Our parish is being wrapped in red tape
When Steve McQueen arrives at a German POW camp in The Great Escape he’s told that Stalag Luft III was built to house hardened recidivists, serial escape artists, all the rotten eggs. Its equivalent at our church is the choir stall. It is reached via a stone spiral staircase. Once there, children can indulge in all the Brownian motion they like, out of sight, out of mind and, mercifully, out of hearing of the congregation downstairs. But the jackboot of officialdom has come crashing down. The choir is only used during the busiest services yet that’s now verboten,says the goon from fire safety. Even before the choir was closed to kids our church was filled to bursting. Hence our priest is desperate to redevelop the church to get everyone in without using a shoehorn. The only way he could fund the extension was to sell off the parish’s dilapidated church hall. However, that proved unpopular with residents and the council refused planning permission, describing it as a “community resource”, albeit one owned and maintained by the archdiocese. The church hall is used by some non-Catholic organisations, among them a playgroup attended by our toddler. Last month a mother, not seen there before, arrived and began listing what she considered the hall’s glaring safety defects. Days passed before an unexpected visit from the local environmental health officer. You may wonder whether the two events were connected. Did Steve McQueen do his own stunts? The parish now faces a bill for eight separate safety improvements in a church hall used by the secular, funded by the faithful, sitting on land our priest wants to sell but can’t. And if that’s not enough to put you in the cooler, consider this. Deprived of the choirstall overspill, we now send our two most disruptive children to junior catechesis during the 10.30 Mass. It’s at the church hall. I collected them this week and noticed a man in a house between church and hall, leaning from a bedroom window, taking photographs. I cheerily wondered out loud whether he was on a stakeout, to which there was no reply. A fellow parishioner
Colin Brazier Notebook
said some locals wanted the council to take action about the traffic around the church on a Sunday morning. I am preparing to start a rumour that the church hall is to become a drop-in centre for the homeless, with free syringes for junkies. Inever tire of recommending Frank Furedi’s brilliant exposition of the pressures faced by modern mums and dads, Paranoid Parenting. One of his arguments is that James Bulger’s killing prompted many parents to wrap their children in more cotton wool. It’s unclear what impact the Madeleine disappearance will have, but it’s unlikely to be helpful to those who feel young children need less, not more surveillance. The case of a well-intentioned tourist in Bosnia is salutary. He alerted police after seeing a girl bundled into a car at Medjugorje. His suspicions were aroused because the girl was blonde, the adults were not and the man put his hand over the toddler’s mouth when she began shrieking. A whitehaired child and a brownhaired father trying to stifle a tantrum? It’s a scene played out by my three-year-old and I in the supermarket car park every other week. The kids were in a royal park recently, just inside Surrey’s footand-mouth exclusion zone. I consulted one of the park’s maps to see how best to avoid disinfected matting. The youngest two began excitedly pointing to an icon for the park’s Diana fountain (the goddess not the princess). The symbol has a birfucated plume of water almost in the shape of the letter M. “McDonald’s!” the nippers cried in joyful unison.
Colin Brazier is a writer and broadcaster
MASS TIMES IN CENTRAL LONDON
Masses in the Traditional (Tridentine) Rite Corpus Christi Church Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, WC2 FORTY HOURS DEVOTION Thursday 29 November at 6.30 pm High Mass of Exposition, Procession and Litanies Friday 30 November at 6.30 pm Votive High Mass for Peace Saturday 1 December at 12 noon High Mass of Deposition, Litanies and Procession Watching before the Blessed Sacrament until 9.00 pm on Thursday, all day Friday and until 12 noon on Saturday The Latin Mass Society, 11-13 Macklin Street, London WC2B 5NH Tel: 020 7404 7284 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
JESUIT CHURCH FARM STREET, MAYFAIR Sunday 18th November, 2007 - Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King Mass times: Vigil: Sat 6pm Sun: 8am, 9:30am (Family Mass) 11am, 12:30pm, 4:15pm, 6:15pm (Dvořřáák, Haydn, Dvořřáák) www. farmstreet.org.uk
St Etheldredaʼs, Ely Place, Holborn Circus EC1 Tel: 020 7405 1061 Sundays: 9.00 am & 11 am. Weekdays: Mon.-Fri. 1 pm. Sat. Call for info Holydays: 12.10 pm, 1 & 6 pm.
