Sunday 31 December 2017

Sustainability of English churches

I was told when looking at this job that I would be able to concentrate on ministry because the major building jobs had been systematically tackled in the last few years.  And, yes, a prodigious amount had been done, and at the daughter church we may even be about to return some money to heritage bodies because the work there was cheaper than expected and fully funded. 

But I find that one of the two parish churches is just negotiating renewing its heating boiler (for which funding is in hand) and will soon face renewing its main roof (not funded – and the funding stream which enabled earlier roof work has dried up), and the other is developing urgent plans for rewiring, for a new lighting scheme which it seems sensible to tackle at the same time, and for substantial redecoration consequent on both this work and earlier work (towards which accumulated funds will only make a partial contribution).

And this is all in a locally clear version of a nationally recognised context of smaller regular congregations already being asked to meet substantially increased levels of payments to their dioceses whilst the national heritage funding streams which have met the biggest parts of such costs in the most recent past are smaller or more heavily competed for or have indeed ceased to operate at all.

I’ve frequently said that local congregations have rarely contributed the money to build or restore their churches at any point in history.  On the contrary, the size of ancient parish churches usually simply reflects the prosperity of the local mediaeval merchant or manored classes, remarkably so in areas with substantial ‘wool’ churches.  There is always a good chance that their guidebooks record restoration funded by something like a rich eighteenth century Anglo-Catholic squire or a wealthy nineteenth century Evangelical Vicar.  Here both parish churches (one rebuilt in 1880 and the other built in 1910) were largely funded by the same mill owning family.

All of which is background to saying that the Government published a new report after Christmas on the ‘sustainability of English churches’, by which it means buildings rather than Christian communities.  The Working Party had two clergy (a Bishop and a Dean) but otherwise consisted of ‘the great and the good’ of the heritage industry, so the main focus is an awareness that three quarters of the Church of England’s buildings are listed and that 45% of Grade 1 listed buildings nationally are parish churches.

Their best shot is that diligence in routine maintenance will reduce or even eliminate the need for unaffordable substantial repairs in the future.  They are, of course, half right: poor routine maintenance will certainly increase the frequency of major emergency repairs.  But I suspect they are also a little optimistic: significantly expensive projects such as our re-roofing and re-wiring ones will come round however systematic locally funded routine maintenance is.

Their major proposal is that a significant tranche of the more limited Government grant making capacity should be diverted to finance a network of Community Support Advisers (CSAs) and Fabric Support Advisers (FSAs).  The CSAs would work with churches to ensure their widest possible use, thus developing a group of people as large as possible who value and are committed to each local church.  The FSAs would work with every listed church to ensure a proper maintenance programme is followed through.

I hope that what my last parish in Grimsby and my present parishes around Haworth have been and are doing model at least a good part of what these CSAs and FSAs would advise.  My experience of wider community use is that it can reflect a Gospel commitment to the local community and can improve local income streams to increase the chance of routine maintenance being delivered well, but that it simply doesn’t build a wider constituency able to give the substantial amounts which one off major appeals require.  My experience of rolling maintenance plans intended to cover major repairs is that most average sized congregations would find the additional level of expenditure involved very challenging even when spread out over a ten year period.

One of their further recommendations is that the law is clarified so that it is clear that local authorities can make grants to churches.  This would be welcome at a ministry level – there have been small level grant opportunities for specific pieces of work from which we have been excluded from applying in both Grimsby and now here.  But this week’s Keighley News once again reports the extreme position local authorities are now in (Bradford ceasing to fund public conveniences and bowling greens, our local Parish Council worrying about the maintenance costs if it tries to take these sorts of things on) so I can’t see substantial grant making support for local buildings of importance for heritage and for community cohesion coming from this source.

And many more words than the report attempts need to be said about the value of praying in these buildings and what they represent.

The picture was taken on Oxenhope Moor soon after Christmas.  

Monday 25 December 2017

Happy Christmas 2

And here is a picture a Churchwarden took at the Christingle Service at St James', Cross Roads yesterday afternoon, and a version of the sermon I preached in turn at all three of our churches during the course of the day:

A few weeks ago, I was having a coffee in a bookshop in Bradford when there was a moment’s pause in the hubbub going on around and I heard a voice from the table behind me which simply said “I’m really worried about him – he thinks that angels are talking to him”.
So I’ve been re-reading each part of the Christmas story with those words coming back to me each time.

