Saturday, 22 September 2012

Constabulary Duty

We all had an email from the Diocesan Board of Social Responsibility yesterday, passing on an appeal from an organisation called Redeeming Our Communities to take part in a minute's silence to mark the death of the two policewomen killed in Greater Manchester:
I always feel ever-so-slightly uncomfortable at what I call 'Headline-Driven Prayer'. Redeeming Our Communities is based in Manchester so it's perfectly understandable that they should feel particularly concerned in the deaths of these two police constables, and equally understandable that their other branches across the country should also feel involved. But being asked to pray about a specific event, however unhappy, in which I or my community aren't directly implicated makes me wonder about all the other equally unhappy events and situations we are not asked to pray for because the news media haven't seen fit to pay as much attention to them. I know who our own local police in Swanvale Halt are, and pray for them, regularly, by name. I meet them and talk to them in the street. But we can't pray for everybody, and I don't really wanto to make the media my filter as to what I should or shouldn't pray for. This is quite apart from the uneasy sense that the awful deaths of two public servants is, rather nastily, a flag issue in the police's quarrel with the government over pay and conditions.
That line about the police's 'darkest day' made me wonder how many other police die in the line of duty, because I had no idea at all. Helpfully Wikipedia tabulates the information here, and I'm not even the first person to have had the thought, as this gentleman has analysed the figures. It didn't surprise me to learn that there's already been a police officer killed this year: Ian Dibell was shot in Clacton apparently after intervening in a row, though he happened to be off duty at the time.
The figures are actually rather interesting. Although the table is slightly questionable because it comprises all deaths of police officers resulting from their criminal work, including situations in which the criminals concerned didn't actually intend to kill them, there were three peaks in danger if you were a copper: the years between 1900 and World War One (which confirms my impression that this was a remarkably violent era in British history though nobody seems to talk about it much), a minor blip upward in the mid-1950s, and the height of Fatcher's Britain when, between 1981 and 1985, no fewer than 32 police officers were killed, followed by 18 between 1986 and 1990. The current state of things is actually comparatively quiet.
To find the last occasion when two PCs died in the same incident you only have to go back to 2002 when two Leicestershire officers were killed in a car crash, with a parallel event in December 1984. Admittedly none of those were shot in cold blood; but three officers died in the Harrods bombing in 1983; three were shot in the Shepherd's Bush Murders in 1966; two were shot in West Yorkshire in 1951 attempting to arrest a robber; two were killed by the landlord at a pub in Bedlington in 1913; and finally three died in the Siege of Sidney Street in 1910.
A surprising number of police officers in the early years of the last century 'collapsed and died during an arrest', an event which hardly ever happens now (although all these events hardly ever happen); perhaps the police are fitter now or maybe this reflects the fact that they go about on foot less. The most bizarre death was that of PC Christopher Wilson of the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary, who 'contracted a fatal illness when spat upon during a football disturbance' in 1977.
Anyway, pray for the people you know and the situations you have contact with is a rule I tend to follow. That way you're not responding to the media's assessment of who deserves your sympathy most.


The Roman Catholic congregation which shares our church is usually looked after by a local priest, but he's been away on holiday, so Fr Ignatien from Burkina Faso has been with them for the last couple of weeks. He asked whether we could meet up to have a conversation so we did. I'm afraid I was worried that he was going to ask whether our parish could send his some cash, but we didn't go anywhere near that subject (just as well as we don't have any), instead talking about the differences between the RC and Anglican observances. He was a bit bemused to discover that the theoretical head of the CofE is the Queen, but at least he can go back to the minor seminary where he teaches with a bit of a clearer idea of what the Anglican Church is and how it works; or doesn't work.

On a previous occasion he asked me whether the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in the aumbry in our Lady Chapel as indicated by the candle burning in front of it, and then took to genuflecting in the proper manner whenever he passed it. And for several days this week a young Hispanic-looking lady has been coming in to the church soon after 9am, standing in front of the Sacrament for a few seconds praying, and then leaving. On Friday she brought a friend!

I haven't spoken to the two young women so they can be forgiven for thinking this is a Roman church, but Fr Ignatien must surely realise the Sacrament in the aumbry has been consecrated by me (it wasn't him, after all!). In theory, therefore, it isn't 'the Sacrament' at all and he shouldn't be doing anything in front of it. I wonder whether the Pope knows about this dreadful indiscipline. What are they teaching RC priests in seminaries these days?

