Sunday 22 March 2015

Eclipse, enunciation and more

The effect of last week's eclipse projected through a pin hole in a bit of card.  The other strange event of the week was the Independent's report from what it called the Church of Enunciation in Nazareth; perhaps the angel realised that his message had to be spoken very carefully and clearly lest Mary or the world misunderstood.

I've mentioned before a firm in the parish which has been operated by six generations of the same family for over two hundred years.  A recent contact seeking family history information from church registers reminded me that something similar is true of farming in Bradley.  Today two of the farm houses there still contain a descendent five generations on from Nathaniel Kirk here. 

And here is part of the Western Comprehensive site now cleared for development.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Small shiny things

I’ve been enjoying the recent story of ‘the girl who gets gifts from birds’. 

A clumsy eight year old in Seattle found crows picking up accidently dropped parts of her packed lunch.  She then began deliberately to share it with them.  Before long this had grown into a regular pattern of feeding them at home.  And she then found trinkets being left on the bird table in apparent return.  She has built up a collection of small shiny things from pieces of broken glass (coloured bottles, light bulbs) to discarded objects (buttons, coloured paper clips).

Just the sort of feel good story which looks almost designed for a brief internet flare of interest, which is how it came into our own news media.  But it turns out to be a phenomenon which experts recognise.  The regularity of her feeding pattern appears to have been key.  In other places the ‘gifts’ include dead baby birds.  There appears to be a close parallel in crows’ courting rituals - the building up of bonds, the entreating of favour.

As with many such stories, I feel a bad sermon coming on.  Do we look like this to God?  Do the things which we offer as supremely attractive (in, say, church architecture and music) actually look to God more like the crow’s scarps of shiny things than anything else?  Our history of offering has even included dead birds (such as the two young pigeons offered by Mary and Joseph in the Temple at Luke 2.24).

I am reminded of the Church of England’s problem with what to say or pray at the offertory at Communion.

The Book of Common Prayer gives twenty sentences of scripture, the habitual use of only the first of which (‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven’) looks far too self satisfied in that context.

The Alternative Service Book 1980 tried to avoid any suggestion that we took any credit by selecting instead 1 Chronicles 29.11 (‘Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendour, and the majesty; for everything in heaven and earth is yours - all things come from you and of your own do we give you’) only for it to dawn on us after regular use that the visibility of offertory processions and a text ending ‘we give you’ managed to nurture for many the opposite impression to the one intended.

I remember the discussions as the present Common Worship provision was being developed.  Those responsible would much rather have done away with anything which drew attention to our apparent glorying in the shiny scraps we bring.  ‘The gifts of the people may be gathered and presented... One or more prayers at the preparation may be said’ is all the text grudgingly allows.

Twelve such prayers are tucked away in an appendix.  1 Chronicles 29.11 survives as the first of these – it does indeed try very hard to say that there is no credit for us. 

Number 4 is a version of the offertory prayers from the Roman Missal.  The grudging rubric really means ‘we realise that many of you will use the Roman prayers at this point but we can’t be explicit here because some of the evangelical members of the General Synod would vote against if we were’.  But these are included with the significant change that the bread and wine is said to be ‘set before you’ rather than something ‘we offer’ - a change more often ignored than implemented in my experience.

Number 6 is an ancient prayer (‘As the grain once scattered...’) which only got in because I suggested it should be during the formal revision process ahead of the authorisation of the service – you don’t need to know that but I wanted to tell you anyway.

Numbers 11 and 12 are very rarely used but try to get all this right with the phrases ‘make the frailty of our praise a dwelling place for your glory’ and ‘pour upon... the weakness of our praise the transforming fire of your presence’.  There is no over estimation there of the value of the shiny things which have caught our eye.

The picture comes from the same walk as the pictures on the last two posts.

Monday 9 March 2015

Legal preliminaries to marriage

The law has changed this month for those who are not British citizens who wish to be married in one of our churches, nearly a year on from my last my last reflecting on all this.  There are three details which are not the ones most people are drawing out about this.

First, for those from outside the European Economic Area (something slightly larger than the EU) the situation has got worse as the Government seeks to police potential sham marriages itself rather than through us.  The ancient right to use banns or a common licence as the legal preliminary for their wedding has simply been taken away.  Instead couples must use the secular superintendent registrar’s certificate procedure - which has always been, but has hardly ever been used as, an alternative to banns and common licence.  And, worse for them, only those of them exempt from immigration control can pop down to local Register Office at Cleethorpes to arrange this – the rest need to travel to the nearest specially designated Register Offices in Hull or Lincoln.  Think perhaps of someone local wishing to marry an Egyptian or Nigerian carer in a local care home who cannot afford to run a car.

