The Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary, a picture of serenity in stained glass window or pious painted scene. In your blue cloak, and in quiet contemplation, you wait devoutly for the Angel to bring you his news.

But I wonder… I wonder if it was like that. Centuries of art, religious tradition and the occasional nativity play, may have got between you and us. Even your name, Mary – you sound so British! Or possibly Irish. ‘Mary’. If we think of you as a Miriam, we get a little closer to the Jewish peasant girl. You were just a teenager, really, betrothed to Joseph – older than yourself, probably – when the news came. An unplanned teenage pregnancy! You were not the first to find yourself in that difficult position; and not the last either! Fortunately, your Joseph is a decent chap and a quick word from an Angel of the Lord puts him in the picture too.

In the children’s nativity play, Baby Jesus arrives in the arms of an angel with tinsel wings, and is plonked unceremoniously into the makeshift crib. I wonder if his birth was as easy as that. I have a feeling that it wasn’t… No NHS hospital bed for you. No birthing pool. No ‘gas and air’. Not even the comfort and familiarity of your own home. Just you and that old man of yours and now you’re a family: the baby, wrapped in bands of cloth and placed in a manger. “Because there was no room at the inn”. Don’t think for a moment that’s what you’d imagined for your firstborn. In the nativity play, you sit on a piano stool and cheerfully welcome your strange visitors – shepherds in dressing gowns and tea-towel headdresses, and wise men with their turbans, cloaks and strange ideas about what makes a suitable gift for a baby. Their words, we are told, you treasured and pondered. Well, you’ll need something to sustain you: old Simeon will tell you, when he meets your little one that being his mother will break your heart: a sword will pierce your soul.

Oh, Miriam! Who could have known what lay in store when you said those words to the Angel,

‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

 

Comfort and Joy in the Old Testament 1.

In these weekly reflections for Advent, we are going to be using the first four readings from the Nine Lessons and Carols service made famous by being broadcast by the BBC from the chapel of King’s College Cambridge each Christmas. They’re all from the Old Testament. And we are looking for Comfort and Joy in the Old Testament.

Livestream Video

You can watch the live streamed video of this reflection, followed by a brief service of night prayer (‘compline’) here

The Fall

In our first reading, from Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are in the beautiful garden that God has created. There is only one rule: you can eat the fruit of any tree; but not that one – the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die. Sounds simple enough! But you know what happens. Like a sign on a door that says, Wet Paint. Do not touch. You didn’t even know you wanted to touch the door until you saw the sign… (Click the link below to read the passage.)

Genesis 3.8–15, 17–19

Christmas 1918

This year, 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the world: the greatest health crisis since the so-called Spanish flu of 1918.

So, let me take you back to Christmas 1918. The first World War had ended but not all the troops were home. Some were still in prisoner-of-war camps, and, of course, some would never return to family and friends.

The R number – that term we are so familiar with today – was between 2 and 3, boosted by the movement of troops, and the impact that the war had had on people’s immune systems. Wartime censorship left people ignorant and unprepared. The pandemic’s second wave struck in late 1918. There were no antibiotics to treat secondary infection, let alone antiviral drugs to treat the virus itself.

So, Christmas 1918. Some called it the Peace Christmas, but it’s clear that the world has been devastated by war and by the pandemic.

Eric Milner-White, who was 34 years old had been an army chaplain in the war. He was now the Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, newly appointed to the post. He knew that the Church of England’s regular diet of prayer-book services needed something fresh and imaginative, and was determined to plan something special for Christmas Eve. He turned to an order of service drawn up by E.W. Benson, Bishop of Truro, for Christmas Eve 1880, for his cathedral which at the time was a large wooden shed. Benson had been concerned about the amount of drinking that went on in Cornwall during the festive season, and one of his aims was to attract revellers out of the pubs and into church on Christmas Eve. He created a service of nine bible lessons and nine carols. Bear in mind that, before the late C19th, carols were not sung in church. They were secular songs for people to sing at home, in the streets and in alehouses; folk songs, not choral pieces sung by robed choirs accompanied by a magnificent cathedral organ. So, Benson brought carols into the cathedral. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1883 and took this approach with him, further popularising the singing of carols in church and the format of nine lessons and carols.

