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