Christian Today Digest - Summer 2012

To be removed from future email editions of this publication please reply and put UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line.

From:-
TORCH TRUST, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, U.K.
Telephone: +44(0)1858 438260, Fax: +44(0)1858 438275, email: info@torchtrust.org
The Torch Trust for the Blind, registered charity number 1095904.

Contents

Welcome!

Have you ever wanted a book that would inform and inspire your church on the subject of disability? Well, here it is! Enabling Church, a creative new church resource giving a biblical perspective on disability.

Gordon Temple, Torch Chief Executive, said that the book was about disabled people "not just being cared for but becoming contributing members of the Church."

The flexible material in the book is presented in seven sessions ideal for small groups, with Bible study discussion questions, activities, prayer and worship suggestions, and real-life interviews with disabled people.

Enabling Church is simultaneously published as a standard 112-page paperback and in braille, large print and audio editions. All editions are £7.99 and available from Torch Trust. (Postage is free for the accessible editions, or £1 for the print edition) order code 7813. You can also borrow Enabling Church from the Torch library in DAISY D2982; giant print G2435 or braille B3061.

And how does a "Book Week" sound to you? If you are passionate about books and all things bookish, then this week is for you. The details are:

Venue: Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex.

Date: November 5th-9th (Monday to Friday).

Cost: £250.

To book phone Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre: 01273 832282.

Well, we trust you enjoy this summer edition of Christian Today Digest with its usual mix of Christian-related news from UK and other parts of the world.

Jill Ferraby and the editors.

Back to Contents

Badges, crosses and wristbands

Are we too concerned with the externals?

by Tony Ward

It was reported that the badges intended for chaplains at the London Olympics have had all faith symbols removed from the design, in case they cause offence. The original design for the lapel badge was to feature symbols of nine religious faiths, but it was recognised that perhaps not all the chaplains would feel comfortable wearing the symbols of another faith, so the latest approved design will merely carry the word "Faith" alongside the Olympic logo.

The much overworked term "diversity" has, of course, been the watchword behind not only the organisation and planning of the Olympics, but reflects the collective mindset of government and many local councils and national institutions in seeking to privatise Christian faith and remove any Christian distinctiveness from the public arena.

Christians have rightly expressed concern and even alarm when this unrestrained political correctness has resulted in the undermining of freedom of speech, and also in punitive action against Christians publicly witnessing to their faith. The wearing of crosses in the workplace has been a particularly contentious issue lately.

Visual symbols of faith in the form of jewellery, badges, wristbands, T-shirts and the like have become very popular in recent years. In my own memory, the Christian rock singer Larry Norman seemed to set the trend in the 1970s with the famous "One Way" T-shirt. Since then we have had "WWJD" and "Not Ashamed" wristbands, fish symbols, and other logos, slogans and abbreviations that are sometimes only meaningful to the initiated. Indeed, some have been prompted to question whether many of these innovations owe more to the canny marketing strategies of those selling merchandise than to any real attempt to help Christians to witness.

There is an arguable case for saying that such "badges of faith" can even inhibit meaningful witness, by allowing the wearer to think that merely by displaying these signs or symbols on their person in some form is sufficient to say that they are sharing their faith, even when no verbal conversation or personal relationship exists.

The factor that is often forgotten is that it is the attitude and lifestyle of the wearer that makes the bigger impression on people. In my experience, there is a certain irony in the fact that those displaying fish stickers on the back of their cars all too frequently seem to be aggressive and inconsiderate drivers, or are exemplified by those who overtake me on the motorway travelling well in excess of the speed limit.

