Reflections Blog

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A thought from Revertend Paul Lanham

Dear Friends,

I must confess publicly to an incurable addiction. I am and always have been something of an anorak, a steam train fanatic. Once you have become addicted to steam trains there is no cure. No therapy can heal it, you are hooked for life. So having recently scrounged a box of DVDs of them (I now have nearly 50, plus books galore) I can wallow in them

It began as a small boy watching trains at the end of my grandparents' road near New Malden; amid the local electric trains there would be the plume of distant smoke, then the anticipation, followed by the thunderous roar as the thing raced by on the embankment, heading for Waterloo. I was then at school near Bath. The film 'The Titfield Thunderbolt' had recently been filmed nearby. The lane leading to the (now destroyed) station was yards away from the school buildings, the scene by the cricket match was on the school playing field, and over 60 years later I can still memorise part of the cross country course, past the farm where the engine was refilled in one incident in the film. In the holidays in Gloucester there were two stations linked by an overhead passage; a penny platform ticket allowed me all day to go between the two and savour the smell, sight and sounds of the trains. There was the Chalford Stinker; this small tank engine with a maximum of two carriages would potter from Eastgate Station near my home up the Stroud Valley into Laurie Lee country, that magical part of the world. I cherish a teenage photo I took of the Stinker in the 1950s, using a Brownie box camera - one of my favourite shots.

Then university at Durham in the early 1960s, with the city's curving viaduct near the station. Some of my friends were also anoraks. We would sit above the station on summer evenings and see the streamlined engines coming over the viaduct, frustrated at the speed restriction and quivering as they accelerated towards Newcastle. At the time I devoured railway timetables; by using that and day return tickets a group made a great deal of money in Rag Week collecting from passengers on the expresses between Durham, Newcastle and Darlington – until the police found out and stopped us. Happy days....  

Of course they are now an historical relic. Instead of the thundering monsters beside Little Wymondley church there are faceless tubes on wheels – less romantic but faster, more efficient, quieter, less polluting. We have evolved, moved on. Perhaps that reflects a comparison between the two elements in the village. People say that religion has become an anachronism, that we live in a post-religion era. Like the steam trains, religion served its purpose, now it is an historical relic. By all means keep the existing churches with their ancient rituals and practices but see them as symbols of the past like the preserved steam lines – interesting, sentimental, part of our heritage, but nothing more than that.

They don't realise how important and how relevant Christianity is today. The Church today speaks of living outside the material and looks to the spiritual as equally (if not more) important. It looks to others as a priority rather than to the self. It looks up to a real God for real people, looking beyond themselves to an existence that transcends life on earth to a life beyond death. Its focal point is God as Man dying for others and living again to give value to life in the present and reassurance to the future. It is pure nonsense that we live in a post-Christian era. Who we are and what we stand for has never been more important and more relevant than it is at present. The world has never needed God more than it does in these confusing times. It may not know it but it does. If we as Christians speak of a post-Christian era, we are conniving with those who suggest it; we are also being utterly negative and defeatist. 

However, as a clerical fossil (almost 57 years with a reversed collar so far) I will watch my DVDs (when nobody is watching) and cherish them, albeit sentimentally. You might even see me occasionally at Arlesey Station if a steam train thunders by - white haired, open necked and with a camera around my neck, deeply inhaling that magical smell and hearing those magical sounds as the majestic beast passes by on an excursion. But that is nostalgia, the past. The present is here – God still alive, still relevant, still caring for His world. Steam trains may no longer pass Little Wymondley Church; but unlike those engines, what the nearby church stands for is eternal.

With my love and best wishes, 

Paul  

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