|Blessing of the horse at Cartmel Priory|
It isn’t as if we don’t have enough controversial issues of our own to debate in Cartmel. Last week the Parish Council voted in favour of a plan to develop a traffic regulation order to reduce irresponsible parking on the local lanes. The plan includes double yellow lines – but slightly narrower than the ones that you might usually see in a town, and primrose coloured to strike a better balance with the rich heritage of the village centre. The three week consultation period organised by Cumbria County Council will no doubt consider a wide variety of views – so I’m not going to use this space to add more fuel to that particular fire either.
No. I want to talk about the Bishop of Carlisle, who visited Cartmel Priory on Monday this week to listen to a request from the church commissioners to withdraw from the Cartmel Peninsula Team Ministry. To summarise, the 'team ministry' was devised 24 years ago as a collective of parishes to allow the local clergy to support one another and provide cover where vicars were scarce. Nestled among the valleys are some beautiful small churches, frequented mainly by tiny congregations of aging parishioners. The team-system enabled a small number of ministers to spread themselves across the sparsely populated area.
But that isn’t the way of the future. In most areas of our lives we’re either seeing services centralised to the major conurbations or else they’re retreating to the digital world – think of your bank, insurance provider or travel agency. I’m surprised more worshippers aren’t already taking virtual communion over the internet. As Keats might have written, if he hadn't died in 1821, Ah, bitter chill it was… Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers as he tapped out his rosary on the i-pad.
As it happens, I believe that spiritual guidance is something that is best given face to face; I’d like to see more vicars on the streets. Not – you understand - sleeping in cardboard boxes, nor enforcing Cartmel’s proposed traffic regulation order. I’d like to see them serving the communities in which they live, helping to instil moral values in the children at our local schools, blessing racehorses and embracing our questions about faith.
After all, while it’s evident that there is a declining interest in attending church services, there is no slackening in what I’d call spiritual speculation: is there life after death? Do ghosts exist? Why are we here? Would life be any better if I could back a winner this weekend? (Alary is my suggestion, in Haydock's Peter Marsh Chase).
There is a real danger that the Cartmel Peninsula Team Ministry will be reduced further in strength, resulting in the possible loss of the vicar from Cartmel. And while it is impossible to justify the needs of one parish over another, the truth is that Cartmel Priory is special. The church is large, has impressive medieval roots and is located in a tourism hotspot. The building itself draws people – which makes it a grade one venue for engaging with issues of faith and encouraging community spirit.
I’m all for the maintenance of services across rural parishes, but imagine – scaling back the use of Cartmel Priory would be a bit like closing down a grade one racecourse and flogging it for housing. Doh... I said I wasn't going to mention that!