I have always maintained that Christians who choose to wear some visual witness to their faith need to display a lifestyle that reflects rather than contradicts the character of the Saviour they claim to represent. Thus in today's post-modern culture, if we become overly aggressive, arrogant and dismissive of those who seek to deny us the liberty to wear any such badges of faith, our witness will ultimately be compromised and even counter-productive.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Corinth, he reminded them that "You yourselves ... are a letter from Christ ... read by everybody" (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). The vital importance of people coming to encounter the saving power and love of Christ is best achieved by the transparently Christ-like lifestyles of believers, rather than by relying on badges, crosses, slogans, wristbands and the like. Don't get me wrong, I don't decry their existence. They may serve as a useful aid, but the Bible constantly challenges me that people need to see Jesus in me, not merely in what I wear. Peter's words to Christian wives, indicating "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment ... instead, it should be that of your inner self" (1 Peter 3:3-4) have perhaps also a spiritual parallel and application as regards the external badges of faith.

Certainly, to defend Christian liberties in today's society against the encroachment of a dumbed down "diversity" agenda is important. But we must not forget that the "externals" of what we wear are not the crux of Christian witness. The inner life that reflects the beauty of Jesus, and shares the gospel from a heart of genuine love and compassion must forever be the main focus.

[Tony Ward is a Bible teacher and evangelist who was ordained in Zimbabwe. He currently lives and ministers in Bristol.]

Back to Contents

Bibles given to railway workers

The Bible Society has given Bibles to railway and signal box workers in Wales.

The 12 Bibles were presented to staff at stations in Cardiff, Barry and Radyr by the Rev Ron Keen, Railway Mission Chaplain.

He commented, "It's a terrific thing to do because it means that the Word of God is there where people work. I always believe that people will read it, no matter who they are, just out of curiosity. I think that there is still an interest there in the Bible."

Bibles have been handed out to workers and passengers of the Taff Vale Railway line for 143 years. The tradition began after Taff Vale Railway director, T W Hill, died in 1869. Mr Hill, a committed Christian, left a legacy of £100 in his will so that Bibles, New Testaments and copies of the Psalms could be placed in railway stations along the line.

The Taff Vale Railway was originally designed to carry coal from the mines to the docks at Cardiff but after passenger trains were added to the line, Bibles were left in the waiting rooms at the 47 stations along the line.

A 1936 report in the Daily Express says that the Bibles in the waiting rooms were so popular that they had to be chained to the tables to stop people from stealing them. The newspaper article notes that the Bibles were well read and that travellers often signed their names on them.

The tradition of giving out Bibles along the Welsh railway lines continues to this day. Current Operations Manager for Wales, Tim Ball, said, "It's a very stressful job working on the railways. The Bible will give people some spiritual guidance and some hope."

One railway worker to receive a Bible was 38-year-old mobile operations manager Paul Brittain. His job includes dealing with the aftermath of suicides on the lines and in his 10 years in the role, he has experienced seven suicides.

He said, "The Bible will be useful for us all, though we're not churchgoers. When you have fatalities, or when something personal has happened, it will be good to refer to the Bible to satisfy that need."

Executive Director of Charity at Bible Society, Paul Woolley, said, "We're indebted to T W Hill for his vision in wanting to see people engage with the Scriptures as they waited for trains and worked on the railways. The Bible is as relevant today as it was then. We're delighted to give people the opportunity to read what remains the world's best selling book."

Back to Contents

Book of Common Prayer still holds appeal

The Book of Common Prayer, a work considered by many to be as influential as the King James Bible and the plays of William Shakespeare, turned 350 this month.

The Rev Richard Hoyal, vicar of Christ Church in Bristol, England, told a local newspaper that even in an increasingly secular England the book holds an appeal.

Hoyal commented to the Western Daily Press, "The people who come here to worship do so because they enjoy hearing this traditional form of service - there is a continuity and beauty to it that the more modern versions of Anglican service just don't have."

As with the Bible and Shakespeare, phrases from the 1662 Prayer Book permeate everyday English, including "peace in our time", "ashes to ashes", and "'till death do us part".

Hoyal said, "The language is beautiful. It is lyrical and poetic in form, and despite being the language of 16th century England, it remains remarkably accessible, and for churchgoers in particular, reassuringly familiar. It is the message of the Church of England."

