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Diary: Robert Mackley

17 October 2014


Metal cladding

MY CHURCH is covered in scaffolding. This is not a euphemism, or one of those coded remarks one hears in spy films ("The eagle has landed," and so on). No, the church of which I am Vicar is thoroughly clad in scaffolding. And it is not a pretty sight.

Not only is there scaffolding all the way round and right up to the roof, but the bottom two layers are surrounded with metal sheets to stop drunken students (and clergy, probably) climbing all over it in the middle of the night.

That said, it is not so much their climbing over it that is the problem as much as their falling off it, and then suing me. I've been tempted to erect a sign, warning potential mountaineers that the cost of putting up these wretched rails and wooden boards means that, should they fall off, there is no money left with which to compensate them; so don't even bother.

I fear that that's not quite in keeping with the spirit of a parish church, however. 

False façade

IT CERTAINLY makes the place look gritty and urban. I keep wondering about asking the Church Urban Fund for a grant, or taking photos and impressing people who don't know the area with the sexiness of my Urban Priority Area parish.

The curate and I have been amusing ourselves pretending that we are working in some grim and crime-ridden part of the Bronx: a combination of Rev and The Wire. Despite the ugliness of my church exterior, however, this won't wash. The builders have been exceedingly polite, the college next door is generously contributing towards our costs, and even a bride - whose picturesque wedding day was ruined by my building works - was understanding.

When the main contributions at your harvest festival take the form of wholemeal pasta and organic chickpeas, it is difficult to claim much of a slum ministry: more Waitrose than The Wire

Centred thoughts

IF I were the kind of mission-shaped fresh-expression pioneer that every priest needs to be in our modern Church of England, I would be looking at ways of making this scaffolding a part of our evangelism. More zealous pastors than me would be holding Messy Church sessions on the newly accessible roof, and Café Church on the second floor of the scaffolding.

I did briefly ponder giving benediction from the top, but the chances of my climbing up there with the Sacrament and a cope and coming away unscathed are pretty minimal. I blame my backward diocese: if Ely had an official labyrinth adviser, as I discovered recently the diocese of Oxford has, then the spiritually hungry denizens of Cambridge would be flocking to use my eight-foot metal bars in new and creative ways.

Indeed, my scaffolding would be much more of a genuinely Anglican labyrinth than those that are found at retreat houses, because on mine you just walk round and round and never make progress to any sort of centre at all. Very Church of England. 

Always a silver lining

A BRIEF respite from my position as Clerk of Works and Chief Labyrinther was provided last week by the triennial diocesan clergy conference. Ever green, the diocese organised coaches to take us to the five-star hotel and country club that is the Christian Conference Centre at Swanwick, in Derbyshire.

Actually, to be fair, the place is a sight better than it used to be. I remember when I was in Liverpool diocese the older clergy recalled going there in the 1950s, when it was not clear that it was no longer fulfilling its Second World War function as an internment camp.

On the contrary: we had Wi-Fi, en-suite rooms, and a well-stocked bar. The coffee had more than a taste of the era of rationing about it; but you can't have everything, and at least it meant that my caffeine intake declined for three days.

For our convenience

IN PREVIOUS clergy-conference experiences, my heart has almost instantly sunk, and I have had to take refuge in booze and an early departure. The provision of coaches meant that we were stuck there, come what may (I'm not convinced that this had been unforeseen by the planners), and the bar was not open for prolonged periods.

Happily, however, our conference was rather good. Unlike one conference that I attended, where there were seven (yes, seven) options for morning prayer, as the planners abandoned any idea of our worshipping in common, here we simply had the Offices, and holy communion in a straightforward fashion.

It was good; it gave us all a chance to say our prayers together, and provided some typographical moments for our amusement, not least the invitation to "Praise the mane of the Lord." I should have guessed that not only are my theological views unfashionable, but even my baldness sits ill with the Zeitgeist. Beyond this, we had some excellent Bible studies, led by someone who actually knew things about the Bible, and a profound talk from the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams on memory and identity.

We cheered two priests who reported managing to install no fewer than ten lavatories between them in their various parishes (this is no small achievement, as rural readers will confirm), but many of the clergy were prevented from learning how to follow suit by the timetabling of that presentation against the meeting of the Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.

Restraining myself from observing that perhaps the Low Church felt that its song and hymn collections were such effective ways of disposing of rubbish that water closets were unnecessary, I maintained a dignified silence. When it was discovered that the Vicar of Soham had had his guitar stolen from the chapel, I worried that not everyone agreed, and that some lavatory hit-squad was now determined to eliminate any distraction from the installation of appropriate facilities across the diocese.

So, if you find your worship band's equipment has been decimated in the middle of the night and replaced with a ballcock, cistern, and flush pipe, you'll know why.

The Revd Robert Mackley is Vicar of Little St Mary's, Cambridge.


Thu 26 May @ 17:36
Book club: Stephen Brown on Marilynne Robinson’s Jack, the fourth novel in her Gilead quartet https://t.co/ucVu5dIRyY

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