A Memory for Dates

photoIt was very easy to learn and, over 50 years later, I can still do it – and sometimes still do so, much to the embarrassment of my family.

It is rather pretentious, though hugely enjoyable, to be able to do something in your 60s that you could do at eight years of age that involves remembering!

But it’s my one party piece; oddly, bizarrely and triumphantly, I can still remember all the Kings and Queens of England in chronological order from the time of Canute in 1016.

Indeed on a good day I can give you one detail from each reign as well.

I can do the same with the FA Cup – winners and losers, as well as the score, since 1900.

Yes, I know it’s rubbish, but it’s my rubbish and my memory for historical dates – though sadly not for maths – is very popular at the moment.

We are living in the age of the anniversary, the commemoration – looking back, sometimes hundreds of years.

It probably started in the 1990s with the 50th anniversary of D-Day and events in the Second World War.

I can remember that, as a Chaplain in the Royal British Legion, I wrote order of service after order of service for D-Day, VE Day, VJ Day and many more.

Having said that, it was a privilege to remember so many who were rapidly becoming so few.

Last year, of course, marked the start of the First World War.

At BBC Radio Gloucestershire, we are marking the events of the Great War and will continue to do so, with stories from the county, many of which have never come to light before, but which move us by their intimacy.

This year is also the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1216; one of the steps toward our democratic society, which leads me to my final anniversary – only a five year one, but the most important.

The General Election in May will be the most keenly fought for many decades.

At BBC Radio Gloucestershire we will give the very best coverage for all the county constituencies; from debates and discussion to asking what you think.

Its one anniversary that’s fundamental to the life of our country so enjoy it; embrace it and be part of it.

Rev Canon Richard Atkins, Faith and Ethics Producer / Sunday Breakfast presenter, BBC Radio Gloucestershire

You can follow Richard on Twitter at @atkinsradio or listen to his show every Sunday morning on Radio Gloucestershire from 6am.

What I have in common with the Archbishop of Canterbury

Judith Knight

We both love The West Wing! On his Desert Island he asked for the complete DVD box set – seven series – to take as his luxury item!

It is an American serial political drama (1999-2006) in which you get to know President Josia (Jed) Bartlet and experience his presidencies as he leads from the Oval Office in the West Wing of the White House. He leads with intelligence, integrity and compassion and his faith is central to his life and the decisions he makes.

Bartlet and his senior staff have their ups and downs individually and as a team, internally and in the big wide world of domestic and international politics. Over the Bartlet years we get to know the characters well and start to believe they are real.   They are our heroes; we trust them.  We cry at all the ‘West Wing moments’ when something profound or noble is said or done. We ‘walk and talk’ with them; we remember key phrases, episodes that spoke to us; individual characters with whom we identify and by whom we are inspired. At the end of every episode we are struggling not to plead for “just one more episode”.

During the election which returned George W Bush for a second term, there were people who registered their protest by spoiling their ballot paper with “Jed Bartlet for President”. That says so much about our craving for politicians worthy of our respect – let alone be our heroes.   Our experience in the UK over recent years shows that people have a decreasing interest and increasing distrust in politics and politicians. This year is a General Election year. Sadly we can’t vote for Jed Bartlet but, if we so choose, we can hold our own politicians to account and make it clear that we expect more – so much more.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Judith Knight, Head of Human Resources and Safeguarding

Hope is for all

283[1]I was in Sweden last week visiting our link diocese and cathedral in Vasteras. In Sweden there is a tense debate going on about economic migrancy and in particular, the influx of Moslem people from the East. In a country of only 8 million people, 10% of the population are now from a new ethnic minority, and this has happened in a very short time. There is concern and indeed, in some places, fear. Over Christmas, three mosques were firebombed and Bishop Thomas has spoken out against such darkness. This peaceful and polite society has yet to discover how to cope with its new makeup and new identity.

