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