Wednesday 30 July 2008

Random throws

I only worshipped with my wife and thirty-three other people at two services on Sunday (one at St George’s and one at St Nicolas’), but fifteen of them were people who were not worshipping in any of our churches when I arrived in the parish nearly nine years ago. I genuinely don’t know what to make of that fact. Ashamed by how few of the established congregations wanted to come? Impressed that some fresh people want to come? Intrigued about the recognised dynamic in which relatively small congregations don’t grow when new people join? Relaxed about the unusual make up of the two congregations on the first Sunday of the summer holiday?

Or perhaps I shouldn’t be paying so much attention to the numbers anyway; the Old Testament teaches that taking a census of soldiers before battle indicates a fatal lack of faith in God. An advert for a job in this week’s Church Times seeks someone who ‘loves the Lord and looks only to him for affirmation’ (although this doesn’t make it sound as if the parish intends to offer the support to the new Minister which one might hope, which I’m pretty sure can’t be true).

Or it is just the way things happen to have fallen on one sunny day. I enjoy challenging children who visit either St Michael’s or St Nicolas’ to find the dice in the church. The answers (from the 1910 window at St Michael’s and the 1925 reredos at St Nicolas’) are in two new pictures which were the first prompt for this post. In both cases they are part of a set of symbols of Jesus’ Passion set on shields, with the dice representing the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes as he was crucified. I’ve comes across medieval use of these symbols, often carried by angels. I wonder whether reviving these was a fashion in the early part of the twentieth century?

Monday 28 July 2008

Centres of mission

One way to cope with having too many churches is to concentrate resources and opportunities in just a few and to run the others on more of a ‘care and maintenance’ basis. The local Methodist Circuit is now considering doing something like this, albeit in a far less crude way.

It proposes that each church should be ‘a centre of hospitality’ to which ministerial time would be given for Sunday worship, pastoral care and routine activities. But only those churches which apply to be ‘a centre of mission’ as well, and which can demonstrate that this is genuinely what they are, would get further ministerial time for worship mid-week and on special occasions and for encouragement in mission, and only these churches would get other Circuit resources such as the limited amount of financial grants available and the time of those employed to assist with projects and in youth work.

The Circuit Meeting in September may agree this policy, in which case applications for being considered centres of mission would need to be made ahead of the one in March 2009 which might also be agreeing which Ministers will be taking responsibility for which churches from September 2009; the possibility that churches might wish to become (or cease to be) centres of mission at later dates is also written into the proposal.

One impetus for this is a recognition that the present level of ministerial time and other resources simply isn’t sufficient to sustain a large number of churches so that each and every one flourishes, grows and witnesses. I’ve blogged before about the way in which this Anglican Deanery and the local Catholic Community seem to recognise this to be the case for them also. Bells also ring for me when those proposing the new approach say that as soon as one of the lower number of Ministers in the Circuit goes on holiday, on sabbatical or becomes ill the rest are reduced to providing emergency cover only.

The other impetus is that imposed changes have not worked in the past: attempts to bring three churches in the Circuit together a short while ago proved to be traumatic; policy agreed since then which depended on Circuit leaders designating a small number of focus churches has not really stood the chance of being implemented. One of the strengths of the new proposal is that it provides basic care for all, but puts it in the hands of those who wish to do more to opt in themselves.

I shall follow all this with more than mild neighbourly interest. The photograph was taken yesterday evening at Laceby Road Methodist Church which houses both a traditional congregation and the Side Door church.

Saturday 26 July 2008


If you are granted a degree in Crime and Disorder, does that mean you are no longer a petty criminal but a qualified one? Inappropriate thoughts like these kept me going through some of the longer sections of the otherwise hugely enjoyable if hot graduation ceremony for the Grimsby Institute at the Town Hall yesterday.

Each of those who spoke revealed how passionate they were about the education being offered. In an area of low educational aspiration and attainment, the development of Higher Education in what was the local Further Education College is hugely significant. The importance of offering local access to degree level work and often doing so in vocational subjects (Early Childhood Studies and Mental Health where two of the other subjects in which awards were being made yesterday afternoon) cannot be over estimated.

As well as flippant thoughts about the name of one of the degrees, and memories of sermon classes twenty-five years ago which had impressed on me that the word ‘finally’ should be used only once and then near the end, I was recalling the bits of speeches at this event in recent years which made these points most powerfully to me.