St Aloysius, 20 Phoenix Road, NW1
(Off Eversholt Street, east side of Euston Station)
Sundays: 8.30 am, 10.30 am, 12.15 & 6 pm.
Weekdays: 12.30 & 6 pm.
Holydays: 9.30 am, 12.30 & 6 pm.
NOVEMBER 23, 2007 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
The Government borrowsanother great Catholic idea
Labour’s ‘studio schools’ are modelled on an American Catholic success story, says Francis Davis
This week, amid front-page coverage, the Government announced that it would be establishing a new educational initiative to reach out to disaffected and truanting pupils. “Studio schools” will be educational establishments with real businesses inside them, enabling pupils to learn skills and earn money while they study. They will be especially focused on teaching “the spirit of entrepreneurship”, which employers say is so hard to find, and will have shareholders and advisers so that students can learn from the discipline that such engagement requires. After a pilot project in Luton, backed by the Department of Education Innovation Unit, the fresh approach will now be rolled out across the country and especially to areas that have faced social hardship. What is fascinating is that these flagship studio schools grow directly from consideration of international Catholic best practice. The Government is borrowing our best ideas. In New York, Chicago and other American cities the Catholic Church has founded Cristo Rey schools (also known as “schools that work”). Their combination of a powerful Christian ethos, skillscentred vocational training and access to real paid work with the school’s corporate partners has meant that truancy rates have been slashed and educational standards lifted. The schools are also 65 per cent self-funding, giving them independence from the state. In fact, Cristo Rey schools have been so successful as social enterprises that a group of wealthy business people have created a philanthropic foundation specifically to back religious orders interested in opening a new one. Over the last five years in Britain the Catholic educational community was not unaware of Cristo Rey. But it had been
painfully slow to move on the possibility of its adopting the idea in the British context, proving once again that we need a well-funded Catholic education innovation network. The Jesuit Provincial, Fr Michael Holman, was impressed by Cristo Rey’s work and met its founder. Archbishop Vincent Nichols established a Catholic Education Service working party to examine its potential and CES staff had gone on a study visit to America to learn more. Some of us had wandered the country publicising Cristo Rey in lectures and even writing pamphlets describing their work, which were read by leading Labour and Conservative figures. Throughout 2005 I praised the Cristo Rey model of schooling at The Young Foundation, a London-based think-tank, but there was no enthusiasm for its faithbased successes until a fateful meeting at the foundation’s Bethnal Green offices two years ago. Among those present were Geoff Mulgan, the brilliant former director of the Downing Street Policy Unit, Therese Rein, a Christian entrepreneur specialising in public-private partnerships and various Young Foundation staffers. After Ms Rein said that some of the best social provision she had ever seen had been founded from faith communities, the conversation turned to the problems of educational standards and truancy, especially by boys in poorer neighbourhoods. I described again the Cristo Rey experience and Mr Mulgan and Ms Rein, encountering this particular Catholic model for the first time, responded with electric and profound enthusiasm. “Such a model would qualify for Government funding in the UK,” said one, while the other described similar schemes they had visited in the American Midwest. The brainstorming went on and within an hour Mr Mulgan had coined the
“studio schools” name to describe a secularised Cristo Rey concept. Plans were put in place to meet the education minister Lord Adonis. Next week’s formal launch by Lord Adonis will be the fruit of subsequent development work led by The Young Foundation’s Launchpad team. In themselves, studio schools are likely to be a hugely positive influence. They are small-scale and flexible. Their course content is relevant and challenging. They are likely to reduce truanting. They would work well as one of the new co-operatively owned community schools that the Conservative front bench now wants to encourage. But a “spirit of entrepreneurship” and an underlying view that only employability should be the primary goal of an education risks leaving students without the tools to navigate through what matters in life, as well as what workson the job. Arguably, itrisks becoming a classic policymaking attempt to “bottle” an ethos and pour it out again without the social networks, allegiances and religious habits that an integrated approach to the whole student requires. The Government, the Opposition and the churches now have a striking opportunity to plug this gap by allowing faith-based social innovation to flourish so that they may complement studio schools. On the one hand, the churches should be encouraged by Ministers to add Cristo Rey-like centres to the activities of existing schools and planned academies. Central government officials should seek out strategic partners at the diocesan level. Conservative local authorities, in particular, should be encouraged to pilot faithbased partnerships along the lines described by reports from Iain DuncanSmith’s Centre for Social Justice. Such a strategic commitment by the Secretary of State, Ed Balls, would give substance to
the words of the recent educational agreements between Church and state. On the other hand, the heads of Catholic independent schools should be encouraged by their governors to grasp the opportunity that the social enterprise approach to Christian education offers to institutions now being forced, under the the new charity law, to demonstrate their “public benefit”. A Worth-Downside Cristo Rey school, based in an inner-city settlement run by those establishments, would be a first step. A Cristo Rey in Liverpool or Leeds run under the supervision of Stonyhurst College or Ampleforth would be another. St Ignatius School could pilot a new initiative in Glasgow, while St Mary’s School Ascot might look to Slough or parts of Reading. Acoalition of the Church, companies and our best Christian talent could add fresh value to what risks becoming a stale state-imposed approach to character formation. A flexible welfare state would not flinch from affirming such potential creativity or drawing on the energy, resources and skills in faith communities. After all, if the Government is happy to borrow our ideas and plaster them over the front pages of the press, think what improvement could be achieved by a renewed involvement with churches which, after all, have been involved in educational innovation rather longer than the Labour Party.
