Wednesday 27 January 2016

Barges full of mettal

Among the treasures on display in the Great Lincolnshire Exhibition (which was part of the Magna Carta celebrations last year) was a book of which I had often heard - the British Library’s copy of ‘Dugdale’s Monuments’ of 1641, which including drawings by William Sedgwick of a number of the brasses in Lincoln Cathedral.  It was published only three years before Parliamentary soldiers came to the Cathedral, as John Evelyn was later to record, and shut themselves in, till they had rent & torne of some barges full of mettal, not sparing the monuments of the dead, so hellish an avarice possess’d them.  Perhaps two hundred brasses were removed leaving indentations in the stone where they had been much like the single example outside the south door at St Nicolas’, Great Coates. 

It set me to wondering whether Sedgwick’s drawings and the shapes of the indentations means that the names of those originally buried beneath the stone slabs could be recovered.  It seems an obvious piece of work for someone to have done, and twice in recent weeks, when I have been in Lincoln for other things, I have had the opportunity to read some relevant material in the Cathedral’s Library.  I did know that quite a few of the slabs had been moved in the 1780s when the floor of the Cathedral was repaved so they no longer mark the position of the original burials.  It turns out that the illustrations in ‘Dugdale’s Monuments’ are not as comprehensive as all that and few matches can be made.

One of them is this Belgian marble slab at the entrance to the south choir aisle which is identified as being that of John de Haddyn, a Canon of the Cathedral who died in 1374.  I have walked across it many times without paying any attention to the pattern in the stone.  It clearly shows the crowned Virgin with her Child symbolically framed at the top of a tree-like structure, and there is the Canon on the left kneeling beneath it with the words of a lost prayer appearing above his head like the speech bubble in a modern cartoon (just as the prayers ‘Lord, have mercy’ and ‘Let it be so’ appear coming from the mouths of the Barnardistans in their surviving early sixteen century at St Nicolas’, Great Coates).

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Special pleading

The good news at the moment is that small numbers of fresh people are attending our churches, our diocesan safeguarding provision is more robust than it has ever been, and, perhaps best of all, the Anglican Primates gathering in Canterbury has come out with a robust statement against the prejudice faced by gay people.

So, in the last week, we have begun to approach the half dozen relatively new regular attenders at St Michael’s to see how many of them would like to prepare for Confirmation in the summer, I’ve happened to touch on two routine safeguarding activities (doing a standard identity check for one person who visits homes for the elderly and responding to a letter about the diocesan pastoral support provision for those effected by safeguarding concerns), and I have received this:

The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.  The Primates recognise that the Christian church and within it the Anglican Communion have often acted in a way towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation that has caused deep hurt. Where this has happened they express their profound sorrow and affirm again that God’s love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression.

But I’m not sure that this is the impression which the people of England or Grimsby have been given.  The news they have received in the last week is that the number of attenders at Church of England services on a normal Sunday has dropped for the first time below the psychologically important one million, individual cases of sexual abuse in the Church of England continue to surface one by one, and the majority of the Anglican Primates simply can’t abide those churches which support provision for stable same-sex marriage.

Our 'mission listening' has long been picking up (alongside their concern about the injustice of suffering in the world) their sense that churchgoing wouldn’t touch their spiritual needs, that our apparent claims to holiness are hyprocritical, and that our fundamentalism blinds us to the insights of science and humanity today - and I imagine that news of smaller and more elderly congregations, scandals and resistance to equality legislation seems to confirm all this for them.

We know that the age profile of our regular attenders means that in any given period the number of new ones is very unlikely to outnumber the number who die.  We know that it is in part the rigour of our present safeguarding work which is bringing some old scandals to light and to judgement.  We know that it is precisely the church’s attempt to be aware and creative at the intersection of its tradition and encounters which produces the tensions we find in seeing a shared way forward.  Some of these points have all been made on this Blog quite recently – but they wouldn’t appear to be any more than special pleading to most people.

Monday 11 January 2016

Church defining

GAFCON (the Global Anglican Futures Conference) headlines the issue before the Anglican Primates meeting this week by saying:

At stake is a basic church defining principle: will Christ rule our life and witness through his Word, or will our life and witness be conformed to the global ambitions of a secular culture?

There is the possibility of following biblical teaching on the one side.  There is the possibility of following the norms of the society around us on the other side.  We just have to choose which.

Or (GAFCON’s allusion is presumably to Romans 12.2) “do not be conformed  to this age but be transformed by the renewing of your minds”; the word translated ‘con-formed’ has the route ‘sy-scheme’ so has the sense to re-model; the word translated ‘trans-form’ is ‘meta-morphosis’.  Do we want to 'fit in' or 'be changed'?

But I wonder whether there are really many Christians out there who set aside every social and scientific consensus in the world around them where they detect any conflict with a specific New Testament text?

