Thursday 29 December 2011

Poetry progress

David Overton, a local musician, has set my words from the Orumulum (posted here on 6th January 2010) as an anthem, which the choir at Grimsby Minister sang for the first time at a mid-week Evensong before Christmas. It has a lovely mediaeval feeling lilt to it. David’s father was Organist at St Michael’s for many years and I remember visiting him in his Abbeyfield House room soon after I arrived here. David’s own credits include arranging music for James Galway, and he is himself a member of the Minster’s choir.

Meanwhile, I have got about half way through my project of re-telling the three dozen or so poems of Earl Rognvaldr from the Orkneyinga Saga (begun with the Grimsby poem posted here on 11th September 2011).

For example, Prof Judith Jesch’s literal “Here I’ve raised a high cairn to a strong minded ghost in dark Dollsteinshola; in this way I look for rings - I do not know who among the pushers of wave-skis [a kenning for sailors] will go later the long and ugly way, the route across the broad lake” has become

We pile up stones to mask our fear
and keep the cave’s strong ghouls away
who in the deep of Doll’s dark hole
maintain their grip on rings of gold.

We pile up stones to mark our feat:
perhaps some men will skim the sea
and then on this our awful route
will find our cairn already built.

Her “I hang a snake of the bridge of the hawk [a kenning for arm-ring built on a kenning for arm] made round by the hammer on the gallows of the tongs [another kenning for arm]; we reveal the drink of Grimnir of hanged ones [a kenning for poetry built on a kenning for Odin] - The fir-tree of the gleaming-voice of the Gautar of the cave [a kenning for women built on a kenning for gold built in turn on a kenning for giants] has gladdened me so much that I play with my hollows of the backward-bending feller of the lagoon [a kenning for oar built on a kenning for hand]” has become

Hands which swung felled-trees through water
stroke the gold that snakes in loops
where the hunter’s hawk last rested,
stroke the gold once executed
by such hammer wielding hands.

Drink with me, great God of all fate,
sing of one tree-tall-slender,
sing of her bright treasure-bearing,
delight with me at all her splendour,
sing, and to her beauty drink.

And her “Einarr said that he wished to entertain none of the followers of Rognvald except the jarl himself; the roaring sea of Gauter [a kenning for poetry] comes to my palate – I know that [the one] not amiable to men overturned his promises; I went in where the fires of Yggr [a kenning for swords] burned late in the evening” has become

In my speech the storm surge sings
of Einar set to lure me in
at whose farm the forge fire flames
with burning swords and twisting claims.

Thursday 22 December 2011

History of Bradley

A little while ago, I did a sheet for St George's with a paragraph for every century for the last thousand years.  This week the Chair of the Parish Council asked whether I had anything similar for the village itself.  I didn't realsie how much I'd picked up over the last twelve years, but, with a little help from books on my shelves and the obvious places on the web, I was able to come up with the following initial draft.  I took the picture is the churchyard cross this morning.

Before 1000. We don’t know when the first settlement took place here, but the name (perhaps‘broad wood’ or ‘wide clearing’) dates from before the Vikings came and established or took over a port at ‘Grim’s by’.

1000s. In the Domesday Book, Laceby (apparently the Manor centre), Bradley and Scartho are listed together. Anglo-Saxon Swein, Erik and Tosti held most land, one of the Conqueror’s brother’s had taken some, and nearly a hundred others (‘villans, bordars and sokemen’) had tiny bits. The Manor had some interests in Grimsby, Clee and the Clee thorpes.

1100s. The name Bradley was used as the name of the meeting-place for a wider ‘wapentake’ (roughly a ‘weapon take’ - the administrative sub-division of the shire from which things like military service or tax could be required). It is just possible that the stump of a mediaeval cross in the grounds of the present Manor house is associated with this.

1200s. Ralph of Bradley was paid for materials for building the King’s castle in Grimsby, that he later killed a man in Grimsby, and that his son Geoffrey was at the siege of Lincoln. (References in the Gillett History of Grimsby.)

1300s. It is likley that the Black Death dramatically reduced the population of the parish, and there was evidence of an old village site in the fields south of the present Manor site.