A visiting University lecturer spoke of being brought up in a mining family. ‘You are really bright,’ his father said to him one day, ‘when you go down the mine, you won’t have to go to the coal face because they’ll put you at the end of the line sorting the material’.

A newly graduating student recalled her failure at school and the extreme persuasion needed to get her to study again. She said she had then despaired when her first assignment had come back marked with a D. She found that a friend’s work was marked with an M. ‘What does that mean?’, she asked. ‘I’ve got a Merit,’ was the proud reply, ‘but that isn’t as good as your Distinction’.

Thursday 24 July 2008


I suspect the parish begins the school summer holiday in much the same state as most teachers - ready to collapse on the finishing tape and hoping not to be asked to do anything more for quite a while.

At the most recent joint meeting of our three District Church Councils, voices were raised to say that some people are exhausted and some others want the freedom to come to worship without feeling they have to staff some aspect of the service every time. I’ve been aware for some time that we are trying to maintain structures which are more appropriate for a parish with much greater resources (and three District Church Councils is just on example). I’ve also been aware just how hard it is on people when great efforts to do well the things which produced results in, say, the 1970s doesn’t seem to produce them now.

The small community at St Michael’s has lost two very active members to cancer since Christmas and can hardly believe that it has now just heard that a third has been diagnosed. The small community at St Nicolas’ is getting used to having the Vicarage next door empty since the retirement of a Team Vicar last month and is contending with a certain level of gossip about numbers and the future. I’ve no idea whether the constant media impression that the Anglican church is imploding contributes as well. There is much which is creative and encouraging, but it does feel as if we all need a break.

I seem to have lost the dog eared piece of paper which I’ve had tucked away in my intercessions diary for several years and which has helped in these sorts of circumstances in the past. The Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool quite suddenly took sabbatical leave and wrote that when it got to the point when he felt it all depended on him then he knew he wasn’t being much use as a Bishop. A burdened Bishop, he said, is a liability, and things only work when we trust that God in fact provides all that is really needed to do what needs to be done.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Uprooting the unrighteous

I hadn't realised until quite recently how allergic I am to puritanism, but perhaps I'm much more tolerant of my own ability to devalue, exclude or marginalise other perspectives than I am of those who suggest I'm the sort of priest and teacher the church ought to weed out.

The Old Testament reading on Sunday was Jacob’s dream of a ladder between heaven and earth which made him respond ‘this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’ naming the place Beth-el (House of God). The Gospel reading compared the Kingdom to a field sowed with good seed and weeds about which the householder said ‘Let both of them grow together until the harvest’.

I had my usual halting ride around these texts for a sermon, in particular speculating how inappropriate it might be to apply the name ‘House of God’ to a church building given that Jacob (on his way from cheating his brother out of his inheritance) was recognising the gateway to heaven to be where he had slept with a stone for a pillow. I felt we simply need to get stuck into the very compromised and mixed places where we are (whether ourselves, the church or the world) trusting that this is where we will find traffic between heaven and earth, and trusting God to sort things out at the harvest if this is needed then.

I came home to find that the preacher for the Lambeth Conference Bishops in Canterbury Cathedral had been more sure footed in his gallop around the Gospel: ‘There can and there must be no uprooting, simply because if we attempt this game of uprooting the unrighteous then, my dear sisters and brothers, none of us will remain - we are all a mix of the wheat and the weeds’.

Sunday 20 July 2008

Marriage rules

The Church of England is just about to make it easier for someone to get married in what he or she thinks of as his or her own home church, although it is not going to open the way for people to get married in any church which happens to take their fancy. This week I’ve been juggling with how to communicate the detailed guidelines which have now been issued with the large number of people who look after wedding bookings for this parish.

At the moment it is straight forward exercising the right to be married in a church in the parish in which you live. From 1st October this right is being extended to parishes in which you or a parent have previously lived (for at least six months) and parishes where a parent or grandparent was married.

At the moment it is straight forward exercising the right to be married in a church in the parish in which you worship (by putting your name on the church roll as an habitual worshipper). From 1st October this right is being extended to parishes in which you or a parent have worshipped during your lifetime (for at least six months) or where you were baptised or from where you were presented for confirmation.

The bit about baptism has been carefully drafted. Sometimes a person is baptised and confirmed in one service which might take place away from his or her own parish; this doesn’t accidentally create the right to be married in the parish which hosted the service. Sometimes a person is baptised away from his or her home parish, perhaps the most obvious example being in a hospital; to the surprise of some, this will now create the right to be married in the churches in the parish in which the hospital stands.

