre-induction retreat only three-quarters of an hour away, and there is a pleasing  link back to Grimsby as well because Walter Tapper was also the architect of St Michael's, Little Coates.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Typically Christian


What do people think Christian people think?

I presume that the adviser who warned a Prime Minster years ago that he shouldn’t ‘do God’ in public had some sort of idea.

He seemed to think that people think that Christians think that praying for guidance leads us to do the first uninformed things that then come into our heads and to be unreasonably certain that we must be right.

Or that paying attention to the Bible has long led us to reject evolution in favour of a literal seven day creation and now leads us to reject equal marriage in favour of a condemnation of all faithful same-sex relationships, to name only two of the issues which appear to come most frequently to people's minds.

And, suddenly, it almost seems that they are right. 

A Christian leader of a liberal political party has a bruising experience of a General Election campaign and concludes that holding his (particular understanding of his Christian) faith is (perceived by others to be) incompatible with that leadership.

But how has it arisen that this is the popular perception (of many) in the first place?

Why isn’t the perception that a (contemporary) Christian politician will be most remarkable for his or her prayerful awareness of his or her own need for forgiveness and for agonising over the common good?

Or for paying such close attention to the Bible that he or she prioritises social justice for the most marginalised and seeking reconciliation for all?

Or that  leads him or her sharply to question the assumptions behind everything from profit before people and slogan before sympathy?

Which is more typically Christian, to be scientifically blinkered and judgmentally obsessed with others sexuality or to champion the excluded and forensically engaged with self-critical honesty and the needs of neighbours? 

Anyway, the ironic truth appears to be that, among what is actually of course the huge range of positions held by Christian people, for some of the more extreme supporters of the minority political party on whose parliamentary support a Church of England attending Prime Minister will now depend to remain in office, it is the popular view of publicly Christian politicians which seems closer to the truth than to the alternative reality I fantasise about, and it is in fact no bar to political success at all.

Meanwhile, we enjoyed encountering this car when passing through Leeds on ‘Clean Air Day’ earlier in the week.

Monday, 12 June 2017

More than sun and cake


Don't be totally taken in by the sun in our new back garden yesterday afternoon.  The weather round here does appear to change quite often: there were drops in the air when we walked to church in the morning, sunshine when we came out, rain during lunch, this view in the afternoon, and drizzle again in the evening.

The church service was Mass at the Our Lady of Lourdes, Haworth.  Full of people of most ages, a formal yet relaxed liturgy, an effective sermon, a friendly welcome and a quite astonishing quantity of cake at refreshments after the service.  We plan to be at one of the local Baptist churches next week and one of the local Methodist churches the week after, before beginning work.

Meanwhile, we are almost straight within a week of moving in (even with a day trip to London for Deborah to receive her prize from the Princess Royal - who asked each recipient in turn informed questions about their work without appearing to consult any notes) with the only glitches being in getting computer network up and running properly.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Feelings and facts



I continue to be exercised by the shift from engaging in political and theological reasoning to simply responding and appealing to assumption, emotion and prejudice.

But last month snippets from two Anglican leaders (a layperson with roots in the Irish ascendancy and a Bishop with roots in the Afro-American south) remind me that reconciliation depends at an important level on holding together an awareness of instinct and argument, relationship and vision.

Peter Hannon has died.  His father was a war-time Archdeacon of Dromore  and his brother Bishop of the cross-border diocese of Clogher through recent difficult years.  He was committed himself as a champion of what was for many years called Moral Rearmament.  His friend Mary Lean wrote in The Guardian:

Peter maintained that in any conflict situation feelings were as decisive as facts.  He liked to recall a conversation, early in the Troubles, with Gerry O’Neill, a Catholic leader from the Falls Road.  Asked for the facts of a situation, O’Neill replied: ‘Facts only confuse the issue.  Each side has its own set of facts, mostly accurate, but selected to prove its own case.  Each ignores the real fact, which is what the other side feels'.

