The Parish Magazine of St Faith`s Church, Great Crosby
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From The Clergy February 1998
The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness and He remained there for
forty days.‘ Mark 1:12
In the Middle Ages, public penitents used to be expelled from a church by the bishop, just as Adam was cast out of Paradise, but of course only for the period of Lent. There is something to be said for being cast out, being forced to move on, for it only through this enriching process and often unpleasant experience that we are able to grow and realise God‘s ambition for us and His kingdom. This is not a request that we should all leave St Faith‘s and widen our experience of church and vocation, but it is an attempt to ask people to do something, during the next forty days that will broaden and enrich them, so that when we arrive at the great Vigil Mass of Easter we will be able to say that we have moved closer to God.
I would like to suggest three ways in which we may achieve this:-
A time for a change of heart. A time for a new and closer look at the way our lives are lived; for reconciliation and repentance.
A time for concern for others. Caring for others is a valuable weapon in our fight against selfishness. Almsgiving to the needy and to charitable organizations has always been a part of Lent.
A time for prayer that costs. This means taking extra time to say one‘s prayers and making a special personal effort to achieve goals in this area that one has not achieved in the past.
These three parts to Lent must be present if the season of Lent is to have any lasting value and not just be a time of continued wilderness in the secular world that we all live in today. An example might be to give something up which we particularly enjoy. This resolution is only of value if it is part of our change of heart. The money saved could be sent to Christian Aid or Oxfam or some other agency that furthers the course of our brothers and sisters in the Third World and helps them to achieve a better life here on earth. This effort is all for nothing if it is not supported by an increased effort in prayer.
Lent is often seen as a time of giving up, but you could use this ?wilderness time‘ to take something on; the choice is only restricted by your imagination and must bring you closer to God. This year Churches Together in Waterloo and Seaforth have asked Fr Thomas Cullinan to give a series of talks on Holy Week and Easter — watch this space for date, time and venue, for this is sure to be a very interesting course.
Whatever you do, I trust that you will be able to do something and be able to make use of this time set aside for coming closer to God through the stripping away of normal daily routine.
With every blessing,
The Revd Edward Carter effectively removed himself from the list of those being considered for the vacant sees of Liverpool and Southwark recently when he dressed up as a Teletubby (he called himself `Vicsy Wicsy‘. Ed). Sheltering under that useful portmanteau term `outreach‘, Mr Carter made his church lots of money. If there were some means of making the screen on his tummy live, he might also have saved his church lots of money: to avoid the cost of replacing the old ASB, the words of the new liturgy might be displayed there.‘
His fondness for an early bed led to his running PCCs and the like with draconian efficiency; and the puzzled look of proposers and seconders plucked at random from the committee was a sight to behold.‘
From an obituary on the late Bishop Douglas Feaver
Sandra Barwick, in a recent Daily Telegraph, provides some entertaining examples of how, courtesy of the `Nanny State‘, the obvious is increasingly stated in the world of consumerism. There is the bottle of flavoured milk that gravely warns `After opening, keep upright‘ and the Sainsbury‘s peanut packet helpfully saying `Contains nuts‘. A Swedish chainsaw manufacturer advises customers: `Do not try to stop chain with hands‘, and our own Marks and Spencer‘s market a pudding proclaiming `Product will be hot after heating‘. Rowenta Irons tell us `Do not iron clothes on body‘ — and a European camera invaluably informs users ?This camera only works when there is a film inside‘.
As the old Church year came to an end, St Faith‘s congregation, largely by courtesy of our choir, were treated to two special occasions: one traditional, the other a `one off‘ event. The Saturday before the First Sunday in Advent saw two coaches filled with members and friends of St Faith‘s heading across the Pennines for Wakefield. There we were greeted by Richard Capper and his family before we dispersed to sample the culinary delights of the city. Fed and watered, we gathered in the Cathedral and were allocated knowledgeable tour guides, who took us round that fine and ancient building.
