Monday, 30 April 2012

So It Begins

The works in the church have begun and the pews have been cleared to the sides. All very daunting ...

Saturday, 28 April 2012


Three small accoutrements acquired from the antique warehouse today: a vaguely St Catherine wheel-shaped horse brass, an old chemist's bottle (Tincture of Rhubarb seems a highly appropriate dose for a clergyman) and a small figure of St Dunstan gripping the devil's nose in a pair of pincers.
I've also finally managed to frame and get onto the walls three pictures that have been waiting for attention for months. Zoe Monday's icon of St Catherine is now in the hall:
Ms Francis's Christmas card with her lithographic version of a William Morris angel is now in the "childrens' room" upstairs:
And the headache cure advert I got from a North Welsh antique shop last year is in the dining room. I cracked the glass but I was in no frame of mind for that to make any difference.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Gothic Valley WI

I know some of the people involved in this, and it's just wonderful beyond words.

"Gothic Valley developed slowly as like-minded people came together in North London. What started as an inside joke became our way of identifying our local neighbourhood within the Goth scene. You won't find Gothic Valley on a map, but, as they say, home is where the heart is. Our hearts and homes tend to be off Holloway Road, reaching from Highbury and Islington to Crouch End.We have no geographical restrictions on membership and some of our members travel in from other parts of London.

"The Gothic Valley WI was started in early 2012 by a group of friends and like-minded women in London. The founding members are a mix of professionals and students, who in our spare time like baking, jam-making, crafting and wearing lots of black. We include some award-winning bakers and a few professional costumiers and seamstresses. ... Our first meeting featured a talk by one of our members, a professional costumier, who shared her experiences of literally running away with the circus. This month we ran a practical workshop on how to get the best results from your digital camera ... One of our first community events will be a 'bunting' party on 5 June to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.

"Come and help us put the 'black' in blackberry jam!"
More information here.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

In Other News

In amongst all that nonsense, I was out on Monday visiting Highgate Cemetery with Ms Philligrew from the LGMG. I'd been to the eastern half before, but not the West, which is closed to all but visitors on guided tours because of the fragility of the monuments. It was an atrociously damp and disagreeable afternoon, and it would have been good to wander, but even so this was a visit to a strange and unique landscape, as Highgate is not laid out on flat ground in wide, generous avenues of tombs, but narrow, clambering paths and terraces with some features, including of course the Egyptian Avenue and Circle of Lebanon, which are absolutely unique in British cemetery architecture. Much has been cleared since the cemetery's utter dereliction in the 1970s, but the Friends of Highgate Cemetery are sensitive to the need to maintain the lovely gloomth which pervades the place as well as to make it accessible.

After that (and recovering with tea) I scooted to the West End to meet up with some of the other LGMG folk to visit an exhibition, 'Broken Stones' at the James Hyman Gallery in Savile Row. This was a tiny tiny display of photographs of ruinous landscapes by great photographers of the 19th century (Roger Fenton, Eugene Atget etc.). It was very small indeed, and I would have been severely disappointed had I not been forewarned by another LGMG member that there weren't any captions. No captions! Such a thing is virtually unthinkable to a former museum curator, so I'd printed off all the details from the gallery website so we had a catalogue. Still, it was one of those Meetups where the apres-meetup (spent at the Yumchaa tea rooms in Soho) was longer than the event itself. It's a useful insight into the way commercial galleries tend to puff themselves. 

More Moaning

I did something very foolish at the weekend. To cut it down only to the most relevant details, I did what you're always told not to do and let someone stay in my house because it seemed uncomplicated. I have a ridiculously large house with only me in it, and here was a person who seemed to need peace and security for a while. I even thought it might do me good spiritually.

