Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Catholic charity seeks to block same-sex couples from its adoption service

There was a news report in the paper earlier this week about a Catholic adoption agency that was seeking to deny its services to same-sex couples. Catholic Care is asking the judge, sitting in the Upper Tribunal in London to sanction a change to its charitable objectives so that it can lawfully turn away same-sex couple as prospective adopters. However, lawyers for the Charity Commission argue that drawing a distinction between gay and heterosexual couple would amount to a breach of the Equality Act 2011 and a violation of the ban on discrimination contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Now I appreciate this a very sensitive issue, and there will no doubt be entrenched positions being taken on all sides. It's not the first time - and certainly not the last - that Christian traditions and beliefs have come into conflict with the minutiae of equality and human rights laws. According to a spokesperson from Catholic Care, the consequence of the court finding against it will be a cessation of its services to both gay and heterosexual couples. 

I want to make clear that, personally, I have no issue with the Catholic Church or it's traditions and beliefs. I am neither for or against same-sex couples adopting children; the key criteria for me is that the child's interests and welfare is put first and foremost. If the appropriate experts believe that a child would be better off in a safe and loving home than remaining indefinitely in the care of the local authority, then any consideration about same-sex or heterosexual couples becomes irrelevant.

I do feel quite strongly in this case that the Charity Commission's focus on the rights of same-sex couples, rather than the children in need of adoption, is tantamount to putting the interests of the helper before those of the helpless. 

I wonder what Jesus would think if He was here today?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Is the end of the collection plate nigh?

According to a recent report from JustGiving, which raises cash for charities online, donations to religious causes have increased by 128 per cent over the past five years. Older donors have led the trend and are choosing the email inbox over the collection box in ever larger numbers.

Direct religious donations by the over-60's outstripped those of any other age-group, nearly trebling over the period, according to the report.

Harnessing the internet to benefit from the generosity of the faithful muts now become a priority for churches if they are to survive, the report shows.

The Right Rev Stephen Lowe, retired Church of England bishop for urban life and faith was quoted as saying: "We have not got the gear to receive the donations. How much longer can we keep passing the plate when people have not got the cash?".

So, are we going to see the day when mobile phones will be permitted - nay - encouraged in church during services so that the congregation can donate by text? It's clear we are increasingly becoming a cashless society, so at the very least, churches need to start thinking of alternatives to the traditional collecting plate.

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Banking Crisis: Symptomatic Of A Decline In Moral Values?

The banking crisis seems to roll on, with new and incriminating revelations each day. Up until a week ago, most people had never heard of "LIBOR", but we now know that many banks (not just Barclays) have been manipulating the rates they charge each other for lending money in order to boost personal bonuses and bank profits. Since the LIBOR also influences mortgage rates, ordinary people may have been disadvantaged by paying more than they needed to. All of this comes on top of the mis-selling scandals, where payment protection insurance was sold to people with no chance of claiming, and business loans that severely disadvantaged small businesses.

So, banks and bankers - once held as the bastions of trust and probity - have been found with their fingers in the till, and any trust we had in them has long since evaporated.

But I wonder if this is just symptomatic of a wider problem with society, where "self" comes before "community", and where our economy is based almost entirely on consumerism. All the more worrying in that we're consuming more than we're replacing, leaving devastated fishing grounds and barren rain forests in our wake. What sort of world will our children and grand-children inherit? Can nature self-heal the scars we are creating, or are we indeed on the road to oblivion? Are we all becoming more selfish and self-serving because we see evidence of this all around us, not least bankers and politicians (remember the expenses scandal)?

Is the Church doing enough to remind us of our responsibilities to each other and God's earth? Does religion have any role at all to play in the events unfolding with the banking crisis...or whatever the next crisis involving greed and personal reward will hit the news?

Lot's of questions here I know, but surely we all have an opinion on these issues....don't we?

What do you think? 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Redefining Marriage

There is a considerable amount of debate at present about the proposed legislation to redefine marriage, with the prospect – it seems – of a schism between Church and State if the proposed legislation becomes law.

I’m no expert on the issues being debated, and in order to aid my understanding I’ve borrowed heavily from a sermon on this topic given by Rev’d Toby Marchand back in May. From what I’ve understood so far, the re-defining of marriage is being raised in order that gay and lesbian couples might be able to marry, rather than enter in to Civil Partnerships, which is what they are allowed to do now.

The Church, in the shape of the Church of England, is against the idea, as can be seen from this official response to the consultation. The submission, sent to the Home Secretary under a short covering letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (after consideration in draft by the House of Bishops and Archbishops Council) also points out:

·       Several major elements of the Government's proposals have not been thought through properly and are not legally sound. Ministerial assurances that the freedom of the Churches and other religious organisations would be safeguarded are, though genuine, of limited value given that once the law was changed the key decisions would be for the domestic and European courts. 

·       Such a change would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history. Marriage benefits society in many ways, not only by promoting mutuality and fidelity, but also by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which includes, for many, the possibility of procreation. The law should not seek to define away the underlying, objective, distinctiveness of men and women. 

