Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Christ reigns

Hugh Winfield, North East Lincolnshire Council's archaeologist, was at St Nicolas' again yesterday, looking with a colleague at the south aisle we are soon to repair and adding to his collection of pictures, and he has shared this good quality view of the 1920s east window with us. We had a Grimsby Telegraph journalist with us at the same time and an item should appear soon about the major grant we have received to do the work.

The notice which I prepared a while ago and is placed near the window reads:

The main east window of the church is a memorial to Canon James Quirk who was Rector of Great Coates for 35 years.  It shows the risen and ascended Christ on a throne - the window was made four years after the Pope made ‘Christ the King’ a feast day in the calendar of the Catholic Church.

The saints either side of Christ are his mother and St Nicolas.  There is a small anchor in the curve of St Nicolas’ crozier which is a reminder (in this Humber bank parish) that he is a patron saint for sailors. 

The coats of arms are those of the Bishop of Lincoln (on the left) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (on the right). 

We still pour water into the font for Baptisms from a brass jug (or ‘ewer’) which he gave in 1907 in thanksgiving for the Baptism of his five children (who are named on it - the date of each Baptism is then added against each name).  Meanwhile, Canon Quirk’s grave is a short distance the other side of the window. 

I’m troubled from time to time that the image reinforces a view of God which all our teaching and singing about ‘the servant King’ fails seriously to undermine.  As it happens, a paragraph in my last post addresses this dilemma directly:

...  ‘ever potent’ echoes the Latin ‘omnipotentiam’ which is really ‘all powerful’ - an idea which the life and teaching of Jesus seems to subvert.  I was trying to get nearer to a dynamic ‘ever creative’ than a static ‘almighty’; inexhaustible potential rather than irresistible force....

But there it is, literally.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Running to your promises

Ever potent God,
who we run into most often
when pursuing your promises,
strew wildly around us
even more clues of your grace, mercy and forgiveness,
until the chase brings us together
into the field in which all your treasure is found.

The Church Times alerts me to the way Cranmer’s own literal translation of this week’s ancient Latin Collect (for the 11th Sunday after Trinity) preserves a striking picture of ‘we, running to thy promises’ (‘ut, currentes ad tua promissa’ – I enjoyed discovering that Latin for ‘running’ gives us the word we use for running water), while our Common Worship form of the prayer preserves a more morally manipulative idea intruded into it in the 1662 revision of the Book of Common Prayer with ‘we, running the way of your commandments, may receive your gracious promises’.

It led me back to the original Latin prayer and the way, for example, the notoriously loose Catholic version from the 1970s has a different slant (‘to hurry towards the eternal life you promise’) which has been pulled back characteristically in the more literal new Catholic version (‘those hastening to attain your promises’).

Anyway, I played with the idea and found an image of a paper chase or treasure hunt in my mind and thus through the whole of the version I am developing for myself.  Unlike my version of the Collect for the 4th Sunday before Lent (which I use in public worship from time to time as if it was a long standing text) I suspect it only works for private meditation.

At the beginning, ‘ever potent’ echoes the Latin ‘omnipotentiam’ which is really ‘all powerful’ - an idea which the life and teaching of Jesus seems to subvert.  I was trying to get nearer to a dynamic ‘ever creative’ than a static ‘almighty’; inexhaustible potential rather than irresistible force. 

At the end, I’ve allowed an allusion to Mattew 13.44 (“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone found, hid again, and then in joy went and sold everything to buy it”) to do the work; discovery, surprise, joy and possession rather than conditional entry.

For what it is worth, I’ve tracked these and other shifts in my text as far as I have developed it thus:

Latin (in English word order) Cranmer (in his own word order) Mine
Deus God God
qui which who
manifestas declarest we run into / even more clues of
omnipotentiam tuam thy almighty power ever potent
maxime most chiefly most often
tuam parcendo in shewyng mercy your mercy
et miserando and pitie and forgiveness
multiplica super nos geve unto us abundauntly strew wildly around us
gratiam tuam thy grace your grace
ut that we until
currents ad running to when pursuing / the chase
tua promissa thy promises your promises
facias esse may be made brings us into
consortes partakers together
caelestium bonorum of thy heavenly treasure the field in which all your treasure is found.

