Saturday, 19 July 2008

Scargill's Final Service

On Wednesday we had the Friends’ and Partners’ service in the Scargill Chapel. There will be another service later for community, and there is a big wedding party this weekend, but this service was the very last event at Scargill open to everybody – partners, supporters, former community members, friends from the local area. For a lot of people, it was a funeral, and as with any funeral people came with a range of emotions – predominantly sadness, some anger, and a lot of thanksgiving for fifty years of life and service.

Cate had lavishly adorned the central stone dais in the chapel with rocks and thick moss from the estate and flowers and leaves from the gardens, and lit it with our best candles, carefully saved for the occasion. We filled every bit of floor space with rows of extra chairs, and just about every seat was filled – and there were others listening to a relay in the Marsh Lounge too. David, the Chair of Trustees, opened the service by sketching in the background to the closure for those who didn’t know the detail – he apologised, too, for failures in communication. His statement can be read on the Church Times blog posted on July 17th, and the order of service can be downloaded from the website

There was an extraordinary range of people involved in one way or another. The service was led by Stephanie, one of the Trustees, and Dilly, former warden and current community member. Dilly is the author of our inspirational liturgies, the copies of which are always disappearing from the chapel because guests want to take them home with them. There were short (and not so short!) reflections from partners, past and present community members and others. They were all moving. Paddy Marsh, a former warden, spoke about the pioneering work Scargill had been involved in in the early days and his pleasure at the recent work with asylum seekers and Mythbusters (a programme bringing together children from different faith communities). He reminded us how the Israelites had tried to locate God in a building, but learnt that God is not to be limited in that way; and how at Jesus’ tomb the women were told, ‘He is not here: he has gone before you’. Another powerful reflection was given by a deputy head from a Mythbusters school, about the danger we are in as a society of ‘sleepwalking into segregation’, and the impact of Mythbusters on the children of his school. I was also asked to give a reflection from the point of view of a current community member, which I’ve added to the end of this blog.

The music, which was beautiful, was provided by a former Trustee and his wife on piano and recorder (and whoever chose the hymns did well – they came from a range of traditions and eras and so reflected the diversity of people present, and followed themes of thanksgiving, hope and resurrection – and they were a good sing too). Intercessions and candle lighting involved past and present community, partners and trustees. And so we arrived at the Eucharistic prayer, which was from Scargill’s Easter liturgy. I’ve heard the prayer and responses many times before (we don’t just keep it for Easter) but I’ve never heard the responses said by so many people or with so much conviction and passion:

We announce resurrection in our lives,
In this place and in the life of our world.
So pervade this feast with the life of your Spirit,
And free us to be your people of hope.
The table is set, the feast is now ready
Let all find a place in God’s love.

We break this bread remembering the brokenness of the world:
Yes, we will remember.
We raise this cup celebrating the sign of God’s risen life among us:
Yes, we celebrate God’s life.

And the service finished with Dag Hammarskjold’s words of affirmation:
For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.

A lot of community members, and not a few partners and guests, were in tears by the end, but on the whole I’d say they were good tears, acknowledging a very deep loss, but accepting the invitation of the open door.

My reflection:

I came wanting space, and I got space – a whole dale full of it.

I came wanting honest work, and I got that too – some nights as I hoovered the entire dining room for the third time that day I was so tired I could hardly see.

I came wanting time to work out what my next step should be, but I very quickly knew where I wanted to be –and it was here.

I came wanting a place that would give me a spiritual framework and I got that too. I have met God in every corner of this house, this chapel, this estate.

God in the green trees.
God in the cry of the curlew.
God in the guests, the partners, the community.

Scargill is a place of meetings, and a place where doors open.

I asked other community members what community has meant for them, and though there are a myriad different experiences of Scargill, there were common themes:

People have loved the encounters with others, the being with others who share their beliefs and values; and the converse of that, being with people with totally different experiences, ideas and assumptions, learning to find the common ground and see the world through someone else’s eyes.

They have treasured the discipline and the richness of starting every day with an act of worship.

They’ve loved the companionship, having fun together, cooking and sharing meals together, playing volleyball, sharing crosswords, and sharing distress too, supporting each other, accepting each other.
They’ve loved the variety of the work, learning new skills, dusting off old ones. ‘I have spread my wings here,’ said one.

They’ve come here for healing, and have learnt how to forgive; they’ve come here to find work, and they’ve found themselves. This is a place where that happens.

C S Lewis said: 'Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself your neighbour is the most holy thing which will ever present itself to the senses,’ and that is what Scargill has meant to me.