1400s. The Borough of Grimsby owning the Manor of Bradley, on which Lord Wells had claims, and which the Wright family was to ‘wrest from them’. (References in the Gillett History of Grimsby.)

1500s. There is no real evidence for the well loved story that Henry VIII hunted boar in Bradley Woods when he stayed at Thornton Abbey in the 1540s. From the 1580s a James Wright was systematically buying up the Manor and lands (at that time divided into nine parts), some of it known as “Lord Well’s Manor”.

1600s. Hustwaite Wright buys a further two portion of the Manor in 1626. He sells the whole Manor to Richard Nelthorpe in 1633, and both are held criminally responsible for depopulating the village soon afterwards. The Nelthorpes (of Scawby) later acquire things like the woods and the patronage of the church, and the family owned the land for nearly three hundred years. The present Manor House is built in the 1680s (although it contains some features of an earlier house).

1700s. The land was formally ‘enclosed’ (parcelled together into fields suitable for modern agriculture) at the beginning of the eighteenth century, but only eleven families lived in the parish in the 1720s. (References in Ellis & Crowther’s Humber Perspectives.)

1800s. Modern census returns finally bring all the villagers to light. In 1851 there are nineteen houses (two uninhabited). Apart from five farmers (William Phillipson had most land, Samuel Gooseman lived at the Manor, and there was Robert Richardson and both a John Kirk and a Thomas Kirk) and a number of agricultural labourers, the only other ‘heads of household’ are the Rector (ecclesiastical reform had just led to the building of a new Rectory for a resident parson in 1849) and a Grocer.

1900s. In 1914 the Nelthorpes sold their 1 500 acre Bradley estate for £35 500; the Borough Grimsby bought what is now Bradley Playing Fields (at that time it wanted the land for a future cemetery) and Bradley Woods (for public use). First residential developments were at ‘Bradley Hollow’ (along Laceby Road) and this part of the parish (along with the whole of the parishes of Little Coates and Scartho) became part of the Borough of Grimsby in the 1920s. Most of the sixty or so houses in the remaining village have been built since then - even in the 1940s the arrow on the road pointing ‘to the village’ on a plan of the churchyard points south, and the suburban developments along Bradley Road and the first part of Church Lane are post-War.

Monday 19 December 2011

A Very Heavy Christmas

She isn’t actually biting Rudolph’s head off. This is the answer I had already prepared should this publicity shot have fallen into the hands of the less sympathetic parts of the media.

The picture is of our Curate. She is possibly the first one the parish has had who is a Heavy Metal fan. She also did some writing while training for ordination about the unexpectedly large number of similarities between Christian community and Heavy Metal festival communities. This means she was in her element when a different sort of Carol Service was suggested for Grimsby.

A new active leader of the local YMCA has been gathering an ecumenical group to plan engagement activities with young people in the town for a little while. It was from a member of this group that the suggestion of the Carol service emerged. Something like three hundred people were in the Minster at the weekend for A Very Heavy Christmas, with traditional carols rendered loudly by a live band, along with video clips, and George’s sermon, so they are clearly onto something.  There should be some of it up on You Tube soon.

We are seconding George one day a week to provide some chaplaincy at the local College of FE and HE, so I’d hoped the service and the chaplaincy would be to able to feed off each other fruitfully. I’ve also been encouraging her to take time out of the parish to work alongside those further away who are pioneering Heavy Metal ‘alternative worship’ and those who have been providing chaplaincy at some festivals.

Monday 12 December 2011

Drought and salt

The worst news is that there is the prospect of drought in south-western Zimbabwe. An e-mail yesterday from the parish we support there has this stark message. We have not received any significant rains and so we have not planted anything. Usually by this time of the year the maize crop should have grown up to 30 centimeters but this season there is absolute nothing. We hope the rains will come but now it seems like there is going to be a devastating drought.  We continue to pray for the rains.

Meanwhile, these deposits are appearing at an extraordinary rate on what were damp patches on the inside walls of St Michael’s. The encouraging suggestion (I hope it is true) is that, as the walls dry out following our recent work on the roof above them, these are salts which have until now been held in solution in the wall.

