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Election Reflection: Expectation, Surprise… & Hope? 11 May 2015

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Life, Politics, Ponderings.
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The weeping continues as recriminations fly. The victors crow, the vanquished by turns cry foul, claim that “lessons must be learnt” and seek the road ahead. After being led to believe that a hung parliament was a dead certainty and having indulged in endless games of mathematical what-iffery we emerge the other side of the election with either barely concealed joy, or dire worries about the future of our country.

And I won’t mince my words, as a paid up member of the Green Party and professional provider of compassion to those in need, as a Christian Minister, I think the result of the 2015 UK election has all the makings of a dystopian nightmare, a disaster story. Whether that’s a minority view, an insightful one, or the self-centred delusion of a liberal lefty seems to depend upon who you ask.

All I can do at the moment is re-iterate a tweet from a few days ago:

The future is as yet unwritten, even though forecast looks bleak. Time to buy umbrellas, share light, love & hope, & say ‘I shall not fear’

The forecast does indeed look bleak. A continued imposition of a discredited policy of economic austerity which will disproportionately harm those at the bottom of the heap such as the long-term ill, the long-term unemployed, and those whose disabilities make finding employment difficult, or even non-existent. They do exist, they are close to despair and quite possibly live far closer to our own front doors than we realise. The government will now push on with their stated goal of scrapping the Human Rights Act, ironically a direct result of the accepted values rising out of the ashes of the Second World War in an attempt to ensure that some of the worst excesses never occur again. Then we have the proposed renegotiation of our relationship with the European Union and an in/out referendum pledged for 2017. I wish them luck with that one, another disaster in the making. To leave the EU would, I believe, leave us seriously compromised economically and socially. If the pro-European lobby in government think they can out do the populist almost-xenophobia and the fulminations of the mass media I suspect they will be found wanting (or maybe even worse, left in a position of a marginal victory, for whatever faction, that leaves the result open to continuing wrangling and acrimony).

I could go on, but I have no wish to merely reiterate what others have said and are rightly continuing to say.

Instead, here are some thoughts on a different choice last weekend, that I made with a degree of anxiety it must be said, to provide clerical cover out in “the villages”. Providing clerical cover, being a locum vicar if you like, is something I generally enjoy, especially once I get past the first visit with it’s frisson of nervousness, about never quite knowing what you’re going to meet. The Church of England, after all, has books of “Common Prayer” and “Common Worship”, but they are rarely common either in terms of the language used or on the grounds for uniformity of practise. Sunday saw me out for a 9.30am service in a village whose name carries a weight of history as a decisive battleground in the English Civil War. A church of not inconsiderable size, and a congregation of 12, 4 of whom were wedding couples present for that quintessentially English practice of  hearing the Banns of Marriage. The regulars were lovely, understanding, welcoming and probably with an average age somewhere above 70. The afternoon though, was what was making me nervous. I spent three years proving a weekly family service, pretty much out of a suitcase, down in My Little Part of Kent, and on the back of that I said I’d do one in an adjoining village. An unknown minister, in an unknown village, with no real knowledge of the expectations and precious little of the normal practice. To say I was stressed before the service itself, was an understatement (and made me wonder whether the weekly experience in Kent was as stressful. I think it was, which might explain my burn-out there). In the end I think it’s fair to say that we all had a great time, ably assisted by the GLW’s heading up of some genuinely all-age craft activities. Seven adults, seven children (not counting my family) and the presence of God among the craft, the cake and the coffee.

Nevertheless, no matter how much I enjoy such outings, leaving with a gladdened heart, they inevitably seem to lead to gloom afterwards. I dread to think how much the buildings must cost to run & maintain, and know that it’s pretty much impossible to make ends meet financially. I shouldn’t let the gloom get to me though. While I have every reason to believe that the numbers on Sunday are not unrepresentative, in fact as a percentage of the rural population such numbers are actually pretty good. The tiny village of the afternoon service has a population of under a hundred (just 87 in the 2001 Census apparently, and unlikely to have changed radically). Even if the congregation was drawn from some of the neighbouring parishes the numbers would be encouraging as percentages. (I’d like to see what that would translate to in other places (for example even a 5% turnout, 1 person in every 20, in my last parish, would work out at 250 people!)

However, I’m digressing somewhat. What’s this have to do with elections? I didn’t feel free to include more than a passing reference to the Election in the morning, and the most detail went into some carefully politically-neutral prayers. (The nature and theme of the afternoon left the service a politics-free zone, despite the overheard conversations about the possible impact of the election result on the hotly-opposed local windfarm plans over the ensuing tea and cake.)

Nevertheless, it strikes me, that for all the dire possibilities of life under the new government (and those haven’t improved since I started writing this post a few days ago, indeed they look far closer to satire than reality) and despite the increased hardship and suffering they might spawn, they could turn out to be exactly what Christians in this country need, to re-vitalise the role and place of the church into the radical organisation it is called to be. Living to a different set of values, with strong grassroots connections, and capable of challenging the national narrative from the margins, not alone, but with other voices, could be the best place to be. If we have to (continue to) get our hands dirty in the pursuit of the Kingdom of God’s alternative values (and God knows that so many of the Foodbanks and community support organisations spring from them) the worst outcomes of Government policy might yet provide the seedbeds for mission, and on the back of that, evangelism. According to John’s Gospel Jesus came that he might bring “life in all it’s fulness”, material as well as spiritual. (John 10:10)

Might Cameron yet get the “Big Society” he claimed he wanted a few years ago, albeit as an effective opposition, rather than a valued partner? Now that is something that I can hope, and will pray and work towards, alongside those who share my faith and all of good will.

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