Saturday 26 February 2011

Saturday 19 February 2011

Approaching Lent

My ambitions to do something creative with the dead trees in Bradley churchyard are not progressing quite as smoothly as I'd hoped.

First, I posted the idea that the dead tress could be made into something new and thus be a parable of the Easter possibilities which surround all our failures. This bit the dust when the carver said the dead wood couldn't be carved.

Then, I posted the alternative idea (developed with the carver and some District Church Council members on his visit) that a pair of living trees might be carved to disclose an Easter Garden. This received provisional support from the Archdeacon, but not it turns out from some of the other members of the District Church Council who were not present when the idea was developed.

And now, even the very minor related act of moving the bonfire pile to a less prominent position has resulted in one of the dead trees catching fire and now looking even worse than it did before hand. (This is the tree in the centre of the picture posted on 16th January, but here seen from the opposite side.)

Heh, ho.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Developing St Nicolas'

Securing proper community meeting space in the church building is something about which St Nicolas’ District Church Council and Great Coates Village Council are in the first stages of discussion with each other to see if they can establish a Working Group (and with any others who would be willing to join in).

People may be surprised at how extensive and varied the use of the building has been even with its present limited facilities. It was calculated that some 3,000 different people came through the door in 2008 (so an ordinary Sunday congregation of about 30 people would represent less than 1% of the year’s users of the building). This included: those who come in when the church is left open during the day; those who came for the national Heritage Open Day; a Bagpipe Playing Group (making a recording); a Brownie Pack (rubbing the replicas of the church’s brasses); Great Coates Nursery (which also has a key so that the church can be used as an emergency assembly point); Great Coates Village Council (for both an open consultation event and a social event); a regular Handbell Ringing Group; the Live Links Rural Touring Programme (three different concerts); a regular Parent and Toddler Group (since ceased partly because of heating problems), the Police (for an open consultation event); Willows Primary School; worshippers at Christmas and on other special occasions; worshippers at Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals; and Wybers Wood Primary School.

A model exists at St Michael’s, Little Coates where over time a new heating system, clearing meeting space, new kitchen and toilet facilities, and work to achieve full disabled access, means the building is now used weekly by an Art Group, a band practising, a Parent and Toddler Group, and Walk Well (a health promotion scheme). This is not a new approach: St James’, Grimsby told them that the town’s only school was housed in part of the church building at the beginning of the nineteenth century while at the same time the town’s poor relief was administered from the vestry and the town’s fire engine parked in a side aisle.

The first task would be to secure funds for a proper architect’s Feasibility Study (we guess that about £3,000 would be needed for this). This Feasibility Study would outline a variety of possibilities and include detailed plans and costings. These plans and costings could then be used for consultation, for bids to funders, and for the applications for permission to make alterations. We guess that the actual work would be costed at up to £200 000.

The work which would then be needed would be: making new gas, water and sewage connections; installing a new heating system (the church has already taken the first steps towards a £50 000 project for this); installing toilet facilities (including those suitable for the disabled) either under the tower or at the back of the church, and establishing enough open space for flexible use of the building. We would not anticipate any changes to the mediaeval fabric, nor any external work, nor anything which would detract from the continued use of the building as a church.

Would the church be able simply to gain from the improvements and then refuse community bookings? There are safeguards: at the moment St Michael’s is receiving annual forms from two different funders who financed work there seeking signed assurances that the level of community use agreed at the time of funding continues.

Would the church make a profit out of letting its improved facilities? Even the maximum amount of rent which anyone might anticipate would be small compared with the costs involved in maintaining the fabric of a large Grade 1 listed building with features dating back to 1200; one of the positive advantages of the partnership is it will increase the money available for such maintenance. St Michael’s operates a policy that community groups which can’t afford basic rent will not be excluded from use.

Are there things which couldn’t happen in the church? A Barn Dance was held in St Michael’s last year, wine is often served after concerts in St Nicolas’, and young people’s events have charged round both buildings in the past. An open consecrated church couldn’t be used for things which are unseemly or oppose the Christian faith, but it would be rare for anyone to wish to book a secular community centre for these sorts of purposes. We wouldn’t be planning commercial bookings for things like parties, and we wouldn’t anticipate the building being licensed for the sale of alcohol.

Would this exclude those who believe in conscience they cannot enter a church building, and thus be discriminatory? We do not know of any main stream non-Christian faith or humanist group which would encourage its members to take this position, and we have not come across complaints on this basis elsewhere. A very wide range of people of all faiths and none use the increasing number of community facilities in churches across the country, including those which now house a village Post Office.

So what happens now? The District Church Council and the Village Council will be asked to consider formally a proposal to establish a Working Group to secure funding for a Feasibility Study and then to consider it’s outcomes. Others in the community (especially those from Aylesby Park and Wybers Wood) will be asked if this is a project they would like to be kept informed, support and be involved.

The idea has been around for at least ten years, but this sheet circulated at the weekend brings it firmly back on the agenda. The picture of the church isn't one of mine; it was taken by a member of the District Church Council when helping clear out gutters last week.

Sunday 13 February 2011

George Skelton painting

There is a painting of St Michael's in an upstairs room in the Fishing Heritage Centre. It isn't one I remembering coming across before.

