Parish News

First Sunday Giving

At its December meeting, the PCC agreed that the First Sunday collections in 2918 would be given to the following missions and charities: For the months of January, February, April, June, July and August, we shall support the work of a national charity and The Children’s Society, a well-known Christian organisation working at community level for the welfare of children and families. In March, during Lent, we shall as usual support The Bishop of London’s Lent Appeal, which this year is aimed at provision for the homeless. For May, when we consider an international agency, our cause will be Christian Aid. In September and October we shall support, as in previous years, The Leprosy Mission (to coincide with our Patronal Festival) The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution respectively, (marking Harvest Festival). The last two charities of the year will be new departures for us. In November our giving will be for Medecins Sans Frontieres, the international medical agency often seen at work in areas of conflict; and finally, at various services in Advent and Christmas, we have chosen next year to devote our giving to The Albert Kennedy Trust, a smaller and less well-known charity working among the LGBT people facing homelessness. Our congregations have been very supportive in the past; I very much hope you will feel you can support these initiatives during 2018. We shall aim to bring some speakers from these charities to St Giles through the year.

Richard Casserley, Bell ringer

Following last month’s piece about Richard Casserley, here is a fuller account, drawn from an article by Prudence Fay in ‘The Ringing World,’ which proves yet again how St Giles continues to attract real characters.

Richard, who died on 19th October, aged 80, was a ringer with many interests, which he pursued intensively. At his funeral on 7th November at Berkhamsted, he was described as ‘a one-off’ and ‘something of an English eccentric. ‘Richard liked old things’ said a friend, such as the ancient and disreputably battered briefcase he always carried. He was invariably to be found after practice in the nearest pub with a pint and most likely a pork pie, and he owned two ancient cars, one a 1957 Morris Minor, for which in 2007 he organised a 50th-birthday quarter peal, and the other, a Morris 12/4 c.1935 that his father had bought during the war, registration CMH 79, and which he still drove in summer to Sunday ringing. Even until recently he was making old-fashioned hand signals.

Within ringing itself, Richard had two further passions: ringing quarter peals, and ‘tower-grabbing’ [which means, I think, visiting other towers: Alan]. Friends’ detective work after his death settled on a total of 2,364 quarter-peals of which 230 were rung at his home tower [Berkhamsted], more than 500 at his other tower, St Giles-in-the-Fields and a further 399 in churches in the Chilterns. Of ‘tower-grabbing’ it is reckoned that his total was an astonishing 6,363. The last ‘grab’ was on 7th October, less than a fortnight before he died, at Houghton in Hampshire. He rang only 13 (full) peals, the first in 1971 and the last in 1985 – both for the Railway Guild.

Richard was a steam-engine and railway enthusiast all his life, and also worked for British Railways. A group of us were very impressed when because of a cancelled train we were stranded with him on a ringing outing into the Kent borders of outer London. Richard nonchalantly approached the station master and had the next train make an unscheduled stop at the station to pick us up.

His father, H. C. Casserley, was a famous railway photographer and from him Richard inherited his vast archive of railway photos dating back beyond the 1930s. Richard and his daughter Mary together produced a book entitled Steaming Through Berkhamsted, which came off the presses (sadly) just a few days too late for him to see it.

In the mid-1970’s he joined the regular Thursday-lunchtime band at St Giles-in-the-Fields, Holborn, and in April 1997, when Keith Matthews had to retire suddenly because of ill health, Richard was elected ringing master, a post he held for ten years. The main event during his mastership was the restoration of St Giles’s historic ring of bells in 2006. James Ingham, who was treasurer at the time, notes that it was Richard’s suggestion of making a substantial interest-free loan to the church for this, as well as making a donation to the fund, that was ‘a game changer . . . in translating the project from a rough plan to something we could really achieve.’ Richard also took the lead liaising with the then Rector, The Revd. Dr. Bill Jacob, and he helped significantly to bring the bells and the ringers closer to the church and the congregation – particularly after Sunday evensong in the Angel pub next door!

‘In his zeal for quarter peals and ‘tower-grabs,’ he was aided and abetted by his friend, the late Stella Shell, also a St Giles ringer, often vying with her in The Ringing World’s lists for top quarter peal ringer of the year. He will be much missed. At his request the bells at St Peter’s were rung half-muted before his funeral Requiem by many friends. He and his wife Margaret were married in 1964; they had five children and three grandchildren.

Tom Lawrence, the current ringing master, adds: On a brighter note, I’m pleased to report that our peal to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation was successful, as follows:


HOLBORN, London, St Giles-in-the-Fields

Saturday, 25th November 2017 | 3 hours, 10 minutes (14)

5024 Rutland Surprise Major

Comp. P M Mason (No.94)

#1#Bridget Campbell

#2#Thomas F Lawrance (C)

#3#Caroline A Stockmann

#4#E Lesley Barclay

#5#J Richard Anthony

#6#Martin B Sutcliffe

#7#Edward J W Manley

#8#Nicholas Wilkins

Two new lighting schemes

Much as I love the Dickensian gloom that can often wrap itself around St Giles and would hate to dispel it with the brash modern lighting of the 21st century, yet even I must concede that there are times when it is helpful to see what you are doing. To this end, therefore, though still mindful of the charm of the antique, two lighting projects are shaping up that may be of some interest to you.

The first, which will be installed during January, is to provide permanent lighting to the north and south choir areas in order to replace the studio lamps that have been threatening to fall down onto the singers’ heads for some years now and desperately need replacing. We will know if we have done our work well if no one notices them. A modest, practical improvement, I hope you will agree.

