Monday, 1 November 2004

Fallen in Action

In the chancel of St Thomas' Church, Worsbrough there is a plaque in memory of The Revd Capt George De Ville Smith, curate of the parish, who fell in action in France on 1st July 1916.
I've always thought there must be an interesting story behind it and so was pleased to receive a phone call from someone who was interested in researching the incident.  As a result I now have the following details.
Mr.Smith had been ordained at St.Anne's Church Birkenhead and served there before moving to Barnsley where he became curate of Worsbrough Dale from 1st Sept 1911 to 31st Dec 1914 under the Revd William Banham.  Here he was founding officer of the Church Lads’ Brigade (which as Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade continued until recent times and influenced the lives of many young people from the parish) and took a special interest in the work of the Sunday School. 
With the outbreak of the war, he joined up with the Barnsley Pals’ Battalion (which was at that time in its initial stage of formation) and became Second Lieutenant of D Company.  One of the men under him was Tommy Oughton who was 18 in August 1914.  Tommy lived at Wombwell and worked at Mitchell's Main pit at Darfield before volunteering.  He was also a teetotal chapel lad and his religious outlook no doubt coloured his opinion of his officer:
"He turned out to be a right rum customer and we weren't long in giving him a nickname. With being called De Ville Smith we gave him the name 'Devil Smith.' He was a chap who was very strict but what hurt us more, he used to come out with a bit of swearing. With us knowing that he had been a parson, we thought that was all wrong, hence his nickname."
July 1 marked the opening of the Battle of The Somme. D company was not the first company to go over but slightly behind. They had filled the trenches vacated by the third and fourth waves of attack and now it was their turn.  In Tommy Oughton's words again:
"... there was shelling, rifle and machine gun fire as we went across. We hadn't a chance. I can't really describe what I saw to tell the truth. There you were, you could see bodies dropping here, there and wondering, is it you next? I saw plenty of men I knew drop. No hope at all. Of course we didn't get far before we were knocked back... As we came back that's when I saw 'Devil' Smith's body and he looked to have hardly a scratch on his face. It must have been the shock that killed him. There was a shell that landed not far from him, we could see where it had dropped."
Another witness of Capt Smith's death was Philip Brocklesby, Second Lieutenant.   (Philip's brother, Bert Brocklesby, was imprisoned as a conscientious objector).  The following quotation's are from Philip's diary.
On the afternoon of June 30 he was leading 13 Platoon which in turn was leading D Company …
"so that I had much of the company of Capt De Ville Smith on the way up. I think he felt the hand of death near. Fortunately for D company we were to assemble in the last of the eight trenches, named Babylon."
Having gone over the top and been forced into retreat they were in a trench.
"There was a near burst of a 5.9 in (exact figure unclear) and quickly news was passed along the trench that Capt De V. Smith had been badly wounded.  Again D Company was ordered to move to the right and two bays further on I had to step across his body as he lay very close to death."
His death shows how strange shell bursts can be:
"Capt Smith, Capt Normansell and a messenger runner were all in line in a trench traverse. The runner had just handed a message to Capt Smith when the shell burst. Capt Smith was badly wounded and died in half an hour. The runner got a nasty splinter wound in his chest. Normansell who was stood between them wasn't hit."
In another memoir where Phil revisits the trenches with some friends some years later he refers to the incident again. Talking about the march to the trenches …
"I had Captain Smith with me for most of the way ... Perhaps I am being wise after the event, but his conversation seemed to indicate that he had some premonition that he would be killed.  Actually D company had few casualties and it seemed strange that he should be one of them."
The following report by Lieut. Hions is taken from an obituary to Capt Smith published in the Chronicle soon after his death:
“Captain G. de Ville Smith led his Company in the advance across the open, in face of heavy shell and machine gun fire.  His courage and coolness as a leader, helped greatly to inspire his men.  We reached our next trench and were held in reserve for some time.  The call came for a platoon to reinforce the front line.  The Captain ordered me to proceed with the boys, and when I left he was busy sending and receiving reports.  I sent back two runners reporting my arrival, and on their return I was informed of his death.  He was struck by shrapnel and died instantly.  I may say the Company, as a whole feel very much the loss of their commander.”
The obituary says Capt Smith was a single man whose father died when he was 10 years of age.  It describes him as having a tall commanding figure and a charming personality which endeared him to everyone with whom he came into contact.   
In a note in the Parish Magazine of August 1916 Mr.Banham describes his former curate as “an acceptable earnest and faithful preacher.”  Prior to writing this the Vicar had announced the news of Capt Smith’s death to the congregation at St.Thomas’s.  They were moved to tears as he recalled the love and esteem which Mr. Smith had inspired in the people of the parish.  They joined in prayer that God would grant him eternal rest.
The Tommy Oughton quotations are taken from "Barnsley Pals - The 13th and 14th Battalions, York and Lancaster Regiment" by Jon Cooksey. Published by Leo Cooper, an imprint of Pen &Sword Books Ltd. 01226-734555.
Philip Brocklesby diary quotation reproduced by permission of his nephew Malcolm Brocklesby.  Malcolm has a sculpture on the theme of ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ on exhibition at Monk Fryston church (just north of Knottingley) at present, the concept of which was triggered by Phil's conscientious objector brother Bert.
The following is by an anonymous Oxford undergraduate, writing a few days after the outbreak of World War One, in which he was to be killed three years later.
To have given me self‑consciousness but for an hour in a world so breathless with beauty would have been enough. But thou hast preserved it within me for twenty years now and more, and hast crowned it with the joy of this summer of summers. And so, come what may, whether life or death, and, if death, whether bliss unimaginable or nothingness, I thank thee and bless thy name.

