Wednesday 31 August 2016


Last week it was images of Great Milton church near Oxford, in which my Mallam ancestors were baptised and around which doubtless many of them are buried.  This week, I'd like to write about how the diocese of Lincoln is handling the placing of Curates and the nurturing of training incumbents, the appointment of Vicars and the building of collaborative strategy with their parishes, and the eptidude and pastoral care with which it communicates a selection of this, but it seems as wearisome to try to do so as to write yet again about the apparent hopelessness of political discourse from Brexit to Gaza.  So a single picture instead.  A year ago, I was gathering fallen walnuts in St Nicolas’ churchyard and making ink from them.  This year, I’m simply observing (from the extensive debris along each path and through much of the grass) how much the squirrels have been enjoying them.  As always, clicking on the picture enlarges the image.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Thursday 18 August 2016

Christ reigns

Hugh Winfield, North East Lincolnshire Council's archaeologist, was at St Nicolas' again yesterday, looking with a colleague at the south aisle we are soon to repair and adding to his collection of pictures, and he has shared this good quality view of the 1920s east window with us. We had a Grimsby Telegraph journalist with us at the same time and an item should appear soon about the major grant we have received to do the work.

The notice which I prepared a while ago and is placed near the window reads:

The main east window of the church is a memorial to Canon James Quirk who was Rector of Great Coates for 35 years.  It shows the risen and ascended Christ on a throne - the window was made four years after the Pope made ‘Christ the King’ a feast day in the calendar of the Catholic Church.

The saints either side of Christ are his mother and St Nicolas.  There is a small anchor in the curve of St Nicolas’ crozier which is a reminder (in this Humber bank parish) that he is a patron saint for sailors. 

The coats of arms are those of the Bishop of Lincoln (on the left) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (on the right). 

We still pour water into the font for Baptisms from a brass jug (or ‘ewer’) which he gave in 1907 in thanksgiving for the Baptism of his five children (who are named on it - the date of each Baptism is then added against each name).  Meanwhile, Canon Quirk’s grave is a short distance the other side of the window. 

I’m troubled from time to time that the image reinforces a view of God which all our teaching and singing about ‘the servant King’ fails seriously to undermine.  As it happens, a paragraph in my last post addresses this dilemma directly:

...  ‘ever potent’ echoes the Latin ‘omnipotentiam’ which is really ‘all powerful’ - an idea which the life and teaching of Jesus seems to subvert.  I was trying to get nearer to a dynamic ‘ever creative’ than a static ‘almighty’; inexhaustible potential rather than irresistible force....

But there it is, literally.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Running to your promises

Ever potent God,
who we run into most often
when pursuing your promises,
strew wildly around us
even more clues of your grace, mercy and forgiveness,
until the chase brings us together
into the field in which all your treasure is found.

The Church Times alerts me to the way Cranmer’s own literal translation of this week’s ancient Latin Collect (for the 11th Sunday after Trinity) preserves a striking picture of ‘we, running to thy promises’ (‘ut, currentes ad tua promissa’ – I enjoyed discovering that Latin for ‘running’ gives us the word we use for running water), while our Common Worship form of the prayer preserves a more morally manipulative idea intruded into it in the 1662 revision of the Book of Common Prayer with ‘we, running the way of your commandments, may receive your gracious promises’.

It led me back to the original Latin prayer and the way, for example, the notoriously loose Catholic version from the 1970s has a different slant (‘to hurry towards the eternal life you promise’) which has been pulled back characteristically in the more literal new Catholic version (‘those hastening to attain your promises’).

Anyway, I played with the idea and found an image of a paper chase or treasure hunt in my mind and thus through the whole of the version I am developing for myself.  Unlike my version of the Collect for the 4th Sunday before Lent (which I use in public worship from time to time as if it was a long standing text) I suspect it only works for private meditation.

At the beginning, ‘ever potent’ echoes the Latin ‘omnipotentiam’ which is really ‘all powerful’ - an idea which the life and teaching of Jesus seems to subvert.  I was trying to get nearer to a dynamic ‘ever creative’ than a static ‘almighty’; inexhaustible potential rather than irresistible force. 

At the end, I’ve allowed an allusion to Mattew 13.44 (“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone found, hid again, and then in joy went and sold everything to buy it”) to do the work; discovery, surprise, joy and possession rather than conditional entry.

For what it is worth, I’ve tracked these and other shifts in my text as far as I have developed it thus:

Latin (in English word order) Cranmer (in his own word order) Mine
Deus God God
qui which who
manifestas declarest we run into / even more clues of
omnipotentiam tuam thy almighty power ever potent
maxime most chiefly most often
tuam parcendo in shewyng mercy your mercy
et miserando and pitie and forgiveness
multiplica super nos geve unto us abundauntly strew wildly around us
gratiam tuam thy grace your grace
ut that we until
currents ad running to when pursuing / the chase
tua promissa thy promises your promises
facias esse may be made brings us into
consortes partakers together
caelestium bonorum of thy heavenly treasure the field in which all your treasure is found.

