Thursday 26 December 2013

St George's leaflet

The six things listed in the last post included putting out a leaflet in Bradley village and at Christmas services in its church.

A little while ago, one of the village churches near Caistor was threatened with closure, but a dozen people turned out at a public meeting and undertook to do the work needed to keep it open.

St George's isn't near that point, but the church Council wanted to alert people to its present needs and chose the leaflet as the way forward.

If we get some responses, we will have something with which to work.

If we do not get much response, it might indicate indifference, or it might reflect a legacy of some of the past divisions in the village, or it might indicate that proceeding with a leaflet rather than personal contacts wasn't the best way forward, or, perhaps, it might indicate a combination of all three.

Anyway, here is the text from the central pages of the leaflet.

Is there any way in which you can contribute to making St George’s flourish in 2014?

We are asking as many as possible who live in the village or who attend services at Christmas 2013 for their responses to this question.

If you worship at a church elsewhere, we wish you well and simply ask for your prayers.

If you feel that the local Parish Church is not something with which you want to associate, then we are sorry to have troubled you.

If you want to see St George’s available for christenings, weddings, funerals and burials, for Harvest and Christmas, as the most significant part of the village’s heritage, and as a place of prayer, then please don’t put this leaflet aside.

This might be just the time that you would be willing to take on a small role to keep the church running.

This might just be the time that you would be willing to commit or recommit yourself to attending perhaps a service one Sunday evening each month.

This might be the time that you could make a small financial Standing Order to help us run the church.

Please let us know: the Church Council which meets on 15th January 2014 will be considering the level of response we receive.

There are only about sixty houses in Bradley.  In the last eight years, twenty people who attended the church (they lived in ten of those houses) have either died or moved away.  You can see that this leaves quite a gap. 

Earlier this year Nicholas Frame stepped down after a long and distinguished period as Church Treasurer.  At our AGM in April 2014 Gillian Poppleton will step down from a dedicated stint as our only Churchwarden (we should really have two). You can see that without replacements this leaves us stranded.

Ideally we would want to have perhaps six people willing to serve as Churchwardens, Deputy Churchwardens and Treasurer.  Ideally these six people would know of another six willing to be called on for the occasional bit of help with some specific task.  That way nobody would hold a role which is burdensome.

Without a little more support it is really possible that eventually St George’s might even have to shut (as Beelsby and Waithe Parish Churches have had to do).

Meanwhile, the picture of the fallen tree masquerading as a monster was taken on a Boxing Day walk in the Wolds this morning.

Thursday 19 December 2013

The next six months

After getting my mind round what was in the wings when I left and what the Church Council Minutes identified while I was away, and after consultation with the Parochial Church Council meeting since I have been back, this is the revised list for the three District Church Councils next month of the six things on which we suggest we focus in the New Year; the first three headings are the first three lines of the parish's Mission Statement. 

1.        To help our local communities flourish
Our first focus is not on ourselves.  Immediate new tasks and opportunities include following through the process of letting the Bishop King Centre, exploring becoming a ’Fair Trade Parish’, and being part of a project to build community capacity in the Yarborough Ward; through these and through our existing activities and contacts we need to attend to the way continued process of cuts impact on people locally so that we can see where our own limited capacity and that of others might best be directed.

2.        To help Christian people develop and grow
Our second focus is on our hope in God - celebrating and being renewed by faith.  Immediate plans are for sessions feeding back from the Rector’s Sabbatical (in January and February), following the diocesan Lent Course on faith at work (in March and April), and planning an inspirational Parish Weekend (on 7th and 8th June).  We need also to look at the lay ministry training being offered by the Minister to see if it relates to our need to strengthen our Shared Ministry Team, and give attention to how the present members want to shape their time and ministry. 

3.        To find new ways to witness
We need to develop a plan to take to the Parish Weekend which identifies which outreach activities we want to prioritise, whether a fresh offer to local schools should be part of this, and whether a fresh offer of ‘sacred space’ for adults should be part of this; the Shared Ministry Team has looked at how the First Sunday and Last Saturday Things might be improved, but we need to look at whether either is a successful model, and where feedback from Kairos, Quiet Days and our questionnaire point us.  This may be a foundation for a new ‘Mission Action Plan’ for the diocese.

4.        Securing the future of St George’s congregation
A leaflet will go to all houses in the village, Christmas attenders and other contacts, and responses will be considered at the DCC on 15th January, so we can begin to assess the chances of electing new officers at the AGM and the viability of the finances and regular worship as the diocese asks us to categorise each church’s use and viability.

