Monday 24 December 2012

Men on the roof

Mary and Joseph have been popping up in different forms and at different venues across North East Lincolnshire during Advent as part of an Advent Calendar organised by the local Churches Together.  Today they are models at the top of St Michael’s tower.  It took more work than I had imagined securing them in place in a high wind, and a police car ‘blue-lighted’ from the other side of town to see what was going on when someone dialled 999 to report men at work on the church roof possibly pinching the lead.  Happy Christmas.

Monday 17 December 2012


“It is your busy time of year.” Yes, but that has nothing to do with Christmas being so near. I have been called three times in the last six weeks to diocesan briefing events at the Lincolnshire Showground, in Scunthorpe and in Lincoln. I find I have notes from all three still on my desk awaiting action or at least cascading the sometimes quite disproportionate information to others.

The Bishop wrote to say attendance at the renewal training about safeguarding (child and vulnerable adult protection) was mandatory, and we do indeed need to maintain the highest levels of good practice here. The Church of England’s general rigour has meant that the systematically predatory no longer look on involvement in the church as an easy route by which to access the vulnerable. It was also clear this year that one diocese’s lack of rigour has been the cause of real harm to some vulnerable individuals, which may be in part what spooked the diocese into providing renewal training now.

What this means in practice for this parish, apart from an annual review that everything from Childline posters to awareness of proper reporting systems remain in place, is that we have Criminal Record Bureau (CRB), now Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), checks in place and renewed every five years for about a third of the one hundred or so regular church attenders in the parish. This applies even to the ones for whom a CRB clearance is already in place for another area of their lives – I’m still separately checked by the church, hospital and FE college, although there is a chance that DBS checks may become more proportionate by becoming ‘portable’.

At the moment I’m also just setting up the next safeguarding awareness training evening for two new people who will be joining the teams taking Communion to homes. The briefing reminded us that we should really have two references and a job description sheet on file for each of them as well.

The second briefing was about how we handle fees - the diocese said it hoped all parishes would be represented at this, so I could actually have asked someone else to go and report back. It was here that the word ‘proportionality’ sprang most forcibly from my lips.

At present the three church Treasurers collect fees which are technically part of my stipend and I send their cheques to the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF) at the end of each quarter. Should our auditors or the diocese want a break down then it would take the Treasurers a little extra paperwork but it could easily be provided.

From 1st January the legal status of this money changes. It becomes the property of the DBF, which has decided how it wishes us to account for it and how it wishes to police both our handling of it and our good practice in the way we charge ‘extras’.

So the DBF will now require that we generate a separate form relating to each and every individual fee generating activity – and we return over £10 000 of fees from this parish each year. For some fees, it wants this form e-mailed straight away so it can collect the payment direct and then send the parish’s portion and extras to us. For other fees, it wants us to collect the payment and then send the DBF the form and its fee, and to do this monthly not quarterly.

For every wedding, the DBF now requires us to tell it what extras were charged, although this has nothing directly to do with accounting for the fee money which belongs to it. For every funeral, the form requires us to state not only which Funeral Director’s firm is involved but the name of the member of staff dealing with the particular funeral. For every churchyard memorial the form requires us to state not only the grave to which it relates but also to provide contact details for the next-of-kin of the person buried there.

I was in a tiny minority raising questions about this, but I actually wonder whether some of it is even in breach of the Data Protection Act - I can understand a requirement that we have accounts which show clearly how all payments to us have been handled, but I seriously doubt whether it is legal for the diocese to build up a computer database of next-of-kin on the back of this process.

A Churchwarden from a tiny parish said she was grateful to have a system set out on a form she could follow through step by step when she had the odd wedding or funeral to deal with in a year. An incumbent of a major parish said it would be simple for her administrator to change all the parish’s systems and use the diocesan forms as the basis for the parish’s own record keeping. So what had I to worry about?

The final briefing was about marriage preliminaries and registration. The Bishop wrote that he expected incumbents and priests-in-charge to give attendance the highest priority. It was in part prompted by concerns about ‘sham marriages’ about which the Diocesan Registrar confessed we have been na├»ve (as I did in a post here in April 2011). But this post is already too long, and the briefing was really to promulgate the disproportionate approach about which I already posted then.

Meanwhile, the picture shows our effort this year to make links between Christingle and the outside giving of our three churches. The orange / world has our link parish in Zimbabwe marked. The ribbon / blood is made up of Christmas cards being sent in response to information from Action of Christians Against Torture. The cocktail sticks / fruit carry the sorts of tins which members of the congregation contribute to a local food bank. The candle / light of the world is marked for the Children’s Society for whom each year Christingle is a major source of education, prayers and funding.

Monday 10 December 2012

Believing in Common Tenure

Eighty-five per cent of the serving Bishops in the Church of England don’t want to share the new terms and conditions of their clergy.

Nearly two years ago (at the end of January 2011) all serving clergy without long term security of tenure (such as Priests-in-Charge, Team Vicars and Curates) were automatically moved onto new terms and conditions called Common Tenure. Since then all new clergy appointments have been on this basis. It was also open to those who did have long term security of tenure (such as Archdeacons, Rectors and Vicars) to opt in as well. Both Archbishops opted in to begin the cascade, and I see that my own formal Common Tenure paperwork is dated from 1st March 2011.

There have been something like twenty new Bishops appointed since then, and these all now serve under Common Tenure. What about the other ninety or so of our present serving Bishops who were already in post by January 2011? A question was asked at the recent General Synod about how many of them have opted in. The answer was eleven.

Although there is absolutely no obligation on them to do so, I had a quite disproportionately depressed reaction when I read this last week. I suppose it is the dull sense that if they really believed it was the best for us they would have grabbed the opportunity to be part of it themselves. I suppose it is the even duller sense that such a high proportion of Bishops are overseeing terms and conditions for us to which they chose not to be subject themselves.

Anyway, part of the new terms and conditions is a mutual obligation between Bishop and clergyperson to provide and to participate in appropriate schemes of ministerial development review (at least once every two years) and continued ministerial education. Of course these things are not new - indeed fifteen years ago I was working full-time for the diocese trying to operate the good practice recommended at that time in these areas.

I’ve written before about such things, especially when I was engaged in a ministerial development review experiment in the summer of 2010 which was part of the diocese's preparation for the introduction of Common Tenure. The process was not completed then (my Archdeacon never responded to the draft Role Description I was obliged to send her, and no offers of relevant continued ministerial education came my way), but it was only a trial run.