After having been treated to a fine tea in the cathedral hall, and a chance to catch up with news and gossip with Richard, Angela and family, we took our seats in the Choir and awaited the arrival of our very own choir, who sang Evensong for us and the more discerning of the people of Wakefield. They sounded splendid, and we were very proud of the talent and hard work that had made their singing in such splendid surroundings possible. Finally, we suffered a few speeches (not least the graphic account by Acting Provost Capper of his adventures on the cathedral roof!) before making our way back to the coaches and to Crosby.
As one year ended, another began, and the following day saw the annual Advent Carol Service in St Faith‘s. Members of the congregations of Churches Together in Waterloo and Seaforth sat in the darkness for the moving procession of light and the readings of the word, punctuated by the anthems of the unseen choir. As always, it was immaculately done and, as the remarks of our visitors bore witness, greatly appreciated. It made as fine a beginning to the Church new Year as the Wakefield visit had made a fitting finale to the old.
Our thanks are due to many people. First and foremost to Ged and the choir, for the loving care and commitment that went into these occasions, and indeed to all the musical offerings, both special and routine, that characterise the life of our church. With congregational numbers falling, it is marvellous to see choir numbers maintained, and new members young and old joining. Thanks also to our band of servers who, in difficult times, are working so hard to keep up the traditions and standards associated with liturgical worship at St Faith‘s. We continue to hope and to pray that it will not be too long before the right man is called to serve as our next vicar. Meanwhile we pay tribute to all, named and unnamed, who are doing their best to make sure that, whenever he comes, he will inherit a continuing tradition of a church that is united in its determination to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
The lights go down. Now in this shadowed place
Only the chapel‘s arch, half-hidden, spills
Its brightness out, haloing outlined heads
Of those who wait the coming of the light.
Raucous voices from the outer darkness:
The harsh reality of a world of streets
Untouched by any light.
Until, unseen, the solemn voices rise
And the first candles flicker into life;
And thus begins the solemn counterpoint
Of sentence, reading, hymn and anthems clear,
Their harmonies a tapestry of sound,
While two by two, the lofted tapers pass
To build a soft and wavering walk of fire.
Glass shatters on the scarred walls:
Feet trample the silent graves,
Bottles and needles lie among the sprawled flowers.
God‘s word shines out, the tale unfolds again,
The darkness dwindles and the promise grows:
Emmanuel comes to ransom back his own.
Street lights glare down on littered pavements.
Traffic streams away fron the crossroads.
Now lights flood out: the Advent hymns are sung,
The shadows shrink and radiance spreads again —
Triumphant chant and solemn gospels speak
The promise of eternity renewed.
The storied glass glows with colour:
Protected against the thrown stones
Seeking to shatter what they cannot comprehend.
Until all movement stills, the organ swells
And, from the distant sanctuary, sounds
The benediction that renews our lives,
Sending us forth, rekindled in the faith,
To bring into a dark and waiting world
The light the Christ child waits to bring to life.
The light shineth in the darkness
And the darkness comprehendeth it not.
Advent Sunday 1997
While the Cappers were in residence at St Faith‘s, son David was as often as not off to somewhere distant, exotic and usually dangerous. From Wakefield comes an account of his most recent foray.
I spent four months of 1997 working in a self-initiated conservation project in eastern Paraguay. The aim was to ensure the long-term viability of a grassland site of exceptional global importance. The method was to develop a management plan integrating human uses of the area with the ecological requirements of the species of conservation concern. Here are some thoughts and memories ...
Paraguay: rain, wind fire and pestilence. God should just have booked Job in, one way to Asuncion with Aerolinas. Rain and wind. Possibly an effect of ?El Nino‘. But que rain and wind. Balls of ice descending from towering cumulus rapped our knuckles as we fought the storm for our tarpaulin shelter. Claps of thunder that left us cowering under cover. Lightning strikes which illuminated a landscape rolling with the punches. The laughter at the absurdity. Fire. A 24 km race: four gringos versus a raging fire ripping through the gently undulating grasslands, turning palms black, soil to cinders and leaving armadillos and anteaters suffocating for the jaguar lurking beyond the crimson tide. The gringos won, but were banished from a land playing its 32,000 year old game. ?Play with fire, if you play with me.‘ Jagger/Richards could have been making a point about anthropogenic habitats. David Attenborough once said that Paraguay was the worst country in the world for biting insects. Breathing, snorting, in your ears, your eyes; through your clothes, under your clothes, under your skin, wriggling inside you, everywhere and more.
