Friday 26 February 2010

Not suicidal yet

The situation we are in would naturally make some of us suicidal, but where there are people in the diocese who see this they either don’t say so or perhaps don’t quite ‘realise’ what they see.

This week we had one of the regular meetings of the Rural Deans for the northern half of the diocese. We asked about the purpose of the Candlemas Convocation and it seems I’d got the answer about right: there is an increasingly urgent message about radical change which needs to be communicated, heard and followed up. In fifteen years time, the projected number of stipendiary posts isn’t the ‘a hundred good new-style incumbents’ of The Way Ahead but something either side of half that number. At the same time, the effect of cumulative changes in attitudes in society, the use of Sunday, and the financial costs of our present structures are among many things which will make our traditional provision unsustainable anyway.

Surprise was expressed that some of us suggested that middle aged clergy felt under threat (would there be a job for us at all or which we could do in fifteen years time?) or failures (the level of collapse in numbers and structures is unfolding on our watch) or vulnerable (with everything from new competence procedures to the suspicion that there might not now be an adequate pension on which to retire). We were reassured that the main Convocation messages were precisely that the projected shortage of clergy would mean we would be in demand, the nature of the ‘paradigm shift’ around us isn’t any individual’s fault, and we should always step out in faith.

We were told about taking the Funeral of someone who had taken his own life having invested his family’s assets heavily (and on terms which required repayment over a relatively short period) in a traditionally equipped printing business just as it became apparent that the computer and digital revolution made most of such equipment and approach redundant. The conclusion was rightly drawn that we need to see the fundamental nature of the shift required of us now and act upon it. I'd have been more reassured if a further conclusion had been drawn about how some of the ones caught in this position must feel.

Having a few weeks ago got inside the joinery business in the redundant Oxford Street Mission / St Alban’s Church on the East Marsh, this week I took this blurred picture inside the removal business in the redundant St Barnabas’ Church which is next door to the Grimsby Royal Mail offices in an area depopulated in the 1960s; there are already over a dozen places in the Deanery where the Church of England has closed a church from St Mary’s in the town centre (demolished in the eighteenth century) to St Matthew’s, Fairfield (demolished this year).

Tuesday 23 February 2010

I didn't mean that

Some of the most quoted lines of poetry represent the opposite of what the poet meant.

I am reminded of this again and again as issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide are discussed. The line Thou shalt not kill, but need’st not strive officiously to keep alive is frequently deployed to suggest a total distinction between murder and a humane willingness to let a life come to an end.

But Arthur Clough was being ironic. He was tabulating a new set of ten commandments (The Latest Decalogue) in which the ‘common sense’ of the age neatly neuters the commandments.

Thou shalt have one God only; who
Would be at the expense of two?
No graven images may be
Worshipp'd, except the currency:
Swear not at all; for, for thy curse
Thine enemy is none the worse:
At church on Sunday to attend
Will serve to keep the world thy friend:
Honour thy parents; that is, all
From whom advancement may befall:
Thou shalt not kill; but need'st not strive
Officiously to keep alive:
Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rarely comes of it:
Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
When it's so lucrative to cheat:
Bear not false witness; let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly:
Thou shalt not covet; but tradition
Approves all forms of competition.

There are a lot of these misunderstandings about.

The other one about which I am most curious and most frequently reminded is that Philip Larkin thought that What will survive of us is love.

Actually I am not at all sure that this is what the last verse of An Arundel Tomb really suggests about the Knight and Lady holding hands.

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

That seems to me to be as likely to be saying that the sight of the tomb is almost enough to make us believe what he thinks is a falsehood.

Meanwhile, we spotted the machinery in the Cathedral last weekend.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Cartergate dig

Evidence of Roman occupation in central Grimsby has been unearthed for the first time. A ditch with infill which includes Roman deposits has been discovered off Cartergate where a dig has been going on ahead of redevelopment of the site. They opened up the site to locals for the day yesterday. It appears to show a farmstead rather than a settlement, and the likelihood is that (in addition to settlements known at Caistor and Kirmington) this level of occupation was widespread.

There is also, as expected, substantial mediaeval remains on the site. A prosperous row of houses may have stood where St James’ House now is, facing St James’ church. The site would be across the long plots behind those houses. It would also be across the plots at right angles behind later houses facing onto Chantry Lane.

The darker ring represents burnt remains from a single semi-industrial activity; the pit was then filled in with earth. Among huge number of specific finds is this thirteenth century jug of a style associated with Beverley but, since it shows signs of having been broken in the kiln, possibly evidence of similar style pottery being made locally.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Wrestling demons

I like best the figure who has got hold of a devil by the ear.

We began Half term with two nights away in London, squeezed in before having to be back in time for Ash Wednesday, and, among other things, we saw the new galleries at the V&A including the Gloucester Candlestick which I had not come across before.

In the middle of the twelfth century, in Lincolnshire Ormin was producing his English version of the weekly Gospel reading and in Gloucestershire someone else was seeking to represent light triumphing over darkness with these entwined figures.

