Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Haslemere Churches

Another gratuitous examination of church interiors!

The two churches of Haslemere had a moderately Catholic tradition in the past, though less than their departing incumbent would have liked (we will see what the new one brings with them). In both St Bartholomew’s and its daughter church, St Christopher’s, you can see similar patterns reflected as elsewhere. St Bart’s mostly dates from an almost complete rebuilding in 1870 and seems to have been built by an architect who had no idea what he ought to do because it’s a long distance from Ecclesiological correctness. Pevsner loathed St Christopher’s but I quite like it – virtually a single, barrel-vaulted space full of light.

The mid-Victorian rector of Haslemere, Mr Etheridge, had been the chaplain and was the grandson-in-law of the firmly Evangelical bishop of Winchester, Dr Sumner, and was put in the parish to do two things: demolish the old church and rebuild it, and resist the dreadful incursions of High Churchery. However he showed that such a position was not incompatible with gorgeous fixtures like the red marble font, and stained-glass windows full of saints. 

Mr Etheridge was succeeded by Mr Aitken, who from their respective photos in the church history you’d have thought was even more definitely Evangelical as he was portrayed in imperial collar and white bow-tie rather than a dog collar; but he turned out to be a funny sort of Low Churchman who clearly wanted to fill the church with lovely things. In that he fitted in well with late-Victorian and Edwardian Haslemere which was a bit of an Arts-and-Crafts colony. Certainly St Christopher’s, which was built during Mr Aitken's incumbency and furnished in the latter years of it, has a decidedly Catholic and arty tinge to it. Above the altar – considerably raised above the rest of the church – is a huge triptych designed by the architect’s wife, Minnie Dibden-Spooner. As well as an array of saints (and Jesus), on the right-hand side, among heroic Victorian Christians such as Florence Nightingale, Sir James Paget and General Gordon, can be found Father Damien of Molokai (not canonised until 2009), John Keble and Bishop Edward King, last victim of the Ritual Trials. This is an extraordinary thing for an ostensibly Evangelical clergyman to commission, if he did.

It was after Mr Aitken retired in 1918 that the next Rector, William Wragge, brought in a more definite Catholicism – apparently of the Percy Dearmer, Sarum-Rite variety. The parish began using the English Hymnal, a hymnbook so reviled by Evangelical bishops on its publication that it was banned from their dioceses. It seems to have been Mr Wragge who introduced the Lady Chapel in St Bart’s. Both churches have Lady Chapels and both are a bit weird. If you’re a smallish parish church the usual place to put your Lady Chapel is at the east end of one of the aisles (that’s where Swanvale Halt’s is). Not in Haslemere: in St Bart’s it’s at the west end of the north aisle and the altar faces south, while at St Christopher’s it’s  in a little side room fitted out in 1935, and the altar is the windowsill, I suppose because it’s such a small space they didn’t want to reduce it any further. I’ve never seen this anywhere else.

Both churches have aumbries for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament though I have yet to discover when this was allowed. The continuing Catholicism of the parish is suggested by the fact that it was the favourite designer of the Anglo-Papalist movement, Martin Travers, who was commissioned to make the hanging crucifix in St Christopher’s, as a memorial to Kit Tanner, chaplain on HMS Fiji in 1941 who rescued 30 members of the crew after its sinking at the cost of his own life. St Christopher’s is also the first church I’ve seen in this diocese to have proper English altars, with curtains on riddel-posts. At those, and at the mighty triptych, Percy Dearmer would have nodded in approval!

Predictably, both churches were re-ordered in the 1970s, the altars brought forward and arrangements for the choir changed. In St Christopher’s case it’s a bit of a shame as the high altar is easily visible from every part of the church. It also has a fantastic acoustic – as I found out. ‘Lift up your hearts …’

Sunday, 24 February 2019

It Gets You Down

Paula, one of our pastoral assistants and a local councillor, sent me a link to a piece by former ‘grumpy Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral’ Fr Giles Fraser; I mean his status as canon is ‘former’, not his grumpiness, which seems in full flow on most of his contributions to ‘Thought for the Day’. They never fail to give me the impression that he’s telling me, personally, off. UnHerd.com is a refuge for people who feel that their voices are marginalised in current debates, which is ironic considering the exposure Radio 4 gives to both Fr Fraser and philosopher John Gray, at least. ‘I used to like Giles Fraser’, Paula mused in her email.

