Monday 28 September 2009

Thursday 24 September 2009

Who owns what?

It is more puzzling than one might imagine working out who owns ground in and around our churches. I’ve been reminded twice this morning of the strange but real danger of our ending up responsible for cost of the care of land we don’t in fact own.

First, a Funeral Director talked to me about a plot he says a family purchased in one of our churchyards. That is straight forward, and he jolly well ought to know. Nobody buys bits of churchyard. They simply pay a fee for a burial in it. It remains churchyard. But actually there is what appears to be part of St Michael’s churchyard where this isn’t true.

It is really a private burial ground where the owner sold plots; I hadn’t realised that any of the few remaining unused graves were still ‘booked’ in this way until a few years ago a next-of-kin turned up with a legal document and asked us to conduct a burial. I know that the owner tried to give it to the church in the 1970s but the Church Council refused to take on the liability without any endowment, but I also know that almost nobody else knows this, and that the area has ended up being looked after as if it is part of the churchyard without any financial help ever having been given.

Secondly, a Council official told me he wasn’t sure he could put the disabled parking markings we requested on the road outside St Michael’s because it isn’t recorded as an adopted highway on his map. What looks like a lay-by, and is sometimes incorrectly treated as the Church Car Park, is actually the line of the road before it was straightened in, I guess, the 1950s, and I’m sure the Council has resurfaced it since then.

I suggested that he really needs to provide evidence that it was actually granted to or bought by someone else then. If not, and he simply disclaims responsibility for it because it isn’t on his map, who owns it? If noone owns it, who can give permission to put disabled parking marking on it? And who will meet the cost of resurfacing it when this next needs doing?

Meanwhile, the picture is another from the recent climb of St George’s tower and shows how the north opening is blocked up, something it is not possible to see from outside.

Monday 21 September 2009

Shaped by the past

Our attempts to promote collaboration in planning and financing ministry keep getting tripped up by fossilised fragments of the past.

I fear a little bit for the consultation about to take place with the Cleethorpes parishes because it seems each time it is mentioned someone brings up their bad memories of the former Cleethorpes Team Ministry. It is almost as if this is what controls all future ministry collaboration possibilities.

I fear a great deal for any chances of parishes rallying round the need to change gear in our commitment to interdependent financing of ministry in Grimsby and Cleethorpes. At a Church Council this week the first remarks were still about giving ‘our’ money to ‘them’, so the shift in language a while back from a ‘Quota’ to a ‘Share’ hasn’t made any impact there at all; it is almost as if the term ‘Tribute’ (which ‘Quota’ replaced) determines many people’s perception.

The pictures show the fossilised landscape which determines our own and were taken three miles apart from one walk in the summer.

One is the of fourteenth century Pack Horse Bridge at Utterby (whose church accounts, I noticed, actually still use the term ‘Tribute’); it is next to the point where the present road crosses the stream.

The other is the clearest example I can remember seeing of a lost mediaeval street pattern; it is next to the present village of North Ormsby.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

The Pitmen Painters

A hundred years ago it was recognised that University extension lectures were not reaching working people, and the establishment of The Workers Educational Association as a partnership between ‘labour and learning’ was the result.

One product of a 1930s WEA course was the establishment of an Art Group in the north eastern mining community at Ashington. Lee Hall, who wrote Billy Elliott, has been inspired by a book about the Group by William Feaver to write a new play, which we went to see at the National Theatre on Saturday night (when we had gone down to London to take one of my step-children and all his stuff to begin University life himself). Feaver notes that the Groups ‘strength lay in their ability to depict as insiders what others could only see from afar and romanticise or politicise’.

The story was well told with minimum props and with the simple use of projection of the Group’s pictures on to a screen above the action on the stage. It was also a vehicle for extended and intriguing discussion of issues of the meaning of art, and of issues of class and patronage (although we did wonder whether the original audiences in Newcastle laughed in all the same places). Hall notes ‘the idea that art is somehow a commodity, that culture is something one consumes rather than takes part in, is, of course, a very modern notion... that the Group chose to make art both central to their lives but removed from the ‘economy’ of the art world seems very significant’.

