Romantic Meetings

stephen-bowen-square-for-webI’m retiring soon, so I’m in reflective mode. And I had a thought. How much of my life in business and the church have I spent in meetings?  Weeks, months, years! I shuddered. Having lived through a technology revolution, you’d assume we spend less time in meetings. I’m sure in the future someone will write a book about why we spent so much of our lives in meetings, just like we wonder how our forebears spent long hours working in factories.

So my heart warmed to revelations in ‘The Times’ about the late French President Mitterrand’s conduct at meetings. While his fellow European leaders were discussing budgets, he had more important matters on his mind – love. He wrote to his beloved, recalling her phone call that morning. ‘Your voice on the phone was so clear, so light, so winged, that joy entered in gusts through the window’. The next day he wrote, ‘I am writing during the council meeting. Mrs Thatcher is getting ready for the fray, tension reigns behind the friendly atmosphere.’ And at midnight after a 10 hour meeting, ‘It does me so good to write to you. I would like to love you so much better’.

Penning love letters during a meeting? Without the chair noticing? How romantic and mischievous!

It’s good to know that our leaders are as human as we are. And it just goes to show that as the Beatles sang and Jesus taught, there’s something more important than meetings, to love and know we are loved.

By the Revd Canon Stephen Bowen, Community Canon, Gloucester Cathedral

What impact does wildlife tourism have?

FullSizeRenderThe drama around the gorilla that escaped from its enclosure at London Zoo left visitors shocked this week. And it is one of a number of recent close encounters with wild animals which has worried the public. Think back to the child photographed in the rhino enclosure at Dublin Zoo and the Cincinnati gorilla who was shot when a boy fell into his pen.  When wild animals come into close contact with humans, there will always be an element of risk.

Advocates of zoos argue that they save endangered species and educate the public, and indeed some do amazing work in rehabilitation of animals and caring for unwanted pets. However, they inevitably have limitations. In 2014, a healthy two-year-old giraffe living at Copenhagen Zoo was killed and fed to the lions because the zoo could not find a suitable place for him to live.

Earlier this week, the world’s largest travel review site, Tripadvisor, took the decision to no longer sell tickets to attractions where travellers come into physical contact with captive, wild or endangered animals. They are also going to introduce an education portal with information on animal welfare practices and advice and opinion from conservation charities.

Some tourists might be surprised to learn about the stress animals experience when they are forced to take part in being ridden, swimming with humans or being photographed. Our misconceptions about animals often lead us to believe our actions are without consequence. For many years, it was thought that goldfish only had a three second memory and they were therefore suited to being kept in tiny bowls as pets. In recent research at St Andrew’s University, fish were able to recall information for up to five months.

The more that we learn about other species, the more we discover about their social networks, their language, their culture… the more our responsibility to our fellow creatures becomes clear.

By Katherine Clamp, Senior Communications Officer for the Diocese of Gloucester

What Libraries can do for Churches


In this season of Beckyconferences, I thought I would share a key message from a conference I went to last week.  This was the triennial conference of the Cathedral Libraries and Archives Association.  We were studying how the Cathedrals can help and support the mission and worship of Cathedrals, and this could be relevant to parishes too.  How do you use the heritage of your building to provide a new way to start conversations about the Christian message and the life and work of the Church?

As Cathedral Archivist I have in my care some wonderful items from the past of the Cathedral, for example a Victorian copy of Piers Plowman, Archbishop Laud’s backgammon set and a relic of the stake at which Bishop Hooper was burnt. These items bring to life the humans who were involved in major historical changes in our church.  Whenever we open the library for tours, items such as these and our historic books bring new people into our wonderful Cathedral, and help them to connect with the story of our faith’s past.  I am looking forward to working more on this use of the historic collection of the Cathedral in future.  What have you got within your Church that could be used in this way to bring the non-religious and the non-believing into your building on their own terms?

If you would like to visit the Library, there are still a few tickets available here for our last public tours this year – Saturday 8 October at 11am, 12noon, 2pm and 3pm.

By Rebecca Phillips, Trust & Pastoral Officer


What if…?

pauline-godfrey-squareIt’s hard to imagine how much has changed for those living through the unrest in Syria. Not so long ago families went shopping, lived in houses with all mod-cons and enjoyed the freedoms of modern transport.  Food was available, neighbours were friends. Schools, hospitals, businesses were day to day realities.  All that has changed – houses have been blown away, good sanitation is a thing of the past.  Clean water, food, means of cooking or providing heat – all resources which now have to be purchased at great cost from scarce supplies.  Friends and neighbours have become competitors – working for their own survival often at the cost of others. A way of living which had been reasonably straightforward has been turned upside down.

Of course our hearts go out to these folk and we pray for peace and justice for the people in Syria. However, I have also taken to wondering how I would cope if these things happened to me.  There’s the physical coping – the resourcefulness needed to change a lifetime’s habits to find innovative ways to provide for my family. Whether I’d be fit enough to cope with all the change which would be forced on me – the poor diet I would have or the physical effort it would take just to exist.  But there’s the spiritual side too – what would happen to my faith in God and God’s people?  Is my faith built on the fact that my life has been relatively easy? What would I believe if everything were taken away and the future seemed dark and bleak? One of my favourite psalms (Psalm 46) speaks of God’s help and strength even when the world is falling apart – ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’.  I believe I’ve experienced that. God’s very presence when we are going through dark times – not necessarily to stop the struggle but to provide a deeper hope and assurance that there is a way through to tomorrow.

As I think of all those who are in dark and difficult places today I pray that they will experience God’s comforting presence. I hope too that if I was in that place that someone somewhere would pray the same for me.

By the Revd Pauline Godfrey, Discipleship and Vocations Officer

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