Paraguay. Four months of terere (cold herbal tea - Ed) drinking, manana-isms, (putting things off - Ed), tent-dwelling, bus-pushing, snake-dodging and CNN‘s wrap of markets round the world. Four months studying one species critically endangered with global extinction and currently known from an isolated 5,00 hectare patch of grassland. Radio-tags, betalights, maglites, colour bands, metal rings: these were our tools. Our task: to discover anything and everything about the nocturnal White-winged Nightjar. Four months of being the first people to step into the bird‘s skin and fly around in it. What would Atticus Finch have made of it? (see ?To Kill a Mockingbird - Ed). The jury‘s still out.
araguay. No mountains, no coast, no Amazon. But some of the best remnants of Atlantic Forest - Endemic Bird Area B52 in the conservation jargon. Islands of grassland, the destruction of which is considered ?one of the greatest disasters in South America‘ by conservation guru Nigel Collar of Birdlife International. Yet the biota of Paraguay is one of the least well-known of any Latin American country. The race is now on to discover Paraguay‘s biological riches before they are destroyed. Remember: extinction is irreversible.
The people, the place, the biodiversity. Wonder-full. I think that
would have survived Paraguay too.‘
Do you make regular financial contributions to the Church — e.g.
the Parish Purse scheme?
Are you paying standard rate tax on your income?
Have you thought of covenanting your giving?
Covenanted giving is an excellent source of income for the Church, enabling us to recover the tax already deducted from your contributions. There is no further cost to yourself. You may have been reluctant to commit yourself, or failed to take action to initiate a covenant. Please do consider the matter — St Faith‘s needs additional income.
The Churchwardens or Hilary Pennington (920 0708) can supply forms and give advice.
This seems the obvious place to state the obvious again. Another good way of getting money out of the tax man without it costing you anything is by GIFT AID, as currently operated as part of the ongoing Talents Scheme. A single gift of £250 (or several gifts adding eventually adding up to that figure) can gain an extra £75 for the Church (i.e. the tax already paid). See Chris Price for details!
At the moment I‘ve got a bad attack of the winter blues. I hate getting up these dark mornings. I hate going to work in the dark, working all day in artificial light and then coming home in the dark. Christmas and New Year fall at the solstice, the time of year when the sun — if you can see it through the Merseyside mirk — seems firmly stuck far, far in the south. The days are depressingly short: the nights wearyingly long. Even psychiatrists recognise that dark days can be literally depressing — you‘ve probably heard about the ?SAD‘ syndrome, or ?seasonal affective disorder‘, a depressive illness which afflicts people only in the winter. Perhaps understandably, sufferers get better more quickly if they are exposed to extra light during their waking hours.
People have different ways of coping with the extra hours of darkness. Our pagan ancestors had the right idea — stoke up with large fires, large meals and whopping great flagons of wassail, and drink endless toasts to the lengthening day and the coming of spring. Nowadays, as soon as New Year comes, we book a sunbed and reach for the travel brochures and plan a sunshine holiday: let the sun soak into your bones and you‘ll feel as good as new! And so from our gloomy northern latitudes we may more vividly enjoy the lectionary readings at this time, which speak to us of the coming of Christ, the light of the world. From the Book of Revelation we hear about the Heavenly City, illuminated by the light of Christ, the Lamb of God. And St Matthew tells the familiar story of the star of Bethlehem, symbol of `the light that lighteth every man, coming into the world‘.
