Saturday, 31 March 2012

Ups and Downs

This hasn't been the best of weeks. On Monday, over a month after our paperwork was lodged with the Diocesan Registry in London, I had a call from the Clerk to say that the Chancellor was away for a week and so we wouldn't hear about our faculty application this week: he knew it was important, however, and so would be taking it with him to work on. That was encouraging. However it was too late. Tuesday had been a deadline I'd settled with myself: no news that week, and there was no leeway for the work to be done ready for our first wedding on June 8th. So I had to go and tell the couple due to be married on that day that they couldn't be married in Swanvale Halt church. The bride used to bring her grandfather to church when he was alive, and now helps with our Junior Church despite being a Roman Catholic by upbringing. It was atrocious, and I didn't know what to do: the culmination of weeks of hoping, praying, tensely waiting. A sense of breakdown. I'm also having to negotiate between two fairground suppliers who each claim the right to attend our Spring Fair in May, and one of whom is quite nasty. Sadly he's the one who seems to have right on his side.

That meant there was no point hanging around, and so I went on my annual retreat for a couple of days to Malling Abbey. It was lovely to be quiet and non-interactive, but I suspect I was so tired I actually wasn't focusing very much. Here are a couple of photographs:

I was just about recovered from the sense of hysteria, though, and was driving back along the M25 through the sunshine when the car engine cut out. Simply stopped. Terrified I pulled over to the hard shoulder and called the AA who, thankfully, came very speedily indeed, gave the car the definite thumbs-down, and towed it back to the garage at the bottom of the hill. It turned out the cam belt had broken, and everything in the engine had smashed into everything else causing catastrophic damage. Two hours before I'd been congratulating myself on buying some particularly heavy books at a charity shop in West Malling, and now had to lug them back up the hill along with everything else.

Home to discover sixty emails, news that the retired priest in the parish is in hospital, and then almost immediately out for a meeting with the Town Clerk in Hornington about a civic service. The only relief (and an ambiguous and guilty one) was four phone messages from Mad Trevor, who I was due to meet that afternoon, and who has been sectioned. I'm not sure quite how I managed to propel myself out of the house on the bicycle to the Council offices. I caught the train to the cathedral to make my confession for Lent, but it felt a bit cursory. I couldn't either concentrate or relax.

In the evening I tried to call my mum, and got no reply. It was mid-evening, so I thought she might be babysitting at my sister's or eating there. But there was no reply there either. My mother hardly ever turns her mobile on and tonight was no exception, but my sister wasn't picking up either. It wore on past nine o'clock, nine-thirty, ten. By this time I was screaming and raving round the house. My mother, grandmother, sister, brother-in-law or nieces, or a combination of them, were in hospital I imagined and there was nothing I could do about it, stranded in Surrey with no car (and in any case piles and piles of things to do on Friday which was supposed to be a day off). It was an over-reaction, but I was running on empty: anything set me off. It wasn't until ten-thirty that my sister texted to say she'd been in a concert so didn't hear her phone: mum was indeed babysitting. Why she managed not to hear the phone in my sister's house the half-dozen times I called it over three hours I can't quite imagine.

For ages now I've woken up not wanting to face the day, sometimes whining and shrieking at the (perfectly ordinary) things I will have to do and interactions I'll have to engage in. Friday, thank God almighty, was some slight recovery. I was shaking as I made a to-do list, but gradually worked through it. I went to see a parishioner who's just had a cancer operation and her calmness and good temper was lifting; the garage called to say that, although the car probably wasn't worth repairing, they happened to have a very cheap Polo for sale which had just had an MOT test and might tide me over for a year to give me the chance to sort out something more permanent, so that was very lucky. I managed to chutney-fy the last of the 2011 apples (they haven't been prolific or up to much this year), and cooked for my lovely friends from Lamford, Caroline and John, who were as ridiculously appreciative as usual. So I've now had nearly 48 hours with nothing going wrong and nothing new coming up, and am calming down a bit. I'm not proud of myself for all this, and will have to watch my mental state.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

