Saturday, 1 January 2022

Christmas left overs


This week, friends in London took me to see the replica of the pump from which Dr John Snow had the handle removed  during the 1854 cholera epidemic because his pre-statistical pre-epidemiological observation was that drinking from it had to be the problem, a story I'd heard many times.  The other two pictures are the results of Christmas efforts by traders on Haworth's Main Street.

Monday, 20 December 2021

First anniversary of Deborah's death

The banner was launched today at Trapezium Arts, 58 Kirkgate, Bradford BD1 1QT; it was a pleasure to go over there for this.  She would have so liked the whole project.  It will be on display in the window there during its Christmas / New Year break until towards the end of January.

Friday, 17 December 2021

I am the Alpha, Omicron and Omega

On a recent All Age Worship Sunday, children decorated a priest’s stole for use at Christmas. The Bible reading (from the beginning of Revelation) had identified Jesus as ‘the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end’, which is what I explored and what they then picked up. It has provided me with the theme for public messages at Christmas, first the 300 words I’m only very occasionally asked to supply for the Keighley News, which yesterday published: 

Our word ‘alphabet’ comes from the opening letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha and Beta. Who would have thought that the names of so many of the letters of that alphabet would be in such common use through 2021? 

Each time scientists identify a new version of the Covid virus, it is given the name of one of them. Early on, the most feared variant was the one given their letter Delta. In the last few weeks the variant making us take such care is the one given their letter Omicron. 

Now, it is strange that the Greek alphabet actually has two letters O. There is one which they called the tiny-O or the micro-O. This is Omicron. It comes in their alphabet just where we’d expect to find our O. The other they called the huge-O or the mega-O. This is Omega. They made it the very last letter of their alphabet. 

The readers of the last book of the Christian Bible knew this. They read ‘Jesus is the Alpha and Omega’, the writer picking up the first and last letters of the alphabet. Jesus, he says, is at the beginning and end of all things. 

Before the universe began, God already was. After the universe has ended, God will still be. Before we were born, God knew us. After we die, God will still find us. Before anything threatens us, God was with us. After we have gone through the worst, God will still be alongside us. 

As this Christmas comes, I am suddenly glad to know about these letters and how they are being used. Jesus comes among as the eternal Alpha and Omega. He places himself vulnerable as a human being to every variation of human trouble. He will be with us through Omicron and beyond.

I’m considering venturing something similar at one of our Midnight Communion services, which may come out a bit like: 

There is no variant of the joys and sorrows we face which God does not already enfold; there is nothing we can spell out about any of these which God does not already speak.

Sunday, 31 October 2021

Three anxiety dreams


I had a dream recently in which I couldn’t get things ready for an imminent funeral: the prepared notes were missing, the robes hard to find, the journey full of wrong turnings, the sense never breaking that the mourners would be waiting but I’d never quite get there.

A very straight forward and unremarkable anxiety dream then. 

But it surprised me for a couple of reasons.  Despite a hugely difficult couple of years, one thing I haven’t been having has been anxiety dreams.  And when, longer ago, I did have them, they were consistently about not being ready for exams: somewhere less unlike my school’s campus than unlike my University’s setting, with the noticeboard, the syllabus, the tutor and the library all somehow equally inaccessible however much I searched.

And then I was sitting at the back of a Deanery Synod meeting having arrived in just good enough time, but too far back to catch everything being said at the front.  Despite trying to pace myself better this autumn, I’d worked all day and then come out for an evening meeting as well because the one substantive item was Looking after God’s creation: what changes can parishes and individuals make to have a positive impact which seemed important enough.

I’ve perhaps been a little mis-sold, the speaker began to say, and I was back robe-less and syllabus-denied, in a bad dream, unable to get anywhere. 

Relevant words were dangled before us, and we were given time to react to them with neighbours.  We began with Generosity, having been primed strangely with a story about what may have been a rich elderly expatriate in Monaco giving one of her high specification cars for the use of the local Anglican Chaplain.  Acceptable feedback turned out to be about giving money to the church, with family-creating, kidney-donating, time-sacrificing, debt-releasing, salvation-procuring generosity somehow inaccessible.

Stewardship was up next, and the nature of the topic-misunderstanding, which those who arrived earlier or who sat closer to those in the know at the front may well have already readily understood, became apparent.  It wasn’t the commission at almost the start of the Bible for humans to care, look after or steward creation which we were to explore, but all things were to refer back to giving money to the church.

Time was running out as first-fruits was tabled as the third point of reference, and the side reference from the front indicated that this too was to be taken as being about giving to God (proxy at this point for temple and church rather than creation and neighbour) before all else, and all the fruitful possibilities of what comes fruitfully into my hands being primarily for the common good rather my individual consumption remained frustratingly, unpickably out of my reach.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Little energy


Initial gathering of segments for a memorial hanging for Deborah being prepared by those involved in Bradford Refugee Week (when the kits were handed out) and Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.

Repairs underway at Haworth's Ebor Mill just beneath the Rectory.

Packing up after Haworth's 40s event - the recent single day version of the 40s Weekend which is due to return next year.

Light falling differently in the Bronte Memorial Chapel - where we have just marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Patrick Bronte's wife Maria for whom the family grave on church was first dug.

