Carol Services at Ely

December 13, 2007

The Ely Standard announces the welcome news that this year there will be two Carol Services at the Cathedral, on December 23rd and 24th. This is very encouraging.

Apparently last year the Cathedral had to turn people away because it was full. This has led the authorities to plan two services.

Although a relatively recent innovation in the history of worship carol Services have a popularity comparable to the English public’s love of Harvest Festival. Nowadays Carol Services take many different forms, depending on location and circumstance. A Cathedral Carol service is probably the apex of the formal and traditional form, and has much to commend it.

At the same time in a generation when people are talking of ‘Fresh Expressions’ of worship, and ways in which to engage the unchurched, or those on the fringe, it is to be hoped that some creative thought is given to how the Carol Service adapts to different generation. Also, with so many attending, it is to be hoped that this is also seen as a way to encourage further commitment to worship. A simple invtiation to attend one’s parish church could be included on the order of service. A web reference could help people to find out more about their local church. A dedicated e-mail address could be published for people to comment about the experience of attending, and such comments could be collected for the Dean to consider. The Diocesan mission team could, no doubt, be asked for further suggestions – which would not change the worship but would also help develop christian faith and commitment.

Once again congratulations to Ely Cathedral for their work in drawing people to their worship, and serving the diocese well.


Harvest Festival – a popular festival

October 19, 2007

Harvest Festival Songs of Praise last Sunday evening in Ely Cathedral was an uplifting and impressive act of worship. The Cathedral had been wonderfully decorated for the occasion. The range of autumnal colours was most impressive. The worship blended traditional and modern. The event was not nostalgic. It appealed to both young and old. Harvest gifts were presented in style.

Harvest Festival remains a popular event in the calendar of many churches and schools. People clearly understand what it is about – giving thanks for food and creation. No other church festival does this so clearly. The obvious connection between presenting gifts and the Eucharist means that this festival can encourage Eucharistic worship and Eucharistic living.

It is therefore unfortunate if unimaginative clergy pour scorn on this popular festival. Harvest is a festival to which people can be easily invited and thus become a special service of welcome or evangelism. I suspect more people will make the effort to come to church for Harvest than will for, say, the Feast of St Philip and St James.

At a time when the Church of England is looking at the connection between its worship and the culture of the people it may be appropriate for a fresh look at harvest. The liturgical books of the Church of England could produce more provision and ideas for observing this festival.

Ely Cathedral are to be congratulated for their hard work and example in working with, rather than against, this popular English festival.

A Visit to St Mary’s, Primrose Hill

October 8, 2007

A couple of former students recently took me to the outstanding ‘First Emperor’ exhibition at the British Museum. As they lived near Hampstead, and had invited me for afternoon tea, I prevailed upon them to take me to visit St Mary’s, Primrose Hill.

It was a weekday afternoon, and what a pleasure to find the church open and being used. A class of primary school children was visiting, and other people were coming and going. I had visited the church many many years ago when the hymnwright George Timms was vicar. It now seemed quite different, and frankly more alive and less stuffy.

The church is actively reaching out to the local community, there was much reference to local schools, ‘All age worship’ is included in the parish schedule of worship and a Fresh Expressions form of worship has been introduced. Work with children seems to be a priority, and there was a lovely children’s area.

The church once had a reputation of being the Dearmer Parson’s Handbook flagship. As such it was visited by liturgical archaelogists. It was very refreshing to note that today there is very little of that arcane approach favoured by a certain type of single gentleman, who delights in liturgical minutiae at the expense of mission and outreach. (An approach Dearmer would surely have questioned).

Indeed it was good to note that most of the church officers came from the locality, only the head server comes from afar, and, curiously his photograph, of a rather unkempt gentleman, was in black and white whilst others were in colour – almost suggesting he belonged to a bygone era of the church.

The church had a feel of being a place of brightness, life and sincere worship, but also one which felt homely and used – a place where all felt welcome. The pool table in the aisle, and the tapestry covered sofa nearby supported the homely atmosphere.

One couldn’t help feeling the altar and chancel nowadays seems rather distant, a nave altar may be an asset.

The parish magazine, though well produced did not quite have the vigour and freshness which prevailed in the church itself, that was unfortunate, perhaps the editorial team could review content. Input from children and young people would be appropriate. Information about the Fresh Expressions ministry should be included. There was also some slight inconsistency about weekday worship times in different parts of the magazine.

In summary:

Well done to the priests and people of St Mary’s, Primrose Hill for creating a welcoming parish based church which preserves dignity and hospitality.


Canon Woolley’s Revenge

August 6, 2007

There have been several burglaries in Cambridgeshire churches recently.

The Cambridge Evening News reports that at Holy Trinity Church, Balsham, £1,000 worth of damage was done. That is sad, and the parishioners of Balsham must be upset. However, as many householders know, far more than £1,000 worth of damage can be, and often is, done by burglars.

