Tag Archives: Lent Lecture

Poems for Holy Week


As we have done in previous years, during Holy Week we do something a bit different from the rest of the series. Last year we had a cinema trip, this time around we had Lance Pierson – who describes himself as a performer – presenting a selection of Poems for Holy Week. Having said that, he actually covered the full season including selections of poems about both Lent and Easter. If you’re in the Oxford Diocese, you may have come across Lance previously as he was one of the guest speakers at the Diocesan Conference in High Wycombe.

The evening was very enjoyable as Lance doesn’t just deliver a dry reading of the poems. In some cases he has actions along with his reading, for others he had pictures projected onto a screen. (If you listen to some of his CD’s the poems are backed by suitable soundscapes mixing music and sound effects.) He also drew from a broad range of authors, covering a wide variety of time periods from poems written in old English through to poems from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He is also very personable, and spent a lot of time before and after the show talking to members of the audience, and proved to be very aware of people in the audience in that he apologised immediately to one of the members of our congregation who relies on the hearing aid loop in the hall because he went out of range of the microphone on one of the poems.

Interestingly, at least half of the audience were people who weren’t part of our congregation – the evening had been advertised in the local St Andrew’s Bookshop, and Lance himself lists his upcoming events on his website. We had several people from Bracknell, and quite a few who came across from Caversham too. Certainly the evening seemed to go down well with them too.

After the success of the evening, I’m quite sure we’ll be seeing Lance making a return visit. Until then, we picked up a couple of his CD’s – Beth opting for a recording of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and me going for a recording of lesser known Sir John Betjeman poems (the BBC owns the exclusive recording rights to the well known ones) that includes one of my favourites, Blame the Vicar.

Life in Iraq: An Army Officer’s View

Captain Abi Brown

The final lecture in our Lent series was given by Captain Abi Brown, a member of our congregation and serving army officer, who had recently returned from a six month posting in Iraq – her second, having been posted previously during the initial invasion back in 2003.

This again was a total change of subject area from the week before. A lot of the presentation was about practical things, explaining what the army is doing in Iraq, and the day to day life of our soldiers out there. She also covered the preparation that the troops are given to prepare them for their tour of duty, and how the army supports their personnel once they get back.

Perhaps the most interesting part of all the background is the realisation of quite how little we know about day to day life for our troops in Basra. Even with all the embedded journalists that have been placed with troops we still only get a snapshot of life – it is rather different hearing from an actual solider.

Abi is a Captain with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers known as REME, who are headquartered here at Arborfield, hence how she came to be part of our congregation. Her troops were responsible for the maintenance, servicing and inspection of much of the equipment that the army use in Iraq, in particular vehicles such as the Challenger 2 tank and the Warrior APC that are the mainstays of the British equipment.

However aside from listing the equipment, she really focused on day to day life.

She was, like the majority of the British force based at Basra Airport, where the force is under continuous bombardment from mortars and rockets. She showed some pictures of the damage that these attacks cause, and also the measures taken to protect the troops. For example she showed pictures of her sleeping accommodation – a mattress surrounded by breeze blocks and a ‘roof’ consisting of a steel plate covered by sandbags. Another real and present danger was the risk of kidnapping, so she was armed at all times, and was never allowed to move around on her own – that even extended to going to the toilet at night, people were always accompanied.

She made some interesting comparisons with how things were during her initial posting to Iraq during the invasion. Today the army is well equipped, and properly supplied – she said that this is a big difference from how things were back in 2003. Back then she refused to wear desert uniform until all her troops were similarly equipped – she never wore her desert uniform during the entire posting. The general impression she gave of the situation then was that the army were ill prepared for what they had to do.

She largely steered clear of political comment, although she did say that about eighty percent of her troops probably disagree with the reasons that they went to war, but on a professional level want to do a good job. Interestingly she says that their biggest worry now is that due to political pressures the troops will be pulled out too early, and not get a chance to do their jobs properly, the job being to bring the Iraqi army up to a standard whereby they can look after their own country without aid.