In honour of the milestone, on 2 May the Anglican Communion held a special evening service at St Paul's Cathedral in London with outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams presiding.

The history of the Book of Common Prayer began in the fallout of King Henry VIII's decision to split from the Roman Catholic Church and form the Church of England.

Initially, the Church of England worshipped the same way as Catholic churches; the one difference was that under Henry VIII the monarch became head of the church instead of the Pope. However, soon after the split Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer oversaw an effort to replace the Latin missals for services and sacraments with an Anglican alternative.

The eventual result of this effort to break away from the Latin past was the revised Prayer Book created in 1662. It was written in the English vernacular, much like the Authorised Version of the Bible or King James that was published a half century earlier. There were theological alterations as well, with less focus on saints and intercessory prayers.

In addition to being opposed by the Catholic Church, the Prayer Book also had its share of Protestant critics. Many "non-conformist" sects of Protestantism felt that the Book of Common Prayer was too ritualised. Groups like the Puritans and the Pilgrims, who would found colonies in North America, were among the top critics of the Anglican work.

In the present day, the Book of Common Prayer has several variants used by the many member churches of the Anglican Communion.

Back to Contents

Cathedral invests in start-up businesses

Portsmouth Cathedral has committed to giving entrepreneurs a helping hand as one way of responding to the difficult economic climate in Britain. The cathedral unveiled plans in the House of Lords on 29 May to help entrepreneurs launch small businesses.

The Cathedral Innovation Centre will open up spare office space to 14 fledgling businesses and offer them a package that includes desk space, a start-up loan from the Parity Trust, administrative support and the chance to meet business leaders. Local business people, many from within the churches, will also be invited to act as mentors for the new entrepreneurs.

The project is a partnership between Portsmouth Cathedral, the University of Portsmouth's Business School, and the Joint Venture, a new social enterprise that works with local government and community organisations to make the most of their assets, resources and people.

If successful, the project could be started in other cathedrals and large churches across the country to create a network of innovation centres.

There are already plans afoot to launch the project in Southampton, where a building has been offered to run the venture.

Unveiling the plans in the House of Lords yesterday, Baroness Berridge said: "Perhaps the major contribution needed from our faith communities today is job creation. If all 61 cathedrals in England joined, then the Cathedral Innovation Centre would be a movement which in the 61st year of the Queen's reign could see over 600 new businesses created. What a wonderful Jubilee legacy that would be."

In reply, Baroness Hanham, minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, said: "I hope very much the Cathedral Innovation Centre will succeed."

Francis Davis, the chairman of the Cathedral Innovation Centre, said: "When St Paul's and other cathedrals saw the occupy protests recently, there were very few practical alternatives being suggested. But the Church is in a position to help businesses to launch, develop and expand. This is a concrete response at a time of economic crisis, when talk is obviously not enough. We can only have growth in our economy if real firms are creating real jobs, and we can help to attain social justice if we are creating businesses that are run along responsible lines."

Mr Davis is looking for 50 mentors from across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to give advice on all aspects of business, from management, to recruitment, marketing and human resources.

"I'd like to tap into the expertise that's available in our churches," he said. "It will be a new way of volunteering for members of our churches. And in a new approach to philanthropy, we're looking for 500 people to invest £300 to get these businesses off the ground. They would be helping people back into work and stimulating the economy."

Among the first businesses looking to move in are technology start-ups founded by local students, a healthcare firm spun out from the local hospital, and a community leadership and training foundation.

Another firm that has already signed up is the Turnaround Foundation, which offers management consultancy to small firms in trouble, and ethical business advice to firms facing insolvency.

The dean of Portsmouth Cathedral, the Very Rev David Brindley, said: "This is a creative response to some of the problems we face in the city. I'm very happy that we can offer some of our facilities and resources to help in this way."

Back to Contents

£14,000 for Zimbabwe teenagers

Parishioners in Llandaff have raised thousands of pounds for homeless teenagers in Zimbabwe. A record £14,000 was raised through Llandaff Cathedral's Lent Appeal, which was launched this year in aid of the Tariro Project. The church-run charity gives young people in Harare the chance of a home and an education.

