St Michael’s, Workington, 12 August 2018

I will lift up my eyes to the hills …


It’ll be two months, this next week, since we moved into the Rectory. It’s time for a house warming! Peter and I really hope you’ll come next Sunday and join us after church to warm the house with your presence – do come.

Moving to a new place is always strange – and particularly in the first weeks and months, as you begin to settle down, before everything becomes normal and routine. It’s as if your antennae are everywhere. You notice things that others don’t. You are full of questions about this and that. The strangeness of the surroundings puts you on high alert. There’s so much you don’t know that everyone else knows. It took us a while – for instance – to realise that the industrial estate at Derwent Howe was different to Dunmail. We find it impossible to imagine what the Marsh and Quay was like. We’ve learned that we’re downers, rather than uppers. We’ve learned that it’s an insult to be a jam eater.

And then, our ears are tuning into the accent – though it’s hard if it’s too broad – especially if we’re being teased. Then there’s different dialect words. We’ve learned to call them blackites – they’re coming on grand now. Let’s have some other words you don’t think we’ll know.

Now, I’m not one who has a natural ear for dialect. And that’s not for want of trying – in all the different places I’ve lived. Born in Australia, lived in East Anglia, in Scotland, in the East End of London, in Lancashire, in Manchester, in Bradford. But I hear the differences, and love them. It’d be a boring old world if we all spoke the same. Bring it on – our differences, the rich diversity of humanity.

Because it’s not how you speak, it’s what you say that’s important. As the reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians spells out. Speak truth to your neighbour; do not let the sun go down on your anger; let no evil come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. So St Paul writes. Good words for everyone, everywhere, whatever their accent or dialect.

I don’t think we knew what to expect, before we moved to Workington. We knew a little of the town, from visiting before. Friends of ours from down south get Workington and Whitehaven mixed up – you’re not here long before you know not to do that, if you value your life.

I’m surprised by how much spirit there is in the town. I know there are some really poor areas, and there’s signs of poverty when you walk in town, and see how some families are struggling. The foodbank at Christ Central is well used – too well used. Food banks shouldn’t need to exist at all.

Despite that, there’s a upbeat feel about Workington. There’s hope in the air.

It was the first walk we did – up to the crucifix on the cliff. And we heard about it in the chippie that evening. How Peter Nelson built it, 9ft tall, in tribute to his late wife, one Sunday morning in the fog.

How he didn’t have planning permission – but that was granted retrospectively, after 1,800 supporters signed a petition.

You know, I think it’s brilliant. I love the padlocks that people have put there for people who have died. I love the fact you can see the crucifix for miles around. It’s there, from surprising angles and viewpoints – a reminder that the town of Workington is being watched over.

It’s rare today – for such a Christian symbol to be erected. So much of our society is hell bent on forgetting our Christian heritage, on establishing a secular, humanist basis to our common life. That this town has Jesus Christ looking down on us is really powerful.

We need to be reminded of the presence of Christ in our lives. It’s very easy to just get on with things – the daily stuff of life, and forget. Peter Nelson’s crucifix reminds us that there’s more to life; that we are part of a greater whole; that we are all held in the love of God.

God’s love is known in the crucifixion of Jesus – that love goes to the most horrible of torture, and into the depths of human experience. Wherever we might find ourselves, suffering loneliness, or pain, watching someone we love die, the depths of depression – God in Jesus is there. It’s a dark place, the crucifixion takes us to all our dark places. But that’s not the end of the story, for God in Jesus is life too – the resurrected life which is ours. We know that all the pain and suffering we might endure holds promise and hope too – of life in Christ.

So that’s why it’s important that Peter Nelson’s crucifix – the sign of death – is raised up on the hill. Because its deeper meaning is life. It draws us to God, reminds us of God’s gift of love and hope in our lives and in the life of this town.

“No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day”, said Jesus to the crowd.

If you walk the other direction, near the Navvies’ bridge, there’s a stone that the council have positioned that reminds us of the motto of the town – and it’s there, on the end of the pew. I will lift up my eyes to the hills. The verse from psalm 121. We can – and do – lift up our eyes to the fells. And what glory is there.

Here in Workington, we also lift up our eyes to the hill that was a slag heap, now the slag bank, with the enormity of the sea behind. And then we see and know the presence of Christ who brings light out of darkness, hope out of despair, joy out of suffering.

Next time you catch sight of Peter Nelson’s crucifix, give thanks that Workington is watched and held in the love of God, the light of Christ and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen.