Category Archives: Comment

Word and Wisdom – John 1:1-14, Proverbs 8, 1-11, Colossians 1:15-20

The first Christians were Jews. They came from a small back water in the Roman Empire. A seemingly irrelevant outpost in a bustling and cosmopolitan world. They faced a big question. How could they help people throughout the Greek speaking Roman world engage with Christian faith? How could a faith which was initially expressed in the framework of the Jewish culture be understood by people of very different cultures? Throughout the book of Acts we see people like Paul, Peter, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, James and others struggling with these questions – they knew what Christian faith looked like for a Jew living in Palestine, but what should it be like for a Greek intellectual in Athens?

Their situation is much like our own. Just like they did, we wonder how we can make what we believe intelligible to people in today’s world who have little or no experience of Church and who see Christian faith as irrelevant, if not ridiculous.

Our readings today relate to struggle the early church faced: How could they convey the Gospel to the Roman and Greek world – the good news which was so bound up with Jesus’ divinity and humanity. … They had experienced Jesus as both divine and human. They could talk of him as the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. How could they explain that a divine being became human? How could they help people understand? As they reflected on this they realised that their scriptures – the Old Testament had at least a couple of ideas that would help them.

We meet the first idea in Genesis – in the story of Creation – God spoke and something happened. God only needed to say a few words and a whole world and universe came into being. Words for God were not just things to say, concepts to express or write down. Words were effective, they achieved something. God’s Word was God at work in the world.

The second idea comes in other parts of the Old Testament. There they found passages about Wisdom. Today’s reading is an example. Wisdom is spoken of as a personality, a person, who existed before the worlds were created. Wisdom at God’s side as he created. Wisdom as the crafts-person moulding creation and delighting in what was made.

As Jewish Christians were asked about Jesus by their Greek neighbours. As the first Christian theologians tried to explain how God was born as a baby in Bethlehem. They saw something in the Greek culture that would help them to explain better to Greek and Roman people, just what they meant by Jesus being the Word and Wisdom of God, both divine and human.

The word for ‘word’ in Greek is ‘logos’. Greek philosophers used that word ‘logos’ in a special way – by the time of Christ – they used it to refer to a kind of ordering principle of the universe. Sometimes they used ‘nature’ and ‘logos’ interchangeably. What they meant was that there was an something behind all of nature – giving it a purpose and meaning. The principle by which life held together – perhaps ‘wisdom’. And as Greek philosophers talked of the ‘logos’ it was as though they almost gave it a personality.

Christians realised that here was a way of explaining to Greek and Roman people just who Jesus was – and the first verses of John’s Gospel were born. John gives the ‘Word’, the ‘Logos’, a central place. He describes the ‘Logos’ as God, the Creative Word, who took on flesh as the man Jesus Christ. … ‘God active in the created world’ = ‘Logos’. … God’s Word expressed as a human being. It might sound strange to us, but those early Christians had successfully managed to translate the concept of the incarnation into a form that Greek and Roman people might understand

The challenge to us is similar. To find ways of expressing what we believe in terms and in ways that people in today’s world will understand. We cannot say, it worked in the past so it will work again. We cannot just do the things we have always done. We cannot continue to use only the words that we understand. We cannot continue to be just the church we have always been. Words and customs move on. Meanings change, hopes and fears change. The world is shrinking and ideas from the four corners of the world now influence the values of every society.

You only need to think of the way that the meanings of words have changed over the centuries. I have mentioned this before: The word,‘Comfort’ – what does that mean now? On the Bayeux Tapestry it means something completely different. Look out for Bishop Odo comforting his troops …….

‘Organic’ – until very recently that was a group of chemicals which contained Carbon – a mixture of different substances both noxious and benign. Now we use it to mean wholesome food, untainted by many of the chemicals which would naturally have fallen into the ‘organic’ grouping.

You’ll know many other words which have changed their meaning over the years. Those changes are like small snapshots on what has been happening in society – a process of change which is accelerating not slowing. And if we don’t change in at least some measure, we will be increasingly misunderstood and become increasingly less and less relevant – having little or nothing intelligible to say to people who need to know the love of God.

As we participate in a process of change we do just what Jesus did ….. The Word, Jesus, became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. God changed, God became human, God learnt new things, expressed himself in different ways, felt tired for the first time, experienced limitations for the first time. God changed so as to bring his love to his creation. The early church changed its rules, expressed itself in new and different ways, so that its mission to the Roman world might be effective. And we are called to do the same to look for new ways to communicate the Gospel to those who live around us but who have none of the history of Church involvement that we have.


