Saturday 31 January 2009

Surname specifics

Most surnames may only have evolved once. All of those with the name (give or take a little illegitimacy and name changing along the way) will be descended from the couple who first used it. I’ve been re-reading a paper which goes over the best know recent study which demonstrated this clearly for the Sykes surname. It showed how many men with the surname shared similar profiles on their Y chromosomes, and it pointed to a single point of origin in the thirteenth century (which is precisely when surnames began to be adopted commonly).

And some of these names may not have spread widely until quite recently. I was once lent a list of surnames which it said were virtually unknown outside a single county before the nineteenth century. Even today I knew many more local people with names on the Lincolnshire list (I remember Blades, Capes and Leggett were among them) than on the Norfolk list.

Now I’ve been introduced to which will plot the relative frequency of the occurrence of a surname in the 1881 census. The clearest result I’ve come up with is for one of my wife’s Scottish grandparental surnames: Diack shows up as being most common in 1881 in the Aberdeen postcode area and uncommon in every single other postcode area.

So I’ve been using it as a pastoral tool on some visits and discovering how many local people really do look like having very deep Lincolnshire roots. The examples in the last two weeks have been with the Motley and Riggall surnames. Both were most common in the Lincoln postcode area in 1881. Motley’s most frequent occurrence was in the Horncastle area and Riggall’s in the Louth area. Riggall had spread least at that date; the only other postcode areas where the surname had any level of regular occurrence is in the neighbouring Doncaster and Peterborough ones which cover all of northern and southern Lincolnshire.

By contrast, the photograph illustrates one contribution to breaking up this pattern with the coming of the railways. It is a boundary stone on the edge of railway property at the Cartergate Level Crossing in Grimsby, a rare survivor of the original Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. The arrival of this railway triggered the huge expansion of Cleethorpes at the end of the line, and its route explains why so many visitors came from south Yorkshire in particular (and also explains why today I can catch a direct train to Manchester Airport but not to London).

Thursday 29 January 2009

Cleethorpes ghost

I appear to have taken a photograph of a ghost in St Aidan’s, Cleethorpes. It wasn’t what I was trying to do at all. The clues to what is really going on are the tinge of gold in the colouring and the fact that the words at the top of the board in the background are in reverse. The picture is actually of the etching of a soldier of the Great War on a highly polished brass tablet, so highly polished that the church interior is reflected in it. The effect is accidental but quite striking.

What I wanted to do when I happened to be there yesterday was to take pictures of three Great War brass memorials. They include period wording and unusual details (of which the soldier is one and the outline of an early aeroplane is another) but, at this first attempt, the reflections in them have defeated me. The artificial light and the mirror image of me and my camera were problems quite apart from the reflections of the church interior.

I’ll go back on a day with more natural light equipped with a blanket to shield the reflections to see if I can capture them properly. Meanwhile, the apparent ghost is all I have to offer today.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Hints of Spring?

It is hard to have any hope about the situation in Zimbabwe, but the latest message from the parish we support there is just a tiny touch less depressing than the previosu one which I posted here on Christmas Eve.

I feel our prayers in Zimbabwe should be ‘What shall we do?’. It seems no one has the answer. I have seen big shops in the countryside and even in town closing down. People in the countryside who used to make a lot of money selling vegetables and fruits are now as poor as a church mouse. The money they have is no longer wanted in the country. You even find a billion dollar note on the ground because it is worthless. In the shops they don’t allow Zim dollars.

We in Zimbabwe can have the best answer if we can all pray the the prayer of Nehemiah as it is written in Nehemiah 1.4-11. He begins verse 4 "when I heard the news I sat down and wept". In verse 6 he continues "I and my fathers house are also guilty for we have wronged thee". I think praying and confession is the answer to our country’s needs. We have to accept that nothing is impossible in the eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May the almighty Lord bless you and all who continue to meet our needs in the difficult situation we are facing. My wife and our family as well as myself are sending our love and best wishes for this New Year and we hope it will be a turning point for our country. We also thank God for the rains. People are also happy with the maize seed. God Bless.

The photograph was taken in St Nicolas' churchyard this morning.