Monday 5 December 2011

Millionaires wanted

A ‘Secret Millionaire’ handed over £50 000 or so in Grimsby’s East Marsh area on the television last night; he was rightly impressed with quality of the individuals behind projects to support families with disabled children (which meets and was filmed in the school in which my wife teaches), to raise money for machinery to help those who suffer asthma (in memory of a child who died from an asthma attack), and to equip ‘difficult to reach’ young people in motor repair skills.

The East Marsh ‘scores’ as one of the most deprived Wards in the country, and the church based Shalom Youth project has been mentioned on this Blog before. Nevertheless it (and Grimsby as a whole) looks a great deal better than the backdrops the documentary makers chose for much of the programme on one disused part of the docks and a street boarded up ahead of regeneration redevelopment.

For me the most telling moment was when the leader of the Motor Project reacted with surprise to the cheque he was offered saying ‘This sort of thing doesn’t happen to us - usually funders come to look around, say how impressed they are, and we never hear from them again’.

I’m involved with a media project which has an outstanding record in engaging young people ‘not in employment education or training’ across the whole of North East Lincolnshire which has had a very similar experience, and I was briefing one of the Council’s Cabinet members about exactly this last week, so there is no surprise that the remark stood out for me.

I told her that it seems to me that, for voluntary groups, the level of professional application making, the time available to wait for responses and funding rounds, and the ability to respond to requests for detailed accountability thereafter, means that the smallest probably cannot access any Big Society related funding at all, the small invest a quite disproportionate amount of energy in doing so, only the biggest manage to do so by employing the specialist staff needed to do it well and systematically, and each stumbles from uncertainty about the future to uncertainty about the future.

On Friday the Council had a day ‘beginning a conversation’ about how it works with the voluntary sector in a rapidly changing climate (a climate which will include further major local cuts to come). This seems a good thing - although I’d rather hoped that the Council’s working with the local Voluntary Action organisation and its working through the Local Strategic Partnership might have made it think that a conversation was already under way. Our new Area Dean and the project worker at Grimsby Minster were both due to have been there, and I await with interest feed back from them to the local churches.

Meanwhile, the diocese has helpfully investigated how it might reconnect water just to the outside loo and external tap at St Nicolas’ Vicarage and I’ve just heard from that it has agreed to do so; such little steps bring delight enough even without a sufficient supply of spare secret millionaires.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Remembrance wreathes

We are all finding Remembrance better attended and better observed. At one time observations had shifted exclusively to the Sunday, and it might have been assumed that even this would fade as those with direct memories of the two World Wars died off. Now silence is being observed mid-week again, and things such as the repatriation of those killed in places such as Afghanistan is persistent in our consciousnesses.

At Great Coates we had a service at the village War Memorial for the first time in a number of years. I’d asked about this when I arrived twelve years ago and was told that those involved in the British Legion and in other ways joined in the larger commemorations in the centre of Grimsby so there was no call for a service in the village. Twelve years on and a particular request for this observation comes in, St Nicolas’ shifts its service an hour earlier to make way, and we find local radio wanting to do an interview, quite a number extra people attending what became the 9.30 a.m. service, and perhaps as many as a hundred people of all ages at the War Memorial at 11.00 a.m.

This week the wreathes laid then were moved from the private land by the War Memorial into the churchyard. The position was chosen because it is close to a number of graves associated with the World Wars - one of two standard Commonwealth War Grave Commission stones, commemorating Ernest Reeve who died as a result of the Second World War, can be seen at the back centre of the picture. The large memorial at the front is also a First World War war grave and I’ve just discovered (prompted by Rod Collins website) that the Herbert Lewis buried there died in the Lawn mental institution in Lincoln which makes me wonder whether he was a victim of shell shock.

I’d actually put together some basic information about all those named on the War Memorial or buried in the churchyard. The village magazine reproduced this and an updated copy of it is left out in church. I am gradually amending this as fresh information, such as that about Herbert Lewis, comes in.

Thursday 24 November 2011

St Nicolas' steps

Tree surgeons have been in St Nicolas’ churchyard for the last three days and have finally tidied up branches and whole trees in which dead wood had gradually accumulated or which had become dangerous last winter or which threatened to interfere with neighbours roofs. With this, and with the support of two volunteers (one long standing from Great Coates village, and one recruited this year through a local volunteering scheme), we have also been able to put the churchyard to bed for the winter in a safer and tidier manner than we might have hoped.

