I've been in my current post for a little over 10 years and although I realise that this part of Salford has changed a lot in that time I forget just how much. I've dug out some photos from early 2005 that I took from the tower of Sacred Trinity Church and taken the same view today to compare. The changes are striking.
Looking towards Victoria Station
St Philip's Church tower was there, then it wasn't!
This year it is 25 years since I was ordained priest and I have
been in active ministry ever since. I held a little gathering recently and reflected on what I have learnt in 25 years. It
largely isn’t great.
I have learned that I have not got any
better at what I do but I have learned to cope with my failings, perhaps a
I have learned that however often I tidy my
office at home it will always get messy again.
I have learned that even if I write
reminders in my diary I always prepare at the very last minute
I have learned that I forget a lot of
things and my memory is not getting any better. I meet people in Sainsbury’s
and know I know them but can’t remember their name. Often I remember just after
I sometimes forget to turn up to meetings
but not very often.
I have learned that our buildings are a
blessing and a curse – I love showing people round, I love the “wow”, I love
being able to go on the roof at St Phil’s… I don’t love the constant feeling
that I need to work on a funding bid and having to unblock the toilets and put
the chairs away and I know it shouldn’t always rely on me but when I’m the one
who is here and the toilet is blocked right now, I unblock the toilet!
I count it a privilege to be with people at
profound moments in their life. To be with people as they die and to visit a
I still sometimes cry after a funeral and
occasionally during it. I still love doing weddings and am immensely grateful
for my own marriage. I love doing baptisms in all the crazy ways they come to
us, the gorgeous little babies, the screaming babies, the toddlers who don’t
co-operate, the youngsters who ask big questions, the adults who really commit
and the adults who aren’t sure but want to be baptized.
I have learned that it is usually good to
say yes and usually bad to say no but sometimes I should really have said no.
Perhaps it is okay to say no to doing a wedding on Christmas day! But I hope
that I always remember the primacy of Love. I believe in a God of love who is
at the heart of everything and calls us to love. I have grown to love the
community I find myself in and its people. Yes I sometimes get annoyed but I
try to remember to love people and usually the more you get to know them the
more you love them.
So thank you for putting up with me. I am
constantly in need of your forgiveness and the forgiveness of God but despite
my own failings I have loved doing what I do. I pray that sometimes God has
been at work in me and that somehow together we make the love of God a little
At the moment the Labour Party in Salford is busy selecting the person to be the candidate for Parliament at the next election. Hazel Blears is stepping down and Hazel has generally done a good job with inevitably a few mistakes along the way. I could write about Hazel's record but that would need another post. As a Labour Party member in the constituency I will have a vote on who could replace Hazel and I'm thinking about how to use it. I thought I would write a few thoughts and ask the candidates how they might address the issues that I think are important.
To start with there are some priorities that I expect all the candidates will emphasise, therefore these are important but won't be the deciding factor in selecting a candidate.I'll make it clear that I believe all the candidates, as Labour Party members, will be keen to promote greater equality and fairness, they will be in favour of Opportunity, Education and the National Health. They will all want greater investment in public services, particularly for the benefit of the poor and vulnerable. They will all want a "sound economy" to pay for these things. The Labour Governments of Blair and Brown had some fantastic achievements and as a long-term resident of Inner City Salford I know very well how much better life got under a Labour government. We had investment in Education, Surestart, much improved policing with reduced crime. We got shiny new hospital facilities and innovative regeneration of challenging housing areas. There was still a lot to do and many mistakes were made along the way, and not just the Iraq War. As we look back the Labour Government was good for the people of Salford.
So what do I want from the next MP for Salford? First and foremost I want someone who cares passionately about the people of Salford. I want someone who will not be seduced by London. Governments generally are far too dominated by the needs and desires of London and the current Labour Party is not showing enough willingness to tackle this. The economy of London has a cancerous effect on the economy of this country and it is time for this to change. Londoners get far higher public subsidy than the rest of the country and this has to change. I hope that our next MP will be willing to challenge unfair distribution of public subsidy to London but we Northerners (Okay I was born in London, but I've lived in Salford and Manchester for 26 years and now count myself as an adopted Salfordian) can't just winge about the North/South divide. We need to work together to build our own vibrant economy. The economy of Salford and Manchester is doing well but many places in the North are doing a lot less well. We need to work together with Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Newcastle and the places inbetween. We need better, faster train connections to other Northern cities before we improve the link to London.
