Saturday, 7 September 2013

On a hill far away...

The cross from the small empty bell flèche on the west end of Holy Trinity church in Dunoon.  The scaffolding required for repointing and roof repairs gave us unique access, and the serendipity of the day, the angle and snapping with the iPad gave the image above.  I feel it symbolises a lot of useful stuff about this church community.

It was made by a now unknown man in 1850 or so, and fitted to the original church.  The lines, back when Queen Victoria was still pretty young, would have been fine and ornate. He took his time to create the fine cross, even though it would always be high, high above the heads of anyone who would ever see it.  It was made with care, and left to the elements.

Just over 40 years later it moved, when the church was extended.  The west wall was moved further west by maybe 30 feet or so to make more room for worshippers.  The flèche and the cross moved with the wall.  It will have been pretty much still as good as new, I suspect, after 40 summers and winters in Argyll.  Maybe the edges were starting to blunt a little, but still recognisable.

Now, another 120 years or so later, we are back up to have a look.  Others have been up in the meantime, roofers and masons, leaving their initials or names carved in mortar or the softer stone of the flèche itself.  But the 160 years haven't been kind to our nameless mason's labour of love. The wind, rain and salty spray have eroded the stone, changing the fine details to blurred, irregular lines.  The overall shape is still there, it is still a finial cross on a gothic revival building, and from the ground probably still looks pretty much the same as it always has. But up close...

But the backdrop to the cross is striking.  The town of Dunoon, ever changing, the 'capital of Cowal' lies below and far from the cross: but still visible.  The blue sky and clouds behind the cross capture the beauty of Argyll, the land and seascape.  And the green of the lime trees, planted about the same time as the cross was carved, that has grown and deepened, just as the cross has faded and eroded.

Are our church communities faded and eroded like the finial cross?  The intentions of the founders of churches and their communities were based on strong views about worship and history and the place of Christianity (in their preferred style) in the life of the nation.  Decades of capitalism, consumerism and apathy have attacked the certainty of the Victorian church revivalists.  Secularism (which I don't see as a rival to faith or Christianity, just a context for it) have blunted the certainty of the edges of the beliefs that our forebears carried with them.  

But the shape of the cross is still there.  In fact, it has probably been nudged closer to the sort of shape that a rough wooden cross beam, on a tree or beam of some sort, would have had.  The blurry lines of the worn stone are moving towards a better image of a Roman instrument of execution.  The sharp edged, ornate institution is long gone.  The worn image of the cross seems attractive, we are drawn towards its solidity and the memories that it holds.  And an image of a cross, rooted in history, created in care and accepted by new generation after new generation: that still sits far above the bustle of ordinary life, looking down on God's beloved people in the world.