The annual Meetings of the three Parishes were held in April 2016.  Here is Gary’s Annual Report to the three meetings:

APCM Report – 2016

Breamore – April 11th

Fordingbridge – April 12th

Hale & Woodgreen – April 15th

I thought I’d spend a few moments reflecting on the past year – and, as usual, it’s been a very full and interesting one.

We are extremely fortunate here to have such a varied and capable Ministry Team.  Rachel and Nicky were both priested in July, and we had wonderful First Communions for them at Fordingbridge and Hale on the following Sundays.  This year Kate has developed her ministry with the Pastoral Visiting Team: regular meetings, training, a new Coffee Morning especially for those who have been bereaved, and so on.  Mark is developing a role for education and training – we’ll hear more about that over the next few months, but he’s going to take the lead in encouraging us to take steps forward on our journey of faith, and to be aware of the opportunities for growth locally and further afield.  Ian continues his ministry, especially at Breamore, and John is a great support across the Partnership – they all give of their time freely and generously, and we would struggle without them.

As well as our regular Thursday morning Communions in the Church Office, and monthly evening meetings for planning at each other’s houses, the Ministry Team has started meeting once a term on a Friday morning, usually in the hall at Damerham, so that we have a bit of time for long-term planning and discussion.  We usually end up with lunch in the pub, and it works very well.

There have been some changes in the Church Office.  Sadly, Sarah Farr moved on to a new post at the end of the summer – she had been in the Office for a number of years, and built up a vast expertise of how things were done, as well as being a very significant presence in the Office and more widely.  We were very fortunate to recruit Gail Newell, who now shares the work with Marie Gray, appointed the previous year, and the Office is moving forward well in its new form.  We have also been providing some support for our neighbouring Parish of Hyde with Ellingham and Harbridge, with whom we are in a Group – which means we try to work together and support each other where we can.  At the moment we are providing 5 hours a week for them, principally to look after Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals, and we are looking into the possibility of a longer term arrangement, which should be beneficial to both them and us.  This will need the approval of the three PCCs if it is to go ahead.

One of the main projects of the past year has been the Partnership Mission Action Plan – the pMAP.  The pMAP Group from the three Parishes started its work last Spring, and we had the very enjoyable Vision Morning in the Hulse Hall in May, followed by endless drafts of the pMAP as it went backwards and forwards between the three PCCs, the pMAP Group, the Ministry Team, and so on – eventually being launched both in the Cathedral and in our Parishes in November.  We are now in the Action Phase – and the pMAP is discussed at each PCC each time we meet, so that we keep it in mind, and move forward with the actions we have agreed.  If you’ve not had a copy, they are available – do continue to pray for all of us, which means everyone, who has responsibility for taking the pMAP forward.

2015 was the first full year of the new Parish Share system, the Common Mission Fund, and all three Parishes were able to meet their share, which was wonderful.  Last year, as a Diocese, 98.3% of the Common Mission Fund requests were met – the best result the Diocese has ever seen.  The system is based on a number – the Worshipping Community – which we decide locally, and an Affluence Band, which is determined by national statistics.  This year will be challenging for us in all three Parishes, as we have an extra 10% to contribute, as we move towards the amount the new system says we ought to be paying.  In the autumn we had a teaching and preaching series, Joyful Giving, and that resulted in an increase in giving across the Benefice which was very welcome.  We shall return to that subject again later this year for the annual review.

2015 was also the first year of the Partnership Account, in which all three Parishes contribute to the costs of the Partnership – principally Office, Clergy expenses, Administration – and the amounts are calculated using the Worshipping Community number I just mentioned.  This has worked well, and we now have the budget set for this year.  Particular thanks to Martin Calver, Treasurer at Fordingbridge, who has set up the system for us, and has done a lot of work in keeping it all up to date.  It is a huge achievement to have got agreement for this across the three Parishes, and helps our working together enormously.

And, since the beginning of this month, we have ‘Just Text Giving’.  You can now donate to the Church via your mobile phone. Simply text a code [Breamore: SMBM11, Fordingbridge: SMFB11, H&WG: HAWG11] and up to £10 to 70070. As easy as that!  We hope it will be used by Baptism and Wedding families especially, but also visitors to the Church might decide to donate that way.

Amongst highlights of the year for me, and for Rachel, was the trip to Kinkiizi to join the Diocese for its celebrations of the centenary of Christianity in Kinkiizi.  That was a wonderful fortnight, and was followed up by visits from Bishop Dan, who was here for the priestings in July, and Revd Sam who was here at the start of this year.

