07 June 2016

USPG conference in Swanwick hears
first-hand accounts of crises in Greece

Canon Malcolm Bradshaw speaking at the USPG conference in Swanwick this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

Is there any light at the end of the tunnel for Greece?

Canon Malcolm Bradshaw of Saint Paul’s Anglican Church in Athens portrayed a very bleak picture of the two humanitarian crises facing Greece when he spoke this morning at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG.

Speaking in the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire, he spoke of two crises: one facing the indigenous population of Greece, and the other facing the refugees who have arrived in Greece.

Father Malcolm explained how the crisis facing people in Greece is as severe as the refugee crisis, and spoke of the surprising difficulties the Anglican chaplaincy at Saint Paul’s is engaging with.

The Greek Orthodox Church is providing 10,000 meals each day in Athens. A group called the Church on the Street provides 800 meals to refugees and to Greeks in the heart of Athens. Throughout Greece, the Greek Orthodox Church is providing another 250,000 meals a day, and others are doing similar work.

It was heart-breaking to hear him describe the plight and needs of schoolchildren, and he spoke of the need to provide meals for children who arrive at school starving.

Many people have run out of money and have no resources, he explained. The figures show 27% of people over 25s in Greece are out of work and in long-term unemployment. The figures are worse for those who are younger: 57% of under-25s are out of work.

Pensions have been cut in half, and many people do not know where their income is coming from, from one month to the next. Taxes have been raised right across the board, and VAT at 27% is perhaps the highest in the EU.

People are not making ends meet, and debt is high, he said.

The IMF and the EU are asking for structural reforms in country whose civil service is larger than that in UK. But this has become a throttle neck on the Greek economy, and no government in Greece is willing to tackle the civil service.

“We don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel until a government is willing to tackle structural reforms,” he said. And he asked: “Where does the future lie?”

By seeking another bailout, Greece is getting into further debt, and a humanitarian crisis of its own standing is getting worse.

He also described how the second crisis, the crisis of the refugee population, began to emerge in November 2014. The Syrians who first arrived then were well-educated and did not want to stay in Greece, but hoped to move on to Germany.

By September, 5,000 to 7,000 people were arriving on Greek islands every day, and there was no structures to cope with the influx. When winter came, people were dying in the camps of cold.

Describing the camps graphically, he said: “This is the closest thing to a concentration camp in Europe … It almost has the feel of Nazi Germany emerging on the ground in Europe again.”

The chaplaincy started providing clothes and 400-500 hot meals one day a week, with help of USPG. It was a drop in the ocean, but it was some relief.

But finance became a problem with capital controls and fears that the Greek banks would collapse or that the Government would take a haircut from all account.

The Anglican Diocese in Europe stepped in and turned to USPG for help. Donations need to be monitored, and since November there has been a partnership with USPG, which also provides two facilitators to work alongside chaplaincy.

This, he said, is “truly a God-send.”

The money raised through the diocese and USPG has helped a number of programmes include the Lighthouse on Lesbos, where people are going out to meet people on dinghies in the Aegean, and Medical Intervention on Samos, which is providing medical and psycho-social support.

The chaplaincy also works closely with Apostoli, the humanitarian wing of the Greek Orthodox Church, providing non-food relief items and a hostel for non-accompanied minors, with the Salvation Army, which is working on the streets with refugees from Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, and the Ecumenical Refugee Programme, which is dealing with family reunification in the face of complex international law that works against suffering people who are heavily traumatised.

He described the plight of one Kurdish refugee on Chios who was disembowelled and how difficult it was to get money to Chios to take care of him. He spoke too of the hot meals being distributed at detention centres in Athens, and the 1,000 hygiene packs distributed this week.

About 54,000 refugees are seeking to get to Germany and the Scandinavian countries, but have found themselves stuck in Greece.

He describe what a journey might be like from Aleppo to Athens for those who then find that the border is closed. On the quays in Piraeus, thousands of people are living in tents and the only help they get is from NGOs and volunteers. “All their dreams have come to an end.”

The processes are incredibly slow, and uncertainty destructive. There are two million refugees in camps in Turkey, who originally hoped to return to Syria, and he wonders how long they are prepared to wait in those camps.

There are 54,000 frustrated people in camps in Greece, without hygiene, water, food, healthcare or respect for their dignity.

The crisis has its roots in the Iraq war declared by the US and Britain. And he asked: “Where is the United States in responding to this crisis? Where is Britain in responding to this crisis?”

The images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey woke up a complacent Europe until the Paris attacks

When the conference opened in Swanwick last night [6 June 2016], the General Secretary of USPG, Janette O’Neill spoke in her review of the year how images of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey last September changed the response to the crisis in churches on these islands.

In response to the emergency appeal that was launched, a former High Sheriff of Derbyshire, Godfrey Meynell, donated a painting of Julia by Joseph Wright (1734-1797), to USPG to help Syrian refugees in Greece. Wright was from Derby and was part of the circle of the Lunar Society that included Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood and Richard Lovell Edgeworth.

