Monday, 31 December 2007
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
This is advice that organisations should consider in 2008 in building connections and looking selflessly outward and not inward at its structures . Church organisations will then have the confidence of the people and be connected.
Monday, 24 December 2007
Roman Catholic attendances are on a par with Anglican attendances now, and slightly ahead for the first time. This is attributed to the influx of immigrants from Catholic countries. The true extent of the decline in indigenous Catholic numbers is thereby masked.
Even so, only five per cent of the total population are now regular church attenders.
Monday, 17 December 2007
Is this a gentlemanly way of reminding our elected representatives that to ignore what religious communities contribute to the common good is a way of sabotaging your own good intentions?
Saturday, 8 December 2007
Two valuable contributions to debate between religion and secularism for the feast of Hannukah
Jewish writer Zaki Cooper in the Guardian's Face to Faith column
And another from Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on Friday's 'Thought for the Day'
Here are two people belonging to a minority faith group, who not only respect the faiths of others but appreciate celebrations of faith other than their own in the public realm. Even the diluted consumer version of religious tradition, they argue, in its way supports binding family and social values.
Tuesday, 4 December 2007
The one noteworthy good thing about the prosecution and imprisonment of Gillian Gibbons in the Mohammed Teddy affair has been the widespread criticism of the unreasonableness of this move by the Sudanese judiciary by British Muslims.
Sending two Muslim peers as diplomatic envoys was a confident master stroke by Her Majesty's government. Her early release, despite attempts by Sudanese extremists to escalate the matter further, is a triumph for reason, good will, moderation and moral argument, delivered by two representatives of a faith community who happen also to be recognised for their public service, as peers of the realm.
It sends a serious message to those in the world abusing Islam as a cover for their political power games. See the BBC's Khartoum correspondent's report here
It also sends an equally strong message to the Islamophobes of British society, about trust and respect for people whose faith practice upholds the values which most people want to uphold and defend.
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
The 'night time economy' of Cardiff attracts media attention from time to time, although far less since Cardiff police got the measure of the public order problems, in a way that made their operations exemplary for other forces tackling similar issues. Binge drinking culture everywhere in Britain is now starting to attract media reports from medical specialists and others concerned about alcohol related illnesses caused by excess consumption. It's less frequent that ministers of religion critical of current morés get reported. Clerical objection to a new licensing application to sell alcohol in a convenience store on Cardiff's main thoroughfare, just outside the zone recently declared by City licensing policy as meriting a moratorium on further liquor licenses did however find modest cover in the 'South Wales Echo' this week.
What the article does not mention is the lack of consultation by the licensing policy drafting group with any faith groups or groups with alcohol related health concerns in shaping proposals. Anything up to one in ten of Cardiff citizens who might have something critical to say about the current state of affairs, impacting so seriously on the quality of life in the city were thereby excluded. Can this state of affairs continue when the new Equalities Act is implemented?
Thursday, 15 November 2007
Opinion makers and politicians voice concern over the fragmentation of society, family breakdown increase in knife and gun crime, binge culture and the alienation of individuals leading to violent extremist acts. The Government believes that Faith Communities have an important role to play in propagating values that make for social cohesion. Through the agency of the C.D.F. it has shown itself willing to fund projects like this one, and more. Now a most important regulatory body, the Charity Commission has launched a dedicated unit to offer support to faith based communities.
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
Sarika said of wearing the bangle : " It's very important to me. It constantly reminds me to do good and not to do bad, especially with my hands."
In the light of the governors' decision to exclude her, it is interesting to consider the school's prospectus statement of ethos and values.
Three select items from that statement ....
The basis of all our dealings with each pupil is that the pupil will receive care and respect.
The education our pupils receive will encourage the tolerance of other races, religions and ways of life.
We, as a school, are committed to setting and expecting the highest standards in all aspects of school life.
How has exemplary 'tolerance' here lead to a pupil being excluded?
Shades of battles elsewhere over the hijab, and a chastity ring.
Read the full report here
Wednesday, 31 October 2007
In a recent BBC Thought for the Day broadcast, Dr Alan Billings reflected upon the theme of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' new book 'To heal a fractured world' in which he states his belief that Britain is ceasing to be a cohesive society because it no longer has a shared moral code at its foundation. As so many people no longer believe in the possibility of achieving moral consensus, all that remains is personal opinion. In characteristically pithy fashion, Sachs declares that morality has been reduced to taste.
