Every year Snugbury’s Ice Cream Farm entertain Cheshire with a sculpture with a good twist of humour. Last year it was the meerkat. The previous year was Big Ben. This year it’s for the team pursuit in the Olymplicks. Mike Harper, of Harbrook Engineering, is the creator of this piece of art. It took 3 men 3 weeks to fabricate the steel, and 4 people 2 weeks to stuff the straw. The piece weighs 7 tons, is 35 feet high, with the bike alone being 8 feet tall.

Friends Meeting

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Witton Church Council had their first “awayday” yesterday and used marbling to learn about  flow, influence and interaction. We decided that it doesn’t take much to make something beautiful – just a lot of flow and some interaction. We used straws to blow the ink, and we realised that in our lives there is a time to blow, and a time to refrain from blowing. For everything there is a season. Though marbling may seem a bit random, it actually isn’t. It’s just that the outcome is unpredictable, and is, thereby, a good reflection of life which refuses attempts to control and regiment it.

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It was a great pleasure to be involved with facilitating the day. Together we explored “the ground on which they stand” – a question that had more significance than I was anticipating. Northwich is a place undermined by salt works in which subsidence has been a problem. St Helen’s Church, apparently, is the only house built on rock. The day was full of encouragement as they explored how they would step out from the ground on which they stand – and they built up a good head of steam.

This was a cheerful group of “friends” who met at the Friends’ Meeting House in nearby Frandley. The house dates back to the early days of George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends. George was born in 1624 (at Fenny Drayton, near Leicester) and travelled the country preaching as a dissenter. Along with other dissenters Fox had several periods of imprisonment as he challenged religious authority and the attempts to crush the movement that he had started.

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Fox appears to have preached at Frandley at 1657, when he was 33. He resisted the idea that religious experience was limited to ecclesiastical buildings. He refused to call them “churches” and referred to them as “steeplehouses” instead. He knew that God meets people in their heart of hearts, and preferred Friends’ meetings to be in the open air. There is a plaque at Frandley of the oak tree at which Fox preached to the gathering of Friends.

William Gandy is reputed to be the founder of the first local “society”. He farmed at Sevenoaks in Frandley. Interestingly there is a plaque on the meeting house commemorating the planting of seven oaks to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 (sounds like the local Friends had become friendlier to the monarchy with the passage of time).

The PCC decided it was their spring. The “Witton Spring” may not have the same ring to it as the Arab Spring, but we did have some thoughts from Friend and Quaker, Parker Palmer.

In my own life, as winters turn into spring, I find it not only hard to cope with mud but also hard to credit the small harbingers of larger life to come, hard to hope until the outcome is secure. Spring teaches me to look more carefully for the green stems of possibility; for the intuitive hunch that may turn into a larger insight, for the glance or touch that may thaw a frozen relationship, for the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem hospitable again.

Some quotes from George Fox – maybe from under the oak:

The Lord showed me so that I did see clearly, that he did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in people’s hearts … his people were his temple and he dwelt in them.

Why should any man have power over any other man’s faith, seeing as Christ himself is the author of it?

Surplus of meaning

a work of art in the Cheshire countryside

It has been good to be involved in the development of an Arts & Faith Network (for the Diocese of Chester), and to be “breathing space” at Stephen Broadbent’s studio yesterday with textile artists, stained glass artists, wordsmiths, dancers, painters, sculptors, actors, authors, poets, cooks, singers, preachers and “makers of pretty things”. Until yesterday the Network hadn’t been much more than an idea shared by a few people and it was difficult to put into words what it was about and what could happen. Now it has got legs, is on the road, and has its own story – “the day we met at Stephen and Lorraine’s, when our exploration of the interaction of arts and faith was facilitated by Simon Marsh with background percussion of water overflowing into a pond…..”

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The (overflowing) River of Life
sculpture by Stephen Broadbent
at Warrington at the site of a terrorist bomb explosion
which killed two children.

There were so many good things, including a wonderful rendition of The Rose by Simon (spoken, not sung), and, we discovered a “surplus of meaning” as we joined our own creative endeavours to those of others. Surplus of meaning doesn’t mean that there is too much – rather, there is so much. The meaning of our insulation block sculptures co-mingled with the meaning given to them by others, with meaning pinned to meaning. Of course, Ricoeur was right. There is a surplus meaning as one meaning gives itself to another, transforming itself in the giving. Nothing we can do, or create can provide an adequate container for our meaning. Meaning is so abundant it has to overflow. It overflows into convivial and meaningful community, good times, great company.

There are, though, those in whom there is no sense of meaning – including some in this emerging network who described the meaninglessness of past experiences. Is this where art and faith come together, making sense when we are oppressively or depressively crushed?

Simon Marsh and Sarah Anderson have both posted on the Arts and Faith launch.