5.        Securing St Michael’s plans for funding work on its building and organ
We need to assess the responses so far to the request to identify the £19 000 needed over and above normal income and expenditure for work on the building and organ in the five years 2013-17 (£60 000 is needed in all – we plan to use £10 000 of reserves, £5 000 p.a. of normal income and we have had £6 000 initial donations) and begin to put these projects in place.

6.        Securing the future of St Nicolas’ building

We need to develop and follow through a single strategy - first by seeking further structural and funding advice in relation to the false start on an appeal for a new heating system some time ago, the set back in the failure of a funding application for a churchyard project, recent advice about the state of the south aisle roof, and the possible need for a second opinion about the south aisle crack.

The picture is from the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Testing question

A few weeks ago, we visited a unique village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv which maintains an even balance between Arab (whether Christian or Moslem) and Jewish residents, all of whom are Israeli citizens.  It has its own Primary School in which Arabic and Hebrew are used equally; it is only very recently that the school has been recognised (and thus funded) by the state which has apparently been deeply suspicious of such integration.

One of the inevitable questions asked was how pupils cope with transfer into the Secondary School system outside the village.  We were told that Arab parents often in fact send their children to Jewish schools simply because the quality is so much higher, and, whichever schools children move on to, the village youth group is one of the places in which any problems created by any one-sided Secondary School teaching of history can be tackled.

We were also told something else.  The attainment level of pupils leaving the village Primary School is usually lower than that of others entering the same Secondary School; the commitment to a broader curriculum and a bi-lingual approach is at the ‘cost’ of progress against particular targets.  But, the interesting thing, by the end of Secondary School, these pupils are usually amongst the highest achievers.

The explanation ventured was that delivering children at the end of Primary School who have a broad and positive experience which includes a sense of themselves and their ability to achieve prepares them better to flourish and learn at Secondary School than delivering children whose education has been focussed on achieving particular attainment levels in particular subjects.

Things are not so in England.  The Chief Inspector of School’s Annual Report just published calls for the reintroduction of attainment tests at the end of Key Stage 1 (7 year old) and Key Stage 3 (14 year old) as well as the present such tests at the end of Key Stage 2 (11 year old). 

Ofsted analysis has revealed that a disproportionate number of better rated teachers are being deployed at the top of Key Stage 2.  It appears that many schools, which know they will be rated in league tables by the levels of achievement in particular attainment tests at this stage, focus their best teachers not on broad curriculum but on preparing for these particular tests.  Who would have thought it.

And the Chief Inspector’s ‘solution’ to this is not to encourage instead the rewarding of schools for distributing the best teaching across the whole age range and curriculum so as to deliver children at the end of Primary School who have a broad and positive experience which includes a sense of themselves and their ability to achieve.  It is to encourage particular testing at multiple points.

I find I’ve gone back often in this Blog to issues of rewarding outputs and of schools' souls, but I don’t think this perspective stands much of a chance of an early return to favour; the Chief Inspector’s report comes hard on the heels of an international OECD report of ‘Pisa’ tests on 12 000 15 year old UK pupils in Maths, Reading and Science compared in particular with much higher achieving students in Shanghai (taken by the media to be representative of China as a whole).

I do actually wish I knew a little more about the Shanghai situation.  Superficial media comments would suggest that high parental expectations and liaison is a significant factor, and this is a variable within England which is rarely sufficiently analysed when comparing  local and regional variations in league table places here.  

The caricature is that these expectations and approach are significant factors in a child and adult suicide rate twice ours, which, if true, would be an indication that the Israeli school is on to something fundamental which the Shanghai schools may not be.

The picture was taken at dawn behind our house earlier this week.  We hear that it is snowing in Jerusalem; we were in shirt sleeves there eleven days ago.    

Thursday 5 December 2013

Thinking about Palestine 2

Democracy, establishment and diversity

Being a modern democracy, having a definite established religion, and operating as a single state across a diverse population, are an impossible combination.  Once you have two of the three, it is deeply problematic to have the third.  This is a dynamic shared in a recent seminar.  It was offered as a way of understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but most of this post is actually about how this is part of the British story.

It is possible to imagine a modern democracy with a definite established religion – a confessional state in which the culture, practices and values of the people arise out of their shared religious (and possibly also ethnic) roots.  But it would be deeply problematic if the state’s population included substantial numbers who did not share that religious basis and were therefore prevented from equal participation in either the democracy or in the culture where their votes and activities would otherwise change the predominant nature of the society.

It is possible to imagine a modern democracy operating a single state across a diverse population – this is what most modern Western states do.  But it would be deeply problematic if there was then an exclusive established religion – which is why the very weak form of established religion in England gives rights, to use the most recent example, to a same-sex couple who wish to share a double bed in commercial accommodation owned by a Christian couple whose conviction is that sexual activity is wrong outside heterosexual marriage.

