Category Archives: Opinion & Comment

The Light

A reflection for Holy Week

Light flickering,
batteries exhausted
candle guttering
bulb dying.

Light, limiting our horizons,
reducing our world
creating the terror of the dark,
closing in around us.

Light, missing, losing the path, hiding the way.
Light falling away quickly
Watching the lights disappear,
leaving behind an emptiness
a hole where they once were
and the darkness encroaching
drawing closer and stronger.

Lights, burnt into our retina, leaving the impossible shadows
that continue to appear in our vision, long after they’ve gone.
Longed for light, that can resolve the phantoms of the darkness
into reality.

Darkness that came with the extinguishing of the light.
Blackening the world, and leaving only the memory of the light
and hope.

Hope that the light will return
hope that the dawn will transform the landscape
lighting the path, banishing darkness
and resolving the shapes that terrify.
Hope – but for now, darkness.
The light is going, has gone.
But still, we hope.

The Voice

A reflection for Holy Week

Thunder, distant in the air, warning of storms.
Thunder, drawing closer, counting the gap after the flash.
Thunder, cracking overhead in time with the lightning.
A voice, calling out in the air,
with distant rumble that carries power and menace
and speaks of untold and unknown strengths
that terrify and frighten.

Glad that the distant thunder is not immediate.
Sound that we hear but never fully comprehend.
The voice of God, speaking to the world that he created,
speaking of power, strength, unknown and untold in its majesty.
A voice, thundering, speaking truth,
drowning out the clamour and squabble of
differing opinions and voices here,
shouting to have their opinions heard,
their moment in the feeble glow of our attention.

God’s voice thunders, flashes across the world
speaking of his power, his calling of Jesus.
‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’
The voice that speaks of our place in this world,
of our own insignificance
and the futile attempt to match our power with God’s.
Thunder, calling to us across the world
speaking of the power of creation
and of the Creator.

A Grain of Wheat

A reflection for Holy Week.

A single grain of wheat. Something tiny and insignificant.
Is this how Jesus saw himself?
We see a giant striding across history,
founding a movement that changed humanity forever.
But a seed, something so tiny?
Something that only has worth when part of a huge flood of them?
Something that achieves almost nothing?

Almost.

It’s easy to forget, sometimes, how obscure Jesus really was.
A backwater teacher in a backwater country.
Never travelling, never visiting Athens or Rome or Alexandria.
Never having an audience with the Emperor.
Refusing titles, honours, dignity.
The only people lower than him
were the ones he kept table with.

Almost.

Jesus almost becomes a warrior king.
Jesus almost founds a huge church.
Jesus almost has crowds doing everything he asks.
Instead, he denounces violence.
He drives followers away by the impossibility of his demands.
He hides from the crowds.

Almost.

A single grain of wheat, cast upon the ground, swallowed up by the dirt.
A grain of wheat, seemingly like thousands or millions just the same.
A death, an execution, like thousands carried out by the Romans
time and time again.
A death, almost forgotten,
an obscure footnote in history, if that.

Almost.

An Inclusive Church?

A personal opinion by Jeremy Fagan.

What does it mean for the church to take seriously the command of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations? Or to respond to St. Paul writing to one of his churches that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female?

On the face of it, this is an easy question – surely it’s about welcoming everyone no matter who they are? The church should be for everyone, regardless of who they are.

But this answer hasn’t always come easily to the church through history. There have been times when the church has supported the institution of slavery, or when churches in parts of the world have held segregated services – only white people welcome here. At other times, the church has seemed to be on the side of the wealthy, taking their side against the poor. In England, many churches would have pew rents – the wealthy hired the most comfortable seats in church, boxed off from the poor people standing at the back, and with their own fireplaces and heaters to keep the comfortable.

These battles have largely been fought and won. We would now not want the church to be a place of racial discrimination, or one where anyone is treated differently because of either their class or their income.

But the church continues to debate how far it is possible to include two groups of people in its leadership. The first, accepted by the majority of the church, is women. Women priests were first ordained in the Church of England in 1994, but it has still not (quite!) got to the point of ordaining women bishops – although there are women bishops in other parts of the world. The debate is no longer about whether women should be ordained, but what provision to make for those members of the church who find that they are unable to accept women’s ministry.

The second group is people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. This has been a much more contentious issue over the last ten years, with large parts of the church welcoming the ministry of gay clergy and bishops, and large parts of the church vociferously opposing it.

On this issue, Jesus in the gospels is silent. St. Paul mentions it once or twice, and there are one or two mentions in the Old Testament. But in general, it does not seem to have been an issue in ancient times. Where it is mentioned, we are unsure if what is references is homosexuality as we understand it, or the practices of the Greek temples of their day, often abusive towards young boys and girls. I do not believe that what St. Paul condemns is lifelong loving relationships between two adults of the same sex, but instead the kind of destructive sexual behaviour that is destructive whether it is homosexual or heterosexual.

Instead, what I read in the gospels is a Jesus who condemns the religious of his day for excluding people, who welcomes people from across society, and who seems to regard rules that damage human life as unnecessary. Marriage is seen as a lifelong commitment, and is often (but not always!) the picture throughout the bible as a picture of heaven – a loving, life-giving life-long relationship. (St. Paul on the other hand regards celibacy as the higher calling.)

So for me, the church is called to be a place that includes and welcomes people of all sexualities and genders, that affirms their calling from God and vocation to serve their church. This will, I hope and pray, eventually extend to the church being a place where lesbian and gay couples are able to be married in the sight of God as well as in the sight of the state, and the lesbian and gay clergy and bishops that already serve in the Church of England are able to be fully open and honest.

