Sunday, 26 June 2016

After the EU Referendum - What Next?

I don't often share my sermons here but just occasionally, I choose to.  Here are my thoughts shared in the three churches today:

This week has seen a momentous decision taken by the British public as the vote to leave the European Union secured 52% while the vote to remain secured 48%.  The turnout of voters was among the highest in recent history with 72.2% of eligible voters casting a ballot.  Within hours the Prime Minister had tendered his resignation and opinions were being freely exchanged across television screens, newspapers, social media and in conversations wherever I went.

This morning, I’m not going to tell you which way I voted and nor am I going to ask which way you voted.  The reason for that isn’t any great secret but the fact of who voted which way isn’t the subject I wish to linger on today – the political pundits are doing rather a lot of that.  What I am more interested in is the question of what happens next?   How do we respond both to the vote itself and to those around us as we discuss the result?

On Friday morning as I woke up to the news of the vote to leave, I logged onto Facebook as I often do.  There, I was confronted by some friends who were absolutely jubilant, and others who were absolutely heartbroken.   That in itself is perhaps understandable because this decision stirred big emotions and has the potential for huge changes in our nation; but what I saw next was very worrying.  As the news spread, I saw battle lines being drawn:  those who had voted to leave were repeatedly being described as selfish, racist, xenophobic, manipulated by the media and responsible for the imminent downfall of Great Britain.  Then I saw those who had voted to remain being described as sore losers, alarmists, out of touch, the political elite, scare-mongerers, and unwilling to listen to the majority.  It was in many ways like watching a pair of cats fight, as usually good, kind, people rolled over and over in the dirt spitting, snarling and yowling as the fur flew and as each one yelped in pain but neither was willing to walk away from the fight.

And as someone who had a vote, who used her vote and who is also an immigrant to this great nation, I began to wonder what we were doing to one another - not because of the result itself, but in how we are treating one another, how we are speaking to and about one another and how, or indeed if, our faith is included in the mix.

In our Epistle reading today, St Paul speaks of some huge concepts starting with slavery and freedom. He argues that our faith in Christ means we have been set free from the burdens of a rigid law that had become impossible to fulfil, but our freedom is not to be used as an opportunity to be self-indulgent, but rather to serve one another in love.  He says:  “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  If however you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”

 I wonder, at the moment, are we loving our neighbours just as much as we love ourselves?  Well, those of our neighbours who took the same political position as we did are probably fairly easy to love but what about those neighbours who took the opposite view?  I wonder how easy you find it to love them…or does it seem easier to bite and devour one another with your opposing views and through the exchange of harsh words?

 There were many harsh words exchanged on both sides of the argument over the two months leading up to the referendum.  The debate was harsh, the lines were drawn in black and white, the question made so simple that it seemed there could only be winners and losers.  And I wonder if the very tone of the debate contributed to the result itself?  When we dig our heels in, in any argument, and become determined that we are 100% right then this automatically means that those on the other side must be 100% wrong.  And what happens next is that we stop listening.  We vilify other people in our families, in our churches and in our communities and we paint them as “bad people” because they do not agree with us.  And that’s the point when both communication and communities start to break down.  We have drawn our battle lines and we find ourselves unable to cross them to see the humanity of those on the other side.  Civil wars have been triggered over less.

St Paul goes on to say that as Christians, we should “live by the Spirit, and not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  So first, let’s look at some of those things he puts into the category of “flesh” – enmity, strife, anger, quarrels, dissension, factions.  These are the things that leave people drawing battle lines in the sand based on who is right and who is wrong and these are the things that come naturally when we are upset, disappointed or hurt and these are also the things that tear communities, families and churches apart.  And this is why St Paul warned us against them.  It is very tempting to allow these things to rule our hearts and our lives but if we do, then we are living in the flesh and we are choosing slavery.

By contrast, Paul then moves to the flip side because he doesn’t stop with a long list of what we shouldn’t do, he continues on to tell how we can begin to rebuild, how we can find our way back to one another, how we can heal the divisions among us.  Paul says, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  There is no law against these things.”