Ligne du Littoral (Toulon to St. Raphael) – Part 10 – La Foux les Pins to Saint-Tropez (Chemins de Fer de Provence 45)

One branch of the Chemin de Fer du Sud Littoral extended from La Foux Les Pins to Saint-Tropez. The featured satellite image above shows the full route of the tramway from the station at La Foux to St. Tropez. At each end of the line an aerial photo allows us to see what the landscape immediately around each town was like.

The station at La Foux was built with the line from Saint-Raphael and opened in 1889. La Foux Station was known as Cogolin-Saint Tropez until 1894 It was 53 kilometres along the line from Hyères and just 4 metres above sea-level. As a 2nd class station, La Foux had a goods shed, an engine shed capable of stabling two locomotives, two Mason tracks and one goods line. In 1893 two extra tracks were provided for the Cogolin and Saint-Tropez tramways.

The station was one of the most significant on the line between Saint-Raphael and Toulon and one of the busiest. The line to Saint-Tropez left from the South-east end of the station and ran parallel to the single line to Toulon for a few hundred metres. The two lines separated with the Toulon line turning South and the Saint-Tropez line turning East.
Both the main-line and the two branches were metre-gauge lines. The Saint-Tropez line left the Toulon line and followed what is now the D98A. The first halt on the line was Bertaud.
The most famous site on the line to St. Tropez was in the district of Bertaud, where the D98A and the railway passed on either side of a gigantic pine tree. A mixed train from La Foux to St. Tropez stopped at the halt; there is a ballast wagon at the tail which is loaded with wine barrels that will be shipped by boat from the port of Saint-Tropez (Paul CARENCO Collection).

The La Foux – St.Tropez arrives at Bertaud. The train is pulled by 2-4-2T SACM Series 51-56 locomotive and is composed of bogie coaches (Edmond DUCLOS Collection).

A shuttle St.Tropez – La Foux passes under the Bertaud pine. The trunk of this extraordinary tree reached 2.45 metres in diameter and nearly 7.70 metres in circumference; it was unfortunately cut down in 1928 because its roots deformed the railway and road formations (Edmond DUCLOS Collection).

The next stop on the line was that for the torpedo factory. It is marked on the satellite image of the factory by the ‘A’ marker.

There was a torpedo factory run by the French Navy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries at St. Tropez. Schneider chose to locate one of its key design facilities in this area and conducted trials here at a centre of research and testing for the Navy. Schneider had their factory along the coast at Les Bormettes.

Norman Friedman [5] tells us that in 1866 British engineer Robert Whitehead invented the first effective self-propelled torpedo, the eponymous Whitehead torpedo. French and German inventions followed closely, and the term torpedo came to describe self-propelled projectiles that travelled under or on water. By 1900, the term no longer included mines and booby-traps as the navies of the world added submarines, torpedo boats and torpedo boat destroyers to their fleets.

Initially, Whitehead’s designs were hampered by their clockwork motor, attached ropes, and surface attack mode, all of which contributed to a slow and cumbersome weapon. However, he kept considering the problem and eventually developed a tubular device, designed to run underwater on its own, and powered by compressed air. The result was a submarine weapon, the Minenschiff (mine ship), the first modern self-propelled torpedo. He presented it officially to the Austrian Imperial Naval commission on 21st December 1866.

The first trials were not successful as the weapon was unable to maintain a course on a steady depth. After much work, Whitehead introduced his “secret” in 1868 which overcame this. It was a mechanism consisting of a hydrostatic valve and pendulum that caused the torpedo’s hydroplanes to be adjusted so as to maintain a pre-set depth.

After the Austrian government decided to invest in the invention, Whitehead started the first torpedo factory in Fiume. In 1870, he improved the devices to travel up to approximately 1,000 yd (910 m) at a speed of up to 6 kn (11 km/h), and by 1881 the factory was exporting torpedoes to ten other countries. The torpedo was powered by compressed air and had an explosive charge of gun-cotton. Whitehead went on to develop more efficient devices, demonstrating torpedoes capable of 18 kn (33 km/h) in 1876, 24 kn (44 km/h) in 1886, and, finally, 30 kn (56 km/h) in 1890.

Royal Navy representatives visited Fiume for a demonstration in late 1869, and in 1870 a batch of torpedoes was ordered. In 1871, the British Admiralty paid Whitehead £15,000 for certain of his developments and production started at the Royal Laboratories in Woolwich the following year. In 1893, RN torpedo production was transferred to the Royal Gun Factory. The British later established a Torpedo Experimental Establishment at HMS Vernon and a production facility at the Royal Naval Torpedo Factory, Greenock in 1910. These are now closed.

The Nordenfelt-class Ottoman submarine Abdülhamid (1886) was the first submarine in history to fire a torpedo while submerged.

