Thursday, 8 October 2015

Conscience: Taxes for Peace not War

'Why pay for war ... when you can pay for peace instead?'
Silent protestors outside the Friends Meeting House
I met Holly Wallis, who told me, ‘We are campaigning for a change in the law, so that people with a conscientious objection to war can have the part of their income tax currently spent on military activity – about 6% - spent on peacebuilding and conflict prevention instead.’
'2016 is a big year for Conscience, as we are introducing a bill into parliament on the centenary of the Military Service Act of 1916. This act saw the first limited right of conscientious objection to military service. We are introducing our Bill on the foundation that the rights of conscientious objectors are not yet fully recognised.’
In my research for the WW1 Exhibition at Englesea Brook Museum, I have discovered the stories of many Methodists who were Conscientious Objectors. Their courage to stand up for what they believed, even when it led to persecution and imprisonment, is a real inspiration. Holly told me, ‘I myself am a Quaker, and understand the daily need to bear witness to my faith by not being complicit in war. This was the driving force behind getting involved in this campaign myself and actively challenging the system that forces me to pay for others to kill on my behalf, in my name.’
How can we offer support?
  • Distribute WW1 application for exemption forms.  These are replicas of the WW1 form which conscientious objectors had to fill out to apply for exemption to military service, in the context of the 2016 Act. The idea is to get people to fill in the forms, saying why they would not pay for deliberate killing if they had the option, thus replicating the 1916 ‘statement of conscience’ that men had to deliver at tribunals to prove themselves genuine conscientious objectors.  The forms will be used in support of the 2016 Taxes for Peace Bill.
  • Invite somebody from Conscience to give a talk at your conference or church.
  • Find out more at (You can read Holly's account of our meeting at the Labour Party Conference.)
Methodist Church and Conscientious Objection

At Conference this year, we adopted the following notice of motion.

Christians have long grappled with questions of war, peace and what their faith has to say on each.
2016 marks 100 years since conscription was introduced in the United Kingdom, and with it 100 years since the right to Conscientious Objection was enshrined in law.

That the anniversary provides an opportunity to give thanks for the Christian men and women, including many Methodists, throughout the ages who have been challenged by faith to speak out against war, instead seeking to create a culture of peace.
The Conference directs the Methodist Council to engage the support of relevant connexional staff and work with Christian Peace Organisations to hold a web-streamed act of worship in February 2016 to mark 100 years since the right to conscientious objection was enshrined in law.

Perhaps there are some links to be made?

'It is expensive to be poor', says Trussell Trust

Chris Mould, the Chair of the Trussell Trust gave an inspirational talk at a prayer breakfast hosted by the Conservative Christian Fellowship, during the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.
He began with a challenge from Scripture.
  • You know what you are supposed to do: ‘love kindness, do justice’ (Micah 6.8)
  • ‘Defend the cause of the poor and needy’ (Jeremiah 22.16)
That is what it means to know God.
The Trussell Trust started in Salisbury 15 years ago and has about 1,500 food banks today, run by 40,000 volunteers. In 2014-15 they provided emergency food for over 1 million people. Two thirds of these only needed short-term intervention – these are not ‘scroungers’ they are people determined to get back on their feet.

90% of food banks are doing more than providing food e.g. ‘Kettle boxes’. Especially in winter, people are not able to afford gas/electric so need food they can prepare quickly.
Alan Sugar said, ‘Poverty doesn’t exist’. That is sad because people listen to him. Petty minded nastiness in some of the tabloid newspapers gives an incorrect picture which is the opposite of love, despising of them.  People are being infected by stuff that is not expressing the heart of God.

What would God like our society to look like?
The Lord would like us all to have enough to live and enough to give.

Enough to buy our own child an ice cream, and buy a friend’s child an ice cream.

What can we do?
It is the little things, kind actions and words. We need to move the discourse on to something that looks like loving your neighbour.

Call to action - find your local Trussell Trust foodbank by putting in your postcode on their website.

Speak to your local manager to hear real stories, because sharing these stories is important. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

PM made me a PM

In this season of political party conferences, it was a real treat to be at Englesea Brook Chapel & Museum for Mel Johnson's fascinating talk about why so many of the first working class MPs were Primitive Methodists.
Between 1874 and 1932, no less than 43 MPs had connections with the Primitive Methodist Church.
  • At least 77% were local preachers
  • 73% worked as union officials
  • 57% were coal miners or had worked in collieries
  • Just over a third were from the North East
I was very interested to discover that, although still unable to vote, let alone become MPs, women saw politics as an essential part of their Christian discipleship:    
Every social and political question is, in the deep sense, religious, and should be so regarded by those who take their politics seriously, and who will allow no divorce between religion and politics.’ ('Women’s World’, Primitive Methodist Leader, 4 June 1914) 
Of the 27 Primitive Methodist MPs elected between 1918 and 1932, there were:
  • 18 Labour
  • 8 Liberal
  • 1 Conservative
It is a sobering thought that in 2015, we have only one Methodist MP. 
More encouraging is that in 2015, there will be a workshop on ‘Why get involved in politics?’ at 3 Generate, requested by young people.
I am looking forward to the next Methodist MPs!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Opening Celebrations for Broomhall and Sound Community Church

Followers of Wesley first met here, in Cheshire, in 1811.  The first society met in cottages, and preached in the open air, until in 1838 they built a chapel. 
On Saturday 3 October we celebrated a 21st century venture of faith. Members have worked with the local community to create a wonderful new space. 
The charm of the chapel has been maintained, but now it opens out into two new community rooms, a kitchen and toilets, all beautifully designed, so that they flow around the building. 
The modern arched windows mirror their 19th century counterparts and draw light into the multi-purpose space. 
A time capsule was inserted into the building by children from the local school, and bricked up during the opening ceremony. The builder is a star!
Congratulations to the superintendent minister Malcolm Lorimer, and the people of God in this place, for their vision and desire to meet the needs of their community, and share the love of God with their neighbours.  

