Add to this the abuse that has come my way following the Telegraph headline a couple of weeks ago. What I have learned from this is that those who write or email me should (a) check the facts, (b) expand their vocabulary, and (c) try to use adjectives other than those based on or around ‘f**king’. I thought of keeping them and sending them to the Telegraph, but just deleted them.
So, today is a day off. Having spent two days up in the Yorkshire Dales and on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border (visiting parishes and clergy) I have begun to ask myself questions about what Anglican ministry might look like in the next five or ten years. What is clear is that most church advice on such questions assumes the social circumstances of urban or suburban parishes. The rural context is incomparable and, clearly, a different language is needed for interpreting and encouraging rural ministry.
For example (and simplistically – leaving out factors of the ethnic mix of a parish, etc.), a ‘large’ congregation of 200 in a parish of 20,000 people might appear ‘successful’. A congregation of 60 in a parish of 600 is stunning in terms of proportion. However, both congregations have to maintain buildings, ministry and outreach. So, what works for the urban or suburban will not be appropriate to the rural, and vice versa. My job as bishop is to work out (along with others) how we staff and support the variety of parishes in such widely differing contexts where ministry has to be exercised differently and numbers don’t tell an obvious story of success or failure, strength or weakness.
Anyway, next week sees a three-day visit to an urban/suburban deanery and my questions and perceptions will continue to develop. Before then, however, a day off allowed a visit with visiting Swiss friends to the Industrial Museum in Bradford and then Salt’s Mill in Saltaire. The former is great (and I can’t wait for my grandson to grow up a bit so we can take him there). The latter must surely be visited by anyone with imagination. I expect all our friends in the south of England to now book in to stay in Bradford and visit Saltaire.
The mill (and the town) was built by Sir Titus Salt during the textile revolution. More recently it has been developed into offices, apartments and the most wonderful bookshop in the world. (OK, I’m a fan.) Down near the railway, river and canal you climb the stairs at the corner of the mill building and enter the art gallery full of David Hockney paintings and arty books and stuff. Go up two floors and there is the bookshop, a cafe and a kitchen shop (not that I have bothered with that one). The length of the mill floor is preserved and brought to new expansive life with fantastic use of space and light. It has to be seen and walked through to be appreciated. I can say no more.
Yet, all this was the genius of a guy who saw the potential no one else even glimpsed: Jonathan Silver. He died young. There is a statue to Sir Titus Salt, but there is as yet no memorial to the man who risked everything and breathed new life into these buildings. An industrial site that saw human suffering (look at the life of children in the Victorian mills) is now a place of creative space, light and community life. When will he get his statue?