Tag Archives: Manchester

15 April, Vigil of Easter : O Living Water!

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Holy Name Church, Manchester

Water is everywhere at the Easter Vigil, from Creation (Genesis 1) to the Exodus (Chapter 14) and the rain making the land fertile in Isaiah (35:1-11) to Paul’s ‘When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death … so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. (Romans 6:3-11)

The water is blessed by immersing the Paschal Candle in it, as we pray that all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism may rise to new life with him. New Christians are baptised; we are all sprinkled with holy water.

The Church is serious about death, the church is serious about the Resurrection. As you enter the Holy Name church in Manchester you cannot avoid their magnificent holy water fonts: this particular church is very serious about the death of baptism.

If we are to be raised from the dead, then despite all our trials and troubles, everything is basically all right. All will be well, all manner of things will be well. If you cannot quite believe in Easter and everlasting life, ask yourself, if this story were indeed true, what difference would it make to me today? How would it change my life? Then try starting that change in behaviour, and see if it makes sense.

WT

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21 March: Where she may lay her young.

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As we crossed the cloister at the Baptist College in Manchester, Luther King House, we heard a chuckle from the top of a leafless tree. A pair of magpies were building their nest in a fork of the upper branches. The structure was at an early stage, just a few twigs, but if they decide to finish the nest it will have a dome and provide good shelter for the young ‘pies as they grow quickly into adulthood.

the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.

Psalm 84:3

It was Mrs T who made the connection that it was Valentine’s Day, the day the birds are said to marry.

There was a blackbird’s nest on top of a short brick pillar along the cloister. That hen bird must have found her place just above head level on this busy, sheltered corridor to be very safe.

In nearby Whitworth Park we saw parakeets who clearly considered themselves wild members of the local fauna. We’re used to them in Kent but did not expect to spot them so far North!

Magpie photo

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15 November: Mancunian Mercy, XIX Century Style.

manc.cathedral.Sporch by David Dixon at

Back in England, an old guide book[1] tells how the South Porch of Manchester Cathedral proclaims ‘To the honour and Glory of God and in thankful acknowledgement of many mercies this porch is erected by James Jardine of Manchester and Alderley Edge in the Year of Our Lord MDCCCXCI’. A door of Mercy then?

Jardine built himself a fine villa in the clean air of Alderley Edge a few years later. He had become head of a major cotton spinning firm, Shaw, Jardine and Co, despite humble beginnings. By ‘mercies’ did he mean personal prosperity? Was that God-given or derived in part from the imposition of lower wages in the dangerous spinning mills some years before this porch was built? The owners then showed no mercy to the workers who made them prosperous.

James Jardine provided in his will for two drinking fountains to be installed in Central Manchester. A measure of mercy at least. (Matthew 25:35)

mercy.carving. (328x640)Lest we feel too smug about the attitudes of rich people a century and more ago, we too all carry the taint of Mammon; in particular it is nigh on impossible to clothe oneself without wearing something produced by underpaid workers, if not modern slaves, overseas, where we only see them briefly when their factories collapse. How do we show mercy to them?

[1] Bell’s Cathedrals of England: The Cathedral Church of Manchester by the Rev Thomas Perkins, London, George Bell and Sons, 1901, p16. At http://www.ajhw.co.uk/books/book350/book350x/book350x.html

Manchester Cathedral, S Porch by David Dixon at http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3870797 . Creative Commons Licence.

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27 September: What is it about Angels?

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Angel by CD

Recently Professor Brian Cox of Manchester University was speculating that there might be ‘multiverses’; universes where the laws of nature vary from what we experience. How would we ever know about such a cosmos? It’s hardly a case of Professor Cox imagines – or I imagine – therefore it is.

There’s a simple-minded side of me that says – angels! They obey different laws of nature, but some people, sometimes, are aware of them: Mary, Zechariah, William Blake.

John Masefield gives these lines to the Magi in The Coming of Christ:

The days are past when rocks and streams

And trees were gods directing man,

We are all lost among our dreams,

We are all waters without plan.

The world is ours with discontent,

We have all things save hope; we stare

Into earth’s secrets: we invent

New swiftnesses lest we despair.