At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel there are three places where people think that angels talk to them.

There is a story about an older childless couple called Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Zechariah was a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem.  He drew the lot to go and burn incense in the innermost and holiest part of the Temple, where an angel appeared.  The story says Zechariah was disturbed and “fear (‘phobia’) fell on him”. 

The angel told him Elizabeth was to have a child; the child would become John the Baptist.  It didn’t seem credible, and Zechariah said so, so he was struck dumb.  He didn’t speak for most of a year – he could only communicate by signs and by writing things down.

Then there is the story we know best about Mary, who was Elizabeth’s cousin.  The angel comes to her and says “Greetings, most favoured one, the Lord is with you”.  Mary isn’t simply “disturbed” by this – it says she was “greatly disturbed”. 

She too thought what the angel said simply didn’t sound possible, although she did come to accept it quite quickly.  So she wasn’t struck dumb, but she did run away for three months; she stood to lose any respect in her community and her fiancé and probably much more if she had stayed around.

Finally, shepherds.  Sky full of angels.  It doesn’t say they were “disturbed”.  It doesn’t even say they were “greatly disturbed”.  It says “they feared with a great fear (a ‘mega phobia’)”. 

They lived in occupied territory and the language the angels used was the same language which would be used to announce a coup; it could have felt as if they were being caught up in a revolution against the state beginning round the corner.  They came to visit Mary’s child, but it isn’t surprising that they only did so at night, under the cover of darkness.

I can imagine gossips in Jerusalem, in Nazareth, in Bethlehem astonished as Elizabeth’s pregnancy, worried about poor mute Zechariah, sniggering about Mary, incredulous at the shepherd’s tale – and worried about them all because they thought angels were talking to them.  But, much more, I notice how frightened they all are.

Meanwhile, Matthew’s Gospel tells it differently.  There it is Joseph who hears angels – and he does so in his dreams.  So, first, stick by your fiancée even though she is pregnant by someone else.  And then, flee the country - all this talk of revolution means a state sponsored massacre is coming.

So I had a think - and two things struck me.  One is very challenging.  The other is a little more comforting.

The challenging thing is that receiving a message straight from God isn’t as much fun as we might think it would be.  Our instinct might be if only we heard a voice direct from an angel everything would be clearer and easier.

But actually, as likely as not, we’d be fearful, dumbstruck, caught up in something quite out of our league, and possibly fleeing for our lives.  The fact that our friends would be worried about us would be only a very small part of our problem.

I put it this way to myself: if I think I have discerned correctly what God might be saying to me then, if I am not at least a little disturbed by this, if I am not at least a little worried that it might not be deliverable, if I don’t suspect it might get me into some trouble, then it isn’t really very likely that I’ve heard what God really wants from me at all.

But the more comforting thing is that God has been getting his message across despite the frightened and fallible people he has had to work with from the very beginning of this story.

It shouldn’t be a real surprise that the Church of England today has many priests who are are tongue tied and inarticulate in the face of the challenges of the deeply secularised world around us and not actually very confident that God is able to do new things around us.  Zechariah was a bit like that.

It shouldn’t be surprise that Church of England today has some members whose instinct is sometimes to hide away quietly rather than be public about the things from God which they suspect are growing  within them.  Mary herself may well have been a little like that, certainly to begin with.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Church of England has some supporters who wouldn’t want to be too publically associated with it but occasionally want to come to a service held in the middle of the night.  The shepherds sound a little like that.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Church of England regularly joins in prayers for places across the world where Christians are being massacred or have had to flee – it is going on in south-western Pakistan at the moment.  Joseph knew all about things like that.

This story matters – and people are probably quite right to worry about us when we behave as if it does.  God will continue to make the implications of the story known as he has always done  – and will go on doing so even when those who hear it are scared by it, doubtful or simply not very good at following it through.  Thanks be to God.  

Sunday 24 December 2017

Happy Christmas

Here are a couple of pictures from yesterday's version of the Nativity Walk up Haworth's Main Street.

And her si a link to a podcast about Deborah's textile art:

Monday 18 December 2017

Yarn bombing

I’ve come across graffiti (frequently) and guerrilla gardening (people tackling eyesore spots in Grimsby come to mind) but I’d only come across yarn bombing once before until cheered up by this piece outside St Michael’s (among others appearing around Haworth).

