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.
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
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
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
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
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
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,