Billings finds plenty of evidence from his experience of adolescents that for many of them this may seem to be the case, although he overlooks the importance to many young 'relativists' of sticking to the 'rules of the game' where sport is concerned. He argues that things change once the age of parenthood is reached. Values start to matter more when you have responsibility for rearing a child, and need to think about bringing it up in the right way. In practice, at every level, morality concerns that which enables us to flourish, as opposed to that which harms us. Society coheres and thrives around values that enable people to flourish. This is true regardless of anyone's faith or culture.
Dr Billings's Thought for the Day can be read here
From a radio interview given shortly after 9/11
Until 1996 in Britain, shops were shut on Sunday. And a great many Brits .... went to church. Now when Sunday was deregulated, a great many Brits go out but where do they go?
They go to the local supermarket or shopping centre.
What is the difference between a supermarket and a church?
Well I hope there is a difference, but the difference is this -
In a supermarket you are there for what you can buy, what you can afford, what you earn.
In a church you are valued, absolutely regardless of what you can afford or what your status is in society.
You are there as a community of people embracing all types and all social classes.
Secondly, you have no real contact with anyone else in the supermarket; you just pass by in the aisles.
There may be the same number of people in the supermarket as were once in the church but there's nothing that binds them to one another.
Whereas in the church you're consciously part of a community of shared values.
So I'm afraid what we have put in the place of religion, namely the market, is catastrophically unable to create what religious and other communities once did create.
Saturday, 27 October 2007
Spiritual side of Wales’ capital by Martin Shipton, Western Mail, Oct 27th, 2007
A MAJOR research project is being undertaken to demonstrate Cardiff’s status as a “spiritual capital”.
Priests, academics and religious activists have joined together to fight back against the image of the city as simply somewhere to shop and get drunk.
The project involves compiling a directory of all the religious organisations in Cardiff, including details of the good works they do.
Conceived by Rev Keith Kimber, Vicar of St John the Baptist church in Cardiff city centre, Spiritual Capital will produce a directory, a report and a conference.
Friday, 19 October 2007
2.17 Cardiff is the most populated local authority in Wales, with 317,500 people living in the county in 200613 - over 10% of the total population of Wales. Some 1.4 million people live within 45 minutes drive time of the city.
The very concentration of people in the south-east of Wales, within and not too far from the city makes for powerful economic growth potential. Cardiff planners are already talking about the 'city-region'. How do neighbouring local government areas perceive this? Are we on the way towards becoming a Metropolitan area, like Manchester or Birmingham, managed as one big super-authority, like London? The larger the population area, the greater its diversity, but is local government genuinely able to manage diversity as well as it (legally speaking) should?
2.18 Since 1981 the population of Cardiff has been steadily increasing at about 0.4% per annum. Birth and death rates have remained relatively stable over this period but migration has fluctuated considerably, with an overall trend of net in-migration of 300 persons per annum. More recently, between 2001 and 2006, Cardiff's population has increased by 1,500 per annum with net in-migration of around 600 persons per annum.
Net in-migration is certainly contributing towards greater diversity, with the arrival of Eastern European workers in their thousands over the past three years.
2.19 Compared with Wales and the UK, Cardiff has a higher percentage of population in age groups 15-39 years but a lower percentage in age groups from 40 upwards. The impact of the student population is particularly significant. According to the 2001 Census, the growing student population comprised around 11% of the city's total population.
2.20 Ethnic minorities comprise 8.4% of Cardiff's population, broadly similar to the average for England and Wales.
Cardiff is an averagely 'young city'. A high proportion of its migrant workers are young, and come from places where religion is practised and is still a feature of public life. Whilst the same may also be true of many foreign students in Higher Education here, by way of contrast, the majority of students of British origin (possibly four out of five of them), will have been raised in a secularised social environment, and have little knowledge or experience of what it is to be part of a faith community or follow traditional religious practices. What will be the impact of the 'religious' minority upon the secular majority - and vice versa?
2.21 128,400 households resided in Cardiff in 2003 – representing 22% of all households in South East Wales. Average household size continues to fall in line with the national trend; in Cardiff it fell from 2.54 in 1991 to 2.37 in 2004.
