Monday 29 June 2009

Great Coates map

A hundred years ago my predecessors still appeared to need to know the size of each field in the parish because some forms of charge (reformed versions of historic tithes) remained part of their income into the 1930s. At the weekend we discovered the map printed in 1900 explicitly for this purpose which the then Rector of Great Coates owned, a version of the standard Ordnance Survey map of the time but on a quite huge sheet on a roll about my height.

We are looking forward to a new colleague moving into St Nicolas’ Vicarage in August, and five of us were clearing out the study (which was colonised as a Parish Office twelve years ago) and garage (only built a little before then yet the home of a spectacular range of accumulated paint tins, Summer Fair equipment, disused furniture, and much more). The most useful discovery was an industrial size strimmer which none of us knew was there, but which we presume others remember, the church owns and was used in the churchyard. Other than that, the amount of sheer rubbish outweighed the amount of useful or valuable things which we shifted to the church shed and other appropriate locations.

In such processes one always expects to find things left behind by recent incumbents, but we were very surprised to find in the map something left behind by the incumbent who’d lived in the Old Rectory opposite fifty years before the present 1950s house was built.

Both Great Coates and Little Coates parishes are shown as entirely rural - housing spreading from Grimsby to the east is poised to grow across the eastern boundary of the Little Coates parish (Little Coates Primary School was yet to be built to serve what would be the first terraces in Little Coates parish, and it has events to celebrate its centenary this week) but was not to grow further westwards into the Great Coates parish until the 1960s.

The ancient civil and ecclesiastical parish of Great Coates corresponds to today’s Freshney ward, but even today some who live in the old village area are not reconciled to being seen as part of Grimsby. In the late 1960s St Nicolas’ had the portion of its ecclesiastical parish where the Willows estate was about to be built shifted into the then ecclesiastical parish of Little Coates. In the 1970s there were protests both when the civil parish was abolished and its area incorporated into Grimsby and also when the ecclesiastical parish was merged with that of Bradley and Little Coates. In the 1990s a new civil parish was created for Great Coates with boundaries carefully set to cover only the old village area rather than the whole of the old parish, and few weeks ago one of the parish Councillors told me she felt it would be good to move the civil parish out of the Freshney ward into the rural ward to the west as this was an area with which they have more in common.

Saturday 27 June 2009

Financing buildings

I fear that the buckling window is an indication of where the next headache will come.

Just as the sudden need to spend £20 000 on St Nicolas’ south aisle roof threatens to undercut the major appeal there to fund a new heating system, so any discovery that St Michael’s has to spend £10 000s on the windows along its north wall would not only distract us from the task of finding the significant sum it needs to redecorate but also would seem an unfair ‘extra mile’ after the £300 000 or more we’ve spent on the roof, reordering, disabled access and facilities in the last few years.

Nevertheless, the low evening sun was doing interesting things with it before a Bible Study on Thursday evening which is when I took this picture .

My other thought about all this during the week was on hearing the sad news of a cancer cluster which appears to have arisen in one of the roads nearest St Nicolas'. It is a while since the possibility went away of putting a mobile phone mast in the tower there (which would, of course, have established an extra funding stream to enable work on the building had it gone ahead) and I just wondered what would have been said now if the installation had proceeded then.

Thursday 25 June 2009

File on Four

Why isn’t the failing Learning and Skills Council subject to the same penalties as failing Schools or Colleges?

The question has occurred to me in the past at a trivial level. As a College Governor I’m aware of audit requirements to tighten accountability (and to write a letter within six weeks to show it has been done) in situations in which there isn’t even a hint of impropriety. Yet I can think of a couple of occasions when I’ve sat in on meetings with LSC representatives to straighten something out and come away with the very strong impression that there would have been nothing to straighten out if the LSC had conducted itself to the same standards (and that they were not thinking of writing to us within six weeks to say what they had done about it).

But the question occurs to me again and again this month with much greater force. I listened to the File on Four account of how the vast over promising of funding for major re-buildings of Colleges has been handled. No internal mechanism existed to assess this. An internal report which uncovered looming problems with it was not passed on to those responsible. Even now the senior figure giving evidence to a House of Common’s Select Committee denies that his officials were encouraging Colleges to develop more ambitious schemes (something we know happened locally and something the official enquiry states happened nationally).

Then this week there is news of the Minister responsible replacing the Governing Body of yet another Comprehensive School with an Interim Executive Board in this case because he felt they had misused their financial discretion in paying bonuses to senior staff.

