Sunday 31 July 2011

Whiteley Village's gain

We announced this morning that my colleague Terrie Stott is on the move; she will have been a half-time Team Vicar with us for just two years, and I shall be sorry to see her go along with her insightful challenges about what we do and her creativity. She is to be Chaplain of Whiteley Village (near Cobham in Surrey), an experiment in retirement living created a century ago through the legacy of a department store owner; it is a single community where a huge fan of cottages sits alongside facilities like a nursing home. In many ways it is more like a College than anything else. One member of the congregation at St Michael’s this morning said she already knew lots about it - she’d often stayed there when her cousin’s husband was the Chaplain there in the 1980s.

There are two very striking things for me about Whiteley Village. One is that I remember discussions some ten years ago on a Housing Association board in Grimsby about the real need for groupings of provision so that residents who came to need extra care would not have to abandon the supportive community of which they had become part. It seemed a formidable task to consider creating independent accommodation, sheltered accommodation, residential care, and nursing care, all around one site, and to find ways of negotiating progression between these, but it looks as if Whiteley Village was well ahead of this game a century earlier.

The other is the fact that St Mark’s church there was designed by the same architect as St Michael’s church here (Sir Walter Tapper), and at almost exactly the same time. She brought me back from her interview a pamphlet about St Marks’ with this illustration on the cover, and it is like recognising resemblance of different members of a family. Those who know St Michael’s will instantly recognise the shape of the tower and its roof, will think St Mark’s tower’s turret for its stairs resembles the north turret at St Michael’s, and the pattern of the tracery in St Mark’s south window imitates that of St Michael’s east window. I also notice that one of the screens and some of the stalls inside look as if they’ve come out of the same catalogue. We may be sad to lose Terrie, but I am looking forward to seeing St Mark’s when we go down for her licensing.

Tuesday 26 July 2011


There is a time of year at Morning Prayer,
when light falling slant though the east window
catches the plain north wall and plays with it.

As the leaves move on the ash tree close by
dapplings of colour take the breeze’s lead
dancing, laughing and weaving together.

Pools of liquid light flow across the wall
splashing it in eddies, ripples and waves,
baptising the flaking off-white lime-wash.

Then I find I’ve stopped piling on new words,
like rare pauses when a phrase in the Psalm
unexpectedly becomes translucent.

The poem builds on my post on 3rd September 2009, when there is a picture of the north wall of the chancel of St Nicolas', Great Coates which doesn't to justice to this phenomenon.

The picture is of the poor exit for water from the Lady Chapel roof at St Michael's, Little Coates discussed in the last post.

Saturday 23 July 2011

Roof work

The work is well under way on St Michael’s roof.

The first picture shows the valley gutter soon after the builders had begun to uncover the area on which they need to work. You can see how most of the rain which falls on the church’s roofs (including that brought down from the tower roof) is channelled into this space; it makes a six foot drop into it in doing so. What you can’t see is that the water which accumulates here only has one exit which (because it makes a quick and narrow dog leg movement around a buttress) is easily blocked; when there is a blockage water rises in this valley as if it was a retaining tank, and, once above the flashings (which had been removed by the time this picture was taken), gets under the tiles and seeps into the church. This was a bad bit of design when the main part of the church (on the right) was built in 1913-15. At last we are doing something about it.

Incidently, this picture also shows a hint of the older shallower roof line on the gable of the mediaeval part of the church (on the left) which I had not seen before; creating a new much higher pitch was part of the 1913-15 work, which, I guess, reused stone from the north wall of the old church (which was being taken down at the time to allow the new church to be sliced on to it). You can also notice that the new part of the church simply has a brick wall at this point: this wall is invisible from ground level so they never bothered putting a stone face on it.

The second picture shows the valley gutter yesterday half way through re-modelling it; the new woodwork and the areas either side of it are yet to be covered. The water which comes into this area will now drop a much shorter distance and flow across this much broader platform. What you can’t see is that, because it is at such an increased height, it will then have a much more direct and simple exit (above the troublesome buttress), and the hopper on the new downpipe will even have a weir at the top so that water could still shoot out if it ever got blocked.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Imagining the future

The Church of England could soon be ‘no longer functionally extant at all’. It is a phrase used at this month’s meeting of the General Synod which has briefly caught the attention of some of the media, including those hostile to what we are doing.

It isn’t an original thought, any more than it was in the form in which it appeared in almost the first post on this Blog three years ago:

The demography of our congregations is such that the presence of those who were formed as present and future members of the Church of England in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s has masked the startlingly smaller number so formed in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, but as the former begin to die a huge gap is exposed... the numbers of those committed will simply not be able to sustain anything like our present provision of buildings or stipendiary ministry.

That early post (and quite a few others over the last three years) was really about the way in which people do not want to begin putting alternative plans in place until we are face-to-face with the non-viability of our present structures, so it is also consistent that the First Estates Commissioner responded to the remark by saying ‘I wish all of us would have a sense of real crisis about this’ and added ‘I have seen large companies perfectly and impeccably manage themselves into failure’.

