Monday 28 December 2009

The Stamford Nose cont

There has been a minor flood in one of the archive stores at Brasenose College, Oxford. All seems to be well now, but sorting it all out has been the main preoccupation of the part-time Archivist. Nevertheless, just before Christmas she did reply to my query about the College buying Brasenose, Stamford and its mediaeval door knocker in 1890.

No, she doesn’t think it likely that Bishop Edward King played a role. The house wasn’t sold by his acquaintance Mrs Johnson, and the advertised particulars for the auction make something of the door knocker and its association with the College, so the Archivist assumes that the College heard of the sale by this more prosaic route.

What of Mrs Johnson? She did not own the house - it was sold by Thomas Tertius Paget of Humberston, Leicestershire. She probably had been Paget’s tenant - the particulars indicate the property was available for immediate occupation and College’s Agent at the time mentions a local Estate Agent called Johnson as being ‘a son of the late occupier’.

Meanwhile, although all the roads were clear to drive along through the snow and bad weather before and after Christmas, our greatest challenge was getting out of our drive (as pictured) on Boxing Day.

Friday 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas

It occurs to me (and thus, perforce, to those to whom I preach today) that the Bishop who alerted us to the danger of broadcasting a cosy ‘Happy Christmas’ sentiment from within our own cocoons of well being, heedless of how vacuous such unproductive greeting must seem to the distressed, might be helped by the Sermon on the Mount.

The English name ‘The Beatitudes’ picks up the repeated declaration of those who are ‘blessed’. But the word makarios, most often translated ‘blessed’ in these texts, is most often translated ‘happy’ in other texts (‘happy the one who does not lose faith’, ‘happy are you, Simon, because this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood’, ‘happy the servant whose master finds him at work’). The English sense of knowing oneself to be profoundly fortunate could embrace both being joyful about it (happy) and being aware of it as grace (blessed), and there may be no way to unsplice the two in this particular piece of Greek.

So, perhaps the greeting ‘Happy Christmas’ actually turns out to be particularly apposite for the drained, bereaved, hungry and persecuted: ‘it is this incarnation which pledges God’s makarios to you, however irrelevant and vapid the tinsel laden greeting may seem to you at this moment’.

Of course what this (and my Christmas sermon) does not go on to ponder (especially in the year when St Luke’s Gospel is the principal source for our readings with everything from the Magnificat to the woes which follows his version of the Beatitudes) is whether it can then be appropriate for anyone to say ‘Happy Christmas’ to those like me who are wealthy enough, comfortable, well fed, laughing and even respected today.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

The truth eludes us?

At the beginning of the month, a Bishop wrote that Advent is not meant to be comfortable and warns that a totally blanket use of the greeting ‘Happy Christmas’ can trample on those for whom there is no chance that it will be so; he is castigated in the press for liberal trendiness and being out of touch with the celebrations around him.

Since then, a teacher sent into the home of ill children is reported as being sacked for offering to pray, something offered as further evidence of anti-Christian bias; her own account reveals that she actually took the opportunity of being in one vulnerable non-Christian home to give her testimony about Christian healing two visits running.

This morning, the objective BBC’s flagship radio news programme reports the SNP’s case that any broadcast election debate in Scotland should not ignore the fact that there are four main parties in Scotland; the item concluded that the BBC is unlikely to wish to unpick the agreement it has made with ‘the three main parties’.

Today, it does seem a fair cop that a priest is reported suggesting that the most vulnerable should shop lift; he turns out to have been talking about the impossible situation those who fall through the benefit net are in and was encouraging them to avoid prostitution, burglary and mugging, and says ‘the observation that shop lifting is the best option that some people are left with is a grim inditement of who we are’.

But, while spotting these things, I find strangely that my main reflection is about being in the same boat, and how difficult it is to observe, think or write objectively myself.

For example, how honest and open or self deceiving and spin laden is a blog like this?

Does it manipulatively seek the admiration of any readers there might be? In this way, does it share the unreflective implicit boastfulness of many Christmas circular letters?

Does it unconsciously betray less admirable things this innocent writer doesn’t even suspect? In this way, does it share the distorted selective reporting of the media accounts I've spotted recently?

Would any published column, public speaking or parish pewsheet stand any better chance of avoiding these traps?