Bishop James has recently expressed his own position on this, that he feels that it should be an issue over which Christians are fully able to disagree, and yet to remain within the same church, worshipping God alongside each other.

More information is available from Inclusive Church.

General Election Debate

From left to right: Liam Fogarty (Chairman), Flo Clucas (Lib Dem), David Dunne (Conservative), George Howarth (Labour), Anthony Rundle (UKIP).

St Chad’s played host to an election debate on Friday 30th April in which four prospective parliamentary candidates subjected themselves to questions from the public.

The evening was supported by the Kirkby churches of all denominations and was a great way for residents to listen and decide about which way to vote.

It was a brave decision by the candidates to enter into this sort of debate and all four did so wholeheartedly.  The debate helped bring democracy alive in the town.  It is not the churches’ place to tell people which way to vote, but all of us want to encourage residents to weigh up their options and to cast a vote.

Liam Fogarty has good experience of how to hold the ring in political cut and thrust from his time with the BBC and he did so expertly here.  Debate was lively both on the platform and from the floor.  It could have descended into a shouting match but never did.  Despite one or two technical difficulties for which St Chad’s apologises, the evening went as hoped and is a model for future elections, local and national.

There are five candidates standing in Knowsley.  National church advice is that it would be in contradiction to our charitable objects as a church to provide a platform for the British National Party and it was for this reason that only four candidates were invited to take part in this event. Click here for links to that advice (pdf file, opens in a new window).

About 120 residents attended to hear the candidates speak.
Liam Fogarty
Chairman Liam Fogarty.

……………….ENDS………………

Destination Kirkby Rejected

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Parochial Church Council.

Kirkby Valley HIlls in full flower
Kirkby Valley HIlls in full flower

The right decision

The announcement yesterday by the Secretary of State finally over-turning planning permission given by Knowsley Borough Council for a monster sized shopping development and football stadium puts an end to three years of worry for Kirkby residents. Those living near to the site in particular have had their homes blighted, felt trapped, concerned about the loss of peace and quiet in their own houses, increased anti-social behaviour nearby, community safety, health, car-parking, litter, traffic, loss of amenity. After all, a football stadium with capacity greater than the population of the town and a supermarket requiring eight times the number of shoppers each week than the 40,000 who currently live in Kirkby was going to have a big impact.

But the rejection of these plans has not been met by the popping of champagne corks. Those of us who have opposed the development know the town needs regeneration. We remain frustrated that three years have now been wasted on a plan that lacked common sense and community backing.

The Secretary of State has not rejected these proposals just because opponents shouted loudly. If he was to go with those who shouted most loudly he would surely have sided with Everton FC, Tesco and KMBC. The Secretary of State has rejected those proposals because the harm the development would bring was likely to be greater than the benefit:

“the proposal would be likely to have a harmful effect on the vitality and viability of Kirkby, Bootle, Skelmersdale and St Helens. Other factors weighing against the proposal include that the physical regeneration of the old town centre is uncertain, and the stadium would result in harmful impact on many of the town’s residents.” (Paragraph 28 of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government letter, 26th November 2009.)

Impact

The proponents of this development originally claimed that it would bring 2,200 jobs to Kirkby. In the last couple of days they have been saying in the press that 7,000 jobs have been lost. I am not too sure why their original figure has now been multiplied by three. In fact, in the planning inquiry under cross-examination, the developers’ consultants admitted that the net gain in full-time-equivalent jobs for Kirkby would be 132 if all went well. This is partly because other existing jobs would be displaced by the new development. This helps us understand the balancing act that the Secretary of State needed to manage: benefit against disbenefits. Nobody is saying that 132 is not a benefit, but 7,000 jobs is simply not the truth. And 132 jobs need to be weighed against the harm. I have said in other places that these plans were about degeneration, not regeneration.

The artist's impression Destination Kirkby developers didn't want you to see (courtesy of KEIOC)
The artist's impression Destination Kirkby developers didn't want you to see (courtesy of KEIOC). The stadium is in the background but you can still see it sitting on top of a wall as high as neighbouring houses. Imagine if the stadium was in the foreground of the picture.

One of the big impacts of this development that was made clear to those of us who sat through the Public Inquiry but that little has been said of in the press is the sheer mass of the stadium. The Valley Hills were going to be levelled to the height of the land behind and up to a concrete wall running along Valley Road. At its highest point this wall would be thirty-two feet high with a three-foot fence on top of that. The stadium’s secure car park would be on top of that. The playing surface was to be above that level and the stands above that. If you can imagine even a thirty-five foot wall and fence along valley road, let alone a huge stadium on top it you will get a picture of how this development would have changed the face of the town. Then remember that some houses in the Grange Estate would have been dwarfed underneath the eaves of this.

Of course, there are other residents who have been settled in their houses behind Cherryfield Drive who were going to have their homes taken off them under a Compulsory Purchase Order. This development took little account of the pride and aspirations of Kirkby residents for their town.

For these reasons I have stood alongside others to make a clear and cogent case for the Government to consider. I am proud of friends and colleagues who have given such a good demonstration of local people’s insights and abilities and have proven the foolishness of what big business was planning to do here.

But the work has not finished. It may only just have begun. Now we need to convince local government officers and members to work with Kirkby residents and plan for regeneration that brings only benefits to the town and no harm.

Revd Dr Tim Stratford (Team Rector of Kirkby).