Meanwhile, an overheard remark in a coffee shop in Bradford has sown seeds for a Christmas sermon: ‘I’m really worried about him – he thinks angels are talking to him’.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Good News

I’ve just taken down my copy of the Good News Bible, prepared in ‘standard, everyday, natural English’ and published in 1976, over forty years ago.  It was given to me by my mother for Christmas that year; I would have just completed my first term in the Sixth Form. 

I remember the excitement of the sales pitch that the word translated since Anglo-Saxon times as ‘Go(d’s)spel’ was here directly rendered ‘Good News’ and being intrigued by just how much more could be opened up in the same way (as, for example ‘repent’ becomes ‘turn away from your sins’).

Three years later, in my first term at University, I was trying to come to terms with the vocabulary of New Testament Greek myself, words like logos (word), phone (sound) and thanatos (death).  I found that the prefix eu- (nice) turned each of these into English words I recognised: eulogos (nice words) gave me eulogy (a spoken tribute); euphone (nice sound) gave me euphonious (pleasant to hear); euthanatos (nice death) gave me euthanasia (mercy killing).

So I found exactly where the sales pitch of the Good News Bible was grounded: an angel is a messenger, and thus euangelion (nice message) gives us evangelist (a writer or proclaimer of what at different stages of the development of English has been rendered gospel, glad tidings and good news).

It was only much later that I found that the New Testament writers who wrote the word ‘euangelion’ were also reading it as a word in their own Bibles – the standard Greek translation in their own time of what we call the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament.  And here, as often as not, euangelion was being used for the announcement of a victory, almost as if it was in fact a technical term for a joyful despatch from a battlefield.

So, on Sunday, as the opening words of Mark’s Gospel came round once more and we began to proclaim ‘This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God... I will send my messenger ahead of you to clear the way for you... someone is shouting... make a straight path for him to travel’, I was put in mind of Rowan Williams’ reminder that this has the force of an announcement of regime change.

Not Good News as in ‘settle down children and let us hear some of the lovely stories about Jesus – and then we can have a hot drink and go to bed and have sweet dreams’.

But Good News as in ‘dance in the streets because the word abroad is that the despot who has been in charge for far too long is under house arrest and the longed for successor is now actually in the country - and then align yourselves urgently with the new possibilities opening up in front of you lest either he’ll find you colluding with the old corruption or, worse still, we’ll all miss the chance and the new cabinet will simply get filled up with the same people as the old one ’.

The picture is the result of an apprentice at Airedale Springs in the parish practicing programming a machine to twist single pieces of wire consistently into a carefully specified shape.

Monday 4 December 2017

Light where horses race

Back at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park again for my Day Off last week, we hugely enjoyed the Tony Cragg pieces (top two pictures) but were most fearfully engaged by Alfredo Jaar's work most of which was under a 'no photographs' embargo but which also included his The Garden of Good and Evil (bottom two photographs) which expresses the hidden places of detention in the world.  

He quoted Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet already important to us: I love the particles of sky that slip through the skylight - a metre of light where horses race.  I was obviously put in mind of Oscar Wilde's little tent of blue which prisoners call the sky - but also taken back to Irina Ratushinskaya's frosted window and Anne Frank's horse-chestnut tree.     

Wednesday 29 November 2017

I'm good at this

I led Collective Worship in a couple of Primary Schools yesterday.

I used some of my very limited knowledge of British Sign Language (BSL) to teach a small selection of signs and get the entire hall to use them for a concluding prayer.  So far, so normal.

One Headteacher ran with the idea as I was finishing and asked me further questions.  I explained how little I knew, how I had helping lead worship with an interpreter for a congregation of deaf people in the past, and how the Friday Church at St James’ was learning the Lord’s Prayer in BSL clause by clause so that we could now do about half of it.

‘Reverend Mullins has told you how little he knows,’ the Headteacher said to the children, ‘but you’ve seen how much he does know - he meant to say “I’m good at this, and I’m working hard to be even better at it”.’

I thanked him afterwards (he knew the BSL sign for ‘thank you’ by then) for reinforcing the school’s ethos in the face of the constant danger of it being undermined by inadvertent external influences like mine and English self-deprecation.

