Chris Brice presided at his last Sunday service at the glorious Grade 1-listed St Martin's, Gospel Oak today. He's retiring this week after more than a decade as the vicar of this north London parish. And I was one of a congregation of, I'd guess, 250 who came together to wish him well. The service lasted two hours what with all the gifts and tributes, and the Rev Chris's own numerous speeches, declarations and asides - oh, and a fairly full-on sermon which seemed to be unyielding in its theology (about Christianity being the truth, which I suppose means that every other religion or belief system is in error).
I should be able to work out what Chris Brice's tradition within the C of E is, but I can't quite place it. It's not standard Anglo-Catholic (no cassocks, incense, and he's not a Father), but nor is it happy-clappy evangelical either. It does take liturgy and ritual seriously - the doxology got a mention on today's order of service (look it up for yourself!)
Chris himself has worked his personal magic on a difficult parish - this is not the Heath-side part of Gospel Oak, but the bit surrounded by a fairly tough post-war housing estate. He's brought compassion and service to his calling. He also presided over the successful application for funds, and then the building work, which saw all the towers and turrets on this crazy, fairy-tale mid-Victorian church restored to their full glory. And he was the incumbent too at the 150th anniversary service a couple of years back, which benefited from his sense of occasion.
St Martin's will miss Chris - and I am fairly sure Chris will miss St Martin's. I am a resolute non-believer, but this was a church I was happy to go to from time-to-time. I was once even prevailed upon to read the lesson - which says something about the vicar's powers of persuasion.
Take care, Chris!
I'd never seen a bridge quite like this - a key-operated swing bridge over the Grand Union canal. It's so low over the water that the bridge needs to swing round on a sort of turntable to let the barges through. Take a look ...
If you are trying to work out where this is - well, just by the Three Horseshoes pub at Bourne End in Hertfordshire. This is where the rail mainline, the canal and the Bulbourne river run side-by-side.
Annie Besant, variously radical, freethinker, trade unionist, Theosophist, Indian nationalist ... and suffragist. In 1893, Annie Besant - already interested in Theosophy - visited India for the first time. It became her home. There's still a gilded life-size statue of her on the sea front in Chennai. But this was not the end of her interest in British politics.
In March 1912, at the age of 64, she addressed a meeting of Mrs Pankhurst's pro-suffrage Women's Social and Political Union at the Albert Hall in London. This leaflet - just acquired - contains a summary of her remarks.
It's passover time ... and last week I had the pleasure of meeting an old friend, Elias Josephai, in the disused synagogue at the back of his horticulture and aquaculture business he's run for more than thirty years. This is the Kadavum Bagam synagogue in Ernakulam, part of Cochin (now Kochi).
This is not the celebrated Mattancherry synagogue in Fort Cochin, the Paradesi synagogue, which dates back to the 1560s and prides itself on being the oldest working synagogue in the Commonwealth. The Ernakulam synagogue is not quite of that vintage. But the Malabari Jews of which Elias Josephai is part have been around in this corner of South India for even longer than the Paradesi community.
The 'white' Jews of Mattancherry now number some half-a-dozen ... that just about matches the much diminished size of Cochin's Malabari Jewish community. The two groups have never got on all that well, as Edna Fernandes's book The Last Jews of Kerala recounts.
I first met Elias Josephai in 1996, when I put together a TV news piece about Cochin's Jews. Here it is:
Back then, Elias Josephai forecast that Cochin's Jewish community would disappear within a decade. Twenty-two years later it's still going - but only just. Elias and his wife are still here, though they continue to ponder the option of emigration to Israel. His married older daughter is already there - his younger daughter is working in Mumbai.
It does still seem to be only a matter of time until the Jewish community here disappears. What a sad moment that will be!
But the Kadavum Bagam synagogue, down-at-heel when I visited back in 1996, is now much smarter. It has a steady stream of visitors - when I arrived, Elias Josephai was showing round two Jewish tourists from the Philippines. And there are plans to turn an ante-room into a small museum.
The synagogue is not used for religious services - and its scrolls followed most of its congregation to Israel in the 1970s. But it's a fine and elegant building, probably dating from the mid- to late-nineteenth century, and it's good to see it recognised as part of Cochin's heritage.
After all, Elias Josephai's business has the name: Cochin Blossoms!
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