I love living in the city but I want to live in a city that feels safe, well-connected, fair and designed for the benefit of all. Salford has over the years been improving but I want to see the improvements accelerated and I'd love to see government supporting this. So; First of all we need at least the same level of investment in public transport that London gets; we need need to be able to organise public transport for people with well organised routes that are strategic and not just organised for private profit. We need simple ticketing that allows multi-mode travelling and at a reasonable price. We need to get away from the idea that buses are for the poor and build a bus, tram and train system that gives a serious choice to everyone. We also need to tackle the problem of aggressive motorists and insist that those who consistently break the speed limit will lose their licence. That means a lot more monitoring of speed and strict action. I walk across the A6 every day and sometimes many times a day. It goes through the heart of my community and it's wonderful that it is limited to 20 MPH but many motorists ignore the speed limit and this should not be an option. Over many years the investment in roads for cars has been huge but we now need to invest more in making our cities safe for walking, cycling and public transport.
It is fantastic that people are moving back into the city but in my community that mainly means new apartment blocks for private rent and at fairly expensive prices. We also need affordable housing. I want to live in a vibrant mixed community where people have genuine choices about where to live. We need a lot of investment in house building and I'm not idealogically tied to allowing councils to build council houses again but we need to ensure that there is affordable rented housing and a mix of housing types in every community.
Finally, politicians aren't held in high esteem by the public and I think it's important that our MPs help build trust in politicians again. The days of deference are long gone but trust is built by honesty, integrity and understanding. I want an MP who will be honest about mistakes as well as successes, I want an MP who will challenge in Westminster and who knows what it is like for ordinary people in Salford. So, I want to know how our prospective MPs propose to stay in touch and safeguard themselves against the corrupting influence of Westminster.
So I might summarise my questions to those who would be MP as:
How can the economy of Northern England be strengethened?
How would you build local democracy?
How would you like to devolve power away from Westminster?
Would you be in favour of English Regional Government or strengthened City Regions?
How can we get investment in Public transport for the benefit of all?
How will we tackle the curse of the private motor car without alienating too many voting motorists?
What are the priorities for house building? How can we get more affordable rented properties?
How do you intend to stay in touch with the lives of ordinary people?
And a couple of slightly cheeky questions to finish...
Last Thursday we had
the local elections and the European Parliamentary Elections and as I’ve
reflected on the results I’ve realized that I feel like an alien in my own
land. In the European election the party that got the largest vote was UKIP: a
party that I consider to be xenophobic and possibly racist with homophobic and
misogynist leanings. A party that is in favour of tax cuts for the wealthy and
wants more grammar schools.I simply don’t
understand why people would vote for them. I suppose I do need to keep things
in perspective. The turnout in the European election was very low – just under
34% and so UKIP were actually only supported by about 9% of the population. The
media have made bold claims about the rise of UKIP using words such as
“earthquake” and “surge” but the facts may not justify the hyperbole.
Nonetheless, UKIP did very well in the European Election and surprisingly well
in some areas in the local elections. I want to share a few thoughts on low
turnout, the appeal of UKIP and what is important to me.
Low turnout. UKIP are very concerned about the EU but it would seem that the
majority in this country are not.I
believe that it’s important for people to use their hard won democratic right
to vote but a large majority of people in this country disagree with me when it
comes to Europe. There are a host of reasons why people may not vote: ignorance
of how to; a feeling that it won’t make any difference; a distrust of all the
candidates. The European elections have an element of proportional
representation in them that does away with some of the arguments against voting
that people often cite with regard to UK parliamentary elections. In the
first-past-the-post system many people argue that your vote is irrelevant if
you don’t live in a marginal constituency but in the European Parliamentary
elections smaller parties can be elected. So why don’t more people vote?
