Monday 24 March 2014

Welcoming wedding couples

The very unfortunate result of this and other dioceses having been caught out in the past by applications for what turn out to be marriages contracted simply to enable foreign nationals to gain rights of residence in this country is that local people who fall in love with foreign nationals without right of residence are still being put through quite disproportionate and even intrusive and apparently prurient processes to check up on them before a marriage licence is issued.

I have recently begun to take another couple through the process.  The legal officers of the diocese required them to begin the process by submitting a form, writing a further report on themselves in answer to set enquiry questions (all couched in the third person, such as ‘For how long have they lived together?’) and writing an additional supporting letter in which they are guided to duplicate some of the factual information they would already have given in the form and the report (a sure indication that the process has not been through) but otherwise simply encouraged to give unspecified additional information which ‘they feel will assist their application’ leaving to their imagination what further hidden criteria they might need to meet or personal disclosure they might need to make.  We haven’t yet got to the point where they hear whether or not they will be summoned to take time off work to travel to Lincoln to be examined further.

It is true that care in this area, among other things, helps protect the vulnerable who might be exploited by pressure to enter a sham marriage and helps prevent a marriage happening and then being broken up by the deportation of one party, but this comparatively rare truth has made those responsible for the process deceive themselves into claiming their aim is  ‘not to operate a system of immigration control nor to assist the Border Agency in its oversight of who should be in the country’ despite the fact the House of Bishops’ guidance to them says the Border Agency is ‘putting arrangements  in place so that each diocesan registry has a dedicated contact officer with the Agency’.

These national guidelines from the House of Bishops in 2011 make clear that those with a residential qualification might insist on their right to be married following the publication of banns rather than by applying for a licence, but the legal officers of this diocese insist that no such right exists.  Worse, they have fallen for the classic legal confusion between being responsible for a process and owning the process, so the guidance to clergy in this diocese says that ‘the grant of a common licence is a privilege and not a right’ putting applicants into a supplicant position.

One of the many strange things about all this is that the Chancellor of this diocese has actually addressed the Diocesan Synod and written in the diocesan newspaper about how his personal understanding of law is about serving people in a way which does not feel legalistic; if he believed his own rhetoric then it would be easy to construct a two stage process by which the diocesan registry clears applications in which the initial information is straight forward and only asks for more when the basic information raises the possibility that greater assurance is needed.  It would also be easy to construct a single form which then begins with a positive message, collects only the necessary additional information and does so only once, and doesn’t leave open questions which make those who fill in the form wonder whether they should be declaring their sexual history together to justify their supplication for the ‘privilege’ of being married in the Church of England.

Since 2011, there has been significant national Church of England investment in a ‘Wedding Project’ which has undertaken research with a whole range of couples who have experienced our ministry and come up with clear ideas about best practice.  One of the simplest but clearest messages is about the importance of the initial welcome extended to couples.  But this turns out only to apply to the couples in what the Church of England regards as straight forward relationships.  There was already the situation when there is a previous marriage to be considered: however hard one tries, this open welcoming message has always been difficult, and from time to time couples don’t even take up my offer to meet and talk this through; we make them feel like supplicants and some appear to feel belittled or rejected by the suggestion that they need clearing in this way.  It is now devastatingly clear that it isn’t the approach the legal officers want to follow when there is a foreign national to consider.  And, additionally, from later this week, there will also be a whole category of people (same sex couples) who can be legally married but who the House of Bishops have written to me to tell me they would discipline me if I dared welcomed them.

Thursday 20 March 2014

Playing in heaven

"The heavenly city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets there of."

After fourteen years, I am still finding things in our churchyards which are new to me.  This is a text on the grave of a nine year old child.  It is Zechariah 8.5 almost as in the Authorised Version (the word 'heavenly' has been added), which would have still just been the only version in regular use when the child died in 1966 (albeit fourteen years after the Revised Standard Version appeared).

I only found it because I was looking at the wording on every neighbouring grave in what is almost a separate glade in the north-western corner of St Michael's churchyard when I was seeking to identify a different grave into which a family wish to bury an additional set of cremated remains.

I began to wonder how the parents (I presume it was their choice) knew or were directed to the text, and what it meant to them to place it here.  I also almost startled myself with the thought that he was born only three years before me, so he too would have been in his mid-50s today.

Both thoughts are common place. I'm not quite sure why they both struck me with so much force this time I had them.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Canon Peter Young

Taking the risk of visiting the victims of smallpox was the very essence of the ideal parish priest in the mid-nineteeth century - whether he survived (like the Curate of Wheatley near Oxford in the 1850s – the future Bishop of Lincoln Edward KIng) or he died (like the Rector of Stow in the 1870s).

So I was not surprised when my introduction to one of the heroic parish priests of Grimsby was to find that he was almost best known for his ministry during the 1871 outbreak here.

I was given a copy of the Order of Service used when St Barnabas’ church was closed in 1954 when the area it served ceased to be residential.  ‘I’ve had this a long time and thought you’d be the one who’d like to have it,’ I was told, and she was right.  The Order of Service included some historical notes.

