Thursday 30 June 2011

Evil to which we are prone

How did things like the Taliban’s banning of music and destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan differ from Josiah’s classic and celebrated purging of Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, sacred poles and carved images in the 620s BC? In a number of ways, I am sure, especially if Josiah’s action including ending corruptions or worse which had crept into Jewish worship. Yet each time we read about Josiah (as we are doing at Matins each day at the moment) I am deeply uncomfortable at what following religious convictions means (which must be the opposite of what attention to scripture at daily Matins is intended to achieve).

I’ve blogged once before (in 2008) about how

The Taliban are not the only ones to have destroyed religious statues through puritan zeal. There is evidence of such destruction all around us. One of our churches (St George’s, Bradley) actually has surviving Reformation records of the Churchwardens taking down and burning the rood screen there, and this mentions in particular the statues of Mary and John standing at the foot of the cross. The absence of almost all mediaeval glass and brasses in our Cathedral is a monument itself to the Commonwealth soldiers who trashed the place over one weekend a century later.

After Matins this morning I was looking back further to the first sermon I preached (in 2003) as a Canon in Lincoln Cathedral (in a week when a funeral had taken place of a policeman who had been murdered in Manchester by a Moslem terrorist) saying

... how important it is for me when leading pilgrim groups in this Cathedral to include proper reflection at the tomb of Little St Hugh, a centre of thirteenth century antisemitic propaganda and then a tool of persecution. And tomorrow is the third National Holocaust Memorial Day. We know how far some Christians have gone and can go when they allowed themselves to demonise those of another religion. We can see clearly that it is wrong when some members of another religion make the same devastating mistake, but we can hardly be surprised at the phenomenon. How different it is to say ‘we can see exactly why you are wrong because it is something we are prone to ourselves’ rather than ‘your evil is unique’.

Monday 27 June 2011

Area Dean announced

We are going to have to relate quite differently to our neighbouring town centre parish. The appointment of a new Priest-in-Charge and Area Dean was announced yesterday when I was covering the main service at what is now Grimsby Minister, and the people there were told he should be with us in September. We look forward to welcoming him.

Three of the phrases in that opening paragraph are significant, and appear to be part of a cumulative plan by the Area Bishop being put in place piece by piece with different levels of consultation and collaborative planning.

Designating Grimsby Parish Church as a Minster built on the work of the previous incumbent’s commitment to the civic role and world facing ministry of the church and his work as a valued member of the local authority’s Local Strategic Partnership. Momentum hasn’t been lost during the vacancy and taking forward things like a new shop and major art displays have been impressive. There are quite different models of Minister out there from those where a centrally based ‘college of priests’ sends out resources to a wider area to those where central specialist provision complements the work of neighbouring parishes, and it will be interesting to learn what the new incumbent thinks the role of this particular Minister should be. Those involved in the Minster’s educational outreach have written to at least some of the Primary Schools in this parish not only advertising things we could not offer but also things which we do, which was an unfortunate small cloud on the horizon.

We are told that suspending presentation of a Rector to the whole Great Grimsby Team and appointing a Priest-in-Charge instead is to leave open the possibility that a review of the use and deployment of ministry in the parish and how this affects ministry in the town might result in proposals for pastoral reorganisation. The legal process of consulting about the suspension hadn’t been completed when the advert for the post as Priest-in-Charge appeared, which I assume is a little unusual. Sensitive readers will understand that I’ve been expressing more anxiety about being properly involved in developing and being part of the review process.

The new post of Area Dean for the whole unitary authority of North East Lincolnshire parallels an appointment just made at the largest church in Scunthorpe for the neighbouring unitary authority of North Lincolnshire. The job description (which we were sent for comment just as it was going out to applicants) highlights two roles. That of representing the church in the civic, commercial and third sector life of North East Lincolnshire sits very well with the potential role of the Minister, although it will need handling sensitively alongside the job description of the Industrial Missioner (although not as much as in North Lincolnshire where it is in fact the Industrial Missioner who has been the valued member of its Local Strategic Partnership). That of being part of the creative strategic development of mission and ministry across the area as we respond to changing patterns of church life is again one about which it will be interesting to learn what the new incumbent thinks as he develops it alongside well established neighbours.

The Area Dean job description refers to a fourth part of the cumulative plan. It says the new priest ‘will be “released” from their pastoral ministry by the Grimsby Team becoming a “hub” for the training and formation of those new in ministry... the formation of the curates is being designed to model collaboration within the [two North East Lincolnshire] deaneries’. This is something well worth a separate post at some point. He would, of course, also be further released from his pastoral ministry if the review process results in detaching responsibility for the wider Team Ministry (including 30,000 parishioners, three daughter churches and some of the most deprived areas of town) which may well be part of the cumulative plan.

Rather than be defensive or destructive, and rather than gossip and speculate, the Parochial Church Council in this parish recently agreed to offer him an early invitation to come and talk about what he thinks he has been asked to do and how we might best work together as he begins to do it. Interesting times.

Meanwhile, the latest fallen gravestone in St Michael’s is this one from 1943 near the south door. Lily Hubbard died in 1943 aged twenty-four and is buried next to her sister Alma who died in 1940 aged nineteen. The fall of Lily's gravestone drew my attention for the first time to the fact that it has words in Dutch on it: ‘Wel te rusten, lieveling’ (‘Sleep well, darling’); there must be a story behind that.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Academy experiment

North East Lincolnshire is about to become part of an accidental educational experiment as all of its Secondary Schools become Academies, each independent of the others and of the local authority, and essentially each in competition with the others and of any new schools which might be created.