What will the light of Christ really mean to you and me during 1988? Perhaps we should go back to the first Christmas and the star of Bethlehem; back to the inn and the baby lying in the manger.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie: above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Yes, the light still sines in the dark streets: the dark streets of
Soweto, of Sarajevo, of Londonderry. Even in the blackest of
the love of Christ still illuminates the hearts and minds of men and
of good will; still sparks those acts of bravery and courage; still
the heart to love where love is yet unborn. The light of the star
of Bethlehem is reflected from our own
dark streets here in Crosby and Waterloo, Bootle and Toxteth, revealing to us so much that is of God, even in our own unpromising surroundings. If I were to risk a New Year resolution it would be to stop ?whingeing‘ and moaning. It would be to try and recognise, to begin to be inspired by, the love and courage of so many of the lovely people with whom I live and work.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Our Christ is Lord of life and joy and hope — but he is also Lord of fear and doubt and despair. All of us need to let his light into our lives, so that we can see for ourselves into the dark places, to recognise the destructive forces within our own nature, to let his light restore the fading colours of what may be dying within us. We cannot hope to support the cause of truth in the world unless we can support the cause of truth within ourselves. If I were to risk a second resolution, it would be to try to be more honest and truthful, particularly in prayer: it would be to tear down the dark curtains of piety which keep God‘s glorious sunlight out of the soul‘s dusty attics.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
In Holman Hunt‘s famous picture of the Light of the World, the figure of Christ stands knocking outside a closed door, holding a lantern. The door has no external bolt or handle and can be opened only from within; and the entrance is covered by a rank growth of weeds. The light of the world is given so freely for us if we only could admit it, but we have to open the door ourselves. Most of us are afraid to — I know I am — because we‘re scared of what may lie outside. Like the disciples in the upper room, we bolt the doors of our lives against the demands of the unknown. I do not know what may lie outside the door for you: it may be the needs of someone close or distant; it may be the demands on your time or skills or money or resources; it may be a long slog of patient waiting; it may even be a calling to the life of prayer. But the Light of Christ cannot enter until you open the door. If I were to risk a final New Year resolution it would be to open the door just a chink wider and not be afraid of what was beyond.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
May the glorious Light of Christ illuminate and renew all our lives
during these days of darkness and for ever more. Amen.
In his poem `Ash Wednesday‘, T.S.Eliot wrote these lines:
Teach us to care and not to care;
Teach us to be still ...
Eliot‘s powerful questionings and haunting rhythms in his verse speak to us of time and place, and of rejoicing that things are as they are, of not hoping to return again, yet of praying not to be separated, and asking that our cry may indeed come to the Lord.
Ash Wednesday is a special day. It introduces a season whose emphasis is on the great Christian truth that we are unique in our own time and in our own place. It is quite an awesome and amazing thought that no one has ever existed before quite like us, and no one will so exist: we are each one of us related directly to God — and that applies whether we lived in distant ages, in mediaeval times, or today.
The season of Lent is a time to sit still within ourselves; and it is a time to listen. The prophet Joel tells us; `Even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your hearts.‘ The prophet Amos tells us: `If you would live, resort to the Lord. Seek good and not evil.‘ The Apostle Paul tells us: `Get into training!‘ and St James tells us: `The nearer you go to God, the nearer he will come to you.‘
Here are words we ought to recall and act upon: throughout the Lenten season we can sit still and listen to them, ponder upon them, take them into our hearts and minds.
What is Ash Wednesday? It is for us the beginning of Lent; it is the result of a kind of mathematical scruple on the part of early Christian minds. They started away back in the fourth century after Christ to count all Sundays as festivals, and so excluded them from the 40-day fast observed in preparation before Easter, remembering Christ‘s time in the desert. To make up the ritual number, they added four extra days at the beginning of Lent — and so arrived at Ash Wednesday. So Lent begins with the solemnity and austerity of Ash Wednesday; and its name comes of course from the ashes placed upon the foreheads of the worshippers as they gather in church for the eucharist.
What of these ashes? They have a long history. We can read in the Old Testament of the turning of sinners to repentance, and how they repented in dust and ashes, in ashes and sackcloth. Rubbish, valueless, the lowest of the low. Job and his so-called comforters wept, rent their clothes, threw dust and ashes over their heads. When the prophet Jonah preached repentance to the people of the city of Nineveh, they put on sackcloth, high and low alike, and sat themselves in ashes. Fron the Bible stories, the custom grew whereby ashes were sprinkled on everyone as a sign of repentance. `Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ‘ or `Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return‘ — recalling the Genesis account of Creation. A call to a new start and an abandonment of our old failings and mistakes.