Her husband Adam was posted to Iraq at the same time as her, but was in a different part of the country. She did say that the only British soldiers not posted to Basra were some admin staff based in Baghdad, and the special forces. Adam was posted to Baghdad, and all she would say about what he did was that it was a lot more dangerous than what she did, and that for her own sanity she never spoke to him at all about the kind of things he did.

She also talked about what it was like as a woman in a largely male organisation, and in particular being in command of men. She has some support in this respect as she is assisted by the first female ASM in REME. She commented that as a woman, the relationship with the men is different – she actually said that perhaps the least successful women in the army are those that try to be like the men – she sees handling things differently as an advantage. The most interesting comment she made was that many of the men seem to regard her as a mother figure – indeed one of her men commented after a telling off that it was by far the hardest he had had because he felt like he did when his mother was telling him off. She also said that because she is a woman many of the men open up to her a lot more than they would to a male officer, which sometimes gives her more of a broad view than a male officer would get, when perhaps the men would not mention some issues. Having said that, there are still soldiers who have a problem with being commanded by a woman – she has one in particular with which she has had issues. As part of her training though, she was required to spend some time working in industry, and she said she had a much harder time being a woman in the engineering company to which she was seconded than she has ever had in the army. Although it is still dominated by men, women are in many roles all across the army.

The final part of the talk, she discussed how she and her troops deal with the loss of fellow soldiers, she lost her first within twenty-four hours of arriving in Iraq. She also here talked about her faith, and how the weekly Church services she attended were about the only escape she had from the continual worries of attacks on the base – the Church was the safest building on the base. Key events are Remembrance Sunday – the base has a memorial with a brass plaque for each soldier that has been killed – and whenever a fallen soldier is repatriated as many troops as possible attend the ceremony. Amongst all of this, she says that many soldiers do find religion – “more than you would thinkâ€? she said – however that still doesn’t stop many of them having times when they find themselves asking why it is that situations like Iraq can happen, and why it is that certain people are killed and others survive.

Under the Skin of South Africa

Brynn Bayman

Last night we had the next of our Lent Lecture series at St James.

After the more theological subject matter last week, this week we had a bit of a change of focus, and also our first home grown speaker in the form of Brynn Bayman, a member of the congregation who teaches at a local school.

As you may know, a couple of years ago, St James was twinned with a parish in South Africa. Whilst Rev Richard has been out there, and has brought back pictures and stories of his experiences, for many the parish out there is almost totally alien – Brynn’s lecture was an attempt to try and broaden peoples understanding of both the country as a whole, and our twin parish in particular. Brynn was asked to do the lecture, as he was brought up in South Africa.

During his lecture Brynn gave us an overview of the post war history of South Africa, looking at the effects of apartheid, and how in particular the Churches responded. He also mixed in with that his own experiences – as a student he protested against apartheid, regularly facing armed police in doing so, who at times opened fire on the protests – and also taking a closer look at how the apartheid laws totally changed in particular our twin parish.

One interesting point that Brynn highlighted was that whilst the authorities moved entire communities, and bulldozed houses to do so, they were never allowed to move church buildings. In some places this has left orphaned churches, in others the church is now either in a different community, or miles from where the church members actually live. This is the situation in our twin parish. The community who originally attended the church was moved to another part of the town, leaving the church building, and a different racial group was moved into the area around the church. However the bulk of the congregation are still drawn from the original community, so travel many miles to get to their church, whilst the community in which the church is located, very few actually attend.

Following on as he did from a couple of big names, Brynn was almost apologetic when he started his session. Certainly we thought he didn’t need to be. He delivered a great talk, and it was very interesting to hear what he had to say. Whilst you can always watch documentaries on TV about the history of a place like South Africa, it is massively different hearing someone who was involved and lived through the history actually talk about what went on.