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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, January 06, 2003
    Strong Love, Strange Peace
     
    Pevsner calls it perambulating. He means walking about. And thatÕs what IÕve been doing today. Perambulating with Pevsner. Walking around with a copy of his Buildings of England - South Lancashire in my coat pocket.

    Pevsner is oft-quoted at Holy Trinity when visitors arrive asking about the age and provenance of the place. "The finest work of these years in Lancashire was done by Sir Charles Reilly in Liverpool," he writes, "He was ingenious, versatile, and a believer in classicism. Witness his ... chancel of Wavertree parish church of 1911, which [grows] in stature the more one studies [it]."

    I followed the railway into town, from here, where that great westward sweep begins, to Edge Hill where the line drops deep below street level and is swallowed up in tunnels and cuttings underneath the university all the way into Lime Street.

    Perambulating with Pevsner -- follow the green line...

    As I walked I remembered that Pevsner was writing in 1969, and of course some of the places he saw on his travels have changed or disappeared by now. Pevsner casts some light on those which remain, but he can't tell the whole story. Of St Anne's Overbury Street he writes:
      "A big church. Prominent w tower."
    And he's right. It caught my eye from outside Tasker's DIY and drew me in. But the real story today is in the human traffic in and out of the place, the actvity of community care, as the church is a much-needed place of welcome and help for the area's many asylum-seekers. It was alive with people as I passed it today.

    I discovered bits of Liverpool I never knew. On my runs to the hospital for last rites I bounce the car over speed bumps at 30mph down Crown Street, and have never had time to notice the great bit of public green space that links university to town just there, nor the wierd-looking brick thing which is, I guess, the "strange, big, bottle-shaped railway ventilating shaft" which Pevsner notes.

    And I reacquainted myself with familiar friends. It being a crisp bright winter's day I felt drawn into the RC Cathedral, initially to use the loos but then to sit and soak in the rich deep colour of the place; not tangled up, but wrapped around in blue. Pevsner's not keen on the cathedral's exterior but says, "the interior is easier on the eyes and the mind." On days like today when the dark stained glass comes into its own, it is a uniquely satisfying place to sit. And, whilst removed, it's also deeply connected to the urban realities of its people, as demonstrated by a 'Covenant with the Poor' signed by Archbishop Kelly, and on display by a side chapel. A commitment by the hierachy to have the city's neediest at the heart of their obligations.

    Homeward bound, I bypassed a young couple arguing aggressively at the 'tunnel' entrance to St James's Cemetery. She was determined to avoid walking through there; he wanted the adventure. Pevsner calls it "the most romantic cemetery in England", but it wasn't working for them. While stepping on in, I sympathised with her because it can feel like a spooky place. But it is remarkable, crafted in the 1820s from an abandoned quarry. When you're swallowed up in it, it seems as deep as the cathedral beside it is high. It's a neglected gem in the city, (even Pevsner said that in 1969) and recently the Friends of St James's formed "to work to improve the appearance of the area and encourage greater use of St James by both local people and visitors."

    A bit rattled by the cemetery, I walked back along Windsor Street sensitised to the decay and violence of this part of Toxteth. A boarded-up old church, a car smashed in outside a dowdy tenement block, children playing aggressively, fire-lighting, stone-throwing, threatening. This is my old stamping-ground and I love it. Some words I'd read in Sojourners this morning returned to me - musician Bill Mallonee of the Vigilantes of Love said,
      "Are we going to war? Mr. Bush is making me nervous. I wish we could incarnate a way of peace that looks tough and beautiful. I try to pray the rosary daily for this."
    Peace tough and beautiful. I wanted that for Windsor Street today.

    Oddly, I didn't have Pevsner nor the Vigilantes of Love for company from there, as I took the last leg through the gorgeous south parks back home. Instead it was old maverick Larry Norman, whose Strong Love, Strange Peace entered my head and became a kind of prayer:
      Backstage I cross the middle ground,
      Curtains up, house lights down.
      I sing love songs and pass myself around,
      But afterwards some people say
      They thought I put them down.
      They feel so bad, it doesn't matter what I say,
      I hope tomorrow they have a better day.
      They seem so trapped, they need release,
      They need your strong love and strange peace.

      Reporters question me: is this a new direction for the young?
      How lamb-like their faces, how snake-like their tongues.
      They quote me perfectly then rewrite every word I speak.
      And go away convinced we are some new kind of freak.
      I feel so good it doesn't matter what they say,
      I hope tomorrow they have a better day.
      We're all so trapped, we need release,
      We need your strong love and strange peace.