Saturday 26 July 2014

Bishops' Consecration

This is the new Bishop of Grimsby on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral yesterday.

It is the first time I’ve been to such a service.  A colleague told me that he avoids them because he fears the Gilbert & Sullivan display temptations of the Church of England will dominate – and there were elements of that from the inter-winding of almost rival processions to the reading out of the Queen’s ‘special grace’ (i.e. unilateral authority) that we should go ahead. 

My abiding memory will simply, I’m afraid, be the heat and the chattering clergy; one of the more elderly robed clergy in the row in front of me had to be taken out and all around there was the sort of friendly gossip going on even during the distribution of Communion for which members of any junior choir would have been reproved.

A highlight was the readings and the sermon. 

The most recent ordination I attended was on St Peter’s Day so we got the repeated message that the apostle was the rock on which the church is built and the possessor of the keys of the Kingdom of God, and the preacher managed to get so highjacked by her own illustration of Downton Abbey that she ended up saying that deacons are like the footmen and priests like the butlers but it doesn’t matter provided they served the Master well rather than working out the implications of the Master choosing to be a servant. 

This service was on St James’ Day so we were told instead that what is of God in us is deliberately placed in poor breakable vessels lest anyone make the mistake of thinking it is our skill which is decisive, and the preacher began imagining what a first feast a hierarchy-hungry church would have had had if James and John’s mother been granted her wish that they be given the senior positions in that Kingdom.

Monday 21 July 2014

Crying with Gaza

Crushing Israeli state sponsored violence is meted upon Gaza and is defended as the necessary and proportionate response to extremist Palestinian rocket fire and claims that Israel should not exist as a state at all.

The strange thing is that people like me who are tempted to point a finger have been there before.  I think of Americans wiping out of ‘Red Indian’ warriors.  I think of the English army putting down revolts from Ireland to India.  I think of white South African massacres in black South African townships.

East Jerusalem remains annexed, Gaza remains besieged, and the West Bank remains occupied and gradually settled, all it seems from an apparent conviction that the existing population of those areas has as many rights as people like me felt native Americans, existing Irish and Indian populations and black South Africans had as we moved in around them. 
It seems entirely logical.  Gaza is pounded it seems from the same apparent conviction people like me have had that if a native population’s resistance ever overflows into violence then a failure to be systematic and overwhelming in stamping out such terrorism and cowing the whole local population would fatally undermine who we are.

In a hundred years time, will Palestinians be isolated groups living on reservations or natives of an independent state, on partitioned land or in a rainbow nation?   This is the range of results people like me have left behind in America, India, Ireland and South Africa.   And how will the story of the present pounding of Gaza be told by the neighbouring peoples to each other then?

Sunday 13 July 2014

George Mullins' grave

I’ve been sent this photograph of the grave in Oxford of my grandfather’s grandfather in the direct male line.  This may not be that interesting to anyone else, but I posted a short piece about him nearly six years ago as he is an important person in my sense of who I am having appeared in the first edition of the Crockford directories of Anglican clergy.  I am absolutely delighted to have it and am already making plans to visit it next month.  The photographer has helpfully set the largely illegible gravestone in the front of the picture in the context of the clearly named one beyond it to assist me locating it when I go.

It fills in a gap – I’ve visited the graves of his son, grandson and great-grandson (my great-grandfather, grandfather and father) and I’ve visited the graves of his father, grandfather,  great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather (all in the same churchyard at Box in Wiltshire), so this now provides a continuous set of burials back over nine generations to the first in 1733.  As I point out to enquirers in our churchyards, it is rare to find gravestones much older than that in any churchyard.

I knew his burial in 1867 was recorded in the registers of St Giles’ , Oxford, and have from time to time walked through that churchyard assuming he was buried somewhere near-by in a grave whose marker no longer survives.  I’d missed one important point.

In the middle of the nineteenth century many urban churchyards became full.  Here in Grimsby there are gory details of attempts to fit in new graves in St James’ churchyard before it was shut in 1854 and burials began to take place in the Doughty Road Cemetery instead.   The same thing was happening in Oxford at the same time – and St Sepulchre’s Cemetery in Walton Street was opened in 1848 to take all future burials for St Giles’ parish and three other city centre parishes.

I now find that it contains the graves of a number of representative figures in Anglican history.  My earlier piece identified George Mullins as having been the Master of a set of west country almshouses in the year Trollope published his first Barchester novel The Warden.  I now know he lies not that far away from figures like Benjamin Jowett (one of the leading figures in the Broad Church movement which embraced new German biblical criticism and accommodated Darwin’s discoveries) and Marion Rebecca Hughes (one of the leading figures in the High Church movement as the first Anglican to make vows as a religious sister) - movements which began to reshape the Church of England during his lifetime.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Siesmic shift

Forty-one youth worker jobs (full and part-time) are to go in North East Lincolnshire and the Council has little public idea about whether or how the remaining Youth Centres will be staffed at the beginning of the new academic year in a few weeks time.

This is just the first major sign of a seismic shift taking place.  Let us take this step by step, crudely, but as far as I can understand it.

The level of cuts required – nearly £1 million is being taken out of the budget – means that it isn’t possible to take a small slice out of every department, nor make large cuts in departments which deliver services required by law, so swingeing cuts take place in departments which deliver services which, however desirable, are not required by law.

And this will go on.  Further equally sharp reductions in budget will follow – a figure of 30% of the local authority’s budget is mentioned.  It is difficult to conceive of desirable but not legally required services surviving at all.  The whole profile of a local authority will change.  Present protests on this and other issues predicated on the local authority continuing to play its present role will come to be seen as almost literally antediluvian.  

I’m told that part of the sea change (please allow the mixture of seismic and flood images) is the local authority making each of its delivery wings into social enterprises of their own.  I'm not entirely clear what this means.  

Meanwhile there is some expectation that the voluntary and community sector will step up to the tasks.  This sector is of course well represented locally and a body like Voluntary Action in North East Lincolnshire has been playing a significant coordinating, supporting and policy forming role.

There are professional voluntary organisations – by which I mean ones which have the infrastructure to bid for contracts and employ staff.  But it is hard to see how these could ‘take on’ things (like, the example in hand, Youth Centres) without the sort of income generating contract to which they have been used with which to pay staff. 

There are amateur voluntary organisations – by which I mean ones like our churches most of which have not traditionally entered into legal agreements nor employed staff.  But is hard to see how we could generate the volunteer hours and professional supervision to do significant work.

There are grant making bodies to support both ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ voluntary organisations – by which I mean everything from European Union funding to the social justice funding stream being made available in the diocese.  But is hard to see how this can respond to the level of demand which these changes will quickly come to generate.

I went along to a form of consultation at the Town Hall this week the invitation to which said that the first thing would be information about the changes taking place in local authority funding but which actually passed on no new concrete information at all.

The consultation turned out to be part of an external review of the local authority’s relationship with and the robustness of the voluntary sector, although the invitation had actually made no reference to this review.  A public report is due in early September so I will see soon whether the sorts of things we found ourselves saying contribute to any meaningful plan.

The Grimsby coat of arms is from one of the floral tributes at the recent funeral of Ken King.