The keen eyed will spot the fact that this was more than two years ago, but I know the other Archdeacon’s Secretary has now been given extra hours to get the diocesan scheme moving (she included me in an e-mail a little while ago when she was trying to find out who had been trained as reviewers for it), and I suppose I will not be ‘overdue’ for such a review until March, so I simply have to trust that those who will supervise my terms and conditions hereafter  really do believe in them.

Monday 3 December 2012

Building in fields

There is a large and detailed mid-eighteenth century map showing the boundaries and names of all the fields in the single estate which was the parish of Little Coates. It is held in the North East Lincolnshire Council Archive behind Grimsby Town Hall. I’ve had a photocopy of it across several A3 sheets for some time. Recently I’ve tried to copy it across on to a contemporary map, and the picture above is an extract.

Although some fields had been divided and other united, the rural parish was substantially the same nearly two hundred years later in the 1920s when the estate was auctioned in separate lots. So it is not a surprise to see the way modern housing fits into the old field pattern. For example, at the south-western corner of the map, the present Laceby Acres estate occupies exactly the land which was High Field, Mill Close and Old Close.

Some of what I’ve drawn isn’t quite right, but there were an impressive number of places where careful measuring of where to draw a line took me to exactly the place where whole lines of properties back on to each other. For example, just east of St Michael’s, the way the parts of Church Meadows accessed from Laburnum Drive and the parts accessed from Cherry Tree Crescent back on to each other shows very neatly the old boundary between Chapel Field and Home Close.

The power of many old parish boundaries fascinates me. They may date back to patterns of land ownership in the Dark Ages formalised into larger territories as soon as any centralised forms of early English government arranged obligations or taxation by area. This is strikingly visible on this map. Little Coates became part of the Borough of Grimsby in the 1920s, Great Coates in 1970s, and building then took right up to but not across these ancient parish boundaries, so that suddenly they became visible to the naked eye. For example, travelling from Aylesby along Aylesby Road one can look across fields to the edge of Laceby Acres (which follows the ancient Little Coates – Laceby boundary) and the edge of Wybers Wood (which follows the ancient Great Coates – Aylesby boundary).

But the story is not yet over. Consultation is underway to create a new Local Plan for North East Lincolnshire. We are told that we need to build 9000 new homes in the next twenty years or so. Land owners have been asked to identify where they think these might be built, and something like 16000 sites have been offered. Planners now need to know which of these to include in the new Local Plan. Since so much recent building has been on the eastern side of Grimsby (from Scartho Top to New Waltham), and since access to the A180 and potential areas of employment growth are on the western side, there may be some presumption that much new building will be planned on the western edge of the built up area.

So I saw the map last week which shows potential development a field or so further west. Offers of sites exist for some 2868 houses. A new Aylesby Park could be built north-west of the present Aylesby Park across Aylesby Road. A new Wybers Wood could be built south-west of the present Wybers Wood. A new Laceby Acres could be built west of the present Laceby Acres north and west of Morrisons.

If any of this started to become real and immanent possibilities then we would need to have conversations with our neighbouring ecclesiastical parishes because the new Wybers Wood development would actually be in the present ecclesiastical parish of Aylesby, although the houses would all be much nearer St Nicolas’, Great Coates than the tiny village of Aylesby. And the new Laceby Acres development would be in the present ecclesiastical parish of Laceby; in the case, although separated from it by fields, the new houses would be as close to the larger village of Laceby as to St Michael’s, Little Coates.

Monday 26 November 2012

Unrepresentative Synod

I’d much prefer to be typing about our annual visit to the seal breeding colony on the Lincolnshire coast on Friday , but there it is. The bottom picture is a turnstone feeding on seal placenta.

The General Synod vote was a train crash waiting to happen, and it doesn’t give me any pleasure to say this was set out in my post of 14th July 2008.

Among the informed lay people who have been involved in discussing this issue there are some who take the position that the Church of England is not in a position to develop its tradition in this way at least without the consensus of the major Catholic and Orthodox churches; our continuity with the pre-Reformation church has never been fundamentally fractured. But they are in a small minority; the rest see careful weighing of our own place in a developing tradition as what happened at the Reformation and what continues to happen today.

Among them there are some who take the position that the Church of England is not in a position to diverge from a biblical interpretation which forbids women from taking leadership authority in the church; we are not free to make moves which a literal interpretation of any New Testament text would forbid. But they are also a small minority; the rest see careful weighing of the bible in our present context as what has happened at every stage of Christian history.

We know the size of these minority positions for two reasons. One is that only 7% of the parishes in the Church of England have taken advantage of the provision made at the time of the first ordinations of women as priests to ring fence themselves against their ministry. The other is that over the last year between them over three quarters of the members of the Houses of Laity in each Diocesan Synod have voted in favour of legislation to allow the consecration of women as Bishops.

So for 36% of the House of Laity of the General Synod to vote against this legislation was both entirely predictable and fundamentally misrepresentative of the mind of the church.

A hundred years ago England still refused women the vote and resisted their place in professions such as medicine. For the hundred years since, in the same way that those who found the Holy Spirit given to Gentiles as much as to Jews and brought their recommendation that such people could not be excluded from the church to the central authorities of the early church in Jerusalem, people have been bringing again and again to state and church irrefutable testimony that women’s voting, working, ministering and leading are as grace-filled as those of men. We can be respectful of those who take specific minority views on how we handle tradition and scripture, but there is no way of avoiding this truth self evident both to society and to the growing consensus in our church.

There are two ways forward from here. One is that, after behind the scenes negotiations, the six senior members of the General Synod will exercise their right to have the legislation re-presented, with safeguards for conscientious objectors more explicit, and passed next year. The other more tortuous and tedious path is that the next round of elections to the General Synod will be conducted with a sharp awareness that the militant tendencies of the church should never be over represented again.

This parish has produced as ordinands or has had serve in it as licensed clergy twelve priests who are women (Anne now Chaplain of our local Hospital, the late Bridget, the late Christine, George still working with us, Jan, Jenny, Judy still living in the parish and now a Canon of our Cathedral, Julie, Linda, Pauline, Sue and Terrie) and any implication that they are not real priests or that their fellow women priests are somehow incapable of being bishops would be laughable if it were not so sad.

Monday 19 November 2012

Not the final word

The thought that we will lose all our ash trees almost breaks my heart. We have seen it before when dutch elm disease robbed us of most of our elms. There have been other recent scares including bleeding canker claiming many of our horse chestnuts. Now it is the threat of ash dieback which hangs over our hedges and woodlands.

At the entrance to St Michael’s, Little Coates we have a particularly magnificent weeping ash. It is a feature people often talk about. It is old and we know that one day it will have to come down, but North East Lincolnshire Council has done quite a bit of tree surgery to keep it alive and safe.