Perhaps some Amish, Brethern and creationist groups are close to this?  In part, they are recognised for things like their attitude to the dress and role of women and their keeping themselves apart from those who do not believe as they do.  Most chiefly, they ought to be (and some are) recognised by their forgiving, non-judgemental and pacifist manner.

Equally I wonder whether there are really many Christians out there who set aside any New Testament teaching as soon as is seems to be odds with what their early twentieth-century neighbours assume to be true?

Perhaps corrupt and worldly church leaders have always been close to this?  Nevertheless, I can’t really think of any genuine Christian groups who reflect the sort of competitive, consumerist, individualistic and licentious strands which run through much of society as we find it around us.

So I do wonder about the polarity and simplicity of the GAFCON headline.  Perhaps the truth is that almost every Christian is actually caught in a careful act of discernment to which the headline doesn’t do justice? 

There are well repeated arguments.  What does the biblical imperative to love our neighbour say to us about the process of wealth creation around us?  What does equality and human right legislation say to us about the New Testament’s apparent acceptance of slavery? 

There are less well recognised challenges.  Where does something like epi-eikies (first a Greek philosophical term, then used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament read by the New Testament writers, and then a New Testament term) take our practical judgements?

What calls do we make when there are presenting issues of dispute – about non-kosher meat or meat used in pagan sacrifice, about charging interest on loans and releasing from debt, about remarriage after divorce, about committed gay relationships?

Yes, some of the time it will seem clear to us that on the particular issue the people with whom we disagree do appear to have failed to take the New Testament perspective seriously enough.

But equally, some of the time it will be clear to us that they it is scientific or social discovery which haven't been taken seriously enough.

Either way, it probably isn’t much help hurling the term ‘fundamentalist’ at those who call these things one way or ‘revisionist’ when weighing the arguments of those who call these things the other way.

A classic sixteenth century Anglican position has been that of Richard Hooker who explored his first loyalty to scripture alongside his sense that the ‘natural law’ is becoming clearer the longer human beings are attentive to the world around them and who then looked to the guidance of the church when these first two sources didn’t give a clear lead (sometimes over simplified as having ‘scripture, reason and tradition’ on which to call).

A classic twenty-first century Anglican position is that none of us have minds which are fully re-schemed, meta-morphosed, trans-formed and re-newed.  There are layers of self deception, unreflective biblical literalism and secular assumption in there all the time alongside openness to God, Gospel-prompted priorities and society-inspired truths. 

It may actually be that it is our willingness to live together with those who fail like us which has been the most church defining thing about us all along.

Meanwhile, the sun was on the back of the gravestones in St Nicolas’ churchyard late in the afternoon yesterday.

Monday 4 January 2016

Fair Trade profits

We’ve been able to give away just over £1000 from our Fair Trade activities in 2015.  For the avoidance of doubt, I ought rapidly to define ‘we’ as being my wife, who usually only appears in this Blog by stepping into a picture often simply accidently thus and thus and then even, if you look carefully, thus.

One part of the activity is running a monthly Traidcraft stall at the morning service at each of the two churches which have such a service.  £1914 has been spent at these stalls in the year. 

This is obviously good for the producers who have an additional small outlet for their goods.  But it has also been important for the awareness which it has raised.  So we have achieved the status of being a Fair Trade parish by running these stalls, promoting the annual Fair Trade Fortnight and making sure the refreshments we serve in church are all fairly traded.  And the knock on effect is that more people look out for the Fair Trade logo when they shop elsewhere. 

But we have also made know Traidcraft’s appeal this year for people to shop through it and thus enable it to fund projects in its producers’ villages and towns.  It appears that Traidcraft has been too successful in getting people buying fairly traded goods in supermarkets so its own income had actually fallen.

Anyway, the set small sellers' margin, those who said ‘keep the change’, and those who bought home-made jam (with fruit from our garden and other ingredients fairly traded) together produced a small profit of £325 which is just being paid across as a donation to the two churches.

The other part of the activity has been to import olive wood products direct from Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans. The skill of ordering and paying direct and then navigating goods through customs was developed with one small consignment and then put into practice with a second much larger one. 

There was a lot of work pricing and boxing up enough for a church stall so that members of the North East Lincolnshire Churches Together Justice and Peace Group could take these out to a number of churches.  An astonishing £2350 was been spent at these stalls in a few weeks.

Again, providing the producers with an additional small outlet for their goods has been an obvious good.  But in this case the sellers' mark up has been determined ourselves and has averaged 30% on these sales.  So we have had a total £720 to divide between two Bethlehem charities – Caritas Baby Hospital (where, among others, some of the victims of the bombing of Gaza have been treated) and the Holy Land Trust.  In effect, we have done what Traidcraft does: sending the premium back into the community from which the goods emerged rather than keeping it in the pockets of those who control the supply chain.

Next we will work on involving the parish's Youth Group and others in one of the Big Breakfasts for this year's Fair Trade Fortnight 29th February to 13th March.

The picture is of our own Christmas tree.