Friday, 1 October 2004

Archaeological Marine Band Display

A few months back, when I wrote about my bike ride to Grimethorpe, I mentioned seeing a strange little sign on Wombwell Lane that read "Archaeological Marine Band Display" and which seemed to be pointing straight into the untamed undergrowth.
Now what does the wording conjure up in your mind?  Probably vague images of very old American soldiers playing trumpets on the deck of some brave naval ship.
Little did I know that an answerphone message left by a concerned reader would put me in touch with a former Development Director of Stairfoot Brickworks, Alan Winlow, who in turn would take me on a journey from Texas in the West to the Urals in the East whilst at the same time journeying back in time some 300 million years.  (However, even I didn't do this one on my bike).
The Marine Band (known as the Mansfield or Aegiranum Marine Band) is of course a layer of sediment that was created during the Carboniferous Period.  Other layers created at this time are Carboniferous Limestone, Millstone Grit and the Coal Measures, all of which have given our region its distinctive character and its former industrial importance.
The Carboniferous period (350 to 300 million years ago) was a spectacular time in geological history with the formation of the first equatorial rain forests, and rapid evolutionary changes in flora and fauna.  There were also some seventy cases of global warming, when the ice caps melted and sea levels rose.  Of these there were four main ones, and during the last of these the Aegiranum Marine Band was laid down at a time when Barnsley would have formed part of the sea bed.  The band is eight feet thick and contains various types of fossil, some of them unique. As millennia passed the Band was buried under subsequent layers of sediment and rock formation, but then movements in the Earth's crust over long periods of time re-exposed the Band in a number of places - hence Texas and the Urals and also Barnsley. Because of the rapid changes just mentioned, the Band is distinctively recognizable wherever it comes to the surface around the globe.  This makes it one of the important 'markers' in the geological record.
In the early 90's there was an all-weather display at the brickworks, just off the trans-pennine trail, and adjacent to where a section of the Band was exposed on the surface.  This facility was used by many schoolchildren and others who explored its geological significance.  It was part of a wider and very exciting scheme of community involvement and environmental concern in the local area.  Sadly vandalism and changing priorities for the firm that own the site have caused the display to be dismantled.  The exposure of the Band is of course still there and the display boards have been relocated to the western end of the office at the entrance of the brickworks (just next to where an excavator stands on a plinth) and the public can go and look at them there. 
If you decide to take the footpath from the sign to the Trans Pennine Trail it would be best to carry a machete.

