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 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 Ticklet 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.