Interestingly, our Area Bishop’s initiatives around designating a Minister for Grimsby, settling the nature of the appointment of a new priest and deacons based there, and initiating a review of ministry around it, is precisely an attempt to put new structures in place well ahead of any collapse. I’m not sure that many of those who received his letter about some of this in April spotted that this appears to be exactly what he meant when he wrote:

Much of what we are exploring through appointments is an attempt to establish patterns of ministry and leadership which will serve us for the future. It is an inexact art, especially when we may feel that at the moment we don’t need them. It is a difficult one to get right and, as so often, our reaction to novelty depends how far into the future we are trying to imagine.

There are already at least some urban estates and some groups of rural villages where the claim that the Church of England is present in every community is no longer true in terms of a church building used for regular worship and in terms of the residence of lay people (let alone a clergyperson) committed to such worship and to service of neighbour. The ‘no longer functionally extant at all’ phrase identifies these as just the first cracks opening up. The ‘how far into the future we are trying to imagine’ phrase invites us not simply to allow market forces to dictate where and what sort of surviving functioning Anglicanism will follow.

Having (at the beginning of this academic year) stepped aside from roles which attempted and failed to make a difference in this sort of area locally, it is also interesting (at the end of this academic year)to find how helpless I feel in being unable to see the immediate future let alone engage in this longer term re-imagining process: the Area Bishop hasn’t yet taken us into his confidence about the terms of reference for or the potential for our involvement in the review of ministry locally he proposes; it was only at the beginning of this month that the Archdeacon was able to provide us with the diocese’s official statement of the 2010 financial outcome for our immediate area, and she hasn’t yet been able to respond to questions this raises for our budget for 2011 let alone beyond; the newly appointed Area Dean has declined the invitation to an early meeting with our PCC, perhaps understandably wanting to get his feet under the table first; and, although I believe the open Mission Forum for the two local deaneries has continued to meet through the year, an attentive local parish priest hasn’t heard anything about its meetings dates, topics, suggestions or conclusions.

The picture is another taken at Normanby Hall when there again last week with a school.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Mite, and might not

This looks like Walnut Leaf Gall Mite. It isn’t grubs on the leaf, but raised parts of the leaf indicating that a tiny mite has been living underneath. Apparently, although unsightly, it isn’t harmful, which is just as well as I’m told it is almost impossible to eliminate. The leaf is on the young walnut tree near the entrance to St Nicolas’ churchyard, and I’ve spotted some similar leaves on the one slightly older and the two really ancient walnut trees along the southern boundary. The trees have appeared in this Blog before; I am very fond of them, enjoy introducing them to others, and am sad that a number of their leaves are beginning to look like this.

My attention is also on the isolated plot of land on to which the three older trees look. This has just been put on the market this week for the first time in many years. I simply can’t make up my mind whether, if we were able to buy it, our successors would praise us for our foresight (since it is the only place where things from a church car park to a churchyard extension could go in due course, and since it would prevent anyone else from doing something unwelcome on the land) or curse us for having landing them with even greater maintenance problems.

It probably matters not at all because, if St Nicolas' or a benefactor had the money available, we’d probably want to put it into the project to renew the church's heating system rather than buy land, especially land which, if it was to be really useful to us, would require some sort of pedestrian bridge across the ancient moat which separates it from the churchyard. But none the less, I thrashed round it again (it is very overgrown) with a planning official this morning , and hatched an unrealistic scheme to develop something like a natural burial site there. The pictures I posted on 27th March were all taken on the land in question.

Sunday 10 July 2011

Neighbourhood Management

I fear North East Lincolnshire’s Neighbourhood Management approach is in danger of unravelling.

The idea has been outlined here before. Each of fifteen Wards should have a Councillor-led open ‘Forward’ group. Here issues can be aired and, it is hoped, resolved, with the help of the Council and a whole range of other agencies from health providers to the Police. The Wards are grouped into five Areas each with an Area Action Group (AAG). This is attended by officials from the agencies (senior enough to have some clout) where the over all picture emerges and problems which cannot be resolved at Ward level are tackled. This should make the one North East Lincolnshire Council more accountable and responsive, and a better place. The tag has been ‘15-5-1'.

I’ve had queries about how truly representative the Forward groups are. I have no criticisms of those who turn up regularly to them and seek to contribute to the well being of their area. I merely observe how self selective we are. The situation at the Great Coates end of the Freshney Ward illustrates this. Just two residents have come to the last few meetings, and they have a real commitment to and handle on some of what needs to be done for the village, including substantial points of apparent disagreement with the Village Council. But no member of the Village Council comes, so none of those with a democratic role in the village nor anyone else from there hears or responds to, agrees or challenges what the two active residents say or want. There are many other such illustrations.

