Ordination Day dawns

Peter is on retreat, as I write on this beautiful Saturday morning – the day of his ordination.

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He’s at Rydal Hall in the most beautiful country side you can imagine.

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The grounds were the work of renowned landscape architect, Thomas H. Mawson, who, in two short years from 1909 to 1911, transformed the garden to make the most of the view down the valley.

A retreat is a time away – retreating from the cares of everyday life – to enable thinking and praying about the deeper things of life. What’s my life really about? How do I open myself to what is Other to me? What are my hopes and fears for the future?

I imagine questions such as these have been in Peter’s mind.

It’s largely been in silence, but every so often he’s broken silence to WhatsApp.

It seems he has spent some of his time throwing himself into water, or contemplating doing so. “Am breaking the retreat silence to show you scenes of Rydal Hall,” he writes. “Decided to take a swim in Rydal Water just before my interview with the Bishop.”

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Renewing his baptism in the deep waters of life.

The Bishop’s Charge – which is the inspirational address the Bishop gives them – was about being as sheep among wolves. Shame the number of clergy in Cumbria doesn’t match the number of herdwicks. Perhaps the Church needs some wolves instead – just as George Monbiot argues, in Feral, that we need more wolves than sheep on these hills.

I always loved the Bury St Edmunds story of the wolf that guarded Edmund’s head until his followers could reunite it with his body after the Danes slaughtered him. Here’s my poem, that was turned into an anthem, with music by Janet Wheeler in 2014.

The Danes came by great fleet of ship, under Hingwar,
to plunder the Angles’ coast. Edmund the King
will never bow in life
unless first Hingwar bow to Christ, he said.
He stood in hall raising no sword. Bound to the tree
He called on Christ.
Mad with rage, they bristled him with arrows
And still with steadfast faith he called
On Jesus Christ.
Hingwar’s order, and the blow beheaded him;
His soul departed joyfully to Christ. 
The grey-eyed wolf
Stood guardian to holiness; until 
Head and body one. Holy Edmund
revealing Christ.
(after Aelfric of Eynsham (c955-c1010), The Lives of the Saints)

The grey-eyed wolf stood guardian to holiness …

I don’t know why Edmund is in my mind. Though as I think about Peter’s vocation, and the fact he could be nicely and easily retired now, doing his own thing, sinking into a well-deserved rest, I guess the sense of commitment to Jesus Christ is there. He’s putting his faith first, above personal interest. That’s impressive.

The family have gathered. First Jonty arrived on Thursday evening. We walked to the pier and lighthouse. Jonty is known for hanging from things. Remember the shot of him suspended from the bridge on the River Lark? Here he is again.

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He also jumps into water whenever he can. (Photo used with his permission!)

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Jonty has a wild side. Or two.

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The sunset was tremendous over Kirkcudbright.

Jonty’s with a year 12 school trip to Blencathra this weekend, so will join us for the service, but must be with the kids the rest of the time.

Then on Friday I picked up Theo and Hsuan from Carlisle. They had flown in from Taiwan and caught the train up from Manchester. By this time my father Hubert, and Judy, were at their hotel in Carlisle, so we all filled the car and came back to Workington for lunch and an afternoon in the garden.

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It was hot. Cumbria has a heat wave. Dad doesn’t enjoy the heat at all!

Jonty left about three; Hubert and Judy left on the train to Carlisle, and Hugh and Sammy arrived.

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We – Theo and Hsuan, Hugh and Sammy – had fish and chips in the only cool place we could think of – yes, back on the pier – watching six collies cavorting in the surf and sand, with St Bees Head in the distance.

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So – don’t tell Peter – I’ve gone on the Animal Rescue website and found a nice looking mongrel to check out. Her name is Breeze, and she’s two years old. It’s a complicated process to adopt, so most likely won’t come to anything. I have registered to visit and meet her, that’s all. (Honest, Peter …) She does look rather fun though.

On Thursday evening I asked Julia to come for supper. Julia is Peter’s training incumbent, and Peter had mentioned that she had a really hard day on Thursday, with two funerals with difficult pastoral issues.

Julia is the vicar at Harrington and has responsibility for the Salterbeck estate. Salterbeck was built in the 1930s to house steel workers and their families. It also housed those who were relocated there after the decision was taken in 1965 by Workington Council to demolish the Marsh and Quay. The Marsh and Quay was a residential area down by the harbour that was purchased under compulsory order in 1969 and demolition started soon after. There is a Facebook page of memories of those who lived there. This area was in St Michael’s parish – and significantly increased the population. The parish now has only about 3,000 souls. Perhaps when the new houses go up where the old steel works were, St Michael’s should bid to have responsibility for them.

Salterbeck now has some great people living there, according to Julia. It also has 50 known drug dealers on this small estate. And it’s not soft stuff. She does a number of overdose funerals each year.

She also told me that Workington is the town where, if you’re a child, there’s a higher probability than elsewhere that you’ll to be taken into care. I can’t find the statistics to support this, so must ask her when we meet later today. She’d just been to a community meeting – again, no details, but we both thought how much Peter will have to contribute to this work.

Lunch at the Bishop’s on Wednesday followed the ordination rehearsal in the Cathedral. It’s a building steeped in history. The guide was really helpful.

In 686 Cuthbert visited Christians in Carlisle. In 1102 Henry I granted the site for a religious house and an Augustinian priory dedicated to St Mary was founded, becoming the cathedral in 1133 for the new Diocese of Carlisle. It was dissolved in 1540, and a year later, Henry VIII incorporated ‘The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity’.

It’s had a chequered history since the 12C, and now has two bays in the nave where originally there were seven. Five were demolished in the early 1650s. The impact inside is concentrated and intense, with some stunning mediaeval paintings …

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organ casings …

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a remarkable ceiling …

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and misericords of intricate and intriguing design.

While the rehearsal was going on I visited the Castle.

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It had a Poppies Weeping Window, part of the installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ – with the poppies and original concept by the artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, originally at HM Tower of London in 2014.

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A poppy for each person from Cumbria who died in the 1914-18 war.

Carlisle Castle wears ‘a dour and pugnacious look’, says the guidebook. It’s never been converted from its purpose as a fortress, and was still occupied by soldiers within living memory. It was the mighty border stronghold against the Scots of the later Middle Ages, and in the 19C was used to control political unrest, so was largely renovated. It’s a building that has changed and developed in response to need through the ages.

When Viv and I were on the River Nene we visited Fotheringay. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there for seventeen years. She started her incarceration at Carlisle. Defeated by rebellious subjects in 1568, she fled to England, landing in Workington and enjoying the hospitality of the Curwen family for a few days, before being housed in the Warden’s Tower at the Castle. Sir Francis Knollys was appointed to ensure she didn’t escape. He allowed her to walk on the grass in front of the castle – thereafter known as ‘the Lady’s Walk’. There’s a Ladies Walk in Workington, too – was it her? I wonder.

Eventually Mary was persuaded to leave for Bolton Castle in Yorkshire, there beginning her southward journey to Fotheringay, where she was beheaded in 1586.

There’s a legend that when she landed in Workington, she used a tunnel that went from a funny little construction called Billy Bumbly Bee’s House to Workington Hall. Unlikely, I’d say.

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Onwards from Carlisle to the Bishop’s House in Keswick where we enjoyed lunch with the other ordinands and their spouses.

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The Bishop’s wife, Alison, has done a stunning job on the garden, transforming it from a wilderness into a delight.

‘A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot’.

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She’s planted trees galore, built terraces and beds, and a pond. The compost is turned over properly from one great box to the next. The bird life, and hedgehogs, and tadpoles thrive. It left me with fingers itching green to work hard at our garden at St Michael’s.

So, while Peter has been on retreat, the family has arrived. The day has dawned. This time tomorrow Peter will be ordained, and will be nervous about preaching his first sermon. He will be a wonderful deacon and priest, with an enormous amount to contribute from his experience.

It’s an extraordinary thing to do – to give your life to serve others, publicly and boldly, in today’s world. It’s to say ‘My life is not my own. It’s a gift I have received, and a gift I give to others.’ When the Bishop lays his hands on Peter’s head this afternoon, it has the same significance as getting married. He will change, as a single person changes to a married one. Once ordained, always ordained – for he will take vows that are binding on him for life, vows that are a public statement of his commitment to be as Christ to others.

Brother, sister, let me serve you; Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I may have the grace to/ let you be my servant too.
I will hold the Christlight for you in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.
When we sing to God in heaven, we shall find such harmony,
born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.

God bless you, this day, dear Peter.

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