The picture is part of the classic view down Haworth’s Main Street made even more classic by the sun on this year’s first dusting of snow.  I’m told that the classic Hovis advert filmed on Golden Hill in Shaftesbury is based on a 1940s poster advert depicting a delivery boy toiling up Main Street, Haworth, but I haven’t yet been able to find a copy.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Halifax details

And, not a small detail at all, the surprising scale of the Piece Hall (originally for the sale of cloth) which rivals any major Italian piazza:

Friday 17 November 2017

Framing and curating

Different choices of possible frames for a piece of art bring out different aspects of it.  I was reminded of this by one example this week: ‘the silver one brings out the central motif clearly while also making the piece seem colder, while the red one brings out small elements which are there in the background and by doing so makes the piece warmer’. 

And I just wondered whether that might actually be a (partial) image of preaching?  One is putting a frame around something (a passage of scripture, an experience of faith or of life) to ‘bring out’ something from it. 

There will be the obvious dangers.  Choosing a loud, large and inappropriate frame which draws attention to itself rather than the art.  An habitual choice of a favourite frame which (perhaps unconsciously) will only ever bring out a strictly limited selection of colours or features.  Or simply an unawareness of the effect ‘framing’ is having on what is being noticed.

All of which also reminded me of a different image offered over the last few years.  The image is  having responsibility for ‘curating worship’ – the responsibility for developing and leading liturgy is like the responsibility of the curator of an art exhibition.  The image is all the more compelling because all licensed clergy are ‘curates’. 

Perhaps that is also a(nother partial) image of preaching?  Choices are made about the things (scripture, experiences, reflections on them) which are included or excluded.  And, crucially, choices are made about what one chooses to exhibit side-by-side, how one labels anything, and about the order in which one leads people past things.

So, working with our 'Worship on the road to Emmaus' groups, I noticed that 'framing' our Communion liturgy with, or 'exhibiting it' alongside, Luke 24 (the Emmaus story) ‘brings out’ the way each such service situates us on the evening of Easter Day with what feels like the hardly credible first resurrection news and experiences freshly invigorating us.

And then, this week, 'framing'  exactly the same service with, or 'exhibiting it' alongside, Jeremiah 32 (the prophet investing in land in a war zone – a story which comes up once every three years in our Sunday reading cycle but with which our groups were unfamiliar) ‘brings out’ the way each Communion service is situated in desertion and in hope apparently being crushed by naked political power (it is literally ‘in the night in which he was betrayed’ after all, the covenant of hope is in this context).

Other 'frames' for the Communion service, other things which might be 'exhibited' alongside it, are a meal, the Passover, or a (wedding) banquet.  Each would ‘bring out’ something we might otherwise not spot or value or be challenged by.

And what about the way each Christian denomination is a frame which makes us notice and overlook quite different aspects of the whole Christian story and tradition?  Or what is 'brought out' of both our rapidly changed culture and our faith stories when they are exhibited next to one another?

The picture is Bridgehouse Beck at the bottom of our road.  It will flow into the Worth close by and on into the Aire in the next town, which will flow into Calder on the other side of our district and then into the Ouse on the other side of our county, emerging into the Humber estuary to flow through the edge of the parish I left behind in Grimsby nearly six months ago.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Developing views

I was in Lincoln Cathedral yesterday for the first time in six months and found the long planned work has been completed to furnish the area around St Hugh's shrine as a centre of worship rather than as a vast empty retro-choir space.  There are hints of a sheepfold about it.  I also found  a new willow-creation of St Hugh's swan by the shrine (look out on the left of the picture).  

Meanwhile, leaf-fall has also subtly changed the view from our shower room window in Haworth.  We can now just make out the chimneys of the former  mansion (now the Youth Hostel) on the horizon; the mill-owner would have looked down on the housing developed on the brown-field former mill site below.

Saturday 4 November 2017

Entwine our desires

I’ve been playing with the text of an early Latin Collect which came up recently.

Dirigat corda nostra quaesumus Domine tuae miserationis operatio, quia tibi sine te placere non possumus comes out (in the word order of the modern English Collect) as something like Lord, because without you we cannot be acceptable to you, may the activity of your compassion, we ask, direct our hearts which Cranmer’s seventeenth century revisers rendered O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee, mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.

Both the translation process and the way this has been ‘improved’ by the reference to the Holy Spirit is clear thus:

Source / Prayer Book
Lord / O God
because / forasmuch as
without you / without thee
we cannot  / we are not able to
be acceptable to you  / please thee
may the activity of your compassion / mercifully
we ask  / grant that
- / thy Holy Spirit
- / may in all things
direct / direct
- / and rule
our hearts / our hearts.