Michael Curry is the Presiding Bishop of TEC (the Episcopal Church in the USA) and answered an interview question about ministry in that church at a time of political division:

One of the things I learned as a parish pastor was that those relationships affected everything else. People could disagree with you, but if they knew you loved them and cared for them and vice versa and were in relationship with them, they might disagree with you and they might put some grey hair on you too, but it didn’t cause schism, you see what I mean?  That pastoral relationship impacted everything else.  If that wasn’t there, it doesn’t matter how right or wrong you were.  You could be prophetic all day, but if you don’t have a pastoral relationship, it doesn’t matter.

The pictures were taken at the Birdsong Green Burial Site near Alford, which we discovered on Bank Holiday Monday.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Haberdashers' Company Prize



As if one prize were not enough, one of the City Livery Companies is awarding Deborah a further prize for outstanding performance in stitched textiles.  The Company of Haberdashers consider each year choosing one of the City & Guilds Medal of Excellence winners for an additional prize.  They have chosen Deborah this year.  Wow! 

We were already booked to go to London in the middle of June for the City & Guilds award ceremony.  We are now also booked to go to St James’ Palace a week earlier (a few days after we move) where the Princess Royal will give her the Haberdashers’ prize. 

The pictures are lifted from her Facebook page where she has posted a series about a developing fun piece which is a response to a local challenge to use a different stitch a day.  The pictures are an overview on Day 98 and a close up (the star stitches at the centre were newly added) on Day 150  in ‘a year in a hoop’.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

New war grave commemoration




There is not only a new Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) sign at the entrance to St Michael’s churchyard this week but also a new gravestone within it.  We have been waiting for both to appear for quite some time.

The sign is part of a countrywide initiative to highlight where small groups of CWGC graves exist.  The new gravestone is the result of one individual’s research to identify gaps in CWGC coverage and his campaigns to fill in the gaps.

We know that James Hornshaw, who was living in Elsenham Road at the time of his death, was buried in the churchyard but we do not know the exact location of his grave so we picked a location for his new gravestone close to another pair of CWGC stones; his is the left hand one of the three in the group photograph.

He was a steward on a trawler who was guarding bridges and pipelines in the Grimsby area at night with only reused railway platelayer huts for shelter and his final illness may well have been caused or exasperated by a severe wetting on one of those nights.

At one point the help of Grimsby’s then MP (the Tickler of jam factory fame) was enlisted to gain some support for his wife when his death was judged not to been due to military service; a gratuity of £50 was paid to her.

He was born in Greenwich and she less than ten miles away at Sutton at Hone in Kent.  Their eldest  sons were twins born in Grimsby, a younger James who had been discharged from the army on the grounds of ill health in May 1915 and who died of tuberculosis a few months later (and who had already been buried in the churchyard) and a Charles who was to be killed in 1918 (and who is buried at Senlis in France where a major Casualty Clearing Station operated briefly).

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Expectations change


We encountered the decorator at work in what will be our new Rectory a few days ago.  He clearly does a lot of work on parsonages for the diocese of Leeds and is familiar with those who live in them.  He spoke first to Deborah who had introduced herself and expressed interest in what he was doing.  He then turned to me and said ‘And you must be the new Rector's husband?’

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Once an outlier


Not that long ago, I served on a public body which was seeking further independent members to serve on scrutiny panels.
 
One person who put himself forward already served on a police monitoring body.  He was clearly energised by his expectation that the expression of a particular public view should result in policy change by the Chief Constable. 

What, I asked, if the Chief Constable was to react by producing evidence for the panel as to why the grass-roots view was understandable but in fact likely to be misguided?  I’m there to express the view of the public, he insisted, and I’d expect police policy to respond to that.

At the time, I thought the position he took to be incomprehensible.  I didn’t understand how the others seeking to recruit new members of our scrutiny panels didn’t automatically rule him out of consideration on the spot.

A few years later now, I can see that this was my first encounter with a world then alien to me but into which we have since moved.  With hindsight it is clear that he was the future and I was the past.  What I thought was a strange outlier was in fact the first wetting of a turned tide.