Also the Holy Week Activities in schools which we did last month – about 350 children from Breamore, Fordingbridge Infant and Junior and Hale Schools either came to Church, or we went to school, and they heard the Easter Story and did activities related to that.  We had very good feedback from staff, children and parents, and it was a super group of people who helped us to make it happen.

Breamore: In Breamore, great work has been done on raising most of the money needed to repair the bells; we have remembered each of those on the War Memorial on the anniversaries of their death; we have done a lot of work with the school again, this year – individual class visits, assemblies every week, Trudi has gone in most Thursdays to hear children read, and we had a School Baptism for the first time – four children were baptised, with the whole school present, and it was a wonderful Service.  We’re proposing to do it again on June 16th – anyone, of any age, is welcome to be baptised at that Service.

A big thing for the school this year has been the Federation of Breamore and Hale Schools – which begins today.  Two separate Schools, one Church of England, one County, each with their own budget, timetable, uniform, Ofsted, etc., but with one head, and one Governing Body.  I can say more about this if you are interested, but it is a way of supporting small rural schools, and helping staff to feel more supported by having a larger group to work with.  We have increased the number of Foundation Governors from two to three on the new Governing Body, as a way of ensuring that the distinctiveness of Breamore School is not lost – I remain Ex Officio, and will be joined, as approved by Breamore PCC, by Richard Farr and Nicky Davies.

The School is a big part of the life of our Parish here, and the pMAP encourages more of us to be involved it is also great fun, as those who have been on the recent inter-generational days will agree.

In the Partnership as a whole, we have had Quiet Days, Gravetalk sessions, wonderful Christmas and Easter Services, and so much else – it’s been a wonderful year.

Fordingbridge: In Fordingbridge Parish in particular, we had the Hustings before the General Election last year, arranged by Nicky and John; another fantastic Patronal Festival – which, once again the Foresters very generously supported with a grant of £1,000; lots of activities for children and families – Refresh, a new Sunday afternoon Service, arranged by Rachel and Kate and a team; Boost, which is for primary aged children, and follows on from Puddle Ducklings – and which has been particularly successful; Families Skittles, Pancake Party, Bonfire Party – in the pouring rain; Godly Play has been refreshed, and moved into the Porch Room.  Lots of good things – but there is still more to do if we are to integrate families into the life of the Church, if we are to go out to them, if we are to continue to grow as the Christian community in this place.

The 11.00 1st Wednesday Communion and Coffee has been introduced, reviewed, and changed to 10.30, and continues to grow.  And after reflection, the Wednesday Communion in other weeks has been moved to 10.00 by popular request.

At Godshill, the Services moved, again after much discussion, to 9.00, on the 1st and 3rd Sundays, and a new Coffee Morning, with Traidcraft Stall and IT support, once every couple of months or so has been started in the Village Hall, preceded by prayers – and this has been very well attended.

Sandleheath has had a difficult time recently, after John Scrivens’ accident – he is still seriously ill in hospital, and he and his family are very much in our prayers.  The Church there continues to work with children and families, to worship on Sundays, and to run the very successful monthly 1st Tuesday Coffee Morning – lovely cakes!  At St Aldhelm’s, the leasing of the Church to the Village Hall Association has been long and tortuous, but we hope to draw that to a conclusion soon.  If all goes to plan, we will also have free access to the building, and will be able to use it for worship or other events if we wish to do so.  It’s been a very stressful business, especially for the small working group which has been looking after it, and especial thanks are due to them for all their hard work.

Hale & Woodgreen: In Hale and Woodgreen we’ve had another great Summer Holiday club, super Friday Fairtrade Coffee Mornings, very enjoyable Hale’s Angels’ Suppers at the Rectory, and lots more.  There are serious questions to ask about our finances, and the sustainability of our Church buildings, but I hope that some of those will be addressed by the pMAP.

We are very grateful to Patrick Hickman, for a legacy of £5,000, which was released last week after probate.  That is very kind of him – Sloan has said that he thinks his father would want us to ‘fritter it away’ – as if we would!  But we might want to think creatively as a PCC about how we best use the gift in Patrick’s memory.  He was always very good with young people for example, and there may be something in that area we could do.