Sunday 14 February 2010

The dark tarn dry

There is a quotation from Walter de la Mare on a gravestone at St Nicolas’, Great Coates, and the poem isn’t one I’d encountered before.

I haven’t quite got my mind round it, but I have an inkling that it is a different version of Job, Thomas Aquinas and others regarding their arguments, skills and thoughts as so much dust and straw once they had encountered God face to face. If so, I think it (and the choice of a quotation from it for a gravestone) is like Francis close to death wishing to meet it naked and on the bare earth.

... Though I should sit
By some tarn in the hills
Using its ink
As the spirit wills
To write of earth’s wonders
Its live, willed things,
Flit would the ages
On soundless wings
Ere unto Z
My pen drew nigh
... And still would remain
My wit to try -
My worn reeds broken
The dark tarn dry
All words forgotten -
Thou Lord and I.

The poem is called The Scribe, but the grave is not that of a scribe but of an artist. Herbert Rollett was a Grimsby grocer who had exhibited several years running at the Royal Academy in the 1920s (first with a picture of St Michael’s, Little Coates, which I would now dearly like to see), and who retired to a bungalow in Great Coates.

I stumbled across a new website about him at [new link] and enjoyed the discovery before I realised that he was buried in one of our churchyards, let alone that he had chosen such an allusive and eloquent epitaph.

And an element of the recognition for me was that we read a different de la Mare poem at my father’s funeral fourteen years, one which he had valued and written out himself.

The Scribe begins with an artist’s awareness of

What lovely things
Thy hand hath made:
The smooth-plumed bird
In its emerald shade

The seed of the grass,
The speck of the stone...

and Fare well finishes by inviting our appreciation of both such things and of what they have meant to those we bury:

Oh, when this my dust surrenders
Hand, foot, lip to dust again,
May these loved and loving faces
Please other men.
May the rusting hedgerow
Still the traveller’s joy entwine
And as happy children gather
Posies once mine.

Look thy last on all things lovely every
Every hour. Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou hast paid thy utmost blessing
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
In other days.

But the later part of The Scribe takes this on in a different way. It means that the calls on the eve of this Lent seem to be not only to savour beauty but also to be ready to lay it aside, and to hold the two calls not in tension but woven together.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Three dimensions

I’m not very good at being fair about those with whom I disagree. This was brought home again when reading the Presidential Address which the Archbishop of Canterbury has just given to the General Synod.

There is much more to his argument and leadership than these extracts cover, but the early part of the address includes:

Questions are not best addressed in the megaphone tones we are all too used to hearing... They require a three-dimensional approach.

The debate over the status and vocational possibilities of LGBT people in the Church is not helped by ignoring the existing facts, which include many regular worshippers of gay or lesbian orientation and many sacrificial and exemplary priests who share this orientation....

Equally, there are ways of speaking about the assisted suicide debate that treat its proponents as universally enthusiasts for eugenics and forced euthanasia, and its opponents as heartless sadists, sacrificing ordinary human pity to ideological purity...

Our job is... to find ways of deciding such contested issues that do not simply write off the others in the debate as negligible, morally or spiritually unserious or without moral claims.

Something of that tragic awareness is hard to avoid when we look at the decisions that face us in our church... [such as] the ordination of women as bishops...

For both many women in the debate and most if not all traditionalists, there is a strong feeling that the church overall is not listening to how they are defining for themselves the position they occupy, the standards to which they hold themselves accountable. What they hear is the rest of the church saying, "Of course we want you – but exclusively on our terms, not yours"; which translates in the ears of many as '"We don't actually want you at all."

Later in the address he gave these examples:

The week before last, I spent a morning in the parish of St Ann's, south Bronx, in New York, one of the most violent and impoverished communities in the city. I watched them feeding several hundred people, I was taken to the after-school club where local children learn the literacy and other skills they don't get in their public schools. I spoke with an astonishing Hispanic woman who has single-handedly created a campaign against gun crime in the Bronx that seeks to bring a million women on to the streets, and I saw how prayer unobtrusively shaped every aspect of this work and how people were introduced to Jesus Christ. And I was reminded of another parish in New Orleans that I visited a couple of years ago – a local church planted as a result of the relief work of the Diocese, when local people begged for a church to be opened because they had seen the love of Christ in the work done with and for them. Three-dimensionality in the Episcopal church which some are tempted to dismiss as no more than a liberal talking shop. I've no doubt similar stories could be told of parishes in the ACNA.

And then I think of a telephone conversation in December with the Archbishop of Uganda, discussing what was being done by Ugandan Anglicans in the devastated north of the country – in the rehabilitation of child soldiers and the continuing, intensely demanding work with all victims of trauma in that appalling situation, work that no one else is doing or is trusted to do; and the ongoing work of care for those with HIV, where the Uganda church was in the forefront of African responses to that crisis. Three-dimensionality in a church that has been caricatured as passionately homophobic and obsessed with narrow Biblicism.

