Here's one of the reflections I shared last night. It seemed to be well received by most of those present (and those who didn't get my strange passion for heavy engineering were too polite to comment)
I first sang the hymn "God of Concrete, God of steel" in a cold, damp Baptist church in Paddington, London back in the 1980s. It captured my imagination. Then a first year engineering student, I delighted in a hymn that expressed something of the beauty that I find in industrial plant. I am that strange person who loves nothing better than to visit a restored bobbin mill, or a mining museum or to watch the glide of pistons on restored steam engines whilst drawing in huge breaths of hot, oil-scented air!
Reading over the words of the hymn, I recalled the time I stood in the stressing gallery of a vast pre-stressed concrete structure, marvelling at the simple elegance of the huge steel hawsers arranged to achieve stability and strength – God of concrete, God of steel. Turbines, valves, cooling towers, electricity pylons… each, for me, is a thing of beauty, a mysterious melding of form and function. All the power of earth is thine!
And then there are cranes.
It was during my workshop training that I first came to admire cranes – in this case the overhead travelling cranes that glided silently from one end of a vast fabrication shop to another, their amber lights flashing and supply cables snaking along the gantry. A man in toe-tectors, hard hat and a hi-viz jacket would amble along the side, reaching out to guide the passage of a huge sheet of steel or a bundle of iron bars just with the touch of a hand. Elegant and simple, seemingly effortless, as the saying goes, 'poetry in motion.'
But my real love is jib cranes, the towering giants that pierce the sky line. All those lessons on mechanics from school maths and physics classes translate into elegant structures whose struts and ties are perfectly aligned not only for function but with a symmetry and order that delights my eye. Silent giants, swooping and turning, dancing their way through the necessary work of moving their cargo of building materials or vehicles or shipping containers. The summer of 2009 saw me watch as a mobile crane lifted roof trusses from the back of a lorry and hoisted them aloft, to where waiting builders caressed them into place on the new build homes where our church (in Dibley) once stood. Bittersweet, but none the less beautiful (one of my former church members, also a neighbour, still tells the tale of how I once told her I couldn't stay for a long chat because the crane had just arrived!).
This too has its place in the song - God of girder and of beam
The natural world, is readily recognised as the handiwork of God, and offers an easy, ephemeral beauty in which to delight. Grain, fruit and vegetables are an obvious harvest. Perhaps it needs a certain kind of person to revel in the mysteries of engineering and science and to see that these, too, are part of God's creation. Perhaps it required lateral thinking to identify structures built or cargoes transported as an alternative form of harvest.
You probably won't share my passion for industrial archaeology, or for cranes, and that's totally fine. But next time you pass the Finnieston crane, sentinel over the Clyde and monument to part of Glasgow's industrial past, or next time you glance skywards and see the giraffe-like reach of a tower crane, perhaps you will recall some of the words we've sung, thanking God both for the wonder of the built environment in its diversity and for science and technology that make it possible.