Fr Fraser’s article is an attack on liberalism, and a paean to Brexit, which he believes will put a spanner in the works of global capitalism and enable the UK to return to a state which values togetherness, community, tradition, and the warmth and humanity of the old working-class. It may mean we’re poorer economically, he argues, but poverty will be beneficial: we will be richer in better things.

Opening out of a story in which a silly, bewildered woman phones a GP surgery to get help to deal with her dementia-damaged father, Fr Fraser insists it’s her responsibility to ‘wipe his bottom’. I'm not going to get into his case in itself; but I see a connection between this and his adulation of what he thinks is the old working-class society whose poverty allowed a more human scale of value. There is in this something of the urge to abasement of the middle-class rebel (his old school has a cricket pavilion which is Grade-2 listed). Anyone who genuinely comes from the working class doesn’t wallow in poverty, I can tell you: we rather grip onto any material flotsam that passes by.

Also, like a lot of UnHerd’s contributors, Fr Fraser is an example of the clever person deluded into thinking that every phenomenon they see can be described by a single story. Everything is a reflection of everything else, and logic drags the commentator towards places they would once have found far from comfortable. This is what leads him to argue that Islam will save the world from capitalism, or that the metric system should be abandoned because it came out of the French Revolution and is ‘inhuman’. He goes to dinner with the extended family of the Muslim GP friend who told him the story about the woman and her father, and sees around him ‘the buzzy hub of a homogeneous society’ (is ‘homogeneity’ really a value to pursue?); he plays with the idea of establishing a new political party called ‘Home’. I’m not sure how much of this is a bit of a leg-pull; not as much as you might hope, I fear. Fr Fraser isn't an idiot: he must be aware of the resonances of a political party, even a pretend one, combining a 'socialist' respect for working-class values and a 'nationalist' view of identity.

It’s not really about him, and in critiquing his ideas by poking behind them to psychological motivations I, too, am guilty of trying to find a story that explains them in deeper, hidden terms. To be honest, I find myself conflicted between a residue of the liberalism in which I once believed and my recognition that much of it makes no sense.

It comes to a head in the field of sexual politics. I have a number of trans friends, and more who believe that the categories of maleness and femaleness don’t exist, or don’t apply to them. At the extreme end, I know people whose Facebook feeds are cascades of memes and images whose only real theme is the assertion of their right to self-determination, yet simultaneously hollowing out the content of any identity that they might choose: if (for instance) a trans man or trans woman can each present in appearance or behaviour as either a stereotypical male or female, then not only do the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ no longer mean anything, but ‘trans’ itself has no significance,  because there are no longer any conceptual boundaries to cross. Now, not only do I not think this will ultimately make anyone very happy, but since I gave up believing in liberal individualism I can’t see that an act of will can alter anything that is fundamental about who we are. Instead I concluded that what really constitutes our identity are, mainly, things we can’t control. Our individual selfhood results from negotiation between competing forces, not the discovery of something absolute inside us. Yet the old liberal in me insists that, even if my trans friends are mistaken in believing that their bodies and their pasts have no hold on their identity, nobody else has the right to tell them what they are, either. Work out your own salvation with diligence, the Buddha said.

Which brings us to kindness. What those Facebook feeds of desperate self-assertion signify is a struggle to be heard, to matter, to count, to undo hurt and damage, to plead for safety. And I so badly want to honour that. By arguing instead about what constitutes a ‘real’ man or woman we move away from practicalities and make the individual person a point in a debate rather than a soul. All those anxious UnHerd contributors squinting at the world to see the story behind it are doing the same: looking at people, each with their own stories and experiences, and seeing only moral exemplars, ideological cyphers, fuel for an argument. And you know what you do with fuel. UnHerd offers a Babel of competing narratives of the contemporary world, tethered only tenuously to what actually happens to real people; which may be why I prefer reading history - or economics, which is a form of contemporary history. In fact, I wonder whether the origins of liberalism lie less in the abstract speculations about human nature of the 17th and 18th centuries, and more in the reluctance to damage each other humans have evolved - unless provoked by fear, an instinct which ideology organises and justifies.

