War, what is it good for?

Arthur Champion July 2010The images of Aleppo are almost too painful to look at.  How did Syria’s largest and once most prosperous city, a UNESCO world heritage site, end up like a version of Hell on Earth? Shellfire and barrel bombs have blown so many holes in buildings that it’s a wonder they are still standing at all.  I’m reminded of recurring pictures of Gaza City and other war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen.  The human cost of war is beyond calculation.  Surely the Arab Spring of 2011 was never meant to end up like this?!

As a child I had the idea that wars were fought by professional soldiers in fields that were far away from towns and villages.  Men went to war and women picked up the pieces afterwards.  As a teenager I was reassured to learn about the Geneva Conventions, which seemed to lay down some legally enforceable rules about how wars should be fought.  Then as a young adult I learned that for hundreds of years the Christian Church has been developing the “Just War Theory 1 ” aiming to deter nations from going to war except in certain limited circumstances.  The birth of our first child coincided with the deployment of Cruise missiles at Greenham Common but thankfully the Church of England published a brilliant report but now long since forgotten: “The Church and the Bomb”.  The CofE report came up with the big new idea of “nuclear pacifism” in other words calling Christians to become active peacemakers in an era when conventional wars could easily escalate into nuclear conflict.

This week we can celebrate the action of a Russian soldier who, on 26 September 1983, saved the world from nuclear holocaust.  Russia’s early warning system detected several incoming US missiles, which would have justified full-scale retaliation.  However, Stanislav Petrov 2  judged this to be a false alarm.  He dared to resist the impulse for war and sure enough the satellite warning system had indeed malfunctioned.  I think the world needs lots more people who dare to resist the impulse for war.

By the Revd Arthur Champion, Diocesan Environmental Adviser

2 Wikipedia


Keeping church moving

howard-gilbert-squareOne Sunday morning, at the 8 o’clock Eucharist, I stood before a bleary-eyed churchwarden who had stayed up until 5am watching the Olympics!  And I was reminded of the words of the Colorado ‘Adventure Rabbi’, Jamie Korngold, who wrote:

“… I realised that there are many rabbis who can serve the 30 per cent of American Jews who are affiliated with congregations, but how many rabbis are reaching the 70 per cent who are not a member of congregations?  How many can relate to those who prefer skiing or hiking on Saturdays to attending the synagogue?  How many rabbis are able to understand and accept those who say, “Running is my religion?”[1]

There are two main choices in my parish of Cirencester on a Sunday morning: there is church, and there is sport; and, on the whole, never the twain shall meet.  But as we develop our new Diocesan Vision and consider ways of reaching out to a new generation in fresh ways, I wonder how we might engage with those who whose idea of a good time isn’t trying to sit still in a beautiful old building?

We do have some good examples of churches re-imagining the traditional in fresh and exciting ways, but the rest of us need to realise that if we only build the church around those who are looking for the peace and beauty of the inherited church, then we will never offer the Gospel to the increasing numbers who are looking for something more.

Of course, innovation tends to be uncomfortable, as we know well in the Church of England, but as Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.

By Father Howard Gilbert, Cirencester Area Dean.

[1] Rabbi Jamie S. Korngold, God in the Wilderness, Doubleday 2007 – p16.

God gets under my skin

Ian BussellWe were tucking into our pasties next to a ridiculously Cornish-cream beach and blue-green sea when the conversation turned to tattoos. The Beloved fancies something discrete and pretty but hasn’t yet committed. No. 4 son curls his lips in a ‘yucky’ sort of way while other sons are more enthusiastic. No. 1 son’s girlfriend reveals she already has a tattoo. This is new information. We inwardly rejoice that she feels comfortable enough to share this with us. Shamefully, we also rejoice a little that we’re ‘cool’ with this while her parents are clearly not. Beloved has seen on a vicar’s arm ‘God forbid that I should boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’, and looks at me pointedly. Not sure if Beloved wants me to have a tattoo as an evangelistic tool or an anti-ageing device. No. 1 son is recently back from Uganda and would like to have ‘wulira emirembe – be free’ which, being in the language of Lusoga, is obviously Very Cool.  I believe any body piercing needs to be approached with caution, after consultation and careful planning, and must be painlessly reversible. I realise that in this I’m following diocesan guidelines for renovations to all ancient monuments so decide to keep quiet. The group thinks ‘my strength and my shield’ would be a good tattoo for a vicar. But then I think of friends who have not been shielded from bereavement, redundancy, mental illness, heartbreak… It seems to me ‘my strength and my shield’ doesn’t say it all.

‘OK, but how about putting on the other arm ‘s**t happens!’’ I offer. I do believe that God is ‘my strength and my shield’ but clearly not as I want it when I want it. ‘S**t happens’ when God is on duty. So if God is ‘my strength and my shield’ I have to wonder – what kind of strength? what kind of shield? The mystery deepens.

As the group warms to the challenge of capturing the meaning of life, the universe and everything in a single sentence, I realise that there is no one verse or motto about God I would want as a tattoo. Because as soon as I say something about God, I need to say ‘yes but…’ But with two arms I could have two tattoos and that invites all sorts of creative possibilities. If you had to choose two sayings about God or life, what would you choose? Please write in!

Needless to say neither Beloved nor I got a tattoo this holiday. The fabric of this ancient monument is no longer a clean canvas for the tattooist’s art so I hand that particular baton on to the next generation. Beloved did get a nose stud though. I’m very complementary but for some reason she forbids me from getting one.