A couple of years ago a couple celebrating their Diamond Wedding gave us a replacement weeping ash which the Council allowed us to plant a little way inside the churchyard. We had thought that it would ‘take over’ when the old one finally has to come down. Perhaps it will. Or perhaps both trees will succumb to this new fungal infection before that.

At St George’s, Bradley it is the conkers from the horse chestnut trees in the churchyard which people have enjoyed for years. Many of these trees were infected with bleeding canker and several have died as a result. A couple of years ago, with the support of villagers, we had to spend thousands making their stumps safe.

But there is hope. There is a spot only a mile or so from either St Michael’s or St George’s. Beside a footpath in the countryside just west of Laceby Acres and Wybers Wood there is a large lone elm tree. Nobody is quite sure how it has survived dutch elm disease. Perhaps it was too far away from other elms to get infected. I always enjoy spotting it when I am anywhere near. It is possible that surviving disease-resistant elms and ashs will one day repopulate our hedgerows and woodlands.

This hope is exactly the same as the one our churches will soon be celebrating in Advent. Many will be reading from the prophet Isaiah. There is huge destruction going on in Chapter 10 until it says that ‘the remnant of the trees of this forest will be so few that a child can write them down’. It seems that all is lost and God has abandoned his people.

But then Chapter 11 says a new shoot will come from one of those stumps. It is ‘the stump of Jesse’, and Jesse was one of ancestor’s of Jesus, which is why we read the passage as we prepare for Christmas. Next time I visit the surviving elm tree I shall remember that. I shall pray for all those who feel that abuse or bereavement or cuts or destruction around them have the final word. They don’t.

This is my piece published in the Cleethorpes Chronicle last week with three grammatical and spelling mistakes (yes, three; I must do better) corrected.

The picture taken at the weekend is of the two weeping ash trees at St Michael’s. Pictures have appeared before of the ash trees, the lone elm, and the stump of one of the horse chestnuts.

The article didn’t have room to mention the way a Jesse Tree became part of religious art, often in a stained glass window. The tree is usually shown as growing out of Jesse, through his son King David (often recognisable by his carrying a harp), and then upward to others; literally a ‘family tree’.

Monday 12 November 2012

Arma Christi - Lancea

I’ve been working on a fourteenth century poem which I discover was a widely used devotional writing.

It intrigued me because it lies behind one of the features of the decoration of many churches today.  One quite often sees items associated with Jesus’ execution displayed on shields or carried by angels or both. There are late thirteenth century examples on St Hugh's shrine in Lincoln Cathedral.  I once posted two 1920s pictures of the dice used to gamble for Jesus’ cloak, one from St Michael’s and one from St Nicolas’.

These are ‘Arma Christi’ – the arms of Christ both in the sense of his ‘coat of arms’ and in the ironic sense of what he armed himself with on his journey to the cross.  It appears there were well established devotions related to gazing on these ‘symbols of the passion’. There are even ‘Arma Christi’ rolls which could be unrolled and held up so that the devotional poem could be read and the symbols seen.

So I bought a reproduction of the 1871 Early English Text Society volume which includes two versions of the poem and pictures, and which may have been a major influence on the revival of the use them in places like this parish fifty years later.

The verse about the spear reads

Lord, the spere so scharpe I-grownde
That in thyn herte made a wownde,
It quenchyth the synne that I have wrowt,
With alle myn harte fulle evle thowt,
And myn stowt pryd also,
And myn onbuxmnes ther-too.

‘Unbuxomness’ is a perhaps the only word which isn’t immediately clear. It appears that ‘buxom’ hadn’t yet acquired the later sense of comely, jolly, plump and vigorous. It still reflected the origin of the word as ‘like an archer’s bow’ - that is with the right amount of both strength and flexibility. The Shorter Oxford offers meek, gracious, obliging and kindly. So, for un-buxom, I’ve offered ‘unyielding’ in a modern English rendering

Lord, the spear so sharply ground
that in your heart made a wound
quenching the sin which I have wrought
by all my heart’s evil thought
and by my stout pride too
and by my unyieldingness also.

I played with each line to begin to develop a contemporary engagement with the text as

Sharpened spear,
weeping wound:
soak my stains;
lance my lewdness;
puncture my pride;
soften my stubbornness.

which might work better with lines re-ordered to

Sharpened spear,
lance my lewdness
and puncture my pride;
weeping wound,
soften my stubbornness
and soak away my stains.

The first illustration comes from a fourteenth century original via the 1871 book and shows both spear and wound. The second is a shield behind the altar at St Nicolas’ which shows both the spear and also the sponge on a stick held up for Jesus’ to drink from.

Monday 5 November 2012

Playing with the big boys

And girls. Professor Susan Bassnett, one of the four judges for this year’s Times Stephen Spender Trust Prize for poetry in translation writes High on my personal list of fine translations was Peter Mullins' superb rendering of nine short poems from the Orkneyinga Saga.

This doesn’t in fact mean I won one of the three prizes announced on Saturday, nor even achieved one of the six further ‘Commended’ places, but, nevertheless, it is just possibly a comment to which I may return in my own mind from time to time.

The organiser very kindly sent me an e-mail a short while ago to alert me to the fact that I was to be what I now think of as ‘a runner-up to the runners-up’ and to invite me to the Prize event in London tomorrow, which sadly I can’t make.

I’ve posted four of the poems here last year, one on 11th September and three more on 29th December.

One of the others is a strange little piece with possibly onomatopoeic noises to represent the incomprehensibility as well as the shivering of a servant girl whose need Earl Rognvald unconvincingly credits himself alone with grasping.

Professor Judith Jesch's critical edition gives a literal translation

You are sitting round the fire, while Asa – atatata! – is lying in the water – hutututu! Where shall I sit? I am rather cold

and the Penguin Classic version (possibly based on a slightly different original scholarly text) is

You sit steaming, but Asa’s
s-soaked to the skin;
f-f-far from the fire,
I’m freezing to death.

My version attempts to retain the original sounds in the middle:

Storm soaked and freezing
Asa is pleading
with teeth chat-at-atering
and speech stu-ut-utering
for space by the fire
to get herself warm.

Monday 29 October 2012

Schools' souls

The number of exclusions from local schools has risen sharply, and it was reported last week that the local authority is sufficiently concerned about this to form a working party to look into it.

Although the working party may uncover something more subtle, this does appear to be the entirely predictable consequence of the conversion of almost all the local Secondary Schools into independent Academies - which are designed to compete openly for business in a world in which the percentage of children reaching five GCSEs including English and Maths at at least Grade C (or, now, the package of GCSEs which form the English Bac) is the one public headline league-tabled piece of information which potential parents and immanent inspectors will see and judge. Where previously a school might have worked hard to meet the needs all but the most disruptive of its pupils it is now almost essential for its survival that it excludes the most challenging and failing.