It simply doesn’t seem consistent.

The picture is a fragment among a jumble of old glass re-set at the top of a window in St Nicolas’, Great Coates.

Tuesday 23 June 2009


These are walnuts developing on one of the walnut trees in St Nicolas' churchyard. I took this picture on my way to Matins this morning, having enjoyed taking groups to look at the trees as part of the First Sunday Thing (nee Family Service) at the beginning of the month. I considered typing something about Jeremiah's vision of an almond branch ('God is watching') or Julian of Norwich's vision of something like a hazelnut ('it lasts because God loves it') to justify putting the picture up. But it seems enough to say I noticed these nuts developing on my way to say my prayers this morning. They don't look much like walnuts yet.

Sunday 21 June 2009

God with us

Many people find Christians harsh, judgmental and narrowly sure. They also often think we are all creationists of some sort, which is a real barrier to taking us or the idea of God seriously. Even where they feel aware of something beyond themselves which they are not sure they can call God, they are deeply worried about its arbitrariness and lack of fairness. They don’t think that the religious people who dispute between and within religions can be safe objective guides to what this all means.

I’ve collected together examples of this before and posted about some of my attempts to take these things seriously, but each of these things was specifically evidenced for me again last week when I was asked to go to a secular bereavement support group which had said it wanted to talk to someone like me.

I took with me all the things about suffering which I’ve used with a Lent Group and a Sixth Form Study Day earlier in the year, including the Rublev Icon of The Hospitality of Abraham which shows the persons of the Trinity caught up in mutual love and attention with the cup of suffering in their midst. But I used only a fraction of the material because the task was mainly to listen and to agree that what they rejected about God and Christianity I reject too.

And afterwards there was the great reminder that none of us ‘take God’ into situations but wait to find what God is already doing there. The organiser wrote to me very kindly to say that vigorous conversation continued after I’d left: ‘the empathy between our bereaved members reminded me strongly of the scene in the icon... if there is a God, he was with us in that sharing’.

The picture is another of the orchids at Cleethorpes.

Friday 19 June 2009

Springing a trap

There are some unexpected results of the credit crunch locally. I heard a while ago that there has been an increase in sales of quality convenience foods, attributed to those who wish to treat themselves but are being careful about further extravagance; this is good news for the local fish and food processing industries. And I heard yesterday that there is a rise in the number of local people seeking advice and support about starting their own business, including some who are armed with redundancy money.

Quite a number of these are in a vulnerable situation fearing that if any initiative they take upsets their established benefits payments it might take them a good while to reestablish their entitlements if things go wrong. E-factor, which is the social enterprise which is the chief agency to promote and support enterprise locally, has an imaginative arrangement with Job Centre Plus to tackle this. For an initial period, e-factor supported benefits recipients can trade without losing their benefits payments provided they do not keep any profits. If things go well, they can stop benefits and receive profits instead. If things go wrong, they can continue on benefits and cease trading. It seems a simple but unexpectedly imaginative solution.

Some of the Governors at the Grimsby Institute, which owns a half share in e-factor, were being briefed about it as a meeting yesterday, which is where I learnt about the benefits arrangement. Advice, incubation space, loans, and on going support are all part of the provision, and it has a track record of making an impact on hundreds of lives so far and plans to engage more in schools. It quite cheered me up on a day when the public headlines about the local economy were all about the way the disputes at the Humber bank oil refineries have turned even nastier.

I took the picture out of the board room window at the end of the meeting.

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Our Lisbon Treaty

The Anglican Covenant stands as much chance of ratification as the Lisbon Treaty. This seems to be a practical and sociological reality.

When working relationships have become difficult, it is a fatally unwieldy exercise to get a very large number of sovereign nations (or autonomous provinces) which are linked together in one federation (or communion) to come to a common mind on how to adapt their structures to hold a tighter reign, especially if those involved fear that this will involve losing the ability to decide for themselves about tax (or sex).

Those leading the negotiations, and building relationships and understanding as they do so, may think they can pull off the changes which are needed to make things work smoothly again, but, if the matter is then put out to a referendum (or synodical vote) in each of a large number of partners, it is almost inevitable that it will fail to gain the necessary support in at least a few.

This is at least the thought which developed in my mind listening to a talk about the Anglican Communion on Monday evening, attended by half the clergy and Readers in North East Lincolnshire, a talk which seemed to assume that the Emperor of the Covenant was fully clothed.