Whitehead opened a new factory near Portland Harbour, England in 1890, which continued making torpedoes until the end of the Second World War. Because orders from the RN were not as large as expected, torpedoes were mostly exported. A series of devices was produced at Fiume, with diameters from 14 in (36 cm) upward. The largest Whitehead torpedo was 18 in (46 cm) in diameter and 19 ft (5.8 m) long, made of polished steel or phosphor bronze, with a 200-pound (91 kg) gun-cotton warhead. It was propelled by a three-cylinder Brotherhood engine, using compressed air at around 1,300 psi (9.0 MPa) and driving two contra-rotating propellers, and was designed to self-regulate its course and depth as far as possible. By 1881, nearly 1500 torpedoes had been produced. Whitehead also opened a factory at St Tropez in 1890 that exported torpedoes to Brazil, Holland, Turkey and Greece.

Whitehead purchased rights to the gyroscope of Ludwig Obry in 1888 but it was not sufficiently accurate, so in 1890 he purchased a better design to improve control of his designs, which came to be called the “Devil’s Device”. The firm of L. Schwartzkopff in Germany also produced torpedoes and exported them to Russia, Japan and Spain. In 1885, Britain ordered a batch of 50 as torpedo production at home and at Fiume could not meet demand.

By World War I, Whitehead’s torpedo remained a worldwide success, and his company was able to maintain a monopoly on torpedo production. By that point, his torpedo had grown to a diameter of 18 inches with a maximum speed of 30.5 knots (56.5 km/h; 35.1 mph) with a warhead weighing 170 pounds (77 kg).

The French naval torpedo factory at Toulon made Whitehead torpedoes under license. Given its limited output, the French also bought torpedoes directly from Whitehead (Fiume) by 1898 they had ordered 206 after sixty-four had been delivered. About 1905, the French turned to Schneider their main arms company, to produce torpedoes. Schneiders torpedo plant was at Les Bormettes near Hyères. When a US officer visited Schneider in 1913, he commented that the company was clearly finding it difficult to meet Whitehead’s competition. Schneider managed to secure small orders from France and Italy, and in 1913 these torpedoes were running their range trials.

Schneider claimed that they were exceeding requirements. At the same time the prevailing opinion at the French government plant at Toulon was that Schneider had failed to prove superiority over Whitehead, and it was unlikely that they could compete. As for Whitehead, because the property at Fiume physically limited the company’s expansion, in 1913 it built a large new plant at St. Tropez. near Toulon. Whitehead saw the new plant as an extension of its Fiume operation, and definitely not as a plant to fill French government orders. Customers eventually included Brazil, Greece, the Netherlands and Turkey.

Michel Goujon [6] says that in 1912, the English firm Whitehead built a torpedo factory at the bottom of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, on the site of the castle Bertaud which was not destroyed but integrated into the industrial buildings. The site was accessible to ships of significant tonnage. Prototype production began in 1917 during the First World War. In 1936, the Popular Front decided to nationalize the factory because its production was highly strategic for the country. From 1937 it became a Navy establishment and its torpedo’s became critical to, from 1937. establishment of the Navy. Its torpedoes armed many submarines under the French flag. Amazing activity, only a stone’s throw from one of the most glamorous harbours on the planet.

The factory was built on the immediate site of the castle Bertaud.

In the image below, workers from the torpedo factory wait for the train at the end of their shift.

The factory has recently been sold by the privatised company which took it on when the Navy gave it up.

The next stop after the Torpedo Factory was Oustalet-dei-Pescadous a good few hundred metres along the coast. Then Château-Martin, Sinopolis, Maleribes and then La Bouillabaisse, all of which have disappeared in the time since the line closed. A railcar is stopped at La Bouillabaisse in the photograph below.

Another short distance and the train stopped once again, this time at Le Pilon, its last stop be fore Saint-Tropez. The stagecoach from St. Tropez to Ramatuelle passes through Pilon. The railway can be seen alongside (GECP Collection).

The same location. The image shows that sand has been used for ballast at Le Pilon (Raymond BERNARDI Collection).

From Le Pilon, the line entered Saint-Tropez and approached the terminus on the quayside. The layout of the terminus is shown in the plan superimposed on the satellite image by Jean-Pierre Moreau [3].
As can be seen in the above image, the original harbour at St. Tropez is much changed and there has been significant land reclamation to enlarge facilities at the port. The aerial photographs below show the port in the time around the closure of the line. Those images are followed by a sequence of photographs culled from the research of Jean-Pierre Moreau [3].

St.Tropez terminus buildings with an open wagon stabled under the loading gauge of the goods shed (Raymond BERNARDI Collection)

This image is taken from roughly the same position in the 21st Century. The station building has been replaced by the town Post Office!

In this view of St.Tropez station around 1910, you can see on the left the access track to the port (René SENNEDOT Collection).