Each can to do its own thing, and there should be positive outcomes from this freedom to be creative. But there will be lots of unintended consequences, some of which may well sort themselves out, and some of which may continue to irritate or worse as time goes by.

For example, most Academies will continue to set the same term dates as the local authority sets for the Primary Schools, but some will not, and there is a possibility that some parents who teach may even end up seeking to juggle three quite different sets of dates for themselves, their Primary School aged children and their Secondary School aged children.

I tripped over another one today when I went to take an assembly in a Primary School to find that all my preparation was redundant (grr) as they’d inserted a special assembly for those in their final year about to leave for a particular existing Academy which takes in its new pupils for the last few weeks of the Summer Term. The Primary School is left to sort out for itself how it creatively rounds off work with a year group some members of which leave early and some others of which remain for the rest of term.

Not quite related is a further frustration a couple of Headteachers have mentioned to me recently. I hadn’t realised that ‘part year’ funding does not follow a child who moves between schools. You may find a school which quite readily excludes pupils who are difficult to deal with; it will keep the whole year funding for each of those pupils. You may find a school with spare places in which a disproportionate number of those excluded children are placed; it will not get any funding for the extra work involved for the rest of the academic year.

One attempt to ameliorate this problem is for the local authority to administer a ‘Fair Access Protocol’, and I’ve been glad to look over one recently agreed for North East Lincolnshire which aims (among other things) not to end up sending a disproportionate number of excluded pupils to any one school. I wait to hear what the answer is to the question about how the local authority funds its residual educational responsibilities which includes administering such things. At present this is funded by ‘top slicing’ the money which comes in for each local authority school, money which would all be due to be paid direct to the Academies.

Friday 17 June 2011

Shouting at MPs

It gets worse. The MP responsible for links between the Church of England and Parliament writes in today’s Church Times acknowledging that Lambeth Palace sent the full text of the Archbishop’s editorial to every MP but opines such sharing of what he really said is ‘no good’ because it is ‘what is heard that matters’. So it is inevitable that any attempt at careful complicated engagement will fall into the ‘no good’ category, and all malicious circulators of out-of-context sound bites and all third-hand commentators on those distorted perceptions will fall in the ‘what matters’ category.

The headline and thrust of his article article says ‘don’t shout at us’, but he doesn’t seem to have made the obvious connection. He also doesn't reflect on where the approach of shouting at one another as an appropriate approach to political discourse may be most clearly observed.

Meanwhile, the orchids along the Cleethorpes sea front are in full bloom and we enjoyed a walk among them earlier this week.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Poisoned wells

I’m tired of how predictable, sterile and unproductive most public political (and religio-political) ‘debates’ are.

I was mildly interested last week to hear a pedestrian lecture on the rule of law (the annual Magna Carta Lecture in the Cathedral) by the Deputy Leader of the House of Lords. But the first question after the lecture was a cheap political shot about his move from Labour to the SDP years ago, and the last was a Suffragan Bishop’s drawing attention to the effect of cuts on the marginalised which was batted back with a lazy ‘the poor have the choice not to commit crime’.

I’ve long believed and sometimes said that Radio 4 is complicit in ‘poisoning the wells of democracy’, and was a little bucked up when Graham Linehan was reported as saying so: ‘the style of debate practised by the Today programme poisons discourse in this country; an arena in which there are no positions possible except diametrically opposed ones, where nuance is not permitted, where politicians are forced into defensive positions of utter banality - none of it is any good for the national conversation’.

But his saying so makes no difference. I’ve now read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Statesman editorial. Its purpose is to explain why an issue he edited has quite so much in it written by coalition ministers: ‘it seems worth encouraging the present government to clarify what it is aiming for in two or three areas, in the hope of sparking a livelier debate about what is going on, and perhaps even discover what the left’s big idea currently is’.

Fat chance. The reports of selected phrases in the editorial (which were not, for example, those which strongly challenge the opposition to provide something worthwhile to talk about), and the endless comments on it by those who have never read it, hardly relate at all to what he wrote. ‘The political debate in the UK at the moment feels pretty stuck,’ the Archbishop writes in his editorial, and we need ‘a long-term education policy at every level that will deliver the critical tools for democratic involvement’. Wish on, say I, since the wells of debate have been poisoned and drawing water from them for an healthy national conversation is now impossible, as the response to your editorial makes abundantly clear.

Anyway, the real reason I was in Lincoln was for the surreal experience of electing a new Bishop by the College of Canons (HM The Queen wrote to us and kindly provided a shortlist of one, the man whose appointed has already announced). I took this poor surreptitious photograph of some document being sealed as we sat in our places round the outer wall of the Cathedral’s Chapter House. It was, of course, good to be part of the historical theatre and to pray for him.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Saturday 11 June 2011

Friday 10 June 2011


Mount Grace deserves more than a few days posting, but we had to move on in Half Term, and we spent a night here. The Teesside steel industry grew out of local nineteenth century ironstone mining, and water from one flooded mine has broken out into the stream flowing from the left into the bottom picture.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Monday 6 June 2011


Having reawoken an interest in the Saxon features of some local churches, we took the opportunity of staying with friends in Durham during Half Term to visit some of the most important Saxon churches. First, Escomb, one of only a handful of totally Saxon buildings, with its consecration cross inside and its sun dial (with beast and serpent) outside. Then the sites of the twin monasteries of St Paul at Jarrow with its statue of Bede and its modern urban setting, and St Peter at Wearmouth where more survives such as this doorway through which Bede would have walked).

Sunday 5 June 2011

Saturday 4 June 2011