Francis Davis lectures on the graduate programme in social enterprise at Cambridge University where he also coDirects the Centre for Faith In Society at the Von Hüügel Institute, St Edmund’s College. He is a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics
True fathers will soon have elite status
Most sensible people will applaud Cardinal MurphyO’Connor for his objections to the current Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, enabling lesbians to become legal parents of a child without the inclusion of a father. As do I. Yet, paradoxically, I don’t think the practice of excluding men from creating families will downgrade fathers. Quite the contrary: when the ersatz appears, the authentic becomes more highly prized. Nylon and polyester gave linen and cotton the status of the real thing. Instant coffee made real coffee into a global cult (as Starbucks has proved). And children born into a marriage with a strong, protective and genuinely male father will enjoy a greater elite status than ever before. To some extent, this has already happened. When “normal” families – a mother, father and biological children living together – were the norm, I seem to remember they were sometimes considered “boring” by avant-garde thinkers. Now that there are so many variations on family life, I notice that
intact and successful families are often admired. Having grown up without a father myself, I always looked enviously on intact families. As a child, I would pathetically attach myself to “normal” families and hope that I might be taken for one of them. There was a family of five living next door to us whom I used to play with. When, once, a stranger thought that I was one of the sisters, it thrilled me to pieces. Human beings can grow up successfully in unusual and unorthodox settings. We shouldn’t be rigid about who is suitable to be a parent: I hate the way adoption agencies exclude anyone over 35, or anyone overweight. But where the current ideology gets into such a muddle is in claiming “rights” to the legal begetting of a child. Two women may find themselves in a parenting role towards a child. (It was suggested in Sean O’Casey’s 1922 play Juno and the Paycock, when Juno consoles her pregnant and abandoned daughter that her fatherless child will “have two mothers.”) But that does not mean that two women have a “right” to this
Human beings can grow up successfully in unusual and unorthodox settings
role, or a right to delete the male begetter from the narrative. It seems to me that the obsession with “equality” has made people blind to the processes of nature. To pretend that a male has not played a role in the begetting of a child is simply a fiction, and no Parliament on God’s earth can make it other
wise. The Cardinal has had to listen to arguments that he is practising “discrimination”. But, as with equality, the modern disparagement of “discrimination” is ill-conceived. Discrimination can have a useful purpose: it means the use of judgment. The expert who prefers a glass of Chateau Margaux to Algerian plonk is discriminating. The theatre director who hires one actor and rejects 20 at an audition is discriminating. And the law should discriminate between science fiction and science fact, which is what the Cardinal is saying. Adaft claim of “equality rights” has surfaced in tiny Lichtenstein, where the United Nations is pressing the principality to allow females equal succession rights with males –overturning Lichtenstein’s long tradition of allowing a male-only reign. To claim “equal rights” in the organisation of any monarchical system is a contradiction in terms. There may be very good reasons to prefer a princess to a prince, but in a feudal dynastic tradition based on birth and
rank, “equality” certainly isn’t one of them. Here’s a suggestion for “health czars” anxious about childhood obesity. Bring back Advent, as originally intended. I’m amazed to see that all the “advent merchandise” aimed at children in our local shops are virtually all toy boxes crammed with chocolates and sweets. To mark our contemporary “Advent” calendar, you pull out a new goody every day. It’s not just the calories that are doing the harm: it is the idea behind them, which is that you can have whatever you want whenever you want it. That there is no such thing as a season of fast and a season of feast. This not only promotes obesity, but, I’d suggest, unhappiness and depression later on. Because you can’t have everything that you want when you want it. Advent and Lent, as they were in the Christian calendar, are very useful psychological preparations for that life experience.