·       The Church has supported the removal of previous legal and material inequities between heterosexual and same-sex partnerships. To change the nature of marriage for everyone will deliver no obvious additional legal gains to those already now conferred by civil partnerships. 

Under the current legislation there are three options:

You may marry if you are a heterosexual who has never had, or are now free from, former official relationships. You may, if you wish, marry in church. We might label that “religious marriage”.

You may marry if you are a heterosexual who has never had, or are now free from, former official relationships, in a Registry Office. We might label that “Civil Marriage”. Whilst that is not overtly religious it is possible to follow it with a Blessing in church, though many choose not to do so.

 You may, if you are a homosexual, either male of female, enter in to a Civil Partnership which has to be registered. This has been possible since 2005.

Rev’d Toby Marchand’s sermon, which I referred to earlier, crystallises the issues as follows:

Reasons for accepting the change:

  1.  Same-sex marriage is indistinguishable from the marriage of two people unable to have children.
  2. We bless 2nd marriages of non-churchgoers, but reject faithful couples who long to bring their love and commitment before God.
  3. It is an extension of the sacrament of marriage comparable to the extension of the sacrament of Ordination to women.
  4. It is not physical gender that matters but quality of commitment, and response to the call of God.
  5. If marriage is a cornerstone of stable society the extension of it to gay couples will be a welcome extension and will have a stabilising effect on all around. It is the reinforcement of an ancient tradition.

Reasons for not accepting change:

  1. The institution of marriage is very ancient and has been the bedrock of societies world-wide in every conceivable culture
  2. The public don’t want change. 70% want to keep things as they are. 230,000 people have already signed a petition against it in only a few days.
  3. Marriage has never meant simply the right of all couples to have their relationship legally recognised. If you start unpicking a social convention so fundamental to our lives where do you stop? Why shouldn’t Muslims be allowed polygamous marriages?

I guess that everyone will have their own opinion on all of this, and no doubt there will be strident views from both sides of the equation. But personally, I support the official response from the Church of England, and wonder whether in fact the Government are confusing a “wedding” with a “marriage”.  

Civil Partnership is surely the best way of affirming same-sex relationships. It gives legal protection, can receive the blessing of the Church in the form of a “wedding” between the couple and it preserves traditional understanding of “marriage”.

I personally believe that “marriage” still has to be between a man and a woman if it is to be marriage, with the possibility (or not) of procreation. Such a huge change in definition and thinking that is being proposed will take a long time to be accepted and certainly shouldn’t be done at such a speed and with such little consultation or listening.

I’d be interested in anyone else’s views on this – not insignificant – debate.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

An Evening With Toby Marchand

The St Michael's Men’s Group arranged "An Evening With Toby Marchand' (our vicar)  on Thursday 12th April in the Charnley Hall, following the format of that well know Radio 4 programme "Desert Island Discs".  The event was a great success, attracting an audience of 35 members from the congregation. 

Toby had chosen eight recordings of music and narrative pieces interspersed by questions put to him by Mike Ashwood. The music included:
  • a Jazz piece from Belize (where he first met Madi when they were both on VSO duties there), 
  • a cello work and other classical works (Elgar’s Nimrod’, the’ Dies Irae’ from Verdi’s Requiem and ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’ from Rossini’s Petite Mess Solenelle). 
  • Amusing extracts from ‘Beyond the Fringe’ (Take a Pew) 
  • a speech by Martin Luther King 
  • a performance by the Monks at Chevetogne in Belgium near which Toby had spent many rewarding times at a nearby retreat. 

Toby spoke of his early life, his travels and his ministry at his various churches, and provided us with an insight into his plans for retirement (which included furthering his proficiency playing the cello).  

The book he chose was Dante’s Divine Comedy and his luxury item an everlasting supply of ice cream! 

After answering a few further questions from the audience we concluded with a ‘Ploughman’s Supper’. It turned out to be a very enjoyable evening which will provide many happy and interesting memories for all who attended.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bring back zero-rate VAT on alterations to listed churches

The Church Buildings Council is lobbying to bring back zero-rate VAT on alterations to listed churches and is asking people to write to their MP and to sign a petition. See:  VAT Lobby On Alterations.

The Bishop of London, Richard Cartres, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry and the Chair of the Church Building Council, Anne Sloman have all written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer explaining their dismay at the serious impact the abolition of VAT exemption on listed buildings will have on churches. They are encouraging anyone who has an interest in the heritage of churches in this country - both regular and irregular church-goers - to write to their local MP. They have drafted a letter for anyone to amend and send to their local MP and/or the Chancellor.

They have also set up an e-petition to put pressure on the Government to change their mind about the proposed imposition of VAT on alterations yo Listed Places of Worship and are encouraging all parishioners to sign this as soon as possible. The government consultation ends on 4th May - so if you support this campaign please sign before then. See: e-petition.