The best bit was when the lecturer told us that he’d found all the books on the Anglican Communion in an American ecumenical seminary catalogued and shelved under ‘Sacraments’; the Librarian appeared to assume that they must be about some peculiar Anglican version of Holy Communion.

For the rest, the material was so basic that my mind had to play with the idea of the Lisbon Treaty instead. It took him some time to reveal that the balance of numbers and power are shifting to the churches in Africa, and even more time to venture that different approaches to biblical interpretation was a significant underlying issue, and by the time he apologised for being too technical in suggesting ‘western post-modernity is sometimes seen as being in tension with southern modernity and pre-modernity’ I was quietly gnawing at my arm behind a pillar.

I’d taken this picture earlier in the day: the sculpture is on a wall next to Grimsby Parish Church and shows the Vikings arriving to establish the town.

Saturday 13 June 2009

New partnership

We’ve taken a positive step with Community Pay Back and with the Littlecoates Community Centre, both of which have featured in this blog before for the good things they do and for the difficulties they face. Yesterday I signed an agreement with Humberside Probation on behalf of the Centre so that an offender can spend six hours once a week with it; the Caretaker is really positive about working alongside someone. The photograph doesn’t do the Centre justice but it is carefully taken to show three different areas where there would be real benefit smartening things up: the grounds, the boarded up areas where no new windows will be put, and the metal fence.

Thursday 11 June 2009

In the war zone

The surreal experience of the year so far was being briefed last night on the Charities Act 2006 in a seminar room at the Bishop Grosseteste University College in Lincoln while on the other side of large plate glass doors students taking part in some sort of war game variously dashing passed, diving for cover in the bushes and popping up to fire laser guns at each other. It felt close to what it must have been like to fiddle while Rome burns, paying attention to the new legal responsibilities of Parochial Church Councils while the coup was taking place.

I’ve touched before on the need for each PCC with an income of over £100 000 (which has previously enjoyed the status of an Excepted Charity) to register as a separate charity. At some point those with a lower level of income will also be drawn in.

Each PCC's Accounts already has to be prepared, independently examined, publically displayed, and a copy sent to the diocese, so the amount of extra work involved for thousands of parishes doesn’t really seem proportionate to the advantage of every PCC member’s name being available on the Charity Commission’s website and the Commission having a copy of the Accounts as well, but there it is. And it seemed a little tedious that each PCC would then need to get the Commissions’ permission each time it started to employ one of its members, which is only likely to be as Funding Officer, Parish Secretary, Organist or Sexton anyway.

The only one of the last four years where we’ve tripped over the £100 000 here was when we sold a Church Hall and I learnt that this didn’t count. We spent more than £100 000 last year, but income in the year was a safe £93 512. So I’ve tidied all the paperwork away this morning, aware that this is a little bit like burying my head in the sand as we probably have to do something in 2010 or 2011.

Each PCC member would then have to sign a declaration that he or she is fully aware of the PCC’s ‘objects as set out in the governing document’ so I have at least printed out what the relevant Measure says for the new file. Some PCC members may be worried about the financial liabilities of trusteeship, so I have also dug out the relevant paragraph in the ‘Legal Opinions’ file which makes it clear that a PCC is a Corporate Body and individual members can’t be held liable for any of its debts.

Meanwhile, this further animal from the Cathedral’s great dividing screen looks like a cat to me (perhaps it is), and shows further evidence of the mediaeval paint with which the screen would have been covered.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Make speed to save us

Yesterday didn’t start well. I came down to discover the cat had brought in a bird during the night and distributed bits of it quite extensively round the kitchen. I found that I am now ‘represented’ in the European Parliament by the man who stood fruitlessly for Westminister on behalf of the National Front in several elections in the 1970s. I heard about the random murder of a heavily pregnant young woman in our Town Centre. And a Funeral Director phoned to book Funerals at both 10.00 and 4.20 on what had until then been a unusally free Friday which I’d decided the previous day to use to catch up on recent missed Days Off. These are not, of course, matters of equal importance.

But I then got an e-mail confirming the invitation to preach at the Cathedral next at Evensong on All Saints’ Day and was thus reminded of the ancient magic formula which I was minded to talk about then. It is one which the earliest Desert Fathers used as a mantra, something John Cassian (who visited them) reports, something Benedict (who recommends reading Cassian) picked up to begin most of his services, and something which Cranmer (as a direct result) puts at the start of Evensong.