I noticed it when at a meeting last week and took this photograph of it (or rather, of me taking a photograph of it). It was simply labelled 'Church - George Skelton'. It appears to be part of the local authority's collection; a couple of pictures by Herbert Rollett (see a post here on 14th February 2010) were also hanging in the same room.

It must have been painted at about the same time as the picture posted here on 13th October 2010. The identifiable gravestones and the absence of others pins the date down to about 1890. The huge bush growing in the space between aisle and nave also looks like being at the same stage of growth as in the other picture.

The view from this angle helps bring out how the roof of the nave of the old church was heightened when the new part of the church was built in 1913-5; before this change in pitch the line of the roof of the anve and of the aisle was continuous.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Retreat lengths

For how long a period should any priest be away from his or her parish on retreat?

I’ve just booked five nights away in the autumn to give me four full days. My guess is that this quite normal, and it will hardly inconvenience any parish arrangements or cover.

I’d have to say that some years I’ve not made this provision at all, that such an annual gesture is quite a minimalistic contribution to deepening my spirituality, and that I can hardly parade my devotion when the number of days when I even arrive for Morning Prayer early enough for some silent mediation first is probably outweighed by the number when I don’t.

Neverthless, I wonder whether an expectation that we’d each regularly do something much more significant which disrupts our own life and parish life would be more fruitful and give a much clearer message to ourselves and to those to whom we minister about what we are about.

The question came to my mind when I was asked to do some proof reading or consumer testing on the new clergy handbook shortly before it went live on the diocese’s website at the beginning of the month; the process of introducing new tenure arrangements for most clergy on that day required the publication of such guidelines.

I just happened to notice that it says we are ‘encouraged to take time for an annual retreat’ but ‘it is suggested that this should not exceed six days’ whereas I know the national Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of Clergy developed several years ago in anticipation of the new tenure arrangements also speaks of ‘an annual opportunity to make a retreat’ but adds ‘of at least a week’s duration’. The subtle difference may actually be significant.

Meanwhile, we are told that it is the combination of the heavy weight of snow on evergreen branches a short while ago, the drying out in the weeks since, and the high winds of the last week which has made bits fall off many fir trees in particular, including these ones along the western edge of St Nicolas’ churchyard.

We’ve put up notices warning people to keep clear. We’ll have a tree expert in next week to assess the whole churchyard where little work of this sort has been done in the last few years. We’ll then need to begin spending money on anything which is actually dangerous making a further dent in the church’s limited Fabric Fund.

Monday 7 February 2011

Salt service

Christianity is probably intended to be a minority religion. I’m sure it must be someone else who suggested this to me a long time ago, but it popped into my mind and out of my mouth in the one minute extempore homily I preached at yesterday afternoon’s Baptism where the reading was just the first sentence of the Gospel for the day ‘You are the salt of the earth...’.

It could, of course, be rubbish, something simply prompted by a rationalisation in the face of decline. Nevertheless, what I found myself saying was we’ve often not been particularly good at having power (everything from the Crusades to child abuse via colluding with the ruling structures of our day), so we'd be better off not being a dominant player and not being subject to the temptations of being powerful.

Instead, it would be good to think that the real calling of any of us (including the brand new Christian before us) and of the more humble minority body of which we are part is to be the tiny thing which brings out a genuinely different flavour in the naturally mainly heathen and pagan world.

Meanwhile, the local authority chopped down a tree somewhere recently, and last week its gardeners were busy using what they told me were the chippings from it to suppress weed and preserve moisture around the roots of the hedge it is seeking to establish along the green outside St Michael’s.

Friday 4 February 2011

A local face

I discover that part of the mediaeval screen from the church now known as Grimsby Minster hangs above a doorway in a former Council House in this parish.

The screen was removed during the mid-Victorian restoration and was supposed to have been burnt, but this fragment was recovered from beneath the floor and thrown into a skip during the 1990s re-paving.

Last week I visited again the home of the person who rescued it from the skip, and he allowed me to take this imperfectly focussed photograph in his back garden, pointing out the remaining fragments of mediaeval paint as he did so.

I’d go a long way to see a face like this, but all the time it is just round the corner.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Not thinking

We had a class of very young children from a local special school touching things in St Nicolas’ yesterday.

They had come on a short visit (the length of the visit determined by their attention and behaviour spans) to hand over a cheque, a donation in lieu of the fee 'earned' by a member of the congregation for a musical event he’d led at their school. That is worth recording in itself.

The teacher was relieved that we’d got the message that they learnt by interacting rather than by reasoning, and that we were not precious about what we let them feel. One of them spent a little time caressing the stem of the huge brass lectern. Many of the kneelers had to be returned to their home positions once the children had gone (and I still can’t work out to where one of them should go back). Some of the children helped make a surprisingly effective brass rubbing by scribbling away with the wax sticks rather than by firm strokes with them.

But how I wanted to explain to them the things they touched! It reminded me of my introduction to 'learning styles' at an inner city church - the facilitator encouraging people to get stuck straight in making a model which represented their view on a topic she gave them, and I sat their perplexed as to how that could be done without first thinking through what they wanted to say.

We came across the toad on our visit to Hull on Saturday, and it is a genuine reference to the work of Philip Larkin their local poet.