Thursday 30 March 2017

Easter earthquake zone

In 1185, the year before St Hugh became Bishop of Lincoln, the cathedral, founded by the Conqueror a century earlier, collapsed.  The collapse was said to have been caused by an earthquake, although I’d always thought, in what appears to be a part of the world free from major earthquakes, that this might be a story to cover faulty construction. 

It appears to have been a bit of both.  The Market Rasen earthquake in 2008 (through which I slept, but which woke many and caused some minor damage) was at 5.2 on the Richter Scale, which is about the estimated size of the Lincoln earthquake and which is certainly strong enough to have brought down a vast but vulnerable building.

The Market Rasen earthquake alerted me to the fact that I do live in an earthquake zone – just like everyone else on earth.  It is simply the fact that it is only specialist equipment which detects most of them.  There were earthquakes at 1.5 and 1.7 on the Richter Scale beneath Caistor on 17th February and beneath Horncastle on 4th March, each at about nine miles depth (for which compare the less than one mile depth of most oil and gas well drilling).

I feel an Easter sermon coming on.  Matthew records an earthquake at the time of the resurrection.  Biblical literalists will trust that this Gospel preserves memory of an actual historical earthquake somehow omitted by the other three Gospels.  Biblical liberals will suspect that the record is symbolic – all the apparent solid ground of our previous assumptions about the finality of death and about much else suddenly shifts.

But it is the discovery that we all live in a zone of frequent but rarely detected earthquakes which intrigues me as this Easter approaches.  Beneath everything assumed and dull, solid and stable, God is moving in ways rarely observed by those of us on the surface.  

I'll approach this "Easter" not just a noun which describe the one fundamental moment.  I'll approach it as a consequential verb to describe the risen Lord’s continued movement deep within us: “let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east”.

The pictures of materials and of work under way in St Nicolas’were taken there on Tuesday.  We were there to negotiate the final timetable for having the church cleaned and ready to hand back to us ahead of a wedding rehearsal in a month’s time and our beginning services there again in May.

Sunday 26 March 2017

Where I am going

Here is an early morning view across Haworth which we took on a walk ahead of my interview there at the beginning of the month; my appointment as Rector of the benefice which covers three villages along the Worth valley (Cross Roads, Haworth and Stanbury) was announced this morning.

The tower of Haworth Parish Church is just visible against the wood on the horizon on the extreme left of the picture.  It thinks it might be the most visited village church in the country, and its members seem to rise to the challenge of creative ministry to the tens of thousands who come through its door each year, a ministry based only on the resources of a village church.

If you carried on along the ridge out of the picture to the left you would come after just over a mile to the small village of Stanbury on the edge of the moor.  Here there is a growing congregation whose small building is increasingly used for village activities; its view from its vestry window must be one of the best vestry views in the country.

The chimney towards the right of the picture reminds everyone that these were once mill villages (and there are actually many more back-to-back houses surviving here than in Grimsby).  If you followed the road it stands on out of the picture to the right it would quickly meet the road on which I stood to take this picture and the village of Crossroads where St James' Church is fully stuck into all sorts of community outreach activities.

Steam trains run along the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in the valley in front of the picture and the River Worth flows through the valley in the middle distance.  Central to the picture and unduly prominent from this angle is the white house and garage of the present Rectory.

Sunday 19 March 2017

A distraction

I’ve simply been enjoying playing with at least a dozen uses of the word ‘tract’ this week.

It turns out to be one of those very physical words which dominate most of our figures of speech (in much the same way that the words ‘dominate’ and ‘figures’ function there) but we don’t notice this because the word is Latin.

It is part of the Latin word ‘trahere’, which is ‘to draw’ in the sense of ‘to pull’.

So to at-tract is to draw something towards you.

While, to dis-tract is draw something away.

To re-tract is to take something back – and this is one of those wonderful cases where modern English has two almost identical words, one with Latin roots (re-tract) and one with Anglo-Saxon roots (with-draw).

A con-tract draws people together.

To ex-tract and an ex-tract are about pulling something out.

As is sub-tract in the sense of taking something away - and 'taking away' is the exact Anglo-Saxon equivalent.

While abs-tract can be used like ex-tract and like sub-tract in the sense of pulled out or taken away, but can also be used marvellously as a physical image for all that is non-physical in the sense of what is non-pullable.

I particularly like in-tract-able, which is also something you can’t move.

Best of all, it seems to me, is something pro-tract-ed, which is to be long drawn out - and 'long drawn out' is not only the Anglo-Saxon equivalent here but also gives rise to the identical Latin / Anglo-Saxon hybrid word pro-long-ed.

Your digestive tract is also long drawn out.

And (although this is the least obvious) so is a tract of land.

A written tract appears to be something which draws out the implications of a proposition.

