Thursday 28 April 2016

Who knows me best?

Here is the hail lying as thick as snow on our lawn yesterday.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking about who to ask to give feedback on my ministry to the Bishop who will be conducting my Ministerial Development Review (MDR) in November, the first of a new style of MDR the Bishops in this diocese wants to adopt and the first which will include this feedback as recommended by the Archbishops’ Council six years ago.

Four people are to be approached each to fill in one side of paper asking about my main strengths (for which they should supply examples), areas I might need help developing (we all know that this is a kind way of saying my main weaknesses) and anything else they might want to draw to my attention (which I suppose could be anything from what everyone is saying to their personal pet wish).

The Bishop’s administrators have chosen two of these from among the people listed on the parish’s annual returns (it is one of the churchwardens and one of my clergy colleagues this time).  

The note I received yesterday telling me this fails to mention that the Archbishops’ Council guidance says I should be given an opportunity to object to these choices (presumably because such random choice might identify by accident the one person who is opposing all a clergyperson is trying to do in a particular parish), which I think is a pity in principle although I have no objection to the particular names myself.

That leaves me to pick two others.  

Do I fall into the trap of only asking two people who always say nice thankful things to me and seem to think I’m just the sort of Rector they want?  Do I fall into the trap of generously asking at least one person who has objected to my approach to something small or even a lot of things which are fundamental? 

And will each of the four people be tempted to pull their punches since they know I’ll be given a copy of what they write?

Saturday 23 April 2016

More than memorials

This week St Michael’s has received a further £1 000 grant (from Sports Relief) towards the £9 045 needed to replace the increasingly woodworm-ridden and rickety chairs in the church.  Identifying a replacement design which is robust yet moveable and comfortable yet acceptable to the heritage monitoring bodies involved has been one thing.  Reducing the funding gap now to just £625 has been another.  We hope to receive soon the paperwork which would enable us apply for official permission to go ahead.  We would hope to have the new chairs in place over the summer.

St Michael's has the paperwork needed for the much more expensive (about £50 000) project to restore the organ, and this week began to display the Public Notices which are the final stage of applying for permission to go ahead with this.  Here progress may not be that immediate.  We have just submitted proposals to the heritage monitoring body to adapt toilet provision and to relay a deteriorating section of stone floor, and we have done further work this week towards finalising a funding application to close the £30 000 or so gap to be able to fund all three of these things together.

The organ itself was given in memory of James and Martha Letten in 1936, and this is recorded on a tablet beneath the organ gallery, so it is my old notes about them which I’ve dug out, making connections with the two other memorial tablets in the church.

James Letten and Martha Somerville were both from Gravesend watermen and lightermen families.  What today would be called James’ entrepreneurial skills led him first to own his own boats on the Thames and then to take up the incentives offered to those willing to migrate in the 1870s to contribute to the rapidly growing fishing industry in Grimsby.  Letten was to become one of the prominent Grimsby Trawler owning names through the heyday of the industry over four generations.

James and Martha are not buried here.  Their eldest son, James Somerville Letten, had similarly migrated to Southampton and it is with his family that they spent the last years of their lives and it is there that they are buried.

Their second son, William Somerville Letten, however, was one of the Trustees of the Will of Joseph Chapman (his name appears as such on a second tablet beneath the organ gallery) which financed the major extension of the church 1913-15; he was married to Joseph Chapman’s cousin Alice.  The first tablet records that the organ was his gift.  He and his wife are buried in the churchyard.  They had no children.

Their third son was George Somerville Letten.  He married Kate Mudd, daughter of the Harrison Mudd who was another of the prominent migrated trawler owners and a sometime Mayor of Grimsby.  They are buried in the churchyard, as are their son Frank Letten, Frank’s wife’s cremated remains (as recently as the 1990s) and an infant son of theirs, and as is Kate Letten’s brother George and his wife. 

George and Kate Somerville Letten’s daughter Dorothy married Harold Mountain, son of the Thomas Mountain in whose memory the west window of the church was given by his wife Rachel (at about the same time as the organ was installed – see a third tablet beneath that window in her memory).  This Thomas Mountain was another of the Trustees of Joseph Chapman’s Will (and again his name appears as such on the tablet recording the legacy which funded the 1913-15 building).  Thomas and Rachel Mountain and their son Harold are all also buried in the churchyard.   