She turned out to need more than that, and it wasn't uncomplicated. She never caused direct trouble - in fact, was ingratiating - but wasn't telling me the truth, at least, not all of it - for instance, that the rector of Hornington had already paid for her to stay in a B&B the previous week. I was out on Monday (it's my week off) and was increasingly frantic all day with the knowledge that my house was no longer a place of safety for me and I would have to confront my guest in the evening. I did this, and said we'd have to look for alternative accommodation the next day. This was the cue for denials, pleading, questioning. Given what's happened the last few weeks, I underestimated my own fragile mental state and couldn't cope, and fled. I returned to get a bag and go to stay with friends in Lamford, all the while with my guest calling 'Don't do this, let me make you tea, let's pray about this'.

Luckily one of these friends, who counsels me from time to time, has a lot of experience of dealing with homelessness issues and came with me the following morning. We tried to find accommodation for my guest, whose answers to questions were evasive and vague. We tried to get her in at the YMCA locally, who refused when they heard the name, while a local guest house where she'd stayed before very clearly tried to work out by questioning who she was. She refused to deal with any of the statutory housing agencies, and became positively hysterical when my friend was about to call the HOST team. In the end we basically dumped her in Hornington with a bit of money. She called me over the remainder of the day using a variety of different numbers, though that seems to have stopped.

I'm bitterly ashamed of myself for so many reasons in this: for having been so stupid in the first place, for breaking down and dragging my friends into the business (even Il Rettore was summoned for moral support), for having not realised how weak my mind is at the moment. I thought it would be all right. Perhaps for a different person it would have been.

I don't know what's happened to the woman. Of course all my friends are predictably sympathetic (though Cylene the Goth didn't think there was anything prima facie wrong with someone being in my house, as she's done the same), but the essence is that I've pushed on to the streets somebody who is in need even if they're not completely truthful or open, because I couldn't cope. Nevertheless it's clear I can't. I've always been haunted by the possibility of it being incumbent on me to take people in to my home, even before I was ordained; when I lived in Chatham I did let one of my neighbours' adopted son stay in the flat one night and it was one of the hardest things I ever did. Now I know I can't do it. Some can, but not me, no matter how big my house happens to be.

You can't rest content with your incapacities in the Christian life, it's true: you always have to accept and investigate the possibility that God wants you out of your comfort zone. If there is something we have a particular ability in, something we're good at, perhaps something we haven't yet discovered, that can help others, we do indeed have a duty to pursue it to the hazard of our health and welfare. But that doesn't mean going against the fundamental tenor of our individual nature. If we have a particular vocation God will make it known to us; conversely, breaking down and having to seek help to resolve a mess we've caused is surely a clear enough sign that we shouldn't be doing that thing after all.

Friday, 20 April 2012


And on the train heading up to Waterloo there was a family seated behind me all the way from Swanvale Halt. Included was a young girl all of 13 in eyeliner, big boots, gappy black and purple leggings and a black crushed velvet skirt,who sat reading a book whose title I couldn't see but was all black with a skull-and-crossbones on the cover. She did my old heart good, could she but have known. If only I'd been able to say some encouraging words.

A Tale of Two Libraries

Yesterday and today I was in the shocking and unprecedented position (since leaving college) of being able to go to libraries two days running. Yesterday it was scooting off to Oxford to visit the Bodleian and look up the recent volumes of the English Place-Name Society. I found myself in the same position as when I did this last year, that of being unable to remember which ones I'd looked at and which had been published since. However the question was rendered irrelevant by the discovery of the last volume of The Place Names of Dorset,whose previous section had emerged in 1989!

Now it is a rare day indeed that a previously-unknown holy well comes to light, and previously-unknown saint's wells whose names are recorded in the Middle Ages appear as often as the pheonix. Yet this book had one: in the obscure parish of Burstock (I can't even remember what the church looks like, yet I must have been there) in a 13th century document there appears the fontem s'cti Dunstani de Herstonehegh, the Well of St Dunstan at Hursey (as the hamlet now is). It's horribly geekish, and a horribly outré form of geekery, to get excited about this, but I did. It's a very odd well, though. 'Dunstan' appears to be the name of a local family in medieval Hursey, but how the well and the people are related is anything but clear. If the family are prior, why would they have 'sponsored' a holy well? If the well came first, how did they take their name from it?