His common sense was no longer to be patronised by my sophistry.  The opinions he found widely shared were no longer to be ignored, let alone be in danger of being lumped together with those judged as bigoted or prejudiced. 

Pretence at expertise was quickly to become derided as the misguided habits of a discredited liberal elite in a self deluded politically correct bubble – now a mainstream rather than extreme position.

A commentator on Radio 4's Start the Week on 15th May summed the shift up as one in which the test is now 'emotional resonance not verification' and spoke of 'arguments which reinforce what you feel rather than seeking clarity by claim and counter claim'.  [Paragraph added 16th May]

Party political strategists have, of course, been on to this long before the shape of the new world became clear to the likes of me.  For many years, much election and referendum campaigning has been targeted on relating to popular perception rather than seeking to engage in extended reasoning.
 
Being that as it is, I’ve set myself a small task to think about what the implications of this are for the church.  I’ve hardly got anywhere yet, but one parallel must be the way the holders of both fundamentalist and secular certainties are clear they will not be patronised any longer either.

Meanwhile, among the many things I’ve suddenly begun to get round to doing, I have this week reattached Jackie Davis' plaque to the memorial cross on his grave - eight years after I promised myself I’d do it.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Knowing how to die


As I prepare to move in 2017 to what I assume will be the last parishes in which I’ll serve, I’ve been thinking of the first one in which I did so; I completed my 'training curacy' there in 1988.

The Parish of Caversham and Mapledudham (as it was then configured) was mainly in Reading and partly in rural south Oxfordshire.  In each of the last two weeks the Church Times has carried an obituary of one of the parishioners of the time.

Ted Boulding was a frail retired Reader in the mid-1980s, and I only saw his daughter Rachel fleetingly as she passed through when at home from University from time to time.  A dozen years later we shared Caversham memories in the refectory at the University of York when I was a member of General Synod and she helping produce the new Common Worship publications.  A similar time later I submitted an article to the Church Times and it was she who edited and placed it.  Among things published herself have been recent level headed and faithful reflection for the Bible Reading Fellowship on her own approaching early death from cancer.

John Madeley was a vigorous active Reader at the same time, but his primary vocation was as a journalist and writer on things like fair trade and international agricultural development.  The obituary quotes him from the 1970s writing ‘a church which ties up its best people in its own internal affairs deserves all that is coming to it’.  He remained in Caversham and my encounters with him since leaving there have all been in newspapers and on the radio as he continued to publish and broadcast, living into his 80s.

Rachel’s obituary says that a padded envelope arrived at the Church Times a few days before she died containing an individually written card for every member of staff.  John’s says that his cardboard coffin was taken out of St Peter’s, Caversham at the end of his funeral as the congregation sang the Taize chorus ‘Bless the Lord, my soul, and bless God’s holy name – bless the Lord, my soul, who leads me into life’.  So it turns out the parishioners from the parish in which I completed my training are still teaching me both how to live and how to die thirty years after being there.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Two Thomases



It is hardly original or ground-breaking to notice that Thomas didn’t touch the wounds of the risen Lord, or at least that we are not told that he did so.
 
It is frequently noted that John tell us Thomas says he will only believe if he is able to do so, that John tells us the risen Lord invites him to do so, but that John never tells us that Thomas actually does so.  Thomas encounters the risen Lord and says ‘My Lord and my God’ – that is it.

So I’ve been reminding myself, our Annual Parochial Church Meeting and others that any encounter with the risen Lord, any genuine encounter with God, is likely to result in a complete revision of what we previously judged, or simply assumed, are our criteria for faith.

Which may, of course, be one reason that intellectual arguments (between atheist and Christian, inter-faith and intra-faith) prove unproductive most of the time.  

And, while it is important to notice that, it may be more important to notice that the task of the church is to be places of effective encounter with God rather than instruments of persuasion.

I see that I haven’t quoted R S Thomas’ The Answer since 2009 (‘the one I value above almost all’) and 2011 (‘a poem I revisit more often than almost any other’) which says almost this with its

... the old questions lie
folded and in a place
by themselves, like the folded
graveclothes of love’s risen body.

