Tuesday 28 July 2015

Joyce Pearson

Proverbs 31.29 puts the praise of an ideal woman in the mouth of her husband “many women have done excellently, but you have surpassed them all”, and the text appears on a 1987 gravestone in St Nicolas’ churchyard, the husband having been the priest at our Bishop Edward King Church (“BEK”) at the time of his wife’s death.

They would have known well Joyce Pearson, a member of that church from its foundation in the local Labour Club in 1968 continuing as the lynch-pin of activities at what is now the Bishop King Centre until this month.   Her death has left a very big gap – it was not for nothing that she was named as Grimsby’s ‘Inspirational Woman’ a couple of years ago.

BEK friends worked hard with her family to pick hymns for her funeral which gave it an appropriate and truly distinctive flavour: Brother, sister, let me serve you; Make me a channel of your peace; My eyes have seen the glory.  We almost danced her coffin out of church to the last of those.

And Anne McCormick. the last priest at BEK, suggested we use Proverbs 31.10-31 as a reading at the service.  It was extraordinary how easy it was to stitch together texts from it as I spoke about her. 

Her family’s memories included her Sunday, birthday and Christmas cooking and she cooked for the weekly Chatterbox drop-in and lunches – she rises while it is still night to prepare food not just for her family.
Her church friends remembered everything from sponsored crossings of the Humber Bridge for Christian Aid to her welcome for the most vulnerable - she reaches out her hands to the needy

There was never ending attention to the BEK building including cleaning away even when other things were going on - she does not eat the bread of idleness

Only a few weeks ago, I was talking with her about the compassionate yet firm way forward needed in relation to what many felt was a nuisance neighbour and she gave me good advice about the things it turned out she had already done - the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

Monday 20 July 2015

Individual priorities

The National Trust is short of volunteers to steward each room of its open houses.  Their spokesman last week says the newly retired are now more likely to be taking holidays or looking after grandchildren.  It plans to leave more rooms monitored by CCTV instead.  

I can think of the superficial things to observe about this, but I can’t be sure that they stand up to academic scrutiny.

The first is that there are three periods of time which are popularly thought to have reshaped society’s attitudes – the focus on personal freedom in the 1960s, the focus on individuals and market forces in the Thatcher era, and the sense of ground shifting and vulnerability following the recent banking crisis.  Someone who is 65 this year will have been a teenager in the 1960s, in his or her 30s through the years of the Thatcher government, and to have been 57 when the banking crisis occurred and thus to have spent their immediate pre-retirement years in a less financially and personally secure environment.

Does this help explain why those newly retired with money might be slightly more likely than their predecessors to be indulging in immediate opportunities to spend it?  Does this help explain why those newly retired with less money or with children under greater financial pressure might be slightly more likely than their predecessors to be providing child care for their working children?  Does this help explain why those newly retired are slightly less likely than their predecessors to volunteer?

Perhaps I am simply being effected by reading at the moment Tobias Jones’ latest book on living in community where I find (as expected, and alongside a number of others referenced in this Blog in the last few months) there is an abiding sense of what is lost by what in one passage he describes as ‘dislocated, isolated and atomised beings who have become... incredibly individualistic... obsessed with ourselves and what we have got’.

And how might all this be expected to affect levels of church attendance and activity?

The redcurrants are in the fruit cage in our garden this week.

Monday 13 July 2015

The acid of planning

There’s an extraordinary rebus wherein the ends are only glimpsed when they’re entirely ignored, when purpose is dethroned by obedience, and when utility is, apparently, usurped by futility.  It’s then that the ends come and find you, rather than vice versa.  The promise of faith is that on the far side of meaninglessness there really does emerge meaning; but actively looking for that meaning dissolves in the acid of enquiry.

That is Tobias Jones (in his Utopian Dreams) on Newman.  I was reminded to look for the quotation by a review of a new book of his (A Place of Refuge).  I thought I’d find it in an early post on this Blog, but in fact I find had noted it a little while earlier. 

I found I’d noted it alongside a more utilitarian comment in Brendan Walsh’s review of the book:

It is precisely (the) eager concentration on the individual’s search for happiness that makes its achievement so elusive.  Somehow happiness is found only when our attention is completely focussed on something, or someone, else.