But let us first go back a bit.  The foundation of the ‘Oxford Movement’ – the beginning of what developed High Church Anglicanism into modern Anglo-Catholicism – is most often pinned to a single sermon in Oxford in 1833.  The preacher was John Keble, the best-selling religious poet of his time, who a couple of years later began long service as Vicar of Hursley in Hampshire.

Keble had a Curate at Hursley called Peter Young who had been ordained deacon, but the Bishop of Winchester was such an opponent of what the Oxford Movement stood for that he refused to ordain him priest.  This story of Keble's Curate is part of the founding legend of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism.

Now this Peter Young had a son also called Peter Young.  This second Peter Young trained for ordination (at a Theological College of which Edward King happened to be Principal at the time).  I now learn that this second Peter Young then came to be a Curate in St James’ parish in Grimsby, where he stayed (first as Curate but then as Vicar) for over thirty years.  When he died in 1900, St James’ Lady Chapel was built in his memory soon afterwards.

Almost his first sphere of work in the parish was to look after the Haven area which quickly became the St Barnabas’ district of the parish.  He founded the congregation in 1867 and served it for the first twelve years of its life.  At first it met in a school but then in a temporary church building (which was eventually replaced by a permanent church building dedicated by Bishop Edward King in 1900).

After Young became Vicar of the whole parish a further twenty-five different Curates looked after St Barnabas’ in turn, each serving for an average of three years, culminating in Peter Clarke who was there when it closed – and, although this was six years before I was born, I can remember Peter Clarke as an elderly retired clergymen in Lincoln in the 1990s.

Next time I collect a parcel from the Royal Mail offices next door to the surviving redundant St Barnabas' building, I shall think of all those links back from Peter Clarke to the smallpox-visiting exemplars of ministry and the beginnings of the Anglo-Catholic movement.

Meanwhile, I already knew that the choice of St Mark for the dedication  in 1960 of the new church in the then newly growing residential area of the same parish was deliberate – Mark is traditionally thought of as Barnabas’ nephew; so St Mark’s is a further on-going living link in the same chain.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Interest in food issues

Food issues (whether Fair Trade, local food poverty or world food security) did not attract church members in any numbers to the Churches Together in North East Lincolnshire event in Grimsby Minster yesterday, which is sad because we heard from Lincolnshire's Agricultural Chaplain about his engagement with things from the local rural stress network to discussions about the tensions between producing cheap food and producing to welfare standards and we heard from the Borough's Cabinet member about things like now paying the 'living wage' to its employees.

The top photograph shows the CARE, Harbour Place, Green Futures and St Hugh's Meals stalls down one side of the Minster.  The bottom photo shows a speaker talking about the local Daily Bread Food Larder (whose stall isn't in either picture) and is taken across the Traidcraft stall; we've seen before the 'Insisting on Life' t-shirt.

Here is the item which appeared in the Cleethorpes Chronicle on Thursday because it happened to be my turn to contribute the weekly 'Pause for Thought' item.

Insisting on life.  That was the slogan.  Not giving in to the occupier.  Not getting caught in an inequal fight with the oppressor.  Instead, working for human flourishing however unpromising the situation.  ‘Resisting occupation by insisting on life’ was the slogan in full.  ‘Insisting on life’ was the version on the t-shirt.

We were taking part in an unusual Harvest Festival.  It marked the end of the olive harvest in the Israeli occupied West Bank.  We were at an olive oil factory where a cooperative was celebrating the opportunity it gives to Palestinian farmers to get their harvest processed and then on to a market.

The factory was one of the places which we particularly wanted to visit when we were in the Holy Land last autumn simply because Traidcraft supplies our olive oil from there.  Traidcraft is a Fair Trade organisation in this country, and it is worth highlighting it in this ‘Pause for Thought’ during what is Fair Trade fortnight.

Once a year, Churches Together in North East Lincolnshire tries to get us to think about our responsibility to make a difference in people’s lives.  It often organises a big event in Grimsby Minister.  This year’s event is there on Saturday 1st March from 11.00 until 1.00.  The theme this year is food.

What are our churches doing between them to make a difference here?  Promoting Fair Trade is one obvious approach.  But there are many others.  The provision of local Food Banks may well be something which is also being highlighted.

I remember particularly the year homelessness was the theme of this annual event.  I walked into the Minster and saw long lines of stalls down both sides of the church.  From Doorstep to the YMCA, from Harbour Place to the Salvation Army, it was moving to see more than a dozen local organisations.

And next week Lent begins again on Ash Wednesday 5th March.  Christian people are meant to begin forty days of preparation for Easter.  We are meant to remember Jesus fasting – deliberately being hungry as he prayed.

Each little act of ‘giving something up’ is symbolic of this sort of fasting.  But it is not life denying.  It is ‘insisting on life’.

In our parish we are encouraging people not just to ‘give something up’ but to make one small symbolic change in their lifestyle.  Changing one shopping habit to shift to buy a different product with the Fair Trade logo on it is the example we are giving.