The pictures are just one feature from my recent but only visit to Hull as this year's City of Culture.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Bronte grave




We attended a wedding in Scarborough yesterday.  An older couple, both previously widowed, were married at St Mary’s, up by the Castle.  One of her children spoke at the reception afterwards about the way he knew the couple were serious when he saw them giggling together like teenagers.  He said he’d always imagined eventually ‘giving away’ his own teenage daughters and giving a speech at their weddings, but he’d never imagined he would do so for his mother.  All very special.

We are preparing to move to the parish where Patrick Bronte was once the incumbent, and where he is buried alongside his daughters Charlotte and Emily and most of their family.  It was, therefore, also a lovely coincidence to be able to visit the grave of Anne Bronte, the one sister not buried at St Michael’s, Haworth but instead buried at St Mary’, Scarborough.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Losing away


Cheltenham Town doesn't keep its pitch in very good condition (this mud bath is a goal mouth) but did play unexpectedly well on Bank Holiday Monday (so we saw them put two balls in this net before Grimsby Town finally but impressively got one in it in return).

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Philippians 2.5-11


Much taken this Holy Week with the link which Paul places at the beginning of the (existing?) hymn ‘Christ Jesus was in the form of God’, the epistle for Palm Sunday, the canticle for Evensong in Passiontide.

The link with this hymn about the total self-emptying of God-in-Christ is ‘let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus’. 

So, if we are made in the image of God, then we are most so when not clinging onto anything, least of all status, power or prestige; all the self fulfilment aspirations, goals and norms promoted around us are fundamentally misconceived.

It turns out the aim is not to be filled or full at all, however much this pagan hope is integrated into my own instincts as well as anyone else's.

Paul is, of course, writing from prison and from within the possibility of condemnation to death.  This is what he talks about all the way through the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians leading up to this.  And he says it doesn’t matter, it is where we are meant to be.

It is from there (I’m equally taken with the ‘therefore’ in ‘therefore God has highly exalted him’) that we see that ‘crimson cresseted east’, a hint of which was even seen through our back window last week.

Friday, 7 April 2017

More than East Sheen





To London yesterday to see the next of the series of training Curates here being put into his or her first incumbency.  To take a coach to this one would have meant supporters not returning until 3.00 a.m., nevertheless half a dozen members of St Michael's made it to All Saints', East Sheen under their own steam to pray alongside Alex Barrow at his licensing and stay in different places locally overnight.

Among many significant things about the church (top), is being just seven miles east of Heathrow (second picture), and being the church in which Suzy Lamplugh was baptised and sung in the choir (the next picture, snatched as the clergy procession entered the church, is of a lovely resurrection window which is in her memory).

We went to the National Gallery this morning (the bottom picture is taken from our lunch table and gives both the banner promoting the exhibition we saw - the picture is of newly pregnant Mary being greeted by her cousin Elizabeth - and the new sculpture on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square) and were home in time to see Deborah's nephew play a significant part in his team winning the final of Only Connect to complete a memorable forty-eight hours.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Easter earthquake zone



In 1185, the year before St Hugh became Bishop of Lincoln, the cathedral, founded by the Conqueror a century earlier, collapsed.  The collapse was said to have been caused by an earthquake, although I’d always thought, in what appears to be a part of the world free from major earthquakes, that this might be a story to cover faulty construction. 

It appears to have been a bit of both.  The Market Rasen earthquake in 2008 (through which I slept, but which woke many and caused some minor damage) was at 5.2 on the Richter Scale, which is about the estimated size of the Lincoln earthquake and which is certainly strong enough to have brought down a vast but vulnerable building.

The Market Rasen earthquake alerted me to the fact that I do live in an earthquake zone – just like everyone else on earth.  It is simply the fact that it is only specialist equipment which detects most of them.  There were earthquakes at 1.5 and 1.7 on the Richter Scale beneath Caistor on 17th February and beneath Horncastle on 4th March, each at about nine miles depth (for which compare the less than one mile depth of most oil and gas well drilling).

