Wednesday 31 March 2010

Loving us so much

Magopa, a village to the west of Johannesburg, was to be demolished and its inhabitants forcibly removed at gunpoint to a homeland in apartheid’s forced population removal schemes. On the eve of the departure, a vigil of church leaders from all over South Africa was held at Magopa. The village clinics, shops, schools and churches had already been demolished. At about midnight an elder of the doomed village got up to pray and he prayed a strange prayer that I will never forget. He said, ‘God, thanks you for loving us so much’.

The quotation comes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s An African Prayer Book. I was as struck by the Elder’s prayer as anyone, but, thinking about it, I don’t think it is as strange as it first appears.

At each Eucharist we say it is ‘right to give thanks and praise’, and often add that this is appropriate ‘always and everywhere’, which isn’t an English reminder that it is polite to say ‘thank you’ but a fundamental reorientation around the text most regularly read at funerals ‘I am persuaded that there is nothing in all creation which will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ’.

The idea that it is right to give thanks and praise always and everywhere is worn so smooth by our regular use of it that we hardly notice that it is saying it is right to give thanks and praise even as the worst things close in around us.

At the Eucharist we also often speak of what we remember happening ‘on the night he was betrayed’, which isn’t an historic reference helpfully associating our remembrance with the Last Supper but an essential reminder that Jesus was not saying ‘the institution of the sacrament is the last bit of the project I need to put in place before the unpleasantness of tomorrow after which we will have the resurrection and church and everything is going to be alright’.

The idea that this happened in the night in which he was being betrayed is worn so smooth by our regular use of it that we hardly notice it is saying that Jesus did this as everything he had begun was collapsing around him.

A guru, who had come from a village just outside Jerusalem, was to be forcibly removed at swordpoint and almost immediately executed as part of Rome’s systematic population control schemes. On the eve of his arrest, a vigil of his closest followers was held in Jerusalem. The one who was to betray him had already put the arrangements in hand and the guru could see for certain that he would be deserted, humiliated and killed. At about midnight the guru whose life was doomed and the future of whose worked appeared nil got up to pray and he prayed a strange prayer which has never been forgotten. He took bread and wine and said ‘God, thank you for loving us to much’.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Still as poor as before

From St Nicolas', this picture is from a few weeks ago; we hope that a blacksmith will be along to repair the churchyard fence perhaps in the next few days.

From St Michael's, the messages we have had most recently from the parish we support in Zimbabwe include these bits which we've extracted for our Easter notice sheet:

The maize we planted is doing well and most people who received the seed say so. If the rains continue we are going to harvest something. Please don't forget us in your prayers.

From a short report about our country by Inclusive Government one would think that the situation has changed but families are still as poor as before if not worse. Parents fail to feed their children, the schools have failed to open as teachers are demanding a living wage, and our country still has no money of its own.

Around G most of us will have a good harvest but it is sad that most of people in N District their crops are a write off as people did not get enough rain in their fields.

Thank you for the wonderful donation which you sent. Without your great help we wonder where we will be by now. May God bless you all.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Annunciation light

For the feast of the Annunciation today, here is the light spilling out of the Annunciation window in St Nicolas’ earlier this week; I can imagine that this is approximately what a visit from an angel might look like.

For St Michael’s the day has been marked by the funeral of Jean Oldham, a gentle and dedicated member of the congregation for over forty years whose life made a difference to a whole range of people in her family and further away; the church is rarely so full of affection, hope, people, sadness or refreshments.

And it has had me thinking of Africa again in a way Grimsby funerals do not usually do.

As a Grimsby girl married to someone on a RAF posting in Kenya for a year, Jean worked as a Secretary for the Postmaster General in Nairobi in the early 1960s. We had a set of Kenya’s independence stamps on display in church for the funeral, the set being the one given to her and inscribed with thanks for her work without which they would not have been produced on time.

As a church member in the 1970s, Jean was only a few doors away from a Zimbabwean priest who spent a year in the parish (messages from whom have been posted her before). She was the one who went into their house to support him and his wife in coping with an English home. Twenty-five years later, when I arrived in the parish, she was still one of those behind fund raising for him, regularly asking after him, and sharing news of him with another supporting parish near Slough.