HAVE A NICE DAY OUT
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve at Old Moor, Dearne Valley is well worth a visit.  It has a newly redesigned visitor centre and shop, a very good café, the Kids-go-Wild adventure playground, and a short Ponds and Picnic Trail, as well as longer walks to hides looking out over the main reserve.  I understand that the reserve has been there for quite a number of years, but the recent re-launch aims to attract a wider range of people to appreciate the beauty of the area and the wildlife.  In autumn the reserve is visited by thousands of wading birds and if you don't have your own binoculars you can borrow them from the visitor centre (in exchange for car keys or phone).  The children's play area was a big hit with Imogen and Jemima - the various slides and climbing frames being made in the form of giant wooden birds and animals;  a favourite was to be 'sicked' out of the frog's mouth and down the slide!
The Gannets Café is excellent value (cup of tea 59p, plain baked potato 99p, with other home-cooked meals and cakes etc. available).  There is lift access and on warm days you can sit on the balcony and look over the reserve.
The visitor centre is open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, from 9.30am to 5pm (4pm 1st Nov to 31st Jan).  Admission is free to visitor centre, shop and café.  For reserve, trails, and play area: Adult £2.50, Child £1.35, Family £5, Concessions £2.  All free to RSPB members.
The reserve is the other side of Wombwell near Broomhill at the Junction between the A6195 and A6023.  Tel. 01226 751593  www.rspb.org.uk

Wednesday, 1 September 2004

Some Summer Holiday comments and questions from a four-year-old:

·         When is it going to be the end of winter?
·         Why do wind socks get up early?
·         I've got tummy ache - I can't move anything except my eyes!
·         Why are butterflies beautiful?
·         What do people have on their websites?
·         Are the flies scared of me?
·         Can you go through the gap between the lightning and the thunder?
·         Look, they've put the sunset up again!
·         Why does funeral have fune with it?!
·         Why is it just the way it is?

I Believe …  revisited
An interesting exercise is to sit down and think about your lifestyle and your aspirations and trying to stay within the space between the two consider what are your beliefs in as far as they have / should have a practical implication for the way you live.  Write them down.  Put them away from a while, and then go back to them at a later date.  Here is the list I made a few weeks ago:

I believe in …
… living simply.
… building a secure, happy and fulfilling family life.
… developing my skills & interests, knowledge & understanding.
… keeping fit and competing.
… living in a good relationship with the 'natural world'.
… contributing to the wellbeing of others.
… everyone having good food, clean water and personal security.
… treating people with justice.
… responsible freedom of choice.

Sunday, 1 August 2004

I BELIEVE

At the all age service on 4th July I put up a number of 'I believe …' posters around the Church and asked people to walk around, consider them and do the following: If the agreed with the statement, tick the poster; If they disagreed, put a cross on it; If they were unsure or the statement didn't produce a response either way, to do nothing.  Here are the statements - why not try for yourself before looking at the responses made by members of the congregation.
I believe …
… in God
… in Fate
… that Jesus walked on water
… Wayne Rooney walks on water
… everyone should have clean safe water
… that the coalition was right to invade Iraq
… in justice for the world's poorest
… in an eye for an eye
… in forgiveness
… in the young people of Worsbrough
… it's all the parents fault
… in life after death
… when I've nothing left God takes over
… in all the colours of the rainbow
… in myself
The following pages show how the congregation responded (I have used 'Y's instead of ticks).  The length of the gap between to two answers represents the people chose not to respond for whatever reason.  The total number of participants was 44.
I believe …
… in God
   YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
… in Fate
XXXXXXX                   YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
… that Jesus walked on water
XXXXXXXXX­­­                                         YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
… Wayne Rooney walks on water
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX                                   YYY
… everyone should have clean safe water
      YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
… that the coalition was right to invade Iraq
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX                                          YYYYYY
… in justice for the world's poorest
                 YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
… in an eye for an eye
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX                  YYY
… in forgiveness
           YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
… in the young people of Worsbrough
XXXXX                        YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
… it's all the parents fault
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX             YYYYYYYYYY
… in life after death
XXX                          YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
… when I've nothing left, God takes over
      YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
… in all the colours of the rainbow
                               YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
… in myself
XXXXXXXX                      YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
It's interesting to consider the different 'types' of belief statement:
I believe in all the colours of the rainbow
At least one person took this to mean a literal belief that the colours exist and make the rainbow.  Others interpreted it as meaning that we should celebrate and embrace the wealth of difference there is within the human race.  There may have been other interpretations and for some it may have meant nothing.  The same expression of belief may mean very different things to different people, even within the same faith tradition.
I believe Jesus walked / Wayne Rooney walks on water
Those who didn't agree with this for Jesus presumably took it to mean a literal physical fact.  Those who did agree with this for Wayne Rooney presumably took it as a metaphor for his skill on a football pitch.  How are we to decide which way a statement should be understood?
I believe everyone should have access to clean safe water
Whether or not you believe Jesus walked on water what difference will it make to the way you live.  If you believe the statement about safe water (or justice for the world's poorest) you should try to make your belief a reality, as far as you are able, otherwise why profess to believe it?  Sometimes seeing is believing.  In other ways, believing is seeing: I believe in this, so I'm going to try my hardest to see that it comes about.
I believe in myself / the young people of Worsbrough
It's perhaps a little hard to define what this actually means.  But this kind of belief (or its absence) surely has a huge effect on how things will go for the people in question.
I believe in God
I've written in a recent magazine on this subject suggesting that this simple statement can carry a broad range of meanings: what is meant by God?  What characteristics does God have?  What power does God hold and how does it operate in the affairs of our world?  It is interesting that many who expressed belief in God also expressed belief in Fate.  I wonder how those two beliefs relate to each other for different people who hold them both.
I believe that our beliefs should be worked out fresh for ourselves - not second hand or adopted by default.  Each person should wrestle with them for him or her self and then try to be true to them.  