Leaving that to one side, my playing has tried to create new prayers which capture what the Latin originators might have been encouraging us to feel towards:

Stir our hearts, Lord, we pray,
because we cannot come to you
without your mercy at work in us

or even

Entwine our desires
with your mercy, O Lord,
that you might delight in them.

Source / First new prayer
Lord /  Lord
because /  because
without you /  without your
we cannot  /  we cannot
be acceptable to you  /  come to you
may the activity of your compassion /  mercy at work in us
we ask  /  we pray
direct /  stir
our hearts / our hearts

Source / Second new prayer [negative ‘because without you we cannot be acceptable to you’ shifted to a positive ‘that you might delight in them’]
Lord /  O Lord
because /  that
without you /  you
we cannot  /  might
be acceptable to you  /   delight in them
may the activity of your compassion / with your mercy
we ask  /  [this is only implied]
direct /  entwine
our hearts /  our desires

Meanwhile, the largess to the poor is the feeding of the hungry as one of the corporal works of mercy in the Charlotte Bronte memorial window in St Michael's, Haworth.

Thursday 26 October 2017

Shape of the Eucharist

We had the first of our 'Worship on the road to Emmaus' groups yesterday, a short course enabling me explore faith alongside (nineteen of ) those I'm beginning to get to know here and to re-visit themes which have meant a lot to me over the years.

The session worked its way round the apparently unremarkable fact that our Communion service is always divided into four parts: Gathering; Word; Sacrament; Dismissal.

One might have thought that Gathering and Dismissal were incidental, while attending to God’s Word and celebrating the Sacrament were the main focus.

But it is always significant to me that beginning with the people of God being greeted in God’s name and collected together in prayer, and finishing with the people of God being sent out and having to go, provides a rhythm – almost like a heart beat – almost like the whole church breathing in and breathing out.

The ideal is that people of God spend most of their time as God’s disciples in the world.  Then, very briefly, they are called together, almost to be re-oxygenated by Word and Sacrament, and sent out again.

Next week we'll link this, as I always do in my mind, with a sense that every Eucharist could takes us back to the evening of Easter Day.  Not just gathering - but Christ almost slipping in to walk alongside us.  Not just exploring the Word - but our hearts burning within us as it is applied.  Not just celebrating the Sacrament - but recognising Christ in the breaking of bread.  No just going out - but being impelled back to the place from which we have come with new purpose.

The alabaster figures are Jesus and the two unnamed followers on the journey to Emmaus and they are on the pulpit in St Michael's.

Friday 20 October 2017

Taking God for a ride

It was as if Jesus drove his point home by saying the way God wants things is like the time a bride’s mother reminded bridesmaids about the rehearsal but they refused to come.  She sent people straight round to point out how long she had planned, how hard she had worked and how much she had spent to create the perfect day.  They were offhand.  One said she couldn’t swop her shifts.  Another said she had had a better offer and was about to fly to Ibiza with her boyfriend.  It got nasty: hands were caught in slammed doors, people fell off pavements as they were jostled in the street; someone could have been killed.  The bride’s mother was livid.  She had paint stripper poured on one of their cars, and that wasn’t the least of it.  ‘I’m not going to waste time on worthless so-called friends,’ she said, ‘go and find people who have never dreamt of being asked to be a bridesmaid; try the woman who begs with her child on the High Street, the home for the severely disabled, the women’s refuge’.  Soon the reception was full.  But the brides’ mother spotted a bridesmaid not wearing the dress she had had made; she was stuffing herself and slouching around in jeans.  ‘You must be having a laugh, darling’, she said.  The bridesmaid was stunned.  ‘You can get straight back to the godforsaken place where you belong,’ the bride’s mother said, ‘I’m open to anyone on my daughter’s special day , but don’t try taking me for a ride’.