Then today I was at Lambeth Palace Library looking at the remainder of the papers of Reginald Somerset Ward, the great Anglican spiritual director (to Michael Ramsey, Evelyn Underhill and other luminaries as well as hundreds of lesser figures), in whom I have an interest. That was quite fun too. RSW's writings are often a bit austere but there is a great sense of the living Spirit in them and I never fail but feel refreshed by reading them. Part of the reason RSW seems so stern to modern audiences (in so far as anyone knows him at all) is because of this picture which appears on the front cover of the little book compiled in his memory by his friend Edmund Morgan, the Bishop of Truro:

In the files I came across another photo, very obviously taken on the same occasion as this one, in which the great man has managed to forget to look like a grumpy old git and actually has a bit of a smile. A revelation, in its way, as momentous as a new holy well in my home county.

Looking Back

Before Easter I was in a bad state of mind, waiting for news from the authorities about our refurbishment of the church. Things were already improving as my mum asked me the very sensible question, 'What's the worst that can happen?' and the answer - we'll have to put the church back together again, and abandon all our plans - was bad, but not un-cope-able with. It got my mind back onto something like stable footing. Since the Faculty arrived there has been another nailbiting delay as the electrical side of the work, which is the first stage after the clearing of the pews, can't begin until early May. THAT means the fifth anniversary concert of the local music club which uses the church will have to be moved to the secondary school, and we'll lose a round of very lucrative music exams which we normally host - hopefully we'll be able to find them an alternative venue and they'll be back. That was all it took to plunge me, very briefly, into an extremely bad frame of mind. Strangely it only lasted a few hours, especially as it coincided with discovering that somebody I hoped was rather interested in me isn't (that's something that happens with dull regularity too - there's sense in priests either being married or celibate).

I have a very good friend who I can go and talk to about psychological issues and she thinks my difficulties are due to low self-esteem. I'm not sure about this as naturally I imagine I'm strictly realistic! However it would help to reflect on the things I have coped with to decrease my assumption that the situations I get involved with are as threatening as I seem to think, and to challenge the leap I usually make to the most extreme reaction to what are fairly normal stresses.

Whatever the truth of that, one of the consoling, and anchoring, thoughts has been to relate what I've been going through to the Cross, a sensible reflection given that it was all happening over Holy Week and Easter. Our own small sacrifices and mortifications are reflected in the great sacrifice of Good Friday and, just as that was utterly transformed by the great working of God into triumph and transcendence, so our lesser deaths can, if we nail them to the Cross and put them into the Tomb with Jesus, be the points of takeoff for new insights and change. Nothing comes to life except first it dies. I have never felt my weakness as I have done over the last few weeks, but God became weak so that our infirmities might be carried up and made the means of victory. I believe there is a reason why someone of my inadequacies and inabilities has been placed in this impossible vocation. I am not sure yet what it is, and may not be for years, but even if, if, the Church made in human terms a mistake ordaining me, God will still take the offering and work with it. And so I have to pray, always, and learn to be thankful for my mortification, because if I do not discover how to die joyfully I will not be able to live as I should.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

An Unusual Request

Some weeks ago I was visiting the greengrocer's in Hornington when I met the gentleman who's opened the new fish shop on the other side of the road: he's a West Indian from a Methodist background. He asked whether I would bless the shop and so yesterday, having gained the permission of His Grace the Rector of Hornington, I did so. The owner was there, a friend of his, and, as I discovered when I looked round, three members of my congregation who turned up after the Walk of Witness, and a bemused customer.

Mr Fish Shop insisted I have a gift in thanks, which was a bit of swordfish he prepared with lemon juice and herby marinade ('Salt it for half an hour, cover it and cook it in the oven for 20 minutes and have it with some mash, that's all you need'), and some dressed crab from Cornwall. He also gave me £20 for the church - 'I had prayers said in my old shop elsewhere and promised to give something to the church but never did, so this is paying ma debts'.

