Tuesday, 29 May 2007

The calm after the storm

Early morning, with a clear blue sky and sunshine stroking the tops of the trees that line the hill at the back of my friends' house. A big change from yesterday when the wind was gusting and the rain falling. It was a typical "wet Whitsun" Bank Holiday Monday.

The local Sainsbury's in Newhaven was heaving yesterday morning when I went in for essential supplies - Tarte au Citron, roast vegetable crisps, and a bottle of Raspberry and Wild Lavender presse - queues at the Checkouts 6 deep, and very narrow spaces in the car park outside. But I had to go, since even though I had been told that I didn't need to take anything to the lunch we were going to, one can't arrive empty-handed.

Needless to say, we didn't sit out in the garden and eat under the gazebo that was threatening to take to the skies and fly away over the South Downs. Instead we sat in the conservatory and nattered and ate and drank, though not neccessarily in that order. I probably had about three glasses of red wine too many, but they did complement the rather fine and ancient Brie and fragrant Dolcelatte.

So later on this morning I shall leave the salt air and rolling Downs and head back to the flat farmland of the Waveney river. I shall not drive down to Newhaven docks and jump on a Transmanche Ferry for France. (I didn't bring my passport with me!) I shan't even go into Brighton and ferret through the local postcards in the main Collector's shop. (The last time I looked my collection was better than theirs!) Instead I shall drive through the Cuilfail Tunnel into Lewes, head up to Royal Tunbridge Wells, and then onto the dreaded M25 for the Dartford Crossing. Once north of the Thames it's the long slog north-east through Essex and into Suffolk, and I usually take a break at Ipswich at the large Tesco's at Copdock. (Average coffee but the opportunity to buy supplies for supper.) Another hour after that and I should be back in "The Saints".

It's a busy mobile world. There are still a few people in the 11 Saintly parishes who have never travelled out of the area in which they were born. Perhaps it would do us who travel without much thought good to stop and look with new eyes where we actually are once in a while. We might hear that "still small voice" that speaks in the silence.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Listen to the pouring rain

One of my favourite songs from the great Jose Feliciano, and it always comes to mind when I sit, as I am tonight, listening to heavy rain thundering on the roof. I'm not at home tonight, but staying a couple of days with friends down on the south coast, and it's pouring, monsoon-like.

Growing up in Brighton I loved the south-westerly gales that would sweep in, the howling wind funneling up the sea-front streets making it difficult to stay upright, and the driving salt-tainted rain running down the windows of my flat, situated on the top floor of a three-storey terraced house overlooking the playing fields of Brighton College.

I just like extremes of weather, which is why I'm a Thunderstorm Observer for TORRO, and why climate change interests me. I will sit outside under the shelter of a porch and watch lightning. I will gaze out of the window watching the growing flood over the gravelled area in front of the village church that we've nicknamed "Brighton Beach". I will watch the clouds for evidence of tornado formation, and have seen the embryonic swirling that has about 20 minutes later produced a waterspout off Lowestoft.

So the rain continues to hammer on the roof tonight and gurgle loudly in the overflowing gutters ... just the sort of lullaby I like.

Thursday, 24 May 2007


Back in the early 1970’s, when I was at Teacher Training College in Northumberland, I had a poster on my wall that was very popular at the time.

The more I learn the more I know
The more I know the more I forget
The more I forget the less I know
So why learn??

It seemed then, and to an extent still seems now, to capture something of the dilemma of learning. Why do we continually push ourselves to learn more, be it about a specific subject in a formal setting, or just in the realms of life experience, such as travelling and seeing new sights? Clearly something in our nature is inquisitive. Something in our make-up wants to know the answer to, as Douglas Adams put it, “Life, the universe, and everything.”

Of course, if you’re a reader of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” you’ll know that the answer is 42. I always found it rather interesting that in the 1980 Alternative Service Book, paragraph 42 was The Lord’s Prayer. The answer to everything? The New Testament would have us believe so.

Yet away from the more esoteric questioning, some of us are periodically driven to study for learning’s sake. Two years ago I did a home-study course on Interior Design, and gained the equivalent of another “A Level”. Now I’ve embarked on a 12-week OU course on “Writing Family History”. The time required is more intense than that asked for by the Design course, but it’s just as rewarding. Currently I’m working through how to interpret the bare bones of Census Records and Birth, Marriage and Death certificates. To a certain extent I know what the certificates contain since I complete Marriage documentation several times each year, and I’ve seen enough of the other two types to know what to look for. When it comes to the Census records though I’ve learnt about the different methods that were used to record the information since the first one was taken at the start of the 19th century, and what you can deduce from entries and omissions. It’s really quite interesting, and a bit challenging. And although this isn’t going to get me a qualification at the end, apart from 10 points towards a Degree, the reason I signed up for it, and paid the fee, was that I felt I needed a bit of a challenge that was outside of my sphere of work. I suppose it’s the equivalent of getting in the car and going out for a long drive to pastures new. And with three holiday days this week, I’ve been able to get down to it in a systematic fashion.