A big thing for the Hale School this year, along with the retirement of Maria McCusker as head teacher, has been the Federation of Breamore and Hale Schools – which began on Monday.  Two separate Schools, one Church of England, one County, each with their own budget, timetable, uniform, Ofsted, etc., but with one head, and one Governing Body.  I can say more about this if you are interested, but it is a way of supporting small rural schools, and helping staff to feel more supported by having a larger group to work with.  We have increased the number of Foundation Governors from two to three on the new Governing Body, as a way of ensuring that the distinctiveness of Breamore Church School is not lost – I remain Ex Officio, and will be joined, as approved by Breamore PCC, by Richard Farr and Nicky Davies.

The School is a big part of the life of our Parish here, and it would be great more of us were able to be involved, thus strengthening the links between us and the community.

 As ever, it’s been a very demanding year in the Deanery.  We hope the vacancies at Burton & Sopley and Highcliffe will be filled in the coming months.  The Deanery Standing Committee is now functioning very well, and we are planning another Excite Deanery Celebration Event in May, at which Bishop Jonathan will speak on the Holy Spirit.  May 21st at Moorlands College at Sopley – do come.  There will be other vacancies to come, sadly – and supporting the Churchwardens and Parishes through them, and then the short-listing and interviewing, is time-consuming – but worthwhile.  And I continue to fulfil duties in the Diocese, and in particular in the Cathedrals at Winchester, and now Salisbury as well.

So, another full year, full of struggles and delights, another year in which God has been with us, and as we look forward to the year ahead, we can do that in the knowledge that God has a plan, and we have a plan – the pMAP – and we hope that our plan matches God’s plan!  And there is plenty to get on with, as we seek to be God’s people in this place, and as we continue to listen to him, to our communities, and to each other on our journey of faith.

 Canon Gary Philbrick


EASTER 2016 – Where do you stand?

Some believe he planned to overthrow Caesar. Others say he was the Messiah, sent to liberate the world from the powers of darkness.

His followers claim he came back to life after his brutal execution, and walked among them. His enemies say his body was stolen and remains hidden.

2000 years on, it’s time to reopen the case on Jesus Christ.

Click here to think about the Question: Where do you Stand?


28th February Sermon St Mary’s Fordingbridge – Christians and the Community


You may need to read the following scripture alongside this sermon (Genesis 28: 10-19a and John 1: 35-51)  Also when I say “this” at the beginning I refer to the church building!

Is Jacob responsible for all this? Would we have avoided English Heritage without him setting up the stone that had been under his head as a memorial that God was in that place? Has Jacob confined us all in these buildings and tied his stone as a mill-stone around our necks?


No, it wasn’t Jacob because he realised God was everywhere and more importantly inside all of us – we are his temple and as is everything around us and he suddenly realised that this life was the key to heaven. When he said that where he woke up was a terrifying place he meant awesome not terrible and frightening and I suspect he was somewhat panic stricken at his own lack of perception to this point.


So why have we locked him in all these places which take up so much of our cash and our time? Well before I get too much on my hobby-horse, what is the most identifiable thing that alerts people to Christendom, these amazing buildings in almost every village, town and city across the Christian world, so it’s not all bad is it.  Of course the church – the building can be an amazing thing if it isn’t just seen as a pile of old stones rooted deep in the past. What I’m going to say next is ONLY my opinion and it’s entirely ok for you to think I’m wrong, and I might be. Oh how I wish when we had the new window above the heating vent that we had looked forward to the future and not back to the past, exactly 100 years before the turn of the year we were actually celebrating in 2000. In 500 years we will give the impression we were Victorians, not Elizabethans. And to my mind that’s our problem – we treat these places as shrines to the past and the net result has been English Heritage and their rules. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a historian, I like old buildings but for me, history is about the evolution of our society and everything changes, it doesn’t sit in aspic and neither should this place and others like it.


Our other reading sees Jesus meeting some of his new chums one of whom is taking shelter under a fig tree. This morning we also came across a fig tree in a parable Jesus told which I’m sure you know but as a reminder goes like this – A man owned a vineyard and in the vineyard was also a fig tree but at three years old it had yet to fruit. The owner thought it was a waste of space but the gardener suggested it could have just one more chance. He would dig around it to loosen the soil and then he would put some nutrient around it to see if that would encourage it to grow and he told the owner that if next year it hadn’t grown then the owner could, if he wished, remove it. Now the point was that the gardener knew the fig tree was likely to fruit in its fourth year because it usually takes 4 years for most varieties to fruit so would it have fruited anyway, was the gardener simply helping the owner to have some faith rather than just nurturing the tree? Well we assume that had the story continued, the tree would have produced figs for the following year and many to come. Nathaniel was sheltering under a fig tree when he met Jesus and Jesus told him that meeting him was far from spectacular and that he would see angels going up and down in heaven, making truth of Jacob’s dream.


