Monday 28 September 2015

To an ageing congregation

The first thing John Bell of the Iona Community tackled at a diocesan gathering in the Cathedral on Saturday was the excuse of not seeing a future because “we are an ageing congregation here”.  It is interesting in itself that (either as a result of a briefing about those who were expected to come to this particular event or perhaps simply his current habit when speaking to a Church of England gathering?) this is where he chose to begin.

First, he used an obvious starting point in scripture - Sarah laughing when she overheard the promise that she would be a mother (“now that I am past the age of child-bearing and my husband is an old man”) and that God’s new possibilities and covenant would descend from her.  In due time her son is given a name which meant laughter and she says “God has given me cause to laugh; all those who hear it will laugh with me”.

But secondly, he had a simple take on scripture which was new to me (and which I may well borrow!).  People say that Christmas is a “time for children” he said, but had we noticed how the story revolves around older people? 

Indeed it does.

The story begins with the promise to Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will be the mother of John the Baptist.  Zechariah does not laugh, he disputes – “How can I be sure of this?  I am an old man and my wife is getting on”.  When the annunciation promise comes to Mary six months later it is validated by the knowledge that “your kinswoman Elizabeth has in her old age conceived... for nothing is impossible for God”.

The story ends with Mary and Joseph bringing the new born Jesus to the Temple where God’s new possibilities in him are hailed by Simeon (“it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death he had set eyes on the Christ”) and Anna (“eighty-four years old”).

John Bell also touched on how old he imagined Joseph, the shepherds and the magi would have been in the bits of the story in between.

Meanwhile, simply pointing an ordinary camera at a bright moon at 2.35 a.m. this morning was never going to capture a great picture of the eclipse, but it was a pleasure that I was awake, that the sky was so clear, and that the picture catches a hint of the red involved.

Sunday 20 September 2015

Elections again

Will the about-to-be-elected new General Synod reflect the views of its electors or be skewed in favour of those understandably active in manoeuvring behind the scenes on behalf of the more extreme catholic, evangelical and liberal approaches?

This week’s additional reason for feeling mildly depressed is that I’ve read the dozen ‘election addresses’ by the clergy candidates in this diocese.  The really remarkable things is that few candidates actually say where they stand on specific issues at all – ecology, ministerial development, the mission crisis, the inclusion of lesbian and gay people in ordained ministry.

Mainly they tell me what committed and experienced ministers they are, and suggest that I should trust them.  One carries a picture of the candidate in front of a large warplane, text about himself and not a single reference to his position on any issue at all.  Two tell me about their pets.
One manages to say that homosexuality is a particular interest of hers without indicating whether this interest has led her to tend towards a more conservative or a more liberal view.  Another (a friend) doesn't mention his membership Forward in Faith but does print a picture of himself smiling at a female priest (although his information about others issues is actually much more helpfully substantial than most of the others).

Two do label themselves with Inclusive Church, but a third who I know is evangelically committed to a biblically literalist position on homosexuality only hints obliquely at this long after he makes 'Inclusive Mission' his first bold heading.

I suspect that many of those who vote will end up being quite surprised by the way those we elect vote on key issues.

Meanwhile, we did have a nice walk in the Lincolnshire Wolds the other day.

Monday 7 September 2015

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Yet more treasures

This W pattern appears on the outside doorways to St George's, Bradley (top - it is facing inwards on the right hand side as you enter) and the chancel doorway to St Nicolas', Great Coates (bottom - it is facing outwards on the left hand side as you look at the wall).  

If I had noticed them at all during the last sixteen years, I might have assumed that they were nineteenth century graffiti by someone whose name began with W, or just possibly older 'masons marks' (forms of builder's signatures).  But their similarity might have alerted me to the fact that something quite different is going on here.  

It was two recorders from a Lincolnshire extension to recent East Anglican mediaeval church graffiti projects who pointed them out to me yesterday and explained that what is in fact two overlapping Vs is one of the most common devotional or superstitious marks - standing for Mary as 'the Virgin of Virgins'

At Bradley, we are almost in danger of losing the mark which is on facing stone just at the point were it is eroding away.

At Great Coates, they also pointed out a little further east (on part of the stone setting of a window) this circle which may be what is left of a 'mass dial' (a sundial intended to help the priest coming to the chancel door know when to start the Mass).

And their further discoveries inside St Nicolas' included what turn out to be two of the other most common such marks - a 'daisy wheel' pattern above and a ship below - both on the face of the pillar nearest the servery in the south-western corner of the church.  The first might relate to the font which might once have been positioned there.  The second might relate to the dedication of the church or be a form of intercession for a particular voyage.  There is also a deeply incised cross on this pillar as well and several others elsewhere in the church.

I'm stunned by what a new pair of eyes can reveal.  There is helpful background information in places like this.