Being faithful Christians is the new identity we share. Our response to the darkness of the terrorism in France has to be robust, and peaceful and prayerful after the example of Jesus Christ. In becoming flesh, God has chosen to experience not only our joys but also our sorrows and had to endure a climate of terrorism with the slaughter of the Bethlehem innocents, the derision of those in authority and even capital punishment for crimes he did not commit. Jesus was held hostage by our sins and gave himself that a new way may be found for life not death.

In France, in Sweden, in England – Christians must proclaim louder and louder that faith is not exclusive, that belief is about light not darkness and that hope is for all. Secularism is not the answer and neither is religious fundamentalism. Engagement that costs like the ultimate costly engagement – the incarnation – is the only way forward for people of faith and no faith alike. Status without sacrifice is merely arrogance and leads to violence.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Very Revd Stephen Lake, Dean of Gloucester Cathedral

Loving your neighbour as yourself?

jpThis winter a number of hospitals have declared ‘major incidents’, including those in Gloucester and Cheltenham. Emergency departments in particular are exceptionally busy. Managers are calling in extra staff, postponing routine surgery and in some cases closing the doors to new patients altogether.

Nationally, A&E beds are unusually full at the moment. Since the end of last year, emergency departments have consistently been missing their target of seeing, treating, admitting or discharging 95% of patients within four hours. Our GPs and hospitals are always busiest at this time of year. This winter has been colder so far than last year, and there have been more cases of flu and norovirus around than usual.

But more people are seeking treatment in A&E than ever before. The number of people being admitted to emergency departments has increased by 10% in the last three years. Pressure on council budgets has decreased the amount of capacity in social services, and this has had a knock-on effect making it harder to discharge patients from hospital for rehabilitation elsewhere.

The Christian faith urges us to have a particular care for the most vulnerable members of our communities. As our society ages, the needs of the elderly will become an increasingly significant part of our healthcare system. We need to learn to put other people first, and this may mean not getting the treatment some of us think we need as immediately as we think we need it. We all pay for the NHS, but perhaps some of our demands are just becoming unrealistic. What would ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ contribute to the current political debate about the future of the NHS?

The Revd John Paul Hoskins, Bishop’s Chaplain.

Must religion be bad news?

DCF 1.0Must religion be bad news? So much of the news agenda for 2014 was dominated by acts of terrorism and  aggression which were linked with religious extremism, the advancement of Islamic State being the most obvious. Closer to home, there has been continued controversy about the place of faith in education, especially after the so called ‘Trojan Horse’ affair in Birmingham schools. There can be no doubt that a toxic combination of religious and political beliefs, often combined with local instability and the weakness of legitimate governance, lies behind many of the conflicts in today’s world.

But how to defeat such extremism? The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking in the House of Lord’s debate on Syria and the possibility of British intervention, made the telling point that what we are witnessing in the Middle East and elsewhere is not simply a military conflict, but an ideological one. The radical views of groups like Islamic State cannot be stopped by forces of arms alone. There is a need to engage in the battle of ideas and for people of faith and goodwill to present a different vision for how religion can be good news and not a cover for inhuman aggression.

At the start of the New Year the church celebrates Epiphany – the visit of the magi to the infant Jesus. In the story Herod, and his plot to murder Jesus, plays out the bloody combination of politics and religion that leads to the death of the innocent. It is an ancient story whose contemporary resonance is all too real. By contrast, Jesus and his family are shown receiving the gifts that the strangers from the east have to offer as they in turn welcome the magi into their Bethlehem home.

In this giving and receiving of the spiritual and material gifts, people of faith have to offer each other we can begin to see another way for different religious communities to relate to each other. It is a better vision to live by, and it might just help us see that religion can also be good news when it inspires generosity and hospitality rather than suspicion and fear.

The Revd Canon Dr Andrew Braddock, Director of the Department of Mission and Ministry and Canon Residentiary, Gloucester Cathedral