Monday 26 March 2012

Fresh eyes

We announced yesterday that the Revd David McCormick is coming in May to work with us as Team Vicar and with St Andrew’s Hospice as Chaplain. David was brought up in Grimsby and returned to be Team Vicar of St Hugh’s in our neighbouring Great Grimsby Team Ministry before moving ten years ago to work full-time in the diocese’s training team, so we are looking forward to welcoming him back.

In my twelve years or so here we haven’t worked with an external work consultant in this Team Ministry (at one point the Bishop offered to try to identify one for me, but nothing came of that, and it is a serious fault of mine that I haven’t ever pursued this), so it will be particularly interesting and valuable for me and us this summer and autumn to engage with what he will be observing about and reacting to my and our established approaches.

Meanwhile, last week the newish Priest-in-Charge of the Great Grimsby Team has very kindly sent his neighbours the terms of reference for the review of that Team parish, including a quite thorough assessment of the role of the Minster there and of his role as Area Dean both serving the whole of North East Lincolnshire including this Team parish. He won’t know that nine months earlier the Deputy Chief Executive of the diocese wrote to me on behalf of himself and the Archdeacon to say there would be consultation with the Deanery Pastoral Committee about these terms of reference, but even at the time we didn’t imagine that was actually going to happen.

So there will be fresh eyes in both neighbouring Team Ministries, and much opportunity to engage constructively rather than defensively with what they see.

The other over view of at least part of this parish at the weekend was provided by going up the towers of St Michael’s (which I do quite often) and of St Nicolas’ (which I have only done once before). There is a report and ten much better pictures at The top picture here picks out a spiral of flowers on the north side of St Michael’s which wasn’t there last year. The bottom picture of two ships passing on the Humber hints at how unexpectedly close Yorkshire is to St Nicolas’.

Monday 19 March 2012

Losing Rowan

Being Principal of a Cambridge College is obviously a much less prestigious and challenging role than I had imagined. Recently The Independent carried what turned out to be a report of the appointment of a new Master of Emmanuel; the report appeared under a headline announcing the Director General of the National Trust was ‘standing down’. Last week it carried an article about the appointment of the new Master of Magdalene; the article spoke of the post as ‘quiet retirement in academia’.

Meanwhile, there are two parts of the ‘bigger picture’ which this almost universal level of reporting doesn’t touch as it swings into a focus on the betting odds for the appointment of anew Archbishop.

First, at the political level, it is quite possible that this summer the Church of England will very narrowly fail to agree to have women Bishops (a goal prized by liberals) and quite clearly decline to enter into the proposed new Anglican Communion Covenant (a goal prized by conservatives), thus failing to do two things which the present Archbishop of Canterbury had urged it to do. If this does happen, his resignation will have removed in advance the need for any speculation about whether his position then becomes untenable or whether in fact he is uniquely well equipped and well placed to help people see where to go from there. It is a new Archbishop of Canterbury who will be the one who has to pick things up afresh from there - if ‘pick things up afresh’ is a reasonable way to put ‘try to be the sort of focus of unity even a man of Rowan Williams’ rare qualities was not able to be’.

Secondly, at the philosophical level, the Church of England continues to exist on the knife edge between the liberal danger of such pliability in the face of the insights and norms of the world that it no longer holds the faith and the conservative danger of such ossification in the face of the traditions of the church that it no longer makes sense in the world. Another later post might spell this out more fully; the point here is simply that Rowan Williams sees this clearly, that most of those who criticise him within and without the church do not, and that we would be lost if a new Archbishop does not.

The Archbishops of Canterbury appointed in my life time had all first been appointed Bishop from a post as either a Professor of Theology (Ramsey and Williams) or Principal of a Theological College (Coggan, Runcie and Carey), with Catholics with degrees of liberal or affirming hew (Ramsey, Runcie and Williams) being interleaved with Evangelicals with degrees of openness (Coggan and Carey). Some may expect it is the ‘turn’ for an evangelical, and with the increasingly evangelical nature of both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, this would make some sense. Twice the new person was there sitting in office as Archbishop of York (Ramsey and Coggan) and once as Archbishop of Wales (Williams) but twice not (Runcie and Carey). Williams’ appointment ‘from outside the Church of England’ was much less of a break with this pattern than people think (given that he was ordained in the Church of England and served in it until he became Bishop of Monmouth). But, given that the present Archbishop, with all his skills, may have found it impossible to hold the ring, it is difficult to think that anyone else from this sort of pool or outside it likely to be able to make a better fist of things in the next ten years.

Monday 12 March 2012

Debt free

I have just read that a man called Rick Ruzzamenti donated one of his kidneys to a stranger. By doing this Rick made sure someone received the transplant he needed to live. It was a costly thing to do. It involved Rick having to undergo an operation. It means he will have to live the rest of his life with only one kidney. It was an extraordinary act of selflessness. But this is not why the story is so good.