And a machine which pulls things along is either a tract-ion engine or, more simply, a tract-or.

Meanwhile, the picture is a wasp nest found in the roof space at St Nicolas’ during building work; we knew from periodic invasions of the church that there must be something there and are glad it has now been removed.

Monday 13 March 2017

Resting on a mess

There is at the back of my mind a half-remembered sense that the story of the call of Abram goes something like this:

Abram lived with his father in the long-term family home at Ur, near the Persian Gulf, where they worshipped God in their own lights.  God called him to leave all this behind, travel to Canaan to establish a new family, a family with the unique characteristics that it was chosen by God, that it worshipped God as he really is, and that its members would flourish together.

But a closer reading of the passage from the Hebrew Bible set for the Sunday Eucharist yesterday (and of the verses which precede it and of the way the story runs on after it) reveals a different story:

Abram’s father Terah had already set out with his family for Canaan and had travelled all the way up the Euphrates (the green corridor which was the only practical trading route for such a journey), getting perhaps 60% of the way there, when, for some reason, he settled down instead at Harran (in a region we know well in our prayers today being about 100 miles from modern Aleppo in Syria and about 250 miles from modern Mosul in Iraq), and he eventually died there.

God then called Abram to get un-stuck from his late father’s new home and complete the journey to ‘a country I will show you’ and about which God will soon say ‘I am giving this land to your descendants’.  But when he moves through the land he finds a famine, so he passes through it to Egypt (exactly the process familiar to us from the story of his grandson and great-grandson Jacob and Joseph) - where he almost seems to pimp his wife to secure his own safety and establishes his own fortune in the fertile Nile corridor (quite like the original family home at Ur). 

When he finally returns to Canaan it turns out to be a place for his family to struggle together.  First they quarrel, then they find they can only live peaceable with each other by living separate parallel lives, and then they are engulfed in war with others - before too long Abram is pursuing enemies half way back to Harran.

My half-remembered version of the story is compatible with the genuine testimony of many:

they lived in pagan disbelief and debauchery, had a single moment of clarity and a call from God, and have lived since in a reformed and Godly way.

The closer reading, however, is more compatible with a different story and testimony.

I am on a journey to where God wants me to be, intending to leave behind the beliefs, habits and values of my home community.  

But I can get comfortable and stuck on the way and can easily recreate a fresh version of the place and life I began to leave behind.  

Even when God gives me another shove, I find the place where he wants me to be sometimes barren and often conflict-ridden.  

So, put under any particular pressure, I can easily revert even to old moral choices of which I ought to be ashamed.

And, put alongside others on the same journey, I can find it much easier to live a separate stream from them rather than to pursue a struggle together.

As an individual, there is some comfort in recognising how simply Abram-shaped a faltering Christian journey can still be; it is as if it is almost our foundational pattern.

As a member of a church which says things about ‘mutual flourishing’ but which doesn’t demonstrate a willingness to engage in the mutual struggling of 'good disagreement' this is also an important message – perhaps a subject for a subsequent post.

And alongside all of this, there is a further detail which people do often notice when engaged in a close reading of the few verses set for yesterday.  When we get some of this right, it isn’t meant to be for my benefit or the benefit of my own people at all.  It is to be blessing on others - ‘so that you will be a blessing... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’.  Perhaps that is also worth a subsequent post in itself.

Meanwhile, we now know that the building work at St Nicolas’ is going to take a couple of weeks longer than first anticipated, so our ambition for the congregation to be back there in time for Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter is going to be disappointed.

The picture shows the mess on which the main beam running east-west (on to which the south aisle's roof beams rest) turns out to be sitting upon - the wood on the left is probably an earlier roof beam reused and the brick work to its right is probably the bottom part of what we know was the Victorian bricking up of an earlier clerestory window.

Friday 10 March 2017

Great Coates progress

The village War Memorial has finally found a permanent home, and one at child eye-level.  The fraught saga over several years hasn't helped anyone much, but it is good that it is visible to the public again and that its new home is a building in which some of those commemorated on it were educated.

Meanwhile, round the corner at St Nicolas', work is well under way on the south aisle, although it looks as if our ambitions to be back in the building for Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter is in doubt now that the roofers have discovered how extensive the work is which they need to do.  A small bonus is that they have found and removed the wasps nest in the roof space which has given us problems over the last few years.

Saturday 4 March 2017

Following the cross

The top two photographs were taken inside St Nicolas' earlier in the week: work has begun sheeting off and protecting the fabric ahead of the building work which will take place during March.

The bottom two pictures were taken inside St Michael's this morning: St Michael's has put away its own processional cross for Lent and replaced it with the one from St Nicolas' ready to welcome both congregations worshipping together for a few weeks until the building work at St Nicolas' is completed.