Dean Milner-White who brought the carol service to Cambridge in 1918, said the purpose of the service was, through its bible readings, to show

“the development of the loving purposes of God … seen through the windows and words of the Bible”.

He wrote the bidding prayer, still in use today in the chapel at King’s, and, adapted for use elsewhere.

Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmas Eve our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels; in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.

Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child.

This is followed by prayer -so those who are able to enjoy the celebration of the birth of Jesus remember “in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and them that mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; all who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.”

And then:

let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.

You can imagine the power of those words in 1918. That, as we celebrate Christmas, we also remember

‘all those who rejoice with us but on another shore and in a greater light’.

The King’s College website tells us that

“the centre of the service is still found by those who ‘go in heart and mind’ and who consent to follow where the story leads.”

The story of ‘The loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience’ takes us today to the first lesson, from Genesis chapter three, where “God tells sinful Adam that he has lost the life of Paradise and that his seed will bruise the serpent’s head.” This is the story of ‘man’s first disobedience’ and its consequences.

Comfort and Joy?

I must admit, I tend to leave out these early readings when I’m planning a carol service! Perhaps our attention span isn’t what it was early in the C20th. Or maybe I am just anxious to get to the good bits – the bits with angels and shepherds and stars and magi… There’s not much comfort and joy in the inglorious story of Adam and Eve and the serpent.

But the Dean’s scheme is clever. Why is the birth of the Redeemer good news? Because we need to be redeemed. The sin of Adam and Eve is our sin too: we know better than God what is good for us! Well, we think we do. “I want to live in a universe where I am at the centre”. Let me tell you, that a universe where I am at the centre is no paradise! Never mind, “If I ruled the world…” It’s a good job I don’t! The crafty serpent offers us what we want: the right to doubt God’s faithfulness, to doubt God’s goodness, and strike out on our own, to be our own people. The story of the Garden of Eden is our story. We swap intimate fellowship with God – “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” – for a life of exile, alienation, separation from God, where everything is broken, including our relationships with God, with one another, with our planet and even ourselves, our own bodies. We traded a life of innocent bliss for a life of brokenness, shame and guilt.

Of course, it’s not my fault. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the serpent. It’s just that there was something in me that resonated when the serpent offered a diabolical alternative to God’s good garden.

Where is the comfort and joy in the story of our fall from grace, our dis-grace? We have to wait until later in the carol service to hear the angels’ message to a band of frightened shepherds:

‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Luke 2.10.11

And, as the prologue to John’s gospel tells us, it’s the good news of light shining in the darkness.

In the darkness of a broken world – the world of 1918 and the world of 2020 – the light shines and the darkness has never overcome it. (John 1.5)

Comfort and Joy

In a normal year, my December magazine article would contain a message about the importance of Christmas, and express the hope that all our readers would be able to attend one or more of our Christmas services, and perhaps invite family and friends to join us. We would be looking forward to Carol Services, Crib Services and ‘Midnight Mass’. That’s what would happen in a normal year. But 2020 has not been a normal year and who knows where we will be by Christmas, or how 2021 will look?

I’m writing this in November, during national Lockdown 2. Places of worship are again closed and we are waiting to hear when they are likely to re-open, making planning all but impossible. Archbishops have joined other faith leaders in asking for an exemption for places of worship, given all the work we have put into making our buildings and services as COVID19-safe as we can. That exemption has not been granted and we are urged to follow the regulations and guidance that are in place.

In most years, along with other clergy, I put some effort into reminding people that Advent is an important season in the Church’s year – and encouraging people to resist rushing headlong into Christmas celebration without spending some time in Advent reflection. This year, I feel different. The pandemic, which led to churches being closed for Mothering Sunday and Easter, has felt like an awfully long Advent. We have been unable to meet in church for worship or to share in holy communion. We have been looking forward to better things. Even in Lent, you’re not supposed to abstain from bread and wine at communion! But we have all been keeping an enforced abstinence from the things that are given to sustain us. Perhaps we’ll learn to value what really matters, having had so much taken away from us in this awful year. Enough Advent already!

