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.