Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter Day. "And now for something completely different"?

Six Sundays in Lent and six churches in Settle so I should have fitted them all in. But I didn't go to church on the Sunday of the New Wine Wimmin's Day, and then, even though that might have counted as the Anglican experience, it really didn't because it wasn't in Settle. So then I went to the Anglican church the Sunday afterwards. So that leaves the Christian Fellowship unvisited. Some people I spoke to think I'm looking for which church to go to, but it is more that I am interested in understanding why there are so many different churches each containing so few people in one small town. I have gained some partial answers, but that's a post for another day, when I have managed to visit the sixth church in Settle.

But now it is Easter and time for something completely different! 

Church of Scotland: 9:30am St Columba, Ayr.

St Columba Easter Sunday Services
Sunday 5th April 2015
7.30 am – Early Morning Service  –  Low Green
Followed by Breakfast in the Midton Road Hall
9.30 am – Family Service
11.15 am – Morning Worship
12.30 pm – Holy Communion
6.30pm – Evening Songs of Praise

The inlaws live in Ayr, so while they were roasting the goose, I was off 5 mins down the road to represent the family at St Columba. I've visited this church on quite a few occasions over the years since I met James - well over 20 - and I think that I first arrived at about the same time as the current minister. With such infrequent attendance the minister doesn't know who I am, but it seems clear that the church has grown tremendously under his ministry.

So, with only 5 services on Easter Day it's not surprising that they could only raise 400 or so for the family service at 9:30am... !!! (The photo is taken 10 minutes before the start of the service!). Apparently, at the early service on the low green there were 140 adults and 8 dogs. That service we attended last year, with only around 50 adults and 3 dogs. In around 1992, when I first went, they had their dawn service a few miles away up the local hill (Brown Carrick), with a congregation of about 15. How things have changed... Of course, you always get more at Easter, and Ayr is 30 times the size of Settle, but when visiting St Columba I always get the impression that, in Scotland, normal people still think it is quite usual to go along to church on a Sunday morning. In England it's now a pretty weird thing to go and do, and so the congregation is proportionally weirder.  So, almost everyone was wearing clean clothes and makeup, and the air was thick with perfume. There were men and women, old, middle aged, youth and children of all ages. In Settle, apart from the Roman Catholics, it is almost all women both running and populating the churches. The population at St Columba was, however, still skewed towards the older generations, despite it being a family service.

The minister is a very joyful man, and injects a considerable amount of humour into proceedings, even when tackling serious or sad subjects. But Easter Day is a happy day in the church and so he was in his element. The sermon started with a catch phrases quiz. Out of a long list, including Monty Python's "and now for something completely different", he finished with "I don't believe it" which was the catch phrase of someone called Victor Meldrew who was in some sitcom or other. This was his hook into talking about how the disciples failed to believe the apparently hysterical women returning with silly stories of the empty tomb. I have in the past dubbed this church "Christianity lite", but that is probably a bit unfair, and due to me mostly attending the family service whenever I visit. Although this time he didn't progress the sermon to much beyond a statement that Christ is Risen, it is common to have not very deep sermons at Christmas and Easter, so as to not scare the non-regular attendees.

The front of the church was curiously decorated with little trees with eggs on them. Someone had gone to a lot of work knitting chicks, each of which had a creme egg up its bum, which were hidden around the church. During the second hymn, a little gang of the kids went around and found them all and they were given to the children on the way out of church. The music was particularly good today, with the excellent organist plus a trumpet(!) playing prelude and postlude, as well as the hymns.