Sunday 25 January 2009

In the midst of life

I’ve been sitting closer to death in the last week than I remember doing for a good while. I have, of course, sat near quite a number of individual deaths in the past, but these have usually been spaced out. I have also been involved in innumerable Funerals, but somehow being close to bereavement is a step removed from being close to death.

But in the last week neither local Hospital Chaplain has been available and so one of my very minor roles in providing a back up phone number for emergency call out has come into its own again; what was previously perhaps one call a quarter became several in the week.

I’ve sat, listened and prayed with different families watching the last laboured breathing of an elderly relative. One had been moved with care into an individual side ward. Another, the staff genuinely regretted, remained in the main ward behind a curtain because all the side rooms were needed for isolation treatment.

And I’ve once again named and blessed a stillborn child (which I’ve found in the past to be the most frequent request for emergency call out), this time following this through to a Funeral service in the Hospital Chapel (one of three baby Funerals there in the last week, I see from the register) including visiting the Mortuary for the first time.

There are huge numbers who sit this close to death much of the time, Funeral Directors as well as medical, mortuary and portering staff, and the ones I’ve encountered this week seem to have the knack of practical kindness (including the nurse who provided a posy for the child’s mother to bring to the Funeral) which somehow makes briefly working alongside them seem more life affirming than depressing.

The picture is a detail from the window in the modern Hospital Chapel - moved from the redundant early twentieth century All Saints’ Church elsewhere in town.

Friday 23 January 2009


We are losing the most prominent building in the parish (I posted a picture of it on 14th December), and, much more seriously, a couple of hundred people are losing their jobs, with the sudden announcement yesterday of the closure of the Tioxide plant.

After the War, Grimsby Borough seems virtually to have said to industry ‘we have cheap labour to exploit and an estuary into which to pour any waste you want’, so, alongside other industry, attracted British Titan (as it then was) to produce white pigment from titanium dioxide along the Humber bank. Of course working and environmental conditions have been transformed since then; lots of people speak affectionately of what they gained working for ‘Titans’, and the firm has even been promoting projects for biodiversity in the estuary in recent years.

As a local parish priest I feel impotent. On Sunday, Churches Together in North East Lincolnshire was talking about how the credit crunch matters to us and how we are trying to make a difference, but the closure drives home a feeling that we don’t seem equipped to offer anything proportionate faced with a sharp leap in the number of those newly out of work to which it adds.

Nevertheless, Sunday does seem to have been important. About eighty of us got together for its annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity gathering which these days always tries to have a world facing agenda rather than a navel gazing one.

The Treasurer of the local Credit Union told us that five hundred members benefit from something the local churches set up together as our main project at the Millennium. Members save a small amount each week and are then able to borrow at a level they know can be repaid at low interest. The well off can both save and help others, and the less well off have an alternative to loan sharks.

A Liverpool priest who works for one of the charities involved told us about different places where advice and practical help can be given to those struggling with debt or with money worries, and how we can put people in touch with them.

The Bishop of Lincoln told us that he is a member of both the General Synod and the House of Lords, and that the church is trying to use both in February to exert pressure for much better systems of financial regulation and much more humane support for those who are victims of past problems.

Meanwhile, in the absence of anything appropriate, the picture is simply a gable end in Cleethorpes which caught my eye on Wednesday.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Weeping ash

My sense of historical continuity was greatly tickled when a new weeping ash was planted in St Michael’s churchyard yesterday by those who have been doing so much work there recently. It is ‘succession planting’ for the day when the huge weeping ash at the churchyard gate has to come down. It was showing signs of needing to do so a couple of years ago, but since then it has revived remarkably. Putting in the new tree was a condition of the planning permission for the disabled access at the gateway lest our work damaged the roots of the old tree and shortened its remaining life.

An 1880 painting of the church (in the days when its parish had ten dwellings) shows a small tree with a weeping shape in about the right position so the old tree is probably about 135 years old. A former Churchwarden and his wife have paid for the new one to mark their Diamond Wedding. Her grandfather was active in the church a hundred years ago (when Grimsby was spreading across the parish boundary and the parish population was beginning to grow) so the span of the family's impact will be notable if the new tree lives as long.

