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Storms and frolics

08 August 2019

THE latest Strategic Development Funding from the Church Commissioners includes a substantial grant for the Leeds diocese to use for churches in Keighley which are described as having “a strong mission to help those battered by the storms of life”. Although it is the besetting temptation of the comfortably off to entertain fantasies of security founded on money, property, and connections, the storms of life can overcome anyone, at any time: they are not visited exclusively on the hard-up, even if it is obvious that wealth can be a cushion against many of them. But what is metaphorical one day can be literal the next.

The language of the Leeds press release is especially noticeable as the residents of Whaley Bridge, in Derby diocese, remain on tenterhooks about the future of their homes and community, located below the Toddbrook Reservoir dam, which has been put at risk by the torrential rain. All who recall that, at the climax of the war film The Dam Busters, the special effects were unequal to what must have been the reality will not want to see it re-enacted. This is another lesson, after the effect on the transport network of the hot spell a couple of weeks ago, that climate change has implications for the infrastructure of Britain, as elsewhere. The super-rich, it is true, may plan to escape its effects, but not for ever.

The lesson also suggests itself that churches can be mistaken in straining to make their message relevant; for it already is. Skate parks, football, and other kinds of fun, for example, may have a place in reaching out to targeted sections of the community; but when the whole community is under threat, we see once again the value of the parish church, possibly the centre of practical efforts, but also a sign of the ideal to unite the community — all sorts and conditions, all ages and ethnicities — in the sacraments that bring them into ever closer union with God and with one another, a union against which even the gates of hell are not to prevail. And the parish church is only, after all, meant to be a miniature of the People of God united more widely. The image may have been defaced by sin, but there is a reason that the Church is not a mere assemblage of boutique chaplaincies.

A cathedral constitutes an image that speaks to people in various ways. We were reproached by one reader this week for setting the Rochester Cathedral mini-golf photo as a caption competition, “adding insult to injury”. Another points us to a Roman Catholic website on which an author weakens his broadside against Rochester’s summer frolic with reckless talk of “stolen property”. The Church Times has revised past judgements on such activities in cathedrals as the Three Choirs Festival, which it once deemed sacrilegious. But if chapters decide to be adventurous, they do need to take into their reckoning the flak that adventures may attract. Professor Nicholas Orme (Letters, 5 October 2018) recently dismissed the historical basis for the notion that a church’s nave was a place where the medieval Church welcomed “courts, games, or markets”. Deeper reflection on the theology and ecclesiology implied by secular activities in church in the current social context might be time and effort well invested.

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