Category Archives: Church

Paddy’s Wigwam

Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King
Inside the Catholic Cathedral

Today, we visited the Catholic cathedral in Liverpool. I’m always struck, when I go in, by how I don’t hate it nearly as much as I feel like I ought to. It’s a concrete sixties monstrosity, which was falling down by the mid-eighties, and so isn’t even fit for purpose. The corrosion of the bells above the main door has stained the concrete green, in a way that they’ve only partially managed to clean off in the recent renovations, and as a piece of architecture, it seems forever stranded in a state of just-missing.

That’s what I think when I’m sitting here, postulating. When I’m actually there, though, I love it. It’s so calm, so peaceful, and so focussed on God. I love that all the windows are dark blue and purple, giving it a twilight quality even at 1.30pm. I love the big crown of thorns sculpture that dangles over the altar (I wanted to say communion table – I’m such a non-conformist protestant). I love the stations of the cross around the outside edge, and all the little chapels dedicated to this and that. Mostly, though, I love the people. All the staff, even the tour guides and people, just seem to radiate this spirituality that really touches me. A foreign nun, being given a guided tour by one of the staff, stopped to take photos of Daisy in one of the chapels (I let her – she’s a nun, and anyway, Daisy’s cute), then gave her a blessing. I don’t even know what that means, but I know that it’s the sort of thing we don’t do enough of in my church tradition. And I know Jesus did it, so it can only be good.

Inside the Anglican Cathedral
Inside the Anglican Cathedral

I find the place much more of a spiritual experience, even on a Saturday afternoon when they’re moving the furniture round for some kind of chamber orchestra to play, than I’ve ever found the Anglican cathedral to be. That’s impressive, don’t get me wrong. It’s the biggest protestant cathedral in Europe, it’s impressive on sheer scale, but it’s only like a incomprehensibly large parish church. With a cafe. And being there feels more like visiting a building, and less like calling in on God.

And coming on the back of many generations of protestant snobbery, that’s saying something.

Christmas

Christmas TreeI’m currently engaged in trying to get a lock-down on The Plan for Christmas. Boxing Day is officially locked – we’re spending the day with Kevin’s sister and her family, and the evening at my Grandma’s party, assuming it occurs, which it has every year since about 1932. We think that Christmas day is also locked, now, though that won’t seem quite as certain until the plan has had a few days to set, so to speak.

Christmas Eve has a plan pencilled in, but is subject to confirmation from variety of sources, one of which, I’ve just realised, is our church – Christmas Eve this year is also Christmas Sunday, and since we’ve not been in our current church for all that long, we don’t have a clear sense of how to reinterpret their activities of last Christmas, in predicting their activities for this one.

I have considered ringing the pastor-chap, and demanding he commit to something, but he’s very, very, very unlikely to have even thought about it, I should have thought. I hope he thinks about it soon, though, because if Christmas Eve is punctuated by a 4pm Carol Service Followed By Buffet Supper, as Christmas Sunday was last year, the 1 element of what we are currently calling Plan C1 may be entirely scuppered.

I know you all think I’m mad, but at some point in the next ten weeks there is an inevitable period of stress and agitation, while we all work out who will be where, when and with whom, over the Christmas period. Once the plan is settled, the stress oozes out of it, and it really makes precious little difference whether we go through that process now, or in nine and a half weeks’ time. The advantages of doing it now are twofold: 1) I’m already thinking about it, therefore am already stressed, so the sooner I move through that to a position of lock-down, the better I’ll feel; 2) The sooner we have the locked-down plan, the sooner we can make all of the other plans – what food to buy, whether we need to borrow a bigger table, etc, etc.

I sometimes envy the people whose relatives live too far apart for them to reasonably travel from one to the other during Christmas – it must simplify the military operation significantly.

Agapé

I bet you didn’t know that I grew up with a band? Well, kinda. When I was a very small child, we lived in a three-bed end terrace in Liverpool 4, which has since had a two storey extension added to the side, and is probably a four or five bedroom terrace by now. The house was just around the corner from the church that we went to. The church has always been inextricably linked with my family, for generations. Even now, I have aunts and uncles and cousins, and who knows what else, there. At the time, my parents were part of an evangelistic group called Agapé, along with my dad’s sister, brother, brother’s girlfriend/fiancée/wife, cousin, and a whole range of others, who were involved in various ways, to various extents, and for various periods of time. My mum was in charge of The Bookings, the money, and of not being allowed to go to things because of the children. My dad used to preach, I think, and Neil, and Jan, and Carol and Eric used to sing.

Mostly they sang songs that Neil had written. They used to call it “gospel”, but it wasn’t gospel in a black sense. If anything, it was black gospel meets seventies folk. They even made a couple of tapes which they distributed… well, I’ve no idea how widely they were distributed, but we had half a dozen, on the off-chance that we met someone who wanted one.

