Thursday, 31 May 2012

It’s over - and it’s just beginning

It’s over – General Assembly commissioners have packed up their blue books, handed in their voting tags and are heading for Waverly station or the nearest bus stop - maybe they’re catching a ride home, but please tell me they carpooled!

It’s over – and it’s just beginning. This will be my first year as Convener and I am excited! I personally think that the work of the Church and Society Council is the core business of the Church.

We have a clear focus for social justice and come to all aspects of our work with one question: how does this affect the most vulnerable?

It is said that you should never pray in a room without windows. I think that holds true for everything we do; never losing sight of the “why” of our work keeps it focussed and relevant. 

The work we have to do is vital to the church, yes, but it is also vital to the country and further afield. The Church of Scotland has a lot to say, but words alone are not what will make a difference. For our voice to be authentic it has to be rooted in action and that action comes from local congregations.

The reports have been given and now the church needs to pick them up and embody them. How will we respond to the call for action in regards to domestic violence against women? To the appalling reality of human trafficking? To the tragedy of the situation in Gaza? What changes will we make on a personal and local level in response to the report on climate change and our relationship with food? What can we do to promote a more equitable economy?

These are the questions that will be answered in the next year by the 43 Presbyteries, 1000-plus congregations, and over half a million members. The report has been laid on the table. Now we begin. It’s over – commissioners are packing up their blue books, handing in their voting tags and heading home.

It’s over - and it’s just beginning.

Journey and Vision: thoughts from a brand new Convenor

I am Sally Foster-Fulton, Associate Minister at Dunblane Cathedral  and the new Convenor of the Church of Society Council. It’s an extraordinary thought for me, coming as I do from South Carolina (yes, you read that right, South Carolina!) to not just be Convenor of this amazing Council but to have to try to follow Ian and walk the wide path he has laid out for me. When you come to a turning point or a mile-marker on a journey is a good point to take a moment and look back at where you came from to give you perspective, a sense of proportion, a minute to catch your breath and gather your strength for the move ahead.

This is my first blog as Convener. But before I get started I want to look back at where we’ve come from. Ian Galloway has journeyed with us for four years, sharing his unique gift for leadership. His clear vision for social justice has given the Church and Society Council a lens to look through – always focusing on one question: “how will this work benefit our brothers and sisters in most need?”

This year at the General Assembly that vision was seen (and heard) in every single report and motion. The question resonated through discussions on domestic violence against women, on human trafficking, on sectarianism, on Gaza. It was embodied in the report by the Special Commission on the Purposes of Economics as the Church grappled with the upside-down world we live in where increasingly fewer and fewer have more and more, while more and more have less and less.

But reports are only as good as the people who pick them up and use them. Over the next year, as we continue to build on the work done, the vision Ian has helped us see more clearly will hold us on course. I look forward to the journey!

Ian Galloway's final post as Convener

This will be my final Convener's Blog entry. The past four years have been a privilege, but I am tired. I look forward to returning to the role of Parish Minister in the Gorbals on a full time basis.

Not that this is some kind of easy option, but to have the opportunity to focus in one direction will be a different kind of challenge - and one that right now, and particularly after some family time is very attractive.

I am hugely grateful to everyone who has supported me in the role of Convener.

Without that sense of working on behalf of others who care it would have been a real slog. I am in no doubt that the greatest beneficiary of this time has been me. I have loved the engagement, the opportunities and, as always, the people I have been permitted to meet in so many places.

The task of making a difference in the fight for social justice (the Gospel imperative of prioritising the poor), and asserting the critical relevance of the Christian faith in 21st Century Scotland, is one that brings significant challenges to those who are called to it.

As far as the part this Convenorship may play in that task, I hand that on to Sally Foster-Fulton. I have come to know Sally over the past two years, and particularly in this past year when she has been Vice Convenor of the Council. I know that under her wise and careful leadership the work of the Council will flourish and grow.

I look forward to watching that happen, at the same time as breathing a sigh of relief that my time in that particular hot seat has passed.

 I leave you with a prayer for God's blessing on all you aspire to in Jesus' name. Ian Galloway - Minister, Gorbals Parish Church, Glasgow.  

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Go on, have a drink….

I was pleased that to hear the Scottish Government announce yesterday that it is proposing to set a minimum price for alcohol at 50p per unit. Well, pleased but still worried… it’s a much better level than the 35p per unit proposed in England – but is it enough? The research I have seen would suggest that for this policy to make a difference to our life threatening drink culture, a higher level per unit is required to make a real difference.

I am proud to be Scottish – it’s deeply ingrained in who I am. But, sadly, engrained in being Scottish is also a culture of drinking that destroys the lives of many of my fellow scots. Every day in my life as a parish minister, I see the devastation to lives that regular drinking and binge drinking cause’s to individual and their families. It affects health, employment and community life, not to mention the accidents that result from drink drivers getting behind the wheel with inappropriate levels of alcohol in their blood stream.