Some of you here today will be deeply saddened by the results of this vote, you will be worried about what happens next and you may even feel angry with those who voted to leave.  Some of you here today will be filled with joy at the result of this vote; you will see this as a good thing and will be looking forward to the next steps.  And each one of you will be absolutely convinced that your position is the right one.  But as much as you had a choice to make this past Thursday, you also have a choice to make in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.  Will you draw battle lines between one another with anger, quarrels, dissensions and factions and choose to live in the slavery of the flesh?  Or will you choose to find a way to live with one another by demonstrating patience, kindness, generosity and self-control and so allow the Spirit to live in you and flow out through you?

The process of reconciliation when peoples and a country are divided is hard, it can be painful but the very steps involve being willing to truly and deeply listen to one another:  So if you voted to remain, then I would encourage you now to truly listen to the reasons why those who voted to leave did so, even if that’s hard and even if you disagree.  And if you voted to leave, then I would also encourage you to truly listen to the reasons why those who voted to remain did so, even if that’s hard and even if you disagree.  Listening to one another’s deep and heartfelt experience is not easy but it’s the only way we can now move forward and work together because if we want to live by the Spirit, then we must also allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit.

May those of you who hurt be comforted.  May those of you who rejoice be blessed.  And may we all find the strength to listen to each other and work together on the next steps.  Amen. 

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Walking for Adam - In the Steps of A Giant

31/05/2016: For immediate release

Walking for Adam – In the Steps of a Giant

On 30th July local resident, Chris Cheshire, is participating in a 20 mile sponsored walk to support national charity Group B Strep Support.   Chris is hoping his challenge will raise funds together with invaluable awareness of group B Strep infection in newborn babies.

The 20-mile charity walk called, ‘Walking for Adam – In the Steps of a Giant’ will start at The Huntsman in Little Wenlock at approx. 9am. Chris will be joined by a group of twelve fundraisers including his older son, George Cheshire, GBSS Chief Executive Jane Plumb M.B.E. and her family, along with other friends and family members. 

Chris’s youngest son, Adam Cheshire, was born on 25 March 2011.  Just eight hours later he was fighting for his life, infected by Group B Strep Meningitis, which is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening illness in newborn babies.  Thankfully, Adam, is a fighter and survived the infection but, now five years old, he has been left profoundly disabled – hearing and visually impaired, autistic, asthmatic and developmentally delayed.  The charity, Group B Strep Support (GBSS), campaigns for greater awareness of this devastating infection and wants to see every pregnant woman in the UK given accurate information about and offered testing for Group B Strep.

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of GBSS so on Saturday 30th July, Chris Cheshire, will be participating in a 20 mile sponsored walk, raising funds for the charity.  The walk has been planned to honour the spirit of the local legend of “The Giant and the Cobbler”, which shows us that, with courage and ingenuity, even the biggest obstacles can be overcome!  The walk will begin and end in Little Wenlock, and encompasses The Wrekin, The Ercall and Ironbridge.

Chris says,  “GBS can have devastating consequences for families, it has changed my son’s life, and that of our family, forever.  My wife and I are still horrified that GBS can be wholly prevented, but presently, the NHS are choosing not to test women for it, or to offer accurate information about it.  Jane and her team do a fantastic job raising awareness, campaigning for change, and offering support to families affected by this deadly, yet preventable infection.  I hope that in raising funds for the charity, this walk will say a ‘Giant’ thank you to Jane and her team, as they work tirelessly campaigning for change and providing support to families like ours, who have been so devastated by GBS.”

Group B Strep is the UK’s most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies and meningitis in babies up to the age of 3 months.  Carried by between 20-30% of women, the group B Strep bacteria can pass from a pregnant woman to baby around birth with potentially devastating consequences for the newborn baby. 

On average in the UK, one baby a day develops group B Strep infection; one baby a week dies from group B Strep infection; and one survivor a fortnight is left with long term mental and physical problems including cerebral palsy. Yet, unlike women in most developed countries, in the UK pregnant women are rarely told about it by their health professionals and even more rarely offered testing.

