St Mary the Virgin, Burton Latimer

The church has a “Church Open” sign as I cycle past, so I pop in, and find the 13th century wall paintings. There was a cult of St Catherine here then.

Catherine challenged the pagan emperor Maxentius for his persecution of Christians. He brought the best philosophers to argue with her, but she refuted them all. He proposed marriage, but she declared herself espoused to Christ. Then he killed her. Angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where her hair still grew and healing oil flowed from her body.

These pictures were covered in layers of limewash. It is amazing they have survived. They were restored in the 1970s. There has been a church here since the middle ages.

I have light conversation- mostly things we can agree on- with the woman who staffs the church on Sunday afternoons when it is open. We don’t know much about church architecture, but we know those arches further from the altar are Romanesque, those Gothic. We tend to like the altar brought forward West of the choir, so that the priest celebrates facing the congregation. She likes the 1662 rite, loving the richness and familiarity of the language she grew up with. You don’t have to try to understand what the prayer is saying, just dwell on aspects of it.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel date from 1600. I am surprised that the church would be so high as to have that decoration then. This was such a wealthy area, with so much to spend adorning its churches.

There is a tiny face in the bottom corner of one of the St Catherine paintings. Is it later? It is in Mediaeval form, but very clear.

Are you normal?

I went to the local church today. I was warmly welcomed. A woman invited me to have coffee with the congregation after, introduced me to others, and I was still chatting forty minutes later. She is a lovely person. She told me how much she loved the church, how she started going there, the social events it has, and I told her a little of my church journey. I could enjoy going there. It is a community, and I could be part of that community.

The hall has an internal door from the church, and we sat at a table. A couple and a single woman joined us, and my first host introduced them. She interrupted our conversation for brief chats about church business, and I turned to A., sitting on my right.

What can I say about A? I have seen her on the road to the town. Once I was pushing my bicycle, and we chatted a little about cycling locally. I have said “hello” to her since. Now, she seemed to be looked after by the others. How has her week been? they ask, solicitously. “You were going to see a friend.” A, talking to me, seems not nervous but watchful. How is it to be with a crowd of strangers, she asks me. Oh, lovely, I say. New people! I am Extrovert! She speaks simply and slowly, and it seems possible to me she has reclusive, possibly depressive, tendencies like I have.

The new baby- just a week old!- is brought over. We look delightedly at her, and the mother offers her to A to hold. A is nervous of this, but is persuaded. People take photographs- A must be smiling at the camera. Oh, you moved your head again. Possibly, looking down lovingly at the baby would do. The third picture satisfies my hostess- third time lucky, she says.

My hostess feels the need to explain A to me. She leans over, drops her voice in a confiding way, and says, “A’s twin died last year.” Oh. There is nothing to say to that. I don’t ask if the twins were monozygotic, or whether it was a month or a year ago. I could be insulted for A, or for myself. My hostess feels A is a person for whom we must make allowances. Do you think I did not see something about A that would result in my being confused or offended by her manner? Did you sense any discomfort in me, talking to her, or project your own?

I would hate to be explained in that way. “She’s trans, you know.” I was going to write it might be just about bearable if the person who was explaining me was rebuking the person being explained to- ‘How could you say such a crass, offensive thing? Can’t you see she’s trans?’ But even then it is patronising. Don’t say offensive things to anyone. Don’t protect me from knowing how offensive some people are, defend me against their offensiveness.

And yet I can see that my hostess is a lovely person. Absolutely she means well.


Love and Ritual

“Saxon Church” said the sign, so I asked if we could have a look. It has round, Roman, arches, which is unusual, but a pointy, Gothic, one between the nave and the sanctuary- this one architectural factoid does not take me far. I studied the many long, narrow stones making up the arch.

On entering, I noted a stoup marked “Holy water” so crossed myself. In nomini Patris et Filii et Spiritu Sancti. Liz would not do that. Up the nave to the Sanctuary, past the Victorian stained glass, “To the Glory of God”- of course- “and in loving memory of”- 1888. Jesus, in gorgeous robes fit for the most prosperous Bishop, looks with love at three different people whose lives are changed instantly. I note there is the usual altar/ communion table at the end of the nave, then steps up and an altar rail shielding a further altar. I go down the steps to the south chapel.

