Friday, November 27, 2009

Nowadays cleaning is the only job I can get. I used to be computer programmer but in the fast moving IT world of “here today and gone tomorrow” experience is constantly requiring a rebuild. Thus accumulated wisdom is of less value than it used to be. Nevertheless cleaning has its big compensations, especially if you are a cleaner at locations of historical interest. It means you get to savour that spooky out of hours mood in places where, for the imaginative mind, history comes back to haunt the living. I have to confess, however, that in spite of the strange things I hear said I’ve never seen, heard, smelt, or felt any “ghosts” even in some of Britain’s premier haunted sites (e.g. in a deserted Bodmin jail which got a five skull rating from the team of Living TV’s “Most haunted” series). But having convinced myself that subjectivity plays a large part in hauntings I was in for a shock one day whilst cleaning at NCBC near sunset. In the deserted church I saw a man surrounded by an eerie illumination carving a memorial stone:

NCBC's creepy memorial stones.

As if there is a measure of shame or distaste associated with the history and traditions of the Duke Street location I once heard a rumor that the removal of NCBC’s old stone memorials was mooted at a church council meeting. There was even a suggestion that someone had somehow construed these memorials as “Blasphemous”; yes my church does contain believers with that kind of paranoiac spirituality which sees terrible sin lurking wherever its own practices and beliefs are not observed. (Any truly inclusivist church must allow a quota of such people). So given this background I racked my brains in doubt; whoever in our church would initiate the carving of a post mortem memorial? I had heard no mention of this stone work in the services, so what then was I witnessing? Was this a ghost? Was it a vision of a past time? Was it a time slip?

A restorationist and rivalist mentality has pervaded large parts of EPC (Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic) Christianity. In reaction against the traditions of the fading and spent civic church the latter third of the 20th century saw a desire to rediscover fancied church blueprints and gnostic blessings in an endeavour restore a “New Testament” church. True, it has to be admitted that large tracts of history display a very mongrel church, a church swaying this way and that in winds of time. But late 20th century EPC church looked (naively I to my mind) for an anchored spiritual pedigree. It had no self conscious inkling that the styles, tastes and imperatives it hankered for may one day also pass and look quaintly arbitrary. Fortunately this ethos has not infected NCBC strongly but it has perhaps left it with a desire to disconnect from the past; its historical setting is accordingly undervalued impeding a proper evaluation of its own ephemeral place in history.

If Christianity means anything at all, then it cannot adopt the stance of the restorationist and rivivalist cults like the Mormons and JWs who write off large swathes of the past as beyond redemption. We must look back on previous Christian cultures with sympathy, making all due allowance for the environment in which they found themselves and had to do business with.

After a bit of investigation the situation over the memorial stone became clear. Legal obligations on the death of a spouse required her name to be carved beside that of her dead husband. The memorial stone concerned is none other than that for the late Mr. and Mrs. Charles Boardman Jewson who respectively served as Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Norwich in 1965. They were the bastions of both civic society and the Duke St Baptist church.

Pillars of Church and Society: The Jewsons in 1965

What I had witnessed on that atmospheric late autumn afternoon was real, but no less incongruous and peculiar. Here was an event that had its cause rooted in the distant cultural past of the church – the fag end of the logic of that culture was still working itself out and I felt privileged to be in the right place at the right time to see what may well be one of the very last deeds of the spent civic church. The legal connection was no surprise to me; no one in NCBC would have initiated it otherwise. The deed, as it were, had to be a signal emanating from past, like the light of some distance galaxy; so in that sense I had witnessed a ghost!

An echo from the past: Memorial Stone addendum with mason's marking paint still in place.

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