Creating a movement of school leaders – the power of networks

Andy Wolfe, former secondary school vice-principal and our new networks manager for the C of E Foundation for Educational Leadership, on why teachers grow in confidence and vision through peer networking.

England could face a severe shortage of senior teachers by 2022 if action is not taken to encourage a new generation of leaders, new research shows. So the C of E Foundation for Educational Leadership could not be launching at a more prescient time.

Our mission is to build a national movement of inspirational leaders equipped to transform education, so that it fosters wisdom, hope, community and dignity, to enable children to flourish and experience life in all its fullness, regardless of their background or starting point.

We are doing this by building networks, bringing together people from schools to support, challenge and inspire each other; rigorous leadership development programmes to equip those leaders to realise our vision, and robust research to provide an evidence base on the outcomes for children’s spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional and social development.

As a former vice-principal of a large secondary school in Nottingham, I know how important mutual support is for teachers to grow in confidence. I now lead the networks programme for the Foundation. Last week we held our first Regional Peer Support Network meetings for the South East and South West regions. These pilot groups are drawing together school leaders to work together to support one another as leaders, as they seek to ensure that their school’s ethos enhances its outcomes. The gatherings have been full of energy, life, hope and vision, and above all a commitment that we are stronger together.

Our vision is for schools to educate for wisdom, hope, community and dignity in its broadest and most inclusive sense.  This vision is for all our schools that educate 1 million children each day and for community schools that share our values. That is why we have developed the Regional Peer Support Networks, for both church and community schools, with over 50 schools already signing up to take part so far this year.

Initial networking conversations have centred around defining the school’s core purpose, communicating its ethos and values, and ensuring that this ethos does not stand apart from the pressure school leaders are under to improve performance outcomes, but rather enhances and improves their leadership approach.

The groups have examined case studies in relation to key leadership challenges (for example, removing disadvantage, improving boys’ reading and behaviour management) and have begun to learn how to support each other in applying the dynamic vision of ‘Deeply Christian, Serving the Common Good’ into the lived reality of corridors and classrooms. How might a school for example embody hope with a family at parents’ evening, or how often do we forgive our students and genuinely give them a clean slate every time?

School leaders are beginning to visit each other, exchanging ideas, encouraging each other’s leadership development, and offering that crucial sense of support and challenge as they evaluate the impact of their work together. There will be online collaboration and resource sharing, teacher and leader exchanges and a growing momentum that through genuinely giving to and receiving from the network, that they can become more courageous, ambitious and authentic in their leadership.

Anil Gaind, Head at Sundridge and Brasted C of E Primary School, said that the Peer Support Network would help him to “grow leadership capacity within our school, and enable us to reflect, refresh and revitalise our leaders to empower change”

As the power of ‘the fear factor’ is replaced by the opportunity of ‘the peer factor’, school leaders can be empowered to take bold decisions, to invest significantly in that which makes their ethos authentic (for church schools, the sense of being ‘Deeply Christian’ being crucial of course). This key relationship of ethos enhancing outcomes stands at the centre of an ambitious vision for the movement we are creating.

For more information about our Peer Support Networks, please contact andy.wolfe@churchofengland.org

Listen here to the Foundation’s Director, James Townsend, on how the movement of leaders in teaching is growing and a conference in February 2017 that will help teachers to put the Church of England’s vision for education into action.

How renovating a churchyard brought a village together

St Mary’s Church in Lowdham has one of the largest rural church yards in Nottinghamshire. Janice Yelland-Sutcliffe, a member of the church, writes about a renovation and environmental project in the churchyard and adjoining field and how this has brought together people from across the community.More than 100 people have taken part in work on the renovation so far at St Mary’s, with support from the Woodland Trust, Nottingham Wildlife Trust and funding from Tesco Groundwork among others. 

“Two or three years ago, I began to realise that there was a need in our church to connect more with the community in line with what was being encouraged by the Diocese and Deanery.  In addition to this, St Mary’s churchyard being one of the largest rural churchyards in Nottinghamshire had received feedback that the top churchyard was neglected – I think in part because it is so big and difficult to manage.

“At the same time I was considering what was the future for me and how I could support the church and community.  I left work in 2010 to care full time for my daughter and in 2012 finally completed a MSc in Education for Sustainability. By 2014 I needed to do something to get out of the house. Sustainability and the environment are my passion and being involved with the church and on the Parochial Church Council (PCC), I thought with my experience and expertise I could help get a grip on the churchyard.