This is my attempt to interpret the Gospel reading set for last Sunday (Matthew 22.1-14) using almost exactly the same number of words as one of the standard translations.

once more Jesus spoke to them in parables
it was as if Jesus drove his point home

by saying

the kingdom of heaven may be compared to
the way God wants things is like

a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son
a bride’s mother   

he sent his slaves to call those
who had been invited to the wedding banquet
reminded bridesmaids about the rehearsal

but they would not come. 
but they refused to come 

again he sent other slaves, saying,
tell those who have been invited
she sent people straight round

to point out

I have prepared my dinner
how long she had planned

my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered
how hard she had worked

and everything is ready
and how much she spent

come to the wedding banquet
to create the perfect day 

but they made light of it
they were offhand 

and went away, one to his business
one said she couldn’t swop her shifts  

another to his farm
another said she had had a better offer
and was about to fly to Ibiza with her boyfriend. 

while the rest seized his slaves,
it got nasty: people’s hands were caught
in slammed doors

maltreated them,
people fell off pavements
as they were jostled in the street;

and killed them
someone could have been killed

the king was enraged.  
the bride’s mother was livid

he sent his troops, destroyed those murderers
she had paint stripper poured on one of their cars

and burned their city
and that wasn’t the least of it 

then he said to his slaves,
she said

the wedding is ready,
but those invited were not worthy. 
I’m not going to waste time
on worthless so-called friends

go therefore into the main streets
and invite everyone you find
go and find people

to the wedding banquet
who have never dreamt of being asked to be a bridesmaid

those slaves went out into the streets
try the woman who begs with her child on the High Street

and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad
the home for the severely disabled, the women’s refuge

so the wedding hall was filled with guests
soon the reception was full

but when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed
but the brides’ mother spotted

a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe,
a bridesmaid not wearing the dress she had had made;
she was stuffing herself and slouching around in jeans
[But commentaries alert me to the fact that there is no evidence from this period that the host supplied wedding garments for the guests]  

and he said to him,
she said

how did you get in here without a wedding robe, friend?
you must being having a laugh, darling
[Commentaries alert me to the fact that 'friend' is only ever used in this way in Matthew with a negative edge] 

and he was speechless
the bridesmaid was stunned

then the king said to the attendants,
the bride’s mother said

bind him hand and foot,
you get straight back

and throw him into the outer darkness
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth
to the godforsaken place where you belong 

for many are called
I’m open to anyone on my daughter’s special day

but few are chosen.
but don’t try taking me for a ride. 

The pictures are from Hawkhurst church which we also visited as part of our ancestor hunting on our way back from Belgium.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Betherinden Chantry

On our way back from the Channel Tunnel we found the grave slab of Anne Hilder, one of my fourteen great-great-great-grandmothers.  Her grave is in what at the time of her death was still the private chapel of the owners of Sandhurst’s Old Place within the Parish Church.  (This is the Kent village, not the Berkshire town of the same name and military academy.)

The first picture shows that what was a pre-Reformation Chantry Chapel continues to be recognisably distinct part of the building.  The second picture shows the deeply worn path which runs down from the church to what was the medieval manor site and is still Old Place Farm today.

Anne married a cousin and had a daughter who then married a second cousin once removed - by which complicated configuration I end up being descended not only from Anne’s father but also from two of his brothers (that is, from each of three Hilder brothers, who lived ten miles away in Rye in the middle of the eighteenth century).

Below is a beautiful piece of pre-Reformation glass from elsewhere in the church and Bodiam Castle two miles down the road.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Godshuis Belle

These are just some of the details we enjoyed at an Ypres Almshouse.  

'Belle' was the surname of the Thirteenth Century founder.  

'Godshuis' is a reminder that a whole chunk of Flemish and English is the same language give or take some spelling and pronunciation - simply 'God's house' in this case (which I remember appears in the form 'Godess hus' in the opening lines of the Ormulum, written in England at roughly the same time as the Belle Almshouse was founded).   

Monday 16 October 2017

Menin Gate Lions

The top picture is a relatively recent memorial to 130 000 men from the Indian armed forces who died in France and Flanders during the First World War; it is on the rampart walk close to the Menin Gate.

The bottom picture is one of the lions which stood at the gate destroyed in the First World War and which have since given to Australia to be part of a national War Memorial there; it is on loan back to Ypres for a few months as the time of the Passchendaele centenary.

Sunday 15 October 2017

Gunner A H Woodcraft

I once assembled some information about a few of those commemorated by the Little Coates War Memorials.  The last of those listed was Albert Woodcraft, a fifteen year old Errand Boy from Gilbey Road at the time of the 1911 census.  He signed up in the opening days of the First World War and was dead within less than a year.