So on Ash Wednesday we begin to sit still for a time, to hear the ancient voices tell us what we know — that we can change, that we ought to be otherwise, that we can be better than we are, and that we can change if only we want to do so.
If we pray, we can put aside our arrogance, our pride, our foolish anger, our mistakes and our failures: even in our fallen state we are what we are — that is, unique, and each one of us related to God directly, even at our worst, at our most foolish.
To quote Eliot again, from his `Ash Wednesday‘ —
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood:
Teach us to sit still,
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in his will ...
And let my cry come unto Thee.
But we do not need to read Eliot, nor even the ancient prophets — what we do need is to sit still, reflecting on our arrogance, our pride, our self-centredness. And place ourselves before the Lord in humility and repentance; and remember that the Lord is our Lord, and to him our cries do indeed come.
We regularly pray for the peace of the world, but never for peace on
our roads. Yet no-one under 50 is likely to know anyone who has died in
a war in their lifetime, whereas everyone under 50 knows someone who
died in a traffic accident.
As St Faith‘s prepares to celebrate, between 1998 and 2000, the centenary of its founding and of its consecration, we are looking for ways to mark these years in tangible ways for the church building. We are happy to be able to give news of two projects which, all being well, will result in an even finer-looking St Faith‘s for the 21st century.
The drawing on this page shows the provisional design for a Votive Candle Stand to be situated between the Madonna statue and the Altar in the Lady Chapel. It would hold both conventional candles and votive prayer candles, and could be used both as a focus of individual devotion and corporate worship. The ?tree‘ design was inspired by the fine stand in Wakefield Cathedral; candle stands of various designs are increasingly to be found in cathedrals (including our own at Liverpool) and churches of every kind. The design, its siting and its use are subject to discussion and debate, but the PCC has unanimously backed such an installation (which was in fact first floated in Fr Richard‘s time and approved then). We are now making formal application to the Diocesan Advisory Committee for ?advice‘ and, subject to their approval, full designs will be displayed, leading to an eventual application for a legal faculty and, it is hoped, installation and dedication of the final product in the not too distant future.
The funding for the votive candle stand comes from a legacy from the late Mrs Elsie Bell. The other project being considered has also had (anonymous) funding promised. We are hoping to find ways of installing at least one stained glass window in the North Transept, continuing the series which fill the South Transept and partly fill the North. The idea is to re-use Victorian glass from a redundant church, which could be adapted to fit the shape of our lancet windows. We would add a panel at the foot of such a window, explaining its origins and dedication: the current idea is for windows in memory of past worshippers. By re-using existing glass we would be able tomatch the style and quality of our existing windows and also restore craftsmanship of an earlier age to the light of day. Here again the PCC has given its enthusiastic approval and, with the help and advice of the Diocese we are considering the possibility of glass from St Peter‘s, Aintree and also from our neighbours, Christ Church, Waterloo.
Unlike the Candle Stand, the stained glass project obviously has a longer time-scale. Already two other potential donors have expressed an interest, and we would welcome others. It is our intention that neither of these schemes — nor indeed any of the other schemes being considered over the Centenary Celebration period — should involve any cost to the congregation or drains on our budget. But it would be marvellous if we were able to mark the momentous period about to begin in St Faith‘s history by filling our church with the glory of light.
To mark the beginning of our period of celebrating the forthcoming centenary of St Faith‘s, last month‘s Newslink featured a reproduction of a very early commercial postcard of the church, before the hall, the vicarage and indeed almost all of the surrounding houses were built. Douglas Horsfall, our founder, bought what was then open land from Squire Myers (now commemorated in a local road), in the expectation that one day a parish would grow round his new church.
The foundation stone was laid, in the presence of Archbishop Maclagan of York, by Robert Elcum Horsfall, the young son of the founder. Sadly, that young boy was, as Captain Robert Horsfall, killed towards the end of the Great War, and his father gave and dedicated the fine chancel screen at St Faith‘s in his memory. It bears the poignant inscription:
A.M.D.G. IN LOVING MEMORY OF ROBERT ELCUM
HORSFALL KILLED IN ACTION NOVEMBER 20TH 1917
REQUIESCAT IN PACE
The photograph on this month‘s cover hangs in the vestry, along with
a series of pictures of incumbents and major events over the century of
the church‘s life. We hope to feature other archive pictures in the
months, and the editor would welcome any photographs, articles or
to that end.
