THE UPSIDE (well – of course there’s an upside!) to Cumbria’s being under grey cloud is that one can feel more than usually justified just sitting next to the log stove with a tottering pile of books and a steaming cup of coffee. Life’s not all bad, eh?
GEORGE FARNWORTH was my barber and friend in boyhood. He asked me one day when I was 8 years old what I hoped to do with my life. When I told him that I hoped to be a priest he exclaimed “Well well, Mr Marsh, you and I will be doing the same job then!” It was certainly true that I talked to George Farnworth about everything under the sun throughout my formative years, and I do indeed remember him in much the same way as I remember my boyhood parish priests.
You can’t beat a good barber, which may explain my frequent returning to Robert in Penrith, Cumbria – though my weekday home and work for most of the last 28 years has been in Cheshire, and there’s always, always a queue. Robert set up his business in Penrith on the 3rd August 1957, and has outworked and outstayed every cleric and pretty much every other business in the area. His shop doesn’t open until 8.30am on Saturdays. Officially. But Robert had already trimmed up 2 men before my tardy arrival at just before 8 – each of them having been treated (whether they needed it or not) to his traditional 15 minutes’ worth of absolute attention, and the fascinating experience of Robert’s wielding an old fashioned “cut-throat” razor and thinning scissors with the consummate skill of a man who served a very long apprenticeship, and a lifetime’s work thereafter.
I look and feel considerably tidier now than I did at 8am. Robert and I talked about growing tomatoes, books, Penrith characters, the weather, English breakfasts, even outside loos. And whilst I was mentally totting up the distance between Bramhall and Robert’s Barber Shop in Penrith he somehow happened upon a story about another of his most frequent regulars – who drives down from Perth in Scotland for his 15 minutes! George Farnworth was right.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER – and after decidedly mixed weather, at times really very cold, we’ll be leaving Cumbria bathed in warm sunshine this evening. Dozens of swallows are darting hither and thither above the garden, loud and cheerful birdsong fills the air, and I imagine that the drive South on the M6 will be an altogether pleasant experience. Add to that the reports of the weather forecasters suggesting that summer-like temperatures may return by the end of the week and it feels pretty good to be in England today … even if it may well take a week or two for some of our friends to dry out their Bank Holiday camping equipment!
THE LIGHT IS STRONGER TODAY. Ullswater is high and the deeper blue of lunchtime sky colours the swell of the lake’s surface, whipped as it is by a cold and stiff gale. I’m glad of the colour. The dirtied yellowed hues of winter’s lakeland fells make me yearn for bright new green and the lamb’s wool white of Spring.
This past winter’s depths have been harsh and powerful here. Attempts have been made at Glenridding spit to divert the river’s flood, but even huge boulders have been persuaded to yield by powerful current, and frost and flood have left their mark on lake-side road and pier-house.
But the light is stronger and longer today. When the wind quite suddenly slows, and the high cloud breaks, and the sunlight chases the gloom across the heights and the lows, hope grows. We’ll be warmed and coaxed and brought alive into Spring again. Soon.
BLOGGING JUST FLOWS SOMETIMES. At other times it’s floods of words that overwhelm. It’s as well that God, the Word we know in Jesus, is content to keep silence alongside us. It’s the silence, sometimes, that assures us of the presence of a saviour. It’s in the silent spaces in our worship here that I most fully sense a redeemer.
And – God help us – we need a saviour. We need redeeming. So much of the Church’s conversation in recent months has embarrassed me. Who’s in and who’s out? Who’ll “stay” and who’ll “go”? “Who is on the Lord’s side?” – and who’s not. When may we turn a blind eye to persecution and when not.
I know I’m not alone in having wondered whether anyone in the Church reckons to take gospel – good news – seriously anymore? In the contemporary Church it’s all too easy to find oneself marooned on an island in the midst of an ocean of cruel words. Where’s the gospel to be seen and heard? Where’s the good news for all humankind?
Jesus spoke and still speaks of good news for everyone: whatever the colour of their skin, or the name of their place of birth. Male, female, straight or gay. From East and West, from North and South, people matter before all else to Jesus. His religious certainties were bound up, every one of them, in the confident proclamation that God’s love must prevail.
What will help to grow God’s kingdom of peace? Running dangerously close to adopting mere modern management language our parish and diocese are currently engaged in a process called Growth Action Planning - or GAP for short. Other parishes and other dioceses are engaged in similar exercises that they’re calling Mission Action Planning – or MAP.
GAP or MAP amount to the same thing. Where’s the gap between what we are and what we’re called to be, and is there a map that’ll show us the way out of the ecclesiastical impasse the Church at home and abroad seems currently to be embedded in. God lives in his people, in the whole of Creation.
