Thursday, 31 July 2008

Project Latest

As part of my project for the local church (that I attend) in the neighbouring parish from where I live, I have been producing webpages of archives of church life. The text files mainly come from an ambitious monthly publication at the time called The Church in Barton, that began in 1972. 1972 was a significant year: the new county of Humberside was coming into being, and the Humber Bridge was ready to be built with a prospect of great change for Barton-upon-Humber. There were three churches operating in the parish, and one, St. Peter's, was heading for redundancy and its fine organ was to be removed to St Mary's before it became damaged. St Chad's in Barton Waterside actually had growing numbers, but the vicar at the time could see the need to rationalise. In fact he wrote a number of times about declining resources in the Deanery, particularly of clergy. It was intended that The Church in Barton was an ecumenical magazine, but it never quite achieved this, even though a spoken about ecumenical magazine in the town was intended as well and never got off the ground.

The Church in Barton replaced a basic parish magazine with an insert, and that arrangement resumed after it finished, though no one is sure when The Church in Barton finished. One person hoards archives and may give me much more to select, scan, edit, convert to .html and insert into the online archive, though I will have to be quite selective. 1972 is good because it is both different and recognisable.

The rich texts of the magazine gives an insight into the life of the church thirty six years ago. Sometimes it looks like another country. Where it is significantly different is with the Sunday School life. There are Young Communicants. There are even Young Wives to add to the Mothers' Union. There was also still a real sense (rather than a formal and occasional one) of connections between the church and young people in day schools. The choir was a way of processing some children through church life as well (it does still but with a handful). The Sunday Schools (plural) were processing generations through the church as a normal activity and giving a religious imprint on to the generations in local society in general. Even though the church then had a minority of townspeople going through the door, there was still a sense of an important in number minority, and a connection with personalities throughout the town. Numbers today are reasonably good; there is a swelling to several hundreds in special services, and there is social outreach too, but the regular attenders now are like the enthusiasts, the people of the club, however representative. The vicar was someone with social status spoken to on a range of civil subjects, for example when he was asked about the future of Barton with the coming of Humberside and the Humber Bridge. And he was of the town, not of the town and elsewhere and chasing the administration. Ecumenism was a growing issue locally, but still small, at the same time as the failure in 1972 (and reported on) of the high level Anglican-Methodist Unity scheme.

Nowadays organised religion is much more a specialist affair, and this in the one church (one is a now a museum, contrary to expectations that the town could not support it, and the other - then growing - was demolished) that still relates to the town in its religious breadth as a sort of community. We worry now whether the culture of Christian liturgical worship is now an acquired taste distant from civil society - it is no longer a taught meaning as it was via the Sunday Schools. More happens now ecumenically, but the Congregational church (that became URC) has gone and we see significant decline in the adult Methodist church (more so locally - New Holland lost its Methodist church a few years ago) and there is a resource-lacking Roman Catholic church that stretches out geographically far and wide.

As for the town, it has preserved its separate identity no doubt because of the hefty fee for crossing the Humber Bridge. Humberside died through lack of identity and the stupidity of a high-fee bridge. The Humber Bridge is no more than a form of fast, travel-when-you-like, vehicle ferry (one rumour is that desperate Labour MPs may get the fee removed or down to a small amount to try and retain their seats at the next election - that would then make a difference to the future). The Humber Bridge has been a failure to connect, and so Barton never became a suburb of Hull.

At this stage I have some important-to-the-1972-narrative editions of The Church in Barton from half of 1973, but I am pausing now on this as I am going to attempt to type out an old clergy training dissertation that may have some future use. Also I am doing the possible theology course I wanted to produce.

At the moment I have written an introductory session about ethical and theological reflection, and sessions on Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Paul Tillich, and I must include the link person in the drama of Germany and the USA, Reinhold Niehbuhr. I've also decided that there must be a piece on at least Rietschl (probably Harnack too, with him) as an example of the optimistic history-attached liberal theology that all these moderns rejected (the fact that they become regarded as liberal again just shows how backward Christianity is becoming these days, and how rarefied is theology today; these days even Barth gets criticised by backward-moving evangelicals because he is not literalist enough and is tinged with universalism).

These are not released yet, though I can email the collected .PDF to interested people for comment.

At the moment, those who are looking at the sessions I produce think that they are quite demanding: the idea is that they should appeal to a reasonably intelligent person who would be introduced into the world of German and American theology, as well as some controversies that happened in a corner of theology-world known as England. There is no doubt that the reasonably intelligent worshipper would be surprised about some of this theology when never seen before; some others would find their assumptions are affected (e.g. who have read Anglican theology such as John Robinson's Honest to God of 1962). For example, Tillich's theology of correlation is quite conserving regarding the Christian scheme; Tillich's relationship with culture is from inside the faith-circle and ambiguous, and history as methodology offers nothing much to Tillich who uses analogy with art instead (when Karl Barth uses narrative - what became history-like).

So it is not clear that such a course would work, but certainly the Barton In-Depth Group will give a session or two a trial run. Then we can see what our usually unshockable, investigative members make of modern theology as so presented. If the whole course was written it would take me well beyond my project time and would bring people right up to date - for example how to make intelligible that weird postmodern theology that has the death of God into writing?

And what are the bishops talking about at the Lambeth Conference? It's like going back to the Stone Age.

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