And I’d also noted a parallel with Recovering Confidence, the report of a Church of England recruitment strategy working party nearly twenty years ago (chaired by Bill Ind, the then Bishop of Grantham) which said that emergency strategies in areas like recruitment and stewardship have short term gains only; it is taking one’s eyes off those immediate targets and deepening the basic work of nurturing discipleship from which we would expect to see commitment and vocation to follow.

At its best, our current diocesan Year of Discipleship reflects this, but remembering these quotations helps me identify the source of my underlying unease at the way it can fall back into faith in intentional planning which comes dangerously close to pursuing things like meaning and happiness; I find that the template which the diocese now provides for what we had originally been invited to think of as ‘Discipleship Development’ is actually labelled a ‘Growth Plan’.

Some level of 'Mission Action Planning' is of course desirable, indeed we have been engaged in it.  But the most crass part of a diocesan Year of Discipleship training event I attended a while ago was the invitation to identify biblical examples of planning as if thinking of one simply legitimised it.  The person who thought of the journey of the Magi quickly recalled the unintended result was the slaughter of the innocents, and another identified David being punished for the lack of faith demonstrated in his apparently responsible careful counting his army.

But what do I know?  Those of us who have spent the last twenty years with this particular approach to  'recovering confidence' and coming slant at Christian meaning and happiness (the vocabulary is remarkably similar to the present diocesan strapline of 'confident, faithful and joyful') see things draining away around them.  Those who have systematically developed and deployed, say, Alpha Courses are seeing the immediate growth.

Monday 6 July 2015

Thursday 12th May 1960

What could you work out about the person who wrote a date in this form?  What might a Sherlock Holmes deduce?  What might a literary archaeologist uncover?  It is something I have had fun exploring with groups in the past.

First, if said aloud, the person begins by naming a Norse God (Thor) and then appears to continue by speaking almost pure Old Frisian (saying ‘dei’ and ’twiliftha’).  So the speaker’s linguistic roots are clearly pagan, Germanic and, more specifically, related to the tribal area adjacent to that of the Angles (who gave their name to the language the speaker speaks) in the late Roman Empire period.

It is then quickly apparent that this Frisian is built on substantial Roman foundations.  The script is Roman lettering, the habit of naming the fifth day of the week after the God of thunder is also a Roman one, and the very next word is the name not of a second Norse God but of a Roman Goddess (Maia).  So it is plausible that the authority vacuum which allowed things Frisian (including at least its language) to dominate was the collapse of the Roman Empire; the Norse / Frisian layer is quite a thin overlying of the Roman one.

Frisian and Latin have in common being Indo-European languages, although there is nothing about this deeper kinship apparent in the date.  What is apparent is that, although the alphabet being used is Roman, the numbering system is the one developed in India in the same period as the late Roman Empire, a system exported through Persian and Arabic cultures.  Hints of the earliest population expansion from around the Red Sea into Europe and of the later cultural renewal from the Middle East and north Africa are tantalisingly present.

And, finally, the numbers set out an almost accurate Christian calculation of the birth of its founder.  Partial commentators might say either that this is intrinsic (every year is one ‘of Our Lord’) or that the Christian layer is in fact only a thin one laid on top of what is a hybrid and substantially pagan foundation.

Perhaps a bastard form of pagan superstition is actually preserved in noting that those born that day (I am one of them) just avoided being born on the “Friday the Thirteenth” (something I actually regret a little – just missing out on a distinction shared by about 0.47% of the population); a heritage of low grade superstition.

What else?  1960 was the 50th anniversary of the death of Florence Nightingale, whose birthday this was; a heritage of care and professionalism.  On this particular day in 1960, there were explicit Soviet threats of nuclear war if America persisted in sending what it had thought were undetected spy planes, one of which had just been shot down; a heritage of divided Europe and ‘Cold War’. 

Meanwhile, I had to go up St George’s tower for a second time this year, so my 19th February picture of the new building going on next door (first posted here on 23rd February) is now matched by a 24th June one.