2.22 The number of households in South East Wales is projected to increase by 108,900 (18.6%) between 2003 and 2021, reflecting the net effect of births, deaths, migration and the continuing trend towards smaller households.
The fall in average household occupancy is due to the growing number of people living alone, older people as well as young single professionals. With increased prosperity, demand for homes in Cardiff continues to rise, and the demand for consumer goods to equip them. This contributes to the above average 'carbon footprint' of the city, three times bigger than it should be for the population size. Whatever measures succeed in building carbon neutral dwellings for the years to come, only a radical change in lifestyles with increased sharing of energy consuming resources will produce the kind of reduction of carbon footprint to a just and sustainable level.
Who will challenge future citizens to share resources and live responsibly in relationship to the environment, when the social emphasis dwells so much on satisfying individual needs in ways that are hard to justify morally?
Faith communities of all kinds seek to generate and build on a sense of community and values that concern sharing and mutual support. Recognition of this social contribution is, or should be an important consideration in any sustainable long term development plan.
Sunday, 14 October 2007
Faith Communities in a Civil Society – Christian Perspectives
King's College, Cambridge
On September 11th, 1906, Mohandas Gandhi addressed a meeting of some 3,000 people in the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg to protest against the introduction of registration and fingerprinting for all Indians in South Africa – part of the first wave in the terrible history of legal racism in South Africa which ended at last in the final decade of the last century. It was a Muslim in the audience, Haji Habib, who first proposed that the decision for non-violent resistance to the legislation should be taken ‘in the name of God’. Gandhi stressed the great solemnity of such a form of words, but the meeting rose to affirm this as their will. The satyagraha movement was born, the movement of ‘soul force’ whose central principle was that our behaviour must witness to truth whatever the cost – and that this witness to truth can never, of its very nature, involve violence or a response to oppression that simply mirrors what has been done by the oppressor. In Gandhi’s vision, Christ’s prohibition against retaliation came together with his own Hindu heritage to inspire a lifetime of absolutely consistent labour on behalf of this ‘soul power’; and on that day in Johannesburg, as at many other points in his life, Gandhi was wholeheartedly supported by his Muslim allies.
Friday, 12 October 2007
Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, the Abbot of Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Scotland spoke this evening in Cardiff's city Parish Church of St John the Baptist to a quiet and thoughtful audience of over fifty people about the essence of Buddhist spiritual life.
Yesterday he spoke to three hundred young people in a session at Atlantic College. He told us how eager they were to ask questions, so many searching for a way to live and seeking how to find inner peace. His mainly adult audience tonight had fewer questions to ask. Most were practising Buddhists although half a dozen church members were also present. By comparison to his hungry young audience, this was like preaching to the choir, as they saying goes.
It was the first time in living memory that an invitation had been extended to a non-Christian spiritual teacher to speak in church. A witness to openness to other faiths and also of solidary between people of faith, all confronting the problem of the damage being done by unfettered materialism to people in today's world.
The number of adherents to the practice of Buddhism in different forms is increasing in Britain, particularly amongst those who have tried other kinds of religion and found them wanting. It's not that the external rituals are such a great attraction. It's rather that the determined focus on the inner life, opening the heart and mind to joy, seeking peace and harmony, with the simple practice of meditation and mindful compassionate living at the core of one's existence, speaks directly to the emptiness and hunger of our age.
Monday, 8 October 2007
Take off ‘dog collar’ to avoid attack, vicars advised
Oct 8 2007
by David James, South Wales Echo
THE murder of a South Wales vicar has helped spark a warning to priests not to wear “dog collars” outside of work.
A national group for clergymen has advised that priests should make themselves less obvious targets by removing “dog collars” where possible.
The warning follows several attacks on religious figures, including the stabbing of Father Paul Bennett, 59, in the grounds of his vicarage at St Fagans Church, Trecynon, near Aberdare, in March.
Father Paul is one of five British vicars who have been murdered in the past decade.
Society should be looking at itself very seriously if clergy cannot go about their daily lives. This is a slippery slope. So if you cover yourself up, you will be OK. Tell that to the monks in Burma whose bravery we admire and without such spirituality Burma's intolerable regime who not have received so much attention in the World.
The Bible on your mobile
The word of God has entered the digital age with a new service allowing Christians to download the Bible directly to their mobile phones.