But, with two steps forward, there are also two steps backwards. The diocese has drained down the water in the empty Vicarage next door as required by its insurer to prevent burst pipes this winter suddenly depriving the church of the use a loo and an external tap. And the crack in the south aisle wall which we thought we’d put right earlier in the year has opened up again so we have had to get the Archdeacon’s permission to engage a structural engineer to make a more substantial investigation. Neither is that important in itself, but these sorts of things add to the slight sense the church has that the odds stack up against it.

Monday 21 November 2011

Caedmon's cross

I’ve been engaging with our Saturday evening alternative worship for the first time.  This monthly event has been the baby in turn of different colleagues until now, but, as they have each moved on, it is something I'd like to try to build up myself. There were just eleven of us there: five adults and six children; six of St Michael’s stalwarts and five people for whom this is their one regular service. It was St Hilda’s Day, so we recreated the memorial to Caedmon (the lay brother in her community who wrote the first surviving hymn in English). This involved climbing round on a nine foot high memorial in the churchyard here to measure it and get the size of our reproduction right before working together at our own version of the Whitby monument. Then we sat around it first to eat and then to pray.

Monday 14 November 2011

Dementia creativity

Conducting worship in Homes for the Elderly has become a much harder and more subtle task in the last few years. This was the clear message when most of the lay people from this parish who are involved in this ministry had supper together here recently.

The feeling was that the costs involved means that increasingly only those with acute needs are admitted. The experience shared was that ten years ago the majority of more able attenders at worship might assist the minority who found participation more difficult for physical or mental reasons, but that today those who find it difficult to follow what is going on are in the majority. The creative responses evident included much less reliance on printed sheets to follow.

One of those involved has been assisting with recollection events: discussions alongside props with those with dementia of childhood and domestic life activities. One suggestion which emerged was that we should work with what people might in similar circumstances say about things such as the Sunday School which they attended.

I shared some of the things blogged here in the past about dementia, including the false moves of valuing people by their attractiveness or accomplishments. I had also picked up a further recent reference to the weakness of our sometimes instinctive defining of personhood by memory itself: it was pointed out that there is much we forget and much false memory which we create, so that even defining personhood by what those of us without dementia remember is in some ways mistaken.

Although I had thought that offering some training opportunities might be a result of our evening, those involved, alongside these sorts of reflections, were able to share a whole range of their own exploring and resources, and one has already come back since to talk about subtle changes in her approach at the most recent such service as a result.

Meanwhile, the picture is an indication that the cracking between the tower and south aisle at St Nicolas’ has not been resolved by the remedial work earlier this year as we had thought, so we have a structural engineer booked to come and do more extensive (and no doubt expensive) investigation soon.

Friday 11 November 2011

Patron for fish filleters?

St Raphael ought to be much better celebrated in Grimsby - something which had never occurred to me before. We are already a principal home to the skill of individual filleters as well as to huge amounts of fish processing. He is certainly everywhere in Cordoba, and usually with a fish close at hand (wonderfully grasped by the gills in the top picture) from which he is able to make healing ointment. Perhaps I’ll start a campaign; it is a pity our ‘St Michael’s’ isn’t one of those known as ‘St Michael and All Angels’ to give me a head start.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Donna Nook today

The first seals in the annual breeding colony came ashore a couple of weeks ago; there is actually a splodge of afterbirth in the middle of the top picture.  We learnt that the deep scars round the neck of the adult in the middle picture come from being entangled in a net ten years ago, and that she has been easily recognised returning to about the same spot on the beach almost every year since.

Monday 7 November 2011

Meeting St Hugh

Lincoln has its own ‘widow’s mite’ story. The Swineherd of Stow gave his penny towards St Hugh’s rebuilding of the Cathedral; Hugh had one of his palaces at Stow. So the life size figures high up on the two pinnacles of the west front are the swineherd (north) and the saint (south).