'The Artist'. 2011

I went to the Hornington Borough Hall and its informal cinema on Friday to see the The Artist. I thought it was huge fun: essentially a very basic rom-com dressed up in very classy and clever cinematography, beautiful design and intelligent evocation of an era, of the conventions and clichés of silent film, and the idea of moviemaking itself. It's a love-letter to silent cinema, and very effectively in its images and metaphors depicts it as a different mental world from ours, as indeed it was. It hymns the visual inventiveness of Silence with its own. However it's not the deepest piece of storytelling: the emotion soars and dips but characters don't develop, and the plot is barely worthy of the name, which is of course the chief disadvantage of Silence. Although I see many people have found it 'boring' I suspect this is less because there isn't a great deal going on but because they aren't used to putting in the work Silence forces on its audience, picking up cues and noticing symbols. In fact the film itself gets a bit lazy in this respect as it goes on, relying more and more on intertitles and less on hint, suggestion, and symbol. Nevertheless, you keep smiling as each trick and reference and sign arrives, and leave uplifted. It's very refreshing in an age of noise and bluster.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Present in the World

Once a month I visit a development of sheltered accommodation close to the church to lead a small service of Holy Communion. I have come to like it, even when there's only a handful of people there. I think this is not just because of the sense of fellowship the community has, but also because I stand facing a window looking down on a footpath which leads between the main road to Hornington and the centre of Swanvale Halt with the church, Co-Op and railway station. People are always coming and going and you have a moving sense of the Church making clear the presence of God in the everyday world, even though and perhaps because hardly a person glances up to see what might be going on above them.


Following my discussion with Tim of the local evangelical church I found myself thinking about the context in which the early Church wrote the texts of the New Testament, at least the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. I've been increasingly impressed over the last year or so by the urgency in them to define who is 'in' and who is 'out' in the Christian community and, occasionally, you can see a virtual surrender of the hope of making any sense of the matter - thus St John in the first Letter argues that you can identify false brethren by the fact that they leave, and if they hadn't left they wouldn't have been false, when of course necessarily they couldn't be defined as false brethren until they left. The context of this is the separation of Church and Synagogue, the process of those who accepted that Jesus was the Messiah being ejected from the mainstream of Judaism. This must have been a cause of enormous pain and distress to the early Christians, as significant numbers of their fellow-Jews rejected the message and drove them out. To regard those who denied that Jesus was the Christ with any charity would have required superhuman forbearance, and unsurprisingly the Christians don't. They curse them, call God's wrath down on them. It is a sign of grace indeed that St Paul in the Letter to the Romans actually rows back from those temptations and suggests that the Jews are still in a covenantal relationship with God even while they can't accept that Jesus is the Christ. This isn't the situation we are in now, of course. What these scriptures represent is a terribly cry of pain and loss, expressed as rage and resentment.

I wonder, increasingly, whether God's purpose in ensuring the survival of these texts is not that they should serve as a positive example to us, but a negative one. They embody, sometimes, what we should expel from our hearts, not cherish in them.

And So We Wait

We are waiting for the final approval of our faculty for the re-ordering of the church. Yesterday I got so frustrated with the wait that I phoned the Archdeacon, who pointed out that the Chancellor, who has to grant the faculty, is a High Court judge who does it in his spare time. That I knew. What I didn't know was that his 'spare time' for faculties is three hours on a Saturday morning. That's why the Diocesan Registry only posts faculty paperwork to him once a week, and he only posts back the ones he's done once a week. So you aren't going to hear a favourable response later in the week, it'll be Monday or Tuesday. I wish someone had explained this to me, it would have saved a lot of tension and heartache. The Church of England does rather just assume that everyone knows certain things.

Last week we cleared the church building of everything moveable. It looks very, very empty and bleak.

Our Lady has been wedged into a corner in the clergy vestry so she can't get damaged. It'll be a dull couple of months for her, sadly.

