The Black Swan, Helmsley, North Yorkshire
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
After an uneventful flight, Antoinette and I arrived in Manchester, UK at 8.00 a.m., picked up our rental car and drove north on M62 to Harrogate, where we lunched at our favorite cafe and tea room, Bettys. Spinach and nutmeg soup, Yorkshire sausage with potato frittata and cabbage and bacon salad, followed by a double espresso to keep me awake after only four hours disturbed sleep. I drove to Ripon, keeping on the left of a narrow road to avoid being swiped by cars and trucks hurtling past. Suddenly there was a bang, wham, as I hit the curb and the car started to drag. When I slowed to stop I found two punctured tires on the left, passenger side!!!!!! Oh me. A curbstone must have been sticking out and gouged a hole in both hubcaps and tires. Stuart Antony Chapman, whom I later discovered was a local pig farmer (10,000 pigs!) stopped and I asked him for assistance. He drove to a local auto and tire repair place and returned with Sam Whitelaw who proceeded to replace my two ruined tires with nary a hesitation. Thank God for auto mechanics. While I was waiting for him to finish I looked around the scene. I had pulled off A61 to Thirsk at a local road called Smith Lane. On one side of the road were extensive barley fields swaying in the wind. They provided fodder for the local brewery! On the other side of the road were fields of wheat undulating in the breeze. It was a sunny country day in North Yorkshire where there was horse racing at Ripon and the locals were going about their work. I followed Sam back to his garage where he charged me half of what I expected.
When the tires blew out on me I thought that we might be marooned all afternoon trying to get help. As weary as we both were we could not think straight. I called the rental car accident line and was referred to the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) who would have sent someone to tow us to a nearby garage where we might have been helped. Instead I went with the friendly locals and was on my way before I knew it. This was my third tire incident since I had to go to Tire Kingdom to check out a flat tire on the previous Sunday. I was spooked to say the least. It is not fun to have car problems at home where AAA is always at hand to help, but overseas, despite having the insurance, it is nerve-wracking.
The Black Swan is an old hotel where we have stayed before. In fact we led a group from our church in San Antonio who stayed here some twenty years ago. Helmsley is small town on the edge of the NorthYorkshire moors and the Hambleton Hills and the hotel is an old coaching inn on the market square next to the churchyard. Our room looked out on one side to the market square and on the other side to the churchyard. I wandered into a local bookstore and stationers (a typical British combination of books, cards, gifts, toys etc.) and discovered a number of novels by a Roman Catholic author, Lucy Beckett, who taught at Ampleforth Abbey. She is a new author to me, a writer of historical fiction and a teacher of writers in the Christian tradition whose text book, In the Light of Christ: Writers in the Western Tradition, I am going to order. Also she has written books on the First World War whose centenary it is this year. The owner of the store told me that his father fought in both world wars: the Somme in the first and Burma in the second, and survived, but like so many, never talked about it. Where was PTSD in those days?
A vacation is a chance to do something different, to have a change of pace and focus, to recharge your batteries, to be open to new experiences, to discover new writers and perspectives, to take time to look around and see the world, to rest and relax. If this day is any indication I must be ready for the unexpected, to be surprised, to see how I respond to emergencies, to be inconvenienced. So far, I have been blessed with the help of others, of entertaining strangers, angels unawares!!!! When I arrived at the hotel, Zoltan from Hungary helped me with my luggage. Sam helped me with the tires. Stuart took down the tire size and helped me to find Sam. How we are dependent on others in times of need? We took the names and addresses of our Good Samaritans and intend to let them know how much their kindnesses meant to us. We are thankful to God for their availability at our time of need.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Yesterday it was raining but warm. I reflected on my daily reading in Encounter with God from John 5:18-29, the relationship of the Father and the Son – the raising of the dead, the giver of life, honoring the Son, passing from death to life. It is a profound expression of the divinity of Christ. I began reading Cornelius Plantinga, READING FOR PREACHING, the need for a program of general reading. An excellent book which I recommend to all preachers to widen and deepen their perspective.
We drove to Bolton Abbey through sheep farms and moors to Grove Rare Books where Andrew Sharpe and Adam Yates found us many items. I found a fine illustrated 3 volume set of Boswell‘s, Life of Johnson (1857) that I had been looking for. Bolton Abbey is in the backyard of the Duke of Devonshire’s lovely country home and his hotel, the Devonshire Arms. It is immaculately kept with manicured grounds.