Last week I had the opportunity to go up and meet Hugh (and look across at the swineherd) as scaffolding is up there for the first time since the 1930s. The masons think he is a statue from the 1700s, last repaired in the previous scaffolding of the pinnacle in the 1870s. He seems to be in good enough condition not to require attention this time beyond multiple layers of protective lime washing.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Bishop John Brown

We said farewell to Bishop John with strong Easter hymns this week. Few people really realised the stature of man living among them in his retirement in Cleethorpes, but then he was the last person to stand on stature.

Before I was born, he was serving in Jerusalem (there is something special about his having been ordained there) and becoming proficient in Arabic. Twenty-five years later, having served in Sudan and in Berkshire parishes, he was my Archdeacon (and may well have been the one at my ordination in Reading who read out the formal assurance I was a suitable candidate, but I don’t recall that sort of detail about the service).

Quite soon afterwards the Anglican Communion needed someone, ideally an Arabic speaker with rare diplomatic and leadership skills, to be Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, and it was on the then Archdeacon of Berkshire that they gratefully lit.

He served there for just eight years (1987-95), but those were the testing years of Terrie Waite’s captivity and release and of the Gulf War when the quality of our Bishop for the Arabian Peninsula was telling. At the thanksgiving service for his life this week people spoke of both his patient building up of the chaplaincies of the diocese and of his regular high-level encounters with the leaders of the countries across which they are scattered.

His knowledge of Arabic and local culture was crucial. He recalled one instance when he was aware of what was being said to him in Arabic (nothing less than a Muslim reflection on the theology of Martin Luther) was quite different to what the translator was attempting to express in English (not least because the translator misunderstood the subject to be Martin Luther King), and there must have been many others instances when his knowledge and careful attention was equally fruitful.

He was proud of being the subject of a fatwa - a formal religious opinion, patiently courted, which allowed Christian worship and the reopening after thirty years of Christ Church, Aden; it was for work in the clincic there that collections are being made in his memory.

He was a local lad who had sung in the choir at Old Clee, and his retiring back here was returning home (where, among other things, his elderly mother was still living), where he got stuck into bread and butter ministry without any pretensions (although, on feast days, in a spectacular pink cope); he often offering me as Rural Dean a range of Sundays when he simply hoped he might be quietly used.

A month ago, he called me over when he saw me pass the end of his cubicle in hospital.  He was being given blood because people were alarmed at his low blood count; his cancer was clearly running away at that point.  He was full of kindly enquiries and of understatements about his condition which he said he had been keeping quite. We heard that he had died when we were in Cordoba during Half Term, and the ancient Islamic art from there somehow makes an appropriate picture for this post.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Friday 21 October 2011

Catching up

I’ve been taking a bit of a rest from the internet; a productive fast which, among other things, has left more space to spend time with the poems in the Orkneyinga Saga. I don’t expect to be blogging again this month.

Among things I haven’t blogged about is having a Vicarage number listed in the phone book against not only the name of the Vicar and also the name of each of our three churches. Previously this has been provided for free. Now BT has written to say it will charge £167 a year if we want to continue - a little over £1 a week for each church name. I don’t think we’ll be doing that.

Then there is engagement with the local Hospice, providing some cover during the vacancy in the Chaplain’s post there. I was with a day group this week and was invited to stay for their relaxation exercise. We were taken through what was (of course) an entirely secular meditation a substantial part of which was attention to our breathing, and it was interesting to chat afterwards to the Complementary Therapist about what this appeared to have in common with some of the mediation and prayer technique of Buddhists and Christians.

And a trip to Lincoln for a Theological Society lecture on the Historical Jesus by Fr Joseph O’Hanlon. He made the point early that it is often observed that individuals’ reconstructions of the historical Jesus usually end up looking quite like themselves. He went on to dispute at length the pictures painted by a couple of other scholars, especially the Pope. He finished (answering the final question) by suggesting that we put aside the Gospels’ trial narratives as implausible and think instead that Jesus’ death was primarily the result of his disputes with other scholars and religious leaders.

The picture is another left over from Orkney in the summer.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Mary of the Cross

Sweet Mary, distraught

distraught and keening,
keening at the death,
the death of her child,
her child once taunted
taunted now herself,
herself at the place,

the place wet with blood,
with blood which now stains,
now stains her tears red,
tears red on her breast,
her breast tight with grief,
with grief like none since,

none since, Mary sweet.