“We had an open day and a couple of discussion forums and there was a lot of interest in the history of the church, and the feeling that if the church cared for the churchyard, then the community felt cared for. We have a ‘front of house’ churchyard, a back churchyard, a field and a beck and a little coppice. There was a big enough space to do things, so we began to think about educational opportunities as well.

“We set to on the work with the sense of really wanting to honour what God has given us and what we are stewards of. The vicar was fantastic, the PCC was behind it, the faculty officer was supportive and we started clearing.

“The back part of the top church yard has 1,000 graves, sitting cheek by jowl, and cherry tree saplings had sprung up all across it. We began taking out the best part of 1,000 cherry tree saplings. The trees had pushed graves over and we had a rabbit warren that had come up between two lots of graves. You couldn’t walk, it was highly uneven, it was difficult to get around. There were families in the village who could not get to their family graves. We were losing biodiversity because it was getting overwhelmed with brambles and nettles. It was trying to find that balance between ecological biodiversity and human access and maintenance.

before_and_after
Before and after the work was carried out

“We have been planting hedgerows and replacing hedges. We have had employees from HMP Lowdham, the local prison, come and help us. Some of the prisoners helped with making garden furniture and people taking part in the community pay back scheme came along to do work. We have had help from the scouts, people from the village and members of the congregation. People have come looking for family graves and as a result have contacted us asking us when they can come and help.

“In the field we planted an orchard of more than 40 trees and we have also planted a 100 metre length World War I Heritage Hedge within which we have planted a willow for each of the men in the village who fought or died fighting in World War I. We are creating stories, as we are planting.

“In the ‘front of house’ churchyard, we are starting to get a lot more of the wildflowers coming through and we are going to create a nature area and wildlife areas. We would like to see forest school style activities and opportunities for outdoor worship. We are just at that point, after two years of work, of being able to put in place a proper maintenance and development plan for the future. It has been hard work but it has been fun. I think I’ve learned more about my village in the last two years than in the last 20 years of living here.”

Janice Yelland-Sutcliffe
Member of St Mary’s Church, Lowdham

Listen to Janice speak about the project more below.

‘It was a privilege to be part of the Pilgrimage to Paris’

Giles Goddard, Vicar of St John’s, Waterloo, in central London, writes on the first anniversary of the Pilgrimage to Paris. 

On a drizzly Friday November 13 a year ago, a group of pilgrims set off from St Martin-in-the-Fields to walk to Paris. Sweatshirted, booted, breakfasted and waterproofed, we walked anxiously down Whitehall, across Westminster Bridge and through South London into the countryside of Surrey.  We came from across the country, the oldest of us aged over 70 and the youngest under 20 years old. We were united in our concern to make sure that the voice of faith was heard at the forthcoming COP 21 climate change talks in Paris.

Sent on our way by Bishop Nicholas Holtam, the Church of England’s lead Bishop on the environment, we were apprehensive but full of hope.

We slept the first night on the floor of a church hall in Banstead, Surrey.  The news when we awoke was sombre; terrorist attacks in Paris had killed over a hundred people. Suddenly we were walking not just as a visual and physical statement about climate change, but in solidarity with all who had been affected by or killed in terrorist attacks across the world.

There was doubt about whether we would be permitted to cross the Channel. But as we walked on through rain and wind towards the coast, after a couple of days the news came through that we would be able to board the ferry in Newhaven and carry on across the north of France to Paris.

I left the Pilgrimage in Newhaven – parish duties called – so I missed the journey through France. But I was told by those who walked the whole way how moving the pilgrimage was: how they were welcomed warmly into people’s homes, fed and watered and given huge encouragement in their journey by people who were touched and inspired by the witness of the pilgrims.

And then, in Paris, they met other pilgrims from all over Europe and beyond. Someone who had come from Canada by bicycle (and ship).  Others who had walked with the visionary Yeb Sano, who had inspired pilgrimages around the world. And others who had simply and quietly made the journey because they cared.

A Petition, signed by over 1.8 million people, was presented to the Executive Secretary of the COP 21 talks, Christiana Figueres. She was very clear that the witness of faith groups in the run-up to Paris had made a material difference to the success of the talks. “I want to thank you,” she said, “for every single step.”

The Paris Climate Agreement was made more possible because faith groups all over the world lifted their voices and said – “This matters. The talks must succeed.”  On 4th November this year, the Agreement came into force. It’s a remarkable achievement. As I write this, 193 countries have signed the treaty, of which 102 have ratified it.