In all this we are talking about Church of England churches and services; you don’t acquire the right to be married in a parish simply because, for example, a Catholic priest baptised you somewhere within it or a grandparent was married in a Methodist church somewhere within it. And we are not talking about those who have had a previous marriage dissolved and a former partner still living; such new marriages do take place, but there is no automatic right for them to do so. Cathedrals are different too.

In many ways the new rights only make easier some of the things which have sometimes been happening anyway, from an individual giving a parental address as if it was that person’s own address to a couple going through the procedure to apply for a Special Licence on the basis of a suitable link with the particular church. We will see how they work out in practice. The full guidelines will often need to be consulted.

The picture was taken after one of the weddings at St Michael’s, Little Coates yesterday.

Friday 18 July 2008

Kingdom seeking

Finding a replica Iron Age round house near Louth is striking, but it isn’t the most striking things about the Lincolnshire Rural Activities Centre (LRAC). The most striking things are the sheer number of students with learning difficulties or coming with no qualifications and the level of their achievements. I was able to say so when I gave out some of the certificates at the annual awards celebration there on Wednesday.

It is on a site let from the County Council where the Lincolnshire Wolds begins to rise, so the top of the site has splendid views across the coastal plain to the North Sea; the sweep of the view brings home how many wind farm sites have been developed.

Individual efforts at fund raising led to a Riding for the Disabled centre being established there, around which the wider LRAC charity was then developed. The charity began to work in partnership with the Grimsby Institute of FE and HE (GIFHE) and in due course GIFHE has taken on the work on the charity’s behalf.

I was there as Vice Chair of the GIFHE governing body alongside the Chair of the LRAC trustees. Some of those receiving certificates almost danced up to do so. Achievements in animal care, catering, conservation, E2E (Entry to Employment), horticulture and life skills were all being celebrated; much of the training in these areas is in live situations including providing the meals at lunchtime and developing the site itself.

Also being marked was Celia Lowden’s retirement after 34 years on the GIFHE staff. She told me that a little way through her time she became aware of the issue of dyslexia, helped one student (‘in a cupboard because she didn’t want others to know she had any special needs’) and ended up founding, running and expanding a whole study support department. Supporting developments at LRAC over the last seven years has been just part of that ever widening work.

It is rare to find Kingdom values so consistently tripped over, sought for and lived out, and I didn’t have to go anywhere near a church to find it so.

Monday 14 July 2008

Breaking the Code

We’re certainly not going to get women Bishops on the basis proposed at present, and possibly not at all. I’m puzzled why most of the public discussions and reporting of the General Synod’s recent vote misses this. My puzzlement is nothing to do with conscience, principles or theology (although, of course, I do have my own take on those things). It is simply to do with accurate information and political reality.

When a law is created in Parliament people readily understand that the proposal is developed and reshaped as it moves from being a White Paper, to a Bill read for the first time, to a Bill revised in committee, to an amended Bill passed in both Houses of Parliament, to an Act. A similar process is followed for every General Synod Measure. All the General Synod did last week was agree that a Measure should be drafted, and that a certain form of provision for those who could not accept the Measure should also be drafted. Nobody has yet agreed anything.

The crude political reality is that, if the Measure is to become law, it will need to be passed in its final form by a two thirds majority in each of the three ‘Houses’ of the General Synod (Bishops, Clergy and Laity), and then be ‘deemed expedient’ by a parliamentary committee. But the vote last week to draft a Measure did not achieve a two thirds majority in the House of Laity. And the General Synod has had to revise Measures in the past through caution about presenting anything to Parliament which would seem discriminatory and thus ‘inexpedient’. So those who wish to see the Measure get through (and I am one of them) look like hitting a wall if they don’t change their minds at least about what is appropriate provision for those who will not be able to accept it.

And even then, there is a further wild card. It may not be the present General Synod which will vote on the final approval of the Measure. A new General Synod will be elected in 2010, and it is quite likely that the new House of Laity will be slightly more conservative than the old one. This won’t be because there will be a higher proportion of Anglo Catholic members representing those who might leave. It would be because things like the Gafcon movement are likely to be efficient in securing at least a slightly higher proportion of members who don’t want to see women in any authority or teaching position in the church at all. So even a Measure with more generous provision for those who cannot accept it might well fail to get final approval anyway.