Yet we have joy, because we may

Still light upon that simple thing

Under the eyes of every day

Which is the secret of the King.

O lighten us, bright star, and show

The angels walking at our side,

And where the glittering waters go,

The lasting waters that abide.

Fitting prayer for Angeltide, these days when we hold their feasts, and for Francistide, for he reminds us that rocks and streams are brothers and sisters to us, not gods, under the eye of the King. And there is no need to believe in multiverses, or even pure spirits, to see the angel beside us in our spouses, workmates, or those we greet in the street: any of these could be a messenger of the King today.

The  next three days’ posts are responses to William Blake’s visions of angels, by Dr Naomi Billingsley, a respected Blake Scholar and currently Bishop Otter Scholar at Chichester.

 

MMB

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Reflections on Living Together, VII: Wise Words and Wise Gestures from Lemn Sissay.

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Just before our travels we attended NAIB’s doctoral graduation in Manchester, where we were addressed by the Chancellor, the poet Lemn Sissay. Eloquently, he urged the graduands to remember those who had made their higher education possible: their parents, their parents’ parents, and their parents before them.

He brought a tear to my eye. In my own family, my generation were the first to have that opportunity, though my mother completed her BA in her sixties. Both my parents left school at fourteen; poverty and ill-health limited life chances for them and many more.

I noticed, as the graduands stepped forward, the great diversity of backgrounds they must have come from. Some were overseas students, attracted to Manchester’s engineering expertise, but many were home grown, including some Muslims. Although the ceremonial expects the graduand to shake the Chancellor’s hand as token of receiving the degree, this gesture would have been an embarrassment for some; but Mr Sissay gracefully received and sent each one into the world with a bow, a smile, a gesture of total acceptance and goodwill.

What kind of world will a Muslim woman engineer be building? What understanding of classical civilisation will her veiled fellow graduate share with her own students?

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Let us trust that God is working in strange and wondrous ways among the people (Psalm 96:3) and let us heed the call to make his paths straight (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3). Meeting the graduands half-way was the University and Lemn Sissay’s response to that challenge.

Even if we have little or no opportunity to foster interreligious dialogue, we can each of us rejoice in a neighbour’s accomplishment, or make even a couple of seconds of their lives more wondrous. That is part of our calling as children of God.

MMB.

Lemn Sissay by Philosophy Football

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July 26: The Parents of Mary, Saints Joachim and Anne.

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The Gospels tell us nothing at all about Mary’s parents, Jesus’ grandparents. Were they still living when Jesus was born, did they get to play with him as a baby? Perhaps not, if the Holy Family had to stay in Egypt for any length of time. Mary would surely have welcomed another pair of hands around the house, while her parents would have been anxious all the time the Holy Family spent in exile.

 

They were real people, even if we do not know their names for sure. The traditional names of Joachim and Anne first appear in the Second Century. The Missionaries of Africa look after the Basilica of Saint Anne in Jerusalem, built on the traditional site of their home. It is now a house of studies and retreat where pilgrims are welcomed to the church dating back to Crusader times.

 

Anne is the more celebrated of this couple. I don’t ever remember seeing a statue of Saint Joachim, though the happy couple are celebrated in icons and Anne is often shown teaching Mary to read. But then, last week, on a visit to Manchester, I found him at Holy Name Church. He appears as an old man with a beard wilder than my own. (Maybe Anne was less assertive than my wife.) And he carries a basket and two doves: we think of the two doves offered by Joseph and Mary when Jesus was taken to the Temple as a baby. (Luke 2:24) But perhaps we should remember the deserved reputation doves have for ‘billing and cooing’ – unabashedly showering affection upon each other all through the day. Those doves could stand for Joachim and Anne and for all married couples.

 

I was happy to learn, from the note beside Joachim’s statue, that he is the patron of grandfathers. I can live with a patron whose beard and hair are something to aspire to! And I can try to live up to the standards of care lavished on his grandson as well as the way he must have supported Mary and Joseph through those difficult months of pregnancy and maybe too their time as refugees. Fun though it is, grandparenting is serious work, God’s work, and mostly in the background.

WT.

 

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