I’ve followed up my interest in the Orkneyinga Saga by splashed out on the first published volume of the critical edition of Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages - it is Volume VII, published in 2007, and covers Poetry on Christian Subjects. This poem is my first go at writing or ‘translating’ something from it.

The original of the poem is verse 5 of the fourteenth century Heilagra Meyja Drapa (Poems on Holy Maidens) and the literal English rendering in the critical edition (by Prof Kirsten Wolf) preserves something of the way in which a version of the final word of each line is repeated at the beginning of the following line:

Sweet Mary, overcome with weeping
cried at the death of the son;
the conduct of the Jews mocked the woman;
the woman looked at the red cross.

The reddening stream of tears then flowed
and streamed down the mother;
the mother’s chest, tight with grief,
bore the grief like no one since.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Northern Progress

Henry VIII never came to Grimsby. This may seem an unnecessary statement since few people would think about the topic at all let alone believe he might have done. But a local seventeenth century antiquarian (Gervaise Hollis MP) briefly said that the King did so as part of his great Northern Progress of 1541, and from this single reference alone (it seems) romantic speculation continues to wash around including persistent references which I hear to the King hunting boar in Bradley Woods in this parish (the very boar which are on Grimsby’s coat of arms).

We went to a local Civic Society lecture in the week when the idea of his visit was firmly squashed, although both a questioner at the end of the lecture and a reporter in the local paper a few days later continued to treat it as an open question, indication enough of how attractive the idea seems to be and how difficult it is to let go.

The court records are clear and are all that is needed. His party (the 51 year old King, his new 21 year old wife indulging in sexual indiscretions on the way which were to cost her her head within a few months, the half of the Privy Council not left in London, and about four thousand retainers and soldiers) crossed the Humber from Hull to Barrow Haven on 5th October, stayed three nights at Thornton Abbey, and then three nights at Kettleby Hall (near Brigg and Caistor, the home of the Tyrwhit family one member of which was part of his household), and then on to other local Lincolnshire gentry at South Carlton and Nocton (either side of Lincoln).

The culprit for spreading Hollis’ misapprehension that the King stayed in Grimsby seems to be a nineteenth century clergyman, the Revd George Oliver, whose Ye Byrd of Grym combines as reliable history as he could manage in his own voice with flights of fancy based on it in the voice of a raven - at least this is the lecturer’s interpretation of Ye Byrd of Grym, and I’d be fascinated to follow it through. The raven gives a substantial account of what the King’s (non-existent) visit would have been like, and later writers copied him establishing the myth with substantial circumstantial detail.

The King’s only Northern Progress appears to have been part of an abortive attempt to meet and make peace with the King of Scotland at York (James V, his nephew, didn’t turn up), and to demonstrate authority over the gentry who had been on the edge of the Lincolnshire Rising in 1536 (another member of the Tyrwhit family was one of them) and the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1537.

His stay at Thornton intrigues me. The Abbey had been dissolved in 1539, put in trust with its former Prior, and re-established as a College for good works (with Dean and Prebendaries) perhaps in 1540 before his visit (the date on its seal) or in 1541 after his visit (the date on its Charter); the College, discussed in this Blog before, survived through his reign but was dissolved in 1547 as soon as his reign was over (when it was the Tyrwhit family which took the land).

What was it like staying at a recently dissolved Abbey with some of its former members? Was the King simply using a base for work (the Privy Council met each day he was there)? Did his stay help inspire, develop or secure the College foundation? Was it his personal interest which made him chose to visit (it certainly provided protection only as long as he lived)?

The picture was taken at some of my wife’s family graves in Aberdeenshire in August.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Saturday 24 September 2011

A higher gift than grace

‘A higher gift than grace’ is how Blessed John Henry Newman wrote about the incarnation (he puts the words into the mouths of angels in his poem The Dream of Gerontinus). This is how we sing of it when we use the relevant section of the poem as our hymn Praise to the holiest in the height. At least, most of us do.