Of course my argument is just such an example of an overarching explanatory device, like any other ideologue’s. And as a priest I am constrained to reach conclusions about particular areas where the demands and doings of wider society impact on the work God has given his Church to do, or vice versa. But it’s striking that Christian moral philosophy has always taken the view that seeking kindness, wet and unprincipled though it might be, is, in situations of doubt, preferable to seeking truth. The human mind is fallible and the heart deceitful: we do not always know what truth is. Kindness offers a better guide to what it might be.

(Sadly, advocating kindness-based ethics doesn't mean I am any better at it than anyone else ...)

Friday, 22 February 2019


It's the foreshortening of this photo that makes its subject look alien. It is in fact nothing more exotic than a magnolia, waiting, I hope, to bloom. Sadly it isn't something my garden has produced itself, but one which has only just been imported from the garden centre. 

My illustrious predecessor Fr Barlow planted the magnolia tree in the front garden back in the early 1970s, a far more welcome addition than the eucalyptus he inflicted on the back, which you may recall had to be felled last year. The magnolia split under the weight of the snow over my first winter in Swanvale Halt, and I've already had one go at replacing it. That sickly sapling struggled for several years against the slugs, as I sought different ways of fending them off. Every leaf it managed to produce ended up munched to a stump - or perhaps it wasn't the slugs, but some distemper in the shrub itself that caused it never to flourish. In the end there was nothing to be done for it. This one is a bit bigger, more advanced, and looks healthier. We will see. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Pastoral Visiting

Bill hasn't really recovered from the respiratory complaint that knocked him out a couple of weeks ago. I called round to see him at his daughter's house and found him in a right state, mentally rather than physically, saying that he couldn't concentrate, had been having suicidal thoughts, that his mind had gone. 'I've got this tune that goes round and round in my head, I don't know what it is. There's just nothing, nothing.' We had a bit of a pray. The doctors think this may be a result of the steroids he's been given, but when I spoke to another member of the church they remembered a time when Bill had been found in the church porch, unable to remember where he was. 'I've often thought that if Bill couldn't do his duties in the church, it'd be the end of him.'

That opinion came from Stephanie, who I went to see next and who's been having health difficulties of her own. She and husband Don have been a formidable pair over the years and are now finding things very tough indeed, struggling to maintain routines and not able to get out as in the past. 'Sometimes I've wondered where God is,' Stephanie told me. Pain and boredom wear down faith so easily. As with Bill, we had a bit of a pray.

Finally I called in on Nicole and Ali and their daughter who have been at the church quite a bit lately. They moved to Swanvale Halt from London a few years ago and deliberately came and sought us out but to their consternation found their daughter couldn't cope with music and singing and so disappeared again! Now she seems fine with what happens in church and so they've popped up again. I had no idea that they were those unusual things, adult converts: they also converted within an Anglo-Catholic setting and do not seem to be obvious nutcases, and all this amounts to a sufficiently rare combination to make it remarkable. The dogs looked askance at me and the chickens crowded at the patio door to see what was going on. I didn't feel it necessary to have a bit of a pray in this context, but perhaps I should have done.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Return to the Little Gothic House

It was all of nine years ago when London Gothic went to Horace Walpole's mansion by the Thames, Strawberry Hill, that wonderful camp confection where modern Gothic was born in the mid-1700s. The Strawberry Hill Trust had only just opened the house to visitors, and a couple of us who'd known it when it was still occupied by St Mary's College were a little disappointed by its bareness, all the Victorian furniture having been removed and nothing put in its place. We had to strain our imaginations to picture what it might be like when the Trust finally achieved its aim of restoring the entire place to what it had been like in 1797.