So, bring it on! Put up your Christmas tree in November, if you want! Put lights on the outside of your house to combat the darkness and spread a little, much-needed cheer! Make mince pies and eat chocolate! Watch Christmas movies and listen to Christmas music![1]

And, in the midst of all the self-indulgence, the Christmas message invites us to think of others. The pandemic has seen many examples of people caring for others, including the extraordinary response to Captain Tom’s 100th Birthday Walk for the NHS, and the little acts of kindness that were stirred up in people seeing their neighbours in need.

At the heart of so many communities, lies the church. It has been estimated that the Church of England alone is worth £12.4bn a year to the country through the events and activities it provides and supports. But what will our church look like next year? Will we still be here for Christmas 2021? We need to plan for recovery and growth if we are to continue serving our communities. Recent research suggests that churches which are engaged with their communities (not hiding away inside their buildings) are more likely to grow. Churches should be marked by:

  • A strong sense of connection with their local area (not just with their own congregations)
  • Perseverance – years of engaging with their communities
  • Hospitality and Generosity
  • Participation in social action, working with other people of goodwill, regardless of whether they are people of faith or not[2]

How will our churches in Stretton and Appleton Thorn continue to engage with our communities in the coming years? How can you be a part of that?

My December message usually ends with me wishing you and yours a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year. I’m pleased to repeat that here, while, at the same time acknowledging that this is likely to be a very different Christmas from any that we have known.

But, even if everything else is different, I take comfort in this:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. (Hebrews 13.8)


[1] My favourite Christmas movie, if you’re interested, is Scrooged (1988, starring Bill Murray) and my favourite Christmas music includes folky stuff by Kate Rusby and the Albion Christmas Band.

[2] https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2020/13-november/news/uk/the-c-of-e-must-evolve-for-growth-says-cottrell

Learning from Lockdown

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="10" max-font-size="72" height="80">Back in July, Bishop Keith (acting as diocesan bishop) wrote to clergy about a ‘Think Tank’ that he had set up, under the tag “<em>Learning and Leading out of Lockdown</em>”. The idea came from a meeting of rural deans (via Zoom, of course) asking the question, “What is God saying to us through this pandemic?”Back in July, Bishop Keith (acting as diocesan bishop) wrote to clergy about a ‘Think Tank’ that he had set up, under the tag “Learning and Leading out of Lockdown”. The idea came from a meeting of rural deans (via Zoom, of course) asking the question, “What is God saying to us through this pandemic?”

The Think Tank produced some resources for reflection and discussion which have been circulated. Bishop Keith, commending the resources to us, was very keen to emphasise that, given the exhaustion and weariness that many were feeling, this might not be the most productive time for reflection. “It’s not just something to add to your ‘to do’ list,” he said. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that that was exactly what it was!

Given that the resources were sent out in July – and we now find ourselves in November still facing huge uncertainties about what the future holds – it seemed too soon. It still does. How can we reflect on something while we are still in the middle of it?

Even earlier (13 May), I had joined an online training session, organised by CPAS, called “Leadership in Lockdown” as I thought it might help me to think through what we were facing. Webinars via Zoom were fairly new to me, but I was able to get the technology to work. I had expected to sit looking at my screen, perhaps making a few notes, but I was quickly introduced to a new horror: the ‘breakout room’! If you have ever attended any kind of training session, you’ll know that the scariest part is when the leader says, “Just turn to the person next to you and say what you feel about this…” I didn’t know they could do that on Zoom! But there I was, face-to-face (on-screen at least) with someone I had never met before – a vicar from somewhere else in the country – expected to talk about what I was learning from the pandemic. I have to admit, I can’t really remember what my Zoom partner said. But I remember what I said. I said, “Well my wife was ill… and I was ill… and my mum died from COVID19…” My poor Zoom partner!