What happened next was the niece of the person who received the kidney was so impressed that she donated one of her kidneys to a stranger as well. Then this second stranger’s ex-boyfriend was so moved that he donated one of his kidneys to a third stranger. And this happened thirty times down a chain. A twenty-ninth stranger received a kidney, and his sister was inspired to donate one of her kidneys to a man called Donald Terry.

Donald is hugely thankful to the women who gave him a kidney. He is also thankful to Rick who set off this cascade of generosity thirty transplants earlier. It is the longest chain of donations like this which has been recorded in the USA.

Most of the time when I give a present I know that in due course I will get a different present in return. When I give something away it is usually something I can afford to do without anyway. But deep down I know that costly giving without expecting anything in return can be what changes the world. Just imagine a society in which the mutual interchange of generosity was a way of life.

There is a link with the Lord’s Prayer. In the language in which the New Testament was written we read Jesus telling us to pray ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive those endebted to us’. If I keep a careful record of exactly what each person owes me back, I am in a trap. When I give and receive with no expectation of return, I am free - which is how God wants it.

It is at least seventeen years since I last wrote a week’s set of six 150 word reflections for the Scunthorpe Telegraph, and now I’ve got back on the treadmill with this my first of 350 words for the Cleethorpes Chronicle. It is the introductory part of the material I used for our parish Lent Group last week, and the sense that God’s purpose is one in which we are free from obligations to him and other people is one to which I wish I paid much more attention.

Meanwhile, something is shoving these piles of earth into the vestry at St George’s, and we can’t work out what and how. New ones arrive as fast as the Churchwarden clears the old ones. It isn’t a mole hill as there is no hole in the concrete beneath the pile of earth. It appears to come through where the floor meets the tower wall at the top of the picture but we assume that the tower wouldn’t still be standing if its foundations didn’t go somewhat deeper than that.

Monday 5 March 2012


The new Bishop of Lincoln is taking two initiatives. One is to review the central services and costs of the diocese; I’d first heard about this from a couple of people on the diocesan staff concerned about their jobs, and it has now been formally announced in the most recent mailing to clergy. The other is to have a programme to deepen discipleship, for which there will be major ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ events in the Cathedral; I’d first heard this referred to by a couple of people active at deanery level, and I’m sure an announcement and programme will be coming to us in due course.

The Bishop spoke about these two things at the Cathedral Council last week. He is aware of good heart and faithfulness in the diocese, but also of a rate of decline in attendance and a rate of financial giving which do not compare well with other dioceses. Part of the result of his review may be to liberate some money to be spent in parishes rather than at the centre. Part of the result of the discipleship initiative may be things ranging from increased giving to more vocation.

This all seems very worthwhile, although I wonder whether these things take sufficient notice of what I think of as the demographic unravelling of our present patterns of operation; the decline which is becoming increasingly visible is not so much people ceasing to attend and give as the coming home to roost of the sharply different rates of recruitment and Christian formation of the people born in the 1920s-50s compared with those born in the 1960s-90s, something about which I have posted before.

On the surface a review of central services and costs makes a lot of sense. The 2012 diocesan budget indicates that just short of 40% of expenditure (£3.8 million) is in these areas while just over 60% (£5.9 million) is in the local deployment of parish priests. But it is not quite as simple as that. Over a third of central expenditure (£1.4 million) is on deploying Curates in training posts in parishes and in deploying ‘sector ministers’ such as Industrial Chaplains in local areas. And a further £0.8 million is our payments to meet fixed national costs, over half of which is for training clergy. If the review was to result in a cut of one third in the remaining £1.6 million of central expenditure that would only free up enough money to deploy 0.75 of an extra clergy post in this deanery (whose budget meets 6% of central costs), which would be welcome but actually quite marginal in a process which has halved the number of filled posts within ten years from about 16 to 8.

And on the surface a systematic readdressing of our discipleship would also be very fruitful; a Catholic member of the Cathedral Council spoke about the impact of the Renew programme when she lived in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton a number of years ago. I am reminded of the Recovering Confidence and Missionary Congregation ideas which were fresh when I was on the diocesan staff fifteen years ago and about which I’ve posted from time to time: taking one’s eyes off the immediate planning and retrenchment to focus on deepening our Christian distinctiveness and engagement. This level of faithfulness and renewal of dependance on God is probably the only way to open up new confidence, mission and possibilities, but perhaps not if in our heart of hearts we go into it simply hoping it will be a magic wand to preserve our present failing structures.

The pile of shopping at the back of St Michael’s yesterday was an impressive response by people in our churches to an appeal the previous Sunday to help restock the North East Lincolnshire churches' Community Larder which had been emptied by the distribution of 79 different gifts to those in emergency need during January and February.