Saturday, 22 September 2007

Pig men, mangles and monstrosities.

We were recyclers in post World War II Britain, even though we didn’t know the word.
Each household was issued with a bin into which were to be placed food scraps of all kinds. Bristol Corporation emptied the bins twice each week, and the food was boiled some place or other to make food for pigs.

Hence the bins were called “pig bins”, and the men who emptied them were called “pig men”. Mrs. Wilcox, the Greengrocer’s wife once remarked to me “what a strange thing - to call them “pig-men”.

Strange indeed, and the men who collected what Americans would call trash also had a strange moniker. Our trash was not placed in trash cans, but in dustbins. And then men who emptied those each week - yes, you’ve gotten it already, they were the “dust-men”.

Jam jars were recycled too. This was a voluntary effort, usually undertaken by local boy scout troops. They would come around the neighbourhood once or twice a year to collect used and washed jam jars. They’d get a penny or two for each jar from the local jam company (Robertson’s in Brislington), to boost their troop funds.

The “rag and bone men” would also visit the area. They would take old bits of metal, and articles made of cotton or wool. My guess is that in earlier days they had also taken bones - to be rendered to make soap - hence “rag and bone men”. I’ve heard that in London they were called “Steptoes” (hence the old BBC “sitcom” Steptoe and Son), but that usage was unknown in Bristol.

Mum believed that the rag and bone men underpaid, so we did not use them. Instead we took our items to Rose’s Scrap yard near Old Market. More about that in a future entry: “Here a penny, there a shilling”.

So, Mr. Ripley - I have seen, I have seen with my own eyes - pig men, dust men, and rag & bone men!

In our back garden we had a mangle. It was a huge hand operated contraption with parallel wooden cylinders, through which we ran sheets and towels before they were hung out to dry. We turned it using a huge handle. Later we had an electrically operated device, called not a mangle, but a wringer.

Mum would wash sheets and towels in a copper boiler, heated by a gas ring. These items would go through the mangle three times.

First, after they had been washed and stirred in boiling hot water with powdered soap (always “Persil” brand in our home). We stirred them with a wooden stick ( a bit like a baseball bat) which we called a “boiler stick”.

Second, after we had rinsed them in cold water, in a big galvanized iron portable bath tub.

Third, after Mum had “blued” them in the same tub. It would be filled with fresh cold water into which “Reckitt’s Blue” cubes had been dissolved. “Blueing” made them look whiter.

Then and only then would they be hung out to dry. “God speed the plough” my mother would cry if a passing steam train left soot smuts all over the still damp sheets and towels.

Next door lived “Uncle and Aunty Charlton”. (Not related in any way - but that’s what we called them.) Uncle Charlton died when I was about eight years old. Before his death he told me that when I was a little shaver, I’d filled a couple of empty milk bottles with the blue water, and had walked up and down our garden crying “Blue milk for sale. Blue milk for sale”.

And the monstrosities? One Christmas, my Mum’s brother, Uncle Fred and his wife, Auntie Phyll, gave my parents a large glass vase. It was ugly. “What a monstrosity!” my parents cried out.

And, “good little boy” that I was, I duly related to Uncle and Auntie that my parents “loved the monstrosity” they had given. I’d thought that large glass vases were called by that name!

Friday, 21 September 2007

The strange case of Dr. Dodgson Sykes and the Black Gown

In the mid to late sixties of the previous century I began my flirtation with the Church of England. I was directed to St. John’s on the Wall as a good, “sound", evangelical parish.

St. John’s is one of the few remaining medieval Churches in Bristol, (many were bombed in World War II), and indeed it sits on what remains of the old city wall, right over one of just two remaining city gates.

The Vicar of St. John’s was one Dr. Dodgson Sykes, an aged and godly man. The principle service on the Lord’s Day was Morning Prayer. At the end of the Prayer Book liturgy, Dr. Sykes would remove himself from the Chancel, and go into the Vestry Room.

There he would remove his surplice, and re-emerge wearing a black “Geneva” preaching gown. Then he would preach.

I had encountered one of the few remaining so-called Black Gown Churches in the Church of England. I had no idea that what I saw was not normative.

St. John’s is now closed (declared redundant as the Church Commissioners put it). Another remaining Black Gown Church at that time was Holy Trinity in Buxton, Derbyshire, though I cannot ascertain from its rather skimpy website whether this is still the case.

In 1662, following the restoration of the English Monarchy, there was passed the “Act of Uniformity”. Part of that “uniformity” was to be to the Book of Common Prayer.