More dramatic still, and of a different order altogether, is a scheme to provide architectural lighting to the church tower. As we become increasingly engulfed by ever higher local buildings, so we need to enhance as best we can the presence of the church in the public realm. The project is already 18 months in preparation, but in the coming few months we hope to receive Faculty permission to undertake the work. There will be a period of official consultation, but if anyone does want to object, please speak to me first!

Memory and Lent

In this month’s Pelican, with the help of Marcel Proust, Rector Alan reflects on the meaning of Lent and how we remember Christ’s sacrifice

Reading the four volumes of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ (I’m currently half way through the third) is not for the faint hearted. Sentences run to half a page, paragraphs to two pages, a chapter to three hundred; and nothing really ever happens. Describing a dinner party takes longer than many a whole book and outward events fade before the immediacy of those remembered. Opening a seam of recollection the writer rambles on, allowing one observation to suggest another, before returning to where he had begun, by which time you (the reader) have forgotten where that was and are past caring; on top of which nothing really ever happens.

71XQMY6AY4LYet the work remains an extraordinary testament to the power of memory and the gift of language, even though a memory and a language lodged in an over-sensitive, precious and privileged individual who moved in the higher echelons of late nineteenth century French society soon to be disturbed beyond measure by the first war, whose end will be commemorated this year. With infinite mental patience and a precision of expression rarely found elsewhere, he watched society around him, obedient to convention on the one hand and mischievous towards it on the other. He does not rant, has few strong opinions, swims with the tide; yet he penetrated its mores, its prejudices, its soul.

Then, later still, came the remembering and the remembering lasted longer than the events remembered. The force of the work is in the honesty of its perception, brutal at times and often inflicted on himself. I can’t imagine he would have made a good friend. He was often ill, and perhaps it was that circumstance (having to withdraw from the society of others) which developed in him an introspective eye and, later still, a desperate need to bring back vividly into the mind his journey from child to adulthood. It is not so much what he sees that brings the reader back again and again as the act of seeing, not so much what is remembered (amusing and antique as it is) as the act of remembrance.

[But here, a preview: I have in mind the power of remembering Christ and how we are to connect who we are with who he was and is.]

It’s summer by the Normandy beaches. He visits a country house for supper in the hills above (two hundred pages) and returns at dawn. For once the insomniac writer falls soundly asleep and later, sometime in the afternoon, he wakes (he never seems to work) and is led to meditate on the strangeness of the experience of sleep and what remains in the mind on waking and how most, though not all, is forgotten.

‘We possess all our memories,’ he writes, ‘but not the faculty of recalling them . . . What, then, is a memory we do not recall?’ and then, further on: ‘We do not recall the memories of the last thirty years: but we are wholly steeped in them; but why stop short at thirty years, why not extend back much further than my human existence?’

What if, like Proust, we could recall the depth and immediacy of all our encounters, and what others looked like, and what we felt about them and they about us or their companion and lover or how sultry the night was and how the moon rose before us? Would this not be something special? Is this perhaps what drives the writer to write at all, as a last act of defiance against the high tide of forgetfulness, frantically recording every nuance of the past before it is washed away for ever from the collective mind?

Calvary feels a long way from a turn of the century French provincial house, and it is, but what unites them, so far as Proust’s memoir is concerned, is the effort to redeem the past by recalling it with all the vividness of memory that we can summon. Central to this effort, of course, is the woven tapestry of the gospels, even though at times little more to us than a scrapbook of worn photographs unearthed from a mound at the back of a cupboard. For this reason, I imagine, I never cease to find the account of the rediscovery of the manuals of the law in a back storage room in the Temple during the reign of Josiah so moving: ‘And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord,’ (II Kings 22, 8).

If it is possible, as Proust muses, for us to be governed by memories that stem from before our birth (perhaps he means the memories that arise from our parents and their parents) then why is it not also possible to be governed and to become aware of the memories that come from before them, and if them, then why not the memories from before them also? What reason do we have to stop traveling back further still? I speculate, of course, but I do so because of the need to find an answer to the question that many today by their silence, as much as by their speech, pose: how on earth can the death of this Jesus have anything to do with me? It is surely not enough for us just to say ‘It is so’ or ‘This is what I believe;’ it is no longer self-evident that a Jewish preacher of the first century can die in my place.


Crucifixion Triptych, Rogier van der Weyden, c.1440

Somehow the distance created by the passage of time must be narrowed and the continuing influence of the past made manifest again to a generation immune to its appeal. From Proust I learn how we can retrace our steps authentically so that, as with him, the remembered past became as vivid as the lived past and in some ways more so. If we had been at Calvary would we have understood it as we now understand from the gospels, themselves the fruit of forty or so years of reflection and living?

We have a sacramental word for all this: Anamnesis: an amalgam of ‘ana,’ before or above and ‘mnesis,’ the act of committing something to memory: so, the remembrance of things from before or from above with the vividness of the present moment: ‘do this in remembrance of me.’ The weight of time falls away at such moments. It is not about us being in the original upper room (this would be a strange transposition of time) but about the risen one being with us in our own ‘upper rooms.’ We are creatures of time but he, the risen one, is not. Walls are no barrier, nor time, nor change, nor culture; none are barriers that could prevent the fusion of then and now, authentically and really in him.

We know Christ to be ‘yesterday, today and forever,’ to be ‘Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,’ do we not? We learn from the writer how to explore those regions of association we thought lost to us; and we learn from the treacher that there are no barriers to knowing and being known. He died that we might live. He lives still.