Here, a team of CP railway workers pose in front of the 4-6-0T Pinguely No. 66 locomotive shunting a mixed train in St.Tropez station. The two windows on the rear of the cab, probably all too frequently broken by the heating tools, were closed by sheet metal plates pierced with a circular hole to allow some visibility in the cabin forward (Photo Marcel CAUVIN – Pierre LECROULANT collection).

In the 1930s, station-master Marcel Cauvin (second from the left) poses in St.Tropez station with the driver, fireman and guard of locomotive 4-6-0T Pinguely No. 66 (Pierre VIROT Collection).
The station-master, the driver, the mechanic, the postmaster, and the conductor pose close to the point lever on one of the passenger tracks and beside a 2-4-2T Series 51-56 locomotive at the St. Tropez station (Pierre LECROULANT Collection).
A coach from the lot built by SF workshops, Frejus in 1908: C-2504 is seen in the years 1925-30 at St. Tropez. (Pierre VIROT Collection).

In December 1923, a 2-4-2T SACM 51-56 locomotive, started by mistake by an inexperienced night watchman, ended up in the water of St. Tropez harbour! We see it here the day after this incident, with a 4-6-0T Pinguely series 41-44 trying to get it back on track (Jean-Pierre VIGUIE Collection).

The mixed passenger-goods building at St. Tropez terminus seen after its expansion (GECP Collection).

An 0-6-0T Corpet-Louvet series 70 to 72 manoeuvres along the goods platform at St. Tropez Station. Due to the lack of a turntable, these locos were always oriented cabin Cogolin side and chimney St. Tropez (Pierre VIROT Collection).

The small locomotive shed at the Station is seen in 1925, with the loading gauge and a view of the back of a departing mixed train to La Foux (Collection François MORENAS).
The first railcar to return to St. Tropez station after the war, during the summer of 1945: a normal train (motor + trailer) tows a second train, consisting of two trailers recovered from trains whose motorcar was out of service. This train ensured that workers could get from the surrounding area to the Torpedo factory (Photo Marcel CAUVIN – Pierre LECROULANT collection)

Women constituted up to 30% of the staff of the Littoral network, they were often the wife of an agent of the Railway, like the mail carrier Emilie Cauvin that we see here in front of a railcar in station of St.Tropez, on 10th January 1946. Very unusually it has snowed! (Photo Marcel CAUVIN – Hidalgo ARNERA collection).
The closure of the line from La Foua to St. Toulon was suspended for one year to continue to pick up workers from the Bertaud torpedo factory. The service continued until 4th June 1949. This is one of the last trains visiting St. Tropez accompanied by the conductor Marcel Vinciguerra, towing an old bogie car (Photo Marcel CAUVIN – GECP collection).
A quick look round the port of St. Tropez!

The modern post of St. Tropez has a capacity of 734 moorings divided between two basins on an area of nine hectares in the heart of the village, Saint-Tropez harbour is a main port of call in the Mediterranean. It is one of the most famous marinas in the world. In a very small area racing boats sit alongside large pleasure yachts, the fishing boats which used to be so prominent have sadly disappeared along with the railway that served the village until 1949.

In this final picture, all the buildings of the former St. Tropez Station are still in place at the edge of the harbour and the town; the tracks have been dismantled but the route to the harbour can still clearly be distinguished heading left (Photo Marcel CAUVIN – GECP collection).


[1] Roland Le Corff;, accessed 13th December 2017.
[2] Marc Andre Dubout;, accessed 14th December 2017
[3] Jean-Pierre Moreau;, accessed 24th December 2017.
[4] José Banaudo; Histoire des Chemins de Fer de Provence – 2: Le Train du Littoral (A History of the Railways of Provence Volume 2: The Costal Railway); Les Éditions du Cabri, 1999.
[5] Norman Friedman; Naval Weapons of World War One; Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, December 2011.
[6] Michel Goujon; L’autre Saint-Tropez; Michel Lafon, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, 2017.

Into 2018 with God! – Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11 – 7th January 2018

The authors of our lectionary placed the Old Testament reading alongside the Gospel reading for  7th January 2018 for a reason. They wanted us to see them in parallel.

In both cases God is doing something new.

I am not an expert in classical music, a bit of a Philistine really, but as I thought about these two readings from Genesis and Mark it seemed to me that they could be described as two different movements from the same symphony. I’m told that the classical composers used variations on the same theme to develop their composition and that if you listen carefully to the music you can hear the main theme being repeated. …..