The wider Anglican church already has a number of Bishops who are women. 68% of the members of the present General Synod have voted for the preparation of legislation for the consecration of women Bishops here as well. The Church of England has been ordaining women as priests since 1994 and more and more of these priests are being appointed to the other most senior positions in the church. It might simply look as if it is natural that we will now move forward here.

But there is no done deal to open the way for women to become Bishops here, and the stronger political possibility is that the majority (including the significant number of women priests) are going to be deeply frustrated when this deal turns out not to be done. By 2011 we could quite well find that the Church of England has failed to open the way, and perhaps one or two of those who would most obviously make outstanding Bishops will be being elected as Bishops of dioceses in Canada, New Zealand and the United States instead.

The picture is a church wall (it is at St Michael’s, Little Coates, and, although it is not relevant to the theme of this post, I love the way the low early morning sun brings out the texture).

Saturday 12 July 2008

Mission listening

If mission begins with listening, then I have to take account of hearing people in Grimsby saying four things again and again. They think Christians teach unbelievable things from the beginning of the Bible, they think it is much harder to accept a God who allows awful things to happen than to accept the supernatural, and they think Christians are ‘holier than thou’. Of course, not everyone thinks these things. But almost all of the comments I note down fit into one of those four categories. What remains is for me to make proper use of this listening.

I did once have an abortive attempt to do this by offering a not-Alpha course which simply used the four categories, and we may try to do so again next Lent. The syllabus wouldn’t really be much different from exploring what we believe about the Bible, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the church:

You can’t believe in Adam and Eve or Noah’s ark can you?
If God is good, why is there so much suffering in the world?
Why don’t churches talk more about things like ghosts?
I live a good life: aren’t Christians simply hypocrites?

I did also once seek to construct a very traditional form of Evening Prayer which nevertheless aimed at speaking to those needs. Again, I may have another go at seeking this flavour for the alternative worship in the parish which we are just beginning to plan. The shape to the liturgy wasn’t anything other than Gathering, Word, Prayers and Dismissal:

Waiting in the darkness; welcoming the light.
Some people do not expect the church to
meet the spiritual realities of which they are aware;
yet the evening prayer of the church traditionally
begins with light breaking through the gathering darkness.

Attending to the scriptures; applying them to life.
Some people do not expect the church to
say things which are relevant and true;
yet the evening prayer of the church traditionally
has wrestling with the Bible at its centre.

Giving voice to Mary’s song; joining in Jesus prayer.
Some people do not expect the church to
help them with the stumbling block of suffering in the world;
yet the evening prayer of the church traditionally
calls out to God in Jesus’ suffering for justice and peace.

Receiving God’s blessing; going out in God’s strength.
Some people do not expect the church to
contain people who try to live as Jesus’ taught;
yet the evening prayer of the church traditionally
ends by sending us out to follow in his way.

The picture comes from the mini Flower Festival which was part of the Summer Fair at St Nicolas’, Great Coates last month. Some of the displays followed the liturgical colours, and green (which is used for the largest proportion of the year) was simply labelled as being about opportunities for growth.

Thursday 10 July 2008

Goethe's Oak

The grounds of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp near Weimar enclosed the oak tree under which Goethe is supposed to have written his most famous poem The Wanderer’s Night Song. The low point and high point of one culture are side by side, and the tree (or the stump, which is all that remains following an Allied bombing in 1944) represents how the same civilization can produce both systematic inhumanity and inspired creativity. Those who wish to denigrate Christianity by pointing out how it can be a source of prejudice and persecution, and those who wish to defend it by pointing out how it can be a source of transformed living and service, should tread much more warily here than we are accustomed to do.

The image of Goethe’s Oak is Timothy Garton-Ash’s. It comes from his book The File in which he traces those involved in his surveillance by the Stasi. Last week my wife and I watched The Life of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), the 2007 Oscar winning foreign language film about a Stasi investigation. Afterwards I regretted that my copy of The File has gone missing. Later in the evening she and I disappeared into separate studies, undertook separate Amazon searches, placed separate orders, and were able to give each other a surprise present of the book a few days later; we will have three copies in the house if the person who has my original one ever returns it. I’ve just re-read it. I hadn’t remembered the image of Goethe’s Oak particularly. I had remembered the humane balance as he lays out the background and the different strategies people use to justify their positions. I had remembered the careful way he looks at things which may make us want not to judge some too quickly or too harshly (without avoiding implying judgement when it is called for) and which may raise questions about our own society now and how we or it would hold up in the face of any sudden crisis (without unnecessary self condemnation).