From the Back Pew — Talking Talents Chris Price
It is very good indeed to be able to record that as we go to press the current Talents Total has just reached the £7,000 mark. This was the figure needed to make up for the drop in regular giving experienced during 1997, to provide the income normally generated by a Bazaar or similar one-off activity, and to make possible the giving away of our planned percentage of overall income to good causes at home and abroad. All these things have now been achieved, and we even have a small ?cushion‘ for the future.
But the Talents Scheme will continue into 1998. Increases in our Diocesan Quota (the amount we pay to the Liverpool Diocese towards clergy stipends and pensions etc, and which is calculated according to our income and congregation size) inevitably increases annually — and we are working through a series of larger increases still in the aftermath of the much-publicised fiasco of the Church Commissioners‘ investment failures of some years ago. The worst of this is now over, but the policy of asking churches to become increasingly reliant on their own resources, and not to be dependant on ?dead men‘s money‘, is rightly continuing in the foreseeable future. It thus seems entirely appropriate that we at St Faith‘s should continue to use our many and varied Talents in the service of our church: both to pay our way internally and also (and even more vitally) to enable us to support the wider church and the needs of the world in charitable giving.
Many thanks to those who have continued so generously to support the Scheme and who will continue to do so in this New Year. A special thankyou to those whose donations, large and small, have helped to swell the overall total significantly. Several have attracted Gift Aid tax refunds: £450 so far banked from the tax man at absolutely no cost to anyone, with more to come.
I have never proclaimed a final target figure, but only interim aims. So now it seems appropriate to say: wouldn‘t it be nice to make it £10,000 by the beginning of our Centenary Celebrations at the end of May!
Postscript: two generous people have donated the entire proceeds of
their recent National Lottery wins to the Talents Scheme. As a result,
we are £20 better off ...!
More Out of Africa Linda Nye
Linda continues the tale of the Nyes‘ recent visit to Malawi, begun in last month‘s issue.
Where to begin when there is so much to tell? Our 4-week stay in Malawi last June was our first journey beyond the Mediterranean; perhaps nothing could have prepared us for the immense contrast between cultures, the abject poverty, the extraordinariness of it all. The two worlds were neatly juxtaposed as we landed at the capital, Lilongwe, on the weekly Jumbo from Gatwick, laden with gifts, food, mail, car parts and essential but unobtainable medical supplies and drugs. Lilongwe‘s prestigious airport, built by the recently-deceased Hastings Banda, boasts fewer than one international flight daily, with facilities to match. Immigration and customs were sleeping bureaucracy: there is some corruption, but this is Africa — where else do you pay 20 US dollars to leave the country? As the Jumbo had made its descent, we had had our first glimpse of rural Africa, the dark dots of grass-roofed huts huddled in patches of vivid orange dust, surrounded by tracts of scrub and a web of intersecting paths. Any sense of romance evaporated as we circled lower over tattered grey roofs — a far cry from the neatly-thatched rondavels, or beach umbrellas seen at the handful of 4-star hotels.
Our sense of dislocation continued as we drove into the capital, dodging potholes in the road, and the relatively few but dilapidated and overloaded trucks, coaches and pick-up vans. Government limos and ex-pat. 4-wheel drives go at lethal speeds. Bicycles wobbled ahead with cargoes of carefully- stacked firewood, chickens in a basket, or an extra passenger on the crossbar. It was mid-day, so charcoal burners were being stoked at the roadside to prepare nsima (maize porridge) the carbohydrate staple eaten 3 times a day. An unexpected hazard was the little boys who tried to flag us down, brandishing a lunch-time delicacy of half-a-dozen skewered mice. We drove on. First impressions: orange dust; the indefinable smell of Africa, the incessant movement of people bearing burdens, going somewhere or other, or just sitting and waiting in the shade.