Perhaps you can imagine a heavenly orchestra playing the first 5 verses of Genesis. Dark, brooding music portrays an overwhelming sense of chaos and darkness. I imagine that the composer would use discordant modern themes to convey a sense of disorder. Then over this music comes the main theme of the symphony – quietly at first, starting with flute and piccolo, and gradually engaging the whole orchestra. Like a wind gradually rising from a gentle breeze to a violent gale. God’s mighty wind (his Holy Spirit) sweeps across the universe. God is speaking, and his very words change the universe for ever. “Let there be light” and light appears. God saw that it was good, and Night and Day were born.

God breaks into the history of the universe with a powerful word of creation.

Our second reading comes much later in the same symphony. The main musical themes are now well developed – we=ve heard them over and again throughout the symphony. When John the Baptist appears we return to that same discordant, abrupt and harsh theme that we heard right at the beginning of the symphony. His harsh manner, his odd clothing, his strange habits all seem to echo the chaos and darkness of Genesis. The sound from the orchestra builds and noise of the crowds coming to John for baptism shake the concert hall and then John’s voice can be heard as a sharp solo, perhaps, by the oboe cutting through the surrounding noise.

Then quietly at first the main theme appears again. The theme that represented God at work as Creator gradually supersedes the chaos of the early part of this movement. Jesus has come for baptism. The Word of God, from the beginning of John’s Gospel, is beginning his work. And as Jesus comes up out of the waters of baptism the whole orchestra joins the theme – the heavens are rent open, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and God speaks, a strong solo voice: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.

Can you see the common themes in the two passages?

  • The milling crowd, longing for God to act in their lives; and the universe awaiting God’s creative action.
  • The wind of God, and the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of the deep and the waters of baptism.
  • The word of God bringing creation, “Let there be light”; and the Word of God, Jesus, God’s Son, whose ministry brings redemption.

God’s delight is obvious in both passages. Looking at creation, ‘God saw that it was good’. Looking down on his Son, God said, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased”.

The theme from each movement of our symphony is the same. God creating his world and God redeeming that same world. All part of the same plan. In our symphony, both represented by the same theme.

And now, early in 2018, we are participating in what the Bible calls the end times, the days between Jesus’ first and second coming. We are participating in what we might call the final movement of the symphony.

In the first movement, God saw that everything was good. What does he see now, at the start of this new year, in Ashton, in our churches, in our families and personal lives? Where are the signs of new creation? Where are the dark, formless voids that still await God’s creative action?

In the later movement God expressed overwhelming pleasure at the baptism of his Son. What things in our world, our town, our churches or in our lives today, give God pleasure?

Where might we begin to hear that same musical theme of God’s intervention here in Ashton-under-Lyne? What do we long that God would do in our town and in our world?

How might the final movement of our symphony be played out? What should I do? What should we do to participate in God’s work here?

Timing is Everything – Luke 1:26-38

Today, Sunday 24th December 2017, is the 4th Sunday of Advent and it just so happens that this year it is also Christmas Eve. This evening and tonight we will be listening once again to parts of the Christmas story, but this morning, along with every church that follows the lectionary, we are remembering Mary and her role as a precursor, a witness, to the coming of the King and her role as mother of Jesus. Our fourth candle on the Advent wreath represents Mary.

Timing is everything.

The Gospel reading set for this morning is usually read every year on one particular date, the Feast of the Annunciation which falls on 25th March each year – unless its date clashes with Easter or a Sunday.

Timing is everything.

The liturgical and calendar scholars among us will have noticed that 25th March, is exactly 9 months before Christmas Day. Our gospel reading makes a lot of sense as part of the Christmas story, but seemingly less so in March at or around Easter time. However, most of us will recognise that when we are talking about pregnancy, 9 months is a very important time period. The feast of the Annunciation is very carefully placed exactly 9 months before the birth of Jesus – which suggests that Jesus was neither a premature nor a late baby!

I was born on 11th May 1960, 9 months was a very important period for me – for my parents were married on 1st August 1959 (9 months and 10 days before I was born). I count as a honeymoon baby – but if pregnancies were usually 10 months then there would be something different to say about my status!

Timing is everything.

So, around Easter time each year, just as we are today, we are reminded of Mary’s call to be the Mother of God. Mary hears words from the Angel Gabriel which cause her heart to miss at least one beat – called to be the God bearer, the Theotokos, called to co-operate with God in creating his Saviour, called to bear the stigma of being with child out of wedlock. Both gift and burden, both grace and shame.

As we move on through our liturgical year, through Christmas and on to the Feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas, we will be starkly reminded of Simeon’s words to Mary. For her, not only would the pregnancy be a long a difficult time of waiting – but the whole of her life was to be spent waiting for a painful end.

And as we travel towards Easter, we will be reminded even more starkly of Mary’s encounters with joy and suffering. On Good Friday, we will appreciate again that Mary understood pain – she bore in her body the pain of the cross – she felt the nails being hammered into the wrists of her son, she agonised as she watched him die the most painful of deaths. She had to release her child into God’s eternal care long before his time. And, as those things happened, she felt a mixture of all the emotions a mother can feel – anger, guilt, shame, and deep aching loss. Like any mother, her grief was to be unbearable.