Group B Strep infection in newborn babies is usually preventable and is being successfully prevented in many other developed countries where women are routinely offered group B Strep testing late in pregnancy. In these countries, rates of group B Strep infection in newborn babies have fallen by 71% to 86%.  This simple and inexpensive test late in pregnancy can detect the bacteria, allowing preventative antibiotics to be given to the mother during labour, minimising the risk of group B Strep infection in the newborn baby.

National charity Group B Strep Support campaigns for much greater awareness of this devastating infection among mums-to-be and wants to see every pregnant woman in the UK given accurate information about group B Strep as a routine part of her antenatal care, coupled with a national screening programme offering testing for group B Strep at 35-37 weeks of pregnancy. 

Jane Plumb MBE, chief executive of Group B Strep Support adds, “Every year, more babies are suffering avoidable group B Strep infections – sepsis and meningitis. Most of these infections are preventable and in other developed countries would be prevented. The UK Government needs to act now to protect newborn babies from this devastating infection. Expectant parents should be given accurate information about group B Strep, women should be offered good quality testing for group B Strep carriage late in pregnancy, and those carrying group B Strep should be offered antibiotics during labour. Then we will see the numbers of families suffering the appalling effects of avoidable group B Strep infection in their babies fall dramatically, as it has in other countries.”

To sponsor Chris, please visit www.justgiving.com/walkingforadam-2 and for more information on Adam’s story, please visit www.walkingforadam.blogspot.co.uk

For comment or greater detail:
Jane Plumb MBE, Chief Executive, Group B Strep Support
Tel:                   01444 416176 (offfice hours)
e-mail:               jplumb@gbss.org.uk

For free information on group B Strep, please visit http://www.gbss.org.uk


Notes to Editors:


·       Group B Strep is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies and meningitis in babies up to the age of 3 months, passing from mother to baby during labour and birth.

·       20% to 30% of women carry group B Strep, usually without harm or symptoms. Identifying pregnant women likely to be carrying group B Strep infection and giving them intravenous antibiotics (usually penicillin) during labour can reduce group B Strep infection in newborn babies born to women carrying group B Strep by up to 90%.

·       By 2014, the number of newborn babies developing group B Strep infection had risen by 33% since the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 2003 prevention guidelines were introduced.

·       Even with the best medical care one in 10 babies of babies sick with group B Strep infection dies, one in 20 of the survivors of group B Strep infection suffer long-term problems and five in 10 survivors of group B Strep meningitis suffer long-term mental and physical problems, including cerebral palsy.

·       Routine testing of all pregnant women in the UK for group B Strep carriage is not currently recommended by the UK National Screening Committee.

·       The rate of group B Strep infections in newborn babies per live birth is higher now in the UK than it was in 2003, when the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists introduced their risk-based guidelines. These guidelines (updated 2012) were expected to reduce the incidence of early-onset group B Strep infection significantly – by up to 60%. This has not happened (see Data Series).

·       Carrying group B Strep at delivery is the key risk factor for group B Strep infection in babies. Determining whether a pregnant woman carries group B Strep late in pregnancy (35-37 weeks) is a better indicator of a baby’s risk of developing the infection than risk factors. Other countries which routinely screen have seen falls in the rate of these infections in newborn babies by up to 86%.

·       Providing the test on the NHS would cost £11 per test. Private, home-testing kits are available for around £35. Visit Testing.  

·       A report on Group B Strep - Preventable Death and Disability caused by group B Strep, summarises the pros and cons of the current group B Strep prevention in the UK. http://www.gbss.org.uk/filepool/GBSSReport_2013.pdf

Charity Group B Strep Support is the UK’s dedicated charity to preventing life-threatening infection in newborn babies, providing information and support to families affected by group B Strep, and their health professionals. It is calling for every pregnant woman in the UK to be routinely tested to prevent unnecessary tragedies. Group B Strep Support is supported by an independent medical advisory panel.