Tuesday, 1 June 2004

'Startling Stars'

Last Sunday (16th May) our Church Choir went "on the road" to sing Compline at St Luke's Church, Grimethorpe.  I decided to join them but I thought I would go "off road" on my bike.  It seems a long way round in the car and by making use of some of the many dismantled railway tracks, I thought a much more direct and interesting route could be taken. 
I set off at about 4.45pm on a glorious afternoon, along Kingwell and up behind St Thomas's to cut through Bank End.  I was surprised to see a huge blue tent pitched at Maltas Court and also that more people weren't out on their front gardens enjoying the sun.  I cut through the snicket from Monkspring to White Cross Lane - I always get speed up past the farm because there's sometimes a huge dog there with an intimidating bark!
Along the small road past the idyllic setting of Swaithe Hall; slowing up for a handsome ginger cat which stood in the gap where the path suddenly narrows - it took a few steps and vanished into the undergrowth.  Here Cork Lane sinks down between hedges and under leafy trees forming a secret tunnel that is only just navigable.  Last time I went through I was amazed that joyriders had managed to get a car in there before burning it out.  Luckily it has been removed now but at what expense and effort? 
Away to the right there are acres of rapeseed, vibrantly coloured and heavily (though still just pleasantly) odorous.  I had recently looked across at this great swathe of yellow from the top of Mount Vernon Road.  In contrast, the fields near Round Green were deep red, making the huge sweep of the Dale look like a giant arena where Barnsley were playing Norwich.
On again past what looks like a disused chicken farm and over the remains of the canal;  what a shame that we are not able to see narrow boats plying their way up here as far as The Wharf.
I turned left along Wombwell Lane, passing an odd little footpath sign marked "Geological Marine Band Display” (any explanations?).   A bit further, opposite Tesco I got onto the railway track and after going over Stairfoot turned right onto the branch that goes north beside Grange Lane with Views of Monk Bretton Priory.  Next came a beautiful stretch where the railway track sweeps in a great curve above the meandering River Dearne.  With the ubiquitous May Blossom and a herd of cows statuesquely chewing the cud, it is as scenic a spot as you could wish for.  I was just revelling in all this when I nearly had to ride into the verge to avoid being mown down by two off road bikes and two quad bikes travelling at speed.  The din soon passed, but for the next half mile or so the air was full of fumes and dust.  Before it had cleared I had to be on my guard again - luckily I heard the sound of air rifles (being shot across the track) before I was left to the mercy of whether they had noticed me coming or not!
Leaving the track at Wood Nook, I went along a lane to reach the outskirts of Cudworth and Ring Farm where the magnificent Police Horses were out in the paddocks.  Then it was on the roads briefly before finding the track that leaves Cudworth in the direction of Grimethorpe.  To start with it was lined each side with about every item of household rubbish you can imagine.  But soon I was away from it all again, though only briefly before reaching the devastation of Ferry Moor Land Reclamation Site - rusted steel rods twisting out of half smashed concrete beside pools of water that is just a bit too green to be natural.  Now it was across the bypass and up the hill to find St Luke's where the choir were just getting set up in good time for the 6 o'clock service.
The priest, Father Peter, introduced the service, telling us that the office of Compline is one of the oldest services of the Church, going right back to the early Church itself.  Once the monastic system had developed, with the services of Mattins in the early hours through Lauds, Prime, Sext, None, Terse and Vespers (Evensong), Compline was the final service, "completing" both the day and its cycle of prayer.  Fr Peter had himself lived as a Friar in a Franciscan community for 25 years, singing Compline every night.  Now, however, only his dogs join him for the service on a regular basis and they don't sing, so he says the office instead!  The dogs were present in Church for this particular service, prompting some of the Choir members to ask for a "church dog" too.
The Choir sang beautifully.  The priest followed the service with Benediction and described our visit as "a startling star" in their centenary celebrations.
On leaving the Church, it was one of those really ambient evenings where everything that can absorb the sun's heat is radiating it out again, carrying the scents of blossom and cut grass with extraordinary intensity.  Shirts were off all over the place and someone had carried a settee out into the park, thronged by youngsters.  I decided to go home by a different route along a little track and lane almost to Great Houghton before plunging down through a magnificent beech wood to join another track into Little Houghton.  A tarmac path crossed the river and took me to Darfield.  Here and there the tarmac was worn away to reveal the cobbles of what must have been a much older surface.  It’s quite enchanting to ponder all the little routes like this which must have been so important before we whizzed everywhere in cars.  Unfortunately the path also provided good access for the systematic dismantling and theft of stone from a wall which runs alongside it.
Through Darfield I found another little path along the river that eventually got me to the Dove Valley Trail.  After avoiding another posse of air riflers (one again shooting in a dangerous manner across the track) I was able to get a last burst of speed up to return towards Worsbrough Bridge and finally up Vernon Road and home. 
Now that all the choir have their new robes, perhaps we should save up to buy them each a bike too.  The journey certainly added to my enjoyment of the worship.  Or maybe next time they are out and about you should join them.  If there are no spaces in cars I can always offer a “seater”.