Whether I still feel like this when my first Assignment is due in a couple of weeks, we’ll see.

Must go - the sausage casserole is ready.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

A time for meetings and a time for life

Some weeks since I posted to this Blog, and no excuse except that I’ve been busy. Post-Easter should be a time when things get easier, but with all the Annual Meetings to be held before the close of April, I was rarely at home in the evenings for the last fortnight of the month. Now these are all over for another 12 months, the pressure is off slightly, which is just as well as I have just begun a 12-week Open University course on “Writing Family History”. This is the first time I have studied with the OU, and I thought that a short course such as this would be a good introduction to their way of doing things and the commitment involved. I’ve managed to install the software required, have “logged on” to the OU course site, and made sure that I am able to successfully send my Assignments electronically. I’ve also looked in on the “Forum” as there are 5 “on-line” Tutorials that I should interact with, one every fortnight. I’m working my way through Block 1 of the material and am finding it quite interesting. If I complete it successfully I don’t get anything other than 10 points towards a Degree and the personal satisfaction of having kick-started my brain into studying mode again.

On the Benefice front, one of our churches is currently the target for thieves who are systematically stripping the lead from the nave roof. They have already paid us two visits and I suspect they will return again to this “soft target” which is somewhat isolated and with no over-looking neighbours. Not a lot we can do about this except leave it in the hands of the Lord and the local constabulary. Even if they are not brought to justice in the here and now, they will have to account for their actions at a later and final date. For us, it’s just a reminder that our buildings are but the outward visible sign of the invisible true church.

For a short time in the late 1970’s I attended a gathering known as “The Invisible Church” that met in Earl’s Court, London. At first sight it seemed a standard evangelical “free” church, and I enjoyed the worship times I managed to get to, but that little warning bells began to ring as the longer-term members started to talk about their pastor, Nelson. In conversation it was “Nelson says this”, and “Nelson says that we should…” Rarely were the phrases “The Gospel says …” or “Jesus told us that …” used. It became clear that Nelson was the final arbiter of what was said and thought for the members of this church, and so I left.

At the time I was working in Kilburn and commuting up and down from my flat in Brighton every day. I usually caught the 5.50 p.m. train from Victoria, but on the Tuesday evenings when I went across to the Invisible Church in Earl’s Court, I got the later train at around, as far as my memory serves, 10.15 p.m. This particular night in mid-December I was caught in conversation at the close of the church meeting, and consequently I was late arriving at Victoria. I ran onto the concourse to see my train just pulling out of the station, and I had to wait for the next one at just after 11.00 p.m. I got onto it and we set off down to the coast. About half-way through the hour-long journey the train stopped, and we sat there for about half-an-hour wondering what was causing the delay. Then the guard came through the compartments telling us that there had been an “incident” on the line ahead of us and that we would have to take an alternative route into Brighton. This extended journey took us to Lewes where we arrived at half-past midnight, to find a platform full of stranded travellers. They boarded our train and we got into Brighton station at about 1.10 a.m.

The next morning I woke to the news that a train from London had crashed at the Clayton tunnel, and there had been several fatalities in the front coaches. I realised that this was the train I had run for at Victoria, and missed. I usually sat in the front section of the train so that the walk down Brighton platform was shorter, and if I had caught that train I would have been involved in the accident.
Everything has its reason, and I look back on my fleeting involvement with the Invisible church with mixed feelings. If I hadn’t been going there in the first place, I would not have been catching the later train. But having gone, I could see there was a reason why I was delayed that particular evening. What this has done is not only give me a sense of the leading and provision of God’s care for us, but also it has taught me not to accept without question the underlying practices of any church, peripheral or mainstream.

Currently I am suspicious of the recent consecrations of hundreds of bishops in Nigeria, and the intention of that church to send 120 bishops to the next Lambeth conference. This will mean that their particular take on scriptural interpretation and human sexuality will be out of proportion to the voices of those who accept human difference as part and parcel of what it means to be human.

We’ll wait and see.