Meanwhile, the picture is quite different, and is my attempt to draw the fragments of the Saxon Cross the astonishing announcement of the discovery of which in the Rectory garden at Louth was made this week (much nearer than Monasterboice, or, indeed, west Cumbria).

Saturday 16 April 2016

St Peter's role

We read with peril the first half of the story of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ without reading the second.  It seems abidingly important that Matthew 16.15-23 is one story the whole of which needs reading.  Yet on many significant occasions (including many ordination services) we read only the first half.  This was something I returned to with a group yet again last week.

Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.   And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”   Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.  From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.   And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”   But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

The words of Jesus to Peter form three pairs, the mirror image coming in reverse order thus:

For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Get behind me, Satan!
You are a stumbling block to me;
for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

So Peter is told almost in one breathe that his thinking is divinely inspired and humanly limited, that he is both a foundational rock for us and trip hazard even for God, and that he controls access to heaven and is diabolical.  He is thus an excellent candidate to be Patron of the Church of England.  Or of me.

To take just the first half of these careful pairings and to build any theology of discipleship or ministry on them is a disastrous mistake (no less than the despair which would be involved in taking just the second half of each).

Meanwhile, this cross stands close by Muiredach’s High Cross at Monasterboice.

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Muiredach's High Cross

A highlight of our returning home was calling at Monasterboice to see this splendid piece of Tenth Century art and devotion.  The top looks just like a shrine box (somewhere to keep and parade relics).  The bottom panel shows Adam and Eve and then Cain and Abel.  

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Lost in the forest

And here is the two roomed farm house (three if you include the byre at the far end) in which my wife's ancestors were living and working in the nineteenth century, unused since perhaps about the 1950s when the land was taken over by the forestry which now surrounds it.

Monday 4 April 2016

Generous people

We haven’t found anyone in southern Armagh who isn’t cheerful and anxious to be helpful from hotel staff to those who have responded to casual enquiries, and yesterday we fell into the hands of a local historian who drove us round all afternoon identifying routes into bits of forestry within which an abandoned Harvey farmsteads stood, showing us the footprint of the local flax and linen industry, sharing local details of the Troubles, pointing out the birthplace of Willie McBride, and so much more.  Here, almost as a random example, are two things on the same point on the old Armagh-Dublin coaching road: a surviving milestone (we were 56 Irish miles north of Dublin) and a retaining wall built across a mountain stream designed to ease the gathering of water.

Saturday 2 April 2016

Armagh statues

Both modern and both from the Mall in the centre of the city.  The first commemorates the worst railway accident in Northern Irish history which we've see referenced in several different places; coaches uncoupled from an excursion train ran away at gathering speed and collided with another train.  The second allows observers to peer inside the globe and see the light of other eyes peering back at them.

Friday 1 April 2016

Harvey of Armaghbreague

My mother-in-law was born a Harvey.  Her Harvey great-great-grandfather was born in 1800 (the same year, by coincidence, as my Mullins great-great-grandfather) in the south Armagh townland of Armaghbreague.  Our guess is that what we presume to be his Scottish Protestant family had been ‘planted’ in this Irish Catholic area sometime in the previous century.  He leased land and farmed the southern slope of  Carrigatuke right up to its peak.
So here is a view from the top of the mountain looking south east, with the least productive of the land he leased in the foreground  and with the Mourne Mountains and a hint of Carlingford Lough Dundalk Bay in the distance.

And here is his gravestone in churchyard at Armaghbreague, where some of his descendants have continued to be buried up to as recently as 2011.

The ‘human geography’ across whole sections of Ireland such as this area is quite different to that of the village settlements of England.  There are very few centres at all (and, for example, the churches stand in isolated locations, often with modern provision of substantial car parks), the population being spread out at low density but evenly.

As we explored many churchyards and roadsides, we couldn't fail to notice both graves and memorials to those murdered by terrorists in the mid 1970s and the unexpected visibility of Irish republican flags in the week following the centenary of the Easter Rising.