Covid 19 Letter No 10
I trust you are keeping safe and knowing the Lord’s presence with you in whatever circumstances you may find yourself in.
With two speeches from the Queen, VE Day a week ago and Captain, now Honorary Colonel Tom, and his phenomenal fund-raising efforts for the NHS all over the news, my mind has gone back to thinking about how their life experience was different from ours today.
Of course, there is a danger of idealising them and forgetting that human nature hasn’t changed, but it is still true that the Christian faith can have a great influence on some eras more than others.
When Colonel Tom was born in 1920 those around him would have just lived through World War I, and experienced the Spanish flu pandemic, which killed 500,000 people in the UK and an estimated 100 million worldwide in a year!
In the aftermath of World War 1 many families were fatherless and many women were destined never to marry due to the loss of almost 1,000,00 British military personnel.
Infant mortality was still high. One of my grandmothers was the eldest of 14 children, two of whom died in infancy.
Death in childbirth was not uncommon. My aunt’s mother died giving birth to her. Her father remarried but was then killed six weeks before the end of World War I. She, and her older and younger brothers, were brought up by the mother of the youngest, my father. Life must have been tough, but I never heard him complain about it. His mother was a lovely Christian lady who radiated the love and grace of Christ.
They went through the great depression of 1929 to 1932. Social Security was very basic; the workhouse was still feared until abolished in the late 1930s and there was no NHS.
You needed to pay to see the doctor. I was once told, by the son of a WW1 churchwarden of St Mary’s, that the Rector in 1917 died of appendicitis because his wife wouldn’t call the doctor. Was that because of cost?
Education has always been the traditional way out of poverty. There were opportunities. If you passed the 11+ you could go to grammar school but unless you won a scholarship you had to pay. How was that possible for a war widow and three mouths to feed?
They were within a generation of the peak of UK church attendance, which for Anglicans was the 1860s, and for nonconformist free churches the 1880s.
In 1900 55% of children went to Sunday school and even by the 1950s it was still at 35%. While a personal commitment to Christ may have been tailing off, a Christian worldview and moral code was still strong until the 1960s.
This had a beneficial effect.
Adversity was not seen as unexpected and although the Bible in no way guarantees prosperity and health, living by its worldview and morality mitigated their suffering.
The family was vitally important, and the wider family was on hand to support it in hard times. In my class at school in 1967 only one boy out of 33 had parents who had divorced. He was also the only one who hadn’t grown up in the local area.
Adultery was rare and frowned upon, social stability was highly valued.
Of course, things went wrong. There were teenage pregnancies. I was the outcome of one, but adoption was a much better option than abortion, which fortunately for me was only legalized 14 years after I was born.
Future generations will look back on ours and wonder how we tolerated 200,000 abortions a year, just as we look back and wonder how in 18th-century England they could have tolerated the transatlantic slave trade.
They had little slogans to live by, often good expressions of Christian stewardship. “Make do and mend” was one such. If something was broken or worn out, they wouldn’t discard it. They would darn clothes, sew them back together, or fix it. If they hadn’t got a radio, they would make one! Of course, today it’s often cheaper to buy new clothes than pay the labour costs to have them repaired. And many electrical items are too complicated for the average DIYer. You can’t use a spanner or a hammer on an iPhone, unless you’ve lost your temper!
“Save and spend rather than borrow and buy.”
I can’t recall whether I heard that or made it up. If I did it certainly conveys the principle by which they lived. They had a deep adversity to debt. They knew that buying something, with a loan or on credit, made them indebted or even in effect enslaved to the lender. They wanted to retain control of their lives. So, apart from mortgages borrowing was like the plague! To be avoided! And of course, saving before buying enabled them to pay less for something. Of course, it involved patience; waiting until you could afford it.
Although they had little, they were content. The aunt I mentioned earlier, born in 1907, never married, left school aged 13, worked in a grocery shop all her life, lived in a studio council flat, never had a bank account, only got a phone (a landline) when she was in her 80s and had just enough left to pay for her funeral when she died. And yet she was wonderfully contented and generous, which I put down to her faith in Christ.
Her brother, my father, whose father had been killed in 1918 also had that Christian contentment even though he never earned more than I did in my very first job.
After World War II the NHS was founded and health care was free at the point of need, one of the greatest achievements of post war Britain. One I suspect many users today don’t fully appreciate.
Social mobility was improved. There was more of a meritocracy. If you passed your 11+ you could go to grammar school. That was a real meal ticket out of a rather bleak alternative. In fact, Oxford and Cambridge universities in the 1950s, 60s and 70s had a much higher proportion of state school undergraduates than they do today! And those from state schools often had much higher A level grades than Etonians, such as the current Archbishop of Canterbury! But then his great uncle was the Master of Trinity College Cambridge where the young Justin went!