Would any private diary, personal conversation or formal confession do so?

Saturday 19 December 2009

Walter Tapper

An enthusiast for the architect Sir Walter Tapper has just put up a new website about the churches Tapper built. John Whitworth’s interest began with his home church of St Erkenwald, Southend (now demolished) but has since spread. He came to see St Michael’s, Little Coates a little while ago to take some pictures which now appear on the website. We were able to share with him then Tapper’s original ground plan and a photograph of how the church looked when newly opened in 1915 both of which now also appear at

Once I’d remembered to click on the + signs to open up wider options, I’ve enjoyed spotting cousin relationships, the most striking of which are between St Michael’s and The Ascension, Malvern Link where the family resemblance includes the nature of the chancel vault and the shape of the east window as well as details such as the light fittings, chairs and pulpit. When he is able to put up pictures of St Mark’s, Whiteley people will be even more struck by how similar the tower there is to the one at St Michael’s.

But the picture above doesn’t come from his website. I’ve just pulled out the small collection of papers in the church safe to check some details for him and noticed again this memorable slip of paper from about 1912. Clearly some recent burials had taken place on the ground north of the old village church where the new Tapper church was to be built. The slip records the permission given by the relevant next of kin for four of these burials to be moved. The first signs with a mark. The last says:

I agree to my baby being removed but would very much like it buried in the same grave as my other one. C Nicholls.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Sunday morning texts

Look towards the east, O Jerusalem, and see the glory that is coming from God.

Arriving for Matins at St Nicolas' it looked as if the church itself was already saying the Advent antiphon for the Benedictus.

Let us put away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light.

Arriving for Communion at St Michael's it appears that during the night someone had lifted all the trees the Council had recently planted on the green outside the church.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Some men don't get it

What has Starlight Express got in common with Thomas the Tank Engine? It is a question which it has amused me to ask ever since we saw Starlight Express at the Grimsby Auditorium some time ago, and I’ve had some grudgingly tolerant answers when I have labouriously trotted it out.

Both have a master figure in charge, and this figure has the same name (Control in one case and the Fat Controller in the other). In both cases, steam is good and diesel is bad. And in both, the engines which drive everything are male and the carriages which trail along behind are female.

It appears that a Canadian Professor has spotted the last point, and is being roundly castigated for highlighting it. One of the pair of male presenters on the objective BBC’s flagship Radio 4 news programme introduced an item about it by saying ‘you are not going to believe this’ and finished by saying that it was ‘not surprising’ that she is being taken to task.

Her basic point is that there are no neutral standing places, and that what children assume to be normal is absorbed among other places from the unspoken assumptions in the books they read and the media they consume; it would have seemed an uncontroversial point to make a generation ago, but somehow it is now greeted with incredulity.

But do the subliminal norms of this sort really make enough difference to make a fuss? Well, they appear to do so in the church. Last week unsolicited I’ve had two different female priests totally independently tell me the debilitating way some male priest have treated them and what it has felt like; I’m sure that some of the opposition to women’s ordained ministry is principled, but it is so difficulty to disentangle this theological context from the non-neutral background assumptions which appear to fuel this sort of behaviour.

And it is endemic. Last week I was also at an almost exclusively male meeting of Rural Deans and watched the face of the only woman present squirm as one of them chortled while described an able female priest as ‘a stunner’.

Meanwhile, the picture is the Kingsway Printers’ Band playing at a Christmas Spectacular in St Michael’s on Thursday.

Thursday 10 December 2009

The Stamford Nose

Did Bishop Edward King have anything to do with an Oxford College getting its nose back?

First, the esoteric background. ‘Brasenose’ may simply be named after its mediaeval door knocker. What may be the original ‘metal nose’ may have been taken by a group of fourteenth century breakaway students to Lincolnshire; just as some students from a college in the village of Merton established Merton College, Oxford so these students from Brasenose College, Oxford established Brasenose College, Stamford. The new college did not survive, but the name did, and a house called Brasenose in Stamford did have a grand mediaeval door knocker until 1890 when Brasenose College, Oxford bought it (the whole house) and claimed or reclaimed the ‘Stamford Nose’ which is in the College’s Hall today.