I feel an Easter sermon coming on.  Matthew records an earthquake at the time of the resurrection.  Biblical literalists will trust that this Gospel preserves memory of an actual historical earthquake somehow omitted by the other three Gospels.  Biblical liberals will suspect that the record is symbolic – all the apparent solid ground of our previous assumptions about the finality of death and about much else suddenly shifts.

But it is the discovery that we all live in a zone of frequent but rarely detected earthquakes which intrigues me as this Easter approaches.  Beneath everything assumed and dull, solid and stable, God is moving in ways rarely observed by those of us on the surface.  

I'll approach this "Easter" not just a noun which describe the one fundamental moment.  I'll approach it as a consequential verb to describe the risen Lord’s continued movement deep within us: “let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east”.

The pictures of materials and of work under way in St Nicolas’were taken there on Tuesday.  We were there to negotiate the final timetable for having the church cleaned and ready to hand back to us ahead of a wedding rehearsal in a month’s time and our beginning services there again in May.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Where I am going


Here is an early morning view across Haworth which we took on a walk ahead of my interview there at the beginning of the month; my appointment as Rector of the benefice which covers three villages along the Worth valley (Cross Roads, Haworth and Stanbury) was announced this morning.

The tower of Haworth Parish Church is just visible against the wood on the horizon on the extreme left of the picture.  It thinks it might be the most visited village church in the country, and its members seem to rise to the challenge of creative ministry to the tens of thousands who come through its door each year, a ministry based only on the resources of a village church.

If you carried on along the ridge out of the picture to the left you would come after just over a mile to the small village of Stanbury on the edge of the moor.  Here there is a growing congregation whose small building is increasingly used for village activities; its view from its vestry window must be one of the best vestry views in the country.

The chimney towards the right of the picture reminds everyone that these were once mill villages (and there are actually many more back-to-back houses surviving here than in Grimsby).  If you followed the road it stands on out of the picture to the right it would quickly meet the road on which I stood to take this picture and the village of Crossroads where St James' Church is fully stuck into all sorts of community outreach activities.

Steam trains run along the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in the valley in front of the picture and the River Worth flows through the valley in the middle distance.  Central to the picture and unduly prominent from this angle is the white house and garage of the present Rectory.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A distraction


I’ve simply been enjoying playing with at least a dozen uses of the word ‘tract’ this week.

It turns out to be one of those very physical words which dominate most of our figures of speech (in much the same way that the words ‘dominate’ and ‘figures’ function there) but we don’t notice this because the word is Latin.

It is part of the Latin word ‘trahere’, which is ‘to draw’ in the sense of ‘to pull’.

So to at-tract is to draw something towards you.

While, to dis-tract is draw something away.

To re-tract is to take something back – and this is one of those wonderful cases where modern English has two almost identical words, one with Latin roots (re-tract) and one with Anglo-Saxon roots (with-draw).

A con-tract draws people together.

To ex-tract and an ex-tract are about pulling something out.

As is sub-tract in the sense of taking something away - and 'taking away' is the exact Anglo-Saxon equivalent.

While abs-tract can be used like ex-tract and like sub-tract in the sense of pulled out or taken away, but can also be used marvellously as a physical image for all that is non-physical in the sense of what is non-pullable.

I particularly like in-tract-able, which is also something you can’t move.

Best of all, it seems to me, is something pro-tract-ed, which is to be long drawn out - and 'long drawn out' is not only the Anglo-Saxon equivalent here but also gives rise to the identical Latin / Anglo-Saxon hybrid word pro-long-ed.

Your digestive tract is also long drawn out.

And (although this is the least obvious) so is a tract of land.

A written tract appears to be something which draws out the implications of a proposition.

And a machine which pulls things along is either a tract-ion engine or, more simply, a tract-or.

Meanwhile, the picture is a wasp nest found in the roof space at St Nicolas’ during building work; we knew from periodic invasions of the church that there must be something there and are glad it has now been removed.