But many say that it does not go far enough. The commitment of countries to reducing their carbon emissions may be insufficient. That’s why the next set of talks – COP 22, in Marrakech, which started on Monday 7th November, is so crucial.  The challenge to all the countries is how to put flesh on the bones of the Paris Agreement. Or is it too little, too late?

The voice of faith leaders will be there again. A statement signed by over 170 eminent faith leaders, including the Dalai Llama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Rowan Williams and the Bishop of Salisbury, will be presented to the President during the talks.

There is hope. Not only because the technology for a carbon-free future is advancing in leaps and bounds. But also because, globally, things are changing. The Church of England is one of many organisations which have begun to divest from the most polluting fossil fuels, and is engaging and challenging the major oil extraction companies. To much surprise Shell predicted on Friday 4th November – the same day the Paris Agreement came into force – that demand for oil might peak within five years.

Above all because, all round the world, people and congregations are saying that they want to help make a better world for them and for their children.

It was a privilege to be part of the Pilgrimage to Paris. Perhaps the best moment was late on the first day, when the rain cleared and suddenly a rainbow shone over Croydon. In a world full of fear, we were given a sign of hope.

Giles Goddard
Member of the Church of England’s Environment Working Group

Remembrance at Cathedrals

Cathedrals have been busy putting grants for repairs to good use as the nation marks the centenary of the First World War. Becky Clark, Senior Cathedrals Officer and Deputy Secretary of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, has seen at first-hand how new life has been breathed into these jewels in the nation’s crown.  

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?” So wrote the late, great Terry Pratchett in Going Postal. At the time of Remembrance Day the Church of England plays many roles in commemorating the sacrifices of war. But perhaps one of its most important functions is to ensure that what was lost is nevertheless not forgotten; that the dead, though gone, are remembered still.

This year all of England’s cathedrals have been particularly reflecting on the centenary of the First World War and finding ways to bring what seems now a largely historical event into the modern consciousness. The government’s First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund is helping to pay for crucial repairs to over 50 Anglican and Catholic cathedrals. The fund was set up to make sure that cathedrals could be centres of commemoration and remembrance throughout the 1914-18 centenary.

Take Lincoln Cathedral – stunning, highly decorated, made of porous Lincolnshire limestone and sitting proudly at the top of a hill exposed to the elements. Having undergone a three year roof restoration project the cathedral has been collecting names of the departed who visitors wish to be remembered and at a special service on 13th November, poppies will float from the roof of the nave.

At Derby Cathedral, now beautifully lit, decorated and warm thanks to a new heating system there will be an evening of music and readings for Armistice Day on 11th November.

Gloucester Cathedral displaying poppies
Gloucester Cathedral displaying poppies

Gloucester Cathedral has partnered with GCHQ and the Royal British Legion to launch this year’s poppy appeal. As well as commemorating the past, the initiative, which includes many thousands of handcrafted woollen and knitted poppies displayed in and around buildings across the county, encourages us to think about the modern day realities of war. The cathedral tower is lit red in support of the appeal. Project Pilgrim, a conservation programme, supported by the World War I Fund, is underway to restore a number of areas including the stunning Lady Chapel.

At Liverpool Cathedral where grants have enabled vital work to the Lady Chapel and Nave roofs, the Merchant Navy Service of Remembrance will take place on Sunday 13th November at 3pm.

Worcester Cathedral will hold acts of worship to commemorate Remembrance on Sunday and two exhibitions on the stories of local soldiers as well as the role of horses in war are helping to bring to life for a new generation the unsung heroes of conflict.

A new carving of a poppy has been completed at Exeter Cathedral in time for Remembrance Sunday. The decorated “corbel” stone will eventually be added high up on the eastern end of the Cathedral as part of a major programme of works in that area of the building that was funded by the First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund. It was carved from a block of Salcombe stone by Gary Morley who has been a member of the Cathedral’s team of masons for over 25 years.

The reason for this remembrance is not to glorify or validate war, or inspire or provoke conflict. Nor is it a nationalistic trumpet call commemorating only those of our own particular country or background. Instead the Church recognises the common humanity of all who have served and died, were injured or traumatised by war. This Remembrance Day church services across the country will think of current world conflicts – Syria, Iraq, many others – and offer prayers for those serving, those fleeing, those caught up in wars they did not start. Remembrance Day commemorations are an act of unity in the face of conflict.

