It has been another cold winter, the third in a row with snow, so my children now think that sledding is normal for England. Maybe the future will be like that for them, who knows? I do know that it has been bitterly cold inside St.Andrews Church. The stone walls soak up the cold and then, even on milder days, radiate coolth to the brave hardy few who come along to the 8:00am services.
We’ve been working hard to get some decent heating in St. Andrew's, hampered by the lack of gas and oil, and by the need to heat the building fairly briefly for a few hours each week. We’ve looked at overhead radiant heaters, which are a bit “visually intrusive” to put it politely. We’ve looked at under-pew heating: like sitting on a light bulb, in a good way, was how it was described! We’ve looked at upgraded storage/convector heaters round the walls, which might not be the best for the panelling. It looks like it will be one of those three, all of which have drawbacks, and all of which will need to be approved by the DAC - the Diocesan Advisory Committee - before they can be installed. Since 1913 the churches have been exempt from the usual planning regulations and have followed their own, the DAC for each diocese being legally set up in 1991. It seems amazing to think that not that long ago incumbents could do what they liked with their church buildings - adding, subtracting, changing the style or letting them rot.
Of course, the general planning system has only really come into its own in the last 50 years so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, but certainly George Herbert would have had none of this trouble when he restored St.Andrew's, nor would planning consent have been an issue when the new roof and other work was done at the end of the 19th Century. But how hardy the faithful must have been to survive the winters without proper heating, or perhaps they didn’t come to church much? Maybe they followed my mother’s advice to “put another jumper on, dear”!
Holy Mr. Herbert might not have wanted any memorial other than a vibrant worshipping community or even, having restored the building, a successor who cared about the poor (does the Trussell Trust mean I’m covered?) However it's interesting to see that many of his monuments are often obscured. The reredos in St.John's is obscured by the altar. The Herbert window in the cathedral is hidden behind some baroque monstrous carbuncle (or heavenly patterned detailing if that's your sort of thing). But then maybe he would have wanted it this way, and perhaps we can see it as a good thing. After all, his memorial in St.Andrew's is coded (not in Da Vinci way). One has to work at these things, and that somehow allows it to go deeper. One has to work at his poetry in order to get anything in return.
By stretching our brains, imaginations and committing to getting a result, we engage with it on a very different level as to how we receive most TV and media these days, which is pleased to make everything as obvious as possible. A wise man once said that we must seek in order to find, ask in order to receive, and knock a little harder if we really want the door to open. As Herbert puts it, "Or if he pleaseth, through it pass..." Plenty are they who say there is nothing to find, but they are usually the ones who've never bothered to look.
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