The reaction to the burglary of Canon Francis Woolley, Rector of Balsham, is both intemperate and unbecoming. He is quoted as stating, “They are probably drug addicts looking for money, but if you ask me they should be shot.”

One would expect a more moderate view from a senior priest, and also one would expect much more care when speaking to the press.

Does the Rector of Balsham really believe that those who are unfortunate enough to be drug addicts should be shot, or should execution be only for those who do £1,000 worth of damage and are drug addicts?

Several years ago Canon Woolley signed the Inclusive Church petition. One cannot help but feel a sense of irony. Perhaps the Rector believes that drug addicts who do damage to churches should not be included in the Church, they should, instead, be shot.

Will the Diocese of Ely issue a more moderate statement, or is the view of this Honorary Canon of Ely Cathedral the last word from a church authority on the matter? One would hope that the Bishop, or the Archdeacon, would now issue a more sensible balanced comment.

Canon Woolley’s foolish comment cannot surely be ignored by the church hierarchy.


Bishop Inge

July 30, 2007

Bishop John Inge, currently Bishop of Huntingdon is to be the new Bishop of Worcester.

The appointment brings to Worcester a relatively young Diocesan Bishop. Worcester Cathedral has also had recently appointed to it a relatively young Dean. Such appointments inevitably raise questions. How long will the people be there? Bishop Inge could hold this appointment for 18 years.

Bishop Inge’s career in the Church of England is slightly unusual. He is not a graduate of Oxford or Cambridge, and so will be in a minority among the diocesan bishops. He did not serve traditional curacies – being instead chaplains at private schools. His experience in parishes has been short (six years in one parish).

Bishop Inge will be a bishop who will be prepared to work in a team, and who will listen to the advice of others. His international interests will bring much to Worcester, and he will now have a larger platform to speak of injustice in our world. Bishop Inge is familiar with the Catholic tradition of the Church of England, while also supporting the evangelical wing.

Ely will now await the appointment of a new suffragan. In recent years the suffragans in Ely have varied in their gifts and this is to be welcomed. Bishop Gordon Roe was a popular, friendly and holy man. Bishop John Flack had deep pastoral experience and clear presence. Together with Bishop Inge they held a more Catholic than Evangelical position.

Perhaps the time has now come for a modern evangelical to be appointed to be Bishop of Huntingdon – someone with wide parish experience, and who can take some of the establisment aspects of this role sympathetically but lightly. Appointments to this post have usually been from outside the diocese, and this would be advisable for this next appointment. Perhaps someone who has proven experience of innovative Fresh Expressions of Church could be considered.

Canon Christine Sindall

July 6, 2007

Canon Christine Sindall is retiring. The Cambridge Evening news has details of the retirement.

Originally from West London Christine Sindall came to Cambridgeshire in 1969. She had felt a call to ministry at an early age – 13 years old. In 1987 she became one of the first women deacons in the Church of England. After working in Cambridge she became Vicar of Cheveley, from where she has recently retired after eleven years of faithful ministry. She has also been a careful and respected Rural Dean in the slightly remote Linton deanery. She has been appreciated for her role as Bishop’s Adviser in Women’s Ministry.

Canon Sindall worked in a difficult period for women priests – when many needed to be persuaded about the appropriateness of women priests. In rural Cambridgeshire the issue was never a theological one, but rather about accommodating change in a traditional millieu. Through her love of parochial pastoral ministry and her dedication to her work Canon Sindall convinced many of the value of ordaining women as priests.

Undoubtedly some militant campaigners were needed to further the cause of women’s ministry in the early days, but at the same time what was also needed was women priests of prayer and dedicated pastoral care. Canon Sindall was one of the these and her solid faithful ministry will be missed in Ely Diocese. I hope she, and Dennis, enjoy their retirement in the north of England, they will now have more time for gardening and reading.


Innovative Worship at St Edward’s, Cambridge

July 5, 2007

The efforts by the Church of England to proclaim afresh the inherited faith are encouraging and innovative in many places. In some places they go under the name of Fresh Expressions or are related to Mission Shaped Church.

Inevitably this trial period will bring some initiatives which are short lived, and some which are of lasting value. I am particularly impressed by the Fresh Expressions initiative, which seeks to develop church, in addition to, and away from, the traditional places and times of church.

At first I was anxious that such initiatives would undervalue those treasures in our store which are old and honoured, and which are still valued today in many places. My fear was that the richness and challenge of the Anglican tradition would be watered down in favour of ‘Family Service’ type activities. I am discovering that I need not have been so worried.

I am greatly impressed by the work being done in this area by St Edward’s Church, Cambridge. This small and distinctive church in the centre of Cambridge has a special part in the history of the Church in Cambridge, not least because of its role in the Reformation.