Monday 19 January 2009

A Revised Parable

A man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave £500,000, to another £200,000, to another £100,000, each according to his ability. After a long time he came and settled accounts with them. One said ‘You gave me £500,000 but the bank offering extraordinarily high interest rates in which I first deposited it has gone bust and the money is lost; I have nothing to give you back’. One said ‘I put your £200,000 into a buy for let property, but nobody has let it, its market value is greatly reduced, and I can’t sell the it in the present economic climate anyway; I have nothing to give you back’. The third said ‘I was afraid of you and of what might happen so I hid your £100,000 under my mattress; here it is back and, with inflation so low, worth almost as much as when you gave it to me’. ‘Well done and do not be afraid,’ the master said to the this third one, ‘you are a good and faithful servant unseduced by the temptations to exploit the money and housing markets to make quick profits at other people’s expense; you have been faithful over this small thing and now I will entrust you with great things; enter into the joy of your master; as for these other exploitative, predatory, worthless servants, cast them out.’

The picture is the half frozen boating lake at Cleethorpes a week or so ago. The words are based on the version retold yesterday by the local Methodist Superintendent Minister at the Churches Together event for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Friday 16 January 2009

Keith Nelmes

Keith was a lovely man. He was the Diocesan Surveyor (the man who looked after the diocese’s portfolio of parsonage houses) for nineteen years. He’d not felt well for a while, went to the doctor at the beginning of December, and had died before Christmas, aged 60. And hardly a meeting of two members of the clergy has taken place since at which appreciation and sadness has not been expressed.

We all have stories of his sitting at the kitchen table, enquiring after our families and our work, and managing to say ‘yes’ to most of what we asked. This wasn’t a coincidence of a nice man doing a job which happened to bring him into contact with clergy families: he had read research which said how parsonage life and conditions can be a factor in breaking up clergy marriages and he was actually ministering to us.

I posted on 27th November about the new Rectory here. It was he who had searched widely and diligently (if fruitlessly) for a new Rectory for this parish in the late 1990s. It was he who saw though the whole project to build a more than suitable house when a plot finally became available. I remember endless negotiations with planners, and an eventual meeting with them at which they outlined what would be acceptable and he removed plans they had rejected a year earlier from near the bottom of a large pile and said ‘would something like this do?’.

Over three hundred people (including a number of the contractors who do work on our houses) were at a service to celebrate his life in the Cathedral yesterday afternoon. Several people spoke affectionately about him, including the Bishop, who also made a link in John’s Gospel between the question ‘where are you staying (meneis)?’, which are the first words spoken to Jesus, and the commandments and promises to remain (meneite) in God’s love; one of the first things about us is where our home is, and the last things about us is that our home is in God’s love. And the Diocesan Director of Ordinands read ‘It was on a Monday morning the gasman came to call’.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Monday 12 January 2009

Chapman facsimile

Our major church buildings have rarely been financed by their regular congregations. An indication of this is the way a majority of Lincolnshire’s ancient Parish Churches (including two of the three in this parish) stand next to the ancient manor site. A further indication is the number of guidebooks which indicate which wealthy person put the building back into order in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (who contributed the largest amount to reroofing St Michael’s, Little Coates) and a waste recycling charity (who contributed to the adaption of the building with disabled access) are the direct successors of men like the timber merchant Joseph Chapman of Cleethorpes (whose ‘munificent’ legacies both supported a range of hospitals and funded the building of most of the present church).

The local authority’s gardeners have been engaged in a huge amount of clearing in St Michael’s churchyard in the last couple of weeks, and Chapman’s grave has emerged out of what was a small copse of self seeded ash in time for the centenary of his death which falls in May. The huge angel next to it commemorates his wife; it is a replica (the inscription wonderfully uses the word ‘facsimile’) of one he erected over her grave in Zurich which is where she died.

Saturday 10 January 2009


I find I’m still a total beginner in church consultation and communication and in balancing whether ideas are human plans made in our own strength or things to which we’ve been genuinely led attentive to God’s alternative possibilities. You’d have thought that I’d have a professional handle on at least some of those things by now, but there it is.

We held our first First Sunday Thing on Sunday. We’ve brought together St Michael’s and St Nicolas’ to share one Family Service on the first Sunday in each month, a Family Service with a totally different style including activities in different parts of the church for the first half hour then brought together in a simple short act of worship. I posted on 16th December about creating a Blog for it.

