Saturday 30 May 2009

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Portraying Judas

How common is it to have Judas represented in a church’s stained glass windows, especially in the principal East Window? I had thought that our St Michael’s was strikingly unusual in doing so, but found another northern Lincolnshire example at Glentworth recently, so I guess it can’t be that uncommon after all.

The Last Supper is an obvious subject for an East Window, so Judas’ slinking out with his money bag is a detail which might well come up at places other than Glentworth (top). The Agony in the Garden is a less obvious choice, so Little Coates (bottom) probably still remains unusual in depicting Judas guiding the soldier’s to arrest Jesus.

At Glentworth, Judas has no halo, but the Little Coates image is striking for giving him a black one. At Glentworth, Judas’ features reflect those of the other apostles, but Little Coates betrays probably unconscious anti-Semitism by making him appear like a Fagin or a Shylock in sharp contrast to the appearance of the other apostles elsewhere in the window.

Monday 25 May 2009

Unexpected results

If you open the church doors wide it is likely to be the excluded, needy or vulnerable who come in. It isn’t an original thought, nor is it a universal rule, but I’ve heard the same story about it twice in the last couple of weeks.

First from Elaine Watkinson. She is the most impressive and engaging of the Methodist lay ministers in the norther half of old Lincolnshire. She is the Youth Worker in this Circuit. She was talking at a recent seminar on clergy safety.

The Circuit was aware that many of its twenty or more churches had one or two young people but that this never created the critical mass for any individual church to provide for them or retain them, so it decided to open up the side door of one of the central churches as a place in which they could gather and in which events could take place. But the people who came in through the door were mainly disaffected young people from the neighbouring estate. It was from these beginnings that the now well established Side Door Church emerged.

Secondly from Liz Jackson. She is the most impressive and engaging of the Anglical lay ministers in the southern half of the old Lincolnshire (although my judgement is biassed, being the godfather of one of her children). She is the animateur of different diocesan outreach projects. She was talking on video in the latest diocesan podcast.

A church on the most frequented footfall on the main high street in Lincoln was chosen as the place in which to experiment with a fresh expression of church by being opened as a prayer café on a weekday. But the people who came in through the door were mainly the homeless adrift in the City Centre. It is from these beginnings that a new quite different project is emerging.

Meanwhile, I’ve always been fond of this representation in St Michael’s of St Michael and of the small naked figure holding on to the foot of the cross. Michael has beaten down the dragon beneath his feet (the story from Revelation of the defeat of Satan) and he is now showing the result: in the final scales the dragon (looking a little put out, I always think) cannot outweigh the benefit of simply clinging to the cross.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Chasing money

St Nicolas’ launched its appeal to replace its failing 1960s electric heating system last weekend; the present boiler (normally concealed within the box by the north door) is pictured. We had good local media publicity ahead of an open day on Saturday and local radio coverage on Sunday. The Church Council had to consider on Thursday that the budget of £52 000 (to connect gas and put in a modern boiler and radiators) may be an under estimate, and that the architects’s detailed costings for the re-roofing of the south aisle is a further £20 000. The church has £11 500 but may need to identify a further £65 000 to £70 000 if it is to go ahead with both projects, and the welcome odd few hundred pounds now coming in or promised from special events only dents this sum.

What depressed me yesterday is the huge effort it may end up having to put into unsuccessful funding bids. I met with the agent of one grant making body who suggested the wide range of backing information which would need to support our case that there is significant community benefit to what we plan to do, but also suggested that this case might not be strong enough when looked at alongside other bids. This means a significant amount of voluntary time will have to be put in which may simply turn out to have been pointless.

