Let there be light
DEUTERONOMY records that Moses died aged 120, “his sight unimpared and his vigour unabated”. Pull the other one, chronicler. Unless he was immortal, his eyesight, while doubtless remarkable, will have begun to decline slightly when he passed 50, like all the rest of us. Which is why lighting in churches — where, it must be conceded most us are well past 50, never mind 140 — is so important.
Beautiful stained-glass windows are all very well, but the best ones were installed in days when the congregation was not required to read anything, and the priest knew it all by heart, even in Latin. Of course, we now have electric lighting, but lamps 20 feet above our heads are too distant, and often too weak, adequately to combat on behalf of older eyes the reverential darkness of most churches at this time of the year.
At a church where I sometimes minister, I drew the churchwarden’s attention to the sepulchral gloom in the sanctuary on a bleak day, recently. He directed my attention to a light far above our heads. It was the one meant to light up the sanctuary, but, he pointed out, the bulb had gone, and changing it had proved very “challenging”, to use the current cliché.
Even the usual contractors jibbed at doing it, muttering darkly about “health and safety”. He helpfully suggested that the church might invest in a reading lamp for the celebrant, which was thoughtful.
I am keenly aware how crucial light is to fading eyes — indeed, there is a splendid company, Serious Readers (www.seriousreaders.com), which deals exclusively with this problem. They research, make, and maintain a range of effective lamps for older people, or those with macular degeneration. I have benefited from their advice and practical help in finding lighting that makes reading a book a pleasure once again. But I can’t take it to church with me — the lamp, I mean, not the book.
ON A visit to Nottingham to spend a day with a friend and former colleague, she took me for lunch to what is surely a unique pub and grill, the Malt Cross, in St James’s Street, in the heart of the city.
It is a Grade II listed building, once a Victorian music hall, which was one of the last to close. It still features the dress circle and the boxes where former generations sang “My old man said ‘Follow the van’”. But that, while a colourful part of Nottingham’s cultural heritage, is not its unique feature. Since 2003, it has been owned and run by a consortium of city-centre churches, as a project to “improve the quality of Nottingham’s night-life”.
The food was good, and the wine excellent, but it was this ambitious project that made the visit memorable.
Low key but high level
EVERY Friday and Saturday night, an estimated 30-40,000 people converge on Nottingham city centre, intent on having a good time, which inevitably seems to require the consumption of vast quantities of alcohol.
The consequences are obvious and predictable. The ambulance service and the police are at full stretch, and so is the Malt Cross project. Seventy Street Pastors are in the city centre from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., complementing the work of paramedics and police in coping with people, mostly young, who are at risk or seriously ill. Their pub provides a base where people can recover and be helped to get home safely.
At a simpler level, in the past 12 months, they have also given away 1200 bottles of water. Financed partly by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, they provide “homeless survival packs”, first aid, and long-term help with drug and alcohol problems. While all of this is going on, the Malt Cross still functions as a pub and grill, offering good food and responsibly monitored drinking.
The charity describes itself as offering a “low-key” Christian contribution to the life of the city. For me, Malt Cross provides high-level Christian commitment.
MESSY CHURCH has been highly successful in creating ways in which children can experience worship as fun. I understand that, now, the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF), which brought us Messy Church, is working on a similar project for the other end of life: Messy Vintage (News, 18 August).
I am not sure that my rather cautious generation is entirely ready for it, but the BRF describes it as “creative and celebratory . . . bringing all ages together”. That sounds good to me; so let me contribute a few suggestions for fresh, creative, and inclusive elements in parish worship which might be fun for veteran churchgoers.
At the start of the service, we could have a communal sit-down of the over-seventies, orchestrated to ensure that, as bottoms touch pews, there is a deeply satisfying gasp of relief. Then there could be “Guess the number of the next hymn” for those who cannot see the board (a small prize for the winner), and, next, a new feature in the Peace: a team of children from the congregation would ask any older member seen exchanging the peace to name the person whose hand they have just shaken.
If they have known them more than a year, and cannot come up with the correct name, there would be a small penalty — doubled if they had known them for more than five years. I would be caught most weeks: is it Bob, or Bill, or Brian? I know it starts with a “B”.
Finally, there would be a competition after the organ voluntary. The same team of children would search the pews and their environs for items left behind, which their owners would have to recognise and claim. That’s fine when it’s a run-of-the-mill umbrella or scarf, but a bit embarrassing when it’s a romantic novel (bookmark in place), a hot water bottle, or a set of dentures carefully wrapped in a handkerchief (I’m not inventing these examples). Messy Vintage? Bring it on.
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC.