Coleshill – waves, a Möbius strip and answered prayers

Coleshill started its life as an important settlement in the Iron Age and, during the Roman period, there was a Romano-Celtic temple on Grimstock Hill, which is at the side of the road now leading to Lichfield. The area represented a boundary between two powerful Celtic Tribes – one to the East, in what is now Leicestershire, and the other to the West. I'm trying to imagine those far off Saturday nights on Coleshill High Street.

Of course now the tribes to the West have been replaced by the even more menacing conurbation of Birmingham, the second city of England. It is a city which tends to creep ever outwards, absorbing once independent towns and villages along the way. Between Coleshill and Birmingham, as well as 24 lanes of motorway and the future train lines for HS2, we do though still have some green fields.  They are designated as ‘green belt’ and so are supposed to prevent further urban sprawl. That is being tested at the moment.

Land designated as Green belt in the local plan cannot be developed. Except of course when it can. The planning laws say that it can be developed for outdoor leisure use, “where this preserves the openness of the Green Belt”. This though is just an example of the overriding possibility of approval where there are ‘Very Special Circumstances’ and ‘where the potential harm to the Green Belt is clearly outweighed by other considerations’.  So then what does the future hold for us?

Firstly there is the idea of a Wave Park in what is roughly the centre of England.  It has just been approved and will be constructed on a 15-acre site on the other side of the M42 from Coleshill. Features will include a 5.4-acre surf lagoon with artificially generated waves, an outdoor heated swimming pool (very carbon friendly), a perimeter track for one wheel self-balancing electric skateboards and a 1,600 sq metre hub building. The park, to be called Emerge Surf Birmingham, will also be home to a surf school, surf shop, café and restaurant, a multi-purpose fitness studio, a physiotherapy and massage room and a children’s play area. It is said that it will be a haven for landlocked surfers and those keen to try the sport for the first time. For we residents, it will attract more traffic, but I suppose that it will prevent further expansion of urban Birmingham. So then probably on balance a good thing. I shall have to iron my wet suit ready for action.

The second  proposal is really strange. Not far from Newcastle upon Tyne, visible from the main road, can be seen the ‘The Angel of the North’, the 20 metre high landmark sculpture by Anthony Gormley. From Gormley’s rather incoherent description of what he intends it to mean, we can at least see that there is no actual connection with religion, even though it might seem so at first sight. However, at the side of our motorways here at Coleshill, the M6 and the M42, just by the wave park, we shall have a 30 metre high Möbius strip on top of a building which will house the ’Eternal Wall of Answered Prayer’.

It will cost a cool £10,000,000, money to be raised from ‘private sponsors’ and by ‘buying a brick’ at the price of £10 per brick to go in the Wall.  We will be able to have a brick engraved with a prayer which we have had answered, although in my case, that might be a little difficult. On entering the building containing the wall, you will be able to hire a virtual reality headset, or download an app on to your phone, which will enable you to see the inscriptions not visible to the naked eye on distant bricks in the wall.

All of this was the brainchild, about 15 years ago, of Richard Gamble, a former chaplain to Leicester City Football Club. Apparently, it has since been publicised a couple of times on Songs of Praise on BBC1 and also in most evangelical churches. Finally, a couple of years ago, the owner of the land on which it is to be sited offered it free of charge for the project – clearly an answered prayer, a miracle! Mind you, granted that it was on green belt, perhaps not that much value involved. Since 2016 the organisers have started to prepare by asking for 10,000 answered prayers to form the basis of the wall.  Obviously they have baulked at the idea of getting a million of them before starting the build. So far they have 4,223. That’s roughly 1000 per annum, so by the time it’s built in 2024, that should mean they’ll have another 4,000 – a bit short of a million.

How do they authenticate the answered prayers? It seems that they’re relying on self-certification. Their website says:

Every answered prayer we receive is read by one of our dedicated team members to ensure its suitability for inclusion. Each answered prayer is unique. Some are small, like finding a lost item, and others are big and dramatic such as receiving enough financial provision to pay off a huge debt. Here are three questions we look for in an answered prayer:

    • What was your situation?
    • How did you pray?
    • How did Jesus answer your prayer?

So then, no actual quality control. And a great emphasis on material gain. In fact, I think that means that if, every time during the day, when any of us lost something, we prayed for help finding it, only for it to turn up moments afterwards, we could easily power the wall in answered prayers as defined by them.

In connection with people who do not receive what they ask for in their prayers, they go on to say:

“When we pray, the most common responses God will give are a yes, a no, not yet, or silence. Are we accidentally misreading the situation and thinking God is absent, when perhaps He has just given an unexpected answer? Of course we always hope that God will say yes to our prayers, but His infinite wisdom may mean His will may be different to our expectations.”

It feels almost cruel to point out the obvious - that if even silence is a response, then this means that all prayers are by definition answered, but just not as you might want them to be answered. So then, will the million prayers recorded by the wall include the ones where God said “no way” or just failed to get back in touch?

One final question. Is the monument to prayer multi-faith? The aims of the organisation include “Preserve the Christian Heritage of our nation”. So I suppose that’s a ‘no’. So then, here at Coleshill we shall become a centre for non-inclusivity and religious nationalism. Not exactly what I would want.

I suppose though that we should consider ourselves lucky that at least we’re not in America, where the Creation Museum in Kentucky features a life-size Noah’s ark,
  built according to the specifications in Genesis.  Based on a creationist view of Christianity, it tells us amongst other things that
all the dinosaurs were included with the animals which went in two by two. This is because the world is only just over 6,000 years old and so dinosaurs must have been around at the time of the garden of Eden in BC 4004. You can go around the Ark and, presumably, see how all the animals managed to fit in.  Sounds absolutely convincing to me. And not far removed from the mind-set needed for the Wall.

Paul Buckingham

5 August 2020

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