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

Love is the answer

As a Christian and someone who also predominantly works within the realms of Sharia law, I am always in wonder at the relevance of faith in the world today. It is important we understand why certain events happen and how we reconcile our lives within such challenging times.

The events of recent months have shocked people around the world and the last few blogs have addressed many of the issues that have arisen from this. However, it is so important that as individuals we endeavour to play our part in the larger community around us. If we are tolerant and show love, we will eventually win over the hearts and minds of those who feel that the only way is violence and intolerance.

This week I am spending time with family and friends at Hilfield Friary in Dorset, where we are reflecting on these troubling times, in particular the refugee crisis that continues to unfold. In such peaceful surroundings, it is easy to forget the troubled world around us. However, we use this strength to seek justice, and through prayer and actions, a better place for all.

The bible explains that Love is patient, love is kind… it is not rude, it is not self-seeking… Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. In the Quran, it states that we treat with kindness your parents and kindred, and orphans and those in need.

If we can take our love and meet those without, maybe all of us can start to make a difference.

Stuart Hutton FCSI, DipPFS

Chief Investment Officer

Simply Ethical

Dual citizenship

The blog has been dominated bCate Williamsy politics for the last few weeks.  It is our nation’s preoccupation, and as Christians we have dual citizenship, in our nation and in the kingdom of God.  It is right and natural that at a time when one of our places of belonging is in turmoil, reflection should happen on the interaction between the two, and what our belonging in the kingdom of God means for our belonging in our nation.  Worldwide events are troubling too, with Nice prominent in our minds at the moment as the latest of a string of atrocities.

I’m going to share here something of my personal journey of the last few weeks.  For me, three things are of note: trees; a social media campaign called ‘Movement of Love’ and a letter to the PM.

Trees are what held me steady when the news came in from the referendum.  In their solidity and rootedness they reminded me that for all that much is changing, some things remain constant.  The sun still comes up in the morning and goes down in the evening.  Nature is flourishing in a time of year when there is much growth.  There are things I am concerned about but God is still God, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.

Next comes my need to do something, which I think many of us felt.  We saw an increase in racism, we saw hatred between those on opposing sides of the vote, and all against the background of troubling worldwide events.  The antidote to such things is and always will be love, rooted in our God who is the source and origin of all love.  I have become involved in launching a social media campaign, others may like to join in.  #MovementOfLove and on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/MovementOfLove2016/

Finally, a letter to our new Prime Minister.  She said that she wants to work for a vision of the UK which includes everyone rather than just for the privileged few.  It is all too easy to write angry and destructive letters so I decided to take the opportunity to write something positive, appreciating the sentiment in her words and encouraging her  to stick to this commitment.

That is my story of the last few weeks, we each will have our own stories to tell.  What is important is to ensure that our dual citizenships interact, that our citizenship of the kingdom of God inspires us to bring kingdom values to bear in our earthly citizenship too.

The Revd Cate Williams, Mission and Evangelism Officer for the Diocese of Gloucester

What price good neighbours?

david smithLast Sunday, congregations in any churches following the common lectionary will have heard the story of the Good Samaritan, prompted by Jesus being asked “… and who is my neighbour?” He deliberately chose to use the example of an immediately neighbouring community – the Samaritans – but one with whom the Jews were not exactly on friendly terms, to say the least.

The Jewish victim in the story could reasonably have expected help from his fellow countrymen, who both ‘passed by on the other side’, whereas it was the alien, the Samaritan who actually helped him, at his own expense and his own risk. I don’t think the Samaritan saw a foreigner, or an immigrant, or a terrorist threat, or a potential economic drain. Did he worry about the victim’s race, colour, or creed? Did he worry that when the victim recovered he would continue to be a burden on Samaritan resources? Did he wonder whether the victim was in fact wealthy and might be able to offer something in return?

Of course, we shall never know what the Samaritan actually asked himself, but we know exactly what he did – and that says it all. He saw simply another human being in need of help, and he came to his aid in whatever way he could.

Whatever you think of Brexit, whatever your views on immigration, whatever you feel about the refugee crisis, we all need good neighbours – and it starts with us being good neighbours ourselves.

By the Revd Canon David Smith, Team Rector, North Cheltenham Team Ministry

Walking humbly…

Chris Maclay

Another busy week of political upheaval, international violence, an inquest report, and sporting breath-holding…. uncertainty and frailty on a multitude of levels. As others have recently said, our best response in unpredictable (and predictable) times is to look upwards to the one who made us and sustains us.

As I have watched the political parties this week I have found myself longing for leaders defined by both humility and integrity. Yes, in Westminster, but in every village and organisation too.

At the political level, obviously, I value and cherish our heritage of democracy. But I am not convinced that the way it is exercised in many quarters is working. When politicians take a position and then do anything they can in order to blindly protect that position, they risk diverting all of us from the truth and they display an arrogance that allows no space for wisdom. Humility on the other hand, listens to and respects other voices, admits frailty and sees the good in others. John Dickson describes it as ‘holding power in the service of others.’ He points to the example of Jesus who ‘came not to be served, but to serve’, and he goes on to say that for a leader ‘perhaps the most obvious outcome of being humble is that you will learn, grow and thrive in a way the proud have no hope of doing.’

So, I hope and pray for leaders who do not thrust themselves forward in self-promotional arrogance, leaders who offer themselves in the service of others, and leaders who are ready to listen and learn. And I hope and pray that I, too, may be a leader like that.

By the Revd Chris Maclay, Forest Area Dean and Vicar of Bream.