The first tape was called Reason For Living, and this is the one that was an integral part of my childhood. Other children pretend to be pop stars, or cartoon characters. We used to play the tape, and pretend to be Aunty Jan.

We were children, and children don’t analyse things. They certainly don’t analyse for lyrical quality, or musical depth, or significance of meaning. Listening to it again, now, I’m struck by how Neil’s lyrical style probably benefited enormously from the first time he bought a modern bible translation – some of the songs are taken verbatim from scripture, which I’m all in favour of, I just don’t understand what they’re saying. That speaks of my lack of education, I suppose – I bet they knew what the songs meant. More than that, though, I’m bowled over by the sheer optimism of the songs. The open-hearted naivety.

I don’t know how Neil and Carol and Jan look back at Agapé. I suspect that they’re the tiniest bit embarrassed, in the way that everyone is embarrassed when they look at their creative efforts of two or three decades ago. Times have changed, styles have changed, and more importantly, they’ve changed – mellowed, matured, not to be any better or worse, just to follow the normal and natural development of life. They’re no more the teens and twenty-somethings they were then, than I’m the four-year-old.

It’s not mine, so I don’t have to get embarrassed by it. My Agapé tape is a huge part of the backdrop of my childhood, and I hold it in great affection for that reason. I also admire the courage, the vision, and the desperate desire the please God that led them to make it – they had more passion and motivation when they were little more than kids themselves, than I’ve ever had.

It’s a small world, after all…

I don’t know the song, but one of my friends used to sing along to her doorbell (before they changed the sound to the barking dog noise).

The world is positively miniscule. Kevin has discovered that his great great great great grandmother was a Jump, which would be worrying if she was a Lancashire Jump, but the connection with the West Derby Jumps is so ancient as to scarcely be relevant (in case anyone thought that 200 years didn’t already put the relationship firmly in the irrelevant category). Still, it’s an unusual name, and a protestant name at that, so we were a little surprised.

The size of the world has also been brought into question by the fact that my aforementioned doorbell-accompanying friend today met my first cousin once removed on my father’s side, or, as we usually call him, Our Phil*. Phil is an area something or other (they used to be called Superintendants, but some time after I drifted out of the denomination into the murky world of the housechurch movement, and churches that were all too often called “Something or Other Christian Fellowship”, they restructured, and I’ve no idea what he does. The evidence would suggest that he still uses Superintendent as a point of reference to counteract the blank looks.) in the Baptist Union, which means that he turns up at Baptist Churches as guest preacher, authority figure, shoulder to cry on, etc etc, and to celebrate high days and holidays. Our local Baptist church is celebrating such a high-day/holiday at the moment (a centenary), and so there was a comparing of notes between my astute friend, who guessed that there must be some relationship between us, and my distant cousin.

On one level, I’m quite gratified – much depends on tone of voice and levels of irony, but since I’m told he said, “Oh yes, Our Ruth* – the clever one,” I’m taking it as a compliment. Two tiny degrees, that’s all, nothing to brag about, but thank you.

On another, these things always unnerve me a little. I don’t have huge secrets to protect, when my different worlds collide – plenty of people do, I’m sure – but it just seems very odd, that Tess spent some minutes, this morning, talking to a member of my family, who actually knows me hardly at all, and rarely sees me outside of Christmas. There’s always Christmas, and in a funny way, most of the family rather value the fact that we don’t lose touch all together, because we always go to my Grandma’s at Christmas. But in another, it’s a bit farcical, because we know so little about each other, the need to hold onto that connection is… odd.

An example: before he went to Bible college, Phil worked at Camel Lairds. I’ve always known this, but I only learned today that he did electrical type stuff there – for all I knew he could have been an accountant, or a spot welder. I think I had an idea he wore a suit, so maybe not a spot welder. Similarly, our Will does something in computers – I don’t know what, or for whom, or at what level. Our Tim works for BT, and always has, but I don’t know what he does. And all they know about me is that she’s the clever one – went to University, you know.

I value my family pretty highly. Maybe I ought to speak to some of them.


* It is not unique to Liverpool families, but it is a particularly defining feature of them, that all family members, however distant or infrequently seen, are referred to as “ours” at all times. I mean, Aunty Ermintrude or Uncle Joshua* would be addressed as such, but anyone who could be described as a sibling or a cousin of any description, as in this case, would always be described in such terms of ownership. If I just said “Phil”, family members would say, “Phil Who?”, and only give me the flicker of recognition when I gave up and replied, “You know – Our Phil.” He, I have not the faintest shadow of a doubt, refers to me as “Our Ruth,” on such rare occasions as he refers to me at all. And since I’m not a big name in the Baptist Union, that’s probably less often than the other way around.

* I don’t have an Aunty Ermintrude, or an Uncle Joshua. They were merely examples.