So, I dug out and enjoyed again the passage I needed which Cassian wrote in about 400 and which includes:

For keeping up continual recollection of God this pious formula is to be ever set before you, 'O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me,' for this verse has not unreasonably been picked out from the whole of Scripture for this purpose. For it embraces all the feelings which can be implanted in human nature, and can be fitly and satisfactorily adapted to every condition, and all assaults. Since it contains an invocation of God against every danger, it contains humble and pious confession, it contains the watchfulness of anxiety and continual fear, it contains the thought of one's own weakness, confidence in the answer, and the assurance of a present and ever ready help. For one who is constantly calling on his protector, is certain that he is always at hand. It contains the glow of love and charity, it contains a view of the plots, and a dread of the enemies, from which one, who sees himself day and night hemmed in by them, confesses that he cannot be set free without the aid of his defender.

This verse is an impregnable wall for all who are labouring under the attacks of demons, as well as impenetrable coat of mail and a strong shield. It does not suffer those who are in a state of moroseness and anxiety of mind, or depressed by sadness or all kinds of thoughts to despair of saving remedies, as it shows that he, who is invoked, is ever looking on at our struggles and is not far from his suppliants. It warns us whose lot is spiritual success and delight of heart that we ought not to be at all elated or puffed up by our happy condition, which it assures us cannot last without God as our protector, while it implores him not only always but even speedily to help us. This verse, I say, will be found helpful and useful to every one of us in whatever condition we may be.

Meanwhile, this version of the seal of the Augustinian Wellow Abbey in Grimsby is in a window in the Council Chamber in the Town Hall.

Sunday 7 June 2009

Field's view

The nineteenth century Evangelical Revival and its influence on the moral norms of the whole of society led to a century or more when the essential nastiness of the English was held in check and when we brought up our children to look to the interests of others rather than themselves. So from the later Victorian period until after the Second World War we operated our society on the basis of shared values and we instilled these in our children. These were things we took for granted and they were never codified so we did not really notice when they began to slip away.

Since the 1950s, a huge combination of factors including the decline in religious observance, the increase in wealth and welfare and the development of a multi-cultural society has simply eroded the impetus to operate on the basis of these values. The permissiveness of the 1960s, the selfishness of the 1980s and the perceived need for rapidly increasing regulation (and the MPs’ allowances scandal) at the beginning of the twenty-first century are just illustrations of how the previous self regulating consensus has unravelled.

There have always been aspects of our essential nastiness which it has been difficult to hold in check, some people have always operated against the consensus, necessary elements of regulation have often been put in place, and it took the whole of the time the consensus lasted for us to move fully to universal individual suffrage, but what is remarkable is that the consensus held sway for so long without any framework of law. We now require everything from explicit training in parenthood and definite contracts about society’s expectations of its citizens and representatives in a way the unconscious assumptions of our grandparents and their grandparents did not.

This is broadly the thesis shared by Frank Field in the annual Magna Carta Lecture in Lincoln Cathedral on Friday evening. It was a tour de force from his gentle correction of the reference to MPs ‘expenses’ (rather than ‘allowances’) in the Dean’s ponderous introduction to his revelation that Margaret Thatcher had told him that her greatest regret was that her tax cuts had not led to much higher levels of charitable giving.

The picture is another from the great dividing screen in the Cathedral. The figure does appear to be disappearing up his own backside. But equally striking are the substantial traces of colour hinting at the mediaeval gaudiness of what is now uniformly plain stone.

Friday 5 June 2009

Anticipating disaster

There are people who have to think through the worst possible scenarios (however remote) so that we can be ready for anything. I’ve tripped over them twice this week.

First, those involved with the Lincolnshire Emergency Planners have been putting out feelers to the Humber area about its planning and to all the Rural Deans about renewing the briefings for clergy. All I seem to remember from previous briefings is the request that we stay at home and wait to be ‘deployed’ by the Archdeacon rather than run around contributing to the chaos but thinking we’re doing good.

I’m not sure how that would work in practice, and recently read the blog of our former Archdeacon whose parish had included the Hillsborough Stadium at the time of the disaster there and who seemed to have done the right thing by moving up to the local hospital.

