Sunday 29 June 2014

Our Curate's priesting

We've recently welcomed Alex Barrow to our Team.  He was among fourteen ordained priest yesterday evening in Lincoln Cathedral.  The top two photographs were taken after that service.  He presided at a Eucharist for the first time in St Nicolas' this morning.  The bottom photograph is the cake he had just cut at the end of the service - with symbols for St Michael, St George and (at the bottom, three bags of gold he gave away) St Nicolas.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Ken King

We said farewell to another member of St Michael’s congregation today.  Ken King was ninety years old.  He had spent nearly fifty of those years working on and then supervising local dust carts - and twenty of those years as one of our Churchwardens.  He was quiet and unassuming at the back of church each week in retirement, but with a mischievous smile with which to alert me to his depths. 

I knew he had seen St Michael’s through some particularly difficult moments in the years before I arrived, but I had no idea until I read in advance the text of the family’s eulogy how significant today’s funeral would be as perhaps the last of a member of the congregation who had served in the Second World War.

One of his granddaughter’s spoke confidently and eloquently about him.  In the course of what she said she spoke of his joining up on his eighteenth birthday in 1942 two years ahead of his landing in Normandy on 7th June 1944 (D+1) where he had immediately to begin to clear the bodies of paratroops from crashed gliders. 

As a member of the Reconnaissance Corps he then spent most of the rest of the war in front of the front lines observing the movements of the enemy troops, was once blown out of a car which hit a mine, once passed on information about a close encounter with enemy troops for which the absent officer to whom he reported the information was decorated, and being among the first allied troops to reach Belsen about which when he rarely spoke of it the smell at a distance was what he mentioned.

We held him in high regard before we knew any of that.  We do so even more.  It was a privilege speaking the words to commend him into the hands of God.

The picture is a close up of a view already posted in the middle of May from the diocese’s store of redundant furnishings.

Monday 23 June 2014

The Revd Edward Thompson

We have been working at what at first appears to be an almost illegible memorial slab on the floor of the chancel in St Nicolas', Great Coates in the south-eastern corner.  The 'Thomp' near the bottom caught my eye because Edward Thompson was Rector of Great Coates 1707-1733; I wondered whether perhaps his widow had died in 1741 which is a date beneath the 'Thomp'.

Going in last week on a dull day and making use of a strong lamp it was surprising how much we could read after we got our eye in. 

 [In] M[emory of]
[Edward] Thom[pson]
[Rector of] this Parish
[who] died [...]
[and x his] W[i]fe wh[o]
[Died ...]6th 171[...] A[ged ...]
[and] their Son [...]
[William] Thompson Re[ctor of]
[Brock]lesby who Died
[...] 1 Novr 1741 Aged [...]

Letters in normal type can be read clearly on the memorial stone.

Letters in italics are uncertain readings from the memorial stone.

Letters in [brackets] are simply speculation, so beware.

A William Thompson, Rector of Brocklesby, is recorded as having died in April 1742 and a William Thompson, Rector of the next door parish of Great Limber, is recorded as having died in November 1741, so it is seems likely that they are the same man (in which case perhaps April 1742 is the date a successor filled the vacancy rather than the date of his death).  But we can’t assume this.

We also can’t assume that the memorial stone marks where they are buried; the sanctuary area of the church appears to have been repaved during a Victorian restoration and this memorial stone is very likely to have been moved at that time (like the one immediately west of it commemorating Edward Thompson’s successor as Rector of Great Coates).

Monday 16 June 2014

A Palestinian conundrum

We would like non-violence to be the way.  Those who have a rocket lobbed at their village or who were bereaved by a suicide bomber want it.  Those who have ‘price-tag’ violence meted out on them or who were bereaved by a soldier’s bullet want it.  Pacifists want it and so do those who have Gospel aspirations yet are embroiled in being ready for war.

Yet somehow this wanting doesn’t quite establish the claim that those who have been engaged in terrorism should never be brought to negotiating tables or into government.  Such a claim might have kept members of the French Resistance, as much as some of the founding Ministers of the State of Israel, out of office post-War, and would have kept many in the ANC away from the new beginning in South Africa and many from Sinn Fein away from power sharing in Northern Ireland.