Other relevant links:

  1. Government's Consultation Document
  2. Budget document, Chapter 2, para 179

Saturday, March 24, 2012

How we can help in Living God's Love

Now the blog is up and running, I've been thinking about its contribution to the church and what we're trying to achieve with it. During the process of setting up the blog I was asked to consider Bishop Alan's Living God’s Love plan, launched in January 2011.  For those unfamiliar with the plan, here's a summary taken directly from the official Living God's Love website.

"Living God’s Love is an invitation to walk together on a journey, to look with fresh eyes and explore new ways of life and mission and discover new things about God, ourselves and the world.

Living God's Love is a call to journey;

  • to go deeper into God,
  • to work in partnership to transform communities and
  • to walk alongside others on their road into discipleship."

The Blog is a great tool to help in achieving all of these things. It strikes me as a truly fresh approach to discussion about God and the world around us. It could hardly fit that part of the brief better. :)

The blog is also a great chance for us to go deeper into God through our interactions with one another here on this page. By discussing the various posts together, and in trying to apply a prayerful, considerate attitude in our discussions, we can all help one another move deeper into God. I am certainly looking forward to taking part!

Likewise, we have an opportunity to work together and help address our community (and those further afield perhaps) in a whole new way. Setting the blog up has been a group effort born out of a desire to find new ways of reaching out to existing and new members of our church and beyond, spreading the Word.

As the posts start coming in it's my hope we'll attract comments from all kinds of people; members of the congregation or those who are simply curious about St. Michaels and our worship. I hope, too, that visitors' comments can steer the topics of discussion so we can best serve the community by talking about the things people feel are most relevant.

Finally, the blog is clearly a great opportunity to reach out beyond the walls of our church and make contact with the wider community, especially (given the nature of the medium!) younger people curious about the Christian faith. The blog can and should be a place where we apply our beliefs to the events happening around us and discuss them with one another.

I hope people starting out on their journey with God feel able to come here, comment on the posts and see how they can apply Christian principles to their own lives and the lives of those around them.

Please let us know how you think the blog could be used and the kinds of topics you'd like to see discussed.

Thanks for now. :)

For more information about Living God's Love and the Diocese of St Albans see:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

When to be a shining pebble...

I am picking up on the thread of Jonathan's last comment on the 'Are we doing enough to protect our freedom?' blog, because I thought it was worth a new blog thread.

Jonathan - Thanks for your thought-provoking comment and the beautiful image of the shining pebble. I suppose the key thing, as you say, is whether we are attuned to be ready to hear when we are in a situation where God is calling us to do something special or different or particular, and if we can discern what it is that we are being called to. I guess in some circumstances that may be something dramatic and life-changing or even life-threatening, as with the example of the Syrian person you refer to. And then it must be extraordinarily difficult to decide between the claims of doing something brave and principled and standing up against oppression and the claims of protecting your loved ones from harm and danger. I find that one of the hardest teachings of Jesus that I find difficult to accept is the one about how following him can involve setting family members against each other and can bring division. I guess I just hope that I am never put in a position where that happens.

But in other circumstances I think the call may be less clear and the situation less extreme, and I suppose it may be less obvious that we are being called to make some decision or to follow some course.

I am interested in what Jesus's approach was to those that followed him but who went back to their ordinary lives after their encounter with him. For example Zacchaeus the tax collector, who entertained Jesus to a meal and promised to change his ways. Did he manage to do so? Did he become one of the early Christians after Jesus's death and resurrection or did he carry on being a faithful Jew?

I suppose that what I am thinking is that most of the time our lives are ordinary and routine and somewhat unremarkable and that we are not called to make life-changing or life-threatening decisions on a daily basis (thank goodness), but we still need to find the calling of God in the everyday and humdrum, and to respond as best we can....

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Are we doing enough to protect our freedom?

<Posted on behalf of Jonathan Leadbeater>

I notice today that our courts have decided it is unlawful for a Devon council to start their meetings with a prayer. I suppose a strict interpretation of the law in our adversarial system might give that result, but I vote for freedom and variety in my life.
Sadly, yesterday another 95 people were killed in Homs and hundreds were killed in the last week.
25 were killed today in Alleppo.
In Sudan the Russians and Chinese stand accused of providing arms which have been used to oppress the population of Darfur.
Breakaway South Sudan is searching for a pipeline route so it can export its oil without crossing the Northern territory, at the same time the UN declares it is protecting civilians from attack on the North South border between the newly formed "Christian" South and the "Muslim" North.
Somalian pirates, who are linked to Al Shabab have just announced they are formally linking to Al Qaeda.
In Tibet China is suppressing the population and nuns and monks are responding with self-immolation.
All this conflict is representative of a fight for freedom in many guises, and we quietly sit down and accept the lawyers views on the right to pray?
We need to jealously guard our freedoms, the internet not being one of them, or is it?
Please feel free to discuss!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What do you think about Church Blogs?

St Michael's Church, Bishops Stortford, is considering starting a blog to explore other opportunities for engagement with members of our Parish and the broader community. We would be interested in any views from current bloggers or those who are using social networks to engage and collaborate.