The fig tree took time to grow and then it produced fruit. It started out as a small sapling and over time it grew and the one Nathaniel sheltered beneath had grown tall enough to protect him from the sun and I guess produced a good crop year on year. That tree changed over time and the more it changed the more bountiful it became. In my view – and again you are free to disagree, this is our fig tree. It isn’t as spectacular as what we will see in heaven but it is capable of growing and producing new fruit year on year, but only if we accept that its shape will change, that at times it may need a prune to cut out disease and to re-invigorate it for the future. From time to time its old fruit will drop off and be replaced with new fruit. It will change but it will still be the same tree but it won’t look like it did the day it was planted. And if it does change then it can be the gateway to heaven not just for the 20 or so here this evening but to many, many more for God is here and God is here (inside us). We too change, we too must move forward. Sometimes that’s a pain until we learn to cope with the change, but now I can watch a programme I would have missed 30 years ago just by pressing a few buttons on my TV, watching it whenever it suits me. I can also watch it on the train on my I-pad and even on my phone, and I can use my phone as a wallet on the underground and as a watch, an alarm clock, a means of seeing my grandchildren 200 miles away and talking to them as well. If all this changes then why not the very place of God who has created everything including my Samsung Galaxy mini and my Ipad. Nathaniel was amazed and Jesus told him that was nothing compared to what was to come.


And as I said to the congregation in Breamore this morning with my tin hat on and my Kevlar vest hiding behind a state of the art riot shield, unless we take this church (us) outside this church (the building) once the current crop of figs has fallen off, we won’t see a new crop. There has just been another doom and gloom report about our falling numbers, but they ignore all those people at Puddle Ducks on a Thursday and those who come after school to Boost and those who come to Lent Lunches when they don’t usually come to church, but of course if we go out there with this church (us) and are willing to be opened up we can meet so many more. This morning’s first lesson was about God telling Israel that as his chosen they had to invite others in, and to do that they had to ask those people, and they had to go to where those people were to ask them along. This of course (building) makes it more difficult because we can’t see them and they can’t see us, so maybe we should say “to hell with English Heritage” we will have a nice glass window all along this wall so we can see out and others can see in”, but better still we can go out there. I did a project some years ago for a course I went on and I called the project “the step of terror” – it’s this step here, it’s the one where many of us leave our courage behind (not everyone) and where others can’t find enough courage to come in here and pass over it. Peter Murphy drew me a cartoon of it which I still have.


So go plant your rock in the pub, in the co-op, where you work, where you play, where you meet others, and then dig it up and take it somewhere else. It might get chipped, it might have a few edges knocked off, but so what, for it is not a memorial as Jacob’s was but a living thing that can bring others to God. And pray God we have the courage to do with this place what God needs us to do with it, to use it to his glory rather than to look after it as if we’d never been here. Amen



Christians and the Community. Sermon 28th February, St Mary’s, Breamore

Today we are being asked to consider the relationship between Christians and the Community.

Socrates apparently once said: “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing”. Donald Rumsfeld, one time American Secretary of State for Defence took this a stage further and said:

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”


I might go further and say the latter are impossible because we will never know what we don’t know.

If we look at the Isaiah passage God is explaining to people that they don’t know what they don’t know – “Why spend your wages and still be hungry” he says, the implication being, it’s not because you haven’t enough money to feed yourself, it’s that what you feed yourself on will never satisfy you however much you have of it, and also as a result you will never know what you are missing – you don’t know what you don’t know. You may be perfectly content in your ignorance but you will be missing out.


In case you think I sound like Sir Humphrey Appleby in “Yes Minister”, I will try to make more sense from now on! What is it they say about the British and the Americans – two great nations separated by one language?


But back to Isaiah, God says “come to me and I will really show you life, I will bless you.” But here’s the rub – he then says “Now you will summon foreign nations; and in our terminology in 2016 – you will summon those in your community who do not know me, God. He goes on to say that if you invite them they will come running.


So my question is – where are they, I don’t see them do you? So what conclusion might we draw – well one could be that we haven’t asked them? Have you asked them? God is quite clear, if Isaiah has heard properly, as he says next “I will make this happen”.