Possibly, despite the claims of UKIP, most people don’t feel that the EU makes
a lot of difference to us. In my opinion they’re wrong, but that seems to be
some people’s thinking. If there were an in/out referendum, as some people
want, I’d be worried if there weren’t safeguards against low turnout. It would
be a bizarre situation if the United Kingdom, (or former United Kingdom if
Scotland is independent by then), made a momentous decision like leaving the EU
with only a minority voting for it. It would be a real worry because minorities
sometimes make decisions. In Salford we have an elected mayor because 10% of
the electorate voted for one – 2% more than voted against. In my opinion you shouldn’t
introduce significant constitutional change with less than 50% of the
electorate in favour.
What is the appeal of UKIP? Clearly UKIP have been helped a great deal by
an enthusiastic media. Scare stories about migrants and EU legislation
proliferate in the tabloids and even the BBC has been guilty of talking up the
success of UKIP. The other parties have tended to respond by pointing out that
they too are going to give migrants and the EU a hard time. I’m not sure that
this is all that helpful and I’ve been especially disappointed by the Labour
Party. UKIP will always be more anti-immigrant than the Labour Party so it
isn’t helpful to compete with them on this. Some correction of facts would be
helpful but not trying to vie with them on policy.
Another part of the
appeal of UKIP is that they are seen as anti-politician politicians. Despite
his wealthy, privileged and privately educated background Nigel Farage is portrayed
as an “ordinary bloke”.The Labour Party
does need to see this as a serious challenge as it has become too
professionalised and too remote from most of the country. National politics are
dominated by London’s needs and desires and this can’t be allowed to carry on.
During 13 years of Labour Party government there were some moves made to
decentralise but nothing like enough. I believe that the Labour Party and
others need to reconnect with ordinary people across the country. They need to
genuinely listen and we need some more northern, working class voices in there.
So what are the alternatives to the UKIP
“earthquake”? The Labour Party
had some success in the elections but didn’t do as well as it should have. They
want to win next year’s general election and are busy aligning policies with
what they think will be popular. Democracy seems to be a constant compromise
between ideals and popularity. I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for
almost all of my adult life and persevered even through the dark days of the
Iraq war but I find it hard to be motivated by what I hear recently. I suspect
this is because they’re not trying to impress me. They are trying to impress
swing voters in marginal constituencies but it feels like they are saying“look we’re not quite as bad as the Tories so
vote for us”. It’s not anything to stir the blood!
On Monday Ed Milliband
tweeted: “If you share my values of hard work, fairness and opportunity then
help show that we can make Britain work again:” I’m not quite sure what that
means. It’s not bad but I don’t think it’s what I would choose as my three
prime values… “Hard work, fairness and opportunity?” It got me wondering what I
might choose. Perhaps “fulfilling work, justice and freedom”? Freedom and
opportunity though, are slippery concepts that can allow one person the freedom
to oppress another. With freedom must always come responsibility.Perhaps I could borrow from Brinsley Schwarz and have
“Peace, love & Understanding”? Perhaps, to steal from the French, “Liberty,
Equality, Fraternity”? I’d like to remove the masculine implications of
“Fraternity” but I would really want something in there about community or
solidarity. For me, my political views and my Christian faith are intertwined
and in both I believe that we human beings are at our best when we work
together for the good of all. I believe that human beings are inherently
sociable and I believe that the world will not thrive if we all isolate
ourselves and put barriers up. So I believe that even though the EU is flawed
it is a good thing. The problem is not that the EU is too big but that in a
world that is dominated by global tax-dodging multi-nationals the EU is not big
enough! If the human race is to survive and thrive we will need to increasingly
find global ways to co-operate. We will need to tackle the injustices of the
world and put an end to poverty. If people want to reduce migration to this
country, the long-term solution is to make things better in other countries,
not strengthen the barriers here. The wealth we have accumulated, and continue
to accumulate here, is at least partly dependent on poverty elsewhere. Thomas
Piketty and others have argued that increasing inequalities could lead to the
collapse of capitalism if they are not tackled. It may well be that this would
be a good thing in the long term but it would be painful and isn’t something to