Bringing joy to overgrown schoolboys
This column would be interested to hear from any readers who yearn to attend the forthcoming Led Zeppelin reunion concert at the O2 Stadium, not least for the fun of conducting an amateur foray into the world of demographic profiling so beloved of our newspaper industry. Once the results have been adjusted to take account of practical jokers, multiple respondents and abstainers, the computer will probably find that the overlap between devotees of the world’s greatest rock and roll band and those of Thommo’s weekly musings amounts to 15.3 people, and that I must therefore be instructed to write about Messrs Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham (Sr and Jr) once every 37 years. I shan’t be going to the gig myself for several reasons. For a start I didn’t know it was happening until it had sold out; but even if some kind friend had secured tickets and offered me one at cost I would have thought twice. Reunions are not always disasters: both The Who and Pink
Floyd performed superbly at the Live Earth event in Hyde Park. But the last time I’d seen Zeppelin they were an embarrassing mess, only held together by Phil Collins, with whom the surviving original three had never before played, on the drums. And that was at Live Aid in 1985. How much worse they could get in another 22 years didn’t bear thinking about. Finally, there was the ticket price, which I didn’t bother to look up because these special one-off supergroup beanos are always grotesquely over the odds. Not that this has stopped the veteran combo from filling the jolly old Dome several times over. Apart from fans with no sense of proportion, there are lots of bloated idiots out there who only go to the most expensive concerts, and don’t care what they are as long as they can flash their platinum plastic to show off to their friends. Speaking to the BBC this week lead guitarist Jimmy Page, who was never noted for his verbal lucidity, dropped a felicitous spoonerism by referring to the band’s “card
whore audience”. Nice one, Jimmy. But the interview was encouraging in other ways. As Page slurred and mumbled about how much he was looking forward to performing with the old firm, and the passion in the music and so forth, it became clear that the punters might not have wasted their money, at least not all of it. The boys have been practising, you see, and in secret, because they didn’t want to commit them
selves to reforming, sorry, reforming for a night, until they were sure they were up to it. And when the legendary plectrum stylist described the Live Aid set as “pretty shambolic”, because it was not rehearsed, my heart soared. It seems even old rockers can learn from their mistakes. Because I love Led Zeppelin. Their most famous song, “Stairway to Heaven”, is tedious, hippy twaddle almost entirely devoid of merit, but play me anything else off Led Zep IVand my eyes glaze over with nostalgic bliss. I will take on all comers in my contention that the track entitled “Rock and Roll” is the best dance number in the history of the world, ever; andPresenceis an album that still captivates me with its depth, ingenuity and skill. Of course it’s rock music, and so, in the great scheme of things, trivial. That doesn’t mean it can’t still give joy to overgrown schoolboys like me when we’re not listening to Beethoven. One of the reasons I love them is that they bucked the trend of their time. At the end of the 1960s, when other musicians had
permed into concept groups selling to a dwindling market of nerds, Zeppelin went back to basic British R&R, perfected it 10 years late, and made a fortune. After another decade of generally earnest underachievement in the singles chart, Dire Straits almost pulled off the same trick, but at a lighter level; now that the music market is so fragmented it would take a modern George Martin to create another such phenomenon. To many people of my generation, who ought to be wearing plaid slippers and wondering how high they’ll see the apple tree grow, Zeppelin will always be Band No 1. I do so hope they pull it off at the Dome next month. Most recordings of live performances disappoint those who treasure the perfection of the studio, so I shan’t be buying the CD, and a DVD can’t do justice to a stage show. But for all I know the members of Led Zeppelin might be avid readers of this paper. It would skew my little experiment in readership profile somewhat; but I wouldn’t say no to a free ticket.