And it isn’t just the church which is facing this sort of dilemma. Yesterday we learnt also that the local authority would back the one secondary school in the parish as its bidder for a significant tranche of extra Government money to tackle low aspirations (as mentioned here on 15th May). The bid has to be one in which the school, the local authority and the community are jointly engaged and I’ve been recruited to be the community campaign leader. The first outline has to be submitted by 3rd June (so almost all the work on it now has to be done over Half Term!). But over sixty local authorities are entitled to bid from which only fifteen projects will be chosen, so here as well a lot of work may not result in any money coming in.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Being a coach

A wise, experienced and perceptive Vicar told me recently how he had observed that when he stopped forcing his initiatives on people and doing stuff, far more happened, and in a different, more spiritually significant way; more the Coach, less the professional Guardian of the Sacred; more the resourceful friend, less the eccentric drill sergeant.

I’ve had this clip from another blog saved and savoured over the last few weeks. It is fourteen years since I was sent on a tennis coaching course, but I’ve also revisited what I wrote about it then; I would have liked to think it would have had a greater influence on how I behave now.

A slightly overweight colleague claimed to play tennis ‘every other year on holiday’. We watched him put great effort into serving twenty balls. Half a dozen landed in the correct service court. Then, over twenty minutes, he improved nearly threefold. He did this without the coach telling him what to do at any point.

She asked him to describe what he was trying to do as he did it. She asked him to call out ‘bounce’ as his ball hit the ground. She made him explain what he was most aware of as he served. She got him to set a target and then call out how far short of it his ball hit each time.

Qualities of focussed attention were being developed. Awareness of internal and external interferences were increased and tackled. The way in which greater effort simply brought about tension in the wrong muscles was revealed.

She also made an interesting admission. As the coach of small children she had underestimated what they could manage. She had held off from introducing particular techniques. Then, one day, under pressure, she demonstrated these shots. The children simply showed that they could copy them. The only thing which was preventing their learning was the professional who was being paid to teach them.

Meanwhile, I’ve been making signs for several graves at St Michael’s in preparation for a school visit, something I’ve been meaning to do for a little while. I’ve included this early twentieth century grave. For me, it is interesting how the earliest Celtic and Anglo Saxon crosses have been the influence. For them, I expect the interest will be in the snakes.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

God be in my head

I keep finding this prayer stuck up in kitchens and propped up on mantlepieces around the parish; I noticed several in the last couple of weeks. They are there because I’ve handed it over or stuck it through the door with my phone number or some short message (if only ‘I’m sorry you weren’t in when I called’) written on the back.

I wish I could claim that there was some careful strategy behind providing people with something extra many of them evidently value keeping. In fact I think I simply acquired the habit because I couldn’t afford to have my own calling cards printed when I was a Curate. Having a small supply of them tucked in my diary simply seemed an easy way of having something of the right size and rigidity on which to scribble such notes. I've gone on doing it for twenty five years once I discovered they were often being kept.

I’m grateful to for supplying them.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Change by steps

St Francis’ (one of the small churches in Cleethorpes, built in the 1960s) is about to lose its half-time Vicar, is not likely to see her replaced, and has a major fund raising task to sort out aspects of its building (including securing proper disabled access if it is to go on being used as a significant local community resource). But the lay leadership of the church doesn’t seem to be as down beat about all this as one might imagine; at the most recent Church Council meeting one member gave me a fillip by saying he remembered what I’d said at a Vision Day for the church a few years ago and now they were going to put it into practice.

At such days I often talk about the parish in which I was baptised. When I was last there it had one significant church with substantial congregations and a good clergy staff. But when I mention that the parish also has something like thirteen ‘out stations’ it quickly dawns on people that I’m not talking about a parish in England - it is the parish of Zomba in the diocese of the Upper Shire in Malawi. The average out station church there would only expect to see a priest for a day or two once every few months. He would celebrate the only Eucharist for those months, consult the lay leadership about which particular bits of teaching or pastoral care are most urgent, do those, and go away again.

‘How would you operate if you only saw a priest that often?’, I ask. ‘If the bishop actually offered you a visiting priest much more often - several hours most weeks - how would you then most constructively use him or her?’, I continue. Usually everything the Bishop’s latest paper would want people to say is then said without any difficulty: the local church can provide its own leadership and sustain its own life; the expensive resource of stipendiary clergy can be used in a way which adds value and provides oversight for this.

