Monday 26 December 2016

Elephants at home

My wife has digitised some old slides of my mother's, and we were able to include discs of them as Christmas presents for my brothers.

For a few months in 1964, between returning to England and finding our own permanent home here, we let a flat at the top of a large house at Burwash in Sussex.  It belonged to a diplomat who had recently retired from successive stints as Governor of the Falkland Island and then of the Bahamas.  His wife’s father had also been a diplomat, our Ambassador in the USA at the time of the First World War where he wrote the poem I vow to thee my country

She is supposed to have referred to my brothers and I (aged 5, 4 and 3) as ‘the three little elephants from Africa’, presumably the only reasonable explanation for the thudding sounds above her.

So here is my mother waving from the flat window, and here are my brothers and I in the grounds and (the clues to the exact location are substantial) at Rushlake Green nearby; the two pictures appear to have been taken on the same day.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Seeds of hope

I’m engaged in first steps towards bringing order to eleven years worth of not quite sorting out or throwing away things in my study.  I now have boxes marked ‘throw’, ‘shred’ and ‘keep’ (the volume of paper going into these is in this order) and even a pile marked ‘these things belong to St Michael’s'.

From near the bottom of the oldest pile, I’ve just excavated a sheet I appeared to have used for groups in Advent 2007.

In 1986, three years before he became President of the Republic of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel was asked ‘Do you see a grain of hope anywhere in the 1980s?’.  He replied

“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world.  Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.

Hope is not prognostication.  It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond the horizons.

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed...

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism.  It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

The seedpod pictures were taken in Arizona a few weeks ago now.

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Instruments of peace

A member of one of our congregations was embraced so enthusiastically during the exchange of the Peace at a recent Sunday service that she had a rib broken.  She suffers from osteoporosis (literally ‘bone porousness’, medically ‘reduction in bone density’) and apparently the snap was audible.

A recent tripping accident at this church got into its ‘accident book’ and thus on to the agenda of its District Church Council for a ‘lessons learnt review’ which has resulted in the marking of a dangerous edge and the provision of a torch by the south door so that those entering in the dark have light by which to find their way to where the light switches are located.  All simply following good practice guidelines. So I ought to make sure we don’t allow the implications of this incident to slip and follow a similar procedure again. 

I’m not sure where that will take us as it means engaging with an odd situation the Church of England has found itself in – a habit embedded over perhaps forty years of treating the exchange of the Peace as an assertion of human fellowship (often represented by a determination to greet everyone present and to engage some of them in extensive conversation) rather than a symbolic passing of the touch of the peace coming from God.

What I do feel (much later in the year than usual) is a Christmas sermon coming on.  The Prince of Peace did not embrace our fragility with force but comes almost imperceptibly alongside it.  It is the ‘wise’ men who blunder in thinking they’ve discovered an alternative seat of power and human strength thus unknowingly provoking the slaughter of the innocent and flight into Egypt.

Perhaps it is having joined the members of the local Hope for Justice group for their Christmas meal last night – six people from five Anglican, Catholic and Methodist churches and from the Harbour Place Day Centre who have raised significant money for projects tackling human trafficking and modern slavery and quietly engage those able to keep this a priority in local policing.

Perhaps it is being reminded that Harbour Place’s Mission Statement says it ‘aims to serve those who may be considered vulnerable or socially excluded within the community through actions which promote positive choices in people’s lives’ which is probably as good a greeting of Peace as one could get and certainly one which doesn’t propose hugging so tightly that damage might be done.

The ship on the rough sea is on the Churchwardens’ staves in St Nicolas’ (and reflect St Nicolas’ role among the patron saints of seafarers and perhaps of those being trafficked).

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Vital things

I’ve been remembering Fr Ken O’Riordan a lot over the last few days.

It was almost exactly seven years ago that I posted:

I’d encountered Ken’s creative opening up of the Bible before I came here ten years ago, and he was the Catholic parish priest here when I arrived; he read one of the lessons at my licensing service. Everything from the creation of the North East Lincolnshire Credit Union as Churches Together’s Jubilee Millennium project to the striking reordering of St Pius’ church seemed to be down to him.

He had moved on to a final role coordinating adult education for the Catholic diocese, something for which he was especially suited, and I guess there are people today who will still benefit from catechists whose imagination he caught as he trained them how to teach and enable others.

He retired the following year and succumbed to a sudden aggressive cancer only two years later.

Now, within a few days of each other, it has been announced that the Credit Union has failed and that St Pius’ is to close.
The Credit Union was the product of a millennium project for our local churches and grew from an awareness of the principle of Jubilee.  The reordering of St Pius’ was the product of application of the principles in Vatican II documents. 

How we cry out for renewing creative application of first-principles in the social and worshipping life of our churches.  How sad that these parts of this legacy of his are being lost.

It isn’t public why the Credit Union has failed, although it is clear that the 600 or so members will not lose their money.  To state the obvious, it is not a helpful symbolic development at a time when the church seeks to promote the idea that pay-day lenders and loan sharks need undermining.

It is public that the Catholics in North East Lincolnshire will be served by just one priest in a few weeks time and that he can only say Mass in three churches over a weekend.  So two of the present five churches will become unused, which I know to be a traumatic outcome for some of those who have invested so much creativity, emotion, money, prayer and time in them.

Meanwhile, the pictures are of a sculpture by the Swiss artist who genuinely has the name Not Vital among many things which we enjoyed discovering during a return visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park recently.