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Buckling down?

September 2021 feels like the first normal month in two years, and it may reveal whether I have the emotional or physical stamina for the ones to follow. The base is low, and the expectations high, which is a daunting combination. But nevertheless steps are being taken (and half a dozen people who we'd not otherwise have seen in church were among a newly launched Family Service congregation this morning). 

Things felt as though they were taking off just a bit in September 2019. I’d begun a third year in post, a newly ordained Curate was just settling in, the different parishes finally consented to convene a shared meeting which sketched out priorities and next achievable steps they’d be happy to take, and some of the relationships built seemed to be producing, for example, at least some younger people in church . 

But Deborah’s initially puzzling symptoms were already showing up and, when we returned from our annual holiday in October, the nature of the tests being ordered quickly alerted us to the nature of the diagnosis which we’d receive after Christmas, from which rapid consultations and a fresh treatment regime were to follow in January. 

And within weeks the whole country was locked down anyway, and nothing was normal through pandemic, her final illness and the first six months of my bereavement – and the national restrictions were almost my friend as none of our plans could be followed through and my work pattern could accommodate my not working full tilt as we followed her final journey. 

Now things are starting up again – and, while we remain people ‘not without hope’, our now reopened congregations seem to have settled down at about two thirds of the size they were two years ago, with the deaths and movings away having taken several key people. 

Last week brought six different e-mails, perhaps each treating the beginning of the academic year as a natural new beginning. 

The diocesan Bishop (as encouraging and reflective as ever). 

The Diocesan Secretary (a helpful summary - from links to a ‘virtual library’ of material for the whole Living in Love and Faith process in which we are invited to engage, to a reminder about the Generosity Week beginning late this month which they’d like us to keep ). 

The Church Growth teams’ newsletter (multiple copies – it is entirely my fault for not alerting them to how many of their lists I now appear upon). 

The Safeguarding team’s newsletter (where vigilance is crucial - the process of my completing the latest update training has not been finally signed off by them before this news comes of newly created training I must now undertake; it suggests a Safeguarding Sunday the week after Generosity Week). 

The Environmental team’s newsletter (with the existential issue we can’t ignore – a reminder of the Creation Season we could be observing now, until it overlaps with Generosity Week). 

The area Bishop (very welcome on his return from sabbatical leave – including the first explicit observation that ‘share contribution across the Diocese is worryingly low’). 

Meanwhile, however poor the photo, I do like the latticework of these flowers, brought a few days ago by the neighbour who had spotted it would have been Deborah’s birthday.

Friday, 20 August 2021

Artistic apprehension


I’ve been helped by a gradual realisation that attending to chunks of John’s Gospel may work best if viewed as listening to music rather than following a line of reasoning.

My knowledge of music theory is minimal, but I’m vaguely aware of the way in which a theme might be stated by one instrument, repeated, picked up by another instrument or by the whole orchestra, developed, and revisted.  I can often clearly hear this going on and, whether I do or not, can often feel the emotional pull of the theme’s reappearance.  I am more often simply unaware that this pattern is what has given a satisfying shape to the listening experience.

So, as we work our way to the fifth of the five Sundays when the whole of John 6 is being read, I put away previous years’ irritation at having to preach around “I am the bread of life” so many Sundays running, and my desperation that the choice of appropriate hymns was exhausted in about the second of the five weeks.

From the opening hint that this is the Passover movement of the piece, and then the rehearsing of the feeding of thousand men, there is unleavened bread, lamb-blood-daubed doorposts, barley loaves and fish.  With a change of tune there is Jesus walking on water and the “I am” announcement.  Then the gift of manna in the wilderness is layered in, until the “I am the bread of life” theme is finally stated at verse 35, expanded upon, partially reflected back at verse 41, repeated at verse 48, and developed at verse 51.  Suddenly in that verse we have soared into eating flesh and blood, sounded out with variations in each of successive verses 53, 54, 55 56 and 57.

We haven’t been argued into a fresh understanding but swept up into it; our tune; the phrases which recur in our heads long after the music has stopped.

And then, for other reasons, I happened to take down William Temple’s Readings in St John’ Gospel * and found the third of three ‘general considerations’ he gives in his Introduction does not use the analogy of music but gets very close to the same awareness saying

One marked characteristic of the mind of the Evangelist... is... he does not argue from premises to conclusions as a method of apprehending truth.  Rather he puts together the various constituent parts of truth and contemplates them in their relation to one another.  Thus he seems to say ‘look at A; now look at B; now at AB; now at C; now at BC; now at AC; now at D and E; now at ABE; now at CE’, and so on in any variety of combinations that facilitates new insight.  It is the method of artistic, as distinct from scientific, apprehension, and is appropriate to truth which is in no way dependent on, or derived from, other truth, but makes its own direct appeal to reason, heart and conscience.

* Having coincidentally most recently posted about my paternal grandparents being cousins, children of sisters Jessie and Annie Mallam, themselves granddaughters of the Oxford Mayor Thomas Mallam, I mention in passing that the book is dedicated to the memory of Temple’s school friend Professor J L Stocks who was a cousin of both of my grandparents as a son of Jessie and Annie’s sister Emily.