Our hosts lived in a comfortable European-style bungalow, surrounded by a large and fertile garden in an upmarket, leafy residential area with affluent Asian businessmen as neighbours. All windows are louvred, covered with mosquito-netting and security bars, which we found quite oppressive, but which apparently prove an obstacle to burglars. We were greeted with cheerful salutes from the Securicor guard at the gate, beaming smiles from the ?houseboy‘ and the gardener, and with yelps of delight from two potentially lethal dogs. The boxer and dalmatian (pink from rolling in the dust) terrified the local Africans, but nevertheless proved completely ineffectual when intruders came over the wall one night during our stay, removing three new tyres from the carport while the night-watchman slept at his post. Such episodes are becoming more frequent, and are often accompanied by violence: hardly surprising in a society where the visible gulf between rich and poor fuels discontent and increasing desperation.
What did I do all day? Well, not a lot, in a sense. As a white ?madam‘ with a staff of servants it‘s possible to do very little except sit with a book on the shady verandah with a tray of excellent local coffee or a MGT (Malawi gin) before a game of tennis or a swim at the golf club. Very relaxing for a few weeks post-retirement! My experience of Africa was rather a domestic one, quite different from Fred‘s, the daily routine largely dominated by the ?school-run‘ to get him to and from the central hospital four times a day, a 40-minute round trip right across the city centre, driving a 20-year-old banger of truly African decreptitude. Day-break at 5.30 am brought the acrid smell of wood fires and the scuttle of watchmen changing shifts. We left the house soon after 7 am in wonderful light. By 10 am or so it was too hot to stand out in the sun, which hangs disconcertingly in the north, almost overhead even in ?midwinter‘ June. At 5 pm we strolled on the golfcourse in brief twilight, so that Fred could relax a bit after the harrowing demands of the wards, and we heard the muhezzin from the city centre. Our hosts keep ?open house‘, so there were often interesting guests for the evening meal, Willard the ?houseboy‘ padding around in bare feet to attend to the coffee, washing-up and breakfast table. Tilley lamps came out during the inevitable power cuts. There was no television, and we were exhausted by about 9 pm. Nights were comfortably cool, but punctuated by (anti-malarial) drug-induced dreams and the polyphonic howling of the city‘s dogs.
To be continued ...
During their last summer holiday, Fiona and Denis Whalley had a chance meeting with a Mennonite family in the USA. They attended a most interesting service of worship and here they tell you about their experience.
Last summer we visited friends in Michigan — retired farmers living opposite a family of Mennonites, part of an expanding group in that part of Michigan, who first arrived from Pennsylvania eleven or so years ago and have opened a small shop selling loose foodstuffs. We were invited to join the Mennonites the following day for their Sunday service.
The Mennonites, the Amish and the Hutterites come from the Anabaptist (the wordmeans ?to rebaptise‘) movement which began during the Reformation in 16th-century Europe. They called for voluntary, adult baptism at a time when the state allowed only infant baptism. Anabaptists sought to restore the church to the purity of its early days, believing it had been corrupted by state control which demanded all citizens be baptized as infants. They became the first church in more than 1,000 years to call for and practice the separation of church and state. They were violently persecuted by Catholic and Protestant authorities, who considered their stance both heresy and treason.
The Hutterites are the oldest of the groups. Named after an early leader, Jacob Hutter, they organised in Moravia in 1528. From the beginning, they have practised communal living, including common ownership of property. Today they are located in Canada, USA, England and Japan, and they are the only communal society in modern history to achieve permanence and stability.
The Amish, led by Jacob Ammann, began in 1693 with a group that split from the Mennonites. Ammann and his Swiss followers believed that fellow Mennonites were losing spiritual discipline and becoming too much like the world around them. They have resisted modern convenience, declining to own cars, radios or televisions and rejecting use of phones and electricity inside their homes. Today they are located primarily in the United States and Canada. Most of the 100,000 members live in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.
?Mennonite‘ is the name that became attached to the largest body of
Anabaptists. It comes from Menno Simons, a Dutch priest who became its
most influential leader. Members of most Mennonite groups drive cars,
in a wide variety of occupations and professions, and choose to live
like the neighbours around them. Today they are a worldwide community of about 750,000 scattered throughout 57 countries, with more than half of this family of faith consisting of other-than-white members.