And thinking again about all these things makes me look forward even more to the visit we have planned next month to a godchild of mine in Jena. His mother and I were students together in Ireland in 1988-9 (when her home was in West Germany), and we studied alongside another student who came from Leipzig, and it was through contact with him that the situation in East Germany seemed so much more personal and even sometimes ambiguous. It was through his hospitality I was in Leipzig the following year when all the fireworks went off at the midnight which marked German unification, and in Weimar for the Public Holiday the following day (when I took the picture above) and when I also visited Buchenwald (without noticing the significance of the stump of the oak tree).

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Inside St Nicolas', Great Coates

It is quite natural that people assume that the inside of their church has always looked the way it does now, even that it ‘ought’ to do so, which is a major factor in the conflict which can arise if any change is proposed. It is rarely so easy to demonstrate that this is not the case than it is at St Nicolas’, Great Coates. It is not obvious straight away that these are pictures of the same church taken from the same position. Only a close look at the memorial on the left and at the windows on both the left and the right confirms it. Almost everything else has changed.

Faculty papers in the Lincoln archive account for almost every feature of the changes you can see, and, for those who’d like to follow through the example, here are some notes from there.

Substantial changes during the nineteenth century (including a major restoration in 1865) will have reshaped the interior of the church so that it looked as it does in the first photograph which must have been taken before 1900.

A Faculty of that year provides for taking out the old square pews, providing new pews of deal with oak sills, and for laying a new concrete floor in much of the church with woodblock on top of this.

The eagle lectern is a First World War memorial.

A Faculty in 1925 provides for the creation of an oak wooden reredos (the backing panel behind the altar) with symbols of the passion.

A Faculty of 1929 includes provision for removing the plaster ceilings and the chancel arch (which it says was also of plaster) and the east window frame (which it says was wooden). The gilded oak ceilings (which match the 1925 reredos) were inserted, and the present organ gallery at the rear of the church and the present east window were also inserted.

It is possible that the plastering of the walls took place at this time: repairs in 2005 revealed that most of the central lower part of the east wall is modern brick which seems to have been inserted to create a flat wall in place of the alcove. Equally it is possible that the semi-circular platform for the altar may have been created at this time; the Faculty allows for the removal of the railing around the altar and their replacement with wooden kneelers which are likely to be those we have now which match the roof work.

The intention was also to insert a rood (a beam or screen across the entrance to the chancel to carry a representation of the crucifixion above it), and the corbels placed where the plaster arch had sprung seem to have been inserted to carry this, but obviously this work was never done.

Further Faculties authorise the introduction of a new heating system in 1931 and electrical light in 1935. In between was a serious fire on Sunday afternoon 13th April 1932 within less than a month of which an insurance settlement of £1,203 14/6 was made for the restoration of the organ and the putting good of other damage.

By the time of the Second World War the interior of the church would have looked substantially as it does today other than the more modern carpet.

Sunday 6 July 2008

Emmaus legacy

The ministry of the Church of Reconciliation in Westcliff (in Scunthorpe) has come to an end, the local Rural Dean told me last week.

It had been started when the estate was being built in the 1970s. Well established churches up the hill in Old Brumby came together to sponsor an ecumenical church for the estate. Here there would be mutual recognition of ministry as far as possible between the Church of England, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church (URC). The name ‘Church of Reconciliation’ was noble (and is also the name of the church at the Taize Community) but frequently it had to be explained that it was a name for some main stream churches working together rather than for some odd sect. What have now come to be called Local Ecumenical Partnerships were thought to pioneer the shape of church of the future, but the parent churches have never caught up and often these vanguards have been ended up as eccentric isolated pockets.

I lived in the Vicarage next door and was part of the ministry there for just five years 1989 to 1994. I hope that the naivete and over confidence of my ‘first incumbency’ ministry didn’t make too great a contribution to beginning the process of eventual closure despite the experience and maturity of my URC colleague. There was a regular congregation of thirty or forty in those days and some very creative activities going on; I notice that congregations in the more traditional churches in this parish are two thirds of the size they were in 1994, so the wider context is, of course, part of the story.

I’m aware of the way the influence of some of the closed churches in Grimsby is still evident, so I’m sure there will still be fruit from the Church of Reconciliation’s ministry in individual lives for some time, and even unrecognised outer ripples of it in future generations.