In a world still consumed by conflict, where it is easy to see suffering yet so hard to know how to make a difference, remembering what has gone before is an act of rebellion against apathy. Churches and cathedrals are places where people can gather to speak of loved ones, to pray for reconciliation, to remember and learn about what has passed before. As Czesław Miłosz writes in The Issa Valley “The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.”

Becky Clark
Senior Cathedrals Officer and Deputy Secretary of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England

The rural foodbank offering home deliveries to isolated families in crisis

The Revd Gillian Roberts shares the stories of people the Fosse Foodbank has supported in rural Warwickshire and how churches are at the heart of this community safety net.

Fosse Foodbank, part of the Trussell Trust’s UK-wide network of over 420 foodbanks, is administered by St. Peter’s Church in Kineton, a village in south-east Warwickshire with a population of around 2,500. The headquarters of the local foodbank is based here, along with the warehouse and a distribution centre that gives out food parcels to people in crisis.  It is working with a network of rural churches to provide support for people in need from Wellesbourne in the west to Bishops Itchington and Southam in the north.  We are working with the local Anglican, Methodist, Congregational, Community and Roman Catholic churches.

Most foodbanks are set up in towns or cities, but people in rural areas also experience times of crisis, with one in five living below the poverty line.  The problem is exasperated by the higher cost of living, poor availability of social services and lack of affordable public transport.  Today in Kineton and the surrounding area, there are families struggling to put food on the table.  For people on low incomes, a sudden crisis – redundancy, benefit changes, illness or just an unexpected bill – can mean going hungry.  But the problem may not be so obvious in the countryside – there is a stigma attached to having people deliver bags of shopping to your door; there is no anonymity in walking into the local foodbank.

Our volunteers have been moved by the stories they have heard. We have John, who is homeless and lives in local farm outbuildings and comes to the centre, not just for food but to use the washroom facilities and to have a chat and cup of tea with the volunteers.  Kevin lives on a canal boat – it is quite a trek to get his groceries along the tow path. Then there is the couple who live in a car.  And Susan, with her daughter and new baby, who have been moved into temporary hotel accommodation away from her abusive husband.  The only facility she has for food is a kettle.  And several older folk in the housing association sheltered accommodation, whose benefits don’t quite stretch to meet all their regular bills. We have had clients return to us to work as volunteers and even joined our church family.

We have a network of professionals: doctors, health visitors, children’s centres, churches, schools and the housing associations who identify people in crisis and issue them with a voucher.  Last year 83 referral agencies issued vouchers to feed 211 people (155 adults and 56 children).  The main reasons given were benefit delays or changes, low income, debt and homelessness.

Each of our centres open for two hours a week, manned by a team of volunteers.  As it is not always convenient to get to the centre during those hours or if public transport is not available from outlying villages, we also have a delivery service, with emergency food parcels being taken to people’s homes by a team of volunteer drivers.

The Foodbank does more than provide food in an emergency.  It works to address the root causes of clients’ problems.  It can help to prevent family breakdown, housing loss, crime and mental health problems. We have a great team of volunteers who take time over a cup of tea and biscuit to listen to problems and signpost people to other agencies for further support.

The Foodbank is also an opportunity for local congregations to engage in their God-given mission – to feed the hungry (in our own neighbourhood), to raise awareness and to confront and campaign against social injustice.

Rev. Gillian Roberts
The Fosse Foodbank Steering Committee

Giving thanks for people of colour who have inspired us by their lives

All Saints Day on 1 November will be held at St Paul’s Cathedral by a service celebrating people of diverse backgrounds and cultures from the past who give us hope amidst the changes and challenges of our own day. The Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor of St Paul’s Cathedral, previews the service which also marks the 30th anniversary of the Archbishops’ Council’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns.

‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants’, said Isaac Newton, recognising the debt he owed to those who had gone before him. On All Saints Day, the church recognises and celebrates the inspired souls, the saints and holy people, whose faithful lives and witness encourage and guide us in our own response to God’s call.

This year at St Paul’s Cathedral, we are delighted to share in a very special marking of All Saints Day. This year, in acknowledgement of the 30th Anniversary of the establishment of CMEAC, (Archbishops’ Council’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns), we take the opportunity to give especial thanks for the women and men of colour from around the world who have gone before us. These, our ancestors in faith, now part of the great cloud of witnesses, come from diverse backgrounds and represent many different nationalities and cultures. These black saints inspire us by their lives; giving us hope amidst the changes and challenges of our own day.

