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The Outsider

Dear Parents, Guardians and Friends,

Perhaps it’s only art that can bring together at the same moment, beauty, composure and disturbance. Even in saying or writing these three words, I’ve created an illusory separation between them. About four times a week, on my way into ECS’ Kalender Hall, the Cathedral, or the Chantry [they are one also!], I walk past neatly laid out chairs, tables and decoration at the front of the Ivy Restaurant. Only a matter of feet away, men and women congregate, some of whom may have, as the cliché has it, ‘slept rough’. Some are still, as another cliché has, ‘the worse for wear’. The juxtaposition of the expensive restaurant to those gathering around St Petrock’s or the War Memorial, leaves me uncomfortable as I suspect it does you. And yes, I walk past them, perhaps smiling sheepishly at the occasional ‘Hullo Vicar!’. It would be a mistake on my part to assume that such a greeting was shouted in derision. What’s more, I have had three meals in The Ivy, all of which I enjoyed, only to be immediately re-awakened to the ‘divided society’ of Exeter when exiting.

Every Wednesday in the early evening, thanks to a few men and women who dedicate some of their resources and time to the caring of these people, a large caravan converted into a travelling ‘food-kitchen’ [in contrast to ‘restaurant’], parked at the West Front of the Cathedral, provides meals for those who are mostly homeless, as part of the active concern of the Cathedral. Not that this resource is without its critics, as you can guess.

The fact that Exeter Cathedral School is a fee-paying school is likewise at least a little ‘grit in the shoe’ as to the increasing levels of food, let alone energy poverty in our culture. Of course, I hasten to add, there are different conditions of poverty that are not necessarily about profession, property, finance, aspiration or the lack of them. However, it’s important to remember that some of the children at our school receive some support financially, whether internally or externally, let alone all of the children receiving care through the constant attentive and affective emotional, educational and, I hope, spiritual care they receive daily. Children and adults in the school have their own experiences of feeling ‘outside’.

This work of art of 1847 is by WILLIAM SIDNEY MOUNT, an American artist, who achieved considerable renown for his rural paintings which were an artistic ‘journal’ of his observations on Long Island. This painting – ‘The Power of Music’ –  needs time and stillness to take in the subtlety of relationships. From left to right, you’ll notice the togetherness of the person playing the fiddle and those immediately around him listening intently. The barn door is partially closed, forming a barrier between the African American farmer, who has laid down his axe and water jug, removing his hat, not only to listen but to show respect and admiration for the fiddle music. The two races are so close and yet so far apart. Beauty and sorrow are revealed together, despite the separation, one look uniting the three listeners, creating an awakening that the music gives.

For me, the current crisis over energy and food, not only in terms of cost but availability, which has hit the most vulnerable already is inevitably going to affect us all. Maybe that realisation, but also the shock of the current European crisis, will mean, perhaps, that you can imagine the men inside the barn taking their hats off with the lone ‘outsider’, as the barn door is opened fully. Christ himself was the quintessential outsider. And it’s ‘outside’, perhaps, that he can be found.

In the strange and puzzling Love of God,

Bishop Martin
School Chaplain

3 May 2022
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