I illustrated a sheet about him with an image I had found  of the cemetery in which he was eventually reburied; it shows the layout of the graves before the standard Commonwealth War Grave Commission headstone were in use and his grave is almost at the back on the right hand side.

We were in Ypres last week.  We took a mile and a half walk out from the centre into what is almost still the neighbouring village of St Jean to find the cemetery.  A large modern hospital stands in what is otherwise still fields beyond it.  We were glad to have one specific grave to locate among the hundreds of thousands in the Ypres area. 

Saturday 7 October 2017

Worth commemorating

I was shown the Cross Road's War Memorial for the first time last week.  It is enclosed in the Park Pavilion which means it is not as accessible as a roadside memorial but also means it is unweathered despite being a hundred years ago.  The  local surnames Ackroyd, Feather, Murgatroyd and Robershaw which I've noted before are among those listed in the middle panel as having been killed.

This week, we have also see the recovery capsule in which Tim Peake returned to earth, which is on display in Bradford at the moment.  It looks more like a piece of early twentieth-century  science fiction than a genuine piece of early twenty-first-century technology.

On Michaelmas Day at the end of September, Friday Church at St James', Cross Roads added this 'Superman' portrait of St Michael to the wall of saints (and now angels) being built up at the back of church...

... and St Francis (whose day it was this week) joined them yesterday.

Tuesday 3 October 2017

Sunday School crockery

I once bought a random piece of Sunday School crockery as a curiosity.  It was a side plate, part of a mass produced set of ‘vitrified hotel ware’ manufactured by a firm in the Potteries.  In the same way that any basic cafe, club or train buffet would have had its own badged crockery, so ‘The Good Shepherd Sunday Schools of Leeds Parish Church’ (in this case) had what we would now call its logo on its crockery.

I am newly in what is now the diocese of Leeds and I can begin to see that I was wrong to have been surprised that the pupils in a Sunday School should have warranted distinctive crockery of their own.  Some Sunday Schools round here (and, I assume, elsewhere) turn out not to have been a group of individuals but rather substantial institutions in huge buildings. 

Our new house is a short distance from a Primitive Methodist Chapel disused in the 1960s and the only modern housing development amidst the local terraced houses is one which has been built on the large site of its former Sunday School.  Nearby, the Brontë Parsonage Car Park next to St Michael’s, Haworth also occupies a large cleared site on which the Parish Church’s substantial late-Victorian Sunday School used to stand.

And this all came home to me when I was served refreshments at ‘my’ other Parish Church the other day – on a plate badged for ‘St James’ Sunday School’ with the letters ‘CR’ entwined as a logo to represent the name of the village Cross Roads.  The new housing on the south of the church (on the right in the photograph) was, I’m now told, built on part of the Sunday School site, the sale of which raised a lot of the money needed to build the hall now attached to the church (in the middle of the photograph)  – in which surviving pieces of the Sunday School’s crockery are not treated as curiosities but are still being used to serve refreshments.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Hospitable cultures

It has to be recognised that some cultures are more hospitable to the Gospel than others, that Gospel possibilities spoken into them are more likely to resonate in some than others. 

It is something I remember talking about at my interview for coming here. 

The example was late Victorian and early twentieth century Anglo-Catholic mission in parts of the Pacific and in Japan (the latter including service by one of my father’s aunts, but that isn’t relevant). 
The personnel, churchmanship and approach was roughly the same.  But in one place the queues of those coming for Baptism sometimes spread towards the river down the whole side of a valley.  In the other the impact was comparatively negligible. 

And a (possibly superficial) explanation is that the communal assumptions of one culture and the ‘honour’ culture of the other was the most significant factor in the different levels of engagement and impact.

It seemed relevant at interview because it is worth exploring at least the possibilty that post-war cultural shifts in England are one factor in the decline of mainstream Christianity; we would simply expect the church to be smaller in the culture which has emerged.  If so, some far from superficial analysis of this is urgently needed.

I’ve thought of all this again this month because of one hint given on the ‘faithful neighbours’ training all clergy new to the diocese of Leeds are asked to undertake to equip them for appropriate ministry in what are often multi-faith settings. 

The hint was that conversion to Christianity from Shia Islam is a greater possibility than from Sunni Islam.  It is certainly true that there are Anglican churches which find they need to read the Gospel in Farsi at services (that is, churches which have a significant number of members who originate in Iran), including one down the road from us in Keighley.   

