Friday, 24 April 2009

Saint Hilda's Whitby and a Musing on the Future.

Bringing to a close our occasional series about Whitby Churches is this post which looks at the Cathedral that never was, Saint Hilda's. This view though from the bottom of the breakwater shows the still, smooth waters of Whitby harbour. The view the other way is choppy, though, and a less appealing prospect. So it is for Whitby wanderers, so it is for us. We can look back at the success of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England and see a pool of still waters, reassuring us that the 'glorious battle' was, for a little while at least, almost won. The tidal waves of the faith though, created through the grace of God and the entry of a few very large priests into the small pool of the Church of England soon spread, diminishing the effect until all was covered with a thin, shiny gloss of Catholicism. Those of us who realise that it is time for another coat of paint probably also realise that it will be more difficult, but better in the long run, to demolish the structure and build a new one, using the bricks of the faith provided by our Parishes, but incorporating new structures as well. Schools, a new way of living the religious life, retreat houses and pilgrimage sites like Walsingham.

Over in America, covenants are being looked into to remove much of the legal clout which Dr Schori has been wielding recently. The proposals will create a two tier structure in ECUSA which will remove Parishes from the influence of reformers and create stability in which orthodox Parishes can grow and nurture each other, teaching the faith as handed to the Saints and working with true zeal for souls. This unfortunate situation becomes necessary when certain parts of the Church remove themselves so far from the bounds of acceptability as to endanger the life of the Church for coming generations. In the end, the hope is, the Church will be healed and return to the teachings of scripture. This could sound as though it will create a bigoted, reactionary caucus, and I hope this will not be so. It should enable Parishes not so different from the one I currently live and work in to live without fear of who the next Bishop will be or whether the Archdeacon will play roulette with our Parish share.

Is all this necessary? I hope not, I really do. However, here in England things are moving, still under the surface, at a significant rate. Men to watch include the Bishop of Rochester, who is a fine and true Bishop, a warrior for the Church and, surprisingly, Rowan Williams. Another Northern Diocesan is also expected to surprise many, many people. These good Bishops may, with the help of others, enable provision for us which is adequate and better than anything yet suggested. The news on the AW newsdesk is bright and good. There is Hope.

Meanwhile, back in Whitby, we see the side Chapel of Saint Hilda's, prepared for Passiontide. Saint Hilda's was built for a deal between high and low Churchmen, the fight of the day. Unhappy with Saint Mary's, the people of the town petitioned for this new Church to be built, and it was built at the same height as the old Church, on the other side of the harbour. It quickly became the busiest Church in the town and was nominated to be the Cathedral for the new see of Whitby, which in the end remained as a suffragen post, rather than a see in its own right. That the new Church became the dominant one and remains so is a parable of our time and a salutary lesson to the Church, to our Church, to come up with alternatives to the big new Churches taking shape in cinemas and old bingo halls, to provide the faith, as I am about to swear, afresh for each generation, in and out of season. I hope to reflect in these pages, over the coming weeks, on the declarations I am about to make, to 'search out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, to reach into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be visible', so do pray for me over the next few weeks.

And Saint Hilda's has been fitted out like a Cathedral in the quality of its furnishings, with a fine rood screen, carved stone pulpit and exceptional reredos which is, unfortunately for the purposes of the interested observer, veiled for Passiontide. I wonder how a simple poll of how many Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches veil their images might look in terms of percentages, I know that in America some Roman Catholic Dioceses have banned the veiling of images altogether.

My favourite thing! A sedilia. I love these expressions, carved in stone, of the ordering of the clergy in the Church.

The High Altar set up for Low Mass. The last time I came to Saint Hilda's, there was a nave altar on a dais in front of the rood, this time the dais and altar were moved to the side. The man who showed me round, who also built the dais, explained that times have moved on again here and they recently decided to return to the traditional posture for the Mass, but also to return to this glorious altar.

Which enjoys a commanding position from the sanctuary overlooking the choir and nave.

This is the most interesting feature of the Church of course, the cathedra built for the never-appointed Diocesan Bishop. His intended coat of arms is carved into it, in the centre of the panel above the seat. The walls in the sanctuary, once glorious, are flaking. A recent investigation revealed that it would cost fifty thousand pounds to restore the paintwork - a great amount for any Church to find these days.

And finally, Jane gets here fifteen minutes of fame!