One inspiration to us today is Ini Kopuria who founded the Melanesian Brotherhood on 28 October 1925, to bring the Gospel to the remote and dispersed islands of Melanesia. He dedicated his life and his land to God. The Brotherhood quickly grew into one of the largest religious communities in the Anglican Communion and its method of evangelism proved highly effective.

We are delighted that we will be joined by members, partners and supporters of CMEAC, a number of whom will play a part in the service. A young person from St Mary Magdalene Academy, Islington, will read. Christians from a range of backgrounds will lead the congregation in a litany which gives thanks for Holy Ones from many nations including China, India, Uganda, Spain, the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States; for men and women, for Jew and Gentile.

Mezzo Soprano Melanie Marshall, who counts Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson among her fans and has appeared to great acclaim on Broadway, the West End, Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall and on TV and radio, will sing, accompanied by Peter Holder, Sub-organist of St Paul’s.

We are hugely indebted to the artist Meg Wroe for the loan of her piece Trinity 2016 based on Rublev’s icon and inspired by the Stepney Racial Diversity Day held earlier this year. This artwork will be on display during the service as an aid for reflection and prayer.

The All Saints communion service at St Paul’s, launches the start of a year of events marking the 30th Anniversary of CMEAC.  The year will be completed in 2017 with the launch of a new publication ‘Inspired Souls – Black Saints and Holy People from around the World’. 

CMEAC works for the full inclusion and participation of people of black and minority ethnic heritage at every level within the Church of England.  Coming together to give thanks for the inspired souls who have gone before us, so we give thanks for the huge contribution made by the very many people of colour who make up such a significant part of the church today – around the world certainly but also most definitely here in the UK. As we go forward we long for the day when the whole church, at every level, will embrace, reflect and celebrate the gift God has given his church and the world in the people of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic heritage.

St Paul’s Cathedral is delighted to share in and to host this service. It builds on work both in the past and in the present which seeks to respond to God’s call for justice and inclusion.

The service takes place on 1 November at 5pm.

The Revd Canon Tricia Hillas
Canon Pastor of St Paul’s Cathedral

Sharing an unfamiliar stretch of road

Hospitals frequently dominate the news agenda but the dedication of key staff to patientsand colleagues is often unsung. Hospital chaplains support people facing themost difficult times of their lives. The Revd Alistair McCulloch, Lead Chaplainat The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust describes the privilege of sharing the journey.

On Monday morning I had a call from our Intensive Care Unit; a young man in great distress needed to speak with me. I arranged to meet with him and we sat together in my office. He began to share his story with me: His partner had been diagnosed with a rare cancer just six months ago at about the time they had planned to get married. She had rapidly deteriorated and was now being treated in Intensive Care. They still wanted to be married and it seemed important to do this as soon as possible. I gently explained the process to him and together we went to get the necessary paperwork. They were married the following afternoon with much relief, but today she is exhausted and the future seems uncertain.

The same afternoon I found myself in a conversation with a woman who had just been told that there were ‘no further treatment options for her’ and that she had only a few months left to live. She particularly wanted to talk with me about what would happen to her when she died and asked me more than once: ‘Do you believe in heaven?’ As she began to share her story with me it became clear that her anxiety was not really for herself but rather for her husband who had himself died from cancer within the last few months. She was missing him desperately, especially because she was now unable to share the news of her devastating diagnosis with her lifetime friend and soul-mate. Her anxiety was for himand to know that he was in heaven so that when her own time came she would be at peace in the knowledge that she was going to join him there. It was lovely to be able to re-assure her appropriately and to tell her that ‘whether we live or whether we die’ we are all equally held by God, and held in his love for ever.

We also care for staff: A few months ago one of our team of receptionists was taken ill and after a while in hospital she sadly died. Her close-knit team of colleagues was devastated and many others throughout the hospital were shocked and upset. I know many of our staff really well and soon came to realise that we needed to mark this sad event somehow. Together with the team of receptionists, I organized a memorial service in the hospital chapel which was to be a celebration of their friend’s life. When the time came last week we had a chapel full of her colleagues representing many different professions throughout the hospital. We listened to her favourite songs and to the story of her life; we lit candles for her and said prayers. Of course this was a sad occasion but the mood was also positive, hopeful and, above all, healing.

There is nothing unusual about any of these encounters. For a very brief time, sometimes for a few days or weeks, we share a hard part of a journey with someone. We may be able to give practical help; we may be able to re-assure or to help to improve perspective; we can always listen.