As I found on a repeat trip for a night-time opening last month, no such strain is required now. The walls are papered and painted, the furniture gilded and buffed, and the Trust has borrowed as much as it can of Walpole's long-dispersed collection to show in the mansion's rooms. Lurid and lavish, the restored Strawberry Hill is a bit like being slapped around the face by over-the-toppery, made all the more apparent on my visit by the presence not only of historical re-enacting volunteers (Horace Walpole wasn't nearly camp enough) but of a group of visitors in a variety of costumes which ranged from the Walpolean to about 1820 as far as I could gauge. We were not supposed to take photos because of all the loaned objects, but I sneaked a few. Look, they're small, you can't reproduce anything from them.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

All Human Life is Here

Annabelle came bouncing into Church Club at the Infants School with a paper towel. It turned out to contain a small worm. Called Timmy. 'How long have you had this?' I asked Annabelle. 'Since the morning,' she beamed. I said I thought Timmy would probably prefer more worm-friendly surroundings but as Annabelle clearly wasn't going to return him to the wild just because I said so, I found a plastic sample pot in the science supply box, and we scooped some dirt from the trough in the playground, and put Timmy in that. His relief was obvious. Meanwhile Sam ran up displaying two splodges of red pen on his palms. 'I'm bleeding!!' he announced. Moments later Ruby had done the same, only she had managed to cover her hands with red felt tip. She kept asking permission to go to the toilet to scrub it off and eventually succeeded, returning with her hands only slightly less red than they'd been with the pen on them. Lauren (q.v.) was asked about this by Jade.
Jade: Why did Ruby do that?
Lauren: She was copying Sam. [very seriously] I don't think anyone should copy Sam.
. . . . . . . . . . .

Trevor has been thoroughly troublesome lately. His delusions have been ever more definite and he's been very annoyed indeed, on and off, with me, God, and the world in general.
Trevor: It's Terry who's been cursing me. He's the one who's responsible for all my problems. 

Me: But your problems started before you met Terry.
Trevor: That's because he can do psychic readings with his cards, he told me. He could see that he would meet me in the future and that God had promised I would marry [the actress he's obsessed with] and he wanted her for himself, so he cursed me in the past so that he could have her in the future. And he had sex with her by magic. But it's all right because even though I can't have [Ms X] Jesus and the Devil have come to an agreement that I will have four wives in compensation.
Me: I think you need to tell the Deliverance Advisor all this ...
Trevor: Mr Stribley [his other great enemy] has murdered Pam [a neighbour of Trevor's parents who's been in a care home for a couple of years]. I called down the fire of God on him. If he gets burned up by God, the police won't prosecute me for it, will they?

Me: No, Trevor, the police definitely won't prosecute you for burning up Mr Stribley. But why did he murder Pam? What did he stand to gain?
Trevor: That's just what he does. He's murdered so many people. All those poor people on that aeroplane that vanished from Malaysia, he did that.

. . . . . . . . . . .

I was sat with Rick our verger saying Morning Prayer, slightly disturbed by a persistent sawing noise from outside. I assumed it was Jack, who is often about on Saturday morning tidying in the churchyard and doing odd jobs. But what could he be up to?

Once we were done, I went outside to say hello. I found not Jack but a man I've seen around the village but never spoken to before. He was sawing laminated flooring panels on the benches in the churchyard. He doesn't speak English that well. 'These for my house,' he explained. 'No table. Is all right?'

I was too nonplussed to disagree. Of course it was. It was only afterwards I found he'd managed to saw shavings off the benches as well as his floorboards. I suppose we are, in this, providing a service to the community. I should tell the diocesan newspaper.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Blue Skies over Blandford

The beautiful weather over east Dorset made a drive to Blandford with my mum an undiluted pleasure. I love all the small Dorset towns, each of which has its own character; Georgian Blandford's splendour is the intersecting curves of its sweeping roofscape.

The town centre was largely rebuilt after a catastrophic fire in 1731, resulting in the replacement of the old church with a great Palladian fabric which, seen from some angles, wouldn't be out of place in an Italian city. The blue sky helps.

Inside the church is being restored - but it has taken years and will take years more. The plaster and paint peels and flakes.