The Dean of Llandaff, John Lewis, thanked those who supported the appeal.

He said, "The response has been amazing - almost double what we usually raise. We learnt all about the Tariro Project from Fr Nicolas Stebbing of the Community of the Resurrection who has been heavily involved with it. He spent the beginning of Lent at the Cathedral and really brought home to us how the project is giving hope and a sense of security to children who have nothing. I am immensely grateful people have been so generous - particularly in this time of recession."

A total of £21,500 has been raised for Tariro by parishioners in the last year. The Harvest Appeal raised £5,500 and a further £2,000 was donated at Christmas.

Last year, Llandaff parishioners raised more than £8,200 during Lent to set up a chicken farm at a school in Zambia.

Back to Contents

Christians and temperance

In 1830, the sale of beer was liberalised, as it was in 2005 - with very similar results. There was, to quote social historian Annemarie McAllister, "a colossal wave of working-class drunkenness" that took its toll on health and family life. Beer, and the many public houses that sold it, provided an easy and relatively cheap escape from harsh working environments and poor, overcrowded living conditions. It was not just men and women who sought oblivion in alcohol. Children, many of them working in appalling conditions, also found comfort in beer-induced stupor.

Into the breach stepped Christian men and women whose hearts were moved with compassion for the families of the men who squandered their small income on alcohol and for children who knew no better than to follow their example. They realised that children especially, "whose bodies were being bruised and broken in factory and colliery, and whose characters were being irreparably corrupted in the beershops" (The Hope of the Race, Robert Tayler, 1946, pg 14) needed to be educated since there was no hope of legislation being changed in the near future.

Christians like Lord Shaftesbury worked through Parliament to improve social conditions. But it was Joseph Livesey who first began to make children aware of the evils of drink, for evils they certainly were in the days when there was no social safety net to pick up the pieces of shattered lives. He gave up drinking alcohol in order to set a good example to his own children, but his sphere of influence soon widened when he began the Preston Temperance Society in March 1832. This marked the rapid growth of a temperance movement within the Christian community that soon incorporated children as well since they were the "hope for the future".

The first Band of Hope temperance club for children was founded in Leeds in 1847 by the Rev Jabez Tunnicliffe, a Baptist minister who had witnessed first hand the devastating effect of drunkenness on families. He was supported by Ann Jane Carlile, a devout Irish woman who felt called to minister to the poor and needy and regularly visited Newgate Prison in Dublin. She had observed that many of the inmates blamed their incarceration on crimes committed while under the influence of alcohol.

Children who attended the weekly Band of Hope meetings were encouraged to sign a pledge agreeing not to use "intoxicating liquors as a beverage". Band of Hope clubs spread rapidly throughout the country and by 1901 the organisation claimed a membership of 3.5 million children and young people.

Admittedly, there was not much else for children to do at the time, but the Band of Hope did more than just lecture children about the evils of drink. It provided a community - almost a sub-culture - to which children felt they belonged. Caring Christian leaders, all of them abstainers, provided good role models and ensured that the weekly clubs were entertaining and uplifting. Badges were offered for achievement and publications, beautifully illustrated, carried cautionary tales and stories that encouraged Christian citizenship and healthy lifestyles. Many child members stayed on to become adult leaders in their turn.

Membership of the Band of Hope gradually declined when social conditions began to improve in the mid-20th Century and there was more for children to do. Nevertheless the organisation has survived to the present day, now known as Hope UK and still working to enable children and young people to make drug and alcohol-free choices. Today, Christian volunteers are trained to become Drug Educators in their own communities. They continue the work begun over 150 years ago by heroes of faith who served the purpose of God in their generation. Perhaps there is something we can learn from our predecessors and how they approached the drinking problem of their age?