Secondly, one scrap of information. The Rector of Scartho (on the edge of Grimsby) trawls the internet for memorabilia of Bishop Edward King, and this week he gave me the final part of a letter (it is torn off at the fold) because he knew I’d appreciate having something, however slight, in King’s almost illegible hand; I’m touched and grateful. What looks like another Victorian hand (belonging to the vandal who tore the letter?) notes that it was sent by King in 1888 to Mrs Johnson of Brasenose, Stamford. It appears to read "... prefer the quiet Dinner Party which you propose on the 20th. I must return to Lincoln as soon as I conveniently can after the Service. With many thanks for your kindness. Bless you. Yours truly, E. Lincoln".

So, on the one hand, King was Bishop of Lincoln and thus also Visitor of Brasenose College, and he had only left the University himself three years earlier on becoming Bishop. On the other, here he is on cordial terms with someone at Brasenose, Stamford two years before the College bought the house. I’m asking the College archivist who it was who sold the house to the College, and I’d be fascinated whether or not the archivist knows of any role which King might have played in at least introducing the idea.

Monday 7 December 2009

Degrees of separation

I have the greatest sympathy with the synagogue official in the story of the bent women (Luke 13.10-17) - a good man doing his very best to be faithful to the traditions and ordinances of his community. He is in no way against the woman being healed - but not at that moment. The woman in the culture of the day is not simply ill but deeply ritually unclean. She is brought by Jesus into the centre of the synagogue, where only men may be. As a result of meeting Jesus and being touched at the deepest level, she, the ritually unclean one, stands tall. And the first thing she does is publically praise God in a place where only men are allowed to publically pray. No wonder Jesus caused trouble wherever he went.

So Fr Ken O’Riordan writes in the current Tablet. I’d encountered Ken’s creative opening up of the Bible before I came here ten years ago, and he was the Catholic parish priest here when I arrived; he read one of the lessons at my licensing service. Everything from the creation of the North East Lincolnshire Credit Union as Churches Together’s Jubilee Millennium project to the striking reordering of St Puis’ church seemed to be down to him.

He was writing out of the experience of attending another Anglican celebration, where he was also asked to read from the Bible, for the 25th anniversary of becoming a deaconess of the artist and priest Jean Lamb. By coincidence we have mutual friends with Jean, and the poor picture is of her superb Annunciation which is on one of our walls at home here: the exploratory touching across the divide which traditionally marks the middle of Annunciations is as eloquent as the fruit shaped space between the figures.

Ken writes from the experience of seeing this women priest standing tall as one whose ministry is touched by the Lord while knowing that his traditions and ordinances say that the issue of women’s ordination is not even open to discussion. I read with traditionalists crowding in on every side to denounce the ordination as Bishops of those who are either female or gay (or both), and with our Archbishop able publically to urge that they shouldn’t cause trouble without being able publically to urge gracious restraint on those who would even legislate to pursue such people to death.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Untie by love

Do not be disheartened, Peter; answer once, twice, yes three time. This threefold confession of love is necessary to recover what you lost three times by your fear. Untie by love the knot that you tied about yourself through fear.

I’m still dabbling in information about Augustinian Canons, as well as remembered this quotation from a sermon of St Augustine’s on which I used to focus often when I had a copy of it up on my study wall.

It turns out that the earliest of Henry I’s Augustinian foundations in Lincolnshire may well have been the one in Grimsby. Wellow Abbey a short distance from here stood where the present Abbey Road and Abbey Drives meet.

The neighbouring Grimsby and Clee churches were both theirs, as were those at Riby, Humberston, Tetney and others further way. In 1444 the Bishop directed that Clee should in future be served by a non-monastic priest rather than by one of the Canons, which is a clear indication of the way at least some of those churches were served over several hundred years before that.

There were also Augustinian Canonesses near by at St Leonard’s Priory near the present Nun’s Corner, and it is this house which held Little Coates (as well as Ravendale), appointing a priest to care for this parish ‘vicariously’. The tomb of a recumbent knight in Grimsby Parish Church today comes from this Priory.

One hopes that the direct and vicarious care of our local churches was more often marked by attention to St Augustine's Rule and sermons than the local drinking and gossip for which it appears the Canons of Wellow were denounced in 1386.

The picture is simply a closer look at the new trees outside St Michael’s.