A company has launched a religious line of products for mobiles, giving users the chance to express their faith through their phone’s wallpaper and ringtones.
The service, Ecumen, can deliver daily prayers and the whole Bible can be downloaded to a mobile for just £6, marketed with the phrase: "The only Bible you can read in the dark."
Erik Fok, head of sales and marketing at Teimlo, the Monmouthshire company in charge of Ecumen, said he believed young people would appreciate the service.
Mr Fok, a committed Christian, said: "The market for Christian content on mobile phones hasn’t been well-served."
Thursday, 4 October 2007
War memorials commemorate people of all faiths and none at all. The six civilian laundrymen killed whilst serving on Her Majesty's Ships in the Falklands are listed simply as 'Chinese'. There'd be a one in a thousand chance that any of them were Christian. The lone Gurkha killed in the conflict would have been of Hindu religion. The Gurkha regiment has a Hindu chaplain. Jewish and Muslim military, hospital and prison chaplains are also appointed in recognition of the various faiths of people represented therein.
There is no established religion in Wales or Ireland, as there is in England or Scotland, but in all the nations of the British Isles, despite the dominance of Christian history and tradition, or maybe because of it, tolerance and even-handedness in respect of people's religious identity by those in Crown or public service grew during the twentieth century, starting with protestant - catholic relations, then extending towards people of other faiths, once these had established themselves in numbers. This was happening long before the emergence of today's somewhat different secularist tendency, striving for neutrality in respect of religion, finding the 'different' needs of religious groups as a problem.
The military has long recognised that serving the spiritual needs of their personnel is a vital component of both welfare and morale. There can be no doubt that the experience of wars involving large numbers of citizens in the twentieth century has played a part in retaining religious ritual in civic ceremonies, ritual in which it is possible for people of all declared faiths and none at all to make common cause in acts of public remembrance. Even our good First Minister, an agnostic who regards religion as 'a private affair', can stand alongside believers, wavering or convinced, to recognise and value those whose lives were sacrificed for the common good.
This will to persist in this cultural tradition represents an aspect of Spiritual Capital that remains at the heart of modern secular society, outside the domains of our varied religious communities as much, if not more than it remains within them.
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Seven cemeteries are in use, plus Thornhill crematorium. This has two chapels and there are several other churches and cemetery chapels available for funeral ceremonies. Chinese, Muslim, Jewish and Greek Orthodox burial sections are available to members of those communities wishing to be buried together.
Everyone has the right to arrange funeral ceremonies according to their own wishes, or to have no ceremony at all. The City will make funeral arrangements on behalf of those who are destitute and without next of kin.
It is also possible to be buried on private land, although permission has to be obtained that involves consulting the City Planning Department, the Environment Agency and making an application to the Home Office.
On a darker note, the City’s action plan for managing a major emergency or disaster, such as would be implemented during a pandemic or an outbreak of war, caters not only for sick and injured, but also care of the bereaved, temporary storage of and disposal of the dead – a potentially difficult and complex operation. The best possible handling of a major crisis is vital for maintaining social cohesion and recovery.
Considering the thousands of people who die and are laid to rest each year in Cardiff, issues of contention arising to public awareness are few and far between. Any kind of mistake in the handling of dead bodies is extremely rare, due to the rigour of the administrative procedures involved. Occasionally regulations concerning memorials become a matter of controversy, largely due to changes in what the public regards as acceptable leaping ahead of convention.
Vandalism of memorials rightly makes the news whenever it happens. Given the cemeteries’ large land areas and boundaries, total security is almost impossible. The sanctity of a cemetery relies on public good-will, and suffers from a climate of indifference, as it would also suffer from neglect of maintenance. Churches whose graveyards are not Council maintained tend to suffer far more from neglect, because shrinking religious communities cannot afford their upkeep.
Difficulties in securing the funding to restore a dilapidated listed Victorian cemetery chapel in Cathays cemetery, may well reflect tension between conservation ideals and practical function in a full cemetery, with limited potential for additional interments.
It was designed for use in an era when the majority of the bereaved were Christian. What purpose does it serve in an age where only a fifth of the population as a whole has some sort of need to express any kind religious belief publicly? It’s doubtful that it would be worthwhile making it a faith-neutral sanctuary (like the renovated crematorium) in these change circumstances.