Back to Contents

Christians harnessing Facebook to share faith

Christians in the UK are turning increasingly to social media sites like Facebook to share their faith, new research has found. In a survey on attitudes to online mission by Christian Vision and Premier Christian Media, 64% said they were using social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share their faith in an intentional way.

Of the 700 Christians surveyed, 84% agreed that the online space was a huge mission field. More than two-thirds (71%) said they post links to Christian sites or content with missional values, while 73% said they intentionally post or link to content in order to share their faith.

Interestingly, the study found that interaction with social media was prolific across the age spectrum, rather than just among young people. However, younger people are more likely to have non-Christian friends and are more active when it comes to sharing their faith online - 87% of 16 to 18-year-olds said they do so intentionally. Of the total sample, 79% agreed that the best way to evangelise was through relationships.

Despite the enthusiasm for social networks, only 25% of respondents said their church encouraged online mission, while 78% said that churches should be more active in online mission. The results suggest that although Christians are aware of the opportunities created by the internet, churches may need more encouragement and guidance to embrace the online channels open to them.

Training may not be the only answer, however, as only 40% at least somewhat agreed that they would be more willing to share their faith online if they knew of tools and training to help them.

The research was carried out to coincide with the launch of yesHEis.com, a new sharing platform to resource UK Christians in sharing their faith using the web.

Back to Contents

Demand for foodbanks doubles in one year

Church-run foodbanks have fed twice as many people in the last 12 months as in the previous year. More than 128,000 people turned to foodbanks for emergency food handouts during the 2011 to 2012 financial period - a 100% increase on 2010 to 2011 which served 61,000 people.

The foodbanks are run by Christian charity The Trussell Trust, which has opened 100 new foodbanks in the last year to cope with demand. There are now 201 foodbanks operating through local churches nationwide.

The Trussell Trust said the people using its services include families who are in work. Over 45,000 children were fed by foodbanks during 2011 and 2012. It blames the rising cost of food and fuel combined with static incomes, high unemployment and changes to benefits.

All those who received emergency food were referred by frontline care professionals such as doctors, social workers and Citizens Advice Bureaus.

Research into its clients has found benefit delay to be the single biggest reason behind referral to foodbanks - with 29 per cent citing this as the reason. This was followed by low income - 19 per cent. Other reasons for referrals include delayed wages, domestic violence, sickness, unemployment, debt, benefit changes, refused crisis loans, homelessness and absence of free school meals during school holidays.

Trussell Trust Executive Chairman Chris Mould said: "Foodbanks are seeing people from all walks of life turning to us for help when they hit crises. The current economic situation means that times are tough for many. Every day we meet parents who are skipping meals to feed their children or even considering stealing to stop their children going to bed hungry. It is shocking that there is such a great need for foodbanks in 21st century Britain, but the need is growing." He is expecting more people to turn to foodbanks as the Government's Budget begins to take effect.

"We are urging more churches and communities to support and start foodbanks," he said. "Our vision is to see a foodbank in every town in the UK, creating a nation where no-one needs to go hungry."

All food distributed by the foodbanks is donated by members of the public.

The Trussell Trust anticipates that numbers fed by foodbanks could exceed 500,000 in financial year 2015-16.

Back to Contents

New plaques commemorate Hudson Taylor

Two heritage plaques have been placed at the site of James Hudson Taylor's birthplace in Barnsley.

Taylor is revered the world over as the founder of the China Inland Mission (CIM), today called OMF International. By the mid-1800s, mission stations had been established in the Chinese port cities but Taylor was agonised by the knowledge that there were millions of Chinese souls perishing in the unpioneered interior. He founded the CIM in 1865 with the aim of pushing further inland and setting up churches that were to be not only led by Chinese people, but thoroughly Chinese in style and character.

It was a priority of Taylor's to become as Chinese as possible, speaking the local dialect, wearing Chinese dress, and even a queue - the pigtail worn by Chinese men. His methods were shocking to some Christians at the time, but he would be later remembered as one of the great pioneers of contextual mission.