“I saw there was no light over the Aumbry.” These words mean nothing to her. I explained: the bread and wine are consecrated, and may be kept for later use, in a wee cupboard, but normally there is a lamp burning constantly above it, to stop the holiness, er, evaporating off. This don’t impress her much. I did not say that the light also indicates whether one should bow or genuflect when passing the altar. The lock protects the silver chalice, but the precious thing inside is the wafer itself.

Going out, I read the card under the stoup: when we cross ourselves with holy water, it explained, we remember our baptism and renew our baptismal vows. I would not go that far; but if I went a bit Buddhist with my Quaker friend and said the unusual sensation of the cold water on my forehead might put me into that sensitive sensory state we call mindfulness, that might mean more.

I have another job interview. She will hold me in the Light. When is it, exactly? Another Friend had been irked to get the wrong day; she had been Holding me a day early, so I rushed to assure her it is not time-limited. My Friends love me. This upholds me. I tried telepathy as a teenager- what, you did too? Powerless leads to desperate measures- and do not expect a sudden rush of a feeling of worth as I shake hands. The feeling of worth might also come from the new suit, from Planet- well, new to me, anyway.

The water is a symbol the love and care of the vicar for the church and all who enter it. Crossing myself, I acknowledge and partake in that love. I accept its welcome, and we come together though we do not meet. It is a deep stoup with a lot of water, so won’t evaporate away if unfilled for a day. I have seen tiny Catholic stoups dry, because they need refilled constantly.

John Paul II had to make a ruling- if you see him blessing a crowd on the telly as it happens, he said, it’s effectual, and he has blessed you. But not if you record it on video, and get it out for a blessing when you feel the need.

Rossetti, Lady Lilith

The Anglican Communion splits

Christians who hate gay people make their hatred of gay people the most important doctrine of Christianity. The Global Anglican Future Conference includes Anglicans who ordain women, and those who refuse; it is united over its condemnation and rejection of all Christians who accept gay people. The Archbishop of Kenya here boasts that the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, while calling for “peace, unity and love” after the Sudan civil war have broken their ties with the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) because it celebrates equal marriage.

GAF CON claims that the meeting of primates of the Anglican communion this month will be decisive for the future of the communion. At stake is a basic church-defining principle, it thunders. Will Christ rule our life and witness through His word, or will our life and witness be conformed to the global ambitions of a secular culture?

Rule one: No Pooftahs!

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has called a meeting of Anglican primates for 11-16 January 2016, imagining that it might discuss climate change as well as “human sexuality”. The “Archbishop” of the secessionist “Anglican Church of North America” will be invited to be present for part of the time.

I date the Church of England from the reign of Elizabeth, rather than Henry or Edward, for it was her policy not to make “windows in men’s souls” and to create a church for the whole country, with a wide range of doctrine. Here Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics made uneasy bedfellows, but were able to worship together and recognise each other’s ministry. Suddenly, disagreement over homosexuality breaks our fellowship. It is not a matter about respect for the Bible: Evangelical Christians, accepting the primacy of the Bible as our way of knowing God’s word, accept gay people. It is merely a matter of hating gays, rejecting the story of David and Jonathan, and twisting a very few Bible verses to condemn us.

I value the links of churches across the Commonwealth, but the Church of England must not surrender to the blackmail of homophobes, but do the right thing, and celebrate equal marriages, if it is not to become irrelevant in England itself, shamed as moral imbeciles rejecting a moral truth the rest of the population recognises.

The three countries where the Head of State is also the head of the state religion are the Vatican, Iran and the UK. It is time to free the Church from Establishment, so that it may do the work of Christ rather than the work of the Government.

Raphael, the Holy Family with a palm tree


At Greenbelt, I met an angel. That is the only way I have to describe her.