We set out for Haworth, where Antoinette spent time in the Bronte Parsonage Museum and bookstore. I wandered into St. Michael’s and All Angels Church where Patrick Bronte was Rector for 40 years and his family is buried. The church needs repairs and shows signs of its age. The Church of England is encumbered by ancient buildings that need much maintenance when it should be engaged in mission through sites that are contemporary and attractive rather than dark and dismal. An item in The Telegraph cites a recent church census where the only churches to thrive and grow in England are black Pentecostal churches and Catholic churches. Perhaps the Church of England would be better off selling or leasing their present churches and spending the income on new premises. That would require risk-taking leadership. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York in their Pentecost letter urged prayer for the growth of the church while acknowledging that most people would run in the other direction if Christians tried to share their faith with them, and many Christians would be terrified of witnessing. How do we share the Gospel today in an authentic, non-threatening and winsome way? Getting to know people and their needs and praying for them is one way. How do I share my faith? To my chagrin I must admit that I tend to want my privacy when I travel and rarely engage others in personal chitchat. Is that being self-absorbed and unfriendly. Antoinette is more outgoing and by asking questions gets to know people more easily. Should I carry with me some brief Gospel material that I can give away? I notice that the churches here have no Christian materials available in their entrance for those who might be seeking. Should we not provide free material for visitors?
Friday, June 6, 2014
We drove to York over the Howardian Hills through Hovingham – beautiful English countryside – this green and pleasant land – and found a parking place outside the city walls at Monkgate opposity St. John’s University where I played rugby in the snow some forty five years ago. Visited the Minster Shop and purchased a book on Intercessory Prayer by John Pritchard whom I knew as Warden of Cranmer Hall, Durham and is now Bishop of Oxford. We dived into Ken Spelman Books at Mickelgate, whose catalogs I have received for years having patronised it many times. I found a great copy of the prayers of Lancelot Andrewes, a seventeenth century English Divine. I had a copy when I was young and mislaid it. This is a fine replacement. Also a good copy of Camus‘s The Myth of Sysiphus, a recent book on evangelical Christianity in Victorian times, and a fine copy of William Paley’s classic, Natural Theology: Evidences of Christianity, which I have never read.
The Telegraph front page has a photo of Cyril Ager, a 89 year old veteran who took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy, 70 years ago, visiting Gold Beach, with thousands of Union Jacks containing thank you messages in front of him and the English Channel behind him. The Queen, Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama and other Allied leaders (including Vladimir Putin) are commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day. What message does that operation have for us today? The Allies had to mount a rescue effort to liberate Europe from a Nazi tyranny. They had to take action at the loss of many lives to save Europe from highly cultured barbarians who had reverted from their national Christian faith and instead had embraced paganism. Is there a parallel here for today? Is a D-Day necessary today in order to rescue our culture from highly educated secular pagans who are reducing human beings to that status of animals. Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and other anti-Christian, pseudo-scientific books is reported to be complaining about parents teaching their children lies in the form of Santa Claus or anything supernatural. Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, the evolutionary biologist said that parents should be wary of filling young minds with pernicious fantasies about wizards, princesses and Father Christmas. Instead we should be “fostering a spirit of scepticism. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog; it’s statistically improbable.” Jemima Lewis in her column in The Telegraph entitled, Fiction Can Be a Great Way to Tell the Truth, Mr Dawkins, takes him on. She compares him with fundamentalists who cannot understand the value of metaphor in the Bible.
“And like all fundamentalists, he misses the point about fiction: it is a brilliantly effective vehicle for the truth. The line between truth and fiction is especially porous in children, who have an instinctive understanding of metaphor. They know that the Frog Prince is not really a story about shape-shifting amphibians, but about the importance of keeping your promises.” She goes on to relate how her father kept her entertained as child with a “constant stream of fibs [lies]…. He spun elaborate fantasies about our suburban friends and neighbours… Gradually, I came to realise that there was not a grain of truth in these stories. But I demanded to hear them again and again, wrapping myself up in a cosy tapestry of family jokes and fables.”
She goes on to acknowledge that her belief in Santa Claus was not the result of a lie, but that it was an act of love from her parents. Secular humanists like Dawkins are so infected by the virus of scepticism that they cannot appreciate truths that are conveyed through analogy, metaphor, miracles, the imagination, the supernatural and acts of love.