In our chapel at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea we have an icon of St Luke. It is a modern work in a traditional Greek style and shows the saint at work on his great gospel of healing. His book is open at the story of the disciples meeting with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. As they were talking we are told, ‘Jesus himself came near and went with them.’ (Luke 24, 15). Chaplains embody this loving presence – this sense that Jesus is with us on the journey. We do not need to invite him to join us on the road. He is with us already whether we recognise it or not. The main thing is that, like Jesus, we share this unfamiliar stretch of road as a fellow travelling companion. PeopIe trust us and draw us into their lives in a way that, even after many years as a chaplain, I still find to be a huge privilege.

The Revd Alistair McCulloch
Lead Chaplain at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

To protect confidentiality some details have been changed

‘The anxiety and grief is almost tangible in the camp’

Jessica Foster, a curate at St Peter’s, Hall Green, Birmingham, writes about a day trip to the Calais ‘Jungle’ to deliver rucksacks and suitcases in advance of the operation to clear the camp. She wrote this blog the week before the demolition got under way, with contributions from Abdullah Rehman and Fred Rattley.

Sitting in a meeting, planning what we, a group of friends from different faiths who live in south Birmingham could do to support people living in the Calais ‘jungle’ I glance at my phone. There is an appeal for suitcases and rucksacks as thousands of people prepare for an eviction.

I had no idea that two weeks later I would be sitting in a café on the camp, eating a delicious meal of Afghani eggs, spinach and chicken having delivered around 100 pieces of luggage, tents, sleeping bags and some winter clothes to a warehouse in Calais.

The aid was donated by two churches, one church where I am a curate and one free church where another member of the group, Fred, worships.  The loaded minibus was lent to us by Birmingham’s Central mosque, where one of our friends, Abdullah, has many connections.

We only spent about two hours at the camp. We met people there and at the warehouse who had given days, weeks, months and even years to be with and build relationship with this fragile community.

I have talked political footballs before but never have I seen it.  The anxiety and grief is almost tangible among the people in the camp. As we sat with volunteers from the youth service, a stream of young men came and asked for some kind of certainty, hungry for hope, unsettled by the threat of eviction. Bulldozing the jungle is not only about moving people’s location – it is about taking away the infrastructure that offers flimsy support, severing relationships that offer some comfort and support, breaking up communities of people who have roots in the same countries and disrupting the work of schools, libraries, warehouses, faith groups and humanitarian workers.

I was not expecting to spend time at the camp but Fred had a contact there, a young woman from his church, who is working with the youth service.  Fred says:

‘We met Danni who has been working in the Jungle as a volunteer for several months in the role of Female Minors Education Coordinator for the Refugee Youth Service, teaching English to refugee children. We thought we would give her some encouragement, some warm socks and some lactose-free milk as a treat, and in return she took us into the camp and shared something about life there, enabled us to feel the atmosphere and meet a few people, both residents and volunteers. It cannot be overstated how tough life is there and how tense the atmosphere is, with a permanent under-current of violence and oppression where extremely impoverished people anxiously await details of the arrangements for the closure – no one expects a positive ending and there are few causes for hope and optimism.

‘Danni is an extraordinary young woman in her early twenties who saw reports of the camp from her home in Birmingham, responded by making a few visits with donations and then signed up as a volunteer. The experience has inevitably changed her. It was really humbling for three middle aged people to have their safety in the hands of this diminutive young woman who understands how the camp works, knows the unwritten rules, is alert to the danger signals and yet retains an obvious warmth and compassion in her relationships. She is not unique and there are many like her, particularly women, who invest their energies and skills and an enormous amount of emotional energy in the people they support, particularly the young.”

For Abdullah, the collaboration across faiths and the relaxed friendships within our group are a sign of hope in a situation when hope is in short supply.

He says: “We wanted to respond – this led to a last minute scramble for a minibus, all types of bags and tents – but how would this be possible in only a few days?

“It was all possible because Central Mosque allowed us use of the minibus, the amazing Christian community stepped in and collected a van load of bags and tents.  All that was left to do was delivering the aid in the name of God and humanity to the persecuted and less fortunate.

‘The journey across country and into Calais was made by me, Jessica and Fred, a group of cross faith friends who wanted to make a difference and bring hope.  It was a fantastic journey which took us from one country to another within a day, into the unit on the outskirts of the town and finally into the jungle, which was both charming, with a community atmosphere, but also could become sinister and edgy at the drop of a hat as we were about to find out.