Slightly apprehensively, as I was aware of their particularly modest dress code and my holiday wardrobe was very limited, we set off on the drive to the newly-constructed Mennonite church, me in my longest dress with my bare shoulders and arms covered by a cardigan, minus ear-rings (just in case) and with only a touch of lipstick. I hoped my uncovered head would not cause offence, but I imagined they would make allowances for me!
Immediately upon arriving we were divided — women to the left and men to the right. The men formed in a circle in the middle of the foyer and greeted each other with a kiss on the lips, although Denis was spared this introduction. The women gathered to take off their black outer bonnets, and smiled politely at me, but with great restraint and good manners kept their distance. Their dress was very simple, and mostly they keep one dress pattern for life — all lightweight, pastel cotton, with high plain necks or a simple collar, and puffed sleeves finishing just above the elbow. The women and teenage girls all wore fine white bonnets, immaculately starched, with their hair put up underneath, and black tights and shoes. The men and boys were all dressed in black trousers and white shirts and the men all wore black hats. Upon entering the church, we remained divided — women and girls to the left, men and boys to the right.
The interior of the church was extremley simple, with plain wood floors, wooden pews, windows to three sides and a plain altar upon which lay the Bible. The only adornment to the simple interior was, surprisingly, a large clock on one wall. Three clergy were present (one who had driven non-stop for five hours that day from Ontario, Canada, to be at this service and who was leaving immediately afterwards for the return journey) and sitting with them was the young son of the local Preacher.
A man on the right shouted out a hymn number, which was repeated by
the Preacher. The rest of the congregation joined in immediately,
in traditional four-part a cappella. There then followed several
from the Bible in the form of a sermon, lasting about 25 minutes,
followed by another sermon lasting about 45 minutes. I am told by Denis
that a lot of the men had fallen asleep at some stage during the
(they were, after all, farmers who had probably risen at 4.00 am). Some
of the children also dozed off, but not
women! Another hymn was then
number repeated, and the singing led by the man who had chosen the hymn. Immediately after this we prayed. Much to my surprise, we knelt on the floor and turned round to face the back of Church, with elbows on the seat. Even women holding sleeping babies in their arms, like my hostess Lucille, knelt and laid their sleeping babies on the pew seats. The prayer was short and followed by yet another sermon. The service ended with a final hymn and lasted from 10.00am until shortly after 12.00pm. The Preacher appeared to direct the service entirely for the benefit of the men and did not acknowledge the presence of the women at all, neither did he look at that side of the congregation! Mostly the sermons and readings were extremely difficult to follow as the Mennonnites are a softly-spoken people, their Preachers more so, and all was delivered in a flat monotone.
After the service we gathered in the foyer — again the women together in one group and the men in another. Now was the time to meet the guests and ask questions. Their lives revolve mostly around farming and working in their shop, and for most their education finished at about the age of 14. I was asked questions as varied as `What sort of farming do you do in England?‘ and `Did you understand our service — what language do you speak in England?‘
As we moved outside, our friend Lucille said, as she looked around the car park, ”Now where did Robin park the car?• I had to smile - the car park was full of identical, black people carriers. Where indeed did Robin park the car? We were invited to lunch, which was a family affair. I had modestly covered my arms and shoulders in the Church with a cardigan, but with temperatures at 90 or so degrees, I threw caution to the wind and discarded the cardigan.
There is much we can learn from the Anabaptists, particularly the
of a Preacher. Two weeks of prayer are followed by a vote at a regular
Sunday service. Any nominee getting more than two votes enters the
process. Hymn books are selected to equal the number of candidates and
a small piece of paper containing a Bible verse (either Acts 1 vv 23-26
or Proverbs 16 v. 33) is inserted into one of the hymn books. The books
are placed on a table and then following prayer, each candidate selects
a hymn book. The Bishop examines each book until he finds one
the ?lot‘. The man ?struck‘ by the lot is duly appointed. Simple!
at these services are sobbing and weeping, a ritual mourning,
deep sympathy for the heavy burden placed on the chosen servant. The
are satisfied with the result because the choice was God‘s.