The swordfish was lovely.


In previous years I've had a bit of trouble with the ecumenical Good Friday Walk of Witness through Hornington. Last year it was my own turn to lead it and we walked in silence which improved matters hugely; this year was OK and in fact rather more people attended than has been the case for a while, and we got a lot of not-hostile attention along the High Street. As we came up Bridge Street the gentleman who does most of the organising and always leads with a remarkable portable amplifier strapped to his chest for the assistance of whichever clergyperson is presiding, started up a particularly sugary and repetitious Taizé chant which, combined with my overall mental state and the especially voluble Baptist directly behind me who wouldn't shut up, almost made me give up and leave. But the music soon shifted to something more appropriate and I stayed.

However I pondered the significance of what we're doing. Christians insist on publicly remembering a single, immensely violent event on a sunny Bank Holiday when everyone else is enjoying themselves; certainly most of my friends, to judge by Facebook which is the measure of all things, were doing and describing a variety of lighthearted activities while I was deliberately and voluntarily turning my mind to pain and horror.

The relationship between these different modes of feeling and thinking is complex. Our natural human tendency is to avoid the painful and problematic, quite understandably and rightly, and yet our understanding of who we are, what we are capable of, and what life can include, is superficial and incomplete if we spend all our time avoiding such dark elements of our common experience - and perhaps that even encourages us to avoid those who suffer, or misjudge them. As always, in my opinion the Church has down the centuries got this wrong: but I think, by contrast with the heathen world growing up around it, the truth and rightness of the sacrifice of Christ is becoming clearer than ever.

A Piece of Paper

It's Easter Eve, and the faculty arrived today. I was warned that there were 'conditions', which turned out to be: That the Diocesan Advisory Committee should approve the final design of the flooring in the church (which they already have); and That if the stackable benches are not in use they should be put in a place where they are not obtrusive. All I will say about that is '!'

I will analyse all my feelings (doubtless obsessively) after Easter but, after a while as my reactions are usually delayed, it improved my mood quite beyond measure. One big push, and Easter will be complete.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Road to Calvary

People have been rather concerned about my last post. So was I, really. There's no need for any immediate worry, but it is a dire time: I'm not a depressive, I always desribe myself as a Melancholic because I've never been put out of action by sorrow as true depressives are. And Melancholy isn't always a negative thing. Nevertheless there is a long-term issue in that I am fundamentally an introvert doing a job which demands extroversion, and that will not go away: most of the time I'll be able to manage, but occasionally the contradiction will inevitably get the better of me. The current problem isn't that, it's the acute one of waiting for the faculty to be approved, and not knowing when that will be or what impact the delay will continue to have on the life of the church. Any more weddings or events to screw up? Or will the delay go on so long that our original quotations expire and we won't be able to afford increased costs? Every day at least ten people ask me 'Anything happened?' and I have to give the same answers.

Some time in the night I woke up crying having dreamt that the Chancellor rejected our faculty, not for any legal technicality which could be quickly corrected, but because he didn't approve of the whole scheme. The dark, dog hours are no time for clear thinking but I was doing some distinctly unclear thinking at that point. Having got up properly, I didn't really calm down for an hour; my usual prayer time reminded me of Christ's journey to Calvary which he undergoes this week, and how our own trials are taken up within his, and also of the fine people of Swanvale Halt church and how my job is somehow to take them through problems, not run away from them as I am tempted to do. Presiding at the Mass also settled me this morning - strange how sometimes you preach to yourself as much as anyone else.

Today's acute problem was probably caused by Tuesday being the day I call the Registry to see whether they've heard from the Chancellor. He has returned the paperwork, but they haven't had a judgement which usually arrives by email. That's a better answer than I feared, but still leaves the conclusion horribly open.