Social mobility has declined as the gap between State schools and fee-paying schools has widened with the abolition of grammar schools and technical schools. No system of selection is perfect, but an open system based on merit and hard work is fairer than one based on parental pounds or postcodes. I am not suggesting we abolish the fee-paying sector, but I would provide different schools for different aptitudes. The most suitable opportunity for each child is what’s required.
Many of you will recall some of what I’ve written, others of you will have picked things up from older family members before they passed away. When this lockdown finally comes to an end why not take the grandchildren round Milestones museum and see how the conversation develops as they ask you about “the olden days”.
Things changed a great deal in the late 1960s and not always for better, whether by government policy or cultural shift.
The Christian worldview and the church have continued to be marginalized. The policy of accommodation to the mores of the prevailing culture by the church has failed miserably. We should have been more radical. And by radical I don’t mean extremist. The simple the meaning of the word means, “to go to the root of something”. We should have returned to our Scriptural roots.
It is thought that the churches, in the late 1880s started to empty when they began to lose trust in the authority and reliability of the Bible. Subsequently a biblical understanding of how we stand before God and how he, at great personal cost, acted to rectify our relationship became hazy at best. Professing Christians have gone on thinking that they can live without following the teaching of Christ, which is inconsistent to say the least. The sense of eternity with its alternative destinies has faded too.
And we may not even be better off relatively speaking. In 1900 a couple could buy a terraced house in Brookvale on the wages of the husband working in Thorneycroft’s engineering works, today it would take the earnings of both of them to achieve that laudable aspiration.
And are our children and grandchildren happier, having to cope with the constant comparisons of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter?
Lockdown, however long it lasts, does at least give us time to think. A comparison, with an earlier generation, who were not without their own shortcomings, makes us think and turn to Scripture to discern what God really wants of us.
God is our strength and refuge Psalm 46
You might like to join in with this offering from All Souls Church Langham Place, which they recorded for VE Day. They don’t seem to have any guitar players, remember that when you see what they do have! Impressive and uplifting. Grateful to them.
The LORD be with you. Clive.
1 God is our strength and refuge,
our present help in trouble,
and we therefore will not fear,
though the earth should change!
Though mountains shake and tremble,
though swirling floods are raging,
God the Lord of hosts is with us evermore!
2 There is a flowing river
within God's holy city;
God is in the midst of her-
she shall not be moved!
God's help is swiftly given,
thrones vanish at his presence-
God the Lord of hosts is with us evermore!
3 Come, see the works of our maker,
learn of his deeds all-powerful:
wars will cease across the world
when he shatters the spear!
Be still and know your creator,
uplift him in the nations-
God the Lord of hosts is with us evermore!
After Psalm 46, Richard Bewes (born 1934) © Richard Bewes/Jubilate Hymns
Today’s Interview is with Paul Franklin, a front line worker at Morrisons Supermarket.
Good news, the Christianity Explored team have set a date for the start of the CE online course. Monday 8 June, 8pm – 9pm for seven weeks.
The team: Colin & Chrissie Barton, Emma Hayes & Andy Beckwith will produce a short promotional video to be shown in the services on 24, 31 May & 7 June.
Curates being furlough -NOT
You may start to hear of Diocesan Bishops furloughing curates because they are fearful of running out of money as the lockdown continues. As curates are employed by the dioceses bishops can ask them to volunteer to be furloughed.
The Churchwardens and Rector thought that our curate has plenty of work to do and to show goodwill at this time have offered to pay the diocese the funds they would have received from the Government, an amount which equals 80% of: stipend + 13.8% employers NI and 8% pension.
So, in addition to the £96,000 we give to the diocese each year, and get a Rector and Curate in return, we are adding an extra amount of £2012 per month.
Although in our financial risk assessment we probably didn’t anticipate a global pandemic we are fortunate that the PCC manages the church finances prudently and we are in a position to be able to do this thanks to your generosity. Thanks be to God.
Online Service, 10am: www.stmarys-basingstoke.org.uk/online-service
Children’s Group, from 9.30am: www.stmarys-basingstoke.org.uk/childrens-group
Virtual Tea & Coffee, 11.30am: Contact us for Zoom details.
Other ways to join
Listen to the service by phone: 01256830011 (press 5 to pause, 4/6 to skip back/forward) Charged as a regular landline number according to your phone plan.
Published 16/05/2020, 13:20Previous All