If only incarnation light spilt out like this from more of us more of the time.

Monday 22 March 2010

To fell and to plant

The Council has been back to remove the stump of the tree it cut down a little while ago at the entrance to St Nicolas' churchyard...

... and has also unexpectedly been busy planting a new hedge along the green on the lay-by outside the entrance to St Michael's churchyard.

The green is part of a large field (called Chapel Field) which was part of the Farm bought by the Golf Club in the 1920s, a corner of which was bought by the Council in (I think) the 1950s to straighten the road.

Both St George's and St Nicolas' remain responsible for the management of the trees within their churchyards, although neither has the money or plans which would be needed to do things like further work to tidy up felled horse chestnuts at St George's or begin on some tree management work which some people would like at St Nicolas'.

And the question of the ownership of at least part of the lay-by (which is the route of the road before it was straightened) remains unresolved; the Council official who last wrote to me on 28th September was going to write back to me once some more research had been done but hasn't yet done so.

Watching these things oughtn't to concern me, but they do in fact add to the gnawing low grade background fear I have about which area of unexpected expenditure is going to hit one of the churches next.

Friday 19 March 2010

Blow Wells

Our local Blow Wells may be what is causing flooding problems around Kingston Wood tucked away in one corner of the parish.

Blow Wells are pools created by water being forced up through cracks from chalk strata below. Large quantities of water can be harvested from them by artesian boring. Those a few miles away at Tetney are a well known nature haven and are still a source of commercial water supply. The Little Coates ones are hardly known at all, but Blow Wells Close is the name of one of the fields on an eighteenth century map and the Wells themselves are shown on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps at the same position.

They came to be exploited by the Grimsby Water Works Company with artesian bores which are three miles deep. Two of the eleven households in the parish in 1881 had the address The Waterworks; both Heads of Household are listed as ‘Engine Drivers’, and the steam engine concerned pumped water to a reservoir at Scartho. There is a prominent much later and now redundant concrete water tower on the site today (it is just visible in the photograph in the previous post), and the site is still owned and used by Anglian Water which I guess is a successor body for that original Company.

The minutes of the first meeting of the Yarborough Action Group came into my Inbox yesterday. The possibility of beginning a new ‘Forward’ for the Ward as part of the Neighbourhood Management process has been mentioned here before, and the Action Group is what has resulted. Organisations like North East Lincolnshire Council are pledged to report back on concerns raised. I hadn’t been free when the meeting took place, and I will not be free for the second meeting which I now see is scheduled for Maundy Thursday evening.

One of the concerns raised is flooding killing trees in the Wood and extending into neighbouring gardens. It is speculated that pumping might have stopped a few years ago leading to the problem. I went and took the picture this morning, and this pool looks as if it is exactly on the site of one of the Blow Wells in the early Ordnance Survey maps. The picture is taken looking south, and the houses beyond are the easternmost on Cambridge Park.

I wait to learn what is reported back to the Yarborough Action Group and whether the explanation is that the Blow Wells are reverting to their natural state.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Building coalitions

Puzzling away at how to engage the local parishes positively about the rate of change we now appear to face. The danger with stark confrontation is that it might produce denial or despair. The danger with ducking this is that it might not produce real awareness or action anyway.

We had our periodic Mission Area Planning (MAP) Group last night, with a representative from each of eight of the ten parishes in the Deanery. It noted that our present plan and budget is likely to produce an unexpected surplus in 2010 but nevertheless may not be workable by 2015.

The Group didn’t see initiating another round of formal discussions at PCCs and Deanery Synod as likely to take things forward freshly and purposefully. Instead it rather thought that we should get small groups here and there to see the point, akin I suppose to the Bishop’s language of ‘coalitions of the willing’.