Monday, 5 October 2015

Labour calls for Churches to Speak Out!

It is a great privilege for Steve and me to go to the Party Political Conferences, as part of an ecumenical group of church leaders, with colleagues from the Baptists URC, Salvation Army, and Friends.  Steve went to the Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth, and I am going for balance with Labour and the Conservatives!  This year it was decided we should also go to the SNP Conference – which is a first! Rachel Lampard, VP Designate, will be our representative.

Tuesday was a very busy day of timed meetings with MPs in the foyer of the Grand Hotel, Brighton, next door to the Conference venue, with lots of tea!  They were all very generous in giving us their time.
We met with Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, Cat Smith MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, Kate Green MP for Stretford and Urmston, Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford and Isleworth, Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Central, and Viendra Sharma, MP for Ealing Southall.

Need to tell our stories

I was surprised, and encouraged, that a key message that came out of our conversations was that the Labour party wants to engage with faith groups because they are a force for change. MPs said that the Churches are one of the few agencies that can speak out, and because they are involved with communities, they have individual stories to tell. That is what MPs need.  Even if an MP is passionate about an issue, they need to be able to illustrate it with case studies and examples. Then they can find other MPs who are interested, so they can force a debate.

Kate Green said, ‘we have got the policies – plenty of them – what we need is case studies of the context – e.g. stories of what the gender pay gap means for a real person.’
Views on Jeremy Corbyn as Leader

It was also interesting to hear their views on Jeremy Corbyn, especially as some said openly that he was not their first choice as leader. All were enthusiastic that he is making space for discussion and debate, and they felt a freedom for MPs to say what they really think.

Sunday Trading

An issue they felt strongly about was mobilizing opposition to the extension of Sunday Trading. The reasons they gave were
  • Grinding down shop workers
  • Taking time for children and families to be together - Cat Smith’s family are shop  workers and she told us that 5.00 on Sunday was the only time in the week her family were able to have a meal together.
  • Shift in culture and commercialization of values – ‘shopping’ is the only thing to do.
  • Which day isn’t important, but people need ‘down time’ to spend together
Climate Change

The Pope’s encyclical on climate change is really good and we need to publicise it.

They have great confidence in John Healey as Housing Minister. It is clear that there will be fierce opposition to the right to buy for Housing Association tenants.
Women and Equalities Our own (and only!) Methodist MP, Cat Smith, is the new Shadow Women and Equalities Minister. At the age of 30, she is passionate about Methodism and its contribution to the Labour movement, and I predict a bright future ahead!

Cat is concerned about equal pay, and the disproportionate impact of the loss of tax credits on women. She raised issues affecting young women, such as sexual harassment and body image as a result of social media. ‘It is what young women do to make a difference that matters, not what they look like.’
She wants to encourage more young women to get involved in politics.  I told her about 3 Generate, and said she would be a role model for young Methodists. She is very keen to do all she can – so come on – we need to invite her for next year!

What can the Methodist Church Do?
I was thrilled by the sense that the Labour Party really wants to work with the Churches, recognizing that we are ‘community activists’.

‘Telling our stories’ is one thing that we can and must do. These MPs have asked us to share individual case studies, that reveal the impact of policies on real people. Ruth Cadbury stressed, ‘these human stories need to come from the churches’.
We can only change attitudes by speaking out!

Christians on the Left: Remembering the Persecuted Church

As members of the Church Leaders group, we were invited to a breakfast meeting hosted by Christians on the Left, in the amazing Fishermen’s Chapel, at St Paul’s Church, Brighton.
‘How long can we Stay Silent?’ was the theme, remembering the persecuted Church.
Zoe, from Open Doors, gave us a moving insight into how the current refugee crisis is affecting Christians in Syria and Iraq. Many pastors, who have got approved visas to emigrate, have chosen to stay ‘to care for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave.’  Many are trapped inside Syria, too poor or infirm to escape.

For those who remain, life has just ‘stopped’. No jobs, no schools for their children, no way to start rebuilding their future. Christians are desperately trying to stay and be a light in the darkness.

They are desperate for support from us for a ceasefire and a peace process which recognizes ethnic and religious diversity.

Stephen Timms MP had just returned from New York, and a meeting of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief. They are pushing for the reality of Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights to be delivered in practice. Increasingly flagrant breaches by countries like Iran and Vietnam, need to be addressed by the UN.
I was surprised to learn that 80% of those persecuted for their faith are Christians.

It is easy to feel comfortable and complacent in the UK, but I felt really moved to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing persecution and discrimination for loving Jesus.
There have been reports of ‘Damascus Road’ experiences – quite literally, when just as Paul did, some persecutors have found Christ. We were asked to pray for more ‘Damascus Road’ experiences.

(I am now on my way to the Conservative Party Conference!)

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

An inspirational speech

I have just returned from the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, where I had the privilege of sharing in the buzzing atmosphere, speaking to MPs and watching Jeremy Corbyn deliver his speech – not in the hall – but on a screen in the packed bar next door!

His call for a ‘kinder politics’, one based on values, listening to each other and honest debate, gave me a sense of hope that, whatever the future brings, we might be seeing a seismic shift in the way we engage with each other, and our whole political system might be changed for the better.
As someone who loves words, I was particularly struck by his use of quotes from three inspirational figures:

Maya Angelou, American civil rights activist, ‘You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.’

Ben Okri, Nigerian novelist, ‘The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love [and to be greater than our suffering.]’
Keir Hardie, first Labour party leader, ‘My work has consisted of trying to stir up a divine discontent with wrong.’
Now there’s a call to Mission!