Meanwhile, in the week I also heard how our local FE College finds that it often has to deliver ‘functional skills’ (numeracy and literacy training) not only to those who come to it without a GCSE at at least Grade C in Maths and English but also to many of those who come to it with these.

This appears to be a consequence of the way many schools put pupils in for their essential GCSEs early and, where a good enough GCSE in one subject is achieved, shift their studies to the other subjects they need to have in the bank. This means that some of those coming to FE Colleges with, say, a good enough Maths GCSE, have not done any Maths or actively deployed any significant numeracy skills for, in some cases, as much as eighteen months.

These sorts of things have all been mentioned here before (especially on 31st August 2009 and 24th March 2011, but also on 2nd July 2010 and 23rd June 2011). Such posts might appear to be socialist myopia were it not for the third encounter with these things last week which was an interview with in the Tablet with John McIntosh ‘a long-standing member of the right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies’ as well as the Blairs’ children’s Headteacher. He could not have expressed the damage being done by Gove compliance enforcement more clearly:

I think the league-table culture and the compliance culture which Ofsted has brought into the system has taken the soul out of schools… heads in particular have become very robotic. Ask most heads about the curriculum and their response will be in terms of five GCSEs, the EBac and league tables. Teachers have almost lost the vocabulary to discuss the curriculum and what it is about.

The Tablet summarises “a culture of targets and inspections caused a school to focus too heavily on ‘ticking boxes’ and climbing league tables, rather than on providing a balanced education for pupils.” One instinct might be to blame schools for capitulating to this cultural pressure were it not for the fact that the Headteacher’s job and the school’s recruitment (and thus finances) stand or fall on the boxes ticked.

The picture was taken near Europarc on the edge of the parish a few weeks ago.

Monday 22 October 2012

Where we are

The church doesn’t really know how to operate in a post-Christian society. It isn’t our fault. It is simply that we have no experience of doing it on which to build. This isn’t an original thought, but it is brought back to mind by my recent post about our mission situation and by a recent shift in the Baptism policy of the Cleethorpes parishes.

The church knows how to operate in a pagan society. It has a lot of experience of this - this is where it begun and where it is in many parts of the world today. In these circumstances Baptism is a carefully guarded gateway (albeit most Biblical examples in fact evidence very little preparation).

It knows how to operate in a Christian society. It has a lot of experience about this - this is where we have been in our European culture for many centuries. In these circumstances Baptism is an open way (albeit followed up by sometimes quite substantial later formation).

Some of us persist in seeing a Christian society around us (with some justification when we are welcomed in schools, and when we are asked to pray by strangers) so we continue to use the open approach. Because there are substantial Christian elements in a post-Christian society, this sometimes works well. When it does, the process of human ‘confirmation bias’ means we take this to be strong evidence that we are doing the right thing (and ignore the way we can be seen to peddle ‘cheap grace’).

Some see a pagan society around us (with equal justification when large Baptism congregations are uninterested and unresponsive, and when secular values dominate) and so revert to a more fenced approach. Because there are substantial pagan elements in a post-Christian society, this also sometimes works well. When it does the same human tendency to self justification means we also take it to be strong evidence that we are doing the right thing (and ignore the way we can be seen to provoke long term hostility).

But my instinct is that we have simply not yet found out how to operate in the complex and changing post-1960s society. An often liberal instinct towards inclusiveness and an often evangelical instinct towards rigourous commitment both arise from Gospel values and both feel consistent, justified and neat. But until we are better nuanced in our understanding of the complex situation in which the church now exists any subtlety about policies of engagement (let alone Baptism) doesn’t seem very likely.

The picture is another of Kirmington church, this time taken next to the lights ahead of the runway at Humberside Airport.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Human gnomon

Each visitor to this human size sundial is invited to form its gnomon him or herself. It is on the Cumbrian coast at Seascale and it is a memorial to those killed in the shootings there a couple of years ago. We were quite taken by it when we were there last week - albeit in the rain so we used it in reverse to identify the approximate direction of the sun.

My father was at school in the village in the 1930s, by coincidence my mother-in-law taught at a different school there in the 1950s, and by no coincidence at all we stayed there for family holidays in the 1970s, so it was good to call in again.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

West Cumbrian Viking Crosses





Tuesday 16 October 2012

Monday 8 October 2012

Not just an extra Archdeacon

Things are changing very rapidly in the diocese. There were a range of real and imagined worries when a new Bishop of Lincoln arrived a year ago, and he quickly commissioned an external group to do a review. The reviewers spoke to a large number of those on Bishop’s Staff, at the Cathedral and at the Diocesan Offices. They also spoke to eighteen other people across the diocese, of which I was one.

The Chief Executive resigned soon after the first draft was circulated internally and the Area Bishop of Grimsby announced his early retirement shortly before the contents of the final report were made public a couple of weeks ago, so the ground was beginning to move before we even saw it. Further changes in our strategies and our financial arrangements will follow.

Alongside the Bishop of Lincoln, we have been operating with an Area Bishop of Grantham and an Archdeacon together serving the southern half of the diocese (the Archdeaconry of Lincoln) and an Area Bishop of Grimsby and an Archdeacon together serving the northern half (the two separate Archdeaconries of Stow and of Lindsey - in reality a bit more than half the diocese).

The review recommends the Area Bishop system be discontinued partly in response to apparent fears that two quite different dioceses were developing, and the Bishop has simply got on and done that. It seems quite possible that consultation will result in the one remaining Area Bishop continuing as the only Suffragan Bishop in the diocese; a large amount of the ministry strategy work and the routine appointment process work will then need to be done elsewhere.

The review recommended a new senior-status Director of Ministry post to hold the whole recruitment, review and support of the clergy processes, which is where it envisaged the ministry strategy work being implemented. It also noted that the two Archdeacons were seriously over stretched.

What the Bishop and Diocesan Council have in fact recommended, and what the Diocesan Synod agreed last week, is the immediate recruitment of a third Archdeacon. The idea is that the sizes of the three Archdeaconries are adjusted so that each covers about a third of the diocese, and each Archdeacon gives perhaps a third of his or her time to strategic work across the whole diocese in the areas of use of buildings, nurturing of lay discipleship and deployment of ministry.

