Monday 28 January 2013

A sad story

Name: Betsy Moore (died fr[om] taking an overdose of Colocynth, taken to produce a miscarriage!). [Colocynth (or Bitter Apple) is a particularly strong purgative which even ancient Egyptians believed was able to provoke miscarriage if taken early in pregnancy.]

Abode: Great Coates (servant at Mr Epworth’s) fr[om] Ludford. [Ludford is a village in the Lincolnshire Wolds thirteen miles from Great Coates.]

Date of burial: 3rd July. [1871.]

Age: 22.

Minister: No ceremony. “Felo-de-se”. By Coroner’s Order! [Felo-de-se is ‘felon on self’ – a now obsolete legal term for someone who takes his or her own life.]

I am writing a piece about the Humber-side nature of the parish and went to the Library to capture some entries from St Nicolas’ burial registers which show how the bodies of unknown sailors washed up on the bank of the estuary were buried in the churchyard. In addition, while I was there, I rediscovered and captured this entry.

Betsy isn’t a diminutive; it (or Betsey) is the form of her given name when it appears in other records.

She was born in the July-September quarter of 1849. She shows up at Ludford aged 2 and 12 in the 1851 and 1861 census returns. In 1851 she was the youngest of four children aged two to six living with her widowed mother. In 1861 she is staying with a charwoman in the village. She doesn’t look as if she had much going for her. ‘Going into service’ within a year or two would have been almost the only option open to her.

In the 1871 census, taken exactly three months before she died, she is indeed recorded as a servant of Mr Epworth at Great Coates. Francis Epworth was a farmer and lived with his wife Sophia, four children and three servants on Aylesby Road. Betsey is listed as a housemaid. (Francis and Sophia’s gravestones are in St Michael’s churchyard.)

The entry in the burial register is in the handwriting of the Revd T B Coopland, the resident Assistant Curate, and, more than anything else, the two exclamation marks say as much about the attitude of the church at the time as the fact the burial went ahead without prayers or a funeral service.

We've uncovered the accounts in both the Lincolnshire Chronicle for 7th July and the Grantham Journal for 8th July. 

She had worked at the Epworths for nearly two years and was spoken of as a good servant.  She had bought an ounce of Bitter Apple at Binbrook (not far from her Ludford home) on May Day at about the second month of her pregnancy.  She took it on 1st July when thought by the cook who gave evidence to be four months pregnant. 

Her bowels became inflamed, and she confessed what she had done to the doctor who tried to treat her.  She died early on the 3rd, the inquest was heard in the farmhouse later in the day, and she was buried that night.  She left no goods or chattels.

Twice recently I’ve come across a Grimsby story in the same year where a housemaid was prosecuted for stealing a single postage stamp, was imprisoned for a day, lost her place, and died from taking rat poison; the story is remembered because of the riot which then took place outside her employer’s house.

A couple of years ago I posted another story from near by Irby-on-Humber seventeen years later which might also have been the result of someone very like Betsy having to conceal a pregnancy.

Monday 21 January 2013

Wearing crosses

I haven’t quite got my head around why an evangelical Christian would want to establish his, or especially her, right to wear distinctive and visible Christian jewellery at work, especially if the employer had insisted on either a corporate uniform or a limit to potential infection hazards.

The New Testament is quite consistent about this sort of thing. Jesus’ own teaching takes a dim view of those who make any form of show of distinctive religious dress (the over large phylacteries and over long robe fringes of certain scribes and Pharisees at Matthew 23.5) and later writers urge women in particular to adorn themselves with modesty and good works rather than braided hair, gold, jewels or expensive clothes (1 Timothy 2.9,10 and 1 Peter 3.3,4). One strand of the early church tradition also insists on obedience to even to a slave owner because the Lord will see the quality of the work which is done (Ephesians 6.5,6 and Colossians 3.22-24).

Drawing direct parallels between biblical teaching and modern situations is always more difficult than some strands of fundamentalism might indicate, but, nevertheless, it isn’t difficult to see that the early Christians who followed these teachings would find it incomprehensible that in later generations Christians would take their employers to court to establish the right to wear at work jewellery representing the death of the Lord.

It would be consistent for bodies like the Evangelical Alliance to be saying to them that we are not pagans, nor are we members of just one among many religions competing for equal privileges. They would say, let others sue for the right to wear yellow robes, turbans, veils or anything else. They would conclude, let Christians witness by acceptance, diligence and modesty, and not by outward signs.

The photograph was taken on the way back from Matins one day last week.

Monday 14 January 2013

Waiving fees

The legislation which came into effect at the beginning of the month says

the incumbent… may waive any fee payable to the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF) in a particular case… [and] may, after consulting the churchwardens,… waive any fee payable to the Parochial Church Council (PCC).