She is ordained as an Anglican priest, and is without a parish, working as a prison chaplain. She is a channel for the love of God to the men in her care. We agreed how there is spiritual reality, but the words we use to describe it often just get in the way: the church quarrels and faffs about the precise words used, but the things described circle but do not touch the spiritual reality beyond. So we shed our illusions, and see reality for ourselves, and might be able to share our experience with others who have had them too; but it is so difficult with those yet to have them.

The other prison chaplain gives clear guidance, which a man who has suffered a chaotic lifestyle may value. One of their parishioners became a Born-Again Christian, clear that the Bible might be known and give a clear understanding of God’s will for human living. One of the easiest ways of reaching a state of mindfulness or presence is to be submerged in beauty- Heaven in a wild flower, as Blake saw. However there is little immediately recognisable beauty in a prison. You may see beauty in a rusting table-leg, but it helps to see it in a tree first.

She gave him a copy of Brian Cox’s book Wonders of the Universe. Then she saw him again, and he had got it: he had seen the beauty in that book. Writing, now, I am aware that my words give a facile, misleading account of the experience. She was sharing with me one of her delights, one of her successes, in a job where she must have great dollops of yuck; slow progress or apparent sterile stasis for damaged men. I believe this man has a more complex understanding of how reality is, beyond the certainties of the conservative Evangelical. I have the advantage of having looked into her face as she told of it.

I felt her love as she told me, and showed my love to her. We hugged. Before, I had given her Advices and Queries, and declaimed from it.

I was outside the tent around 11.30 when a thick cloud, moving fast across the sky, which had been between us and the moon suddenly wasn’t, leaving a patch of clearness. It was as if the light had suddenly been switched on. I saw Terry clearly, and his clear shadow.

Luca Giordano, Youth tempted by the Vices

The bishop

Bishops seem to like to talk to me. As is my duty, I am walking back to the field, quite exhausted, wishing I was a simpler life-form in a simpler world- though nothing has it easy. I want to mitigate my misery. It is not exactly a state of Presence I desire: I want, rather, to be Open to the beauty around me and forget my feelings. Block them out.

At the point where you see the water stretching far ahead, I catch the eye of the bishop. I might have looked needy, or interesting- I don’t know why we stopped. I note his purple shirt. “You’re a bishop,” I say, and he admits it.

I tell him I loved his stall. Just before we opened, I had a shoulder and hand massage there. All weekend, he has not been able to have a shoulder massage: always, when he has wanted one, someone else has come to the stall. I thought he should have pulled rank.

I’m with the Quakers. I crack my Gilbert and Sullivan joke: Bow, Bow, to the Area Meeting Clerk. He does not like people showing undue respect. There is very little ring-kissing, thank God, but some people seem to like bowing and scraping to The Bishop. I suppose they are associating with The Bishop, and to make themselves more important in this they must big him up. He does not like hierarchy.

Particularly he hates the order of precedence. Debrett’s would tell you that, I think. He thinks some people are sad enough to be able to tell you.

Bishops process into church in a particular order. First come the foreign bishops: so according to the order of precedence, they are all more junior than the most junior English bishop. The Archbishop of Cape Town processes in before the most junior Suffragan- which may, at one time, have been John Holbrook. Then after the most senior Suffragan comes the most junior diocesan bishop: so a man who has been Suffragan for ten years might be followed by the man who got the job he wanted, heaping burning coals upon his head.

He does not know why the Bishop brings up the rear in the procession. I think it has something to do with ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ This cheers him slightly.

I have had some wonderful conversations on the stall. I met a woman of 23 who had in the past idolised her pastor, but now was questioning: she judged the pastor, and judged for herself. I thought that meant she was meeting her development milestones. John Holbrook thought she might be a little backward- though I was not at that mature stage aged 23. I wanted a guide, not equality.

I loved this encounter with him. I am so glad that we were open to stopping. Greenbelt has opened me, opened us.

Luca Giordano, Diana and Endymion

St Pauls

After seeing Serra, I touristed St Paul’s Cathedral.