Contributions to the Synod meeting were limited to two minutes each. All l was able to do was ask for clarification about this. Two Archdeacons giving six days a week each to their Archdeaconries doesn’t appear to be any different to three Archdeacons giving four days each and so doesn’t appear to be a response to the review finding them over stretched. One Archdeacon giving two days a week to ministry issues is also much less than a full-time Director of Ministry appointment if that is what the report recommendation meant and the loss of Area Bishops requires.

The diocesan Press Release after the Synod persists in saying that the changes are in part ‘to reduce the significant administrative burden currently placed on the two Archdeacons’ - something which I understand may in fact be achieved in part through a different plan for a ‘triage’ system by which the overwhelming flow of requests for things like permission to undertake minor work on churches will go to the diocesan office and only those which would then benefit from Archidiaconal ‘treatment’ would reach them.

It is over ten years since I last went to a Diocesan Synod. It seemed to me then that it had been so managed that it had no realistic chance of being a real player in policy development, so I stopped going. This time the Synod gave a fair wind to the rest of the report, noting it and authorising the setting up of nine panels which should indeed make a difference as they to work at the whole range of other recommendations within it.

What I have spent the last twelve years doing is serving as a Governor of a large College of Further and Higher Education where I’ve got very used to an extreme level of scrutiny of our standards and rigour of governance. With examining how we measure ourselves against the new Common Inspection Framework and with the on-going process of assessing whether a recommendation can be made to the Privy Council finding us worthy of having Foundation Degree Awarding Powers (FDAP), this process feels almost continual.

So it was slightly surreal being back at Diocesan Synod simply being informed of the Area Bishop changes and voting through the new Archdeacon arrangements. I realise that a large Synod cannot really operate as a tight governing body and has a different role, but I know what Ofsted and the FDAP assessors would say if the College Governors had agreed radical adjustments to the provision of Deputy and Assistant Principal posts on the basis of a couple of paragraph in an external review and a one paragraph proposal from the Principal which didn’t appear quite to match it, with a single two minute window to raise questions, and without things like detailed Job Descriptions, impact assessments and organisation charts. Which doesn’t, of course, mean that it isn’t an appropriate and potentially creative way forward. We shall see.

Meanwhile, I sometimes encourage people who come across local ironstone church walls to look for shell fossils, and found this example myself at the weekend on the tower wall of St Helen's, Kirmington.

Monday 1 October 2012

The absence of elephants

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 they begin to die the huge gap is exposed.

This is something I’ve posted twice before. I’ve now been trying to do some work to get my brain clear for the next meeting of the deanery Mission Area Planning Group, and what I’ve found myself typing is that, despite our doing what we thought were all the right things in the parish over twenty years, the elephants born in 1960s onwards are simply not in the room.

An article in the Church Times last week picked up the radically different level of charitable giving by those born during and between the two World Wars (exactly those who were teenagers in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s) compared especially with those born since 1966 (the oldest of whom became teenagers when the Thatcher Government began - exactly those we hardly ever recruit); it compared more than simply the social cohesion of the first with the individualism of the second.

Earlier in the month it had carried another article which described huge church growth in England in the last few years but admitted that areas with static or shrinking populations, little ethnic diversity, and low economic dynamism have tended to see less church growth... (which) suggests we need to be realistic about those contexts which are toughest; it is harder to grow a church in Middlesborough than Middlesex.

Meanwhile, also this month, the Grimsby Telegraph reports a local rural church facing £200 000 of repairs with fifteen regular attenders who are no longer able to furnish things from Chuchwardens and PCC to engagement with the local school and so it may shut. If it does so it will not be the first, nor (given the number of churches where literally the youngest regular attender is well above retirement age) will it be the last.

These three articles caught my attention and flavour my awareness at the moment, but they don’t say anything we did not really already know: we are trying to attract later generations into a pattern of church commitment and life of an earlier generation; we are trying to do so in one of the least promising social setting in the country; and these truths are so unpalatable that we do not pay any real attention to them in our discussion or planning.

Of course there are exceptions, and a number of individuals brought into our present pattern of discipleship and organisation each year, but, nevertheless, the general points remain stubbornly true.  So I wonder whether deanery planning ought now to seek someone who will specialise in helping key churches in the deanery provide something new which addresses those aged 25-55 in our community.

And whether parish planning should carve out significant time to follow up the way a previous Curate talked briefly before she left with some of those in this age group who attend our regular worship or alternative provision and with a handful of those who come to us to request Baptism and Marriage to pay much more attention to their habits and thinking before we plan anything else which is new. 

Meanwhile, we enjoyed lots of the details in this Last Supper scene, which comes again from the Burrell Collection.

Monday 24 September 2012

Bennetts of Grimsby

This apparently unremarkable unit on an industrial estate in the parish is the home of a company which has been operated by the same family for over two hundred years. Earlier this year the local paper reported a major new contract with Tesco and commented that the Bennett brothers who run it are the sixth generation of the family to do so. William Bennett, founder of the firm, was born in the eighteenth century, and he would have begun his working life when Grimsby was still a tiny port of 1500 people.

He had, among other children, three sons. James (1822-50) married Docea Wintringham (a member of another prominent Grimsby timber merchant family) but died young leaving her a widow with two small children. Henry (1827-1905) was to be one of Grimsby’s most prominent citizens; he was Mayor in the year it was granted County Borough status and was knighted as a result. Joseph (1829-1908) moved to a large house in Louth (the railway allowed an easy commute for Grimsby businessmen) and was MP for Gainsborough for two short periods. Members of their families keep turn up in this Blog

James’ widow Docea married as her second husband the Joseph Chapman whose fortune was also to be made as a timber merchant and whose legacy paid for the building of St Michael’s; the huge angel monument in the churchyard is in her memory. My wife has followed this through and unearthed the extraordinary story of this marriage. It took place in 1859 by license in a City of London church with the groom declaring himself to be of full age (he wasn’t – he was nineteen) as did the bride (in fact twelve years older than him) but at the time of the 1861 census three years later they were living apart and still declaring themselves to be ‘unmarried’ and a ‘widow’; it would be intriguing to know at what point their families and friends discovered that they had in fact been married secretly.

Sir Henry’s daughter Hilda married Edward Cordeaux of Great Coates; it is their son after whom Cordeaux School in Louth is named. Edward was the son of the ornithologist John Cordeaux (great nephew and heir of the Richard Taylor whose memorial is in St Nicolas’) and Agent for Sutton Estates in Great Coates after whom Cordeaux House in the village is named.