Friday, 14 September 2012

There's a Green-Eyed Yellow Idol

There is a new arrival at the Rectory. I was out in Hampstead yesterday, and, waiting for my friend to arrive, I wandered down an alleyway where outside a book shop I found several tables laden with antique junk for sale. I ended up buying this little heathen idol from a strange small lady and a man in a tweed suit with a cravat. They didn’t know anything about it other than that it had come from a house clearance in Maida Vale on Wednesday.

As I walked away with it in my bag, I suddenly reflected that this is just how all those stories in mid-1960s portmanteau horror films start. The chap in tweed was too tall to be Peter Cushing but that was the only difference …

Take That

Brian was one of our regular Infants School Church Club attenders. He’s now moved on to the Junior School and so out of our clutches but I met his mum the other day who related a conversation she’s had with him about the Garden of Eden story. He’d obviously heard it and had been thinking seriously about it for some time. ‘I’ve decided’, he said out of the blue one morning in the summer holidays, ‘that God made a mistake punishing the serpent.’ His mum asked him what was that. ‘Well, he cursed the serpent to crawl upon its belly on the earth’, said Brian. ‘But that’s what snakes do, they like it, that’s why they don’t need legs. What God should have done,’ he went on solemnly, ‘was get all the snakes together once a year and slap them all round the face and say “That’s for tempting Adam and Eve”’.

Outside View

‘Which reading do you want for this particular Sunday?’ asked our church administrator. ‘There’s a choice so I need to know so I can prepare the large-print copies’. I opted for the lection from the Book of Wisdom. ‘Do you know why there’s a choice?’ I asked, and explained that, because Wisdom is in the Apocrypha and some evangelical churches don’t recognise the Apocrypha as part of the Bible because those books were in the Greek Septuagint but not in the older Hebrew manuscripts, so they have to have an alternative. ‘I see’, said our secretary. Then, after a moment’s reflection, she stated ‘It’s all just bloody madness, isn’t it?’ Well, there are complex questions to be asked about the way in which the Scriptures were written and the process of discerning their selection – but, to put it very basically indeed, yes, it’s all bloody madness. Every church should have a non-churchgoing member of staff, I think.

Ways of Doing Things

Last week I went for a walk around Oakwood in the south of the county. My walk was a long figure-of-eight (longer than I expected thanks to taking a wrong turn and then being diverted into a field of over-curious horses), and at the crux of the 8 was St John the Baptist’s church. It sits virtually alone at the end of a small lane – apparently until relatively recently there was no vehicular access at all – and from the other directions can only be approached via long footpaths. It’s basically a thirteenth-century building constructed at the time when the Weald was finally beginning to be permanently settled, and was then expanded, not very happily, in the 1870s. The Buildings of England: Surrey claims that ‘looking out from [the churchyard] can still give the impression of frontier uneasiness’ which I think is a bit over the top, but it is still a remarkable experience. I’m told that despite the isolated situation, or perhaps because of it, the church is rather well-attended, with a thriving Family Service where you can find lots of young families.

(Photo copyright by John Salmon)
There’s a little church history leaflet which, very very unusually, gives quite a full description of the reordering which took place in the mid-1990s, and of course I’m rather interested in such things given what’s just taken place at Swanvale Halt. Here, again, the old pews were removed, new lighting and flooring installed, and a new entrance area within the west end of the church created. It looks very handsome … all apart from the strong blue upholstery on the chairs. Why they went for that I can’t imagine, unless it was an attempt to echo the blue ceiling at the east end of the church. Misguided in my opinion, if so, because when you walk into the church the first thing your eye sees is all that blue. I’m very glad we opted for solid wood seating.
Oakwood provides another interesting insight into changing fashions in church interiors too. I’m becoming aware that the installation of rood or chancel screens in churches may have been rather common between the Wars and that, in such cases, they stayed for forty or fifty years before being removed. At Swanvale Halt the dates are 1924 and 1972; at Oakwood, 1932 and 1976.

The Old for the New

One member of the congregation asked me where I got ‘that lovely new thingy on the altar’ from. It is, in fact, the church’s old green altar frontal that we’ve had since about 1880 (it’s visible in the very earliest photographs of the inside of the church) but which has been stuck in a chest for about thirty years. Now that the church has been refurbished and seems so much more light and simple, the eye is more drawn to the sites of colour and visual interest and in those surroundings this old frontal looks wonderful. It needs a bit of repair work, but I have a friend who can do that and then we’ll use it most of the time.