I’ve also had queries about how engaged the AAGs can be with the whole variety of the somewhat random and extensive Areas they serve, and a concern that there is very little representation at AAG level other than Councillors and officials. I have no criticism of those who go - I’ve now represented Freshney Forward at a couple of AAG meetings so have seen the commitment of those who attend and the detailed action plan which has been developed as a result. Now, quite suddenly, after a review which showed up just these sorts of concerns, this layer is simply being removed - things will be ‘15-1' rather than ‘15-5-1'. This may well be an over reaction as I don’t see the one Neighbourhood Management Board having the capacity to hold or engage in depth with everything emerging from fifteen Wards, but we shall see

And then I have foreboding about the Yarborough Ward (which covers the half of this parish not covered by the Freshney Ward). Several meetings were held last year (the first beginning with an introduction to the Neighbourhood Management approach) sponsored by the three Councillors all of whom happened to come from the same political party. Now, following the election of a new Councillor from a different party, suddenly invitations have just gone out to Ward meetings from two of the three Councillors with their political party named for the first time. I have contacted them to ask about this, and an initial reaction was to deny that last year’s meeting were part of Neighbourhood Management at all; we’ll have to see how this conversation develops, and I may be over reacting, but I have a bad feeling about this.

If Forwards don’t come to be seen as in some way fully representative of their Wards, if AAGs don’t exist in any form, and if some Ward Councillors go their own way independently of the Neighbourhood Management approach or of fellow Councillors of different political parties, then I could indeed see the whole thing unravelling.

Meanwhile, scaffolding has just gone up at the east end of the old nave of St Michael’s and work is just about to begin to remodel the valley gutter between the mediaeval and twentieth century parts of the church. Somehow things have got worse in the last few months, and a smell of damp and damage to the stone floor have become a real worry, so we very much hope will eliminate a recurring problem of water getting in.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Charterhouse explorations

Both St Hugh and St Augustine Webster were Carthusian Priors, and, entranced by our visit to Mount Grace Priory in Half Term, I’ve been exploring a little of this world.

The first monasteries were really neighbouring hermits’ cells (mono and mon-astic, and solo and sol-itary, come respectively from the Greek and Latin for ‘alone’) around which some elements of common life and rules developed, so it is not surprising that one particular later reform (at the Grande Chartreuse at about the time of the English conquest) established a pattern of mediaeval monastic life in which the main focus was monks living in their own cells for most of the time although emerging to share some worship and occasional meals. The film Into Great Silence gives a flavour of the Carthusian life which continues there over nine hundred years later.

The first English Charterhouse (the Anglicised name for Priories of the Grande Chartreuse) was established at Witham in Somerset as part of Henry II’s public penance for the murder of Thomas a Becket, for which Hugh of Avalon was head-hunted from being Novice Master at the Grande Chartreuse to be an early Prior when things were not going well for the new foundation. It was from there he was elected Bishop of Lincoln, where he initiated the rebuilding of the Cathedral (subsequently extended to house his shrine, at which I was able to pray when there for the Ordination on Sunday).

Only a scattering of other English Charterhouses followed, but the 1390s foundation of Mount Grace on the northern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors was one of them, and the one which suffered least destruction during what a Guide in Grimsby Minister recently referred to as the Disillusionment of the Monasteries. Pictures posted here last month include those of the huge cloister round which the cells were arranged and a modern reconstruction of one of them (which is on the scale more comparable with a comfortable country cottage than a small almshouse).

At exactly the same time, also in the 1390s, another was founded locally in northern Lincolnshire. The site (between Epworth and Owston Ferry on the Isle of Axholme) is on private land, but our physical visit to Mount Grace prompted me to make a virtual ‘visit’ by satellite mapping. There is nothing surviving comparable to Mount Grace, although one farm outbuilding is Grade II listed because it has elements of a mediaeval undercroft (perhaps the only listed building which is pebbledashed and has a corrugated iron roof). What there is are three sides of a square moat, and I was intrigued to measure the space this encloses as being very close in size to the great cloister at Mount Grace. The pictures for this post show aspects of the very advanced water management at Mount Grace, including the outside privy at the restored cell, so the moat may indicate similar skill in drainage of the swampy Axholme land. I discover that detailed records of an archaeological investigation of the Axholme Priory are held in Swindon, and have developed an ambition to seek these out.

Augustine Webster was the penultimate Prior here. He was one of three Carthusian Priors who went to Thomas Cromwell in 1535 to attempt to negotiate some leeway around the oaths required by the Act of Supremacy. Their consequential execution at Tyburn on 4th May (alongside that of a prominent Brigettine monk) was the first of its kind, and originally provided the date of the Catholic Church’s commemoration of its Reformation Martyrs and now provides the date of the Church of England’s commemoration of the Saints and Martyrs of the Reformation Era.

Monday 4 July 2011


Our Curate was ordained priest yesterday alongside ten other and then emerged into the sun through the great West Door of the Cathedral.