Many ministers (some sources say 2,000, others say 3,000) would not and could not conform to the Prayer Book. (Hence the older English usage of “nonconformist” to refer to English Baptists, Congregationalists, Unitarians and Presbyterians) They were ejected from their livings, and faced other quite punitive Acts of Parliament.

They were, loosely speaking, Puritans, who had had their hay day in the Church of England in that Commonwealth Period under Oliver Cromwell and others. The word “Puritan” is of course a perfectly good one. It is a nick-name applied to those who wished to “purify” the Church. Some of those Puritans found the situation in England so intolerable that they found their way to Massachusetts, there to set up a godly Commonwealth with a purified Church.

But some Puritans remained in the Church of England. They had a serious objection to the wearing of a surplice. So they would do so, under sufferance, so to speak, for the Prayer Book Liturgy.

But Morning Prayer (being a Daily Office) had no provision for a sermon. The Black Gown ministers, having satisfied the Prayer Book rubrics during the Office, removed their Surplices after that Office, and donned their Geneva Robes for the sermon (which was, strictly speaking a non-rubrical “added extra”).

On another day when I am at loose ends I will write about the “Vestments Controversy”, the “Ornaments Rubric” and the so-called “Black Rubric”. That’ll help explain the Puritan objection to the Surplice.

But what I had thought to be normative English Evangelicalism at St. John’s, was even by the 1960’s regarded as a quaint anachronism. In that period “mainstream” Evangelicals in the Church of England would happily don their surplices, but never a stole.

(The constitution of the Evangelical Seminary, St. John’s in Nottingham, where I studied from 1972-1976 forbade the wearing of stoles in Chapel services.)

This ban, and the Puritan objection to the surplice was rooted in the thought that “you are what you wear”.

The wearing of surplices (for Puritans), and other Eucharist Vestments (including stoles) for C of E Evangelicals bore the mark of the Mass, and Priesthood.

Roman Catholics had Priests who believed that the Eucharist was a Sacrifice and an Offering, which they made at every Mass.

Evangelicals saw themselves as Ministers (not Priests) and believed that the Lord’s Supper was simply and solely a commemoration. The “one sacrifice, once offered, was full, perfect and sufficient“, and had been made by Christ on the Cross. They could not dress in any way which suggested a sacrificing Priesthood.

Puritans, within and without the Church of England, wore those "Geneva" (or academic) gowns, to illustrate their calling to be "learned ministers" - exponents of the Word of God.

These days it tickles my funny bone, and gives me a delicious taste of irony when I see all those "purifying" American Evangelicals who rush off to Africa to be ordained as Bishop, and then cannot wait to get all decked out in copes, mitres, Episcopal rings, pectoral crosses and the like.

My naughty side sees them as "fundamentalists in fancy dress" (and I intend the word "fundamentalist' to be descriptive and not pejorative) , rather than heirs of the Reformed tradition.

These modern would be purifiers seem to have no knowledge of the historical objections to their vestments! Dr. Dodgson Sykes must be turning in his grave.

(Dr. James Packer, formerly of Regent College, Vancouver, Canada is arguably a Puritan in the Anglican Tradition. The Diocese of Sydney, Australia is also at some levels a Puritan or Reformed Diocese. I often think that its leader, Archbishop Peter Jensen, would prefer to be called the Presiding Presbyter in the Classis of Sydney).

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Smells and Bells

At the bottom of our back garden (yard in American English) was a railway. It was once part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS).

The old LMS had created this line from Birmingham, to give them a toe-hold in Great Western Railway (GWR) territory.

But after World War II and the nationalisation of the railways, this line was now part of the Midland Region of British Railways. The rest of Bristol was served by the Western Region of British Railways, the successor to GWR.

"Our railway" was on an incline which was the second longest in England, and big trains would often be pulled up it with two front engines, and a rear engine, known as a “banker”.

They were steam engines. The smell of hot steam and coal smoke was often in our nostrils. It was a rotten day for Mum when soot from the engines infected her sheets drying on the clothes line.

Mr. and Mrs. Ford ran their tripe processing factory just the other side of the railway bridge. What a stench when they were boiling up tripe! “Not nice” as we might say today.

Not far away was Packer’s Chocolate Factory. Packer’s chocolate was of mediocre quality. But we could walk by the factory and enjoy the sweet smell of chocolate, and from time to time, if the wind was right, we could sniff it at home.

It was just last year (2006) that production ended at “Packer’s”.

(Their buildings once caused me great confusion. The factory was red-brick, but there was a marble faced section, at right angles to the factory. One day I asked Mum why that part of the building was different. “Oh”, she said, “those are the Offices”. But in Infants’ School “Offices” was the euphemism for toilets, and it was hard for me to understand why the factory had such a huge building for toilets - and marble clad at that!)