With a walk to and from the Theatre through a crowded Thames-side festival, it was quite a treat. And as we meet later today to put the North East Lincolnshire Partnership Board and initial plans in place for the new local Learning Communities grant, I was glad to have had this reminder of a much earlier and very different approach to the issues of access to and aspiration for education in deprived communities from the point of view of those involved.

The photograph of the spire of St Brides’, Fleet Street was taken from our hotel bedroom.

Saturday 12 September 2009

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Fitting in

What other people say and think about us appears to be the most significant barrier to our Christian living.

As part of our First Sunday Thing (Family Service) on Sunday, among many other things, some people were willing to fill in luggage labels naming something which holds them back from doing what the Gospel asks. We were responding to the letter of James where it points out that we can hardly say we ‘love our neighbours as ourselves’ if we take more notice of the apparently important people and less of the evidently marginalised; in this and other situations we may think we’d behave as the Gospel asks us to but in fact find that our habits and the norms of society around us means that we don’t.

Hanging back through lack of confidence, family demands, not having enough oneself, and the call of the TV were all named as factors. But again and again what was written was about not wishing to stand out from the crowd: ‘thinking what other people might say’, ‘one friend says I can’t’, ‘popularity (fitting in); easier not to challenge’, ‘what other people might say about us which may hurt our feelings’, ‘listening to what other people say’ and ‘peer pressure’ were half a dozen comments from different people.

It isn’t an original discovery. It is known from a Prime Minister not wishing to make too much of his religious commitment lest he be thought weird to a school child not wishing to make known membership of a church Youth Group lest he or she be bullied. But I simply hadn’t realised how strongly and consistently the theme would come out from the average adult in our congregations, so it is one of those exercises which makes me think again about what I choose to mention when preaching and do when supporting people.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Local Authority did substantial work on the 135 year old Weeping Ash at the entrance to St Michael’s churchyard to reduce its height and thus the weight of the canopy. We knew it thought something would need to be done at some point, but we didn’t know that the work was about to happen. The tree is the subject of much affection and comment (including in this Blog on 21st January) and, although some are very sad at its new ungainly appearance, the work is intended to lengthen its life.

Sunday 6 September 2009

Exchanged silver

Awareness of the importance of sharing the common cup at Communion has been highlighted by a brief period when we have not been doing so, just as any fasting puts our usual consumption or usage into perspective. National guidance suggested that abstaining was a helpful precaution against the spread of dangerous flu strains, and we complied, although it felt like going against the very grain of being an Anglican, and although the danger seemed overblown.

On one chalice-less Sunday, I dug out St Michael’s oldest chalice to show the congregation. It dates from about 1625. It is rarely used because it is narrow and deep, designed for a small number of communicants to take it in their own hands and take a good swig, but something of a liability when trying to administer sips. Many had never seen it, and few knew the striking piece of history of which it is part.

It is fashioned from the church’s pre-Reformation plate. Beginning in 1558 and continuing for some 75 years (Lincolnshire looks like having been at the back of the queue), Churchwardens would ‘exchange’ silver which couldn’t be used, perhaps because the chalice was tiny and intended for a priest to use alone, or perhaps because it was engraved with Catholic symbols. A silversmith would use the old to make the new. We know which Hull silversmith (Robert Robinson) recast our chalice late in the reign of James I or early in the reign of Charles I.

Many pre-Reformation patens would have an image of Christ’s face in the middle. This middle part would therefore be cut out and probably melted down to add to the rest of the new chalice. The remainder would be fashioned into the foot of the new chalice, a heavy base being needed for stability. It is this which the picture shows (the chalice is upside down); I have no idea how far back my pre-Reformation predecessors would have been using this small plate for the Host at Mass, but I’m always awestruck both that they should have done so and that it should survive in this mutilated form.

Thursday 3 September 2009

Liquid light

At this time of year, when there is bright sunshine at 8.00 a.m., the light falls through the east window of St Nicolas’, Great Coates onto the north wall of the chancel, and then plays with it. Amidst the dominance of the window's blues and whites, its splashes of green, yellow and red flicker as trees move close to the window making them all dance and flow like ripples of liquid light. This old photograph only hints at what it was like one morning early this week; there is hardly anything else as wonderful in the whole parish. The last few dull mornings have been quite a disappointment.