The following day we went to Gloucester for mum’s funeral. It was one of those restricted coronavirus funerals where only a very few mourners were allowed to attend. Sadly, even my dad wasn’t there because he too had been taken ill and was in hospital where he tested positive for COVID19. As some of you will know, when we returned from the funeral later that day, Rose (my wife) took a call from the home where her father was, saying that he was now quite poorly and that they were concerned about him. Restricted visiting meant that Rose agonised about going to see him (meaning that her brother and sister would not be allowed to) but she did, the following day. She set up a video call with her siblings, and he died while she was there. We attended another very limited funeral.

So, remind me: what was I supposed to be doing? Oh yes, reflecting and learning from lockdown; asking, “What is God saying to us through this pandemic?”

On 17 March, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote to all Church of England clergy, following Government guidance, to advise that:

Public worship will have to stop for a season. Our usual pattern of Sunday services and other mid-week gatherings must be put on hold.

I’m told that this was the first time since 1208 that Church worship in England had been suspended! (In 1208, Pope Innocent III put England under an interdict when King John rejected his choice for Archbishop of Canterbury.)

It wasn’t that the church was to “shut up shop” but that we were to find ‘new ways of being church’ without being able to access our buildings. Now that sounds quite interesting to me: I have always felt that our buildings were as much a drain on our resources as they were an asset. So, what ‘new ways of being church’ would we find?

One thing we found was that we could live-stream services using Zoom and Facebook. Each week we learned something new. And each week something new went wrong! There was one Sunday morning when so many churches tried to log on to Zoom at the same time that Zoom gave up the ghost and refused to play. Imagine that: the church shutting down an online video service! On another occasion, we had no problem connecting to Zoom, but then Facebook refused to talk to Zoom and we were unable to go live.

During these weeks, a small group of us met (virtually, of course) on a Saturday to go through the following day’s service, allocating prayers and readings to different voices. This was something I really enjoyed and hope we might be able to incorporate in future services that are being live-streamed from church. We built up a camaraderie between us (forged in the heat of never knowing whether it was going to work or not!) and learned a little about leading worship remotely. One of my favourite moments came when one of our contributors came to read a prayer, but couldn’t see the words on her screen because it was behind the image of another contributor. I won’t reveal names, but it’s the first time I have ever heard a prayer introduced with the words, “I can’t see the prayer because x is in the way!”

 We are slowly re-introducing services in church, but, as I write, Warrington is about to go into the highest tier for COVID19 restrictions. It’s so difficult to plan ahead as we are constantly being given new guidance and new regulations. We have had to scale down so many of our activities. This month, November, is the month for remembrance – for the church, for families and for nations, as we mark All Saints, All Souls and Remembrance days. We will be doing those things but very differently from previous years. And who knows what Christmas will look like? I can hardly bear to think about it!

In order to give myself some space to think and reflect, I have spent a quiet day at Foxhill. The day was advertised as a time to ‘Refresh, Restore, Renew’. We began and ended with prayer in the chapel. Apart from that, it was mostly silent – even over lunch where we sat at socially distanced tables – so I managed to read most of a book called “Punk Monk”[1]. I won’t summarise the book here, but it begins with something that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who was executed by the Nazi regime in 1945. He was thinking about what it would mean to follow Christ in the modern world. He called for a new form of monasticism, aware that in the past, the church and the world have been transformed by monastic communities. He wrote:

Bonhoeffer’s death in a concentration camp means that we only have the start of his thinking of what that would look like, but it’s a good start for our own thinking and prayer. What would church look like if, instead of buildings, ritual and liturgy, we were a community governed by Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount?

“…the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ.  I think it is time to gather people together to do this…”

So, you see, I have been reflecting and learning from lockdown. I’m just not at all sure what I have learned! Perhaps you are doing better than me? What is God saying to us?

Every blessing,

Alan


[1] Punk Monk: New Monasticism and the Ancient Art of Breathing, 2007 by Andy Freeman and Pete Greig

William and Margaret Owen

An article by Roger Bingham

Stretton Church has a silver memorial plaque to them on the 3rd pillar on the north side from the entrance to the church.  I periodically polish this as part of my church cleaning duty rota. I looked into who the Owens were, my interest being sparked by memories of Halsall Owen, grandson of William and son of Geoffrey.