The remark that St Francis now thinks it can put this fully into practice does qualify one of the lines I wrote for the diocese in response to the Bishop’s paper: ‘the idea of a more episcopal style incumbency has been worked on creatively and systematically in parish days and Deanery Synod meetings without any discernable impact’.

Meanwhile, the new weeping ash at St Michael’s has taken well and is beginning to come into leaf.

Friday 15 May 2009

Educational competition

Do we want a collaborative approach to the provision of secondary education in an area, or do we want a range of competing institutions? Few vote for the first option, but almost every single reward system (from funding mechanisms to league tables) encourages providers to behave as if we all favour the second.

I was going over all this again yesterday with a researcher who has been commissioned to look on behalf of local authorities at how well they work with FE Colleges. I was able to retail yet again the story of the Ofsted Area Inspection a few years ago which criticised North East Lincolnshire for having failed to pull together a single plan for all of its Sixth Form provision; the report was issued a few days before it was announced that three Academies were to be created by central Government which would include the creation of new Sixth Forms in places where no existing local plan had even considered having them.

She wanted to know whether relationships were good. I was able to tell her that they are; there is certainly a common mind and commitment about the desperate need to grow HE provision locally. But as soon as the local authority takes on the funding responsibilities from the Learning and Skills Council there is no telling in what ways the dynamic will change. It is possible that any imaginative joint thinking and working will become impossible if the local authority also has to be the objective even handed adjudicator between different funding bids.

The day before I was in the only Secondary School in the parish with many others to learn about and support a bid for a new funding stream to benefit the deprived estate in which it sits. It emerged towards the end of the meeting that only one such bid would be allowed from any local authority area and a Secondary School elsewhere in town was also developing a bid. It looked as if we were cornered into either losing out or enlisting the help of the local authority to seek to do down a different area of town.

The further picture from the mediaeval glass at St Martin’s, Stamford is of the slaying of Goliath, a reflection of the same image in various Biblia Paperum (picture book Bibles of the poor).

Monday 11 May 2009

Munificent bequest

Today is the centenary of the death of St Michael’s greatest benefactor, so the first photograph is another one of his grave in the churchyard there, this time taken close enough to read the inscription; I particularly enjoy the words ‘munificent’ and ‘liberal’. The money he left must have been what today we think of as a ‘lottery winner’s’ amount if most of the present St Michael’s was built with it quite apart from the other bequests.

The Grimsby Church Extension Society was not an incidental or minor cause. As the town grew rapidly Edward King, who as Bishop of Lincoln famously loved the rural poor of his village churches, felt a particular burden for the urban poor of the multiplying unchurched terraced houses in Grimsby. He promoted and supported this as a major cause, and when the diocese gave him an anniversary present it pleased him that it was in the form of a large donation to the Grimsby Church Extension Society. So the second photograph is the foundation stone he laid for St Aidan’s, Cleethorpes four years before Chapman’s death, and I guess that Chapman (who lived in the parish from which St Aidan's was carved out) would have been among those there when he did so.

Today we look back on the multiplication of churches and parishes at this time as a mixed blessing. I've posted before about the way that ten of the twenty Anglican churches opened in Grimsby and Cleethorpes between the 1860s and 1970s had now closed but that this still leaves us with more open churches than the Baptists, Catholics, Methodists and United Reformed Church put together. Nevertheless, today we give thanks for Chapman, and for King (the centenary of whose death falls in March).

Saturday 9 May 2009

The next step change

To achieve any sense of the local leadership as normative for ministry and mission purposes, the Stipendiary Incumbents must have oversight of a sufficient number of communities as to deter unrealistic expectations based on received patterns of parochial deployment.

This is the most striking sentence from the Bishop of Lincoln’s latest suggestions about The Way Ahead for the ministry in the diocese.