How might we clear the way in order that we may the more readily recognise divine presence in one another? How may we engage in the kind of Growth Action Planning that Jesus led the way in amongst his contemporaries on earth 2000 years ago? How may we “give God worth” (worship) in one another instead of being an embarrassment – perpetually washing dirty linen before a by now largely uninterested public?
Oddly, and not for the first time, the gap is seen to be closing in parts of Cumbria this week. There’s not much talk in Workington or in Cockermouth today about “the gay debate” or women’s ordination. Not much talk about getting “bums on pews” or the rights and wrongs of a million religious views. But there is something of a Communion to be celebrated. Food and drink – “bread and wine” are being shared by and amongst a people whose priorities have been changed.
Christmas shopping has given way to clean-up operations. Who’s in and who’s out are non-issues. Flooded by words as well as by water there’s a sense of the fragility of human life. The Christmas Tree stands battered and without lights. Modern day Noah stands battered but illuminated from within. In a police officer’s life given up for the lives of others, in the fearful bravery and selflessness of dozens and dozens of “ordinary” human redeemers, olive branches are brought home to the ark builders.
Ways will be found to rebuild bridges … and in more ways and in more times and places than just one. Here is Love. Here is gospel. Here are redeemers. Here are people BEING what Jesus Christ inspired his disciples to be. Mind the GAP. Dangerous gaps are to be found wherever we question “who’s in and who’s out”, wherever we’re too quick to denounce the lives of others as “the work of Satan”.
If there’s not room in the loving embrace of God for all of us there’s no room in the divine embrace for any of us. As it is, by divine providence, any who need to eat of bread or to drink from a cup, any, that is to say who are alive and human in this world, have access to Communion. That’s God’s answer. That’s God’s Growth Action Planning … something plainly recognisable in many faith traditions. Something plainly recognisable in the marvellous and extraordinary gift of human life generally. And it closes the gap.
THERE ARE SOME TRULY LOVELY PEOPLE in this world! Yesterday we worked flat out to be ready for the removal men coming this morning. We crawled to a Premier Inn in Carlisle in a state of near collapse. Let it go on record that Friday night’s receptionist, just off Junction 42, deserves a medal for sheer friendliness, efficiency and understanding. But so do the enthusiastic young team who were running the Broken Gate next door, where the excellent bar meal we enjoyed stiffened our resolve to complete today’s removal within the day … and be back in Bramhall for Sunday services on the morrow.
Slept like logs. Up bright and early to be in Greystoke to greet White & Co with the van. At 7.20am we found builder Ian Curry had beaten us to it. The boss himself was on hand to make sure that all would run smoothly. And I’ve said before that there’s not a member of his team, nor architect (Stephen Crichton), nor structural engineer (Ted Slater), nor Steve and Dave from Caldew Kitchens, nor anyone else who’s worked on our little project who hasn’t put heart and soul into it. Now this is not meant to sound like an advert … though I’d happily name any and all of our team for interested parties … but it is meant to be a joyful acknowledgement that in the midst of recession, health scares and a general dose of greyness in the UK – there are nevertheless some really wonderful people going about their daily business. And they make life doubly worth the living. May they know that they’re warmly appreciated.
… UP AND DOWN THE RAMP of a (post-subsidence) removals van at our bolt-hole in Cumbria. Thanks to the builders, and a noisy hooray!
BUILDERS ARE NEARLY FINISHED at our little home-from-(God-willing-future-retirement)-home in Cumbria. We moved out last October to make way for a dedicated team of builders who’ve taken the place apart (in the wake of subsidence) and then painstakingly put it back together again. Never again, we pray! Home turned upside down is a traumatic experience – even though we’re privileged to spend our working week in an altogether very pleasant vicarage. I’m afraid I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to dust, dirt and disarray. My heart will soar when the dust covers and the plastic sheets are finally folded away and peace reigns once more. All of which reminds me to be extremely grateful for those who work amongst dust and disorder every day of their lives so that others may “dwell in peace”. Many services, without whom …
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY makes Jack a dull boy. So, after a (super) wedding on Saturday and 4 services on Sunday, Jack and Jill went up the hill to see how the builders are getting on at their beloved house in Cumbria. It was last October that we had to abandon ship to make way for a team of under-pinning mini-pilers to combat the effects of subsidence, and subsequent renovations that had begun life – when we bought the dear little cottage back in 2004 – with our vaguely contemplating perhaps having a new hearth rug! Ah well. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that. We didn’t realise, though, how agonising the waiting game would be. Today however appeared to be the day! A convergence of all trades made for a hive of activity. Architect and builder, electrician, joiner, kitchen fitters, plumber and tilers. A new and glorious day is on its way, and we’re marvelling at how these talented guys have brought it all together. Now Jack and Jill just have to pay the bill ;D