We heard Dr Yohanna Katanacho, a Palestinian Baptist theologian who was one of the authors of the Palestine Kairos document, speak at the weekend; we had heard him before speak in Jerusalem to Sabeel (the Palestinian Liberation Theology organisation).

In the last few weeks we had been involved locally in evenings - one showing the film ‘The Stones Cry Out’ about Palestinian Christians and one exploring the YMCA’s work in Jerusalem - and now we joined in the Friends of Sabeel UK’s annual day conference in Oxford.

He spoke of ‘loving you enemies’ not as some sort of emotional position but as a set of daily decisions about specific things.  He added that such an approach doesn’t duck issues of justice but says they must be pursued from within the logic of love.  He suggested that, where this was the case, there would be no need to view any Israeli or Palestinian as a threat but instead as a gift from God.

He spoke in particular of Christian ‘creative resistance’ to any evil or oppression (which he suggested was a positive take on the negative term ‘non-violence’).  He mentioned the reference to ‘DBS’ (‘disinvestment, boycott and sanctions’) in the Kairos document.  He suggested that, if the authors had known that this one brief reference would have got all the attention, it might have been left out.  It was just one example of what creative resistance to long-term occupation might mean.  What other creative options remain?

He didn’t mention David Cameron’s recent speech in the Knesset.  Cameron encouraged generous moves towards peace, inviting members to dream with him about the positive outcomes.  But he was openly critical of those who used repeated United Nations resolutions and those who advocated DBS as the ways to seek change, encouraging the members to disregard the legitimacy of either.  What creative options did he think this left?

And no, this isn’t to excuse kidnapping or to argue for violence instead.  It is to squirm in the face of the horrid conundrum facing those who wish to resist being occupied and gradually annexed and see some of their neighbours lash out in violence.  How can those who have used violent means in the past be accepted into genuine negotiations for peace and operations of peace if these were really on offer?  How can those who might even be tempted to use violent means in the future find genuine creative alternatives now?

The picture is another set of symbols of the passion and another picture from our recent visit to St Margaret's, Wispington.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Between copying and innovation

Variations on the same thought have come my way from separate directions.

The picture of a Circle Dance was taken at St Matthew’s, New Waltham during a parish consultation day we ran there on Saturday.   Kimberly Bohan, the parish priest there, did us a number of favours including listening to us in the morning and then singing with and talking to us after lunch – such was her impact at least a third of the single sentences of feedback we received from each participant quoted one bit of what she said.

Part of what she said was a reminder of Clark Terry’s words about jazz technique – imitate, assimilate, innovate.  First one copies, including the hard work of basic musical practice.  Eventually one is comfortable playing on one’s own, the patterns having become a natural part of what one does.  Only then does one have a secure basis to step out in a new direction, freedom bred from rootedness and security.  The apparent resulting paradox is that the new is effective and true because it is faithful to its points of origin.

Meanwhile, having seen the new statue by Aidan Hart in Lincoln Cathedral we have begun to read some of what he has written about icons in particular.

Part of what he writes is a reminder of the basic Orthodox approach – shunning equally ‘slavish copying’ and ‘unspiritual innovation’.  Only an icon writer who has first laboriously learnt the techniques involved and then allowed them to become a natural part of him or herself would venture to develop the tradition in a manner which the consensus of the church might come to see as inspired (but which, in the nature of things, it is more likely to see as a failure because it is too much a self-expression or too much influenced by the culture around the innovator).

Both begin in the same place – imitation and copying - necessary starting point but not sufficient as a finishing point.  Both come to inhabit a new place – assimilation and that poise between copying and innovation.  Both hold out the possibility that there is more to be found and expressed – both use the word innovation but one warns that even then this remains a dangerous venture.

It all chimes for me the obvious parallel with the dilemma to which I often return caught between the conservative and liberal wings of the church.  We cannot simply repeat an old formula.  We cannot simply launch into new venture.  We have to know the old so well that it is part of us before we can take the still dangerous step of developing something fresh from it.