So let’s fast forward to Jesus and the parable of the unfruitful fig tree. My rudimentary knowledge of genus Ficas suggests to me that most figs do not fruit for at least four years. So the first thing to note is that the man who owned the vineyard was ignorant of the fruiting pattern of fig trees because his had only been in the ground for three years, so it was unlikely it would already have fruited. The gardener does have more knowledge though, I wonder who the gardener is, and he clearly has knowledge, could he be God? And what is the fig tree, is it the church? Does he already know the fig will in all likelihood fruit next year anyway, or does he do something to give the owner something tangible to hold on to, to help the owner believe? He says, “I tell you what I’ll do, I’ll feed the little tree with some goodness but before that I will loosen the soil around it a little and that will help the goodness to get in. But, if it doesn’t fruit next year then you can have it removed if you want to.”


So is that why we aren’t all squashed in here like sardines? Is the time about to come and we should be patient? If you read the research around current church attendance that seems unlikely as we are told that attendance continues to drop. But wait a minute – how are we being counted – on a Sunday, but many churches who are forward thinking meet at many times apart from Sunday. You only have to drive four miles down the road to Fordingbridge several times a month and you will find both toddlers and their parents and infant and primary school children and their parents doing church, but they aren’t in the numbers.


In Fordingbridge the people have dug around their fig tree – the church, and opened it up to some new goodness – that goodness happens outside the church, in the hall as well as inside the church and it happens on different days to Sunday. The people have opened up the church to new possibilities because they have moved away from just Sunday and the church is now fruiting. Fordingbridge is a very small example – there are many churches across this land that have moved away from their central stem – the church building and are flourishing because they as they have moved further out they have met the people who don’t know what they don’t know.


Bishop Tim has set us all on a journey and I get a sneaking feeling he did know what we didn’t know. Maybe until last year you didn’t feel very involved but now you have your sections of the pMAP to focus on. The point is this – if all you continue to do is to come here on a Sunday it won’t be long before no-one is here because these beautiful walls not only keep us in but they avoid us reaching out and no-one out there can see in. I notice that part of your plan is to make a bigger link with the school – not just Ian, or Gary, Rachel, John, Nicky and occasionally me when I take an assembly but each and every one of you. You now have the opportunity to dig wider round this building as far as the school and maybe the Bat & Ball and let some goodness in. The people might think it is a bit smelly to begin with but in time new growth will sprout and the main stem will grow, but not before, to go back to Isaiah, we have welcomed in the foreign nations by going out to see them. I shall look with interest at what you do in the coming months.


Of course the big question is – are you up to be that smelly manure, not very welcome at the beginning but in time turning what is barren into something that flourishes and pours forth fruit? Community exists all around us, we can offer much to it but we have to let it know what we have to offer,, we have to welcome it by giving it some extra encouragement and we can’t do that by trying to do it from in here. We have to let it know what it doesn’t know. Maybe you now think I have created a stink that you would rather not have – well if so you can throw me out.


And I’m going to finish now where I’ve potentially been the whole time – in a controversial place. By being in community within this partnership will make the journey into community easier. The vineyard in the parable has vines in it and at least one fig, they exist close by to each other, sharing the same soil – do the three parishes in our patch of ground exist as different things that live in the same place but do not entwine or do we travel between churches, support each other, see ourselves as one united patch of fruitful ground or do we say “I’m a grapevine, or I’m a fig and we don’t need to have anything to do with each other?” If I’m honest, and I might as well be as I am probably deep in the manure already – I think we remain, after what 10 years – separated. I’m not saying we should all be grapes or figs because there is room in God’s acre for all, but the point is we share that acre for the mutual benefit of all:


“For the body itself is not made up of one part, but of many parts. If the foot were to say, because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body, that would not keep it from being a part of the body…God put every part in the body just as he wanted it to be. There would not be a body if it were all only one part. As it is there are many parts but one body…so then the eye cannot say to the hand  – I don’t need you…if one part suffers all the other parts suffer with it, if one part is praised all the other parts share its happiness.”

So says St Paul to those not just in Corinth but to us in Hale, Woodgreen, Godshill, Breamore, Sandleheath and Fordingbridge.


If we are community, we can be community, not just as Christians but right through the community in which we live. Amen.

Mark Ward




Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge on the Second Sunday in Lent. 2016.

Christianity and Politics don’t mix! How many times have we heard this? The Church is like the Tory Party at prayer, I have heard said! The theme of this morning’s sermon is clearly a contentious one. If you have brick bats please may I have them at the end of the service where I will be happy to take them one by one.

