National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire – Millennium Chapel

We haven’t be able to visit churches for the last few months, and I am aware that I have still not blogged my two or Derby Cathedral. On Saturday 1 August we went to the National Memorial Arboretum. Our friends Rob and Anne have sung its praises, but we were not convinced. We decided to pay a visit. We were very glad we did. We booked at 10, and the queue was well organised.

The Arboretum was the brainchild of Commander David Childs CBE and planting began in 1997. The National Lottery paid 40%, and the public matched it. I like the phrase in the guidebook that “From the start it was seen as a place of joy where the lives of people would be remembered by living trees that would grow and mature in a world of peace.”

The first building, once you have passed through the entrance, is The Millennium Chapel of Peace and Forgiveness. The architect was Catherine Harrington. When I walked in I was annoyed at a video screen behind the altar, constantly playing. I am never amused by TV screens in churches or Crems – the symbolism of the cross in our local Crem has been replaced by a TV screen constantly showing “footprints”. No one else seems to mind – I am a dinosaur. In the NMA’s defence, they seem to be using the screen as the welcomers can’t be there. I just wish there was a short pause between each presentation – in case anyone wanted to pray. In normal times I think they have a daily act of remembrance at 11 am. The “No Entry” sign is because of a one-way system in and out – so much we have got to get used to.

The Chapel is constructed mainly of wood and the roof is supported by 12 columns of Douglas Fir, each carved with one of the 12 disciples, by ex-Royal Marine and Shropshire woodcarver Jim Heath. Outside we have Peter, Andrew, James and Thomas – I had forgotten Thomas is the Patron Saint of builders.

Inside we have Philip (who talked to Jesus about the feeding of the 5000), Matthew the tax collector, Bartholomew (said to be one of the first bishops), Judas not Iscariot (a missionary who sailed with a sextant), and John the brother of James (who was offered a poisoned chalice).

The trees and leaves are beautiful on the altar and the kneelers. The altar was made by young offenders at HMP Swinfen Hall, and the altar frontal by the women’s section of the RBL.

The storyteller is rather lovely. Carved by Essex woodcarvers it is makes the link between the apostles on the pillars and the teachings of Christ today.

Anna Crompton’s Millennium Prayer (I think Millennium should have a capital M, but at least they have spelt it correctly) is on the wall outside. She was a Suffolk girl, and I remember a lot of publicity being given to her prayer at the turn of the century. The Open Churches Trust has died in the last 20 years, and our churches are shut. Rather depressing.

Right, off we go into the Arboretum. Three more blogs to come!

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