Monday 30 January 2012

The undeserving poor

Clergy have strikingly more liberal views about the causes of poverty than members of their congregations. And the views of churchgoers don’t differ markedly from those of non-churchgoers.

The national British Social Attitudes Survey gathered information from 3500 people, 500 of whom identified themselves as at least monthly churchgoers. The Church Urban Fund and Church Action on Poverty then asked identical questions of 209 clergy at their periodic deanery ‘chapter’ meetings - and last week they sent out spam to our e-mail addresses to tell us about this.

Three quarters of the clergy (74%) thought poverty was attributable to injustice in society, but only a fifth of churchgoers (22%) did so, not that much different from non-churchgoers (20%). 1% of clergy (that would be two of those at the meetings) agreed that laziness or lack of willpower was a cause, something a quarter of churchgoers (23%) and non-churchgoers (27%) thought it was.

Clergy were half as likely (16%) as either churchgoers or non-churchgoers (both 38%) to say poverty was an inevitable part of modern life. Clergy were twice as likely (78%) to think there was ‘quite a lot of child poverty’ (the Government's own figures suggest four million children) than churchgoers (37%), whose perception is very similar to non-churchgoers (38%).

So what should I type?

This vindicates the policy of having parish priests living in each community and having their antennae out among the most vulnerable around them. But it is pretty damning about the ways in which we share insights with and help the Gospel form the consciences of those in our congregations.

This challenges the policy of having stipendiary clergy who don’t have to earn a living and become detached from the objective realities which are self evident to their congregations and parishioners doing business in the real world. And it is good that our naivety washes over most of those to whom we preach.
I’d better not let me kid myself into being self congratulatory: far from my beliefs, values and behaviour about most things being so much more Gospel-sourced than even those in our congregations, most of what I think and do is almost indistinguishable from the norms in the community around me.
A sample of 209, especially collected in a context in which peers were present, is a very poor base from which to draw any conclusions.
Meanwhile, North East Lincolnshire Council is working along local roads pruning back the trees, as these two pictures at the gateway to St Michael’s (taken two days apart last week) show.

Monday 23 January 2012

Obvious ploys

Radio Humberside’s presenters doesn’t appear to be happy if their interviews fail to include a little twist - it can certainly makes them more interesting but I suspect they sometimes deceive themselves into thinking it demonstrates more journalistic insight and probing than it really does.

Last time I appeared on its Sunday morning programme it was to talk about the appeal for a new heating system in St Nicolas’. I’d got across the few prepared sentences to carry the message I wanted (they aren’t the only ones who labour their way through the predictable ploys in these interviews) when the presenter finished by asking me what I was giving myself. He obviously thought this was the killer question, and I don’t think he had the first idea what a proportion of the regular and special giving particularly in some small churches actually comes from the hidden pledges and gifts by clergy and their families which they do not trumpet.

So, yesterday, I wasn’t surprised when an interview about the previous day's celebration of the ‘faith in action’ of the North East Lincolnshire churches finished with what the interviewer may have thought was an equally incisive question but which probably showed that he didn’t think listeners would really believe the churches display faith in action.  He asked ‘But how easy is that relationship between church and community to keep the church up to date with what is going on, to keep it in touch with the community and what it needs?’. ‘Doesn’t everything I’ve just said answer that question?’ was the answer I’m grateful to have had the restraint not to give.

The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity event was a whole market inside Grimsby Minster with at least a dozen stalls each supplied by one of the church-sponsored organisations in Grimsby or near by which is responding to the needs of the community around us. From Harbour Place (the initiative of one Catholic nun years ago still feeding at least thirty homeless people every day) to the Rock Foundation (the initiative of an independent church recently to provide worthwhile activities and work for those with learning difficulties) it would appear there is quite a lot of evidence that we do have our fingers on the pulse of the changing and pressing needs of the community.

To be fair, those of us on the Executive of Churches Together put on the event because we were not sure people in our churches fully appreciated the cumulative impact on our community numerous such organisations are making. We invited along the new Bishop of Lincoln and the new Chairman of the Methodist District, along with one of the Catholic Vicars General and a senior independent church representative, to give messages of encouragement (and to be impressed by what we are doing - our ploy and motivation being as transparent as that of any Radio presenter), and the picture is of the Bishop speaking at the event.

Monday 16 January 2012

St Nicolas' South Aisle

This is the extent to which the south aisle of St Nicolas’ (on the right) has moved away from the tower (on the left) made visible again last week when the recent failed repair was scrapped out by an investigating engineer. We don’t know how much of this movement is recent - he could detect at least two earlier in-fill repairs which might indicate that this is a very old and/or a very gradual shift, but he has placed lots of measuring points round the area to monitor whether there is any movement over the next few months. The outward angle of the south wall, and evidence of vertical cracking at the naturally weak point roughly level with the bottom of the windows (again, some of which show signs of earlier repair), are also indications of the shift which has been going on over some time.

Meanwhile his attempt to dig down to foundation level to see if there is anything going on there failed when it hit this concrete apron round the building (a twentieth century drainage channel - we can't work out why it continues underground here). He’d like to get a digger in to do more investigation if his monitoring does show continued recent movement. In these circumstances he would also like to investigate inside where the south aisle roof beams meet the main body of the church to make sure they haven’t been pulled out so far that they might cease to provide support. Our hope is that neither of these further investigations will prove necessary.

Monday 9 January 2012

A new Team Vicar?

We don’t know what we are looking for in a new colleague. This is a deliberate step. Being too sure of what we want may limit who will apply. Apart from anything else, this is likely to be dangerous as there are not usually many applicants for jobs in this area. We’d quite like a surprise, and pray that it will be a God-given one.

So the Bishop may be about to advertise the post (half Chaplain at the local Hospice and half Vicar in this Team Ministry) left vacant when the Revd Terrie Stott left last year.

The draft text of an advert which may appear soon says:

The parish is waiting to explore with appropriate applicants the gifts and vocation they can bring that will complement and surprise its well established ‘Shared Ministry Team’.

The draft text of the background papers for applicants says:

We’ve carefully decided to take the risk of not to over define what we are looking for but wait to see where God may be moving. We’d like to find out what potential applicants for the half-time Hospice post have to offer, and how these might add to or complement what we already have. The gifts and vocation of the person appointed will determine the post.

Meanwhile, the accidentally artistic photo was really an attempt to capture something of the red sun falling through a plain window in St Nicolas’ last week.

Monday 2 January 2012

Looking both ways

Pictures of Janus inspired the small group which gathered in St Michael's for the Last Saturday Thing on New Year's Eve to produce our own images of looking both back and forward, and in the dim lighting for our prayers at the end the processional cross appeared to be doing its best to join in.  By then I'd adapted my trite title for the evening ('Old Year Sorrow, New Year Hope') for us to have mixed views and mixed prayers about both past and future.