The CIM went on to establish 300 mission stations across 18 provinces and brought thousands of Chinese to faith in Jesus Christ. There are Chinese Christians today who trace their spiritual roots back to Hudson Taylor and the mission work of the CIM.

The blue plaques were dedicated during a service held at Salem Church, in Barnsley, where Taylor's parents had attended and where he had spoken from the pulpit about his work in China during visits home. The service was attended by the Mayor of Barnsley, Cllr Dorothy Higginbottom, local Chinese Christians, and present and past OMF workers.

Mark Reasbeck, pastor of Gateway Church, in Barnsley, said: "The secret to James Hudson Taylor was his faith in God."

Paul Bedford, Pastor of Hope House Church, in Barnsley said: "He was a man from Barnsley. Does anything good come from Barnsley?! Yes ... The world will continue to be touched by this man from Barnsley."

Bedford noted that Taylor did not allow convention, nor his appearance, to hinder him in the mission field. "He threw these off and became Chinese," he said. "The gospel remained the same although he became intensely relevant."

Following the service, the Chinese Christians led a procession through Barnsley town centre to where Taylor's birthplace once stood at 21 Cheapside, now a Boots chemist.

One plaque commemorates his birth in English, the other in Chinese, something Hudson would no doubt have approved of. The plaques were provided by the Barnsley Civic Trust after months of campaigning by the Hudson Taylor Society, which preserves his legacy.

Speaking at the unveiling of the plaques, the Mayor noted that Taylor seemed to be "known everywhere except in Barnsley. We are pleased to be able to address this today. It gives us the opportunity to say, whether Christian or non-Christian, welcome to Barnsley."

Rev Pong Lai, of Leeds Chinese Christian Association, offered thanks for the plaques on behalf of Chinese Christians around the world. "This is a very emotional day," he said. "We love you Barnsley. Through one of you we came to know Jesus."

The group is currently planning a Hudson Taylor heritage trail that will point visitors to local sites connected to the great missionary.

Back to Contents

New Testaments handed out for Diamond Jubilee

More than 655,000 Diamond Jubilee New Testaments were ordered by churches to give out to their communities over the national holiday weekend in June. The special edition New Testaments were produced to help churches engage with their communities as the nation celebrated the Queen's 60 years of service to Britain and the Commonwealth.

In Preston, no less than 10,000 Diamond Jubilee New Testaments were to be distributed by Longton Community Church to all 39 schools in the South Ribble area to mark this once in a lifetime moment.

Vicar's wife Ruth Edy was given a New Testament 60 years ago to mark the Queen's coronation and continued this tradition by presenting the New Testaments to children in Ducklington Primary School in Oxfordshire.

In the north of England, a Cumbrian youth project was also giving away the special New Testaments. The Shackles Off youth project in Seascale ordered 100 copies to give away as part of their local Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The Diamond Jubilee editions were produced by HOPE, the Church of England and Biblica, and feature eight pages of images from the coronation and the Queen's life.

A new Facebook page - "My Diamond Jubilee New Testament Story" - was also set up so that people can share their stories and upload photos.

Roy Crowne, Executive Director of the national mission movement HOPE, said: "What has been so exciting is the stories that we have begun to receive about the places and occasions where the New Testaments are being given out. We are glad that so many churches are using this opportunity to give this special gift to people in their communities as they celebrate the Diamond Jubilee."

Mark Finnie, Church and Bible Engagement Director at Biblica said: "We could never have imagined the response to the Diamond Jubilee New Testament offer when the idea was first discussed.

"The New Testament will reach over one in 100 people in the UK, with 675,000 copies placed in the hands of people as they celebrate the Queen's 60 years of service. We hope this will inspire churches, schools and agencies to create other custom Bibles and New Testaments for all sorts of occasions."

Back to Contents

Pilgrim to Britain's oldest leprosy hospital

Archaeologists have led a group of pilgrims to the site of Britain's oldest-known leprosy hospital. The walk began at Winchester Cathedral and ended at the site of the Hospital of St Mary Magdalen at Magdalen Hill a short distance away.