The challenge would be to design, say, three sessions for those house groups willing to look at them this autumn or for parishes willing to run a study course then. The idea would then be to offer an opportunity when all these groups could come back together to feed back to each other, although the greatest impact would be if any perspective they develop ‘infiltrates’ discussions which will happen at places like PCCs and Deanery Synods.

I’ve written before of the way in which small churches like St Francis’ and St John & Stephen’s do in fact already have a plan about how to be potentially self sufficient ‘cells’ with limited external oversight and support from stipendiary clergy. A pattern of a small number of larger core churches each with a stipendiary priest and each with a few such cells around them would be one imaginable possibility for our future here. It would stands a chance of being both a vehicle for mission and retain some sense of visible Church of England presence in perhaps a dozen places including the more vulnerable parts of the area.

Meanwhile, this picture helps me orientate myself round the old postcard view from the Chapman monument in St Michael’s churchyard (which is there in the middle of the picture). The Farmhouse / Golf Club is hidden by trees but would be right of the large block which is the Hotel Elizabeth / Humber Royal. If the blobs in the old picture are actually haystacks or something similar they would be roughly on the hotel site. Toothill roundabout would be just left of the line of sight on the water tower. The view doesn’t then continue as far left as the old picture.

Saturday 13 March 2010

Passing the time

The monument to Docea Chapman in St Michael's churchyard has been mentioned here before (put 'Chapman' into the Search at the top of the page if you want to) and now my wife has found this postcard on eBay. It illustrates as clearly as anything can the way in which a hundred years ago St Michael's was in the middle of the countryside; the census ten years before Docea Chapman died gives eleven dwellings in the parish. The smudge on the horizon to the left may be Grimsby (we calculate it is on the correct bearing for St James'). The building on the right is Littlecoates Farmhouse which was the largest of the eleven dwellings and is now the main building for Grimsby Golf Club. We wonder whether the higher ground immediately to the left of the Farmhouse is Toot Hill in the process of being quarried for sand for building (which would be the white blobs), a process which was well under way ten years after she died.

We've also been tracing the line of the South Field Drain (mentioned here at the beginning of the month) and we find that this inspection cover in the middle of Littlefield Lane by the entrance to Landeck Avenue is a place at which you can actually hear it most clearly rushing along beneath you. This drain and another meet Piper Creek a short distance north, from where water flows on with Shaftesbury Avenue and Marklew Avenue built on top of Piper Creek and Marshall Avenue and Haycroft Avenue on top of the West Marsh or Haycroft Drain.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Rhetoric and Realities

Corporate Social Responsibility isn’t necessarily all it is cracked up to be. I’ve been back at the Humber Seafood Institute which is trying to run with this issue and sat in today on a mini-conference it was running for the Grimsby Institute’s MBA and MSc students.

Some isolated examples and some contributions to the conference suggested that CSR is the movement of private companies into an ethical paradigm, but most of the examples and input suggested this was wishful thinking. Most of what was said would still make sense if one assumes only that there is only one value-neutral business paradigm which is about the generation of profit within which ethical pressures are among the huge range of relevant factors only when they have the force of legal regulations or the financial penalty of consumer choice.

For example, our attention was drawn to the EU’s RARE (‘Rhetoric and Realities’) studies published last year. This appears to shows that a high percentage of those who label activities as CSR are really only doing so around issues of compliance or sustainability, both of which are sharply in the interests of the businesses concerned. Our attention was also drawn to local research which seems to place habit, convenience and price sensitivity much higher up consumer motivations than ethical considerations even among those who profess an ethical motivation.

As always such encounters challenges some casual assumptions. Where food packaging extends food life the balance of factors may be environmentally friendly. Where rigorous compliance is imposed on small businesses in the third world it excludes them from markets and it is difficult for any capacity building activity to dent this effect. Some narrow fair trade brands can compete with products which may have a greater developmental effect.

I took the picture in St George’s, Bradley before a Baptism on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Faith, hope and love

A classic theory of the mind (apparently) is that it is the seat of understanding, memory and will. St John of the Cross (according to the Archbishop of Canterbury) linked these with faith, hope and love. The Archbishop gave a lecture in Lincoln Cathedral yesterday morning, before presiding at the Eucharist in the afternoon on the centenary of the death of Bishop Edward King. He is in Grimsby this morning.