Secondly, those involved in managing the local Crematorium have been inviting me to meetings with local Funeral Directors to be sure that we have the capacity and level of cooperation which would be necessary if we were to be faced with a sudden high mortality rate from a pandemic; they are equipped with guidance from central Government where the implications of extreme eventualities have been carefully tabulated. We trust that this will all remain simply an intriguing intellectual exercise.

From our point of view it turns out that the ‘disposal’ capacity of the local Crematorium and cemetery is far greater than the capacity of the Chapels there to host appropriate dignified Funerals, and I’ve already made informal contact with the nearest churches which might be asked to provide additional venues in these very unlikely circumstances. One of the other implications is that the workforce (whether cemetery staff or clergy) would be just as likely to be hit by absence from work to look after children when schools are closed, illness or deaths, so capacity planning has to assume that we’d only have half of it available.

I took the opportunity of being in the Council Chamber in the Town Hall for yesterday’s meeting to take some photographs including this one of a radiator grill.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Benedictine hospitality

In Durham the notice ‘The Cathedral closes at 6.00 p.m.’ has been replaced with one which says ‘Welcome - the Cathedral is open until 6.00 p.m.’, one of the results of a walk round the building by senior figures asking themselves what impression it gives. It was one of the stories which Canon Rosalind Brown told at a Study Day in Lincoln yesterday.

She also talked about what for us is the hardy perennial of the unapproachability of the church door, not only because it looks heavy or noisy to open but because it can’t been seen through so the tentative visitor doesn’t know what he or she is walking into. When we leave St Nicolas’ open each day I’m always careful to leave it off the heavy latch and thus almost ajar, although often someone then carefully closes it. At St Michael’s I deeply regret that the intention to include an inner storm porch in the recent reordering (so that the main door could be left open) was a casualty of the funding limits which we encountered.

Her suggestion was that welcomers can always be stationed outside the door rather than just giving out books inside. It is one I might seriously take up; I’d need to get the fussing about robing and setting things up done to be out there twenty minutes before each service is due to begin.

Durham was a Benedictine house, and the Prior and some of the monks remained to become the first Dean and Chapter of the Reformation non-monastic Cathedral foundation, so it is interesting that someone who has lived in a Benedictine community is among those seeking to use insights from Benedict’s Rule to inform some of the choices being made about its life today.

The Study Day was really about priesthood and spirituality in this context (and I enjoyed the idea that the vow of ‘stability’ is more akin to staying upright moving forward on a surf board than being stuck in one place) but it was the practical hospitality tips which I took away.

Meanwhile, I slipped into Lincoln Cathedral while I was there and took some pictures including this one of a figure on the great screen which divides Nave and Choir.

Monday 1 June 2009

Too many Bishops?

The article in the previous week’s Church Times which sparked most letters in this week’s issue was about whether we need fewer Bishops. This is the first thing I noticed; I had looked nervously to see whether there were any negative comments about an article I had written about Community Pay Back (most of the material for which had been blogged here first).

The argument was that if just over 50 Diocesan and Suffragan Bishops was enough for the Church of England a hundred ago then over 110 is too many today, especially if expressed as a percentage of a much lower number of clergy and churchgoers for which they have care. But nobody seems to have spotted that the emphasis on total clergy and churchgoing numbers smuggles in the assumption that this is where we expect Bishops to relate. What if we said instead that the ratio of Bishop to population was about 1:280,000 in 1909 and is 1:460,000 in 2009?

I notice that the appointment of a new Bishop of Carlisle this week was marked by his visiting Sellafield and the Wordsworth Centre, and meeting a range of people from MPs to University Vice Chancellor. He said As Bishop of Carlisle I will hope to be a Bishop for the County as well as the Church. This means that I will attempt to engage with and support our farmers as well as our teachers, and our tourism industry as well as our nuclear industry. I will be trying to develop and deepen links with our MP's, emergency services and local government. In particular I look forward to further immersion in Cumbria's wonderful artistic heritage, literary as well as visual.

We had a consultation in this diocese when a Suffragan see last fell vacant. I dutifully wrote to Deanery Synod members across three Deaneries. Exactly half the responses said that Bishops' posts should be cut as much as clergy posts have been. But the others said both the care of clergy and engagement with society required a new appointment. I’ve heard the voice of the person appointed twice in the last week - on a diocesan podcast about homelessness and on Lincs FM commenting on the impact of unemployment.

Meanwhile, the Southern Marsh Orchids are in full bloom again in the Cleethorpes dunes and I took this picture of one yesterday.