The changing use of stipendiary clergy is not new in itself. I remember attending a training event in the diocese with that title when I was newly working in it nearly twenty years ago. I have the text of a sermon about the growth of lay ministry which I preached ten years ago when I was responsible for clergy in-service training in the diocese, and none of the thoughts were original then:

For the people of God to be more priestly it will be necessary for the priest to become more episcopal. In other words, if we believe in fostering the priesthood of all believers then our Vicars will have to become more like bishops - exercising oversight for the multiple ministeries in their area... We turn our thinking upside down and begin with Baptism. Instead of defining ministry as what ordained people do, and what is now shared with other authorised ministers, we should begin with what baptised people are called to do and shape our authorised and ordained ministeries to service this.

But the Bishop’s sentence, while reflecting the way things have indeed been talked about more recently, is new to me as a public statement: the assertion that it is normative for leadership to belong in the local church; the assertion that it is essential that the old model becomes unmanageable so that this may take place.

His paper is even brave enough to name a number (a cohort of 100 Stipendiary Clergy could deliver this for the diocese - which implies perhaps seven in Grimsby and Cleethorpes) and names explicitly a radical but realistic step change in the way we shape ministry and mission in our Church where change is inevitable - and potentially transformative.

I’m not sure how many of the places which have developed a lay ministry team yet envisage the step change of this providing the leadership of the local church. I’m not sure how many of the incumbents who balance the old model of priestly ministry with developing and working with such lay teams yet anticipate the step change of this balance becoming impossible.

Meanwhile, the picture is another of the mediaeval glass at St Martin’s, Stamford (taken there from Tattershall church), in this case showing the burial of the Lord.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Noticing things

The death last week of the poet U A Fanthorpe has robbed me if not of a friend then at least of an erudite and stimulating conversation to overhear. The news prompted me to take down her poems again and it is Consequences (2000) which I’ve been re-enjoying in particular over the last couple of days.

She notices things. She is famous for beginning to write because she did so as a medical receptionist. But here it is what she noticed as an English teacher which stands out most: revelling in Anglo-Saxon names for the months; offering different takes on Shakespeare, Tennyson and Wordsworth in particular; highlighting the euphemisms of war with a Quaker determination.

I love the sense that the victor can ‘use’ architecture while the vanquished may even end up buried under a modern car park, that the purity of snow is a ‘popular fallacy’ exposed by ‘its spiteful tally of wrens, explorers, old people sitting in chairs, kingfishers, match girls’, and that we may be surprised by what we find ‘as Cabot aimed for Japan, got Newfoundland instead’.

And then there are the handful of simple poems which could stand alongside the greats of religious poetry (including hassocks preaching ‘remember before God all the obliterated’, and a characterisation of each Gospel, its writer and his symbol) coming almost at the very end to the exquisite Bird Psalm which I had up on my study wall until I last moved house, finishing with the sounds of the owl:

He is who, who is he
Who enters the heart as soft
As my soundless wings, as me.

Meanwhile, I took the picture at Heckington on Saturday on our way back from our night away in Stamford.

Friday 1 May 2009

Churchyard trees

What we might casually think are ancient churchyard yews are most often nostalgic nineteenth century plantings, I learnt from the local authority’s Trees and Woodlands Officer last month. It certainly appears that way at St Nicolas’ where this week I’ve taken another photograph of the way trees now shield the view of much of the building (this time lined up to match a photograph form about 1900, although the earlier picture was clearly taken in the winter).

A hundred years ago, the churchyard appears to have been managed more like a controlled parkland (including the quite new yew plantings), and this does set off the building magnificently. But, notwithstanding this historical perspective, the more recent less controlled woodland approach has allowed mature cyprus and yew trees in particular to provide their own magnificence.

It is clear how the large walnut prominent in the front left of the earlier picture was replaced by another walnut in about 1990 on exactly the same spot; there are mature and ancient walnuts along the southern edge of the churchyard as well. I also notice that we still have the same railings. The other main feature is the main Grimsby to Immingham road which was driven through what was the Rectory grounds in the 1950s; the previous gracious driveway entrance is clear in the earlier picture.