Minimum pricing is not a magic wand – the only way we are going to make a real difference is through a package of culture changing measures which, as well as minimum pricing, needs to include health campaigns, education work in and out of schools and positive messages from role models in sport, music, film, media and other opinion formers – messages that say a wee drink or two is fine, drunk will not make you popular, sexy or happy.

Fifty pence per unit is a start; it will result in the cheapest bottle of wine coming in at £4.69 and four-pack of lager costing £3.52. However – the effect on alcopops is likely to be minimal. With an average of 1.5 units of alcohol per bottle this would add £1.50 to the cost per bottle, but supermarkets are selling multi-packs which an average price of £1 per bottle. Will £2.50 per bottle really reduce the amount drunk by the younger generation? It might help but until we are brave enough to move from “go on - have a drink” to “you’ve had enough, - let’s stop” it won’t do so on its own.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Could you live on a £1 a day?

All across the country, thousands of people are trying to eat and drink for the next 5 days for just £1 per day as part of the “Live Below the Line challenge”.

It's an extraordinary initiative that has certainly woken me up to how 1.4 billion people have to live. £1 is the UK equivalent of the extreme poverty line and is calculated on what you can buy in the US, for $1.25. Even thinking about living on so little will give us a glimpse into the challenges faced by these 1.4 billion people who have no choice but to live below the line every day – for everything - food, medical care, transport, education, everything.

Shopping for groceries on such a tight budget is alien to many of us. One of my colleagues has started the challenge this week – here is an insight in to her week.

“Today is Day 1 of 5 that I am going to be living on just £1 a day for all my food and drink as part of the “Live Below the Line challenge”!! Living on less than £1 a day for food and drink is not easy but it is possible.

My personal shopping list for these 5 days is: lentils (500gm) @ £0.83, easy cook rice @ £0.89, carrots (300gm) @ £0.24 , oats (100gm) @ £0.10, 5 tea bags @ £0.25, one onion @ £0.16, 6 value mixed eggs @ £0.85, 1 pint semi skimmed milk @ £0.49, gala apples @ £1.00. This is a Total of £4.81 which gives me 19 p to juggle with....maybe a loaf of bread (reduced price) later in the week! I will also be foraging... nettles for tea, wild garlic for greens and dandelion/sorrel and ground elder for greens… and I do know where there’s a patch of wild rhubarb…”

Celebrities, politicians, students, pensioners, teenagers, people from every walk of life and every part of the UK are joining the movement against extreme poverty and trying the challenge. Many of us have no idea what it must be like to have so little to live on yet there are people living in our own communities who may not have to live on just £1 per day but are struggling to make ends meet and have to rely on Food Banks to get enough food to feed the family.

So think about it – put yourselves in other‘s shoes – could you live on £1 per day? - that is less than you would spend on a cup of coffee - I know I would struggle.

It is also spreading awareness of the crucial anti-poverty initiatives being undertaken by the Global Poverty Project.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Tyranny of Numbers

About a fortnight ago it was announced that the UK economy had shrunk by 0.2%. This set in train all manner of political recriminations, which would have been much muted if the change, however slight, had been positive rather than negative. Yet what is 0.2%? It is equivalent to 2p in every £10, something which many of us would hardly notice. Of course the recession is making a huge difference to many of the poorer of our society, but the reality of the current economic crisis is not contained in any numbers, but in the disproportionate hardship imposed on poorer sections of the population. When someone loses their job, their loss is not 0.2% but 100% of their income.

Numbers alone cannot always convey what we want to say, and may indeed be misleading. In Watership Down the rabbits could only count up to four; any more was simply described as many. As humans we can do rather better. We can count as high as you like, but can we really appreciate these numbers? The ancient Greeks used the same word for ten thousand and for countless, essentially our myriad. When numbers get too large for comfort, we call them astronomical, but there are bigger numbers still and some scientists talk about them quite seriously.

Recently I saw the question being asked “Has the Big Bang pushed God out of the Universe?” I found this strange, for the prima facie answer is NO. The Big Bang is a scientific concept, which indicates an origin of space and time in our universe. One could, therefore, naturally identify the Big Bang with the epoch of creation. To avoid this impasse, possibly implying the existence of a creator, cosmologists have postulated the multiverse, consisting of 10500 separate universes, of which ours is only one. This number is so large that to write it out in full - a 1 with 500 zeroes after it - would fill half this blog! It was Carl Sagan, an avowed atheist, who said that an astronomer without awe must be mad.

Bottom line: fascinating as these discussions are, the Church is more concerned with how the numbers stack up for the ones who struggle every day in this tiny piece of space and time.