All were architects in Warrington and William FRIBA (1846-1910} was the founder of the architects practice William and Segar Owen, who had premises in Cairo Street, and later in Museum Street, where I practiced dentistry from 1960 to1996.

William was born in Latchford in 1846 and died in Appleton in1910. He trained as an architect in Manchester and travelled in Europe, visiting Belgium and Holland as well as France and Switzerland.

He set up practice in Warrington in 1869.In 1896 he took his elder son Segar into partnership and their practice in 1896 was in No 4, Cairo Street Chambers and later in Museum Street.

They designed 28 houses and a factory in Port Sunlight for William’s close friend W H Lever. He accompanied Lever ( later Lord Leverhulme) in his search to find land to build a new soap factory and a Garden Village for the staff. He was the first architect employed by Lever and also designed buildings in Warrington such as  St. Barnabas’s Church ,Bank Quay in 1879,Warrington School of Art in Museum Street in 1883,the Parr Hall in 1895 and Warrington Technical School in 1900-1902  ( now San Lorenzo restaurant), the Mulberry Tree ,Stockton Heath (1907) and other pubs for Greenall Whitley and  various banks for Parr’s Bank (now part of Nat West.}

William married Margaret and had children Segar (1874-1929 ) and Geoffrey (1887-1965) Segar lived at Kelmscott, Firs Lane, Appleton(1906-1914); an Arts and Crafts style house now rebuilt and named “The Foxes”. I surmise that they also designed Stonecroft, Firs Lane and maybe William lived there. Other houses include Garnett House, Penketh (Garnett had a large furniture factory in Warrington) and Birchdale (for Robert Davies, a Warrington solicitor). in Appleton (later the hotel and now demolished and replaced by a block of apartments.)

William died suddenly in Warrington in 1910;He and Margaret are buried in the NE corner of St Matthews Churchyard together with Samuel, ( died 1884) and Halsall (died 1915 aged 34 )

 Segar continued the practice, being joined by Geoffrey and then Halsall, his son. Halsall did some work for me in 1972, including alterations to Hill Cliffe in Windmill Lane and I was always impressed as their practice was described as in “Warrington and London” which no doubt it was at one time .He and a Mr Welsby arranged for the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments to be engraved on the east wall behind the altar in the church.

Geoffrey was educated at Liverpool College and lived in Windmill Lane from 1912 to 1914. I knew him in 1961 as a tall ,elderly (! ) gentleman who had the next garage to mine in Museum Street; he always wiped his Morris Minor down if it was wet before putting it in the garage.

I gathered some of this information from the internet and from David and Margaret Hart, and there are images there of some of their designs, including a house, High Cliffe, Appleton. Where was this very large property? Does anyone know ?

Roger H Bingham 

Back in Time?

You may have seen some of this BBC 2 series in which a family is transported back in time to discover what life was like in previous decades. In the first programme of this series (Back in Time for the Weekend), the family home is transformed into a 1950s house. Deprived of all their 21st century technology, what will the family do for a whole weekend? How will the children entertain themselves without their smart phones and computer games? How will mum and dad cope with spending their leisure time learning how to ‘make do and mend’?

As well as learning to sew, ballroom dance and cook spam fritters in the open air, the family is exposed to one particular shock: on Sunday morning, they had to go to church! Why? Because that’s what families did in the 1950s and, to be honest, there wasn’t really anything else to do. The children attended Sunday school, where they learned the lesson of the Good Samaritan (from former Sunday School teacher, Anne Widdicombe, no less). In 1951, we learned, over half of children in the UK went to Sunday school each week, compared with 5% today. The experience seemed most difficult for mum, Steph. She couldn’t stay for the whole church service but had to walk out. She wasn’t against religion, she said, if that’s what people wanted to do with their time, but she struggled with the idea of having to do something she wasn’t comfortable with, in order to appear ‘respectable’. Sadly, in many ways, church culture hasn’t changed that much since the 1950s, even though the world around us has changed massively.