Dr Phil Marter from the archaeology department at the University of Winchester has been excavating the former hospital site at Magdalen Hill for four years and was one of the organisers of the pilgrimage. He said the uniqueness of the find had inspired the charitable pilgrimage in memory of the community of St Mary Magdalen Hospital.

"The project at Magdalen Hill represents the most extensive excavations of a medieval leprosy hospital and cemetery in the country," he said. "Out of almost 60 excavated burials, there is evidence of leprosy in 70 per cent of the cases. Evidence suggests the leprosy patients were very well looked after, and were drawn from all levels of society. They included men, women, children and a baby and also an individual who had been buried with a scallop shell pilgrim badge suggesting that he had once made the arduous journey to Santiago de Compostela."

A collection was taken during the pilgrimage in aid of The Leprosy Mission, a Christian charity working with leprosy patients around the world in education, job training and social support.

Although there are very few cases of leprosy diagnosed in 21st century Britain, each year around a quarter of a million new cases are diagnosed worldwide. The Leprosy Mission estimates that around three million people are currently living with the effects of the disease.

Prayers were led at Magdalen Hill by Prof Elizabeth Stuart, Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester. A short talk on the work of The Leprosy Mission was given by Natalie Husk, the area organiser for the charity. She said: "Leprosy is a disease of the present but does not need to be a disease of the future. It is good to know that people affected by leprosy were treated with respect at Magdalen Hill as many today suffer from deep-rooted stigma surrounding leprosy. As a result people can delay seeking treatment which is problematic as leprosy causes nerve damage and, if left untreated, can lead to major injuries and eventually amputation of limbs. It also damages nerves in the face which can lead to blindness."

This is the first time that a pilgrimage was organised to Magdalen Hill. Organisers plan to hold another one next year.

Back to Contents

Plight of farmers in JCB drive

A vicar spent a week driving across Wales in a 7.5 tonne JCB to highlight the plight of farmers. The Rev Richard Kirlew, the Church in Wales' rural affairs adviser, drove to every cathedral in Wales during his 700-mile steeplechase.

His journey took him to Llandaff Cathedral where he was greeted by the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, who had a turn in the JCB.

Dr Morgan said, "This is an excellent way to raise awareness of the problems in rural areas and the invaluable work of the charities. Our clergy serving in rural parishes see at first hand, and on a daily basis, the hardship and suffering of those communities and as a church we want to help and support them as much as we can."

Rev Kirlew then set off for Brecon Cathedral, the final leg of the trip, where the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, John Davies, was there to congratulate him at the finishing line.

The money raised by the trip will go towards the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), Farm Crisis Network and the Colwyn Benefice.

Rev Kirlew was accompanied on the trip by his wife Liz. They slept each night in a caravan that was towed at the back of the JCB. Although the maximum speed was 40mph, Rev Kirlew said fellow drivers were extremely patient on the roads. He said, "We have been overwhelmed by all the support and encouragement we've had along the way and want to thank everyone for their patience. We've pulled in regularly to let faster drivers pass and lorries have flashed their lights in a supportive way. The main aim has been to raise awareness of the problems facing rural communities in Wales - there's a perception everyone living in the countryside is rich but poverty, declining village life and isolation are real issues which are getting worse."

Erys Hughes, regional officer of the RABI, who followed Rev Kirlew for much of the trip, said, "For the RABI, it's not about raising money as much as raising awareness that we are here to help. Farmers are a very proud lot and don't want to admit they are struggling - many are not even aware of the help we can give them. But the past 11 years have been very difficult for them, what with foot-and-mouth disease, floods, swine flu, the collapse of the dairy industry and bovine TB, and we have seen a huge increase in demand for help."

