“Leicester City – the team of teams”

Richard Atkins

So, the underdog finally won the big prize.

Leicester City, little Leicester City, are the new English Premier League Champions.  A simply amazing story!

I’ve been watching football for over fifty years. It would true to say that it’s a passion. Five decades of hoping and waiting to see if my team, Portsmouth, could win something.

In 2008, they won FA Cup; but in essence it meant very little to me. Of course it was great to see them parading the famous old trophy around Wembley. But somehow I knew that it would all end in tears. Was it because none of the team was connected with the local area? Was it the fact that they all came with a huge price tag that the club couldn’t afford? Was there that feeling that we had ‘bought’ the FA Cup with a group of players rather than with a team?

Within months the club was in freefall as the players left and the money stopped coming in. Five years later we were in the bottom division of English football and still struggling to get out.

That’s the great thing about Leicester City, the new and unexpected Champions of the Premier League. None of the players were signed by paying huge amounts of money. Indeed the whole team cost what one of the bigger teams would pay for one average player. In fact, many of them were cast-offs from other clubs.

What they are, is a team who play for, fight for and drive each other on. Of course they are hugely skilful, with a coach in Raniari, who has worked for decades at the highest level. But they are a team, where the sum of the parts is greater than the individual. In due course the best of the players may well be lured away by bigger teams in Europe. But together this bunch of players have taken on the very best and won. This may never happen again, a smaller club winning such a huge prize. But for Leicester City working together as a team meant winning together as a team.

A lesson for the Church?

By the Revd Canon Richard Atkins, Faith and Ethics Producer and Sunday Breakfast  Producer for BBC Radio Gloucestershire

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Don’t lose faith

Richard AtkinsLast month, the Government downgraded the role of Minister for Faith, handing it instead to a junior minister. Meanwhile, the Labour Party has refused to comment on speculation in the religious press that Jeremy Corbyn is thinking about appointing a Minister for Jews and a Minister for Muslims.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was once told “we don’t do religion” by Alistair Campbell. From Blair back to Corbyn may seem like a journey of a million miles but an interesting article in the Spectator illustrates that, far from being the angry atheist that some have painted him, Corbyn is much more moderate than perhaps the press are giving him credit. “I’m not anti-religious at all,” says Corbyn, “not at all… I find religion very interesting. I find the power of faith very interesting. I have friends who are very strongly atheist and wouldn’t have anything to do with any faith, but I take a much more relaxed view of it. I think the faith community offers and does a great deal for people. There don’t have to be wars about religion, there has to be honesty about religion. We have much more in common than separates us.”

As Faith and Ethics Producer at BBC Radio Gloucestershire for the past decade and more I would say the same – the faiths have more in common than that which separates them; they have an enormous amount to offer –  working together and not apart. This view is seen by some Christians as being the weak option; they see the role of the Christian to ‘convert’ those who are different from us, have a different belief; we like to take the moral high ground as THE faith not a faith.

That’s one way of understanding the Christian faith but it’s not the one I can sign up to. I simply don’t believe that view is valid. Yes, there are differences, of course there are, and it seems to me that civilisation is all the better for it. Would the world be enhanced if we were all only Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jewish? Personally, I can’t think of a worse place to live.

One of the highlights of Bishop Rachel’s Inauguration was the fact that leaders of other faiths were invited. I know Imam Hassan from the Rycroft Street Mosque in Gloucester, he’s a friend, and I know he was thrilled to not only to be invited but also to be involved and have the opportunity to welcome Bishop Rachel. The Government may have downgraded the role of Minister of Faith but the faiths themselves should not feel downgraded but continue to find a voice in an age when the voice of reason and hope needs to be heard more than ever.

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

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.

Walking in faith, hope and love

photoSome twenty years ago I went on sabbatical for three months from my churches in Cornwall, when I was working as a Methodist minister. The aim was to travel around England and Scotland staying in monasteries and convents as well as with Methodist families.

During the day I spent time alone walking, visiting churches, cathedrals and sites of historical interest.

One of the highlights of the two months on the road was the week I spent in retreat with the community on Iona in Western Scotland. Here was the place founded by St Columba when he travelled from Ireland in the 6th century; destroyed by the Vikings but re-built in the 20th century to serve the pilgrim and visitor.

Iona is a small island, a holy island, a place of prayer, a place to be apart working with and in the community.

My job during the time I was there was to care for a small herb garden and collect seaweed from the beach to act as a fertilizer. It was hard, physical work borne in silence and prayer.

But there is something else that makes Iona so special.

It is a ‘thin place’, a place where the veil between heaven and earth is especially thin. Where the connection to God seems effortless and ephemeral signs of God’s presence seem almost palpable among the rocks, sand and beauty.

In a ‘thin place’, the divine is more easily sensed and Iona is such a place.Despite its rocks and thorns and hungry birds, it bears the fruit of Christ’s seed as it did, from the moment that Columba and his followers first set foot on its shore and created a small Celtic Christian community.

But thin does not mean weak.

Columba and those early saints didn’t stay on their little island, the reached out into the vastness of Northern Scotland and beyond, taking the Gospel with them to people and places it had never reached.

As I travel around the county in my job as a producer and presenter with BBC Radio Gloucestershire I meet men and women who, like Columba, have left the doors of the church or chapel behind. They have taken the risk of stepping out from their building to work with and alongside the poor, the outcast and lonely. In villages, hamlets, towns and the city, the people of God are there; working, listening and praying; walking with those in need.

I was reminded of Iona recently when I spent a hugely enjoyable morning recording with Bishop Michael and other pilgrims as they walked through Gloucestershire on the Bishop’s final pilgrimage before retirement.

In Gloucestershire the people of God walk on in faith, hope and love in the presence of Christ and the saints and martyrs, known and unknown, who have trod this way of faith before….

The Revd Richard Atkins, Faith and Ethics Producer, Sunday Breakfast presenter, BBC Radio Gloucestershire

Why not join me each Sunday from 6am for a Gloucestershire Sunday breakfast on FM; AM; DAB and on line at bbc.co.uk/radiogloucestershire. You can also follow us on Twitter @bbcglos and on Facebook.