A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Asserting Myself

A call to arms has been issued. Will Neil Pickford respond?
Don’t be too surprised this week if you see my face plastered over the national TV news as they take me away for breach of the peace or suchlike. If so it won’t be my fault, it will be the result of an unfortunate coincidence.
I am being incited to direct action by a former Archbishop of Canterbury, who was once the head of the Church of England around the whole world. Lord Carey of Clifton, for that is his current name, has warned that Christianity is being marginalised by a “strident and bullying campaign” against the faith, and he’s had enough.
Lord Carey, speaking at a symposium on Christian persecution in the House of Lords, urged Christians to become more assertive: “If we behave like doormats, don’t be surprised if we are treated as though we are. It is time to return to the public square.”
Okay, it’s not an overt call to arms and a campaign for civil disobedience, but you can read between the lines just as well as me. Don’t forget, in the last year long-serving Christian teachers and nurses have been dismissed from their jobs for offering to pray with suffering pupils and patients, and he says that we shouldn’t allow this to continue.
And nor should we. It’s a ridiculous situation.
Just substitute the words “Muslim”, “Sikh”, or even “Jedi Knight” in the place of “Christian” in the two stories above and you can immediately see how this Government’s new raft of laws seems to be slewed against us. If a manager tried to sack one of the other above just for praying then they would be hearing from a high-powered lawyer, backed up by the full weight of recent anti-discrimination legislation, before they could say: “P45.”
Yet, for Christians? Nothing but an angry article in the Daily Mail, which is soon replaced in the paper by the next piece of grotesquerie.
And this in the country that started the Church of England (hence its name), and where the head of state (‘er Majesty) is also the head of that Christian church. A country where the majority of population still put down C of E when asked if they have a religion – and with good reason.
The Church of England was the first to put pews in church, which may not sound much but it was revolutionary. The plan was to enable people to sit down and listen to the words of wisdom from the vicar – and then discuss them afterwards.
This gave rise to an informed population, an educated and involved populace that came to a full flowering shortly afterwards in an explosion of creativity during the Elizabethan period.
I have heard it argued that the new ‘chattering classes’ laid the seeds for the Industrial Revolution that fuelled, formed and powered the greatest land empire this globe has ever seen (the British Empire); which changed the face of the political world from that day on and made English the international language.
This Christian religion, specifically the Anglican religion, ended the slave trade, trained the brains that made sense of the cosmos and evolution, drove the political movements which gave everyone the vote (men AND women), educated the children of the poor and middle classes when the state didn’t, and it was Christian values and Christian leaders that led to the foundation of the NHS.
To this day, church school results beat the heck out of those of state system schools, and yet this present Government, made up of politicians who’ve never been out in the real world, tries to marginalise and abolish precisely those aspects which make them better than their own failures.
Yes, that’s the Christian church in England – it’s got a lot to be proud of and, if Rowan Williams issues a call for arms then I, for one am happy to put my hand up and say: “Yes” – in a suitably meek and ineffectual way, of course.
And, if I do become a “Member of the Church Militant” (it’s one of those standard phrases that we say in services but rarely mean), I’m likely to be filmed doing it – or at least it feels that way.
This is because we seem to have the BBC all around us this week. Not just because of preparations for Songs of Praise and the Antiques Roadshow but because, out of nowhere, another crew has popped up to film our vicar plus the choir for an episode of Country Tracks. I’m fully expecting Doctor Who to pop up here any day now, closely followed by the Wombles of Wimbledon or Strictly Come Dancing.
In fact, if you don’t see me on television it’ll be something of a miracle.
On another issue. In my New Year blog I promised to raise my voice where I thought people were trying to take advantage of us, cutting back on the things that give value or quality to life, to save a few meagre fractions of a penny for their employer.
Well, today, the Pickford Pinprick of Protest focuses on the makers of Swan Vesta matches, who’ve obviously trimmed the quality of materials used in their product. I’ve had five matches fail on me this week so far, the phosphorous heads shooting off in all directions instead of staying where they are supposed to – making the wood to catch fire and become a useful source of flame. Instead they have just hurtled away and set fire to the carpet instead.
I’d urge a boycott of the product and a mass return to marvellous England’s Glory matches, each box printed with a rib-tickling anecdote on the back and lovingly crafted, using the finest materials, in God’s Own County of Gloucestershire.
Sadly, I can’t because the makers of Swan Vesta bought them out and closed the factory more than 30 years ago, but don’t you worry, I’ll think of something else to restore justice to the world.  Maybe I’ll write an angry blog postscript about it.
First published March 2010  


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