Another form of fundamentalism that threatens Europe is to be found in Muslim extremists. As we drove through Bradford today, on the way to Thornton, the birthplace of the Bronte sisters, we passed many Muslims on their way to Friday prayers in the mosques that have sprung up to serve the Pakistani community. This part of England was strongly Methodist in the 19th century. Today it is strongly Muslim. We visited the school in Bradford where Patrick Bronte taught and met his future wife and the mother of his children. It was founded in 1812 as a Methodist school and still has a Methodist chapel and chaplain, but we were told that religion is not emphasized even though the Holy Bible is on the school crest. When I enquired what the school was known for today in terms of its speciality, I was told it was rugby! The most cared for and attractive part of the campus were the sports fields.
Where Christianity has declined in its zeal and support it has been replaced by Islam. Women, clad in burquas and men in Pakistani dress, walk along the streets. The mosques are filled with Muslim men for Friday prayers and the churches are struggling to keep their doors open. The headlines in the national news concerns complaints that Muslim extremists were trying to take over some public schools in Birmingham by having Muslim speakers in assemblies, separating the sexes, and the refusal of Muslim governors to treat female teachers as equals. The Muslim community responded by asserting that they have a right to raise their children in their conservative version of Islam. The government replied that they have the responsibility to provide an education that respects British values. It is interesting to see a debate over values in school education. We have the same debate in the USA. The question becomes one of what constitutes American values? School boards are faced with this sort of issue from time to time and some minorities complain that they are being compelled to comply. Where there is dispute there needs to be the freedom to opt out. The Muslim message is that of law, legalism, and the subjugation of women. Where that is taught in the schools the result will be a Muslim culture. The secular message is that religion has no place in public education. No wonder we have a problem with moral values, sexual promiscuity, greed, materialism, anxiety, addiction and violence.
What has happened to the leadership of the churches in the United Kingdom? The clergy are probably overwhelmed with their parochial duties as chaplains to the community. They are at the beck and call of everybody and respond to the urgent needs rather than the important priorities of preaching the Gospel. They are custodians of buildings which are ancient and a turn off to the young. I saw a sign in front of a modern commercial building yesterday that advertised a Family Life Church meeting there. It looked attractive and appealing in contrast to the blackened stone churches in the urban areas with no place for parking and poor facilities. I wonder what sort of an impact a clergyman can have in this environment where the popular religion is football.
On all the roads we drove there are signs of the highly anticipated Tour de France which begins here next month. Thousands are expected to view it and storefronts are decorated with bicycles and bunting made to look like the yellow shirts the winner receives for each stage of the Tour. St. Paul writes much about running the race. If only Christians could engender such enthusiasm for the race of life, where all who finish can win the garland of victory that Christ awards on that great day.
Why is there such indifference to the faith of Christ, to spiritual realities? Why is the church such an object of historical importance alone and seen to be irrelevant to lives today? Is there no fear of God before their eyes? Is there no sense of a coming reckoning? Is there little desire for finding meaning and purpose in life, in eternal things? Is life only a matter of survival, of material advancement, of escape from the anxieties of the present and the terror of the future? We saw in the window of a dress shop a lovely green scarf designed by famous fashion brand Alexander McQueen. It was very expensive – about $500.00. I pointed out to Antoinette, who was admiring it, that the black border was decorated with skulls! Something beautiful was spoiled by the shock factor of death – unappealing to us but apparently attractive to those who want to dress to impress in a unique way. Perhaps that is a metaphor of the pagan culture that is prevalent. We are told that we are mere mortals, skeletons clothed in flesh and blood that have no enduring value. To the contrary, the Gospel tells us that we are designed by our Creator for the purpose of living to his glory. That raises our sights above the material and beyond the temporal. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, and hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:25-29)
Saturday, June 7, 2014
Sunrise at 5.00 a.m. was beautiful, but it clouded over and rained most of the day. We decided to walk around the marketplace, visit the local shops, and then have a substantial afternoon tea with soup, sandwiches, scones, and cakes. The English afternoon tea cannot be beaten. We indulged ourselves every afternoon in one tearoom or another. The problem is that you cannot face a substantial supper after it. We watched the television reports on the D-Day anniversary and the Women’s French Open final with Maria Sharapova winning.