At the licensing of our new Area Dean last week we sang instead ‘the highest gift of grace’. I heard the two Methodist Ministers who attended the service marvelling afterwards at the confidence of those willing to ‘correct’ Newman in this way. We suspected that the Fathers of the early Councils would have gone along with Newman's indication of the primacy of the physical incarnation over subsequent human experiences of grace, and anathematised a formulation which characterised the humanity of the Lord as if it had been conferred by grace however superlative its degree.

My books shelves and the internet haven’t proved sufficient tools to trace this one backwards. I find one evangelically edited hymn book already had 'the highest gift of grace' in 1982, so the amendment is not new and may well go back much further. I’m reminded that when Elgar set the long poem in 1900 many Anglican Cathedrals wouldn’t allow it to be sung or would only allow adapted versions of the text to be sung to avoid the Roman doctrines in it including that of purgatory, but I’d be surprised if this particular amendment goes back to those adaptions.

Several internet sources suggests a fear that Newman was really on about the Eucharist, which the context shows he patently was not. Certainly I see the official hymns books of the major Free Churches (Methodist and United Reformed) are happy to print what Newman wrote. Perhaps hymns for diocesan services are sourced from on-line hymnals the theological agenda of the editors of which the diocese hasn’t quite spotted.

The picture of the Lord with Mary and Martha is from Blankney Church and is one I took on a walk while on retreat at Metheringham recently.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Strange blessings

... famished field and blackened tree
Bear flowers in Eden never known.
Blossoms of grief and charity
Bloom in these darkened fields alone.
What had Eden ever to say
Of hope and faith and pity and love...?

The other Orcadian poet was Edwin Muir (who had tutored George Mackay Brown), and I spent some of my time on Retreat with him. In the process, I rediscovered this restatement of one important feature of the endless debate about the ‘problem of suffering’; it is close to something I’ve thought it important to try to express but have always struggled to do so satisfactorily

The thought cannot be thrown around too cheaply near those most grief-striken, yet in the Queen’s message about the 9/11 attack the line was, I think, ‘grief is the price we pay for love’, and here Muir invites us in to something similar.

The poem is One foot in Eden; the other foot, of course, being in this world as it is, and the two are (as the Gospel parable suggests) totally entwined:

... strange the fields that we have planted
So long with crops of love and hate.
Time’s handiwork by time are haunted,
And nothing now can separate
The corn and tares compactly grown...
Evil and good stand thick around
In the fields of charity and sin...

The poetic invitation is to see not simply that the two cannot now be separated but that eliminating the source of one would eliminate the source of the other.  So he ends

Strange blessings never in Paradise
Fall from those beclouded skies.

The picture was taken from Broch at Midhow on Rousay.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Scattering rose petals

The Church Times is less acerbic than I am.

A questioner recently wrote:

Why are brides suddenly demanding that the bridesmaids precede rather than follow then down the aisle? Should it be allowed? Should the priest lead the bridesmaids, or follow the bridesmaids and lead the bride? I think the latter, but brides have (crossly) told me to go in front of the bridesmaids so as not to impede the congregation’s view of the dress!

Among the replies printed this week was mine:

If the questioner made so much of a fuss about his own status and place, no wonder the bride was cross. Why do we get requests for bridesmaids go first? For the same reason school balls are now called ‘proms’: this is how the Americans do it. Where should the priest be? What about waiting at the chancel step smiling and ready to tell the bride how wonderful that dress looks (even if it doesn't)?

But this is an edited version of what I actually wrote:

If the questioner made so much of a fuss about his own status and place, no wonder the bride was cross. Why do we get requests for bridesmaids go first? For the same reason school balls are now called ‘proms’ and schedule is often pronounced 'skedule': this is how the Americans do it. Where should the priest be? What about waiting at the chancel step smiling, and ready to tell the bride how wonderful that dress looks (even if it doesn't)? What about (just this once, as a penance for putting an exclamation mark after 'so as not to impede the congregation's view of the dress') walking backwards before her scattering rose petals at her feet?