Friday 6 June 2014

Newark and Wispington

In a recent post I speculated that the recent local and European elections suggested the likely pattern of votes in a normal constituency at the next General Election would be:

Conservative and Labour: 60% between them; the split between them in any particular constituency determining which of them wins it.
UKIP: 25%; not good enough to gain any seats
All others combined: 15%; the Lib Dems in particular taking punishingly low share of the vote.

The Newark By-Election result last week was then:
Conservative and Labour: 63% between them; the much larger share of this went to the Conservatives in this one.
UKIP: 26%; enough to ‘come second’.
All others combined: 11%; the Lib Dems share only being 3%.

So little to undermine the theory there then!

But the pattern in any given By-Election doesn’t usually project forward to the pattern in the following General Election so, although a little pleased with myself, I’m not resting on my political-prediction laurels yet.

Meanwhile, the redundant church at Wispington which we visited recently is dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch and it is she who appears in this carving there – she was swallowed by a dragon but safely brought up again.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Orpheus and Eurydice

A poem by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Peter Mullins May/June 2014

A mine-shaft opens into hell              
where what seem veins of silver ore             
are streaks of silent human souls
whose life drained off solidifies
and marks the roots a startling red,               
where pit-props swarm between dark walls
and broken boards span gulfs and voids,
while roofs reflect the great grey pools
as if the rain would never stop.

A fractured mind pulled at a thread
and stretched it out, imagining
a gentle road through pastures green,
on which it then began to walk,
fit, smart, quiet and purposeful,
with eyes fixed firm in front of it,
with heavy hands tucked tight away,
with strides which gobbled up the path,
quite unaware how the laments
which flowered from its singing-grief
were now so grafted into it
that it was like an olive tree
smothered by a wild briar.

One shard of mind dashed on ahead,
ran fast around, looped back again,
one quivered still to catch a sense
of others who might be behind,
half thought it did, but caught no hint
above the shaking of its coat,
the panting from its charging round;
it told itself that they were there,
said it loudly, heard the words die
away into a stilling fear
that to look round would snap the thread –
the very path they walked upon –
and let the shaft re-swallow them.

There ought to be no mystery:
there ought to be a messenger,
a shining or a hooded one,
come swift as if on feet with wings,
a magic wand in his right hand
and in his left there should be – she,

she who called out more singing-grief
than any woman ever had,
a wailing-world made from mourning
with routes and contours cut by grief,
whose habitations of lament
lay under a lament-full sky
with suns, stars and constellations
sent off course by lamentations;
so greatly was she loved and sung.

But she walks alone and elsewhere,
her steps caught on her graveclothes’ hem,
stumbling without irritation,
great with the hope carried in her
not of his path, not in his song,
but, replete with sweet dark death-fruit,
an abundance of being dead,
an unfathomable newness -
and made innocent once again
(the bud which opened up to him
drawn tight like petals in the night,
even the touch of a God would
now be a painful intrusion).

The songs were not about her now,
her scent, her bed, who’s possession:
she was the flow of long loosed hair,
the emptying of rain-full cloud,
the largesse of gift all given.

She was firmly rooted there -
as she had been in the moments
when the carer tried to stop her
with voice catching as she told her
he was standing at the exit
looking for her farewell greeting
and her reply was to say - ‘Who?’,
while he, unrecognised, saw her,
holding hands with the mystery,
walking away without message,
her steps caught on her graveclothes’ hem,
stumbling without irritation.  

Sunday 1 June 2014

Our Lady of Lincoln

This statue was dedicated yesterday.  The extreme south-eastern chapel of the Cathedral has been cleared for it, so it stands at the end of a view along the whole of the outside of St Hugh’s Choir, and it mirrors the Lincolnshire Saints (St Gilbert’s pots and St Hugh’s Head Shrine) in the north-eastern chapel visible in the distance in the third photograph.

The dedication of the Cathedral is ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln’, and there are images in different forms all over the building (and around the city) but hitherto there has been no particular focus.

The sculptor (Aidan Hart, an Orthodox Christian) is also an icon writer, and this is reflected in the design of the image although it is actually worked in Lincolnshire stone.

Among the things he spoke about yesterday was the way in which eye contact is made with Christ while Mary’s gaze is over the viewers head and into the distance.