Tuesday 31 August 2010


My colleague has been more badly hurt and the Inspiring Communities project less badly hurt than my last post before my holiday indicated.

Her hand has been more badly damaged than any of us imagined, other colleagues have been much more engaged in supporting and covering for her while I’ve been away than I realised while I was, and sorting such things out myself has taken more of my time in my first week back than people will have noticed. A little trying for us, but a real burden for her.

And I suspect that a great deal of pressure has been put on the Department for Communities and Local Government while I’ve been away, to which, in the absence of any further news, I added a further demanding e-mail soon after I returned. Three weeks after writing to say that we cannot expect funding for any work not contractually agreed at that point, a second letter arrives saying ‘we have now considered this further’ (an elegant choice of words) and that the agreement we have entered into with them will be honoured. We are not totally out of the woods - maximum savings are required of us and it says it will ‘actively support you in this task’ - but a revised and reduced programme is better than an abrupt termination. In particular, pupils returning to school this week will be able to begin activities and in some cases courses promised to them before their holiday.

Sunday 29 August 2010

Friday 27 August 2010

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Monday 23 August 2010

Saturday 21 August 2010

Thursday 12 August 2010

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Bleeding canker

One of my colleagues was hit and, in falling as a result, broke her arm badly in one of our churches yesterday evening. She was rehearsing a wedding when it seems a couple of men came in; the family chased them off, the groom administered first aid, and a Churchwarden came when called and spent a long time at A&E. Two men have since been arrested. We are all a little shaken by this (although not as much as my colleague is); it is not that long ago that the diocese urged us again to take all the obvious safety precautions, but there is an inevitable vulnerability being open and accessible doing our work.

This is not the only bad news of the day. We had to send out an e-mail to all the partners in the Inspiring Communities project to say the Government has suddenly ceased funding it and will only honour any expenditure from here on which results from an existing binding contractual agreement, which may not, for instance, include courses some school pupils are expecting to be part of their core provision at the beginning of the new academic year. When the programme had not been included in the earlier list of Government cuts we had assumed it would run its course until funding ended next Spring, but it turns out we were wrong.

So there is not much rejoicing as we begin a summer holiday. Meanwhile, an earlier sadness was the loss of several horse chestnuts in Bradley churchyard to bleeding canker, but some of those at Evensong on Sunday did think this stump and the growths on it had an ethereal beauty, so I went back yesterday and took these pictures of it.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Confessing Cathedral

The foundation of Lincoln Cathedral was an act of aggressive and controlling conquest and colonisation.

From time to time there are documentaries and historical novels which seek to show what would have happened had Nazi Germany won the Second World War: the conqueror’s language becomes that of everything from Government to Universities, institutions from the monarchy and Parliament downwards are run on puppet or direct German terms, and assets from Banks to country estates fall into the hands of invaders whether individually or corporately.

This is exactly the process began in 1066. People are familiar with the way in which all legal documents were issued in French (the use of the Saxon language quickly became viewed as vulgar) and an early survey of the whole country (‘The Doomsday Book’) reveals how most settlements once owned by someone with a Saxon name were already in the hands of someone with a French name.

People are less aware of the way taking over and reshaping the church was one of the earliest moves. The Saxon diocese of Dorchester-on-Thames (which had absorbed the earlier diocese of Lindsey, and thus stretched form the Thames to the Humber) was given one of the sponsors of the invasion as a new Bishop and had its headquarters moved to the other end of the diocese to a fortified city where both a Castle and Cathedral could be built next to each other.

So what looks to us today like a place of holy magnificence stood then as a symbol and tool of French control. Nothing like a ‘Confessing Church’ resisted this. Over the next few hundred years the international nature of the church and the power of the Gospel did enable holiness and challenge to the powerful to flourish and be expressed, but equally a place built to express and enact the will of successive dictators remained their instrument right through to the promotion of ethnic cleansing.

I love the place, its ministry and its potential, and I value highly the privilege of having a stall in it, yet somehow this love and valuing seems to me to demand an acknowledgement of this ‘other side’. I’ve been dwelling on the idea because one of my August projects has been getting some material together for the annual Conference of Canons Pastor of English Cathedrals which Lincoln hosts this autumn and to which I’ve been asked to contribute. How do they fare when the powerful (which may include at different times regular congregations and interest groups, the armed forces and the holders of heritage purse strings, among many others) claim their own?

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Amish ambush

The Amish may be giving fundamentalists a good name.

A review alerted me to the Channel 4 experiment of bringing some Amish teenagers to encounter some British ones. Channel 4 may have hoped for a spectacular audience enhancing clash. It may have anticipated previously enclosed young people kicking over the traces and embracing our freedoms. But that wasn’t what the review reported. It told of a chaste Amish young women telling a promiscuous inner city British contemporary that she would rather not have physical intimacy until she was married; ‘to tell you the truth neither would I’, was the unexpected reply from the young women who had perhaps simply been manipulated into her behaviour by the norms of her peers.

So I thought I’d have a look and caught just quarter of an hour of this week’s programme. They were in the countryside this time. The male rural teenagers speaking of getting wasted each weekend could perhaps have carried off their less than fully convincing bravado when colluding with their mates, but they seemed self conscious trying to keep this up under the unmoved and uncomprehending gaze of their far from naive female auditor. She simply asked whether it would be a good idea to stop and thus set an example to the slightly younger teenagers who wouldn’t then feel they had to follow the same route. ‘It probably would be,’ was the slightly shame faced reply.

In each case our teenagers were simply reporting and replicating ‘what everyone does’ and, although it can’t be as simple as this, it appeared that all that was needed was for someone totally other to counter this for them to make them feel and express dissatisfaction with the meaninglessness of the situation into which they had been trapped.

I’m reminded of the moment in an earlier such documentary when an unlikely group of young man were sent to live in a monastery. Some of them had slipped out to the pub. The Abbot came to reflect on this with them, rather than deliver the remonstration which would have increased the television ratings. ‘Would you prefer to be ruled by your personal appetites, society's customs and your ingrained habits,’ he asked, ‘or would you like to be set free by following the Rule?’.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Need for identity?

Seeing how mistaken it is to place value on people by their contribution, gifts or response confirms an instinct about the full humanity of the stillborn (my reflection on 26th July) but may also help make sense when faced with dementia (my post on 14th July, where I was puzzled by the absence of significant theological reflection on the predicament).

I now keep noticing that there are in fact people visible wrestling with the issue. Last month, the Church Times had a composite review of three books, one of which I’ve ordered, and another Blog quoted Christian Bryden (who has Alzheimer’s) making just this point in a newsletter of a Scottish Churches’ project:

Where does this journey begin and at what stage can you deny me my selfhood and my spirituality? As I lose my identity in the world around me, which is so anxious to define me by what I say or do rather than who I am, I can seek an identity by simply being me, a person created in the image of God. My spiritual self is reflected in the divine and given meaning as a transcendent being.

As I travel towards the dissolution of myself, my personality, my very ‘essence’, my relationship with God needs increasing support from you, my other in the body of Christ. Don’t abandon me at any stage… sing alongside me, touch me, pray with me, reassure me of your presence… I may not be able to affirm you, to remember who you are or whether you have visited me. But you have brought Christ to me. If I enjoy your visit, why must I remember it? Why must I remember who you are? Is it to satisfy your own need for identity? If I forget a pleasant memory it does not mean it was not important to me.

Meanwhile, although my mother does not have dementia, her new doctor’s changes to her medication has made her much brighter, and at the moment the walnut tree by the entrance to St Nicolas’ churchyard is heavy with what appears to be fruit.