Mary also understood the joy of motherhood – she watched her precocious child grow to be a wonderful man. She felt the joy of being part of the making of this special son. And on the first Easter Sunday she had her son returned to her alive – wonderful, exciting, tremendous … but then she too, along with all those who knew Jesus, had to realise that she could not cling on to her Son. He was returning to his Father in heaven.

Timing is everything.

Here today we are called, by our Gospel reading, to see the Christmas events and those events which follow in the spring-time of our church year through the eyes of a mother – the eyes of Mary. We are called today to encounter Mary’s confusion at the words of the Angel. We are called too, to encounter Mary’s pain alongside the suffering of Christ, and as we do so, the pain will be just that bit more tangible.

We are called to feel the despair and the loss of Good Friday as we sit with Mary at the foot of the cross weeping for the loss of her beautiful son. And, if we are prepared to weep those deep tears of loss; if, in just a little way, we endeavour to identify with all mothers who have lost those they love; if, at least for a few days at Easter, we refuse to rush on to the joy of resurrection, because we have learnt patience like a pregnant mother waiting for the birth of her child; if we stay with the pain. If we struggle to understand the overwhelming and crushing burden of the grandmothers who because of HIV/AIDs now are sole carers for many of the grandchildren. Our encounter with the joy of Christmas in the services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, will be all the more intense.

For we will have understood the burden of pain carried by Mary and we will encounter something of the release she felt from the pains of labour as she welcomed her son into the world as a helpless child at Christmas. We might even feel something of the unbelievable joy of holding God in our own hands and arms, just as Mary did on that first Christmas Day. We might even feel some of the pride that she felt at the birth of her child and something too of her overwheming desire to tell everyone about the wonder of the Christ-child and that faith that was born with him.

Timing is everything – not 9 months but less than a day before the birth – this is a very important day in our preparation for Christmas. Now is our chance to listen, … to focus on the Christmas story. Let’s not let it slip by.

Harz Mountain Railways

The Harz Mountains host an amazing heritage railway line. There is plenty to read later in this blog but we start with a few pictures. Make sure to follow through all the videos including the one which finishes the blog after the links and references. Incidentally the last few links are all to video makers pages on YouTube and there are some stunning railway related videos to be found. But first, these pictures ……………


A beautiful snow bound picture (not the one immediately above) of a metre gauge railway loco straining the lift its load up through the Harz Mountains in Winter was on the front of one of the  Cards that I received at Christmas in 2017. It came from a friend who has visited the railway system in the Harz Mountains and it reminded me that the Harz Mountain Railways are on my bucket list of things to do.

I thought, as a way of relieving the need to travel, I would look at what I could find on-line. I discovered a rich tapestry of videos, photos and text and I plan to show some of what I found here in this blog post. Littered around the post are pictures and videos which often are stunningly beautiful, certainly dramatic! Steam, smoke and sometimes snow!

The railway system is extensive, it is the largest network of narrow gauge railways in Germany. The lines connect the principal cities of Wernigerode, Nordhausen and Quedlinburg and several smaller towns in the area. There is, in all, about 140 kilometres of metre-gauge track. The lines have numerous steep gradients and run through areas of outstanding natural beauty as well as into the heart of one of an industrial city.

There are three main lengths of track, the oldest is the Selketalbahn from from Quedlinburg via Gernrode to the junction with the Harzquerbahn at Eisfelder Tamuhle. The earliest length of this line to open did so in 1891, that latest part of this line to open was in service from 1905.

This section of the system is more lightly used but does feature two branches to Harzgerode and to Hasselfelde.

The second line, the Harzquerbahn, opened from Naordhausen to Ilfield in 1897, and then in 1899, through to Drei Annan Hohne where it met the Brockenbahn.

The Brockenbahn between Werningerode and Schierke opened in 1898, and the length to the summit of the Brocken was completed the following year.

The company is mainly owned by the different local authorities that it serves and is an island of traditional practice within the wider, highly efficient German railway network. It runs a significant number of its trains with steam haulage, mostly employing 1950s vintage 2-10-2 tank locomotives, hauling traditional open-platform bogie carriages. It supplements the steam-hauled services with ones relying on diesel rail cars.

After the Second World War the entire network fell within the Soviet Zone of Occupation, later East Germany. The two main lines which now make up the system, the Gernrode-Harzgeroder Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft (GHE) and the Nordhausen-Wernigeroder Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft (NWE) were subordinated to the East German Deutsche Reichsbahn in on 1 April 1949.