There is an additional legacy in a prayer frequently used at Communion there in my day, drawn from the Church of Scotland via the United Reformed Church. It picked up the Emmaus story in a way that little else in our Communion liturgies does. I happened to be a member of the General Synod as the Common Worship Communion service was being prepared which is how an amended version of the prayer found its way into that service:

You have opened the Scriptures to us, O Christ,
and you have made yourself known to us in the breaking of the bread.
Abide with us, we pray,
that, blessed by your royal presence,
we may walk with you
all the days of our life,
and at its end behold you
in the glory of the eternal Trinity,
one God for ever and ever.

I’ve always felt each Communion service is in part a return to the first Easter evening: disciples find themselves walking and talking together (The Gathering), their hearts burn within them as the scriptures are spoken about (The Liturgy of the Word), they recognised the Lord in the breaking of the bread (The Liturgy of the Sacrament) and as a result they go back to where they had come from with new urgency (The Dismissal). The prayer speaks of some of this, and whenever I use it or hear it I’ll remember that this is so because the Church of Reconciliation existed, prayed it and tried to live it.

Friday 4 July 2008

Grills of hope

Here are the new grills being put up on the Littlecoates Community Centre this week. Our ministry is not just focussed on our three ancient church buildings. There are three areas of particular deprivation within the parish and we have community buildings at the centre of two of them. This Centre is one of them. The Bishop King Learning Centre on the Willows is the other one; it is let to the Grimsby Institute and continued church and community use is part of the deal.

It feels like a long haul seeking to keep the Littlecoates Community Centre open. The local authority used to take this pressure, but it handed it back to the church a few years ago when it withdrew from all Community Centres and ended its Community Development Worker team. Good people in a now defunct Community Association and a now defunct Residents Association have made significant contributions at different stages. A small number of others have frightened off some good users whose rent was a crucial part of the viability. At different points I've tried to give the time needed: early in my time this was by running the tuck shop at the children's discos but most recently it has been setting up meetings with those who might make a difference for the future. Others have put in much more time than me.

Most encouraging is the role of a Management Committee drawn from church and community, the hard work of the people like the one who acts as the Centre’s Coordinator, initiatives like those being taken by the new Tenants and Residents Association, and the support of people like local Ward Councillors who have made a grant for the new grills. St Michael’s continues to support all this, runs a monthly children’s event and a weekly Pop In for the elderly.

Less encouraging is the fact that at present it makes a significant financial loss each week and the fact that recent refurbishment has been spoilt by the vandalism which has required the new grills. For quite a number of years, each time things seem to be about to come right there have been sets backs, but this week it is the grills which are helping us take a step forward.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Rattling windows

With ACAS at Flixborough today. The Bishop of Grimsby and Archdeacon got most of the Deanery Lay Chairs and Rural Deans from their patch together for an annual attempt to work at something, and we had determined that conflict resolution is the something with which we’re too often engaged. It appears that ACAS, whose first work in the 1970s was dominated by corporate disputes, spends most time today on conciliation with individuals, and their trainers took us through good practice in mediation.

Of course being a paid worker alongside volunteers can skew things, and they reminded us that situations of power imbalance are among those where mediation can be less easy or even inappropriate. I can think of situations in which people could have coped with situations I’ve created better if a third party had helped, but they have drifted away instead because seeking to resolve this sort of thing with the Rector in this sort of way didn’t even seem a possibility, and I’m sad about my degree of responsibility for that. I can also think of situations where my potential mediating role as Rural Dean is a little compromised by the fact that I’m partly an interested party in anything in the deanery.

The other obvious problem is that much of the conflict around us isn’t really resolvable at all in any conventional senses. It arises from the changes people dislike but which are an inevitable part of the changing situation in which we are caught up. The harder I try to help people face the need to address some of this the greater the hit on determination and morale seems to be, so the attempt doesn’t always feel like a net gain.

Anyway, the venue was a good discovery. One of the farms worst hit by recent flooding has diversified by converted redundant outbuildings into a pleasant centre for meetings and training. The Fenestra Centre (it has lots of windows, and education is about opening windows) is almost opposite the village church in whose churchyard is the memorial which is pictured above commemorating the twenty eight people killed in the chemical plant explosion on 1st June 1974; the Lay Chair from Grimsby who came with me remembers the windows rattling as far away as here that day.