The service was just 50 minutes and consisted of notices, hymns, a reading, a sermon, a wee speech from a young woman hoping to do good works in South Africa this summer, and a bit of praying. But it took 10 minutes to leave the church, with each attendee receiving a knuckle grinding handshake from the minister. He does know a remarkable number of them by name, but Ayr isn't as friendly as Settle (nowhere is as friendly as Settle!), and, although the church is full with the noise of chatter before the services, only once has anyone really struck up a conversation with me at the church, and the minister does not ever ask me who I am. So, I'm not sure how people get to be in this admittedly ginormous in-crowd. I am guessing that the church has grown by word of mouth, and so people go along to the church with their established friends and relations, and thus never really need to be introduced. 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Lent 6: Cantores Salicium, 7:30pm Bolton Abbey

Having missed out on all the Palm Sunday ceremony and any kind of music, due to going and being quiet at the Friends Meeting House, the "sequence of words and music for Palm Sunday" at Bolton Abbey, performed by local band Cantores Salicium, seemed appealing. We went to hear the same choir support the lessons and carols at Settle Anglican church at Christmas and they had been excellent. The music was more challenging this time, being in Latin. And although there was a lot of lamentation (It was titled  'The city weepeth sore in the night' ), the standard was not at all lamentable, and was instead, once again, really good and very musical. I now know two of the (approx 24) choir members, as one is a Settle Harrier and another a French Horn player in the Settle Orchestra.

The Priory Church of St Mary and St Cuthbert, Bolton Abbey, about 35 mins drive from Settle, is the roofed remains of a former Augustin abbey, another monastery that was dissoluted by Henry the Eighth. There seem to be a lot of them around! The church seems to occupy about half of the original church and the rest is ruins. Here is the view from the other end.

So, this was a Roman Catholic monastery, but was taken possession of by Henry the Eighth and thus, like all the other nice old churches in England, is now Anglican. The music performed was sort of interesting in this context as was all 1550s-1650s, from the likes of William Byrd, and thus written in the 100 years directly following the dissolution in 1540.

After the service we enjoyed a nice dinner at the Brasserie at the Devonshire Arms hotel just down the road, to celebrate the acceptance-in-principle of our first paper since the start of

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Lent 6: Quaker, 10:30am Friends Meeting House

Last Sunday it was time for visiting the Quakers. I'd never been to a Quaker meeting before, but after explaining my newbie status at the door, I was given a handy leaflet to read at my seat. Turns out that to someone who has lived for a long time in Kamakura, home of Zen Buddhism in Japan, a Quaker meeting is very straightforward, You just sit quietly for an hour. It was quite fun, but was less comfortable than Zazen due to the difficulty of getting in to a good posture on the pews which sloped slightly backwards - you have to slope forwards in zazen to get a good straight back and keep your feet on the ground.  Consequently, people sat very slouched, which can't be very healthy. 

We sat round in a square, approximately 25 of us. Apparently the meeting starts as soon as one people enters the room so there was no introduction. A couple of times people spoke, in surprisingly coherent ways. As it said in the handy booklet, people only speak when the spirit moves them. I'd been dreading this as, when ad libbing from the liturgy, non-ordained Anglicans generally spout rather embarrassing stuff! Not so here. The first person (who turned out to be "the warden" who had greeted me at the door) spoke about how we should always consider that we might be wrong. The second person followed up with how doubt can be a powerful force for good and how we should all be open to new experiences (unlike those other people who don't allow themselves to doubt...hmmm). Despite it being Palm Sunday there was no acknowledgement of this and I extrapolate this to suppose that Quaker meetings don't observe the church calendar. At the end of the meeting were notices, and I got the impression that there was a lot of promotion of good works, worthy causes, and work for charities underway.

After the service (Nescafe for the second week running - I opted for tea!) I learned that Quakers read a lot and write a lot. They have a little library from which it is possible to  borrow books. The titles were rather interesting, covering a large range of religion and spiritual practice, from "mindfulness" to "the Muslim Jesus". I met one person who said she was  Buddhist. Later the same week, I found a leaflet on Buddhism in our region at the railway station, and found that the Settle sessions are held at the same Friends Meeting House. I expect I'd need to do much more of that reading to understand properly, but on the surface, Quakerism seemed rather like Buddhism in the sense of being less a set of beliefs and more a way of life and worship, and thus not necessarily incompatible with other religions.