To me, it seems that
UKIP and the Conservative Party have as their core-values selfishness and
greed. They might put a positive spin on these by calling them individual
freedom and opportunity but selfishness and greed are what they are. And this
is where I start to feel like an alien in my own land because it seems that
many and possibly most people in this country feel that selfishness and greed
are acceptable, or even good, values. I hope I’m wrong but this is what I see
in the political sphere. The Labour Party seems to have decided some time ago
that in order to get elected it needs to pander to our societal individualism
and selfishness. The Liberal Democrats have terminally damaged themselves
through their toxic pact with the Tories and although the Green Party
courageously recycle old socialist policies alongside their environmental ones,
they simply fail to get enough votes. I’d still prefer a Labour government to
this current one but I’d love to be truly inspired! I suspect that in the long
term either the values I cherish will triumph or our civilisation will come to
an unhappy end. In the meantime I’m the oddity in the corner asking with
Brinsley Schwarz and Elvis Costello “What’s so funny ‘bout Peace, Love &
We currently have this exhibition on at
Sacred Trinity (http://www.hssr.mmu.ac.uk/hip/encountering-corpses/heavenly-bodies-art-exhibition/) and I’m being asked why we have allowed such gruesome pictures
in church. Some of the pictures are quite challenging but many of them are very
beautiful too. The central elements of the exhibition are 12 large prints of
photos by Paul Koudounaris of decorated skeletons and Charnel Houses that he
has found in various places around Europe. The skeletons are presumed to be
early Christian martyrs whose bones were found and decorated by later
Christians. They are beautiful but also profoundly disturbing.
The exhibition is an art exhibition but it
also challenges us about our attitude to death and corpses. Some people don’t
like us to have gory pictures in church and yet when this exhibition comes down
we will be putting up some pictures of torture and execution, as it will be Holy
Week and we will put up our Stations of the Cross. In the past churches very
often had very gory pictures in them and frequently kept body parts of the
saints. Today we tend to get squeamish about such things. Is this because we
are more sensitive and respectful of the dead or is it because we want to avoid
confronting the reality of death? I suspect that it is at least as much about
the latter as the former.
How then should we treat the remains of the
deceased? What do (or should) Christians believe about the body and about death?
I believe that the scriptural view is that
a person is a whole person – body, mind & soul. The Greeks liked to
separate out the idea of body & soul but this isn’t there in Hebrew thought
or in the bible. The early Gnostics liked to argue that the physical world was
inferior to the spiritual world but the prevailing view in the early church was
that God created the physical world and it was good. The incarnation of Christ
is seen as valuing our human, bodily existence. The biblical texts do not speak
of an immortal soul but of resurrection. If we were honest about the New
Testament accounts of life after death and heaven we would have to admit that
they aren’t clear on the details. We are promised that we are inheritors of
eternal life, which starts now and continues beyond death. There will be a resurrection and this is
clearly seen in fairly physical terms but although it is related it is not
dependent on our physical body now. (See 1 Corinthians 15)
So what should be our attitude to death?
Death should not be feared but seen as moving into a new phase of our ongoing
relationship with God. So death should be welcomed when it comes but until it
comes we have work to do here. We should treat our body, whilst alive as a
“temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6). The New Testament had an urgency to it
that sometimes makes it difficult to apply in our situation. For example there
is no advice about how to bury the dead as it was considered that Christ’s
return was imminent and there was no consideration of such long-term issues.
How then should we respond when
encountering corpses? We should treat them with respect as the remains of
someone who has gone before us, someone who is now, or will be, with God in
resurrection form. They are a reminder of our own mortality, a challenge to the
prevailing culture of death-denial. Most of all they are a reminder of the
limited time we have and the need to use our time well.
I've just come on to here to post something and have noticed how rarely I do this now! I suppose that with the immediacy and brevity of Twitter and everything else this blog just goes lower down the list of priorities. So if you want to hear from me more regularly make sure that you are following me on twitter (@salfordrev). Or if you see me, chat to me. I often find time to chat but don't often find time to write much...