Every cloud has a silver lining…

photoAfter more than a month, the Somerset Levels are still underwater.  This kind of sight is becoming sadly more frequent, but it doesn’t make it any less devastating.  I sat watching the news last night and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the people affected.  Seeing a burly looking farmer brought to tears at the sight of his business, his home and probably what feels like his whole life submerged in foul murky water was pretty heart wrenching.

The sight of flood water will always have a very personal effect on me, but perhaps in not quite the ‘shudder of dread’ way you might think.  Flooding makes me feel very grateful.

My friends were completely amazing when my own home flooded in 2007.   It was my very first home which I’d lovingly furnished and decorated from my own money, and I was so very proud of it.  But that fateful July day turned it into a grey sodden mess.  Whilst I was coming to terms with what had happened, food appeared from nowhere, someone moved me in to their spare room, and someone else helped me deal with paperwork.  My friends appeared in force and did more for me than I could ever imagine.  I’d never been so grateful and I’ve never looked at my friends in quite the same way again.  The reassurance, support and love they showed at a time when I really needed them, has had a much more long-lasting effect on my life than having to refurnish a house.

I wouldn’t wish flooding on anyone.  It is awful.  But I just hope the people in Somerset are as lucky as I was, and find that there are positive things to come out of a tragedy, and that these will last far longer than the floodwater ever will.

by Natalie Hill, Churches Officer

Choose life – as long as it’s boy

LucyGiven the chance, would you choose the sex of your child? We all know – or at least think we know – what we want, whether it’s a bonnie baby boy or a cute baby girl. But according to evidence in the 2011 National Census, published by The Independent last week, ‘illegal’ sex-selective abortions have resulted in the disappearance of up to 4,700 girls.

Abortion is something which many people still insist on seeing as a black and white issue. The pro-life campaigners insist that it is about killing a living human being; the pro-abortion lobby say a woman has the right to have a say over how her own body is used. But life is never that simple. Beyond even questions of mental and physical health of the mother (should a 15-year-old rape victim really be denied the right to an abortion?), there are enormous socio-cultural issues to consider as well.

Regardless of the ethical rights and wrongs, many families in parts of the world rely on having a son; it is the boys who must go out and work, to bring in the money, while a girl stays at home to have children and care for the family. They can face serious poverty simply by having the wrong sex child. Rather than sitting and judging whether abortion is right or wrong, we need to go back to the causes and work on educating on sex itself. It is about making a wise decision before the event, rather than after. Because it is only when societies have been educated that can we start to see these issues in shades of grey.

by Lucy Taylor, Head of Communications

House of Memories

Becky“House for sale: includes former owners”

This caught my attention; my partner and I have been looking for a suitable house to buy for over six months, so this headline was particularly apposite. The story made me think about how I would feel with the previous owners buried in the garden. Would I feel free to live my life in my new home? Could you negotiate a reduced price because of the proximity of burial? Would it grant a sense of the peace which I find in churchyards to the garden? Finding the right house is proving difficult enough, without then discovering we would have shared the garden with the previous occupants. I have images of digging a pond in the wrong location and disturbing the remains. I understand the desire to keep a loved one close, but this story was particularly strange to me as the couple were buried together in the garden with no family remaining in the property to protect and honour the burials. I wonder whether others struggle with a contradiction as I do, between the soul leaving the body after death and the desire to protect their last resting place undisturbed.

I still feel the sadness of grief for my mother who died less than five years ago. We considered scattering Mum’s ashes in the garden of her home in France. I am glad that we did not choose this final resting place, however appropriate it seemed at the time. My father has since sold the house, and we would have had no right to access the garden to remember Mum. Instead we paid for a bench in her honour at a garden with many fond memories for all of us. This bench will always be available to us to visit, but also provides a comfortable spot where others can share the pleasure my mother experienced in this garden.

by Becky Shorter, Trust and Pastoral Officer

Floods and friendship

JackieThe big story for weeks has been the weather. Huge waves crashing over promenades, aerial views of the River Severn’s flood plains, and villages or houses cut off by water – such images have dominated the news.

The stories and pictures reveal how much damage ‘the weather’ can do, and how powerless we are in the face of it. Before Christmas a number of houses had power cut off due to the adverse weather and had to live without electricity, heat and light for days. In recent news we have heard of communities completely isolated by flood water, people unable to travel, work or shop; normal life severely affected.

We are accustomed to full time connection – to power sources, through the internet, by satellite, through global networks that we expect to be fully operational all the time, by road, rail, by flight. We have come to expect the freedom to connect worldwide. Yet we find that something as everyday as ‘the weather’ can change everything incredibly quickly. We are not the masters of the universe. We are unexpectedly cut off – from food and heat and work and friends and social networks – at a stroke. And for some it’s much worse – property damaged, crops ruined, and in the most extreme cases lives lost.

All remind us at the start of this New Year that, however much we like to assume control, there are many events outside of our own limited power. When the chips are down we need to be able to rely on others, to work together for good, to help our neighbour in time of need. And I am reminded in the face of uncertainty and powerlessness to trust in a power that is not my own, to have faith in God.

by the Archdeacon of Gloucester, the Venerable Jackie Searle

Rescue Plan

david smithIt’s been fascinating to follow the saga of the diverse, international group of passengers who have been stranded on a Russian ice-breaker, trapped in an ice floe in the Antarctic. As I write, they are being rescued by a helicopter operating from a Chinese ice-breaker, ferried to an Australian ship currently in clear water, which will then take them to New Zealand, from where they will be able to return home. It’s a brilliant example of co-operation.

In the beautiful yet hostile environment of the Antarctic, there has always been the corporate sense of duty and obligation to help others who are in difficulty. No matter how careful you are, tomorrow it could be you needing help!. At such times, race, colour, creed, ethnicity, nationality, and any other divisive means of classifying humanity you care to mention, is set aside in the interests of mutual survival and care for fellow human beings in need.

We live, I believe, in a wonderful, God-given creation, and we are blessed with a share in that creativity. However, we also have the potential to make the whole of our wonderful planet just as hostile as the Antarctic, whether through lack of care, lack of foresight, or plain nationalistic greed. Perhaps we need to consider that in some ways we are already living in a potentially hostile environment – climate change, war, famine, to name but a few factors –  and that it’s time to set aside our divisions; time to start co-operating – for everyone’s sake.

by the Revd David Smith, vicar of St George’s Tuffley & St Margaret of Scotland, Whaddon, and Area Dean, Gloucester City Deanery