Today interesting and gently pioneering work is being done to present liturgy, and faith, in ways which are engaging to people of all generations. At the same time traditional Book of Common Prayer worship is also held. Once a month Odyssey attempts to link Spirituality with contemporary challenge. Other style of worship includes Silence, Taize and other style music, light and incense combining to form a gentle Meditative Eucharist – one of which is sensibly held at the end of the working week at 5.30pm on a Friday. The Goth Eucharist is a splendid innovation.

If, like me, you have visited St Edward’s recently you will have found it to be an open friendly place, and this beautiful traditional building in the heart of Cambridge retains its peaceful, homely and spiritual atmosphere.

Congratulations St Edward’s! May your inspiring work continue. Not everything St Edward’s do would work outside city centre Cambridge, but the themes and ideas with which you experiment, and the spirituality and intellectual pursuit you encourage should stimulate ventures elsewhere.

The St Edward’s approach to Fresh Expressions gives that initiative substance and stature.


Worse than oaths at Trumpington

June 25, 2007

The sad disagreements between the vicar and some parishioners at Trumpington at first seem another sad parochial story. The vicar, Dr Ambrose, appears to want to innovate, others in Trumpington seemed determined to resist at any cost.

And it is at any cost. The dispute is moving from the parish stage to a larger Church of England stage. The Bishop of Ely has directed that a ‘provincial tribunal’ be formed to advise him. The immediate legal costs are estimated at £150,000, for this, and some estimates have put the cost at nearer £500,000 when further appeals and hearings are considered.

The story was covered at the end of May in The Times and in early June in the Church Times and more recently and comprehensively in the Cambridge Evening News.

The Cambridge Evening News article includes a long and detailed comment by the Bishop of Ely, who draws attention to the attempts at peace making which have been attempted over the years.

I make no comment on the particular situation at Trumpington, save that I generally find it takes two to argue – I suspect there are faults on both sides. Similarly it takes two to reach a compromise, and make peace.

As a member of the laity I  have three questions;

1) In May 2005 the Bishop of Ely directed that this should go to a provincial tribunal. This tribunal has not yet met. Why not? It surely does not take two years to form a panel and agree a timetable! What stress this must have caused to those involved.

2) The projected cost to the church of the legal process is outrageously large. When parishes are short of clergy this parochial dispute is costing the greater church at least five years of a clergy stipend, and most probably more. Do the warring parties consider this to be good use of the money that parishioners in parishes have put on the plate?

3) Given this dispute is costing the church a lot of energy, time and money, how do those involved intend to give back to the church what their dispute will have taken?


Fonts and water features

June 19, 2007

I am aware that fonts in churches are receiving more attention, and this is to be welcomed. Baptism is an important rite and sacrament and a clean, well attended font helps emphasise this importance. Many people revisit the church where they were baptised and appreciate the font being in good order.

However, I find rather curious the appearance of what could light heartedly be called ‘water features’ in fonts. These are devices with a small motor introduced to create a spray of water or a small fountain, rather like one finds in some garden centres.

Such a feature has now been introduced to the font in Ely Cathedral. It is a small device which makes water flow, and, frankly, does not add to the dignity of the font. It is ugly and incongruent. It would be interesting to know the rationale behind its introduction. Surely flowers and lit candles close to the fiont, and the font simply standing with fresh water in it would be more appropriate and fitting. I was pleased to discover I am not alone in my dislike of Ely Cathedral’s water feature in the font – a senior member of the clergy described it in my hearing as “totally naff.”


Things fall apart

May 25, 2007

It would seem that the tensions found in the Anglican Communion as a whole are also found locally in England – not least in the colleges where ordinands are prepared for ordained ministry.

The events at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford make puzzling reading, and if true seem to suggest in some areas Church of England ordinands are stepping back in time and into old disputes. It certainly appears that the conservative evangelical movement is divided.

  • Whenever recently, apart from at Wycliffe, has there been a move to stop women teaching in colleges?

The confusing arguement over the nature of the atonement seems to have confirmed what many had begun to think – Oak Hill College is an extremists’ college.

  • What steps do Bishops take to prevent colleges becoming too polarised?

And at the other end of things – it appears some gay male ordinands at Westcott House in Cambridge are falling out with one another over their boyfriends – a recent falling out even resulted in fisticuffs! It is said in Cambridge that at Westcott House the gay male ordinands deliberately choose to go on a placement in the north, in Manchester, to enjoy the delights of the gay community there.

  • Are there guidelines or rules about the appropriate behaviour of those training for the church’s ministry?

The Church of England is a very varied place indeed! However, reflecting on these incidents one cannot help but wonder whether in the world of the Church of England colleges, at least, to quote Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

I tend to the view that extreme liberals and extreme conservatives are not prepared to listen to different views, and have created their own little safety zones from which they “shout the odds.” The church is much bigger than the sum of these little safety zones.

To quote Yeats again, and from the same, wonderful poem:

The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.