The Age UK shop not only afforded me two nice ties but also a surprise in the shape of a spectacular plaster ceiling in a rear room. The building used to be the house of John Bastard, one of the brother architects largely responsible for Blandford's reconstruction, and the room was a showcase for the firm.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Chips Are Down

It’s a good thing that Swanvale Halt isn’t just residential, but contains a variety of businesses, from a small supermarket right at the centre of the village, to a tattoo studio, including along the way a butcher and a baker. There are of course also the two cafés which make it a more sociable place.

But do we need so many fast-food outlets of different kinds? The same small row of businesses near the church includes, in addition to the cafés, a kebab shop and pizza takeaway of long standing, and now, joining them, a chicken outlet. I don’t know how else to describe it, as chicken is apparently the main selling point. ‘Shack’ doesn’t seem the right word, because it isn’t.

I have a conflicted attitude to these businesses. It’s good to see any commercial activity going on rather than every available property being converted into flats, no matter how welcome dwellings might be. Every business where people have to stand and wait to be served offers the chance of social contact which might not otherwise happen, and contributes to the development of a community conversation which would otherwise be poorer. I try to combat my snobbish dislike of the way they look (bright orange shopfronts in two cases) and concentrate on other factors such as the healthiness of the fare – the kebab shop has one of those rotating cones of unidentifiable meat which hasn’t been anywhere near an actual animal for a long time – or what the prevalence of such businesses implies about society, which is people having time neither to prepare their own meals at home, nor to sit and eat them somewhere else. And the kebab shop, even though it may be smarter than it once was since a minor refit and the new uniforms issued to its staff, produces the little polystyrene food boxes you find discarded remarkably widely across the parish, including in the churchyard and occasionally in the church itself, complete with the odd ketchup-daubed chip. Once, when we had a particularly troublesome set of youngsters hanging around, I had an angry encounter with a neighbour who threatened to ‘close the church down’ if we didn’t make more efforts to keep the teens away. Why us? I wondered. If it wasn’t for the kebab shop they’d be loitering somewhere else.

But of course, returning to a theme of my previous post, if there wasn’t a market for fast food outlets they wouldn’t exist, and if Chicken Empire (that’s not its name) doesn’t find one it won’t last. It’s social circumstance that produces them. When the supermarket opened, as long ago as 1930, the various grocers, greengrocers and other little shops around the parish were probably horrified, quite rightly in a way, but now we regard it as a cornerstone of community life and would rue the day were it ever to close. Perhaps the time may come when we will look back on the memory of a row of bright takeaways and shed a tear for things past.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Toddler Market

At Toddler Group on Friday we heard the news that one of the local nurseries, based in a little old tin chapel round the corner from the church, is closing. When I checked, the manager told me in a laconic email 'our business model was unsustainable'. Another 'provider' will be re-opening the nursery in May, supposedly, and the staff will have the opportunity to re-apply for their positions, but in the meantime the impact is not only on them, but also on the families who rely on an amount of childcare to manage their own work schedules. Hornington and Swanvale Halt have something of an oversupply of children at the moment, and all the other local nurseries are full. I have only a vague idea how early-years provision works but I gather the funding is a mixture of Government subsidy to parents and their own resources. I wonder whether a new provider will be able to do any better out of what's available.

Market economics says that wherever there is a need it will be supplied. I've just finished reading Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist which takes a breezily confident view of the market, from coffee stands on railway stations to sweatshops in developing economies, even hinting that a market system in schooling might be more efficient (economically speaking) than what we have now. I can usually see his point, even as regards the sweatshops - they may well be better than the alternatives on offer - but a complacency shines forth from the book's pages more than once. It would be good to have more of an acknowledgement of the waste involved in the market process, the losses into the swirling waters of adaptation and change. Here in Swanvale Halt, the losses resulting from the closure of the nursery could include the jobs of some of the customers, not just the staff, and there's every likelihood that could have a lasting impact on the lives of their children: it's hard to predict.

