THE LANTERN TOWER at Bramhall Parish Church was internally renovated in 2009 and is currently clad in scaffolding for external repointing. It’s a bold statement in our community. Added to a fifty year old parish church in 1960, the brick and concrete structure was immediately detested by some in the neighbourhood and loved with a passion by others.
Towering above our baptismal font, and acoustically the church’s sweet spot, fifty+ years on it now houses one of the church choirs. I enjoy the generous sense of space and light and glory it affords; it is the very opposite of cramped and mean, and I’m delighted too that the tower provides exhibition space for suspended artworks and painting. But, most of all, this tower gives me pause to contemplate the connected values of light and vision.
Bertie Barnby was the energetic and inspiring 3rd Vicar of Bramhall in 1960. Several hundreds attended Sunday worship and he was “on the case” of those who didn’t on Monday mornings – which I admit, being an introvert by comparison, would probably put me off forever!
Canon Bertie’s autocratic style wouldn’t win him much approval in 2012, indeed there were mutterings and grumblings back in 1960, but fifteen years after the end of the second world war his vision was bold, brave and efficacious. An accomplished church musician, Bertie insisted upon the Christian virtue of “giving thanks to the God who made us, in the Lord’s House, upon the Lord’s Day”. That was how the Church was built. That was how good and just society would be maintained. The Church was to be the lantern set upon a hill. And so the Vicar’s powerfully envisioned dream of a lantern tower prevailed.
Lantern’s light source
What value has this huge and powerful “statement” of a tower for me and my fellow disciples today? Does it speak of vision in 2012? Yes it does. I want to pause to consider the source of this lantern’s light. And I want to do so in the wake of a friend’s describing a recent sermon he’d heard in which the preacher implied that life inside the Church is full of light and “out there” is full of darkness, for I beg to differ. Bramhall’s tower opens my eyes. At night, when electric light glows inside the Church, there’s a relatively low wattage presence in the road outside, from inside out. But much more powerful, and every single day of the year, too, our lantern tower is illuminated from the outside in. “Out there” is where the Light is, and “out there” is what lights up “in here”. No doubt there’s need for a great deal of healing and regeneration in the world “out there”. No doubt there’s need for a great deal of healing and regeneration in the world “in here”, too. But we’re – each and every one of us – caught up in a life-long process of being healed and vivified by the Light that comes into our lives (and into our tower space) from “out there”. The Church that recognises no need for healing and light from without its walls will crumble and fall. Churches (and individuals) that think they’re the only bearers of light are – in the long run – of no earthly use at all.
Bertie Barnby wasn’t daft. When he called people to offer thanks to God in the Lord’s House – this parable built of stone on Robins Lane – he was consistently inviting his parishioners to encounter God chiefly in the Lord’s House not built by human hands, the “temple within”. Human hearts and souls are built to be “lantern towers” – and in the quiet and contemplative moments of our daily thanksgiving we find that the life of the world is not an enemy, but the Source of the light with which we’re illuminated, from the outside in, so that we’re able to shine from the inside out. Our job is to love well, to reflect the light. The world is “changed from glory into glory” not in the first instance by churchy institutions but by the God, by the Life “in whom there is no darkness at all”.
That’s maybe why there’s such a sense of Presence at evening prayer in Bramhall Parish Church, when late afternoon sunlight glows in the tower space … of the parish church, and of our hearts.
“Bertie’s tower” is about repointing. God grant us grace and vision not to lose heart and to aspire – as extravagantly as God does – to ever more beautiful, ever more salvific and “towering” art.