Friday, 4 July 2008

July: Across the cattle grid

It’s six o’clock in the morning, but I can’t sleep, so here I am sitting at my desk in Scargill Cottage, looking out across the little hay meadow and the children’s playground to the steep slope of Scargill Wood. That looks like the top of the hill but I know that above it, invisible from this angle, the moor and fell rise for another 500 metres to the top of Great Whernside. Up there the curlews and oystercatchers who have young to protect pursue you as you walk, circling and swooping overhead in agitation, their alarm calls and the wind the only sounds to be heard.

I’ve been at Scargill since April 2007. I was hoping for a year and I had 15 months, so I can’t complain. Superficially, Scargill looks much the same as it did in July twelve months ago. The main apparent difference – and from my point of view, not a bad difference – is that the grass hasn’t been cut since our mower broke down some months ago, and everywhere, apart from the field where our neighbour’s black and white Friesians are grazing, has a lush covering of tall meadow grasses waving gently in the wind. Inside the building, morning worship still happens every day in the chapel and is the familiar Scargill mix of inspirational set liturgy one day, with its phrases so well worn by the tongue and its emphasis on peace, justice and the earth, and an entirely personal and unpredictable approach the next, depending on which community member happens to be taking it. Short term community members set out the racks of toast and trays of croissants – if we happen to have guests in, which frankly is not much of the time these days – and the duty manager roams the sprawling, inefficient, ruinous-to-heat premises opening curtains and unlocking doors.

But once you look beneath the surface, everything is different, because Scargill is closing. Pictures and objects have little numbered tags hanging from them, ready for the keepsake auction. In the office Debbz is returning bookings and deposits instead of taking them. Corners of barns and cupboards undisturbed for decades are being cleared out and their contents resigned to skips, while in the woodland, bracken is rampaging over the smaller flowers despite Ian’s heroic one-man attempts to keep it in check, and I try to clear a patch round what looks like the very last Common Spotted Orchid to have managed to flower at Scargill. This is a very sad time for everyone, not least the dedicated bunch of Scargill partners, friends and well-wishers who have kept the place going since it opened its doors.

In many ways, the death throes of Scargill have been extremely painful. I feel very privileged because for the few months I was a short term community member – a volunteer – here, I had the space I needed to do what I came here to do – find some useful work, draw breath, and reflect on where my life was going and what my next steps should be. The work was often hard, but it was physical and left me energy to think. It was also very varied, and included lots of contact with people of all kinds and backgrounds. In my encounters with guests and community members I could feel I was making a difference in the world – even if only a little difference. And my life was enriched from being in a place where prayer is part of daily work, signs and expressions of people’s spirituality can be found in every corner of the building and estate, and where thinkers and writers on religion and theology come to give talks and lead retreats.

But for the volunteers who arrived a few months after me, life hasn’t been like that. There has been a tremendous drive over the last few months to cut costs, work more hours, contact more potential customers, install more efficient systems, modernise, commercialise. People with useful skills acquired in a pressurised past they were trying to escape from have been taken off the dining room and housekeeping rotas and put back in offices, while the people left laying tables and cleaning toilets have felt abandoned. We’ve all had to learn new skills – and sometimes surprised ourselves by what we could do. We’ve all had to give up cherished things – the overnight disappearance of the tots’ playroom to become a new office was particularly upsetting for many. There has been anger and blame as well as determination and energy and a great community spirit. And in the end the effort came to nothing – rising fuel and food prices were the final straw – but at least we know we gave it a good try.

When I started this blog I intended to add to it every month, but life changes fast, and good resolutions are easily overtaken by changing circumstances. This was the beginning of October’s unfinished posting:

Wharfedale is stunning in autumn. The dale runs north-south, and is steep sided and narrow, so when the sun rises above the hills that border the east side of the dale the slopes of the west side catch its full light, and the grey rock, the green pastures and soft reds and yellows of Knipe Woods all glow in their various gorgeous colours. Walking up the drive in the morning on my way to work, I stop and watch the jackdaws wheeling about against the sky and the grey background of Knipe Scar. When I start walking again the little flock of chickens which have been scratching about under the hedge disappear around the corner of the house with indignant clucks, followed by three sheep in a panic, who shouldn’t be here at all, but have learnt to pick their way across the cattle grid.

Across the cattle grid…that’s where we’ll all be going at the end of the month, but in the other direction. It’s not long to find new jobs and homes for so many people – your thoughts and prayers would be much appreciated!