Where there is a crisis of confidence in our ability to understand, we are led into faith. It might be the point where we find our academic endeavour is not in the end sufficient for our purpose of seeking understanding. It might be the point at which society has too many competing claimants for being the source of truth. At these moments we can receive a gift of fresh awareness of the extent to which our trust in the dependability of God is much more akin to a relationship than it is to an enquiry.

Where there is a crisis of confidence in the concepts of history and identity fed by our memory, we are led into hope. It might be the point where our memory fails. It might be the point at which society manufactures or relies on partial stories to bolster its sense of identity. At these moments we must be patient and open to receive a gift of hope in the continuity of what God knows about our past and knows about our future which does not rely on the soundness of our memory.

Where there is a crisis of confidence in our choices and desires, we are led into love. It might be the point at which we find consumer choice a vapid selection from options which differ little from each other. It might be the point at which we see how satisfying our own appetites and inclinations depends on using or perhaps even harming or devaluing others. At these moments we are called into greater generosity, hospitality and love which does not begin with our own will.

So a church for the twenty-first century needs to be characterised by its dependence and dependability, its patience, and its hospitality. Not so much that it teaches clearly, has confidence, and does good. More that people detect a relationship with God, huge space for themselves to develop into the people God wants them to be, and being with others of infinite value.

Thursday 4 March 2010

What the church is for

CARE in North East Lincolnshire ( makes an extraordinary impact on social issues locally. It is a major contribution by evangelical churches and evangelical Christians (it uses the Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith) and those willing to work with them. It reopened its refurbished shop in Cleethorpes yesterday, and it was good to be invited (and to take a contribution from St Nicolas’ to the Daily Bread Food Larder which should have been delivered ages ago).

Here is their Patron (the Bishop of Grimsby) and Chair (the Pastor of the King’s Church) outside the shop. Here also is the local paper taking one of the three shots which recur in its pages - I spot often someone who doesn’t quite seem to have his or her heart in what the photographer has told a group to feel and do by looking glum, waving hands in the air or (in this case) pointing at something .

But I was reminded most of a memorable evening a few years ago when the then new Chief Executive of North East Lincolnshire Council came to the annual event organised by Churches Together in North East Lincolnshire. Around St James’ Church were stalls staffed by Christian organisations which who support the homeless and vulnerable locally.

CARE was there. So were those who provide hostels (Salvation Army and YMCA), day centres (Harbour Place), financial possibilities (Churches Together's Credit Union) - at least a dozen in all. The message about the role the church plays locally could not have been more explicit, something the Bishop pointed out again yesterday.

Monday 1 March 2010


We’ve been trying to follow the lines of some Grimsby drains.

Much of the town is built on marsh or around outlets and creeks. Most of these water courses have disappeared or been diverted or culverted. But their footprint (flowprint?) can often be detected or get in the way of developments. We enjoy the definite dip and slope in Laceby Road near Barry Avenue now that we know we are crossing Piper Creek (which formed the original Grimsby - Little Coates boundary). We point out to people the gap in the new extension at Strand Community School necessitated by the major East Marsh Drain crossing underneath the school playground at that point.

At the weekend I took this picture of the new culvert being put in at the Grimsby Institute in preparation for the new University Centre building there. We had spotted the fact that it follows the line of the stream which was reshaped into the South Field Drain. Armed with evidence from 1840 - a published picture of Nuns Farm with a river and small bridge in front of it and the Enclosure Map - we tracked the probable line of the Drain until it would have come across Bargate having passed behind a house in Eastwood Avenue which we noticed is called Brookside. People spend their time off in different ways.

And I remembered U A Fanthorpe’s poem Rising Damp about the lost rivers of London.

These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy...

which sometimes

... return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They infiltrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics...

and they bring to her mind

... other rivers that lie
Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface. We feel their tug
As a dowser’s rod bends to the source below:
Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.