We’ve prayed. We’ve paid attention to what is going well and less well in our well established Family Services and in our newish monthly Last Saturday Thing. We’ve paid attention to what other people have explored in ‘fresh expressions of church’. A Working Party began to look at a blank sheet of paper in August. We took suggestions to Church Councils in September, and we floated ideas with a few families (although we should really have found the time to do so with more). We outlined proposals across the front page of our pewsheet in October. Our Shared Ministry Team planned in November. We put out a lot of publicity in December. We began in January.

And now we are seeking to be open to the feedback we receive and the feedback we know is out there but which we’ll only receive at second hand or not at all. Most of it seemed to go well, some of those we’d hoped would come didn’t, some people said nice things on the day, and a thoughtful anonymous commentator on the Blog explained why it was not as bad as he or she had feared. But a Church Council meeting on Thursday also revealed more explicitly those we’d aimed it at who hadn’t appreciated it and even reports of those who said they hadn’t really known what was going on.

So we’ve made new plans for the second go in February which try to take account of all this, and I surprise myself by being overwhelmed by the feeling that I don’t have the first idea whether we should have prayed and consulted much more widely and effectively, whether we are being too clever by half and ploughing own furrow, whether the level and nature of the feedback simply goes with the territory, and whether it is developments like this to which we are called.

The Bishop of Grimsby keeps saying that churches grow where there is good leadership, and our churches don’t seem to grow.

Meanwhile, during the week, the low deep early morning sun lit up a willow tree next door to the Old People’s Home just down the road from my house as if it had put the tree on fire.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Another Font puzzle

Pater noster, ave maria and crede
Lerne the child it is neede

A mediaeval couplet which appears only to survive carved round the font at St George’s, Bradley (from where Eamon Duffy’s well know study of the Reformation Stripping of the Altars quotes it). A very prosaic rendering might be: it is necessary to teach children the prayers beginning ‘Our Father’ and ‘Hail Mary’ and the statement of faith beginning ‘I believe’. The use of ‘learn’ as a verb for ‘teach’ survives in local culture in the phrase ‘I learned him’. The importance of the three texts is also reflected on an early sixteenth century brass in St Nicolas’, Great Coates promising a hundred days off purgatory: ‘of yo’charitie say a pr’noster ave and cred & ye schall have a C days of p’don’.

Puzzling over the mediaeval paint on the font at St Michael’s, Little Coates has prompted me to puzzle again over this mediaeval verse on the one at St George’s, Bradley. The most recent person whose visit was prompted by Duffy’s book said ‘if that is an ancient font then I’m a dutchman’. I’ve said it is a mediaeval font heavily recut by the Victorians, but I wonder whether this is true. The church was substantially changed in the eighteenth century (with the removal of a side aisle) and reordered then or in the early nineteenth century (with box pews and panelling). We know that disposing of ancient but tumbled down fonts in favour of substantial new neat ones is not uncommon in histories of church restorations. Perhaps a new font was put in then, copying the verse from the old one or even from elsewhere?

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Puzzle picture

It is one face of the stem of the font in St Michael’s, Little Coates. That isn’t in doubt. But what the picture on it is, I have no idea.

From time to time I’ve pointed out to people that scrubbed stone and white walls are a modern fashion in churches. Mediaeval buildings would have been highly painted and gaudy, I continue. Although the bowl of the font is scrubbed clean, look in the shadows underneath and you will see the remnants of the mediaeval paint. That is as far as I went - they appeared to be just random smears as far as I’d noticed in ten years.

On Friday the person who advises the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches about paint came to see the state of the decoration in the church for us. In passing, I mentioned the stem of the font. ‘You ought to take some digital photos, and see what you can see,’ he suggested.

So I took a lamp and had a first go yesterday. Across the top half of this particular face quite a lot of detail remains, although clearly the bottom half has had most of the paint rubbed away. But no amount of playing about with the digital contrast and colour shades seems to make anything clearer. Of course, it would help if I’d taken a better photograph.