The work of the ants is on our drive.

Saturday 6 August 2016

Children and cherries

The large cherry tree just south of the entrance to St Michael's churchyard has appeared here before, as have the grouping of children's graves  beneath it including a particular one from 1926 here.

But I hadn't thought to try harvesting any of the cherries before until I saw someone else doing so this week.  Apparently all cherries are edible, although those from ornamental trees are likely to be small and have disproportionately large amounts of stone - all the case with these ones as it turns out.

The grave in the background of the last picture is this one, that of two year old Raymond Bishop from 1926.

And here his burial is entered in the register  we still have (the picture will enlarge if you click on it), the middle one of a run of five children who died in just over a month.  The George Somerville Letten immediately above him was the grandson of the George Somerville Letten who featured here recently, and is the only one of the five not to come from the cluster of terraced houses around Little Coates School.  The John Davis above them is the one whose grave (neighbouring Raymond Bishop's) had drawn my attention before.

Monday 1 August 2016

Ecumenical loss

On Thursday, a Methodist Local Preacher who used to work at the old Courtaulds plant in Grimsby was telling me how valued the work of an established Industrial Chaplain had been when there were deaths at the plant a number of years ago, and the first article in the Church Times the following day highlighted the role the present Urban and Industrial Chaplain in North East Lincolnshire is playing at the closing of the BHS store here, so the likely loss of this post seems particularly sad this week.

The diocese of Lincoln is ending its grant to Lincolnshire Chaplaincy Services Ltd (LCS).  This is the arms-length ecumenical body through which such posts have most recently been deployed.  It is the successor to a number of Greater Lincolnshire-wide formal Ecumenical Partnership through which a range of other activities (including Social Responsibility) had been operated on an ecumenical basis for many years.  The diocese has been its main source of funding. 

All such work is to be brought ‘in house’ by the diocese at the end of the year.  The decision formally agreed by the Bishop’s Council grows explicitly from dissatisfaction that the diocese has been the main financier of things it cannot deploy or direct (although my guess is that an episcopal request about a specific piece of work or a synodical nudge about the general direction of policy would actually have been resisted rarely or not at all).

I can’t help seeing at least some parallels with a recent decision based on arguments such as ‘do you realise how much of our money is being spent by an external body on which we only have a limited representation?’ and ‘shouldn't the body of which we are members have sovereignty while our wider cultural rootedness with those a bit different from us should be relational rather than structural?’. 

I’ve been part of a small group giving some advice about how a smaller number of posts might be most effectively be deployed ‘in house’, so I wait to see what happens next with more interest than most.

But my chief reflection for this post is just how out of fashion formal levels of ecumenical working have become.

At a personal level, there were, say, nineteen years (1979-97, the cut off point is arbitrary) when I simply assumed this way of working was normative: a gap year at a Methodist mission, undergraduate years which included membership of a MethSoc, ordination training at a joint Anglican, Methodist and URC college, a year’s full-time post-graduate study at the Irish School of Ecumenics (after a four year Curacy), and five years as a Team Vicar in a single shared church which was an Anglican, Methodist and URC Local Ecumenical Partnership in a diocese where (as I’ve said) ‘sector ministries’ were also deployed through formal Ecumenical Partnerships and where one of the Bishops chaired our national Council for Christian Unity.

And this wasn’t just me.  The most striking things about the Alternative Service Book 1980 was the way the Eucharist was so easily recognisable as being the product of a generation’s shared scholarship.  In 1982, the ‘Final Report’ of the Anglican-Roman Catholic and the consensus of the World Council of Churches ‘Lima’ report on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry set the theological tone in the middle of my training.  The ecumenical Lent activities shared by a significant number of churches leading up to the primary commitment to joint working of ‘Swanwick Declaration’ in 1987 set the practical tone in my early years of ordained ministry.

But the nineteen years since (1998-2016, the neat division into nineteen year periods is illustrative rather than analytical) have simply been a slow drift away from such grand schemes.  Ecumenical goodwill, joint working and Churches Together bodies have quietly reverted to being the (often highly valued) ‘added extra’ where they exist but not the primary drivers of mission or policy.  Perhaps fewer people really believed in all this in the first place, but found it difficult to voice dissent which would have looked like voting against ‘motherhood and apple pie’.  Perhaps the pressures of decline and internal tensions have become the dominant forces.

The photograph was taken in St Michael's tower.