I wonder have you ever considered the history which led to your presence here this morning. I want to briefly highlight two. The first regards the Roman Emperor Constantine who in the 4th century effectively rescued the Christian Church from the clutches of persecution and secrecy. Up to this point the church had been the church of the poor and marginalised and had met in the Catacombs. Here was the action of a powerful political leader who promoted Christians to high office, built churches and basilicas and offered reduced taxes to the clergy-brought Christianity out into the open. He instigated the Edict of Milan which led in its turn to the Council of Nicea from whence we receive the Nicene Creed.

The second person of huge political influence was Henry 8th. In an attempt to continue an unbridled life of chasing women he severed links with the Pope and the Catholic Church and created in effect the current Church of England whilst claiming to be its spiritual head. Church becomes wedded to state with all the status and power this brings. I guess we see this clearly as our senior bishops take their places in House of Lords.

Christianity and Politics is a heady mix and a complex relationship. Let’s start with the Bible. In the Old Testament we have a special kind of history we call salvation history; we have stories of how kings, judges, national leaders and prophets encountered their God in the development of the nation of Israel. We hear how the prophets especially stood up for social justice and moral judgements and the lives of the poor, oppressed and marginalised were championed against the might of powerful kings and aggressors.

Moses champions his people in the face of the Egyptian oppressors. We hear Moses and Aaron withdrawing their labour in making bricks for the Egyptians,

“But the King of Egypt said to them, ‘Moses and Aaron why are taking the people away from their work?’

In other words Moses and Aaron called a strike in refusing to make bricks for the Egyptians.

“Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbours work for nothing, and does not give them their wages.” (Jeremiah 22:13).

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4).

The constant theme of the prophets is of God who looks favourably upon the weak and the powerless and desires peace, in the face of those who would use their power over others. Following the example of the prophets Jesus of Nazareth engages with the powerless of his day, women, gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes and the poor-all of whom, in the political and social environment of first century Palestine, were fully paid up members of the ‘marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed’. Jesus was quick to point out the hypocrisy of those who thought and acted as religious and political elites of his time. In his lament over Jerusalem which we heard read this morning, Jesus reminds the Jews of the role of the prophets, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones who are sent to it!”

What should be the response of the disciple of Jesus in today’s world to the complex and far reaching political issues of our day? There is no one right answer. Each must weigh up the issues involved alongside their revealed faith. Let us briefly look at some principles arising from the gospel.

First. What do we make of economic self-interest?; the Protestant work ethic?; the accumulation of private wealth? We have the troubling parable of the camel passing through the eye of a needle and we have the parable of those who work to produce a harvest in the vineyard and their reward-both speaking for a balance between the rights of capital and labour based on mutual respect and legal protection. How is this working out in the UK today? Is the ‘minimum wage’ fair? Is it possible to live on the ‘living wage’? What is the responsibility of a Christian employer? If the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, do we remain passive bystanders or do we make our views known to government? Are the banks and the great multinational companies exercising their power fairly? Anyone who imposes power then has to maintain their position with more imposed power.

Second. We are daily bombarded by images of war on our TV screens. What is the Christian view of violence carried out by the state against other nations? All human life is sacred. When is it or is it ever just to meet out violence against another? I think a reading of the gospels would indicate Jesus as a man on non-violence. The power Jesus talks and lives is a power which is patient and transforms lives from the inside. The problem with a nation imposing their will on another nation by coercion, punishment, threat, money or any other external force is that it leaves a legacy for another generation to clear up. It is certainly efficient and often quick.

Third. How Christian is nationalism? This issue was highlighted this week in the mild spat between Donald Trump and the Pope. The Pope pointed out he thought Donald Trump could not be espousing Christian principles if he wants to build a wall between Mexico and the rest of the US. The mission of Jesus certainly was totally inclusive of all races and peoples, and sought to pull down barriers which divided people from one another. Those who would support the UK’s removal from Europe certainly seem keen on pulling up the drawbridge on arrivals from Europe unless you are rich. Probably there is no doubt that the UK does need a new deal with its membership with Europe, but not at the expense of us becoming an imperial island seeking to assert its dominance over other less well off than our nation.

These are but a few complex questions. I believe it is our responsibility as Christian individuals and as a Church to pray about, reflect, debate and participate in political action which supports the powerless and weak, promotes the peace and well being of all humanity, and seeks to establish Kingdom values seen in the face of the person of Jesus Christ.

John Towler

Assistant Priest