“The volunteers at the warehouse were from all over the world and they all helped to unload the bags and, while making us tea, told us of horrific stories of neglect and suffering the refugees faced on a daily basis.  They were amazing, but even more amazing was Danni, the young Christian volunteer who wears her heart on her sleeve, and when taking us into the heart of the jungle was shown amazing affection by the residents of the camp. The community spirit in the jungle was clear to see, but nothing would be possible without the volunteers who are doing all they can to make their lives more bearable in the face of such difficulties and adversity.

“As we drove back, I felt in more connection with my Christian brother and sister, Fred and Jess, and I saw the same humanity in them that I feel in my heart as a Muslim. Then why do we try and separate and differentiate?  I know that through conversations and dialogue we can overcome so much and truly understanding what each other stands for can definitely bring us more closely together. I do not know what will become of the amazing refugees living so desperately, yet smiling, and how they will cope with losing the place they have made home. The jungle is a thriving community and its inhabitants have made it as close to normal that you can get in such circumstances.”

Our little group, Balsall Heath Solidarity, is planning a longer trip to volunteer at the warehouse in December. We would be people from Jewish, Muslim and Christian backgrounds aged from 17 to mid-50s but of course we have no idea if we can go and what will be there by then. But what we do know is that people who we are told are ‘other’ from us can become our good friends. We can share sorrow and joy together as we did in that minibus. We can laugh and weep together. We can be inspired by the faith of the other and celebrate our differences.

The young men we met in the camp are no more ‘other’ than my neighbour in Balsall Heath. The 13-year-old who has experienced unspeakable traumas on a perilous journey has the same emotions as my son.

As Christians we believe we will be judged on how we responded to people who have no clothes, who are hungry and thirsty, who are strangers or imprisoned (Matthew 25 31-46). The faith communities must continue to campaign, the people must pray and we must learn in our neighbourhoods the practice of our faith in hospitality and generosity.

Jessica Foster
Curate at St Peter’s, Hall Green, Birmingham

‘A vision of a home for every child who needs one’

Joy Pollock writes about the launch of the charity Home for Good in Worcester at a special all age service in Worcester Cathedral. The charity works with churches to raise awareness of the need for foster and adoptive parents and to encourage families to provide loving homes for children in care.

As a kid, I used to go to Spring Harvest with my family year after year. So I grew up with an identity as a ‘Whizz Kid’, and then as part of the ‘Glory Company’ led by Ishmael. He made the Bible come alive through song and ‘Father God’ was one of many that I still remember and sing to my kids now. It permeated my being and I grew up secure in the knowledge of my identity in Christ.

Father God, I wonder how I managed to exist
Without the knowledge of your parenthood and your loving care.
But now I am your child, I am adopted in your family,
And I can never be alone,
‘Cause Father God, you’re there beside me.

Fast forward 30 years or so, and I find myself mothering three children. The oldest two – eight and six years old – are birth children, the little one – five months – is our looked after child. Along with my husband, we are a foster family for the local authority.

There are two questions I get asked the most: ‘What made you foster? is one of them. It was always part of God’s plan for our family and the seed was planted when Viv Thomas spoke at our church weekend away about his experiences as a child being in and out of care and finally settling with a Christian foster family. What he said he wanted was a clean home and regular hot meals. It was such a basic need – my house was cleanish and we had a hot supper every single night. I could meet that need for a child. The seed was further watered when I heard Krish Kandiah speak about ‘Home for Good’ one year at Spring Harvest.

Home for Good is a charity with a vision for a home for every child who needs one. In the UK, 4,000 children are waiting for adoption and 9,000 foster families are desperately needed. Home for Good believes that the Church can make a difference. It raises awareness of the need for foster and adoptive parents, encourages families to provide loving homes for the children in care, and equips the Church to offer welcoming communities for them.

Home for Good works on the ground with ‘local movements’ – collections of churches who have caught the vision to see vulnerable children’s lives changed. Here in Worcester, there are now eight churches with a desire to make a difference, and we want that number to grow. Our launch event at Worcester Cathedral, marks the beginning of a story here in Worcester to raise awareness of the need and engage people in fostering and adoption and support.

Which leads me to the second question I get asked most frequently – how can I give them up? Well, it’s hard. Very hard. But, children who have suffered loss, trauma and neglect need me to love them more than I need to protect my own feelings. They need commitment from me and to feel a sense of belonging.  And the support and scaffolding I have experienced from my church family at times of loss and stress has been such a blessing. Freezer meals, babysitting, chocolate, nappies, baby clothes and equipment at the start of a placement, and cards, flowers and even a spa day at the end of a placement have all characterised Christ’s love to me. So, the invitation to be involved in Home for Good through the local church is one we must accept. All Christians are adopted, and the church must bear witness to this new family into which Christians are adopted. Let’s offer an extraordinary, radical alternative family where all are welcome by God’s invitation.