Thursday, 1 April 2004

A whole different Ball Game?

In your opinion, which of the following 5 statements is most similar to the sixth statement? Or, if you are not happy with any of them, think up your own football analogy (or any other for that matter) which is a better 'match'.
1.      Can you be a footballer if you don't believe in grass?
2.      Can you be a footballer if you don't believe in goals?
3.      Can you be a footballer if you don't believe in balls?
4.      Can you be a footballer if you don't believe in the team?
5.      Can you be a footballer if you don't believe in competition?
6.      Can you be a Christian if you don't believe in God?
You may think that the answer is a very obvious 'NO'.  But that is to beg rather a large number of other questions:
What do we mean by 'a Christian'?
If we mean 'someone who believes in God' then the answer to 6 is obvious.
However, many people's normal use of 'Christian' means something like: a person who leads a good life - who is thoughtful, honest, unselfish and generous to others.'  You don't have to believe in God to be that.
Another definition of a Christian, perhaps the most literal one, is: a follower of Christ'.  Sounds promising, but suddenly we are confronted by a host of other puzzles to solve: the four gospels and St Paul all give us differing interpretations of who Jesus was and it's quite possible that they all differ from how Jesus understood himself.  So how are we to interpret him 2000 years later?  And what is the relationship between 'Christ' as worshipped and spoken of by 'the Church' and Jesus of Nazareth, the first century Jew?
The distinctive thing about Jesus was not that he believed in God.  He obviously did, but then so did your average first century Jew.  The distinctive thing about him (in my opinion) was his radical reinterpretation of God's 'kingdom' (as he called it) and therefore his radical reinterpretation of God.  The religious people of his time thought he was going much too far to the point of blasphemy - one of the reasons he ended up on a cross - one that we should never forget.  So, going back to question 6 …
What do we mean by God?
The Almighty - who, as almighty, is presumably behind everything that happens in this world, the evil and the good?
A kind fatherly figure who is there for us and bails us out when we need him (but for some reason occasionally goes off duty while innocent children are suffering!)?
An idea (within our shared consciousness - in other words our language) which holds our highest aspirations?
A way of speaking of the 'Life Force' or the sheer wonder of existence.
The depth dimension within each one of us - our real potential?
The struggle for justice - overturning corrupt power and liberating the oppressed?
The list could go on, but is perhaps best ended with a Chinese proverb:
If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."
In other words, if you think you have finally found the divine - Beware.  It is not the divine that you have found - it can only be an idol which if you embrace it as the final answer will only lead to your ruin.  Our religion is a journey and never a destination (in my opinion!).
Popular forms of religion often seem to have a lot in common with popular forms of superstition.  That is to say that for all their piety and expressed belief, they are actually more about us and our need for security and meaning than anything else.  True belief needs at least a healthy dose of atheism to purify it of all the dross that so easily accumulates. 
Where does all this get us?  It gets me to a point where I want to echo the advertising for the launch BBC4: "Everybody needs a place to think."  I don't want the Church to be a place where we find 'Truth' in an easy to open package.  Instead I want it to be a place where there is space, for everyone who wants it, to think through the questions and issues that are most important to them; where they can do so with the help of the best of the resources available in the Christian tradition and in the company of a community of people who are going to give them honest and loving support.
I hope this article will have provoked some thought and if so I hope they are thoughts that you will pursue.  And I would be interested to hear what you think - whether you think along the same lines I do or not.

