Wednesday 30 January 2019

Aspects of three churches

Lees Methodist Church, taken before preaching on Sunday as part of a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 'pulpit swop'.

St James', Cross Roads, taken arriving to celebrate Communion this morning.

St Gabriel's, Stanbury, taken from across the valley this afternoon.

Sunday 13 January 2019

A horrid and cruel deformity

Patrick and Maria Brontë married at the very end of 1812 and had children in January 1814 (13 months later), February 1815 (13 months), April 1816 (14 months), June 1817 (14 months), July 1818 (13 months) and January 1820 (17 months).  Maria, who died in September 1821, would have spent more than half her married life pregnant. 

That seems a startling enough fact to note for its own sake, but it is also the explanation for the series of year-long celebrations being marked by our neighbours at the Brontë Society.  The oldest two children died as schoolgirls, but the remaining four reached adulthood, fame and, now, bicentenaries between 2016 and 2020.   

There is one lacuna in what would otherwise be a five year programme (no child was born in 1819) so this year they are filling the gap by having a year-long celebrating of Patrick himself, to which St Michael’s, Haworth is to make very modest contribution of its own, something about which I have been having to think.

A recent item in the Keighley News praised me highly (and embarrassingly incorrectly – most of the social initiatives involved have been the work of a valued neighbouring Baptist Minister and by the Social Prescriber at the local Medical Centre): ‘Haworth’s Anglican Rector has been compared to his illustrious predecessor... (who) had schools built in Haworth and campaigned for new sewage systems which saved literally thousands of lives’.  The only points to note here are what local people know and value about Patrick Brontë (improvements to local education and sanitation in particular) and that local media regards it as self-evidently an ‘accolade’ to be compared to him.

Leave aside education and sanitation for a moment.  Imagine, if you can, a Government wishing to reform poverty relief or social security.  It fears that the costs involved have got out of control.  It thinks that anything more than a grudging basic system encourages people to live on benefits rather than seek work.  But the practical working out of its new system produces inhumane conditions, felt particularly in the industrial centres at great distance from where Parliament meets, which even drive some people to take their own lives.  This is the story of the 1830s – the reform of the Poor Law and the introduction of Workhouses.

What is the parson of an industrial village to do, even one who describes himself as a ‘conscientious Conservative’ in the process?  Would protest, public meetings and letters to the press sound like bits of the trendy modern liberal post-1960s Church of England?  

In February 1836 London media reported his attempts to drum up support for a petition to oppose what the Government was doing – a meeting he called for what was then the new School Room had been so crowded that it had to relocate in the neighbouring churchyard. 

The following year he wrote to the Leeds media:

The Poor Law Amendement Bill ... is a monster of iniquity, a horrid and cruel deformity... It must be repealed... A set of unfeeling, antiscriptural men have lately arisen [he means the Whig Government]...  supported... in a great measure by the very men whom they wish to oppress... What are we to do...?  We will not submit to go their bastiles.  We will not live on their water gruel, on their two ounces of cheese, and their fourteen ounces of bread per day...  We never will endure the idea of men rolling in affluence and luxury, prescribing to us the most extreme line which can keep soul and body together.  We have religion, reason, justice and humanity on our side...  Petition, remonstrate and resist powerfully and legally and God, the father and friend of the poor, will crown all your efforts with success.

And this week, 182 years later, the Work and Pension Secretary finally said of the latest social security reforms ‘maybe things that were proposed previously weren't effective or weren't compassionate in the way that I want them to be’.  The genuine successors of Patrick Brontë would, on this evidence, be obliged to use a word stronger than ‘maybe’.

The picture is another sculpture from Trafalgar Square taken just after Christmas.  The 'fourth plinth' now has a recreation of a sculpture of a lamass (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700 B.C, destroyed in 2015.  It is made of empty Iraqi date syrup cans reflecting the destruction of the country's date industry.