Sunday, June 8, 2014
I attended 8.00 a.m. Holy Communion at All Saints Church, Helmsley which was next door to the hotel. There were no greeters at the door. There was a stack of Prayer Books on the table with an announcement sheet inserted in each one. I picked one up and chose a pew near the front. The sheet announced a walk to raise funds for a charity. The parish is a wealthy one, which had recently received a substantial bequest for building additions and repairs. However it was having difficulty in funding its annual budget and was some $8,000 behind for the year. The service had not changed since I attended in my childhood. It was straight from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Caroline English and all. The celebrant was a woman who stuck to her script with nary a deviation. No greeting, no homily, nothing personal intruded. She did it all on her own, with no lay reader or anyone to assist her in serving communion. And it was Pentecost Sunday!!!!! She read the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 with as little emotion as was possible. How come that this theme of the Christian calendar, this festival of the birth of the Christian church could be reduced to such a recital? Having been raised in this tradition I was not surprised but am amazed that it still continues. The famous upper class English reserve does not do the Gospel message very well. There is plenty of emotion in England, but it is more likely to be found at football matches than in the church. No wonder the church is losing ground with the public. I received communion with the eleven other communicants, prayed for Christ to be real to me and others, and gave thanks for my salvation. I was one of the last to leave the church. No one spoke to me. What would Jesus say?
We drove into York where we intended to worship at historic York Minster, one of the largest Gothic edifices in Europe. But services had been cancelled (and this on the Feast of Pentecost – could you imagine cancelling services on Easter?) because they were preparing for a special service in the afternoon. The service, I found out, was the inauguration of a new diocese out of the merger of four older dioceses: Bradford, Ripon, Leeds and Wakefield. They cancelled Sunday worship for an organizational ceremony for a shrunken administration!!!!! We went next door to St. Michael-le-Belfry Church where there were about 150 present, mainly students, and the preacher was giving a Powerpoint presentation on Pentecost from his Apple computer – what a contrast from the earlier service I attended! He was quite good with illustrations and concluded with a prayer of commitment to Christ. Afterwards there was a testimony from a student who was to be baptized in an inflatable pool outside the front door of the church. The church building itself is ancient and in need of gutting and redecorating. The pews crowd it and need removing. Aesthetically it is a monstrosity with memorials to famous deceased worthies crowding the walls. Some churches have had the courage to completely redesign their sanctuaries with much profit. My church in St. Nicholas, Durham, St. Aldates, Oxford and at All Souls, Langham Place, London are good examples of what you can do. This church is reaching the students in the city but it probably doesn’t have the money to spend on renovations.
We passed St. Wilfrid’s Catholic Church, on the other side of York Minster and I peeked in. It was crowded with people standing at the back and in the aisles. What are they doing to attract such large numbers? Apparently they are staffed by priests from the Order of the Oratory, followers of St. Philip Neri, who are great evangelists. The interior of the church was bright and colorful (in contrast to the dreary interiors of many Anglican churches) with the priests colorfully robed. On enquiry of an Anglican minister I was told that their attraction was that they were traditional – they stood for the unpopular views of traditional orthodox Christianity. The Anglican church tries to be too polite and accommodating to the culture. It is not that they use traditional language, but that they see themselves as standing in the apostolic tradition and as called to communicate the apostolic Gospel with all the fervor they can muster. The Feast of Pentecost was being re-enacted in that liturgy as representatives of many ethnic groups were present, especially from Eastern Europe.
My final port of call was to Minster Gate Bookshop where I discovered a copy of the 2 volume, Pascal and Kierkegaard: A Study in the Strategy of Evangelism, by Denzil Patrick which was published in 1947. I am excited at the anticipation of reading it and learning how both these writers reached their contemporaries and were courageous at confronting the church authorities of their day with their dereliction of duty. It is so easy for churches to settle for the status quo because it is comfortable rather than risking all for Christ and the Gospel.
Monday, June 9, 2014
We drove to Manchester Airport to catch our return flight the next day. By the time we arrived home I had completed reading Trouble, by Gary D. Schmidt. Dr. Schmidt is Professor of English at Calvin College and has written a number of young adult novels including the Newberry Honor books The Wednesday Wars, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Trouble is an enthralling story of a boy who loses his older brother whom he idolized in an accident and its ramifications on his family. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of his work. We managed to cover a lot of ground in the week that we were away. But there is no place like home! Thanks be to God for his many blessings and a safe journey.