The work of the ants is on our drive.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Children and cherries

The large cherry tree just south of the entrance to St Michael's churchyard has appeared here before, as have the grouping of children's graves  beneath it including a particular one from 1926 here.

But I hadn't thought to try harvesting any of the cherries before until I saw someone else doing so this week.  Apparently all cherries are edible, although those from ornamental trees are likely to be small and have disproportionately large amounts of stone - all the case with these ones as it turns out.

The grave in the background of the last picture is this one, that of two year old Raymond Bishop from 1926.

And here his burial is entered in the register  we still have (the picture will enlarge if you click on it), the middle one of a run of five children who died in just over a month.  The George Somerville Letten immediately above him was the grandson of the George Somerville Letten who featured here recently, and is the only one of the five not to come from the cluster of terraced houses around Little Coates School.  The John Davis above them is the one whose grave (neighbouring Raymond Bishop's) had drawn my attention before.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Ecumenical loss

On Thursday, a Methodist Local Preacher who used to work at the old Courtaulds plant in Grimsby was telling me how valued the work of an established Industrial Chaplain had been when there were deaths at the plant a number of years ago, and the first article in the Church Times the following day highlighted the role the present Urban and Industrial Chaplain in North East Lincolnshire is playing at the closing of the BHS store here, so the likely loss of this post seems particularly sad this week.

The diocese of Lincoln is ending its grant to Lincolnshire Chaplaincy Services Ltd (LCS).  This is the arms-length ecumenical body through which such posts have most recently been deployed.  It is the successor to a number of Greater Lincolnshire-wide formal Ecumenical Partnership through which a range of other activities (including Social Responsibility) had been operated on an ecumenical basis for many years.  The diocese has been its main source of funding. 

All such work is to be brought ‘in house’ by the diocese at the end of the year.  The decision formally agreed by the Bishop’s Council grows explicitly from dissatisfaction that the diocese has been the main financier of things it cannot deploy or direct (although my guess is that an episcopal request about a specific piece of work or a synodical nudge about the general direction of policy would actually have been resisted rarely or not at all).

I can’t help seeing at least some parallels with a recent decision based on arguments such as ‘do you realise how much of our money is being spent by an external body on which we only have a limited representation?’ and ‘shouldn't the body of which we are members have sovereignty while our wider cultural rootedness with those a bit different from us should be relational rather than structural?’. 

I’ve been part of a small group giving some advice about how a smaller number of posts might be most effectively be deployed ‘in house’, so I wait to see what happens next with more interest than most.

But my chief reflection for this post is just how out of fashion formal levels of ecumenical working have become.

At a personal level, there were, say, nineteen years (1979-97, the cut off point is arbitrary) when I simply assumed this way of working was normative: a gap year at a Methodist mission, undergraduate years which included membership of a MethSoc, ordination training at a joint Anglican, Methodist and URC college, a year’s full-time post-graduate study at the Irish School of Ecumenics (after a four year Curacy), and five years as a Team Vicar in a single shared church which was an Anglican, Methodist and URC Local Ecumenical Partnership in a diocese where (as I’ve said) ‘sector ministries’ were also deployed through formal Ecumenical Partnerships and where one of the Bishops chaired our national Council for Christian Unity.

And this wasn’t just me.  The most striking things about the Alternative Service Book 1980 was the way the Eucharist was so easily recognisable as being the product of a generation’s shared scholarship.  In 1982, the ‘Final Report’ of the Anglican-Roman Catholic and the consensus of the World Council of Churches ‘Lima’ report on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry set the theological tone in the middle of my training.  The ecumenical Lent activities shared by a significant number of churches leading up to the primary commitment to joint working of ‘Swanwick Declaration’ in 1987 set the practical tone in my early years of ordained ministry.