Back to Contents

Saving sight in India

There's a classic Hollywood thriller about the frightening pursuit of an elusive thief. National Glaucoma Awareness Week from 11 June features the theme Glaucoma: the Thief of Sight. It is all too accurate. The frightening reality is that glaucoma usually leads to blindness but so often goes undetected. Although glaucoma remains incurable, medical treatment proves effective. When detected and treated early enough, blindness can be prevented.

That is why Siloam Christian Ministries began a vigorous fundraising campaign for medical equipment which saves sight. Siloam projects include the Siloam Thomas Eye Hospital in India which provides eye care for all, especially the very poor. Many underprivileged people, including those suffering from leprosy, go blind because of untreated glaucoma.

Technology plays an important role in saving eyesight. One specialised piece of equipment, a nerve fibre analyser, is capable of detecting the early onset of glaucoma. This enables timely treatment which can prevent blindness.

This nerve fibre analyser cost £18,300. Over the months, individuals in Britain have generously contributed. Realising this goal proved a tremendous encouragement to hard working hospital staff. On 23 April, a time of thanksgiving marked the inauguration of this new sight saving equipment. The well attended launch of the Glaucoma Awareness Programme looks forward to saving sight for numerous people.

"Now the hospital can use this high-tech analyser to help many patients who are too poor to pay for treatment," explains Siloam UK Director Richard Norton. "This state-of-the-art equipment is the only one of its kind in South India. That means the hospital's up to date facility will attract other patients who can afford payment. This self-sustaining innovation will provide more funding for treating those unable to pay."

India remains a country where up to 8 per cent of the population suffers from glaucoma - a compelling reason to catch this thief of sight.

Back to Contents

Young people volunteer for Olympics

Some 2,700 young people from churches across London have signed up to be community volunteers during the Olympics. The number far exceeds the target of 2,000 young volunteers during the Games. Members of the2012 collective were formally commissioned in May by the Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, at St Paul's Cathedral.

The2012 volunteers will now be enrolled to help with Olympic initiatives being planned by local churches and community groups across London. These range from distributing water to spectators during the cycle race to operating a community cafe in East London for local people to watch the Games in company.

As the service came to a close, a blizzard of confetti was released from the iconic whispering gallery at St Paul's as the Bishop of London led the newly commissioned ambassadors through the Cathedral's Great West Door.

The service at St Paul's also saw the launch of the2012 messaging, which will use social networks and SMS messages to set a challenge for the volunteers each day, as a "dispersed flash-mob" aiming to be a force for good in every postcode in London.

The volunteers have been receiving training in preparation for outreach over the past seven months.

Wednesday's service marked the official beginning of service for the2012.

Prayers at the service were led by Pete Greig, founder of 24/7 prayer, who is helping to coordinate 70 days of prayer through 1,000 communities across the UK with the Olympic Torch Relay.

He said: "It's thrilling to see thousands of young people galvanised by the Olympics, catalysed by their faith and mobilised to make a difference in our communities this year. With so many negative headlines about looting and knife-crime, hoodies and youth unemployment, the2012 initiative celebrates the fact that most young people in our capital are fundamentally good and that Christian faith is as relevant as ever. I'm delighted to be involved."

The service was joined by wheelchair racer Anne Wafula Strike, who is a GB Paralympic World Cup team member and in the running for Team GB.

"As a Paralympian, I am full of admiration for everyone who is giving up their time, energy and dedication to volunteer to support others during 2012 Paralympic and Olympic Games in London," she said. "Each one of the commissioned ambassadors will be rewarded spiritually and they deserve a gold medal of their own."

The volunteers are aged 13 to 35 and come from 300 churches across the capital.

Lidija Mavra, a volunteer from Bow Common, is the co-founder of a social enterprise that coaches homeless people to give walking tours, providing them with an income and allowing them to share their unique perspectives on the capital's culture and history. Unseen Tours will be running during the summer Games.

She said: "I feel really privileged to be part of the 2012 service at St Paul's - it's a wonderful way of bringing young Christians together from all across London to reflect upon and share ideas on how we can make London a better place in 2012."

Back to Contents