Each year in September, there is an initiative called ‘Back to Church Sunday’, aimed at encouraging people who have fallen away from church to attend a service. On Facebook, I jokingly put the question: “Does anyone know when ‘Back to Church Sunday is this year?’ Church attendance is something we have all had to give up and none of us yet knows when we will be able to go back to church.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact on all of us, not least the church. Who knows what the long-term effect will be or what church will look like in the future?

Here’s the challenge: how will we encourage members of our communities to come back to church without requiring them to go back in time?

Why is the Dutch flag flying at St Cross, Appleton Thorn?

‘Dodenherdenking’

The Flag of the Netherlands on our church flagpole (May 2020)

In the Netherlands, the Remembrance of the Dead (Dodenherdening) is held annually on 4 May, the eve of the anniversary the liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazi occupation of 1940 to 1945. It now commemorates all civilians and members of the armed forces of the Kingdom of the Netherlands who have died in wars or peacekeeping missions since the beginning of the Second World War.[1]

In the churchyard at St Cross, Appleton Thorn, are buried two Dutch airmen, flying officer (Officier-vlieger) Petrus Johannes HUIJER and Sergeant Aviator (Sergeant Vlieger) Alexander Joseph SMITH[2]. They were young Free Dutch[3] Naval Officers serving in the Fleet Air Arm, who trained at HMS Blackcap. They were killed when their planes collided over Budworth Mere on 15 March 1944[4], whilst practicing for the D Day Landings[5].

HMS Blackcap, or the Royal Naval Air Station, Stretton, was originally planned as a Royal Air Force night-fighter station to protect Liverpool and Manchester from Luftwaffe air raids during the Second World War. But changes in German tactics (to focus attention on Russia) meant that the airfield was not required, so it was transferred to the Admiralty on completion.

HMS Blackcap was commissioned on 1 June 1942 and forty-one Fleet Air Arm Squadrons were based there for varying periods, some aircraft being flown directly to and from aircraft carriers operating in the Irish Sea and other nearby waters.[6]

After the war, HMS Blackcap was home to the Fleet Air Arm’s Northern Air Division. The last operational Squadron based at Blackcap was 728B Squadron (FAA) who were formed in January 1958 and flew out of Blackcap on the 15th February 1958 en route to RNAS Hal Far, Malta.

HMS Blackcap was decommissioned on the 4th November 1958[7].

As well as the two Dutch airmen, St Cross churchyard also holds the graves of:

Wren Annie Elizabeth McCORMICK, of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, who was killed on 31 May 1943, along with two other Wrens and three naval air mechanics, when the truck they were travelling home in after a dance, crashed and overturned at Wrights Green. Annie’s funeral was held at St Cross, but the church wasn’t big enough to hold all the mourners who attended, and so the service was conducted at the war memorial[8];

Sub-Lieutenant James Watt BYRES, of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, died in July 1946, aged 20[9]; and

Flight Sergeant Thomas JONES, of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who died in November 1943, aged 23[10].

Until very recently, the Manchester Branch of the Fleet Air Arm Association held a yearly remembrance service at St Cross for all those who served in HMS Blackcap. My predecessor, the Revd Canon Elaine Chegwin-Hall, is their chaplain. Sadly, numbers attending dropped year by year as the association said goodbye to shipmates, but on the first Sunday in June we continue to remember HMS Blackcap in our service at St Cross.

As well as the two Dutch Airmen, we also remember Paul Bosman. Paul, originally from Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, spotted the distinctive Dutch war graves at St Cross and asked if the church could hold an act of remembrance on 4 May. He and his son, David, adopted the two graves in 2013 – a custom in the Netherlands. Sadly, Paul died in 2019. His son, David, has asked us to continue the act of remembrance, which we are happy to do, and to remember Paul, and pray for his wife, Lyndy, and David.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_of_the_Dead

[2] https://www.cwgc.org/find/find-war-dead/results/?cemetery=APPLETON%20THORN%20(ST.%20CROSS)%20CHURCHYARD

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Dutch_Forces

[4] https://www.tracesofwar.com/sights/20161/Dutch-War-Graves-Appleton-Thorn.htm

[5] http://www.rafburtonwood.org/blackcap.html

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RNAS_Stretton_(HMS_Blackcap)

