Faith should draw us together

photoThere are just over one hundred different faith communities in Gloucestershire. How do I know?  Because, one afternoon, I counted them all up! It’s what I do as Faith and Ethics Producer at BBC Radio Gloucestershire; my job is to get know what happening in the county’s faith communities and enable their stories to be heard.

One of the highlights of my year is the Inter Faith Week, normally held at the end of November at the University of Gloucestershire. It’s there that people from faith groups around the county meet to talk, engage, listen, eat, pray where possible and recognise the things that connect rather than divide.

On one occasion I was able to interview members of seven different faith communities in just over half an hour. It seemed so natural, so obvious and warming to meet with and learn from those who believe in a different way to me.

Yet the events of this week in Kenya show us another story.

This new slaughter of the innocents in a Nairobi shopping centre shows the other side of faith – one that is corrupt and dare one say this – the very essence of evil. The victims came from all over the world; Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Peru, Canada, Ghana, South Korea, China, France and South Africa the list goes on.  They died together.

Faith is not just about we as individuals believe, it’s about actively listening to what others believe; understanding their culture and history.

By doing this we can begin a walk that moves us closer together rather than dragging us apart leading to events such as we have seen in Kenya this week.


The Revd Richard Atkins, Faith Producer at BBC Radio Gloucestershire.


Local farming is focus for Harvest celebrations

In my small smallholding of three raised beds, I’ve had two salad potato crops, lots of tomatoes, lettuces and herbs, and plenty of raspberries – but, despite resorting to weapons of pest destruction, I failed to prevent the marauding slugs and black fly from halving my harvest.

Last week the BBC ran a series of three programmes ‘Harvest 2013’.   I was amazed that the systems, science, and stark reality of farming and food production in the UK, albeit with a few good recipes thrown in, could be such an eye opener, fascinating and entertaining.

Each programme gave some amazing facts and figures – did you know the average Brit eats the equivalent of 380 medium sized British potatoes every year?  That large factories grow ‘happy’ tomatoes; and that the Brussels sprout crop is on course to be up one third on last year?

We were reminded that last year was the wettest for a century and saw disastrous harvest for many farmers.  2013 has been much better, but it’s always precarious.  Despite our summer heat wave a cold spring had already had its effect on many of our crops.  It’s events like the Newent Onion Fayre now in its 18th year which helps to remind us and helps us celebrate and really appreciate, all sorts of our local farms and locally grown produce!

Churches and schools across the county will be celebrating Harvest as normal this autumn.  But it struck me that it really must be a great challenge to teachers and clergy to do it in a way that focuses, makes senses and does justice in a time when seasons have blurred, vast quantities of produce are imported from all over the world and all year round, yet there is still the fact that many children don’t recognise, let alone eat, a variety of fruit and veg.  And there are the big issues too of course: of fair trade, sustainability, and the hard consequences of crop failures at home and abroad.

Maybe, this autumn is a good time to notice where and how our weekly shop was actually grown; experiment with a new recipe or two and encourage ourselves and others to take a fresh look at the full story of Harvest 2013.

Judith Knight, diocesan Human Resources Manager

Leadership in Times of Crisis

It is said that a week is a long time in politics. Clearly it is also a long time in diplomacy. Just one week ago Bishop Michael wrote in this new blog about the need to not rush to conflict over the atrocities committed in Syria. Wise words indeed. Since then, when the finger seemed poised over the button, there has been frantic and sometimes fraught discussions at the G20. Just one week on, there is the possibility of a new idea, the handing over of chemical weapons and non-proliferation agreements. Obviously the proof will need to be presented and none of this can be achieved without threat of military intervention but this has to be better than launching missiles, especially when the complexity of the Syrian conflict means that any action is bound to be compromised.

Leadership in these situations is difficult. It is easy to criticise politicians and those who advise them when we do not have all the facts and when we do not bear the consequences. Leadership is risky and lonely and has a direct impact on the lives of others. Christians know this all too well, as we follow Jesus who led humanity into a new relationship with God, even though it meant his death on a cross. This ultimate gift should lead us into a new relationship with each other, especially with those with whom we disagree.

The key gift for leaders is that of integrity. Then decisions can be made in good faith. Those of us who watch from afar should consider our integrity too. Are we really praying for the people of Syria? Are we really praying for our leaders? We all have a part to play, and we are all responsible, under God, for each other in this world.

The Dean of Gloucester

Syria Vote in Parliament

DSCF2680Syria continues to dominate the news. As far as I am concerned, despite the horror of the Syrian regime and its chemical warfare, the longer we wait the better.

 I was in the House of Lords last week for the debate on Syria, parallel with the debate in the Commons which, quite properly, got much more media coverage. But the Lords’ debate was of an extraordinarily high standard. It was a privilege to listen to the wisdom of those who have led us through previous conflicts in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe and the most convincing contributions came from those who had served in the armed forces or as Foreign or Defence Secretaries during previous interventions. With only one exception (Paddy Ashdown), they were all either cautious or out-rightly against any military action.

There were and are two key arguments. First, it is no part of international law to punish nations or regimes. The only kind of punishment in international law is a court that tries individuals (not nations) for war crimes. We have to hope and pray that President Assad will one day face such a court.

Second, under international law, much based of it on the Christian just war doctrine, the only justification for military intervention in a sovereign state would be if every other method of bringing justice has been exhausted and if there were a likelihood that the intervention would reduce the suffering of those being oppressed. The case has not yet been made that an airstrike on Syria would reduce the suffering of people there. On the contrary, there’s a good chance it would increase it, for any retaliation the regime might employ would be more likely against its opponents within Syria than against the international community. And there is also the likelihood that the Christian minority in the Middle East would become more a target in response to action by the West.

Caution and diplomacy is what we need if we are not to make matters worse and, of course, for the person of faith, prayer. It is hard to be impotent to act in the face of wickedness, but sometimes to admit that impotence is better than taking action that could make matters much worse. This is one of those times.