Secondly, for those from within the EEA the situation has got better.  Because the government is now policing directly those from outside the EEA  (those from among whom most sham marriage applications might have come), the legal officers of this diocese are now more relaxed about other non-British citizens and are no longer directing that they must use the common licence system (for a fee of £200) but are content that they use banns (for a fee of £28).  I’m not actually sure that the legal officers had secure grounds for insisting that common licence should be used in the past – when I have queried this I have simply been told that this is the ‘direction’ which had been made.  Think perhaps of someone local wishing to marry a Portuguese nurse in the local hospital or an Icelandic teacher – the two most recent examples of those who I have dealt with who have been forced to use the more expensive common licence system.

Thirdly, there is an ‘identity card’ sting in the tail for everyone including all British citizens for whom none of the above might yet seem relevant.  All those who apply to have banns read need to demonstrate their nationality.  This is simple for those who have a passport, but far from simple if they do not.  In fact, so complicated that the legal officers of the diocese now advise ‘it may be easier for them to obtain one’ for £72.50.  Think perhaps of an unemployed couple on the Willows who have never aspired to holiday abroad.

It doesn't look like a net gain for the vast majority of couples for whom an application is not a sham.

Meanwhile, the picture was taken last week by the Freshney on the same walk as last week’s picture of St Michael’s.

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Who pays for the buildings?

The issue of community buildings as social infrastructure presses on me again.

There are buildings which have attracted very substantial grants towards their development (over £1 million in some cases) and such large developments have built in income streams from commercial letting of part of their premises.  Centre4 on Nunsthorpe and the Warehouse on Freeman Street are two superb examples in the centre of two of the more deprived parts of Grimsby.  They flourish, and rightly so.

But this model doesn’t work well for multiple smaller ‘village hall’ style developments.  The annual subsidy from the Village Council’s budget for the Great Coates Village Hall as the building loan is paid off and the difficulty of producing the balanced budget needed to re-open the Willows Library are the most striking examples in this parish of how difficult it is to have a sustainable free standing business plan for such venues. 

And, the things which presses on me again this week, this really matters as voluntary and community groups are expected to take up the strain of provision much of which, like that library provision, has most recently been funded or subsidised by the local authority.

One example is the new North East Lincolnshire contract to make youth service provision which is being taken up by a consortium including the YMCA with a small financial contribution from the local authority tapering off to nothing over three years.  The YMCA is approaching local churches this week about partnership which might include free venue provision; alongside Great Coates Village Hall and the Willows Community Church, we own the other three widely used community buildings (the Bishop King Centre, the Littlecoates Community Centre and St Michael’s Church) which might be available in western Grimsby. 

The other example is one particular energetic initiative to establish new lunch clubs with properly cooked meals in a number of smaller community venues - which has brought the environmental health inspectors round the venues making significant demands in each place for building improvements; St Michael’s is one of these places and this fresh challenge came up last week.

I wonder whether anyone in authority really appreciates how the national shift in provision depends on the availability of such venues.  Who is to fund the sorts of provision or improvements these need?  Letting income in all three cases covers immediate expenditure but doesn’t generate developmental surpluses – which is a real issue quite apart from the way some of that letting income has depended on community groups which pay the rent having the sorts of grants which they find more difficult to access today themselves anyway.

There are grant making bodies – the local landfill tax body which supported the new facilities in St Michael’s in 2008 still makes grants up to £50 000 but warns that there is a high level of demand should we wish to reapply or seek to introduce similar facilities at St Nicolas’.

And the church, the major provider with long term commitment, has an additional problem.  Many funders do not want to be seen to ‘subsidise’ religion itself.   For what it is worth, a Churchwarden happens to have done a careful audit last week – two thirds of the 275 or so people who came through the door of St Michael’s last week did so to access a community event rather than a religious activity.

The recently published Consultation Draft for the new North East Lincolnshire Local Plan anticipates 3 500 to 4 000 new houses being built in this parish and along the western edge of town.  This implies a significant amount of ‘Section 106’ contributions from the developers, mainly to assist the local authority make new provision such as roads and schools.  Such money has been used to make community grants in the past, and I’d at least like to initiate a conversation about whether there will be any strategy to support those who are already seeking to sustain the social infrastructure of community buildings (including the development of facilities at St Nicolas’ which is nearest to the fields in which the majority of the new houses will be built).

The view of St Michael’s tower from due west of it isn’t one I’d noticed until last week and is clearly only one which shows up in the winter.