After the fall of the communist regime in East Germany and the reunification of the country it did not take long  for a private railway company to be formed to run the Harz Mountain Railways. On 1 February 1993 the private railway company Harzer Schmalspurbahnen GmbH (HSB) took over all stock, lines, staff, etc., from the Deutsche Reichsbahn and since then has acted as both the railway operating company (EVU) and railway infrastructure company (EIU).

The head office is in Wernigerode, where its workshops and locomotive depot are located. Today the HSB has the longest single network of narrow gauge railway in Germany, with a total length of 140.4 km (87 miles), 44 stations and halts. Trains run to a timetable and the company operates more than ten steam locomotives, seven diesel railbuses and three trams (on the Nordhausen Tramway).

The best-known line is the Brocken Railway which is worked by steam locomotive-hauled trains to a daily scheduled timetable running from Wernigerode via Drei Annen Hohne to the Brocken and back.

Regional services between Nordhausen and Ilfeld, on the other hand were transferred to diesel railbuses and (since 1 May 2004) trams, apart from one pair of steam trains. In addition the HSB still operates regular goods trains from Hartsteinwerk Unterberg (on the Selke Valley Railway) to Nordhausen Übergabebahnhof (on the Trans-Harz Railway) using diesel locomotives of Class 199.8 and piggy-backed standard-gauge wagons.

On 1 May 2004, a link line was opened in Nordhausen between the Nordhausen Tramway and the Trans-Harz Railway. Since then, the tramway between Nordhausen Hospital and the HSB halt of Ilfeld-Neanderklinik (Line 10) has been worked by electric and hybrid vehicles of the Combino duo class. On the Trans-Harz Railway (which has no catenary), motive power is diesel-electric, the trams being equipped with an on-board diesel engine.

Since 2004, the Nordhausen Nord station has become much less used and most traffic now operates out of what was the tramway stop of Nordhausen Bahnhofsvorplatz.

On 18 April 2005, work started on the extension of the Selke Valley Railway from Gernrode to Quedlinburg (length 8.5 km) after DB AG had closed this standard-gauge section and sold it to the HSB. First, the Gernrode terminus was converted into a through station. On 4 March 2006, the first narrow gauge train Quedlinburg station and, since 26 June 2006, there have been scheduled services by the Harz narrow gauge railways to Quedlinburg with at least two pairs of steam trains per day. In Quedlinburg the HSB stops at a shared platform with trains of the Harz-Elbe Express to Halberstadt.

Rolling Stock

The network is notable for its steam locomotives. We benefit today from a lack of investment during the period the line was in Deutsche Reichsbahn ownership, between 1945 and 1993. There are 17 2-10-2 tank locomotives, built during the 1950s and several older types as well which include four 0-4-4-0 T mallet compound articulated locomotives. The steam locomotives are assisted by a fleet of diesel railcars which supplement the steam services primarily for the benefit of the local population.


Links and References

  1. David Longman; Accessed 14th December 2017.
  2. Michael Williams; Is this the world’s greatest steam train?;  The Telegraph, London,; 2nd September 2016. Accessed 15th December 2017.
  3.  Wikipedia; Harz Narrow Gauge Railways; Accessed 15th December 2017.
  4. Wikipedia; Broken Railway; Accessed 15th December 2017.
  5. Wikipedia; Harz Railway; Accessed 15th December 2017.
  6. Wikipedia; Selke Valley Railway; Accessed 15th December 2017.
  7. Wikipedia; South Harz Railway; Accessed 15th December 2017.

Great is the Darkness …..

There is a song which is sung relatively often at St. Peter’s Church in Ashton-under-Lyne. It starts like this:

‘Deep is the darkness that covers the earth, oppression, injustice and pain. Nations are slipping in hopeless despair. ………’

While the song goes on to call on Jesus to: ‘Pour out [his] spirit on us today’, the first words of the song have always seemed to me to be a very negative beginning.

The song is based on the words of Isaiah 60:2 …… ‘See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.’

Our experience of life over the end of May and beginning of June seems to be very appropriately summed up in the first words of the song. ‘Deep is the darkness‘ ….. This has been a very difficult time. The bomb in Manchester Arena killed 22 and maimed many more. Two attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan have killed over 100 people and left so very many injured. The attack on a church in Egypt was devastating for the Christian community there. Then came the van and knife attack in Central London. ….

Deep is the darkness that covers the earth, oppression, injustice and pain.

We feel unable to make sense of all that is going on, we feel anger and despair, we grieve for the loss of innocent young lives. Why does God allow these things to happen?

‘Why’ and ‘How could’ questions are important, often they challenge our faith. How could a God of love permit such atrocities to take place? Ultimately, however these questions don’t take us very far, especially when the darkness we encounter is the result of human actions.