It is possible to imagine a state having a definite established religion and operating a single state across a diverse population – a confessional state in which those of a different religious (and possibly ethnic) background are required to conform or to accept a lower status.  But it would be deeply problematic for such a state if it developed as a modern democracy – the assertion of the equality and rights of the minority would challenge the conformity or caste basis of the state.

This tension in Israel-Palestine

Israel seeks to be a modern democracy (its internal and external defenders frequently reference ‘the only democratic government in the Middle East’), to have a definite established religion (its present peace negotiating position is that it must be acknowledged explicitly to be a ‘Jewish state’), and has occupied a wide territory with a diverse population (especially if one includes the areas occupied in 1967 across which new Jewish settlements continue to be established), so one would simply expect deep problems to manifest themselves, and the ‘give’ for any such state will have to be in terms of democracy in relation to restrictions on the equal rights of those from populations which do not share the definite religious basis of the state.

This tension in British history

But the purpose of this short piece isn’t to point that finger but to point instead to three specific parallels in English, British and United Kingdom history which it might be worth exploring in much more detail.  To put it simply: we have been there ourselves.

The starting point would be in a pre-democratic era when England was a state having an definite (Protestant) established religion and operating a single state across a diverse population – a confessional state in which those of a different (Catholic) religious background were required to conform or to accept a lower status.

First, if we begin after this immediate Reformation period - the fifty years beginning with the ‘Elizabethan Settlement’ (the basis for state and religious peace from the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I in 1558) - there are a remarkable number of similarities with the present situation in Israel.  There was the fostering of popular awareness of the stories of those killed on just one side of the conflict (especially through the hugely popular Foxe’s Book of Martyrs 1563), intifada (such as the Rising of the North 1569), suppression justified because of bellicose calls from foreign powers of a different religion (the Pope’s call for citizens to depose Elizabeth 1570 in particular), pre-emptive strikes against neighbour’s forces (such as the Raid on Cadiz 1587) and neighbouring states marshalling troops on the border (most threateningly the Spanish Armada 1588), a sense of divine choice (Divine Right of Kings espoused particularly by James I from 1603), and the recurrence of individual acts of terrorism even of suicide bombing (most famously the Gunpowder Plot 1605).

Secondly, and briefly in brackets, if we fast forward to the beginnings of the development of a modern democracy, and if the opening analysis of this piece is accurate, we would expect to find the definite religious establishment of the state weakening and/or the areas where minority population predominate seeking independence.  It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the pressures built up following the American and French Revolutions (1776 and 1789) bringing about things like the establishment of the definitive Catholic Association working for an independent Ireland (1823), the final  Roman Catholic Relief Act (1829) and first great parliamentary Reform Act (1832) all at about the same time.   As what had been established as a state having a definite established religion and operating as a single state across a diverse population added being a modern democracy to the mix, the dilution of the religious establishment and the development of the rights of minorities in this way is the pattern you'd expect to see.

But, thirdly, to go back to where we left off as James I succeeded Elizabeth I (and as a United Kingdom developed), there was one other development which provides the most telling parallel of all.  During the Tudor period there had been individual pioneering Protestants (Scots in the main) who had seen it as their civilizing and religious duty and to their economic benefit to establish small colonies in an area in which Catholics were in the majority - the north of Ireland.  Initially government policy did not support this, but soon it did.  ‘The Plantation of Ulster’, including the dispossession of much of the Catholic Gaelic population, especially once the official financial investment of the City of London Livery Companies became part of the story, then took off.  It would not be an exaggeration to claim that this sustained policy of creating these settlements from the beginning of the seventeenth century was the direct cause of the terrorism in the area three hundred years later at the end of the twentieth century.


This piece is now ove rlong as a Blog post but still superficially short as an essay, but I think the basic ideas help me see some things a little more clearly.  Holding together democracy, establishment and diversity may simply be impossible, and so the objective truth is there has to be give in at least one of the three areas when any state seeks to engage in all here at once.  My greatest fear arises at the end:  Britain has already discovered that any religious state which thinks a policy of placing colonies, plantations or settlements in religious minority areas is a way of securing its own borders, future and security may in fact simply be cementing in the possibilities of conflict, dispute and terrorism for perhaps even centuries to come.

The picture is of Tantur taken from south Bethlehem.

Monday 2 December 2013

Safely home

This is what Advent Sunday evening looks like in Manger Square, Bethelehem, and, less than twenty-four hours later, we are back in Grimsby.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Our last day

Inside and outside a First Century Jewish tomb which we saw yesterday.  The chambers inside are for bodies until they become skeletons when the bones are gathered into other containers and the chamber is available for another body.  Our time here comes to an end, and we set out for the airport at 2.30 a.m.