The painting depicts Julia, granddaughter of the Roman Emperor Augustus, as a young woman in exile, holding out her hands in a grotto near Naples. It was painted by Wright after he travelled to Italy in 1774 and was bought by Joshua Cockshutt of Chaddesden, Derbyshire, for £105.

This was the last of several works by the artist at Meynell Langley Hall, near Kirk Langley and Kedleston, and was given to the Meynell family in 1840 in part exchange for a debt. It was valued at £180,000 but was sold at auction by Sotheby’s for £550,000.

Mr Meynell later said: “We’re delighted with the sale. We had a family celebration. We feel this gift comes from the whole of Derbyshire.” It seems appropriate then that USPG is back at this conference centre in Derbyshire for the first time since 2010.

Those images of Aylan Kurdi woke up a complacent Europe until the Paris attacks, Janette said. The money raised by USPG for the Diocese of Europe and the chaplaincy in Athens is supporting work in Athens, Lesbos and Samos, alongside the Greek Orthodox Church, the Salvation Army and other ecumenical partners.

Canon Richard Bartlett, spoke of his first-hand experiences of this work with refugees in Greece from his recent visits to Athens and Thessaloniki. We heard too of the shocking conditions at present in Samos, one of the five Aegean islands where refugees are arriving. In November, 87,000 arrived in Samos alone.

USPG has returned to Swanwick after six years … and shortly after a major donation from Derbyshire to help work among refugees in Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

A walk in the countryside near Lichfield
to the site of an old Benedictine priory

Setting out on a morning walk along Cross in Hand Lane, on the edges of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

My treks through the English countryside continued yesterday morning [6 June 2016], with a good brisk walk along Cross in Hand Lane, which starts at the back of the Hedgehog Vintage Inn, where I was staying for the weekend.

This is one of my favourite walks in the area around Lichfield, and it marks the beginning – or the end – of the pilgrim route between the shrine of Saint Chad in Lichfield and the shrine of Saint Werburgh in Chester Cathedral.

Little has been altered in the landscape along this pilgrim route for centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Today, this pilgrim route is marked out as the Two Saints’ Way. And little has change has taken place in the landscape along this route since mediaeval times. The road twists and turns, rises and falls, with countryside that has changed little over the centuries.

On Monday morning, the fields were green and golden under the clear blue skies of summer. There are horses in paddocks here, or cows there, and most of the land is arable or being used for grazing.

The window cleaner at one cottage called out a cherry morning greeting, and there was a warm hello from one farmer in his farmyard. The occasional car or van passed by slowing down to acknowledge my presence on the narrow lane, I met one other walker and two cyclists. All offered a cherry greeting or an acknowledgment, and twice, complete strangers offered a lift. Otherwise, the only sounds were birdsong, the humming of the English countryside, and a babbling brook.

Although farming patterns have changed in the last 30 years or so, these fields may not have changed in shape or altered in their use for centuries, and even the names on new-built houses can reflect names that date back to a period in the 12th to 14th century.

A distant glimpse of the towers of Rugeley Power Station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Apart from the occasional passing car or van, one other walker and two cyclists, the only hints of modernity are the overhead pylons, the smoking towers of the power station in Rugeley that can be glimpsed in the distance, and the odd tiny shard of glass here and there where a wing mirror must have been brushed as two cars tried to pass each other on the rutted laneway.

Often as priests, we think we should be filling the silent spaces in time with intense prayers and thoughts about sermons and services that need preparation. But sometimes we need to just let go and empty our minds, or thoughts – even our prayers. We take everything else to be recycled as we clear out spaces in our houses, our offices and our studies. But we seldom give time to clearing out the clutter in our inner spiritual spaces, allowing them to benefit from recycling.

This morning walk was an opportunity to clear out this cobwebbed corners of my brain and (hopefully) my soul, and to allow myself time to enjoy this walk as this walk and as nothing more.

Stopping to listen to a babbling brook (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

I stopped to admire the shapes and patterns of the fields and the trees. I stopped in silence at the babbling brook. I stopped to look at Farewell Mill. The local historian Kate Gomez suggests the name has nothing to do with saying goodbye and points out that the alternative spelling of ‘Fairwell’ refers to a nearby ‘fair or clear spring.’

Eventually, at the top of Cross in Hand Lane, I had reached Farewell, about 2½ or three miles north-west of Lichfield.

I stopped briefly to look at Farewell Hall, and wondered about its history, before making my way down the path to Saint Bartholomew’s Church.

Farewell Hall, on the brow of a hill above the church in Farewell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The story of this country parish church dates back to a small Benedictine nunnery founded here by Bishop Clinton of Lichfield ca 1140.

