Sunday 21 November 2010

Implicit values

The introduction of the new form of clergy tenure is not a neutral act. As we work in turn through the required processes of role description, ministerial development review, stating objectives and targeted professional training, and do so alongside provision for capability procedures, grievance procedures and redundancy, we buy into all the implicit values of a very specific form of modern personnel management.

This may all look very innocent - and an alternative to such safeguards of purposeless, unreflective ineffectual drifting is hardly to be commended - but every theologian knows very well how alien world views smuggle themselves in and distort our perceptions. We can see very clearly how often prevailing social norms have shaped aspects of minister’s self understanding and action in the past; I have an increasing dread that in my turn those who look back at me will marvel at my capitulation to a wider culture of everything from tight mission statements to line management as if it is all self evidently helpful, Christian and necessary.

This week our newish Curate was discussing Common Tenure, so, after she had gone, I dug out again some work which Professor Stephen Pattison (who was involved in my training in the 1980s) did in the 1990s. He had observed at first hand the unpleasant side effects of giving the necessary goods of management first place in the National Health Service. He tried to analyse what were the implicit values involved which most contentiously included

... a few of the fundamental beliefs and doctrines that seem to lie within much managerial practice:
the world and other people exist for the benefit of organisational survival, exploitation and expansion;
human beings can control the world and create a better future if they use the right techniques;
individuals must be subordinate to greater goals decided by their superiors;
relationships are fundamentally hierarchical and require clear lines of upward accountability and downward responsibility;
the nature and condition of work should be such as to extract the maximum from the employee;
everything worth doing can in some way be measured;
the future can be planned and colonised.

He doesn’t say that these understandings are implicit in all management practice, still less in most management theory, but he alerts us to how counter Gospel and even heretical anything which isolates narrow specific human perceptions, clarity, control and goals can be.

He doesn’t attack the integrity of most managers, still less the usefulness of taking care in organisation and planning, but he warns us that if we are going to use tools which have been shaped by often hidden secular assumptions then we ought at least to be fully aware that this is what we are doing.

I’m thankful that, for example, much of our ‘Ministerial Development Review’ language is about affirmation, episcopal awareness of the pressures we are under, encouragement, support, and vocational discernment and development. Nevertheless, I’m not sure that we see how dangerous or distorting it can be to deliver such things through processes some of which have not been developed for such purposes.

We saw the modern Green Man at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Half Term.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Taylor and Cordeaux

This tablet at St Nicolas’ is the only monument on the wall of any of our three churches which dates from before the twentieth century. The absence of others may indicate the modest means and status of most of the inhabitants of the three villages in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its presence has made me wonder from time to time who Richard Taylor might have been; his status and/or longevity in Great Coates or in the life of St Nicolas’ must have been enough for others to wish to commemorate him in this way.

I found him in the 1851 census. It says he was born at Gayton-le-Wold, was unmarried, lived in what the census spells as Cook Lane, and was one of seven farmers who lived in the parish. His was the largest farm (670 acres, employing fifteen men and boys; all but one of the other farms were half the size). There were eight employees living at the same address: a housekeeper, three young servants, a waggoner, and three farm labourers.

Richard Taylor’s twenty year old ‘nephew’ John Cordeaux was also living with him in 1851 as an ‘agricultural pupil’, and the 1861 census shows John (by then married with a five month old baby) has taken over the farm. I've found out no more about Richard Taylor, but John Cordeaux turns out to be of particular interest, partly because a listed estate cottage in Cooks Lane is called Cordeaux House today, and the name is also that of a Secondary School in Louth.

A family history website fills in the picture for John Cordeaux (1831-99) who turns out to have been one of the leading ornithologists of his day writing on issues like parasitology and migration. He cataloguing the birds of the Humber and his work provoked early surveys of the variations in bird numbers round the coast of Britain.

His mother was a Taylor and he developed his interest in nature when visiting her family in the Louth area. The Richard Taylor whose tenancy in Great Coates he took over was his great-uncle. John both farmed local land and went on to be Agent for Sutton Estates which owned most of the village (which would explain how his name became attached to an estate cottage).

Rod Collins’ website has a recent reference to his antiquarian discoveries and interests.

It is after his grandson Edward (1894-1963) that Cordeaux School in Louth is named. Edward was born in Great Coates but also ended up living in Louth. He had a distinguished war record (including a DSO) and ended up both a Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff for the county.

Monday 15 November 2010

Winter begins

The youngest of the walnut trees in St Nicolas' churchyard was only just clinging on to its last leaves when lit up by the low sun after Matins this morning.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Giotto's Bones

What from even quite close looks like a standard quality piece of thirteenth century stiff leaf capital moulding on the west front of Lincoln Cathedral, albeit the colour of the stone and the sharpness of its edges shows recent restoration, turns out on even closer inspection to be a replacement carved in the year that hunting was made illegal. The Subdean, who is also the Canon Pastor, pointed out the signature detail, which I had never noticed before, when hosting the annual gathering of the Canons Pastor from about half the English Cathedrals in the week.

I shared with them the material I’d trailed here on 7th August, and then observed and tried to feed back for them the way they are alive to the almost artistic balance in the contrasts, complexities, constraints and opportunities of their roles and that of the Cathedrals they serve. Being magnets for some of the most vulnerable people and for the most powerful, each appeared to be seeking to be alongside the development of faith and commitment for a whole variety of communities from significant groups of volunteers to regular congregations, from those with a tangential but nevertheless real sense that the building belongs to them to those who choose to come precisely because they don’t want to be bothered by people like a Canon Pastor.

Some of them expressed appreciation for the poem I blogged here on 31st May and for the sort of bible study I blogged here on 9th November 2008 and 6th March 2009 (which was obviously a nice response to have, although I was much more impressed by them) and I also enjoyed sharing a poem of Robert Bringhurst’s newly published in England about the investigation of the twisted mismatched bones of Giotto discovered in Florence Cathedral precisely where Vasari said the marker used to be speaking of the man who could make plaster dust and water, egg yolk, charcoal and red ochre hunker down and sing the blues by making a taut and perfect gesture with a splotched, disfigured hand.

Monday 1 November 2010