There were many local businesses. One was “Bedford’s Dairy” . The youngest Bedford son, Pete, would take me out on his electric milk float to “help him out”. He delivered milk to the local Abattoir on Gordon Rd. Pete took me into the Abattoir. The stench was overwhelming. He insisted that I should view the killing of a cow or steer. The beast was shot through the head, and to this day I cannot fathom why Pete Bedford wanted a 10 year old to see such a death.

St. Ambrose’s Church was a mile away. It had, and has, a grand tower with a full set of bells for change ringing.

Once, one of the Plymouth Brethren, on hearing the bells of Bath Abbey, said to me “Ah the tintabulations of hell”. But I always enjoyed the sound of St. Ambrose’s bells.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Old Mother Hubbard and her doughnuts.

There were important social rules in 1950’s Great Britain. One was that you never ate in the street.

My friend Jeffery Davies walked by our house with his mother one morning. He was munching on an apple. My own mother was scornful. “What kind of mother”, she opined, “would allow her child to eat on the street?”

One day Mum and I, and probably my sister Elizabeth set out for the shops on Church Road, about ¾ mile away. I think that my Aunt Irene was with us too, but that is a dubious memory.

Mum, or Aunty Irene diverted us to one of the few remaining local bakeries “ Hubbard’s Bakery” on Whitehall Road. Mrs. Hubbard waited on customers, and of course, we each called her “Old Mother Hubbard”.

Mum bought some doughnuts. These were not the modern anemic ones such as you might purchase at Dunkin’ Donuts or the Supermarket.

They were doughnuts, not donuts. They were fried, crispy and sugary on the outside, hot on the inside, with jam which almost burned your tongue.

We diverted into a side street, “Albert Parade”. Mum reached into the bag and gave us a hot crispy doughnut to eat as we walked on the street!

Every doughnut I have eaten since then has paled in comparison. Never has there been a doughnut like the one Mum bought at “Old Mother Hubbards’”

Was the doughnut truly that wonderful? Or is the taste of memory better because Mum let us break the rules?

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Resurrection is an action not an idea!

When six Churches get together they can make a difference. That’s what happened in 1989 when Sarasota’s Church of the Redeemer, First Christian Church, First Congregational Church, First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church and Grace Fellowship Church created Resurrection House.

They did so following the initiative of the Vestry of the Church of the Redeemer, who had been inspired and moved to action after ministering to a homeless woman who was sleeping in their grounds.

Resurrection House is a day shelter for homeless people, working to give them a “hand up” rather than a hand out. Each weekday between 80 and 160 people come through the doors.

Inside this bright, clean, air conditioned building (with a historically listed Mediterranean Revival style store front) homeless people are able to:

Have clothes laundered (we do about 60 loads a day)
Take a shower
Eat breakfast
Purchase reduced price bus passes
Get job and housing counseling
Get clothing and work shoes
See a Doctor (one a week)
Get a renovated bike (if the guest has found a job)
Register Resurrection House as a legal address to get mail
Work with staff to get a photo’ I.D.
Relax without being hassled.

Them's the facts, but it's more than that!

I have been volunteering at Resurrection House since June. I am usually there on three mornings each week. On Monday and Wednesday mornings I am the laundry intake and shower assignment person. I love this as it gives me the opportunity to listen to and chat with forty to fifty individuals. I know many of them by name, and I am always blessed by our encounters.

I wear a badge identifying me as “Pastor Michael” and I wear a big cross (courtesy of Common Cathedral, Boston). Then in quieter times I am able to pray with people in the little chapel, or shoot the breeze with them in the outdoor smoking area.

On Thursday mornings I lead a prayer service in the Chapel.

We usually find a brief bible verse (e.g. Jesus said “I am the light of the world”) and repeat it out loud four times. Then we say it over and over again in the quietness of our minds.

On the Altar I have placed a pretty tray with tea lights on it. After the quiet, those who wish light a tea light, and say for whom their prayer is lifted.

Next we say the Our Father and the Hail Mary, and end by singing “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place”.

That song has a line which reads “I see glory in each face”. As we sing that line, we look into each others’ lovely faces, seeing God’s glory, often as tears roll down our cheeks.

If this is not “Church” then I do not know what is!

Monday, 17 September 2007

Miss Fenlon and Miss Smith

It was at the age of five years and three months that I entered Greenbank Infants’ School in what Americans would call grade one. I cried. But just about every child cried that day. I am told that after mid -morning “play time” (recess) I announced “I saw my sister outside and I am not going to cry any more”. That sister was Maureen who, seven years older than I, was lurking in the street next to the playground.