We are sentient beings who make our own choices. It is only when we are free to make our choices that love can thrive. It is because we are not automatons that we are free to make mistakes, free to make wrong choices, but also free to love. Freedom allows us to place others ahead of ourselves.

Love, peace and joy are offered to us as we faithfully follow Jesus. It is when we look elsewhere for meaning, that we open ourselves up to the darkness.  It is when we think that we know best that we lose sight of the light and allow the darkness in.

The song goes on to say: ‘Come Lord Jesus, … pour out Your spirit on us today. May now Your church rise with power and love, [your] glorious gospel proclaim. In every nation salvation will come to those who believe in Your name. Help us bring light to this world. ….’

No doubt you watched some of the concert held at Old Trafford Cricket Ground on Sunday 4th June. The call from so many of the artists at that event was for love to triumph over darkness and hatred.

Just as darkness only thrives where there is no light, so hatred only wins where love is absent. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the 4th June was Pentecost, the day when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples. It is the Holy Spirit at work in each of us that enables us to love others, to place their needs first. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to be those who bring light into the darkest places. It is the Holy Spirit that reassures us that we are loved, that we are safe in God’s loving embrace. It is the Holy Spirit who sets us free to love others because we are sure that we are loved.

The better questions are not, ‘Why’ or ‘How could …’ questions. The better questions are ‘What next’ questions: What can we do to overcome hatred with love in our own communities? What can we do to shed light into the darkest places of our own lives and communities? What can I do to ensure that I do not act out of envy or hatred, but rather act out of love?

“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

L.R. Knost

Matthew 17:1-9 – The Transfiguration

transfiguration-2I have two brothers and a sister – all younger than me. Academically, three of us did pretty well: we could read well before we went to school, we passed the 11 plus and got into the local grammar schools where we lived in King’s Lynn in Norfolk.

One of my brothers was different (and I hope he does not  mind me talking about him here). He struggled with his reading, only really getting going when he was about 8 years old – he went to the local secondary modern, and for the first 4 years there achieved little more, academically, than propping up the class with his results. Nothing academic seemed to interest him.

At least that was true until he decided what he wanted to do with his life. He set his heart on being a policeman. He was told that he needed some basic CSEs to get into training college and he began to work, he worked his socks off. He scraped the CSEs he needed and got into Hendon Police Training College in London. He had found something he loved and he was transformed – when he graduated from Hendon he came top of his intake.

Dare I say that he was transfigured by his desire to be a policeman? You may know a similar story of someone you know being changed in quite a dramatic way.

Late in his life, the Cellist and Conductor Pablo Casals was full of arthritis, but even at the age of 90 whenever he picked up his bow and began to play his Cello he was transformed. He became agile and supple – the artist that he had always been – consumed by what he was playing.

Illness and incapacity have been part the experience of many great people – Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Florence Nightingale (she did most of her campaigning from her sick bed) – to mention just a few. For them, like Pablo Casals, when they were engaged in their most brilliant work, the limits which bound them just seemed to fall away.

You see, people can be transfigured in their experience of life. In some cases, out of pain, … beauty, humanity and ingenuity can be born.

And the more mundane of us – you and me?

Our lives too can be transfigured by finding our vocation, the thing that we do well. This is something that many people who have been called to be priests say, it is almost as though they have found themselves in a way that they had not done before. If you are interested, try asking one of us clergy, or perhaps someone else in one of the caring professions, perhaps even try reflecting on your own experience of discovering what you were going to do with your own life.

We’ve read today of Jesus’ transfiguration. … At the transfiguration, Jesus is revealed, as more than a carpenter turned Rabbi; more than a man whose legs ached as he walked round Israel; more than a preacher whose voice could fail after hours of speaking to crowds. More even, than one who could bruise and bleed when tortured and crucified. He’s revealed as God’s Son in human form, truly God and truly human.

We don’t know how Jesus= transfiguration relates to our perhaps lesser experiences of transfiguration. He was, after all, divine as well as human. But through his resurrection, and through our own baptism, we have been promised some share in his divinity. And simply by being human we have a capacity for being more … for being different. When our attention is held, much that’s negative in our lives, seems to get set aside.

It is possible to change, to be different.

Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. It is God’s work, and it is an essential part of the Gospel which we believe; that we are not trapped, not held captive by our past or by our present. This is a theme of our Gospel reading as we approach Lent. Transformation, transfiguration, is possible for us who follow Jesus. Not just momentary transfiguration, but transformation that will affect and change our future.

We know that this happened to Peter, James and John – cowering, frightened men became powerful proponents of the Gospel, fearlessly facing danger and death because they had been transfigured, transformed by the love of God. Jesus momentary experience became their permanent experience. The Gospels ask us to believe that the same can happen for us, as we let God work in our lives.