Joseph was the great great grandfather of the Bennett brothers who run the family firm today, and also, we discover, great great grandfather of their third cousin Paul who owns Brackenborough Hall. It was a remark of Paul Bennett’s at the Heritage Open Day there which set us off following this all up. He said that the Hall had been bought over a hundred years ago for a great uncle of his whose health had made him unable to continue in the family’s timber merchant business in Grimsby (the moment our attention was fully caught). The great uncle had died young so the Hall had passed to a brother - Paul’s grandfather.

Doubtless unknowingly I bump into other descendants of William Bennett every time I type about figures in Grimsby’s history, or, perhaps I do so every time I step outside my front door.

Monday 17 September 2012

Polishing leaves

Our Area Bishop has announced his retirement at the age of 59. Although we might well have expected him to carry on for another five to ten years, one can understand why a Bishop, after twelve years in post, wants to take what he calls the ‘risky step’ of exploring whether the years before final retirement could be used doing new things.

We shall be poorer for the absence of his strengths - everything from his personal way of conducted Confirmation services to his clear sighted view of the changing landscape within which the church operates.

It is a challenging image from a Sabbatical he undertook a while ago which I may remember best - set out here from the beginning of an article in his own old Blog:

The most valuable aid to my thinking came from a fig tree... When I arrived, the tree looked magnificent, with leaves of a dimension that could cope with any Adam. The fruit was forming, although still bright green and firm.

What I had not realised was how sterile a fig tree could be in terms of other life... [until], as the summer moved on and the fruit ripened, the tree developed a community of its own - a community drawn to the fruit. There were insects and birds eating the fruit, birds eating the insects, and birds eating other birds.

Inevitably, my mind was drawn to the passages in Mark and Matthew where Jesus goes to a fig tree looking for fruit, finds none, and curses the tree so that it withers and dies… Israel, with so much potential for responding to God’s desire to engage with his creation, had let God down.

The cursing of the fig tree and other episodes such as the clearing of the temple and Jesus’ turning water into wine, speak of God moving on in the person of Jesus – the new wine of God’s relationship with the created. God’s agenda was not to be held back by the Jewish religiosity of the time which produced vast amount of religious leaves – but when those hungry for God reached into those leaves, there was nothing there. It was all leaf.

Observing the fig tree, I realised that as the fruit was eaten or fell to the ground, the vibrant community which had gathered and established itself, disappeared with the fruit. The tree became very dull – still plenty of leaves but very dull…

The danger for a Church is that it can be all leaf. It may ‘look the part’ on the human landscape but it may in fact be fruitless – and God moves on. It is fruit that reveals God’s relationship with his creation, and the religiosity, the system and structure of Judaism, had let God down – and Jesus cursed that tree…

I could not help but see the danger for the Church in our age. It can be good at producing leaves of religiosity – reports from Synod; new liturgy; umpteen commissions and renewal schemes – but where is the fruit?

With this in mind, as I studied church growth, I found I was frequently reading about institutional survival. This was true even of material from the evangelically minded independent churches. When we talk about growth, we’re usually talking about more members for the institution, and fruitfulness comes a long way down the list of what the Church might offer the world.

In a tree there is an essential balance between leaves and fruit. Leaves are essential for the producing of fruit. They are essential for the health of the whole tree, but they are not the purpose of the tree. There is a delicate balance between the need for a tree to have the structure and mechanisms needed to give it life, and the fruit, which is the purpose and future of the tree.

We talk about how to ‘grow’ the church but we are caught up with conversations about institutions and ‘leaves’. Yet without fruit how dull the tree is – no community, no vibrancy of life, nothing for those who hunger. The question hangs there: ‘what is the purpose?’

When I recognised the dullness of the fruitless tree, I recalled the rubber plants and cheese plants of the 1960s and 1970s. In truth, they were very dull plants, but we tenderly cared for these monsters growing in our living rooms. We bought bottles of leaf shine, so that with leaves carefully polished they looked splendid, but actually they continued to be very dull plants. For me, it sometimes feels that much of what we do in the Church is actually polishing leaves!

The picture is of the Deserted Mediaeval Village site at Brackenborough Hall.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Heritage Open Days

This is a capital from the top of a column in Louth Park Abbey now upside down and used as the base of a garden ornament at near by Brackenborough Hall.  It is just one of a number of interesting things we were shown there on Sunday afternoon.

And this is me gesticulating at St George's, Bradley the previous day.  We provided guided tours of each of our three mediaeval churches on Saturday and most of the photographs seem to show me waving my hands around...

... including this one introducing people to the Tickler Memorial Window inside the church.  I had prepared a post yesterday about the announcement of the unexpected early retirement of our Area Bishop (including some quotations from useful things he has written in the past) but I can't get Blogger to accept any 'paste' commands so that will have to wait.

Monday 3 September 2012

Split-brain Anglicanism

Is there a link between the two sides of the human brain and the division which runs down the centre of modern Christianity?

I need to read Ian McGilchrist’s The Master and the Emissary. It’s author says it ‘argues that the division of the brain into two hemispheres is essential to human existence, making possible incompatible versions of the world, with quite different priorities and values’. I’ve just been filing a recent discussion of the book by Mark Vernon in The Tablet ( which make it clear that this isn’t an idea that the left brain is rational and the right brain emotional.

Rather what Gilchrist appears to think is going on is a left brain whose ‘personality’ seeks precision and certainty, putting in an order the knowable it has encountered; without this we would be unable to navigate our way around anything. Meanwhile the right brain has a ‘personality’ which is simply more open, making new connections, exhibiting ‘negative capability’; without this we would be imprisoned by the inevitably partial maps with which we operate.

The suggestion is that we need both kinds of attention to survive: the narrow conceptualising focus of the left brain and the open engagement of the right brain; the ability to stand back and to continue to be a participant at the same time; a definite distant view but not from a final undetached position.

What struck me about this is the way it parallels the ‘metaphors about the extreme danger those of us in the Church of England have been in from the beginning when we engage in the theological enterprise’, to quote a letter of mine published in Theology in 2000. Examples I used included ‘a tightrope with infallibility on one side and apostasy on the other’ (Paul Avis 1986) and ‘between the Scylla of free-floating spirituality and the Charybdis of over-reactive fundamentalism’ (Advisory Board of Ministry 1996).

It is something I traced in Doctrine Commission reports: ‘if we apply words to God in their ordinary literal or univocal sense, then we all too easily make God in our own image and fall into idolatory; if we use them in an entirely different or equivocal sense, then we have no reason for using one word rather than another, and we are lost in agnosticism’ (1976) and there being ‘no satisfactory way of avoiding [problems] by the sectarian or by the latitudinarian route’ (1981).

