Tuesday 26 February 2013

Monday 25 February 2013

Monday 18 February 2013

Free at last

The nice gentle Evensong ‘Lord, now lettest thou they servant depart in peace’ turns out to be a liberation chant.

One of my resolutions this year is to try to keep my very limited grasp of New Testament Greek in some repair – although my rate of work is turning out to be about one verse every three weeks, which isn’t quite what I envisaged on New Year’s Day.

This verse from Luke 2 came up in our Sunday Gospel earlier this month and comes up at Evening Prayer each day, and is one of very few I have tackled so far.

There are decent Greek words for ‘Lord’ (kurios – hence ‘the kyries’ as the title for the responses beginning ‘Lord, have mercy’), ‘servant’ (diakonos – a source for our word ‘deacon’), and ‘depart’ (hup-ago – a more intense form of ‘to go’ which is ‘ago’). I do remember all of that from basic Greek lessons over thirty years ago!

But what I had never noticed (or had forgotten) is that none of these Greek words is used in this particular verse.

Here ‘Lord’ translates ‘despotos’ (a source for our word ‘despot’); elsewhere in the New Testament the phrase ‘Lord and Master’ translates both ‘kurios’ and ‘despotos’ side by side.

‘Servant’ translates ‘doulos’, which is actually the word for ‘slave’ (although the household servant-slave distinction might not have been quite as clear cut in that social context as it is today).

‘Depart’ translates ‘apoluo’ (a composite of ‘apo’ which is ‘from’ and ‘luo’ which is ‘loose’).

So ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart’ turns out to be ‘Master, you set your slave free’. Not so much ‘I can rest content now I’ve seen this’ or ‘I can die happy now I know my work is complete’ as ‘My enslavement is finally over’ or ‘Slave master, you set me loose’.

Evensong turns out to be a more ‘happy-clappy’ experience than the hallowed language, devotional music and evening light has trained me to feel and think.

We respond to the first scripture reading with Mary’s song ‘This sparks my praise – the world is being turned upside down’. We respond to the second with this verse - Simeon’s shout ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last’.

And knowing this might affect how we listen to the readings in the first place. Not so much an academic interest or Bible study (‘I wonder what interesting ideas this passage might have?’) as personal longing (‘I wonder what this might unlock in my life?’).

The pictures are from the south door at Fishlake, forty miles along the A180 from here. We went to look in Saturday when I noticed our books on Malmesbury say it appears that some of the same masons were involved in both places.

Monday 11 February 2013


We ought to be thinking, talking and exploring much more around the issue of forgiveness. This is my first provisional – possibly premature – conclusion from a listening exercise which we have just begun.

We see in church fleetingly quite a number of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who do not otherwise participate in church life. They bring children to be baptised in large numbers, bring young people to our youth group and to our alternative and family worship in much smaller numbers, and ask us to take their weddings.

We are talking about perhaps eighty such people coming through a church door in February alone.

The possible reason they and their families do not then become regular church attenders in a way they might have done a generation ago are well speculated upon, but we thought we might test some of these out.

We’ve put together a sheet with just seven quick response questions from ‘As far as you can remember, exactly where were you at 11.00 a.m. last Sunday?’ to a request to put ticks or crosses against statements ranging from ‘I pray from time to time’ to ‘I’ve visited a reiki practitioner in the last six months’.

A final question explores whether they think the church is likely to have something helpful or irrelevant to say about issues from euthanasia to sex outside marriage; both the role of women and gay marriage are included in the list because we wanted to see whether recent publicity about them affects people’s attitude to the church.

For the first forty respondents to this final question all but one of the topics score no more than 38%: perhaps one third of the people think the church may have something valuable to say about them, but twice as many are either unsure or are certain that what we would have to say is irrelevant.

But it is unexpectedly clear and striking that this is not the case for one topic which we had included in the list without much thought. This was forgiveness. Here just over two thirds of the respondents put a tick. The perception is that here at least the church might have something worth listening to.

It occurred to me when I noticed this that the only extra question I’d been asked at recent Baptism preparations was from a father who wanted to know whether the Lord’s Prayer ‘as we forgive those who trespass against us’ would leave us vulnerable to ‘being walked all over’.

So at the moment I am beginning to think how we might respond to this discovery. Perhaps this simply prompts what I'll say at Baptisms and Weddings this year, and how we handle the confession at alternative and family worship.  Perhaps I need to work with a group on what has been challenging, helpful and na├»ve in our teaching and our lives, and then find ways to share what we explore.

Meanwhile, a hundred years ago today the then Bishop of Lincoln laid the foundation stone for the major new building of St Michael’s, and yesterday we had the present Bishop of Lincoln with us to celebrate the centenary.

In the picture a more competent cake-cutter is laughing at the Bishop and I as we suddenly face the reality of the anniversary task we had been given.

Monday 4 February 2013

St Michael's Church Hall

The ecclesiastical parish of Little Coates was divided in 1933. The northern half (with the Vicar Edward Fagan, most of the plant including the daughter church of the Good Shepherd, the village school and most of the population in houses built since the beginning of the century) formed a new parish. The southern half (with the ancient St Michael’s parish church greatly extended in 1913-15, and with housing beginning to develop following the auction of all the farm land in the 1920s) continued as the parish of Little Coates with a new Vicar (Ernest Clapton).

So, from 1933 the reduced St Michael’s parish needed both a Vicarage and a Church Hall. A house was bought on Great Coates Road to be the Vicarage; it was the nearest house to the church at the time, and it continued to house Vicars and then Team Rectors until my immediate predecessor left in 1997 by which time it and its 1960s extension were coming apart from each other. A site was bought on Little Coates Road on which to build the Church Hall, but the Second World War and its building restrictions intervened before it could be developed.

After the War, two army or RAF huts were acquired and re-erected on the site in 1948. I’m told that bricks bought before the War were re-discovered in the long grass as this was done. Then, in about 1960, a second more permanent hall was built in its place. A professional builder from the congregation put in the foundations and a self-build kit was used on top of these; the Memorial Hall at Cleethorpes is clearly a much larger version of the same design.

By the time I arrived in 1999, this second Hall was on its last legs. We looked at the possibility of a Lottery bid to do it up then, but the users didn’t rally around to form the sort of joint sponsorship the Lottery would have required and the electrics were condemned before we could get very far, so it was shut.

We sold the site to the diocese so that a new Rectory could be built - I’m typing this on the site now - and we ploughed the money into a project to put accessible toilets and a kitchen into St Michael’s itself to ensure the flexible use of the church.

Anyway, as St Michael’s prepares to mark later this month the centenary of the laying of the foundation stone of the major extension of the church, we have asked people to send us pictures as ‘a hundred postcards for a hundred years’. Among those which have come in during the last week, three inside the two church halls have struck me in particular.

The top picture shows the party after the first hall was opened; I hadn’t seen any pictures of this hall before. The bottom two show later parties in the second hall with its stage and its barrel-shaped roof; I’d award the ‘peas in a pod’ costume the fancy-dress prize in the earlier of these, and am told that it is an All Saints’ Day party in the later of these.