The picture is of the recently restored Romanesque frieze on the west front of Lincoln Cathedral.

Monday 8 February 2010

From Bethel to Caxton

The picture of Bethel Primitive Methodist Church (opened in 1859) with its Sunday School on the left (opened 1883) is from the brochure produced for the annual national Primitive Methodist Church Conference held in 1899. The picture of the Caxton Theatre with the Buffs Club on the left is one taken this year.

If it is not instantly obvious that we are looking at the same site, the foundation stone at the bottom right of the Sunday School / Club secures the link, and if you go round the back you can find the same semi-circular window at the top of that part of the building.

The Chapel closed in the 1930s and became a cinema, first the Premier (which burnt down) and then the Plaza (which is the present building, which had a period as a car show room and an electrical retailer before being taken on by the Caxton Players in the 1980s).

A search for ‘Plaza Cinema’ at brings up two pictures which link through the changes. In one of the Premier Cinema, the pediment of the old chapel is still clear above and well behind the front of the cinema on the street. The one of the Plaza Cinema shows the old Sunday School frontage unchanged next door, at that stage being the Enginemen’s Club and Institute.

On page 33 of Janet Tierney’s book of Grimsby in old photographs a quiet different chapel (with a ‘Primitive Methodist Chapel 1864’ stone above the door) is labelled as a c 1870s picture of the chapel where the cinemas were to be built. Either this building had to be replaced some time in the 1870s or 1880s (for which we can’t find any evidence) or it is wrongly labelled.

Those who have access to the book will find that the picture of Cleethorpes Road on the opposite page labelled as mid-20s gives a side view of the front of the Sunday School / Club and then the Premier Cinema, and again the straight line of the old chapel roof is visible set a way back from the road.

Friday 5 February 2010

Convocation continued

I’m now not sure what the purpose of the Candlemas Convocation was.

I’d got the impression in advance that the Bishop wanted to consult with us and reassure us about the combined impact on stipendiary ministers of things like new tenure arrangements, new pension arrangements and his ‘The Way Ahead’ document.

But less was presented about tenure than could be summarised on a single briefing sheet, apologies were given that the final details of new pension arrangements were not yet agreed, and ‘The Way Ahead’ hadn’t been mentioned by the time I slipped away at 3 o’clock. And consultation was limited to one brief opportunity for open responses and the specific group work task reported in the last post.

I suppose the impression I have afterwards was that the purpose was to present and drive home a message.

Extraordinarily enough the message was very close to the one I presented to this deanery in 2007, a version of which appeared on one of the earliest posts in this blog (putting ‘Too many churches?’ into the search box at the top took me there, just as putting ‘The Way Ahead’ took me back six months to my first post about that).

Things are changing fast. Not so much‘many things are changing and quite a lot of them are doing so quickly’ as ‘there has been an acceleration in fundamental societal changes (which used to take epochs, then centuries, then decades but which now are even faster than that) and the factors influencing change in the church are pressing at the same speed (whether you view them as a process of decline or as 'the working through of a paradigm change') ’.

So the gradualist adaptive planning changes we’ve been making in the diocese in the last few years won’t do any longer. I think that was it. Not so much consultation and reassurance as a definite message and a call to be faithful. The gradualist adaptive planning changes we’ve been making in the diocese in the last few years won’t do any longer.

I took the picture in the churchyard in Bradley village yesterday when trying to use an inadequate churchyard plan to help a family identify an unmarked grave from the 1950s and 60s into which they wish to place the cremated remains of a relative (which is a task the then full-time Vicar for the village might have been able to give substantial time, but isn’t an example of the radical new style of ministry to which I think I’m being urged).

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Candlemas Convocation

Come the collapse of the present parish system (it wasn’t put quite like that), what three things would stipendiary clergy welcome leaving behind, and what three things would we want to make sure we carried forward? This was the group work task put this afternoon at the special gathering of almost all the stipendiary clergy in the diocese. If there was one third of the number of us working in fifteen years time (which was the projection shared) what approach would we need to be taking?

'Leaving behind' isn’t difficult. Alongside the running of church buildings, churchyards and parishes which need not be seen as prietsly tasks at all, there are a range of administrative tasks which are legally tied in with being a Parish Priest. I was asked if I had time to stay after the service when I celebrated the Eucharist for one small self sufficient parish recently, and they didn’t then ask to use any liturgical, pastoral or theological expertise I might have to add value to what they were doing. In this case it turned out that they needed me to copy across and certify information about the identity of several lay leaders onto Criminal Record Bureau forms.

'Taking forward' had a simplicity about it for the group I was in as well. We used the end of Acts 2: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. We’d like to be used as missioners and to engage with people in theological exploration. We wouldn’t want to lose the human and community relationships which underpin parish ministry at the moment. We’d be lost without being people of sacraments and prayer.

The picture is a detail from above the doorway over the passage to the left of the building which was used between 1888 and 1918 as the mission room (which came to be called St Alban’s Mission Church) in Oxford Street in the parish of St John’s, New Clee.