There is a ban on photography. It irritated me, but H had been among huge crowds in Hagia Sophia, where most people did not look at the cathedral except through their screens, producing fifth-rate photos they might not look at again. The audio-guide irritated me, demanding that I take time to experience the spiritual presence, as if I had never thought of such a thing in my life. The Middlesex Regiment chapel in the north transept irritated me, with its Georgian and Regency memorials by public subscription to generals, still known to specialist historians, famous at the time for killing lots of people. The sculpted uniforms and drapery bored me, but then I saw the naked feet of an angel in a long robe and this tiny detail was enchanting, and the naked thigh of- Neptune, I seem to remember, bearing up some sailor or other- was exciting.

Under the Dome, it was too far away to see the monochrome pictures from Paul’s life, and I looked up as Christ descended from the Cross or stood in glory as the Vine, the branches growing from him, in glorious golden mosaic. Irritated as I am by the traditional churches, I would be poorer if I just ignored them.

I went up the dome. Having dispensed with the guide, I had not known that the Whispering Gallery is so named because if you sit precisely 180° across from another and whisper to the wall, she can hear you. I was quite shocked by a woman whispering into her hand “the guard has become suspicious of your activities”, and later asked a woman why she was talking to the wall. She explained, and exhorted her friend to “say something” though they had stopped. I did not experience it, and do not know if Wren intentionally created the effect.

David and harp

I took the photo clandestinely when there were no guards about. It is from north of the choir: David, I presume, with the harp, not well lit or well angled but the kind of view one might actually have, looking up without trying to get square on.

St Pauls- the saint blesses the Millennium Bridge

I took more photos from the Stone Gallery: I like St Paul blessing the Millennium Bridge, and if anyone wants to try the photo project of having two people, one in the stone gallery, one in Tate Modern, co-ordinating taking photos at precisely the same time so that the flash of each appears in the other’s photo, please let me know.

Topmost niche

I asked the guard if there were any plans to fill this niche in the lantern at the top of the dome, and she said I would have to ask the Premises Committee. I went round to get the niche in sunlight, and she got pushy about how you can’t go back on yourself. I only want to take a photograph.
-Is it for a specific project?-Yes, I said, thinking of this blog post, then she ceased her objection.

Fenny Drayton

St Michael's Church Fenny Drayton from the south west

Pilgrimage with Quakers to Fenny Drayton, where George Fox was born. There is a pretty church, with 13th century bits and some additions.

Some Purefoy or other

There is this huge monument to some local bigwig or other who died in the 16th century, so the spectacle of his wives and children praying round him is subversive for the time. Here he is, either looking up his wife’s skirts or contemplating the family crest:

Fenny Drayton, a view of the family crest

East of the rood screen, there is another Purefoy monument, from the early 17th century, in Latin. I can’t remember whether it is East of the altar rail or not. The other arch contains a Hagioscope, or Leper-window, partly sealed up, where undesirables could have seen the celebration of the Eucharist from a concealed place, so that they would not disturb the decent worshippers.

Fenny Drayton, two arches

The effect is to turn a place of worship into a memorial for the Purefoy family. Paul did not object, seeing it as a historical accident. I find it disturbing centuries later. George Fox was christened here and would have known these huge monuments. Perhaps this church helped form our testimony to Equality.

Chester Cathedral

Jayne is at the garage, so I clothes-shopped, then touristed in Chester for a bit. The Cathedral, so close to the walls, is surrounded by trees, which prevent a clear picture; only now I think the strong sunshine was perfect for the building through the trees. I went in for choral Evensong, then looked round.

Here is the West window, dating back to 2001.

West window

And here, click to enlarge.

West window

There are icons in the chapels behind the main altar. Odd to have a lady chapel when prayers to the Mother are not supposed to do any good: Hooray for Anglicans!

icon annunciation

icon descent

I had to cross the rope to get a clear picture, with the light from the windows reflected on the surface. When I went back, I set off the alarm, which twittered and rasped at once. A man came to switch it off. “Oh dear, was that me?” I said, passing him.

Here is the fountain in the courtyard.

fountain 2


North of the choir stalls there is a monument for a 17th century bishop, a 19th century pastiche like the Victorian imitation of Elizabethan architecture outside.