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In praise of the Orbital Car park… not 10 July 2007

Posted by Dr Moose in Life, Ponderings.
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Very tired today after “investing” my day off in a trip to Grand-Parental Midlands City. It’s not that I mind driving, I don’t, but the M1 and the M25 are a rather potent combination, although moreso coming South than going North. I’m very glad I had a reasonable run up and a good time there, because it felt like we crawled en masse all the way between the M1 and well-beyond the M11 junctions of the M25.

But now, having referred to the witty (?) post title, here’s the meat…

I had the opportunity to meet a couple of key staff at the University in GPMC with a stake in the appointment of the new 0.5 Chaplain, but neither of whom will be present on the interview day next week. But before that I made sure I had the time to do a little sleuthing about the reality of the parish which makes up the other 0.5 of the post.

What I hadn’t reckoned on was the emotions that would be stirred on going into the city though. Not so much the rather unexpected familiarity with much of the central ring road (whether they call it that or not) because in the mid-eighties I tended to visit Nan on about a fortnightly basis after Granddad died, but the feelings that bubbled up upon on driving past the familiar statue and park close to the old house, or the familiar names of the streets. I almost wanted to stop, get out of the car and look at their old house in Forest Road. To somehow grasp the past of 22 years ago, almost to go back in time and see Tom again. Forgive the sentimentality if I say that I’m sure I will again, but you know what I mean. I don’t think of myself as a very emotional person, but it was simply a very moving experience which hit me totally unexpectedly. Not quite coming back home, but not far from it.

The parish was everything I had expected, although again it was the emotional resonances that hit me. A ground visit, coupled with my research on the internet (thank you Office of National Statistics!) had confirmed what the Parish Profile had lightly touched upon – a Parish of quite stark contrasts – as well as raising a number of questions about the state of the congregation and their geographical distribution and social expectations.

On the one hand, as illustrated in the Profile, there’s the charming rural idyll of mellow, honeyed stone, the country pub facing the church, looking for all the world as if hidden in the depths of Leicestershire and pulled out from my former deanery – even down to the brewer’s ales in the pub. (Shame I don’t think much of their beer!) Yet within a stone’s throw of the Vicarage the warm country stone and leafy tranquility disappear to be replaced by the familiar architecture of the inter- and post-war housing estates.

The contrast was quite disturbing. My last place had a small council estate, and there’s one just beyond the borders of MLPK. I know that the encounters I’ve had before with residents have been very good, satisfying. But this was a pretty big area. Some of the streets looked very familiar and reminded me that often the computer acronym WYSIWYG applies. What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get, at least with regards to people. A sort of no-nonsense openness and baptism visits competing with the TV (although I’ve had that here too…) Having said all that it still came as quite a shock. What I know in facts and figures translated into bricks-and-mortar reality.

Still, it was a good shock to have. To remind me of my preconceptions. To remind me how privileged we are in MLPK. And to spark some very important questions that will need to be asked at interview… questions which I really hope will prove my hunches wrong, but will probably prove them right. If nothing else it has given me some very good ideas for what might need to be done in the Parish, and of the starting point. It could be a long haul, but I’m not Superman, and all I can play is my part. Nobody else’s.

Then on to the University. A quick shufti at the smaller site before driving back to the larger one where the Chaplaincy has a physical presence. It had a lot of resonances with St Martin’s in Lancaster, or Liverpool Hope, the main difference being that as a secular foundation it has no chapel or established Christian tradition. I had the privilege of an hour or so’s conversation with the Pro-Vice Chancellor (and why do all these different places have different titles for the Head Honcho?) which was friendly, informal and informative, helping me to get a picture of the place, where things had come from, and where they might be going.

After that a chat with the Director of Student Services, which was interesting in coming at things from a different perspective, as well as with the dynamics changed by the arrival of D, the other short-listed candidate who had managed to get lost at the other campus and was also friendly and affable, despite the embarassment of arriving late. D looks to be a strong candidate too, so Thursday next week could be interesting.

Nevertheless I want this post! I won’t deny that there are some fairly daunting dimensions, but also some very appealing prospects. There’s no such thing as the perfect post – and anyway if there’s no way of being stretched there’s no way of growing either. I do have another possibility, of a similar nature (0.5 Assistant Priest, 0.5 Chaplain) and in another area of the country that I know well (Pretty North-Western Town), but I’m not taking my eye off this one! I have no intention of spilling D’s blood on the church carpet – he’s far too nice a man – and anyway the secret is to use a blunt instrument (allegedly) but even so….

Prayers for His will to be done would, of course, be greatly appreciated, dear readers.

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