So I wrote about ‘the dangers for conservatives of falling into idolatry, infallibility, over-reactive fundamentalism and sectarianism’ and ‘the dangers faced by liberals of falling into agnosticism, apostasy, free-floating spirituality and latitudinarianism’ while ‘I continue to long for pieces of internal Anglican polemic which actually take the two dangers equally seriously’.

Now, might McGilchrist’s analysis help? Do these tensions in Anglicanism simply reflect tensions in all integrated thinking and living? Is it only isolated left brain working which is stuck with the formulations on which we depend to know? Is it only isolated right brain working which gets lost in the endless possibilities it isn’t safe to ignore? Is it only (normal!) whole brain living which is essential if we are to navigate round all this?

Of course, those who have engaged in theories of language have already been on to much of this, so I ought to go back to those next. What I have begun to read is Malcolm Guite’s Faith, Hope and Poetry. I keep getting distracted by following up the individual poems to which he pays attention. But (part from his treatment of language, symbol, faith and imagination) I’ve already spotted at the very beginning that what he identifies as the Enlightenment dilemma matches step for step my Theology quotations:

... the Christian faith , which was forced to choose sides in this divide, either to be relegated to something subjective, not there, essentially made up, or to become a pseudo-science, reducing the great mysteries embedded in the ancient story-telling of scripture to quantifiable exactitudes, patient only of a literal interpretation. Theology felt itself forced to choose between increasingly vague and amorphous liberalism, happy to keep reinventing the faith, and increasingly strident fundamentalism, which tries to treat the vast subtle poem of scripture as a single scientific treatice whose every word is literally and only literally true...

The picture of the Judgement of Solomon comes from our visit to the Burrell Collection.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

and Hexham Abbey

I only managed to take adequate photographs of a fraction of the things to we saw, beginning with the obvious unique survival of the night stairs by which the Augustinian Canons would come down from their living quarters into the church...

... continuing with the Roman gravestone at the foot of those stairs (also visible on the right of the first photograph) with its conquered Britain beneath the feet of the Centurian's horse...

... and finishing with further re-used Roman stones in the Seventh Century crypt which is all that remains of St Wilfrid's original foundation, but, in truth, the others contents of the building would have been worth the journey even if these three things were not in it.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Vindolanda Bible Study

The name Onesimus emerges in First or Second Century records from Hadrian’s Wall as well as in Paul’s letter to Philemon, and apparently is quite a common name (particularly for a slave since it means ‘useful’ - so, perhaps, is something like calling someone ‘the help’). We visited the Wall on our way back from Scotland including these on-going excavation at Vindolanda which is where scraps of wooden notes inefficiently consigned to an administrative bonfire have been recovered and deciphered.

We saw some of the tablets ranging from an invitation to a birthday party to a report on how many soldiers were available for deployment on a specific day. I was sufficiently intrigued to buy the British Museum’s book about them which reproduces the most substantial and important. Another touching point with the biblical epistles was immediately apparent which is simply the way several letters finish with a few words in the sender’s own handwriting (and probably include on the birthday party invitation the earliest surviving female handwriting).

This much later building on the site is thought to have been a Christian church. In Philemon Paul (a Roman citizen) refers to Onesimus (a slave) as a brother, so I was particularly struck in the book to find writing from the same period in which Severus (a cornicularius - a sort of NCO) address Candidus (a slave) as brother. But now I’ve come home and explored the Oxford website for these texts, I find scholars there read things differently (isn't it always the way?) and reason exactly the other way around: ‘palaeographically, this reading could be defended - it is certain, however, that Candidus is a slave and we think it inconceivable that a cornicularius would address a slave with the word frater'.

Meanwhile a couple of miles away this Roman altar has been reused as a the font in the old church at Haydon where we stayed.

Monday 13 August 2012

Our Lady of the Burrell

Here she is learning to walk.  The picture (taken through glass at the Burrell Collection when we got up to Glasgow) is poor but it shows an impressive early baby-walker represented on a mediaeval vestment.

Here she is happily pregnant.  We liked the way she and her cousin Elizabeth are shown with their yet-to-be-born babies inside them, and the way John the Baptist jumps for joy at 'sight' of Jesus.

And here she is with her playful child pinching her chin.  An even worse picture, but included because we enjoyed the unusual statue so much.

Sunday 12 August 2012

New Lanark


How did a Cotton Mill owner come to be one of those who organised protests at the punishment of the Tolpuddle Martyrs?  During our stay at New Lanark we became intrigued by proto-socialist Robert Owen.  It turns out that he wasn't simply an elightened Mill owner but rather a social idealist who used his relatively isolated Mill to experiment in creating a more just community. His father-in-law had established the Mill where the Falls of Clyde provided natural energy.  Owen bought him out in 1800, later having Jeremy Bentham among others (this wasn't a Christian experiment) contribute to secure the investment.

He did things which he might not have been able to do if there were rival firms near by to put pressure on him - he reduced the workers hours, he provided schooling for their children (including the first Nursery School in the country, along with instructions that the children should have their natural curiosity satisfied and not be punished or rewarded), he maintained free medical care provision, and he provided a shop which was one of the the inspirations for the modern co-op movement.

So his mill, part of which is now developed into a hotel in a World Heritage Site, proved an unexpectedly intriguing place to stay, quiet apart from the pleasure of the rush of the Clyde beneath our window.  Owen wasn't unique and was in fact in part building on what his father-in-law had started.  His father-in-law was also behind the Blantyre Mill in which David Livingstone worked as a boy and young man, and, when we visited the museum around Livingstone's single room family home, we saw how Livingstone benefited from the education provided there including access to a significant library through which with astonishing self determination he prepared himself for medical school.    

Saturday 11 August 2012

Ruthwell Cross

'Heavily gazing at heaven's chieftan' were those who looked on Christ on the cross, the cross itself knowing whom it carried and saying 'bow me I durst not'.  The Dream of the Rood is one of the earliest poems in English, and here lines from it are written in runes down the side (left in the picture) of the cross, the earliest record of the poem we have.

It is something we had long wanted to see, and were able to do so as we travelled from Carlisle towards New Lanark.  This face shows Christ in Majesty (standing on beasts, as the more conventionally written Latin inscription indicates), and the picture also shows how the cross now stands in its restored position behind the Communion table in Ruthwell Kirk.

As the Taliban had the Buddhas of Bamiyam blown up, so the seventeenth century Church of Scotland had most such crosses destroyed; later on our holiday, at Govan, we were shown another cross literally de-faced (its surfaces chiseled smooth) which drove home the sense of how much has been lost.  But at Ruthwell they saved their cross by burying it, so we can still find images on it like these Desert Fathers breaking bread together .