The market solution (I presume) would be to have more providers than the market can actually support at any one time, so when one of them folds (as they will) it doesn't impact the system as a whole. This is all very well, but the investment involved in opening a nursery is considerable. As well as the cost of the plant, there is the significant training and certification the State demands of at least some of the staff involved. You can't just magic trained childcare up overnight. It seems to me that there's a tradeoff here: you either have flexibility and standards enforced by competition, or you enforce standards by statute and inspection and sacrifice something in flexibility. Combining secure and qualified provision with flexibility is a very hard trick to pull off indeed. I suppose it boils down to a choice as to how important a society thinks a good is, and how much waste, and of what form, it's prepared to tolerate. 

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Philosophical Challenge

I was due to lead Assembly at the Infants School on January 28th, and had no idea what to do. Nothing in the news apart from Brexit and I didn't fancy tackling that: nothing out of the ordinary happening to me, and nothing notable in the school calendar either. Normally I would resort in such circumstances to telling the children about the life of whatever saint whose feast-day it happens to be. Now, periodically I like challenging myself to tackle abstruse subjects in my assemblies, but a look down the calendar of saints' days made me baulk a little. Nevertheless, I felt the Holy Spirit pushing me inexorably into a corner. 

St Thomas Aquinas for six-year-olds it had to be.

Luckily the school began doing Philosophy a couple of years ago. The children couldn't remember what they'd actually done in Philosophy, but such is the life of an infant-school pupil: they can't usually recall anything further back than a fortnight, but it sort of sinks in somehow and is recollected through more subtle processes than mere brutal question-and-answer in an assembly. Still, Philosophy gave me an entrée into discussing the business of asking questions, how often Jesus asked questions back to people to encourage them to think, and oh look, here's another person who spent his life asking questions. Whether the blessed Saint would readily recognise his life from the somewhat summarised account I gave I'm not sure. Nor am I convinced that the children will be much enlightened though it is just about possible that one or two of them might have taken away the dim memory of a fat monk writing books. 

I know Thomas Aquinas was a friar, not a monk: I decided to tackle the difference between forms of the religious life another day.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Acquiring Faculties

Loyal readers may recall, seven long years ago nearly, the saga of the refurbishment of Swanvale Halt church, retold in a series of posts on this blog: one, two, three, four, and yea five, the relaying of the floor, and the installation of new seating and lighting. The work itself was the easy part: it was waiting for permission to begin that was taxing to the nerves, not least because there was a wedding to host which eventually had to go somewhere else. The official authorisation for changes to church buildings is a thing called a faculty. In theory the bishop is the guardian of all church property in the diocese, and therefore grants permission for all works. In practice they delegate this to the properties department and, ultimately, the diocese's chief legal official, the Chancellor, who issues the final imprimatur on the bishop's behalf. Chancellor of a diocese is not a paid position, nothing so straightforward. In 2012 the Chancellor of Guildford was a former High Court judge who, so we were told, devoted one Saturday morning every fortnight (or it may have been a month) to reading faculty applications. One day in the midst of our knuckle-gnawing process of waiting I phoned up the legal office, the Registry, at their intimidating Gothic premises of 1 The Sanctuary next to the west door of Westminster Abbey to ask how long it might take. 'How long,' came the helpful reply, 'is a piece of string?' The benefit of the faculty process is that churches don't have to go through local authority planning permission for their works; the drawback is that there's a great deal of volunteer labour involved so it takes ages

The scope of works under the faculty system expanded considerably in the 19th century as bishops tried to stop their naughty Anglo-Catholic clergy from installing shrines to the Left Big Toenail of the Blessed Virgin and that sort of thing, or at least gave them legal grounds to remove them if they found out, but nowadays nobody cares very much about that and considerations of heritage, aesthetics and not leaving headaches for future churchwardens is more on the minds of the powers-that-be. To this end, in 2015 a new system of 'A' and 'B' items was introduced: 'A' refers to routine maintenance for which no permission is needed, 'B' small works which the local Archdeacon can authorise, and then there's everything else which still needs a full faculty.

The frustrations of this system led to a demand to be able to do it online and amazingly that is now happening, which leads me to the point of this post: a couple of weeks ago I went to a training morning at St Paul's, Dorking, about the online faculty system which strangely seems to be very good. 35 dioceses have bought into it over the last few years already so unusually Guildford is quite slow off the mark. You can upload all your documents to the database and then get emails whenever your application moves on or you need to do something. The only bit that seems not to be working is the final completion form the parishes should be sending on when they actually finish the work they applied for, as hardly anyone does, leading to most applications still being technically registered as 'live'. 'I could chase them up,' said the young fellow who led the training, 'but as there are - I'll check - ah, there you go - 19,864 at the moment, I rather doubt I'll find the time.'