Foolishly I took it upon myself to shift out all the horrible red leatherette kneelers. I thought they could go up in the attic, but taking a mere six all the way there was enough to convince me that this was a very poor idea, so they were banished to the choir vestry. I was congratulating myself for having nearly completed the job when I looked behind the very last pew and discovered stacks and stacks of the things. Apparently these were 'spares' left over from the installation of the new heating system a couple of years ago when several pews were removed. This is what the kneelers look like now. A member of the PCC suggested we could build a children's play area with them:

I was increasingly unsettled all week, and slowly realised this wasn't just because of the tension of waiting for the faculty to come through, but because the environment I am so very, very familiar with was being taken away (even if I was primarily responsible for doing so). Every day, more or less, I unlock the church in the morning, and shut it at night. I've seen it at every time of day and in every sort of weather. I pray in it, clean it, care for it, celebrate the presence of God in it. It is, to an extent, the landscape of my soul. And it will, sooner or later, be changing very significantly. And if that's how I feel after no more than 2 1/2 years, how must the people who've been here for 40, 50, 60 years feel?

I said this in my sermon in the first service worshipping in the church hall. This is the hall set up by our sterling team last Saturday:

The service went smoothly and the Roman Catholics before us somehow managed to squeeze 120 people into the room. I was very glad I did speak about the refurbishment and what it meant as here was a lot of emotion around, including on the part of the people who are most firmly in favour of the changes who nevertheless feel exactly the same sense of unsettlement and bereavement. I become ever more convinced that what we're doing is not just a practical matter of flooring and seating and lights, but actually has a spiritual significance.

'River Out of Eden', by Richard Dawkins, 1995

I recently finished Dr Dawkins's best book (by repute), River Out of Eden, and very much enjoyed it. It's easy to see why Dr D has acquired his status as a communicator of science: it's extremely lucid and accessible and in places rather beautiful even though it contains those notoriously savage statements about 'blind pitiless indifference' and humans 'dancing to the music' of DNA. I only had trouble with the discussion on the reproductive efficiency of seals which became a bit clotted, and am indeed grateful for the explanation of analogue versus digital forms of information-exchange which I'd never properly understood before: even though that raises the question, as it isn't anywhere near the field of evolutionary biology, of how reliable the Dr is in areas which aren't his specialism (I wouldn't know). There is only one bit which makes one cringe: Dr Dawkins mocks the stupidity of an anonymous female student who has, he can't resist pointing out, a 'slow rural accent'. That's really rather disagreeable.

Talking Gothic

Last Thursday I and a group from the LGMG went to the Kitschies event at Blackwells Bookshop in Charing Cross. The Kitschies are an annual award in the field of genre fiction which appear to be the marketing brainchild of the producers of a brand of rum, and this year focused on Gothic, aiming to stimulate discussion about the nature of Gothic fiction. We were a very small proportion of the audience of 60 or 70 gathered to listen to John Courtenay Grimwood giving a reading, Marcus Hearn and Christopher Fowler talking very entertainingly about Hammer films, line up for a tot of rum (which I couldn't partake of it being a breach of my Lenten discipline), and walk about talking to a variety of people. Tanith Lee was there - I remember reading all of her books in the school library when I was about 15, but decided not to tell her this. Instead I spoke to Jonathan Rigby, the author of English Gothic and American Gothic; he complimented my on my new tie pin, which bears, I had to admit, the Seal of Rassilon. I'm not sure he was very impressed by that. We thought on balance that the event was a bit oversold (not many 'labyrinthine halls' or indeed 'shadowy figures' in evidence, unless you counted ours) but it was rather amusing. I caused great consternation by actually trying to buy a book which turned out not to be 'on the system'.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Secret Corner

Not so long ago I discovered a new bit of the garden! I'd been meaning to clear an area of undergrowth and tangled branches that lies to the rear of the site of the old scullery and outside loo, and in doing so found that there was a path (not much of a path, it could do with covering with something) that follows around a bush leftward beside next door's fence and concludes at the wall - an entirely 'secret corner'.

The wall was crying out for something more than the little woven birdhouse which my predecessor had left there (though which predecessor I'm not sure, it could have been there for years). So I visited Farnham Mill and bought a rather nicely decayed wall plaque with a vaguely Renaissance-looking lady on it, and one of their 'Neptune troughs'. Having filled the drainage holes with kitchen plugs and putty and covered the base with gravel, the trough is now full of water - we'll have to see for how long!