But the nineteen years since (1998-2016, the neat division into nineteen year periods is illustrative rather than analytical) have simply been a slow drift away from such grand schemes.  Ecumenical goodwill, joint working and Churches Together bodies have quietly reverted to being the (often highly valued) ‘added extra’ where they exist but not the primary drivers of mission or policy.  Perhaps fewer people really believed in all this in the first place, but found it difficult to voice dissent which would have looked like voting against ‘motherhood and apple pie’.  Perhaps the pressures of decline and internal tensions have become the dominant forces.

The photograph was taken in St Michael's tower.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Not found in data source

Nine months ago, I posted about the diocese’s greatly increased expectation (significant step by significant step increases over three years) about how much each parish should contribute to the central funding which we hold in common.  The post including sadness that the diocese had not followed through on its earlier stated intention to explore things individually with the 10% of parishes for which the new assessment system throws up excessive or rogue results (as any new assessment system would do).

Since then we have been a passive participant in what the diocese regards as an appeal system – ‘an appeal’ only in so much as the diocese sent us a letter which said our response about how much we would expect to be able to pay in 2016 would be treated as an appeal and then a later letter which said that our appeal had been considered and a lower figure had been agreed (still a 45% increase on what we managed to pay in 2015, slightly more money than the larger, better attended and better resourced parish next door to us has been able to pay off in the opening months of the year) – not an appeal in the sense that we know the nature or membership of the tribunal, when it met, or the reasons behind its judgement.

This week we’ve had a further letter, an early sentence of which ( ‘... and in particular thank you for the £Error! MergeField was not found in header record of data source. which you have paid to the end of June 2016...’) doesn’t inspire undue confidence.  The letter reminding us that, although a reduced amount was agreed for 2016, ‘no reduction was agreed for any further years’ and that the figure on the escalator for 2017 is twice what we managed to pay in 2015 (which would be about £9.25 per ‘usual Sunday attender’ per week – not, quite rightly, that this is a method of calculation which the diocese uses).

The attitude in the parish among those aware of the situation is, I’m afraid, that the vastness of the gap is more of a problem for the diocese than it is for us.  We do, however, have well advanced plans for a ‘stewardship renewal’ exercise in the autumn.  This will include, among other things, writing to the hundred or so households which form the backbone of our funding by giving half of the £1000 or so we spend in an average week (a third of which we send on tot he diocese).

We have picked up an obvious and helpful tip from another parish - which is that a single standard bit of publicity doesn’t do the job.  One of the things which we will do over the summer holiday is instead to craft quite a variety of letters pitched at different sorts of people.  There is no need to clutter up publicity with information about Gift Aid for those who already give in this way or for those for whom it is irrelevant.  It would be unhelpful to write to those who faithfully put £2 in a ‘giving envelope’ each week to point out that the average giving in the wider Church of England is now about £8 a week rather than really thank them and gently suggest that £3 might be a target.

But as we begin to prepare this material it appears that the results for us may not be as spectacular as the other parish expects.  It had pointed out the advantage of things like bringing new attenders into the ‘planned giving scheme’ for the first time with one sort of letter and beginning to be able to make tax recovery claims for others who have not signed a Gift Aid form in the past as a result of a different sort of letter - whereas our initial analysis shows that we’ve been quietly diligent about such things over a long period and there is very little slack like this in our parish.

Anyway, there is an offer in the latest letter from the diocese ‘to come and meet you’ ‘if your parish would like to discuss your parish share payment for 2017’ which might be the opportunity to begin the conversation we thought the diocese was going to have with us over a year ago (unless the offer is in fact a coded request to allow someone to come and present the diocesan need to us) and the Parochial Church Council may indeed want to pick this up when it next meets in the autumn.

The diocese is actually planning to run a huge deficit for a few years in the expectation that this will reduce as systematic increases take place in parish giving.  I only hope that this does not depend on too many unrealistic figures being written into the diocesan budget until it even gets the point which the diocese of Rochester has now reached when there are no balances left and rapid cuts in expenditure have had to be announced.

