Lindisfarne Ordinands’ Easter Residential School
As Ordinands from the North East we travelled to the heart of London where we joined the St Martin in the Fields Palm Sunday procession. From Admiralty Arch, a swelling street congregation followed a Salvation Army band and Rosie, a donkey carrying panniers full of palm crosses, reminding us of Jesus’ procession to the heart of his city. We entered Trafalgar Square and stopped at strategic points for a short reflection and a hymn and to hear the gospel proclaimed to an array of onlookers, made up of tourists, passers-by and a tented village of peaceful protesters, not happy with the proposed alternative vote.
We moved into St Martin in the Fields and found ourselves at the foot of the cross both metaphorically and actually as Terry Duffy’s work of art ‘Victim… No Resurrection?’, suspended above the altar, drew our attention to the suffering Christ.
We felt very welcome joining in worship at this, the first ‘station’ in our keeping of Palm Sunday.
Our second station was the National Gallery, where we studied how artists had portrayed the crucifixion. Some of the paintings were challenging, eliciting a variety of emotions and moving us to quiet reflection. Mid afternoon we headed to St Paul’s Cathedral, where drama was about to unfold in a grand scale Stations of the Cross. Three priests bore a large wooden cross as the strains of the organ filled the space, pushing the exquisite voices of the choir heavenwards. We watched and listened and sang as the cross journeyed around the Cathedral ending at the altar, above which a full length of purple cloth was suspended from the Whispering Gallery. As the incense cleared and the organ struck a violent chord signifying Christ’s last breath, the cloth fluttered in collapse – a moment of desolation signifying Christ’s final breath ‘it is finished.’. This was our final station and the effect had been profound. Ordinand Glen MacKnight was moved to write this poem:
St Paul’s Cathedral
Tell me what did you see peering into the haze of incense?
Was there glory there like in the beginning when stars were made
Or was it the promise of suffering a life ended like blossom from a tree
And what of the sound; the dying reverb of the suffering songs
That lingered in the dome shot through with light visible to the ear
Were you held by the thick resolution
It is finished
I am finished
Let the mallet fall from this hand
For today I heard these stones cry out where my heart was silent
But for the thudding of the nails
A World Apart
A major aim of the week was to explore the world of high finance – what really caused the banking crisis and what’s happening now?
Canary Wharf, in London’s former East India Docks, is a massive powerhouse at the centre of the world’s financial industry, housing the towering offices of many major banks and with 90,000 workers. We were told that this business park was also a ‘human’ place, with open spaces and small green parks and roof gardens dotted around, but there was a general feeling that none of us would like to work there. Yes, the place is immaculate; the streets are washed down regularly, there is no litter, and puddles on the pavement are literally brushed away! It was clean in an almost sterile fashion. Everywhere security was tight.
On the 30th floor of a major bank’s headquarters we encountered the ‘corporate’ face of banking. There had been considerable interest in wealth creation and bankers’ bonuses in the months leading up to the Residential, but direct answers to our questions were avoided. We were told instead about the company’s business aims, its community development plans, and its stated desire to be at the centre of attempts to eliminate world poverty. The bank wanted to project itself as taking a lead in developing Canary Wharf communities – but to present the funding of the Premier football league as an example did seem to be a bit wide of what we thought the target ought to be. At some point on our tour we were told that bank workers now are taking increasingly short holidays – if the bank is seen to survive without them for two or three weeks they may be regarded as superfluous! This may be an apocryphal comment but it’s probably near the mark.
A quite different presentation at the Nationwide Building Society’s London offices by the company’s Group Finance Director was fascinating. We were given an overview of the crisis and heard about speculative deals and leverage, and about the cheap lending that ultimately became unsustainable as the lenders themselves eventually failed to raise money to fund that lending. Much of the more profitable, higher interest rate lending was in the riskier side of the housing market. Bankers’ bonuses encouraged this type of practice and eventually individuals and banks began to fail. We were told about mechanisms such as securitisation (the obligation not to sell on – or offload – the riskier end of the market) and about the Troubled Asset Relief Programme that is now in place.
Our London trip also took in a visit to the Olympic park where our host and guide was Canon Duncan Green who had come out of parish ministry to develop the chaplaincy for the Olympics. He demonstrated that the Church has a real and powerful role in enterprises of this sort and he is now a pivotal part of the organisation. One of his tasks is to look beyond the Olympics to the needs of the communities left behind when the Games have gone.
Visiting a parish in Waterloo brought us all down to earth with a bump – we were back into the real world where real people lived and where real day to day problems at a small, but human, scale existed. It seemed – and indeed was – a world apart from the Canary Wharf experience.
Back in the North East and based at Shepherd’s Dene we looked at two further issues. First we took health care provision as an example of how we all rely on a strong financial sector. A few decades ago U.K. expenditure on health care was about 1% of GDP. Now it is in the order of about 8% – and of a massively increased GDP. Health cost inflation has exceeded fiscal inflation for decades and the increasing proportion of GDP being spent on health cannot be matched indefinitely. Even so, a sharp contrast could be drawn between the U.K. and some others parts of the world as we spend over 100 times more per capita on health care than many developing countries. Looking beyond our own shores we enjoyed and were challenged by a superb presentation by Paul Chandler, CEO of Traidcraft. From the philosophy that underpins the organisation to practical engagement with producers abroad and major supermarkets at home, we were given an overview of the range of Traidcraft’s work. This really helped to put a number of things into perspective, not least in the contrast between subsistence farmers eking out a living in so many parts of the world and the £1m+ annual salaries in the banking industry.
Keeping the Triduum
From Maundy Thursday to Easter morning we focused closely on the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the quiet darkness of the chapel following the Eucharist of the Last Supper, we moved into silence. For many of us this was the first experience of a silent retreat and in contrast to our hectic lifestyles a rare opportunity to spend quality time with God and to listen to his voice. Twelve hours later the silence began to resonate …
Good Friday morning and the bareness of the chapel screams of the absence of glory. Christ held captive. Tarnished. The Light of the World bloodied and battered . Sore. Weak. Remaining silent – much to the frustration of His inquisitors. ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ’You say I am.’
Noon – and we sit at the foot of our wood hewn cross, the pounding ring of nails being hammered into wood assails our ears. Images of him hanging there assault our eyes; we look, we listen, we wait. Three short hours – ‘it is finished!’ – we rise and sing ‘Christ triumphant, ever reigning’.
Someone places a crown of thorns atop the empty cross. The silence deepens. We leave and separate – to meditate. One walks the labyrinth, one the hills, one sits in the garden high above the house. No-one speaks – no-one wants to. The rattle of crockery and the scrape of cutlery on plates is the only sound at dinner. Our silence is broken only by communal prayer: Night Prayer, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, the rhythm of the offices mirrors the ticking of the clock.
Darkness falls on Saturday and we gather outside. Once more we listen as the story unfolds: ‘In the beginning’ … through Exodus and the Prophets. And suddenly it’s here – the new fire flames; the candle is lit and the air resounds once more: ‘The Light of Christ! Thanks be to God!’
And we celebrate with chat and chocolate – lots of chocolate – then off to bed to rise before sunrise to greet the morn and celebrate the Eucharist amid dancing daffodils and flickering candles. Hugs and a group photograph follow before we repair to the dining room to continue our celebrations with Bucks Fizz and bacon butties.
This was the week that changed the world – Easter School certainly changed ours.