The formal explanatory material which accompanied the legislation as it went through the General Synod says

[Fees] may only be waived ‘in a particular case’. That means the incumbent must be able to point to something about the particular case that would justify waiving the fee… DBFs may wish to offer advice to clergy about how and when they wish to exercise their right to waive fees. The [Archbishops’] Council’s advice is that this should only be in cases of clear financial hardship. It is understandable that some clergy have been known to waive fees for those who are long-standing members of the congregation. The [Archbishops’] Council believes, however, that this practice should not be encouraged, certainly as far as the DBF fee is concerned.

So the incumbent has an unfettered right to waive fees. He or she needs nobody’s permission to do so. The Archbishops’ Council offers advice and discouragement, the particular DBF may offer further advice, and the churchwardens must be consulted in relation to the PCC's fee, but none of these other parties may in fact direct the incumbent's decision.

However, the right relates to ‘particular cases’. The incumbent cannot say ‘I don’t believe in the fee system so I will decline to charge fees’. He or she cannot say, for example, ‘the fee for a funeral of someone under 16 is nil, but my general policy is not to charge a fee for a funeral of any teenager’ or ‘my general policy is not to charge those who over time have given substantial financial support to the church’.

What he or she can say is ‘this particular person is in real financial difficulties so I will not charge’, and also, I assume, he or she can say things like ‘I judge it would be a pastoral disaster to charge a fee in this particular case so I will not do so’.

The Lincoln DBF has issued its booklet of advice.  This says, under the heading ‘Key changes’,

Fees cannot be waived generally, only in particular cases and only be the incumbent who must be able to point to justifiable reasons, such as hardship, and should consult the Archdeacon.

This is almost fine so far, although perhaps ‘should consult the Archdeacon’ is already a bit of a stretch from the DBF advising or requesting that the Archdeacon be consulted; since the legislation names consultation which must take place (with churchwardens in relation to the PCC fee) it follows that nobody can actually require additional consultation.

But three pages later the Lincoln DBF advice has a substantive paragraph under the heading ‘Waivers’ which reads in full:

PCCs cannot waive any portion of the DBF fee without permission from the relevant Archdeacon. The PCC fee or any other local fees may be waived by the PCC or incumbent, as agreed between the PCC and incumbent.

It is difficult to believe that either of these sentences has been written or approved for publication by anyone who has engaged properly with the legislation, let alone by anyone who wishes to be taken seriously exercising a formal right to offer advice in relation to it.

The first sentence names the PCC and Archdeacon as the two parties involved in a decision about waiving the DBF fee. But we have seen that neither of them is actually a party to that decision (other perhaps than being parties which the DBF might or might not advise the incumbent to consult).

The second sentence names the PCC and incumbent as the two parties who must agree any decision about waiving the PCC fee. But we have seen that it is the incumbent who decides, after consulting the churchwardens, and the PCC isn’t involved (still less a party which needs to agree).

There are also further obvious problems with naming the PCC as a party to any of this. We have seen that the waiving of fees can only be considered in particular cases not as matters of general policy, so it is very difficult to see what role a PCC might actually play. A PCC will only meet a few times in a year and so simply wouldn’t be in a position to advise let alone agree about a particular case (especially where a quick decision about a funeral fee needs to be made). And anyway it would be totally inappropriate to share any information about the financial situation of individual parishioners with such a body.

It may seem perverse, but I’m actually a little relieved to find this level of incompetence demonstrated so clearly in the booklet. It shows just how far the Working Party who dealt with this matter on behalf of the DBF has gone off piste. The serious but in most cases futile objections I have raised about the rest of what the DBF is imposing on us suddenly looks less like the rantings of one of the diocese’s difficult clergymen.

As I look at other diocesan websites, I see that most (but sadly not all) advice about waiving fees is accurate and reasonable, and no other one makes things up about a PCC role. I also see that the universal new practice elsewhere in the Church of England is that parishes continue to collect all fees and then disburse them as necessary – payments of the DBF’s fee to the DBF being monthly (in some cases quarterly) and accompanied by a single page form listing the relevant services and fees.  I hate to think how much paid time is to be spent in our Diocesan Office administering every individual funeral payment across the whole of old Lincolnshire, or how much extra clergy and volunteer time is to be spent completing a separate form relating to every separate individual fee generating activity.

The photographs were taken after Matins at St Nicolas’ this morning.

Monday 7 January 2013

Red tower / big drill

When I arrived for Matins one day last week, I discovered that the angle and quality of the dawn sun was briefly doing this to St Nicolas' tower.

Meanwhile work was also beginning to enhance flood protection for the houses immediately north of St Michael's, and the little boy in me enjoyed the drill best.