The Priory of Farewell was founded at Farewell, 2½ miles north-west of Lichfield, by Roger de Clinton (1129-1148), Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, (1129-1148), who endowed the place with several episcopal estates. Bishop Roger’s original grant gave to the church of Saint Mary at Farewell and the canons and lay brothers there the site of the church and important tracts of neighbouring land.

The Benedictine Priory was a stopping point on the pilgrim route between Lichfield Cathedral and Chester Cathedral that gives its name to Cross in Hand Lane.

The East End of the church in Farewell retains parts of the priory church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Although it began as a foundation for monks or hermits, Farewell soon became a nunnery. Around 1140, the bishop made a new grant to the nuns of Farewell at the request of three hermits and brothers of Farewell, Roger, Geoffrey, and Robert, and with the consent of the chapter of Lichfield.

He gave the nuns the church of Saint Mary at Farewell, with a mill, a wood, pannage, the land between the stream of ‘Chistalea’ and ‘Blachesiche,’ and six serfs (coloni), formerly his tenants, with their lands and services. In addition, at the request of Hugh, his chaplain, and the canons of Lichfield, he granted the nuns large swathes of lands and woods in the area.

Bishop Roger’s charter was confirmed by his successor, Bishop Walter Durdent (1149-1159). Later, the nuns received a charter from Henry II, probably in 1155, along with lands in the forest at Lindhurst within the royal manor of Alrewas. The nuns were to hold their lands free of all secular service, and the charter was confirmed by King John in 1200.

Abnalls Farm … a name that dates back to priory lands in the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

By 1283, Farewell Priory had acquired a house in Lichfield but assigned the rent to the fabric fund of Lichfield Cathedral. Other priory lands were in Curborough, Chorley, Hammerwich, Abnalls, Ashmore Brook, Elmhurst, Longdon, and ‘Bourne,’ with farms at Farewell, Curborough, and Hammerwich, where the nuns were engaged in sheep-farming and arable farming by at least the 1370s.

But, as the nunnery prospered, all was not well in Farewell. Reports from 14th-century episcopal visitations found incidents of nuns left the nunnery and put aside their habit, that nuns were sleeping two in a bed and with young girls in their beds.

The bishops’ reports recommended that no secular women over 12 years of age were to live in the house unless they were going to become nuns, and only women of good fame and honest conversation were to be employed. Indeed, the door at the back of the garden leading to the fields was to be kept locked because of several scandals.

The nuns were forbidden to keep more than one child each for education in the priory, and no boy over seven years of age was allowed. The nuns were not to go into Lichfield without leave of the prioress, each nun had to be accompanied by two other nuns, and there was to be no ‘vain or wanton’ delay.

Farwell Mill … part of local history and story (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The priory did not survive the general Dissolution. When Cardinal Wolsey carried out a visitation of Lichfield Cathedral in 1526, he discussed the suppression of the priory with Bishop Blythe. In 1527, Richard Strete, Archdeacon of Salop, and Dr William Clayborough, a canon of York, were given a commission to dissolve the priory and to disperse the nuns.

The prioress and the other four nuns at Farewell were moved to other Benedictine nunneries, and their property was to go to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral for the support of the cathedral choristers.

At the dissolution, the vast priory estates included the Manor of Farewell and property in Chorley, Curborough Somerville, Elmhurst, Lindhurst, Alrewas, Hammerwich, Ashmore Brook, Lichfield, King’s Bromley, Water Eaton (in Penkridge), Pipe, Abnalls, Cannock, Burntwood, Rugeley, Brereton, Handsacre, Oakley (in Croxall), Tipton and Longdon.

Farewell Manor … no longer part of the nuns’ vast estates (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

In August 1527, the Chapter of Lichfield was granted all the possessions of Farewell Priory, including the house and church, which were assigned to the 12 choristers of Lichfield Cathedral.

By the 18th century, the Parish Church of Saint Bartholomew seems to have been the only surviving part of the priory buildings. This church was rebuilt in brick in 1745, and the only mediaeval portion now surviving is the stone chancel at the east end. There was further restoration in 1848 when the church was re-roofed.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church is now a mixture of two different building styles and materials. The church is a Grade II* listed building for its surviving mediaeval fabric and fittings.

The square, plain topped west tower now serves as a vestry, with kitchen and storage space, but the bells are no longer used. The churchyard is well maintained and is bordered by brick walls and some hedging.

Farewell itself is small, and covers only 1,049 acres. A mile further on is the small village of Chorley, so the church in Farewell is not the focal point of village life. Today Farewell and Chorley form a civil parish, but the parish council is a joint one with Curborough and Elmhurst, all within Lichfield District.

I could have spent all the morning here. But I made my way back to the Hedgehog and Lichfield along this mediaeval pilgrim route. I had a train to catch for the opening of the annual residential conference of the Anglican Mission agency, USPG, which I am taking part in this week at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church and tower … now a Grade II* listed building because of its mediaeval fabric and fittings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)