[7] http://www.rafburtonwood.org/blackcap.html

[8] http://www.royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk/WRNS_McCormick.htm#.XrAvTKhKiM8

[9] http://aircrewremembered.com/byers-james-watt.html

[10] http://www.rafcommands.com/database/wardead/details.php?qnum=85840

The grave-markers for the two Dutch airmen
St Cross Church, Appleton Thorn

Time Capsule

This year, February had an extra day – a Leap Day. It happened to be a Saturday, so what to do with an extra day? Some of us arrived at St Matthew’s dressed for action. After a safety briefing, we set about cleaning and clearing the place. Cobwebs and dust were dispatched. Hymnbooks and bibles were boxed. Paperbacks and surplus vases were taken to charity shops. Hassocks and cassocks were bagged. Henry the hoover worked harder than he has ever done in his life and Charlie the eagle was covered like a parrot in a cage. (Admittedly, he has always been quiet.)

Our work party – average age estimated to be between 70 and 72, incidentally – fortified by tea and biscuits, was getting the building ready for the next phase of its life. On Monday, the reclamation people came in. They removed the pews from the back of church (from the cross-aisle, westward), apart from a couple of smaller ones which were bought by individuals, and took up the floor in that area. Work on the first phase of our Big Welcome project had begun! We are creating a space that will be used for serving refreshments after services and during the week, and for Praise & Play and other groups and activities to use. In the longer term, we hope to have kitchen facilities, level access from the car-park, and a toilet, assuming that the funds are available. The plan is to use our beautiful building to give a big welcome to all.

The following Saturday, a similar group (with a similar age profile) came and, once again, got everything ready for the work that was to come. While we were there, someone looked at the void where the pews and floorboards had been and asked, ‘Have we thought about putting a time capsule in, before the work is finished?’ Being a resourceful sort of chap, I got on with it and ordered a waterproof stainless-steel canister, big enough to take some A4 pages, rolled up. And then I asked people what they would like to be put inside for future generations to discover.

The Time Capsule: my hand for scale!

Suggestions included

  • Photographs of the church before and during the work, of the area, and of people
  • A copy of the current church magazine and this week’s newsletter
  • The church history booklet, written by David and Margaret Hart (which includes a list of clergy up to and including yours truly)
  • A leaflet about the Big Welcome project
  • An aerial view of the parish
  • Children’s writing and pictures of what church means to them
  • A copy of my sermon (!)
  • An audio recording of the latest news.
  • A newspaper article about the current world (and the coronavirus being declared a pandemic)

I’m not sure we’ll have space for all of that, but I would like to include a letter from me to whoever finds it. I could say something about myself, the church and the parish. Who knows what they will make of it?

The work has been made possible by generous donations and fundraising. But we need to continue if we are to realise the vision we have for our building. I know people hate being asked to give money – it’s always the same people who get asked, and the same ones who usually respond! – but the reality is that we need to reach out to our community and to coming generations, or, sadly, our building will be little more than a museum piece. And we are not in the museum business.

 I am encouraged today by support from folk at St Cross, who are inviting donations from those who visit their art and craft exhibition, and by the 5th Appleton Brownies who raised money with a cake sale. The St Matthew’s Praise & Play families held a sponsored treasure hunt and are planning a disco. My thanks to all who have supported the project so far, and all who are planning to do so.

What do you think will happen to the church in our two parishes, and in the nation, in the time between the capsule being buried and it being discovered? (The manufacturers say its good for 200 years, so if it fails, I’m going to ask for my money back!) It’s easy to be pessimistic about the church’s future. Recent surveys suggest that 68 percent of Anglican churches in this country have five children or fewer on a Sunday. 38% of churches have no children at all. A small number of churches are doing really well, but attendance by under-16-year-olds is dropping faster than adult attendance (20% decline in the last 5 years for children, compared with a 12% decline for adults). What future is there for the church if we lose contact with children and their families?

Our time capsule at St Matthew’s is a little gift from us to the future. But we have something greater to give: a church that is alive and well, and in the business of welcoming all.

Alan Jewell