The only unsettling thought is that I've been blithely telling successive Swanvale Halt churchwardens that 'the Archdeacon doesn't want to be bothered' about this or that, and while I remain convinced this is absolutely true, in fact we seem to be supposed to bother him, even if we're just having a 'List A' item done like cleaning the gutters. I may have to apply formally to regularise some of the teeny tiny items I've introduced to the church over the last nine-and-a-bit years.

Over coffee I wandered into the church, now a mainstream Evangelical establishment whose altar was brought forward in about 1980 and popped on a dais in 2005 when the pews were disposed of. The old chancel is, as so often, resplendent with encaustic tiles. But the real treasure, and surprise, is an amazing gold reredos now, as is often the case, remounted on a side wall. It was painted by a quite well-known artist called Ivon Hitchens in 1922: he later became a sort of abstract impressionist landscape painter and this, done as a young man, looks nothing at all like the work he later produced. In fact it has the look of something painted a generation earlier, with a Symbolist or Art-Nouveau tinge. Quite extraordinary, and I hope they had a faculty for it in 1922 or a bishop may yet come and hack it to shreds.

Monday, 4 February 2019

A Long Run In

I was sat next to the minister of One Accord Church in Hornington at the induction of the new minister of the town's Baptist Church. Ultimately, and interestingly, even within this Nonconformist setting there are shadows of Catholicity, as it were. There's not much in the way of obvious ceremony but there is ritual of a bare and unadorned kind, the shaking of hands and making of promises, which all go to recognise that the minister is both sent by a body wider than the local church, and called by it. Some fellow from the regional Baptist structure administers the promises to the new minister, to the elders of the church, and the congregation as a whole, all of whom bob up and down exactly as they would in an Anglican service.

It was the length that caught me out rather than the form or the style. At one point a representative of the minister's former church described what she'd done there; the secretary of Hornington Baptist gave an account of how they'd recruited her; and she herself then went through the process from her own viewpoint. Each of these speeches took some time. The church secretary recounted how the church had set up the 'search committee' and who was on it, and how they'd looked up the manual how to recruit a new minister on the Baptist Church national website. They were given a list of fourteen potential ministers, she said, 'and they were ...' and I thought, My goodness, she's going to read the whole list. I had visions of a kind of Baptist version of that bit from Father Ted where Mrs Doyle tries to guess the name of the Presbytery's new house-guest and lists the name of every priest in Ireland: 'Father Pigling Bland! Father Dermot MacGaslight! Father Shaughnessy O'Bastard!' But no, the secretary just went on 'and they were a huge variety.' Sigh of relief breathed.

We stumbled out into the chilly February afternoon after two hours, the minister of One Accord and I. I will sit at the next Anglican induction service I go to, listen to a bishop give a leetle leetle sermon, hear the awkward words of welcome to the new priest from various community representatives, the clanking of church keys and the ringing of the bell, and feel myself to be in the antechamber of paradise itself.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

DIY Darkness

Bernice is married to Mal, long-time Goth DJ whose involvement with that world goes back to the days when Goth didn't even know that's what it was. They both have a personal style which harks back to that time, too, when the Goth scene orbited around the Batcave nightclub in London (and the other cities it visited) - a punkish combination of leather and chains, spiky backcombed hair, and round-toed boots from before New-Rocks got going and began their towering skyward ascent.

In fact I think this jacket which Mal bought Bernice for her recent big birthday from Berlin-based clothing and accessory-maker Kathrin Moravcsics -  YoungBat - has more of the Psychobilly about it than the Deathrocker, with its zebra-stripe lapels, cartoony bats and crossbones, but it does follow that one-time-universal handmade ethos that took everyday garments and customised them to death, or at deathliness at any rate. Bernice hasn't had the easiest of times over the last year or so and deserved a bit of fun.