(That same sister told me that I taught myself to read - by reading the newspaper, but I have no memory of such an accomplishment).

My first teacher was Miss Suttle. I remember very little about her, except, in common with most children, I used to give her a kiss at the end of the school day. In grade two my teacher was Miss Baker. She seemed to be so strict. One day I raised my hand in class to complain that I had a headache. “So do I” said Miss Baker, “so we are both in the same boat. Now get back to your work”.

When I left her class Miss Baker gave me a book. It was all about the war time adventures of a naughty little middle class girl in rural England. In one episode this naughty girl and her equally naughty friend (a boy) stripped themselves naked and bathed in mustard gas antidote. I was shocked that a teacher had given me a book in which there was an account of a naked girl and boy. (Come off it, I was only six!).

The family of this girl had a bad tempered gardener named Arnie. On one page there was an amusing line drawing of Arnie in a temper. The caption was "Arnie's rage was a terrible thing to see". (Why have I never forgotten this?).

When we wished to use the bathroom we were required to raise our hand, and when called upon, ask “Please Miss (n) may I use the offices.”. We learned that euphemism early on when Jeanette Gregory, having raised her hand said “ Please Miss I want to piss”

Mickey Simmonds gave me a bloody nose one day during some rough-housing in the playground. I was a bit afraid of him. As one teacher or another staunched the bleeding I was resolute in refusing to snitch. The teachers never knew who it was who punched me on the nose, but I have never forgotten his name.

Another day, at play time, a light rain began. For reasons which I do not understand to this day, I had an umbrella (at aged 6 or 7). I clearly had the gift of prophecy for I danced around the playground, umbrella up, crying out “I’m a fairy, I’m a fairy!”

We had elections in Britain in both 1950 and 1951. In those years we would parade around the playground singing

“Vote, vote, vote for Mr. Atlee
Turn old Churchill out the land.
If I had a penny gun
I would shoot him up the bum
And he wouldn’t come to Bristol any more”

We were in staunchly Labour east Bristol, and we sang our ditty to the tune of “Jesus died for all the children”.

Our Headmistress was Lucy Fenlon. She had a hooked nose and drove an Austin A 30. One day some boy or another wrote “shit” in the dust on her car. We heard about that! We also had a stern lecture one day at morning assembly. Miss Fenlon recounted that as she had been driving to school that day she’d observed a boy kicking a tin (can) along the street. “You people” she said, “don’t want to grow up as the kind of people who kick tins (cans) in the street” I’ve never done so!

We were in awe of Miss Fenlon. At our naughtiest we would whisper “Funny Fanny Fenlon with a feather in her hat”.

But our awe was appropriate. She was one of those marvelous women who never married and devoted their lives to teaching and to the Church. She introduced us to classical music and to good books. She taught us simple values e.g. the courtesy of removing one’s hat and bowing one's head if a funeral cortege passed by.

And she never patronized us. We were always “you people” - never “you children” . I learned by osmosis that children are people too.

When I was eight years old Miss Fenlon called a day time assembly to tell us that the King (George VI) had died, and that we were to go home immediately. I cried. Not out of grief for the King, but because I knew that now we had a Queen. And the only other Queen I could remember had burned all the Protestants! (Mary Tudor).

After two years at Greenbank I was supposed to move up to Eastville Junior Mixed School. But the population bulge had already begun and EJMS was cramped. So we borrowed two class rooms from the adjoining Senior Boys’ School, and there I was taught for two years by Miss Smith.

Miss Smith lived in our neighbourhood. My father had gone to school with her when they were little. Her father had been the caretaker of Greenbank School, living in a house on the “campus”. So Miss Smith spent all of her life in Whitehall and Greenbank.

Under Miss Smith I began to learn and to love learning. We were still with the three R’s (no science, or languages, history or geography). But she taught us more. Lessons about the first post-war Olympics; about the United Nations, UNICEF and NATO. We learned about the problems of Displaced Persons.

And still we learned manners.

One day Miss Smith told us of an experience she’d had in a holiday Guest House. There, one of the other guests, having breakfast toast, had used his knife first in the butter, and then in the jam - leaving bits of butter in the jam. That’s not the sort of thing we should grow up to do.

In later life I re-connected with Miss Fenlon and Miss Smith. Each, being good Anglicans, were immensely proud that I had become an Anglican Priest. They took some credit - which they deserved!

It was hard to call them Lucy and Jean!

Lucy had married in retirement and was now Lucy Smith. It was not a happy marriage, and she regretted her choice. I saw her late in her life, a sad woman.