Monday, 1 March 2004

For Better or Worse

Don't you hate it when your regular supermarket goes and changes round all the aisles?  I mean, why do they do it when it causes so much confusion and no obvious improvement?
In my childhood we often went on holiday to Scotland.  It was a vast and rugged wilderness in contrast to the homely island of Jersey.  It seemed to take ages to get right up into the Highlands, often travelling on single track roads with some long reverses to the passing places and frequent pauses to avoid the black faced-sheep. 
In our VW Dormobile Camper Van it was sometimes quite a hairy experience, but that just added to the wonderful sense of adventure and remoteness which was what it was all about.
Last time I went to Scotland (on our honeymoon) there were a lot of new roads on the major routes.  The passage had been eased by levelling and blasting so that you can sail along on your way without thinking.  The odd little wiggles of 'old road', scattered disjointedly on either side, gave you just the odd reminder of days gone by.  To me it was an 'improvement' that destroyed part of the spirit that I wanted to remember.
It saddens me when I'm reminded how many species of animals are being brought to the brink of extinction with many of them going further and plunging over the edge.  Modern life has a lot to answer for. 
But perhaps that is a bit of a distorted picture of how things are.  Hasn't it always been the case that species have been dying and new species have been evolving in response to the changing conditions of the environment?  If all the species that have ever existed were still present now (including of course the dinosaurs) then things would be more than a little crowded and probably not very pleasant!
When it seems like all change is for the worse, perhaps we need to look again.  It may well be that everything we hold dear is vanishing.  But maybe those things are irrelevant for the next generation - not because young people in general have no sense of respect or value but rather because a new matrix of value is emerging that is equally valid and more relevant for the times.  Sure enough if your eyes are so trained to see only the old ways then the new will just look like chaos.  But if you put aside your suspicion of chaos (or better still learn to surf it) perhaps all kinds of new patterns will reveal themselves.
So for instance if you're afraid of change in the Church ask yourself the following question: Would you rather the Church becomes extinct when you do just so long as it never changes; or would you rather take the risk of seeing it free to repeatedly die and rise again just as it always has done?

Sunday, 1 February 2004

Opening Up

Sometimes I get the feeling that I'd like to pack in being a Vicar.  (After all, I'm only a fairly normal bloke and still quite young).  In fact for a significant time last year I decided that the time had come. But what with one thing and another, things seem to have fallen back into place and for now at least I suspect that we shall be around for a while yet!
Having thought seriously about leaving and having come back from the brink so to speak has made me appreciate even more the good things about living in Worsbrough.  Here are just two of them: We can walk out of our house and within a few dozen yards be looking out on a view as striking as any you could wish for.  We have a good school for our girls almost literally on the doorstep.
Jemima has been attending the pre-school for 2 months now and absolutely thrives on it.  Imogen is into her second term at nursery and starting to really settle in and gain in confidence.  We have found one of the easiest temptations to a parent - to bombard a child with questions as soon as you pick them up from school: What have you been doing? Who did you play with? Did you drink your milk? Bang! Bang! Bang!  I suppose it's only because you care so much as a parent that you forget so completely how tiresome it was to be pestered in such a way by your own parents.  The effect is often to silence a child completely.
I'm a great believer in questions - there is nothing more important but it's also important how you pose them.  They can be tools for liberation but can also feel like instruments of control.
I'm trying, with Imogen, to use the phrase I wonder.  "I wonder if there were biscuits for snacks today." - appearing not to mind whether she is even listening or not.  Almost every time she is in there like a shot confirming or better still putting me right.
The great thing about the view in Worsbrough is the sense of openness and space that it brings.  Good questions bring the same sort of freedom.  I get disillusioned with the Church when it seems to be a closed shop, when it's doctrines seem designed to control and manipulate the way we think.  However, on my good days I'm committed to believing that it doesn't have to be and mustn't be that way.
It was a year and a half later that I finally did move on!