The picture was taken as the Bishop and clergy emerged from Grimsby Minister after the licensing of the new Priest-in-Charge and Area Dean yesterday.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Retreat sonnet

The Drawing Room, The Old Rectory, Metheringham
now the Community of St Francis’ Chapel

From throws of prayer, it seems ripples are born
which flow through bay window, retaining wall,
and wide expanse of leaf and twig strewn lawn,
to a strong circling boundary of tall trees
rippling in the light behind them, then borne
on to hints of a field, a path peopled
by those walking dogs or else come to mourn
at graves glimpsed beyond, and the setting sun.

The play of light dis-orientates, shorn
of the long grown coat of meaning found in
facing east, weaving something to be worn
facing west: the stone has moved behind us;
we are no longer looking for the dawn
but look across the waves the moving makes.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Kali's song

We’d wasted five weeks waiting,
our feet festering in filth.

mired in mud in the middle
of Grimsby, grimly grounded.

Now, let loose, we laugh aloud
on the gulls’ moor’s mounds, mounted
on elk-back, bounding breakers,
our bow’s beak set on Bergen.

I’ve come up with this version of the earliest poem to mention Grimsby. It comes from the twelfth century Icelandic Orkneyinga Saga, the history of the Jarls of Orkney. We have been reading everything from this to the contemporary poetry of George Mackay Brown - we take our holidays that seriously! It was fun stumbling on a reference (albeit not a totally complimentary one) to our home town.

The original has what I learn are called ‘kennings’, almost crossword clues. So, instead of ‘sea’ we get something like‘the moor of the gulls’, and, instead of ‘boat’, something like ‘beaked elk’ or ‘prowed elk’. I’ve very kindly been offered part of the £163 critical edition of such poetry to check, and the author of the section has even invited me to a lecture on how to translate them in her department at Nottingham University next year.

The challenge is to have an appropriate level of alliteration without artificial diction, and the kennings without total obscurity. I’m quite pleased with it so far, but we’ll have to see what perspective the critical text and then the lecture have.

The first English version (from the nineteenth century) gave:

Unpleasantly we have been wading
in mud a weary five weeks
dirt we had plenty while we lay
in Grimsby harbour
but now on the moor of the seagulls
ride we oe’er the crest of the billows
gaily as the elk of the bowspirits
eastward plough its way to Bergen.

The Penguin Classics version is:

Five weeks we’d waded through wetness and filth,
mud wasn’t missing in the middle of Grimsby:
now our spirits are soaring as our fine ship skims,
its bow bounds, an elk of the billows, to Bergen.

The picture is pointed roughly at Bergen, but from the Brough of Deerness in Orkney.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Stuck back in

The first get together of local clergy of the new term was more reflective and mutually supportive than these ‘Chapter’ gatherings sometimes are.

A well known alcoholic man has been imprisoned for breaking the terms of an ASBO which excluded him from the town centre. He was going to the Minster which knows how to deal with him without fuss and where he has traditionally found support. I presume the trouble he has caused for town centre businesses and visitors must have been substantial enough for people to have bothered putting an ASBO in place to begin with, but nevertheless it seems strange that nobody outside the church says publically that there is something wrong with this result.

It has been St Aidan’s turn to have a shock from the five-yearly architect’s inspection we are each required to have: half of the quarter of a million expenditure recommended is regarded as urgent. I’ve highlighted the parish here before: huge century-old building opposite the football ground two thirds of which was substantially developed across several new floors for community use in the 1970s or 80s at the centre of the often neglected but needy Sidney Sussex Ward. We kicked around the contacts, community funding and lottery possibilities which might exist even today for what is the only real facility in an area which has not had as much investment of this sort as others.

St John & Stephen’s, whose substantial youth work in the most deprived East Marsh Ward I’ve also highlighted here before, gained a diary item mention in the Guardian (which I haven’t been able to trace) about whether or not it is surprising that a place which does this work like none other should attract the level of police monitoring which it appears to do. We chatted about the way there had not been local looting; the church trusts that early attention to disaffected young people is an element in the non-development of gangs, and is not surprised that those arrested elsewhere usually have prior police records given how many of the responsible older young people who help here have something like this too.

The inscription is above a door in Stromness, and we enjoyed the confidence with which the carving began and the success in finally fitting it in.

Monday 5 September 2011

Friday 2 September 2011