The tentative suggestion was that minority and frequently persecuted Shia may know more within themselves about ‘passion’, while the majority dominant  Sunni may be more habituated to a triumphalist religious experience; in certain contexts the first might encounter the Gospel as speaking into their situation while the other might be much more likely to find it alien.

Meanwhile, a little ahead of myself, I’ve been looking for illustrations for Advent orders of service and have been touched by the grasped hand and held gaze in this encounter between young Mary pregnant with Jesus and her cousin older Elizabeth pregnant with John the Baptist (perhaps the moment John leapt in her womb at hearing Mary’s news) in a window at St Michael’s, Haworth.

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Ten lepers

Updated 22nd September

I’ve been exploring the 132 words (in one translation) of Luke 17.11-19 with eight members of a long established but lapsed Bible Study Group from St Michael’s, Haworth.  It is the Gospel reading which we’ll be using at Harvest services in our three churches early next month.

We used a simple technique I’d picked up from Christian Aid last year designed to make sure we pay real attention to every detail.  This involves writing out as much of the story as people could remember before looking at the passage.  What impression had many past readings, studies and sermons left?  What details had we got wrong or had missed, and what are the particular significances of these?

Between us, we remembered that a journey had been taking place when ten lepers living in isolation from their communities asked Jesus for healing and were granted it.  Jesus told them to show themselves to the religious authorities to demonstrate that they were healed and could be reintegrated into society.  Only one of the ten came back praising God and saying ‘thank you’.  (One person had a feeling that a cave had something to do with it, which isn’t in the Bible passage but which is here.)

So what did we then really notice when we read the passage?  There were three things in particular.

One was how noisy it was.  The lepers lifted up their voices from a distance to call for Jesus’ mercy.  The one leper who returned used a great voice to praise. 

So, if Jesus intended passing as unnoticed as possible through potentially hostile territory towards a dangerous destination (which is what we shall notice in a moment) then this noisy attention would not have helped much.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we’d totally forgotten that a Samaritan was involved.  Jesus was journeying to Jerusalem and along the edge of Samaritan territory (both of which indicated the risks alluded to in the previous paragraph).  The one who came back to give thanks was a Samaritan, and Jesus’ comment was that it was only ‘this foreigner’ (I’ve now looked it up – allo-genes which is literally ‘other-bred’ and may be somewhere between ‘mis-begotten’ and ‘people not like us’) who did so. 

So, the impression left by the way we’d been told the story so often was simply the pious message that we should remember to be thankful, but we’d not been marked by the real bite of the passage at this point that is the despised other who did so.

Finally, and most movingly for some, we noticed that they found that were cleansed in going on their way.  It wasn’t that they were cleansed and then sent to the priests.  It was in going to the priests that they found themselves cleansed. 

So, Jesus’ final words to the one who came back was ‘your faith has healed you’ (I’ve now looked it up and it is ‘you’ in the singular) and it felt to us that it was the act of calling out to Jesus’ as master and trusting him to go straight away to do as he said which is where he found healing.

Meanwhile, the picture is simply a face I’ve enjoyed finding carved into the choir stalls at St James’, Cross Roads.

Paragraphs added 22nd September:

This whole process is potentially a really significant help in developing an indigenous preaching ministry: knowing how a representative sample of the congregation relate to a biblical passage before preaching about it.  If so, I should be engaging in it much more often.

My prompted sermon-preparation reflection so far this time is that the ‘remember to be thankful’ use of the passage has been either preached or heard so well because it ties in with Victorian and twentieth century middle class culture: people like me and respectable church-goers more generally resonate with this message.

But there is clearly another message Luke has for us which is something like ‘those whose religion we are tempted to despise (whose versions of Christianity are least attractive to us, or those who are ‘other-bred’ culturally or literally) can be where we find both examples of trust in God and some specific human qualities which we sometime lack ourselves’. 

And (although, of course, there are plenty of Christian people who embrace this second message without flinching) this has either not been preached or not been heard so well because it sits less easily alongside the habitual Victorian and twentieth century middle class instincts of many people like me in the culture from which respectable church-goers are largely drawn?

Thursday 14 September 2017

From Haworth Church Tower

My first trip up.  Almost all of Cross Roads village appears in the penultimate picture.  The Bronte Parsonage, albeit next door to the church, wasn't visible through the trees; I look forward to going up again in the winter.