On the right a fifth of the way down I can convince myself there is a face like that of the Lord. If so, I thought at first, is it the banner of the resurrection he holds in his left hand (on the right edge), in which case he is stepping out of his tomb? Or perhaps he is John the Baptist and this is - appropriately for a font - the Baptism of the Lord? Or (it seems to me more likely now) are there enough things like palm branches to the left to indicate he is riding into Jerusalem, in which case it might be an ear of the donkey middle outlined left? Or am I so desperate to convince myself I can see something that I’m ‘reading’ far too much into what I can’t really see?

Sunday 4 January 2009

A bank-like fund

The diocese does, of course, have a mechanism to deal with mission areas which overspend in 2009, but it is one which is likely to unravel quickly, and I’m not sure what it will do then.

The mechanism is this. Those mission areas which generated a surplus in the transitional period are told this money is retained for future spending by them. In the meanwhile, those mission areas which overspend in 2009 or a subsequent year can ‘borrow’ from this ‘bank-like fund’; in these circumstances it is anticipated the money will be paid back in future years when surpluses can be generated in these mission areas from posts which are vacant.

But there is no fund. There is nothing bank-like. There is no money other than diocesan capital assets. Over all the diocese roughly broke even in the transitional period (the surpluses in some mission areas were balanced by the deficits in others) so no real money was paid across into any separate fund. Some mission areas may have a chit from the diocese to say that they have past surplus which they can spend in the future, but the mere existence of these chits don’t generate anything bank-like. Perhaps it is expected that some mission areas which had deficits in the transitional period will begin to generate surpluses to ‘pay off’ their ‘debts’ from the transitional period, but this is a very uncertain source of income for the bank-like fund.

There is in fact a pressing danger that two sorts of mission area will each now quickly begin to spend their way through diocesan capital assets, which is where the mechanism may unravel.

The first will be the mission areas which showed surpluses in the transitional period. Some of these may want to use this money to fund initiatives or simply to cover any deficit in their budgets for a given year. They will perceive themselves to be spending money which they have deposited in a bank-like fund. But, if other mission areas are not generating surpluses to ‘pay off debt’ from the transitional period, then the money will simply be coming out of diocesan capital assets.

The second will be mission areas which showed deficits in the transitional period. Some of these will still be generating similar deficits in the early years of the new funding arrangements. They will be perceived to be borrowing from the bank-like fund. But, while some of this dipping into diocesan capital assets may well be balanced by repayments in future years to top them up again, much of this borrowing will be ‘sub-prime’ and these portions of diocesan capital assets will eventually have to be written off as well.

Friday 2 January 2009

Balanced budgets

1st January 2009 began Year One for the new approach to funding the deaneries (or ‘mission areas’) of the diocese. The historic income and central costs are apportioned out to each mission area which is then meant to have a balanced budget; fees and contributions from parishes are added to one side of the account and the cost of deploying stipendiary clergy is added to the other. There have been four ‘transitional years’ 2004-8 to get us ready for this.

Some mission areas have shown a surplus in the transitional period; although increases in parish contributions and cuts in clergy posts will be major factors, this is most likely to be because more historic income was allocated than turned out to be needed and/or vacancies substantially reduced expenditure. Some mission areas have been in deficit; in our case this has been because the one remaining change to achieve an immediately affordable mission area plan (MAP) involves bringing together two neighbouring parishes for which we have to continue to fund a second post until one of the parish priests moves or retires.

Running a balanced budget for 2009 is down to people like me, and my guess is that we will achieve it (mainly through substantial subsidy from the historic resources of the diocese and through severe cuts in clergy posts duringt he transitional period). But most of the factors involved are actually totally out of our control. I’ve twice heard the Diocesan Secretary say that some of the deficits from the transitional period will be carried forward as debts into 2009 but haven’t been able to persuade anyone to tell us what the position will be for this mission area, so we don’t even know what out opening balance is. The largest parish sits most lightly to any external ecclesiastical bureaucratic interference and hasn’t told us what it would hope to contribute in 2009. The church which contributes most has said what it will pay, but it has added a footnote that this might be less if urgent repairs are begun before the end of the year. We know we’ll continue to be charged for the filled post which is not part of our MAP, but we don’t know how much we’ll be charged for vacant posts which are part of our MAP because we don’t know how soon they will be filled. Heh, ho.