Meanwhile, the gargoyle is not local (the picture was taken on a recent visit to Byfield in Northants where my parents worshipped for twenty years and where their cremated remains are buried) and I was only able to get close up to it like this because it is now in the porch there.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Bats and other priorities

The main purpose of a church building is to provide a roost or toilet for bats.

This isn’t a polemic point but an objective piece of analysis. 

I once came across an apparently loaded claim that a hospital was being run chiefly for the convenience of administrators.  It turned out that the claim was based on a careful evaluation of a number of very specific binary decisions (such as ‘make this small change to increase patient care but make administration quite difficult’ and ‘make this small change to make administration run smoothly but make carers’ lives more complicated’) and was simply a straight deduction.

So all one has to do is look at the balance of specific decisions.
‘This bat population is damaging the historic fabric’ or ‘that bat population is making it an unpleasant experience preparing for or participating in regular worship in a particular place’?   The bats win and solutions need to be found which don’t disturb the bats - or the size of the fine might be astronomic.

I’ve been reminded of all this because it has just been announced that St Nicolas’ has got the full cost of the repairs needed to its south aisle roof from Government heritage funds (over £50 000, plus the refund of any VAT) - which is a great relief and we are really thankful. 

Almost the last thing we have to do before we can go ahead with the work is provide proof that there are no bats there.  I’m glad to say we are sure there aren’t and that we are trying to resist any resentment that we actually have to prove this to be the case.

But rather than appear to have a go at bats, this approach to analysis is really a sobering act of self scrutiny.

Objectively, the provision of a roost or toilet for bats is the main purpose of the provision of a church building.  The preservation of built heritage is the second.  Bat arguments win over heritage arguments, but otherwise heritage arguments usually win over any other arguments. 

They certainly win over most mission arguments (‘this particular change to the fabric of the church would enable us to undertake mission in a better way’, ‘this money would be best used to address a pressing social need rather than repair the fabric to quite the standard heritage bodies would like’).

Third comes demonstrating compliance - or, to put the point positively, being clear how we are keeping people safe. 

This doesn’t beat bats and heritage - if there are bats or valued heritage and a church can’t deliver things safely then the building may become disused and surrounding by hoardings to protect the bats or the fabric.  

But it, quite rightly, beats almost everything else.  From child protection policies to fire risk assessments reminders come in regularly about the levels of compliance required of us.

And, most shockingly, since this is a piece of self scrutiny rather than an anti-bat tirade, in fourth place is the provision of good manageable working conditions for stipendiary clergy. 

Bats, heritage and being clear one is keeping people safe are more important and cannot be overlooked whatever pressure they put stipendiary clergy under, but otherwise the life of a church is actually arranged chiefly for the benefit of people like me.

Why do we have to raise quite so much money?  Because the diocesan budget requires income to deploy hundreds of people like me.  

Why are these churches asked to show loyalty to this particular wider grouping of churches?  Because they share one stipendiary clergy appointment. 

Why does this particular pattern of worship obtain in this group of churches?  Because that is the one he or she can sustain. 

In the end, arguments about other things which might benefit from the sacrificial giving of church members, about the natural grouping of churches or about a different rhythm or variety of worship in a particular place, are valid but are usually trumped by how things work best for the deployment of stipendiary clergy.

So, the main purpose of church buildings is to provide a roost or toilet for bats.

The preservation of built heritage is the second, and only the presence of bats is really allowed to trump this.

The next thing in importance is demonstrating that every precaution is being taken to keep people safe - unless this conflicts with bat protection or heritage preservation, in which case things should remain unsafe and unused.

Then (provided this doesn’t conflict with bat protection, heritage preservation or human safety requirements) things will be arranged so as best to enable a pattern of stipendiary ministry to operate smoothly.

If there are no bat protection, heritage preservation, human safety or clergy flourishing issues, then aspects of care, mission and prayer may set the agenda.  Or there may be something I haven’t yet spotted so clearly which will push these things further down the queue.

Meanwhile, the tree cut down at the east end of St Nicolas’ a short while ago is having a good go at sprouting.