By the Revd Ian Bussell, Diocesan Director of Ordinands


Bruce GoodwinI heard this phrase on the radio this week and like many others I do feel the loss of watching this amazing sporting event on TV over the last nineteen days! Congratulations must go to all those who took part and of course those who won medals – especially to team GB at Rio 2016 – but is there a deeper story?

On their flight back home apparently one reporter said that the film about Eric Liddell, ‘Chariots of Fire’ was on a loop on the plane. Why might that be? Perhaps because of the wonderful sense of fulfilment we get when we sense our bodies are part of something greater. Liddell himself said that ‘when I run I feel His pleasure.’ Knowing the pleasure of God is a fascinating concept, indeed, many of the competitors acknowledged their allegiance to their maker. Usain Bolt is a strong Christian, Brazilian footballer Neymar is ‘100% Jesus’ and the US  women’s 4 x 400 relay team prayed together when they won gold.

So what do we take from all this? Is it that when we see athletes at the top of their game we see something of the image of God and His joy and pleasure? Maybe the phrase, so often used but no less apt, that sums this up is by the Church Father Irenaeus who said: ‘The glory of God is a person fully alive’.

By the Revd Bruce Goodwin, Chaplain, University of Gloucestershire.

Rio brings out the best in humanity

Rosie WoodallI freely admit that I am obsessed with the Olympic Games – it’s the same every four years. I find new sports each time to become engrossed in and I realise time has flown by as I watch. As remarkable as the pure athletic excellence is, it’s not just the sport which I love. It’s also the amazing human interest stories that can be profoundly moving: the smiling ‘selfie’ taken by the two North and South Korean gymnasts, arms looped round each other; the first individual gold medal won by a black female swimmer; the victorious but exhausted GB rower being assisted back onto land by the Australians his boat had just beaten to gold; the pure joy on the face of Bryony Page, GB’s first ever medal winning trampolinist.

Although the Rio 2016 Games have been dogged by doping scandals and protests in Brazil over the high cost when so many are struggling, there is still something undeniably wonderful about the Olympics. Back in the second century AD, one of the early church writers, Irenaeus of Lyons, said that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive“. It’s a wonderful description of the way we should be living and feeling, though maybe it’s an ideal we fail to reach on most ordinary days. Surely the Olympics at their best are the very epitome of that statement by Irenaeus, as they bring out the best of humanity and provides us with something uplifting to celebrate in the dark and uncertain times we find ourselves in at the moment.

By the Revd Rosie Woodall, Vicar of Bisley, Chalford, France Lynch and Oakridge.

Focus like an Olympian…

Poppy Hughes

I take my hat off to Adam Peaty, winner of the first Team GB Olympic Gold Medal in Rio this week.  It was an astonishing victory in the 50m breaststroke and Peaty dominated the pool.

Afterwards, Peaty talked about the quest for “the perfect swim”, requiring total focus in the moment.  He just missed breaking his own World Record for the 50m, confessing to feeling “a little bit jittery”.  But perhaps that just makes his win even more impressive.

I have been reflecting on feeling jittery, since discovering that the Greek word for distracted is periespato.   Luke uses it in his Gospel, when he describes Martha rushing around making a meal for Jesus and the disciples.  I am no Greek scholar, but I think it is a wonderfully descriptive word.  Try saying it out loud.  “Peri” means around, like perimeter.  And “espato” … well, I just translate that as spattered!  So you get the sense of our attention being spattered around.

Feeling periespato will be familiar to many of us.  Our attention is pulled back, to reflect on past events with regret or nostalgia.  And we worry furiously about what is coming up, or what might happen.  So perhaps we could take time through day to focus on now:  to attend to this moment, as if nothing else mattered.

It is what our Olympic athletes are doing as they step up to the starting line.  It is what Jesus asked Martha to do.  Perhaps we could give it a go?

By the Revd Poppy Hughes, Rector of Tetbury, Beverston, Long Newnton and Shipton Moyne

Droning on…

DSC_0100I’m sure many people saw the news item last week about drones being used to deliver packages and thought they were living in an episode of Tomorrow’s World.  The prospect of my daughter’s  monthly subscription of nappies and bubble bath dropping out of the sky did seem just too daft to be real!  My amusement increased with a cartoon showing a drone taking off with part of a church spire attached to it, with the caption ‘Amazon, we have a problem’ illustrating an article about whether church towers and spires could be used as re-charging/docking stations for a fleet of drones.  After my initial giggles, I did start to think whether this might be a real opportunity for churches.

Now just to clarify: I don’t plan to advocate church towers and spires starting to look like tech versions of bees buzzing around a hive, and clearly any risk of a drone taking off with part of a spire attached to it is very bad thing.  However, if we can find a way of making this work successfully, just as there are successful ways of installing broadband transmitters and mobile phone aerials on and inside church towers, this has the potential to be a real good news story.

Churches have always been at the heart of their communities, often operating a wide range of functions far beyond worship.  This must continue into the future and though I don’t doubt there may be a few raised eyebrows about whether drones are appropriate, and whether the combination of something so hi-tech in such a historic location is harmful, we must challenge preconceptions, be brave and think more creatively about how our churches can benefit our local communities.

Whether or not the idea of drones takes off (please excuse the awful pun), there will continue to be new and unusual opportunities for our churches in the future and I just hope we will have the courage to pursue them.

By Natalie Fenner, Churches Officer