I corresponded regularly with Jean, and visited her when I was in England.

I wanted to hear more about the post-war Labour Government and the marvelous social reforms it accomplished. (Jean was Labour to the core!)

I also wanted to learn about the incredible 1950’s ministry of the Church in
working class areas. Jean was a member of the Parish of St. Matthew, Moorfields during its hay day under the Socialist Priest, Mervyn Stockwood, later Bishop of Southwark.

I last saw Jean about four or five years ago. She was bent over and frail. She was more than sad that St. Matthew’s had closed. I have not heard from her since. I take it that she has passed to be with her maker.

Lucy and Jean. Thank you!

Sunday, 16 September 2007

A B.E.C.B.

I had nothing either mundane or exciting in the works for Saturday 15th September, so when my friend The Revd Andi (Andrea) Taylor called and asked me to join her for a B.E.C.B I readily agreed.

Andi and I knew and liked each other when she was at the Church of the Redeemer, Lexington, MA and I was at St. James’s in Cambridge, MA.

She is now the Associate Rector at St. Boniface on Siesta Key in Sarasota, and we traveled to Tampa with retired Priest the Revd. Ralph McGimsey, his wife Kay, and the Revd. Alan Rogers, Deacon at St. B’s.

The journey gave Andi and I chance to share deep and mutual prayer concerns from the Diocese of Massachusetts (gossip!), and for me to meet Ralph, Alan and Kay. As it happened, Kay and I were already acquainted - we each volunteer at Resurrection House in SRQ.

The B.E.C.B? It was “the Recognition and Investiture of the Rt. Revd. Dr. Dabney Tyler Smith as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South West Florida” - and it happened at St. Peter’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg - the Florida one.

B.E.C.B? Ah yes - “Big Episcopal Church Bash”. It was my first such since April 2004 when I’d been in Cleveland, Ohio for the Consecration of my friend Mark Hollingsworth as Bishop of Ohio.

As B.E.C.B’s go, yesterday’s was “not bad”. The Liturgy was “classic 1976/1979 Book of Common Prayer, Rite Two” (Whew - the “new Prayer Book” is now classic!). The hymns were from the Hymnal 1982, each well known and well sung.

The Cathedral Choir is quite excellent. It amused me a bit that their anthem at the entrance procession, and their motets at Communion time were each in Latin (Flor Peeters, William Byrd and Victoria). Bring back Healey Willan I say.

There was a goodly amount of incense, a flurry of Virgers and Deacons, the handing over of a pastoral staff by retiring Bishop Lipsomb to Bishop Smith, and the Cathedral Dean seating the new Bishop in his Cathedra.

Bishop Smith preached - at length. His theme was a good one. “This is not about me, it is not about you, it is about mission”.

And he defined mission as “God is passionate for all people”.

Perhaps his best line was “when you pray for mission, expect yourself to be changed”.

Bishop Dabney Smith is very comfortable in his own skin. I suspect that is a cardinal virtue for any Bishop. He will be a uniter in a Diocese which is theologically diverse. He is a third generation Episcopal Priest, and that deep Anglican heritage will serve him well. (His grandfather was ordained by the great Bishop Brent of the Philippines and later of Western New York).

I have a couple of liturgical whines - would you expect anything less!

Deacons and Priests were asked to dress in Cassock, Surplice and Red Stole.
I suspect that the stoles were meant to make it clear just who were Deacons and who were Priests. Good old Choir Habit would have been more to my preference. (One fellow did wear his academic hood as well as the stole).

The clerics, separated by order, were seated in the south transept. Not bad, as it gave the hoi polloi the best view of the chancel. But I think that the Deacons should have been all around the Altar, and the Priests seated in the back rows. (There’s an ecclesiastical bias for you).

(From my point of view, Mark Hollingsworth got it right at his consecration. All the Bishop, Priests and Deacons processed in with their spouses or partners, and children, and sat wherever they wished.)

And the good parts?

Not having to worry about the Liturgy. Its very familiarity made it prayerful.

The sweet and gentle smile which Bishop Henry Louttit of Georgia bore as he ministered communion. I thanked him for this afterwards.

Connecting and reconnecting. Reconnecting with Martha Vaguener, David Danner and Chris Schuller from Massachusetts. Connecting with the folks from St. David’s, Englewood (my new home parish) and sitting with them at the reception afterwards.

Being silly and giggling with Andi Taylor on the journeys.

And it was enough of a B.E.C.B to keep me going for a while. Like rich desserts, they are great for an occasional treat, but too many, too often would make a person sick!