Joy Pollock
Local Authority foster carer and a member of All Saints Church, Worcester  

The Continuing trial of Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi’s troubles began in June 2009 in her village, Ittan Wali, in rural Punjab, a patchwork of lush fields and dusty streets. Asia’s was the only Christian household in her village

She was picking berries alongside local Muslim women when a row developed over sharing water.

Days later, the women claimed she had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. Soon, Asia Bibi was being pursued by a mob.

“In the village they tried to put a noose around my neck, so that they could kill me,” she said.

The police were called. They came and after removing Asia and her family from the village they charged her for blasphemy on the basis of accusations from other villagers. Despite her denials she was convicted and sentenced to death.

The imam at the village mosque says he cried with joy when the death sentence was passed on Asia Bibi. He helped to bring the case against her and says she will be made to pay, one way or the other.

“If the law punishes someone for blasphemy, and that person is pardoned, then we will also take the law in our hands,” he said.

Another radical cleric promised 500,000 Pakistani rupees to anyone prepared to “finish her”. He suggested that the Taliban might be happy to do it.

Over the Christmas period, political parties were out on the streets, holding strikes and threatening anarchy if Asia Bibi was freed, or if there was any attempt to amend the blasphemy law.

In 2010, Asia Bibi was tried and sentenced to death.

In response, Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of the Punjab region in Pakistan, spoke out on behalf Bibi, suggesting the country’s blasphemy laws were outdated and being used to settle scores against Christians in areas wholly unrelated to religion.

On January 4, 2011, one of Taseer’s bodyguards shot him 26 times with a submachine gun as he was returning to his car after meeting a friend for lunch. After the shooting, the bodyguard, Malik Qadri, threw his weapon down and put his hands up when one of his colleagues aimed at him. He reportedly pleaded to be arrested.

Qadri stated that he killed Taseer due to his vocal opposition to the blasphemy law in Pakistan. When supporters of Qadri blocked police attempting to bring him to the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi, some supporters even showered him with rose petals. Qadri was tried and sentenced to death. He was hanged earlier this year. Following his execution protestors called for him to be given national status as a martyr.

A suicide bombing in March of this year in the north-western town of Shabqada which killed 14 people and wounded nearly 30 others was claimed to have been carried out as a direct reprisal for Qadri’s execution.

One of those who spoke out most vocally against Salman Taseer’s assassination was the Pakistan Government’s Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti.

Mr Bhatti, himself a Christian, also spoke out on behalf of Asia Bibi, arguing that she should win her appeal against her conviction, or be pardoned by the President of Pakistan. He argued that Asia Bibi is one of dozens of innocent people who are accused every year under the blasphemy law. As a consequence he received numerous death threats. He spoke about these during a television interview at the end of February 2011.

Less than a week after this interview, on the 2nd of March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated.

According to the BBC, he was travelling to work through a residential district, having just left his mother’s home, when his vehicle was sprayed with bullets.

Bhatti was taken to a nearby hospital but he was pronounced dead on arrival. The group Tehrik-i-Taliban told the BBC that they carried out the attack, because Bhatti was a “known blasphemer.”

Asia Bibi still remains on death row. In October 2014 the Lahore High Court rejected her appeal against the death sentence. If the sentence is carried out she will become the first person in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy.

Asia’s husband, Ashiq, and her two young daughters, Isha and Isham, deal daily with the uncertainty of what awaits them when they step outside their home, as they have also become targets for violence. In the first two years that Asia was in prison, safety concerns have forced them to move more than five times.

Today (October 13 2016) Asia Bibi’s case came to the Supreme Court in Pakistan. News reports suggest her appeal has been delayed with no new date set for a hearing, according to Al Jazeera.

Justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman told the court he had to recuse himself from the case: “I was a part of the bench that was hearing the case of Salmaan Taseer, and this case is related to that,” he told the court.

Asia Bibi’s wait continues.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the Australian branch of Amnesty International  are just two of the groups worldwide who continue to campaign for Asia Bibi. In joining our voices with theirs we are able to let Asia Bibi know she is not forgotten and that in her continuing fight for justice she is not alone.

As justice is delayed and justice is denied, our prayers for her continue.

Arun Arora, Director of Communications, Archbishops’ Council