Friday 10 August 2012

Carlisle misericords

'Its laugh can only be wicked' is what the guidebook says of this human headed winged beast.  Carlisle was a first stopping point on our holiday and we enjoyed these carvings in its Cathedral's choir stalls dating from about 1415.

Biblical scenes are always in a minority among such carvings, but this is St Michael (beautifully feathered as Mystery Play actors in this part often were) subduing the devil (taking the  form of a dragon).

Mythical beasts are much more common, although this hyena may well be unique to Carlisle.  Mediaeval 'beasteries' catalogue these creatures and the hyena is characterised in them as having a rigid back and a diet of human corpses.

Monday 23 July 2012

Community infrastructure

Funding has just been withdrawn from Walk Well, a health promotion scheme which uses St Michael’s each Tuesday. Those who are told they should take more exercise often either don’t know what to do or don’t have the persistence to go on doing it, so there have been advantages in having several places locally to which people can be directed where a serious walk and then some optional social time is on offer; over fifty people were setting off from St Michael’s when I called there last week.

The wider use of the church has done us no harm - we are glad to be partners in promoting well being, they pay rent, their presence helped us convince other funders that improvements to the church were not just for the benefit of the congregation, and a couple of the walkers have even started coming to services. The St Michael’s users would like to continue on a self-help basis, but they will only be able to manage a lower rent.

The local FE College is just withdrawing from its ten year old lease on the 1960s building which is our former Bishop Edward King Church. It stepped in when the church closed in 2002. We made an agreement that it would lease the building for no rent - but that it would invest capital in it and allow the church and community to use it.

This arrangement benefited everyone. The building was re-roofed and the toilets upgraded including the installation of a new toilet with disabled access. The College was able to deliver mainly computer based training in the middle of a local community at lower cost. Things like our own weekly Chatterbox group and monthly Songs of Praise service continued. Everything from art classes, Brownies and Councillors’ surgeries to piper’s rehearsals, WI and youth choir have somewhere to meet. Even the garden was developed as something of a local park in partnership with bodies like the local Tenants and Residents Association.

But the funding of Further Education in the country has changed radically in the last couple of years and what is now the Grimsby Institute can no longer afford to staff a training centre which will run at a loss. During August we will try to put together a budget to see whether the hourly rent paid by the large number of community groups will be able to cover the basic overhead costs so that we can go on running it as a Community Centre on a break even basis, as we have been doing with the Littlecoates Community Centre elsewhere in the parish.

And, although it does not affect us so directly, another Community Centre is closing. The Yarborough Community Centre is actually part of the school next door to it. The school is becoming an Academy so it appears the whole of the property will become part of the assets of a new independent group and will no longer be something the local authority can make available. I went along last week to talk with one organisation which has used the Centre for a while to check whether it had found a new home and, as it happens, it was a neighbouring church which has been able to offer it one.
One reaction to all this news (which has come in the space of the last two weeks) is that those who rely upon small church and voluntary sector groups to play their part in the ‘big society’ may underestimate the effect that these sorts of cuts and changes make to our viability. Tightening the health service budget, cutting the adult education budget, and pushing through the Academy process might not appear to be things which effect us.  But the cumulative result of the loss of £500 income here, new responsibility for building maintenance there, and the disappearance of a neighbouring community facility elsewhere puts us under unexpected pressure.

These sort of potential and actual losses in activities and facilities makes community action and service much harder. How will community groups serve others when they don’t have income streams? How will churches make their facilities available to others when they can’t afford to repair their roofs? Where will Brownies meet when the last hall closes?

Neverthless, this is all part of a larger picture. In this parish in turn the Wybers Wood Community Centre (as long ago as the 1980s), St Michael’s Church Hall (early in my time), the Great Coates Reading Room (more recently) and the Yarborough Community Centre (now) have closed (although money from selling the Church Hall site has been invested in equipping St Michael’s church itself for wider community use, and a new Village Hall may be built in Great Coates). So the process is not new. And, it must be said, this may in part be because people now choose to socialise and collaborate in such places much less than they did.
This is actually one of the points on which the Chief Executive of Voluntary Action in North East Lincolnshire challenged Churches Together in North East Lincolnshire at its recent AGM. She (and others) had been invited to give us a different perspective on our context. She actually mentioned what I think she called a surplus of community buildings in decline competing for the rapidly reducing grant income which had previously sustained them.
She hinted that a better future might include more collaboration and fewer but better centres of excellence. She also asked us to consider whether issues like new levels of unemployment and poverty should attract our attention and efforts as much as sustaining the old form of infrastructure.

Monday 16 July 2012

Fair Trade Chocolate

Why did he have to pick on chocolate? I wanted to make a difference. I was ready to put in a lot of time and effort. But the only thing he asked me to do was to make sure the chocolate I buy is Fair Trade chocolate. That would make the most impact, he said.

He was Steve Chalk. Steve is the Baptist Minister who heads up the Oasis charity which sponsors two of the Secondary Schools in North East Lincolnshire. He is also into a remarkable other range of things as a Christian activist. One of them is being a United Nations special advisor for community action against human trafficking.

He had been invited to Grimsby by a church based Justice and Peace Group. This is a group of Christians in North East Lincolnshire who want to think and act seriously about the way they live out their faith responsibly in the world. At the beginning of July, Churches Together in North East Lincolnshire promoted a Week Against Human Trafficking partly around Steve’s visit to this group.

So there I was sitting in St Pius’ Church listening to him. He revealed the extent to which human beings are bought and sold across the world for sexual exploitation and forced labour. It was quite a harrowing account.

I had then been asked to chair a time when people could ask questions. During a short break one person came up to me. ‘I don’t want to speak’, she said, ‘but I do want to know the answer to one question’. It was a profound question, so I began the next session by asking it for her. ‘Is my lifestyle the problem?’ she asked. ‘In what way would living my life differently make a difference?’.

And the example Steve used was chocolate. A huge amount of the raw material for the chocolate on sale in England has been harvested by trafficked labour, he said. He had tackled many of the major firms about this. They had not all responded well. It takes quite a bit of auditing to make sure a firm knows it only uses cocoa which has been harvested responsibly.

But it can be done. The work of people like Steve had meant that we are promised that four fingered (but not two fingered ) Kit Kat are made with fairly traded cocoa.

So, the message I took away was to be much more careful about the chocolate I buy. It is going to be quiet a challenge - although knowing that four fingered Kit Kats are alright is definitely going to be a help.

The article was the 'Pause for Thought' column in last week's Cleethorpes Chronicle.  The picture is a sign we spotted near Novartis when returning from a walk on the Humber bank wall at the weekend; someone must have put in a bit of planning and effort to adapt the speed bump sign.