festival of angels
Now this is my kind of Anglican Church - they did say they were ‘inclusive’ on the board but they hardly need to do so with all that gorgeous colour and creativity! Lol These are glimpses of the Festival of Angels in St Wulfram’s Grantham - none of your obvious over-frail tiny frilly fluffy angels either, but each with their own symbolism, including the one with flaming sword, the very posy one with the long wings, and the imposing tall white fluffy one at the door.
Now there’s an idea for some of us to develop in other contexts in other years?
breathed by the land
Another beautiful English winter’s morning along the old woodland paths. Sometimes it feels as if the land itself breathes through me as much, or more, than I breathe in its own character, textures and sensations at this special time of year. In grief as in other things, 'the land knows you even when you are lost'. #mulchforthesoul #earthtoearth #forestbathing #lincolnshirelandscapes
sacred landscape of my upbringing
How do you relate to your landscape? At so many turns of my native roads, I’m reminded of the spirits of forebears who trod, tilled, prayed, and sought life and the sacred in these otherwise ‘ordinary’ features of the land. Today this, for example, is ‘just’ a farm. Yet for centuries a double monastery (i.e of women and men) stood here at the foot of the Lincolnshire Wolds during the Middle Ages (from c.1150 to 1538) - one of a number of houses of the Gilbertines (the only completely English monastic order - founded by a Lincolnshire man). Gwaldys, daughter of the last native Prince of Wales, spent her final years here and its priests served our local communities until the Reformation. Subsequently all such land became secularised, with the greatest shift of power and wealth since the Conquest and the coming of the Norman ‘Yoke’, followed by the further deprivations of common land with the enclosures and the ravages of modern industrial agriculture. Of course we can’t simply return, even if we wished, to a sacred medieval understanding of land and creation, but perhaps such remembrances in the land reminds us that there are still alternatives open to us today
tending the soul in Lincoln green
Wandering in my most beloved of woods after my parents' deaths - part of nature’s healing cathedrals, offering sustenance and protection for the spirit and the senses, restoring wholeness. Green, not least, is such an earthy resurrection colour, pagan and Christian in the very best senses. . No wonder Hildegard talked of greening (viriditas); nearby legends here sing of Robin, Marian, of the May and Merrie folk; and Lincoln Green is the colour of life-giving - particularly appropriate in wintry lives. For, as the medieval balladeer sang, “When they were clothed in Lyncolne grene they kest away their gray"
Or, as the poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon (LEL) put it:
“Come back, come back, my childhood;
Thou art summoned by a spell
From the green leaves of the wild wood,
From beside the charmed well!
'Tis Red Riding-Hood, the darling,
The flower of fairy lore….
a younger sister for the heart”
looking around town at rural history
Different faces of rural England are marked strikingly by this little stretch of road known as Chapel Street in Market Rasen, The central feature, alongside the trees, is the impressive Methodist Chapel (a witness both to the continuing powerfully transformative faith of John Wesley (here in Wesley's own county and so far beyond), and to the temptations of renewing movements of living Christianity to risk becoming somewhat 'respectable' and just 'another Church'). I used to fold and staple the Methodist Circuit magazine for distribution when I was a child - I guess, thinking back, that was my first significant ecumenical ministry?! A little unusually, the war memorial stands by the Chapel not the (Anglican) Church - a symbol perhaps of the strength of Methodism in the hearts of so many people.
It is so lovely to see the old Liberal Club again too - built in 1908 during the time of Britains's first great reforming government - a reminder of how British Liberalism (such a different thing from Australian forms) was, and still partly remains, the carrier of rural radicalism (land, people and liberty). The physical connection with nonconformist religion is so very striking here
Meanwhile, the station entrance is a reminder of the great changes brought to this place and its land by the modern age - and a gateway to wider freedom and new and different worlds for some (of us) #landandplacescarryinghistory #ourlittletiown
through the ages unto the ages
This is probably my favourite view of St Thomas' Church - where I grew up, was confirmed, sang in the choir and was an altar server. Some 800 years old, it has offered sacred community, celebration and comfort through good times and bad (including many plagues, political horrors and upheavals, Reformation, revolutions and renewals, and contemporary changes). It was probably originally named not for the early disciple but after the martyr Thomas a Becket - politically murdered for standing up for (genuine) religious freedom against tyranny. So it knows how to adapt, survive and still provide space for divine flourishing. It will see out COVID-19 and maybe even the latest convulsions of the Church of England - some things are so much deeper than viruses and institutional failings. It has also held and helped grace so many personal family joys and sorrows - for what it ultimately stands for will always prevail 🙂 #ourlittletown
Recently I spoke in a sermon about how, as I grew up, I saw the devastation of the English landscape in Lincolnshire, as industrialised ideas of agriculture ripped out hedgerows in the search of short-term profit (see here). A fellow member of Milton Anglicans then shared with me a recent book by her brother, historian and writer, James Boyce. Writing of their ancestral lands, this is entitled Imperial Mud: the Fight for the Fens (Icon Books, London, 2020). It tells of the thousands of years of resistance by the fen peoples of eastern England to the seizing, enclosing, draining, and 'improving' of their lands. It is another part of English history which has buried for too long, a 'home-grown' example of the growth of imperial attitudes and policies which were exported overseas...
Your Song, Rocketman and me
I remember vividly the day Elton John came to my little town. It was like a breath of life from another planet. For, let's face it, in Market Rasen, it was akin to a hundred big events in one, but with unprecedented glitter. Indeed, in the 19th century, Charles Dickens said that you could fire a cannon down the main street at 10 pm on a Saturday evening and you wouldn't hit anyone. Not much has changed, even now. Sadly Elton didn't stop to say hello to the little kid I was. He still left an impact though, just as his songs were an integral part of the soundtrack of my youth. For Elton was in Rasen for a wedding of Bernie Taupin, his close friend and lyricist. Bernie was, in part, 'one of us' - born a Lincolnshire 'yella belly', spending part of his own upbringing locally, and attending Market Rasen Secondary Modern School. Some of Bernie's lyrics reflect this, including the song 'Saturday NIght's Alright for Fighting' (partly an anthem to the experience of the Aston Arms and other places of Market Rasen 'entertainment'). Linking up with Elton was Bernie's way out, and maybe, somewhere in my consciousness, their story was a promise of an alternative pathway for myself and my childhood friends. Was stepping on 'the Yellow Brick Road' possible for us too? The concluding tour of Elton's career, and the release of the film Rocketman brings this back. There's much I owe to this influence - particularly in learning, so slowly and painfully, to sing 'Your Song' as my own song...
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.