Altogether this is one area of excellence in public service which relies on sensitive partnership between local government, faith communities, and private enterprise – in this case companies providing funeral services and memorials. All together are challenged by social and cultural changes in practice that render the routine duty of disposing of the dead more complex than it has ever been.
Lewis Mumford’s master work 'The History of Cities' points out that when human beings were still nomadic, they established permanent places to house the bodies of their dead, and set up memorials to them. The necropolis, the city of the dead preceded cities of the living. But what is the role of the necropolis in this time of unprecedented mobility and the rise of the megalopolis? We are already seeing memorials to the dead speading far and wide in the form of roadside shrines, park benches, stone cairns on mountainsides. There are even memorial plaques mounted in the promenade decking of Penarth Pier, a venue also used for the unofficial disposal of cremated remains. Such changes challenge, not only religious communities, but also civil authorities charged with maintaining a social order which is acceptable to the majority of citizens.
Monday, 1 October 2007
The Spiritual Capital-Cardiff research project exists thanks to funding from the Community Development Foundation's Faith Community Capacity Building Fund, which aims to empower religious communities of all kinds to relate better to the institutions and organisations of a secular civil society in Britain. This is the outcome of the government's social inclusion policy - getting everyone involved in shaping society and the way it runs, making use of the best of the values and skills of its citizenry.
It's most encouraging to discover that the same government impulse is at work on the other side of the institutional fence, encouraging Local Authorities, Health, Police and other public bodies to establish 'best practice' in their relationships with faith-communities. An organisation known as the Consultation Institute, based in Orpington, Kent exists to train people working in public service and provide resources for those involved in public or stakeholder consultations. The organisation is offering a regional training day in Bristol on 10th October.
It's clear there are cultural divides between the way a modern society is run, and the way traditional religious institutions and communities run, even though most of the latter have experienced modernisation in many of the ways they operate. There are differences in philosophy, values and priorities which lead to mis-communication in both directions.
Spiritual Capital research highlights and promotes the treasury of human resources that are all too easily taken for granted or overlooked and undervalued by civil society. Inevitably it uncovers weaknesses and flaws that need to be remedied. It is equally important to value strengths and encourage high aspirations. This leads to much more vigorous participation, and partnership between agencies of civil society and faith communities. Each is enabled to challenge the other from a desire to include everyone and achieve the best for everyone.
Saturday, 22 September 2007
Go to BBC News webpage report here.
If there were any politicians or civic dignatories present, they were keeping quite a low profile. Nevertheless, the procession was led by a Police Silver Band, and several uniformed police officers from senior to junior ranks, who just happen to be Hindu, on duty or off, marched with the crowd. The procession was orderly, joyful and exuberant. It included people in prams and some in in wheelchairs or using sticks. Thousands of bottles of water were consumed (and collected), but that was all.
It was an example of community cohesion and festivity entirely devoid of alcohol consumption.
If only our great sporting organisations could take this lesson from their fellow citizens!
Saturday, 15 September 2007
in preparation for the arrival of their honoured guest.
Rowan Williams has been forthright in his advocacy of the traditional role of the Monarch in relation to the establishment of the Church of England, through an interview for the Daily Telegraph, summarised by the BBC News website, reminding the world that the future King, as Head of State inherits the historic role of Defender of the (Christian) Faith, as Head of the Church of England.
The law of the land actually does quite a good job at defending believers' and faith communities' freedoms, even if implementation is patchy and can leave something to be desired. As Head of State the Monarch has an unique representative function in sustaining the rule of law. So why do the media much such a fuss, and strive to insist these two roles are in conflict?
Follow this link for a more extended personal view.
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
Another Thought for the Day extract from Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, one of the great apologists for religious faith in our secular age.
"Tonight is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. For ten days, culminating in Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, we reflect on our lives, apologising for the wrongs we've done, and seeking forgiveness from God and our fellow human beings. It's a fixed time in the Jewish calendar for trying to put things right in our lives, and it involves an immensely powerful set of rituals and prayers.
I've been fascinated by the recent spate of books casting doubt on religious faith, as if religion meant believing six impossible things before breakfast. Well, religion is a matter of holding certain beliefs, but that's not the only or even the most important thing about it. Religion is also about ritual; and ritual is about taking certain beliefs and making them real in the way we behave.
Would my life be the same without the Jewish New Year? No. I might still believe that life has a purpose, that what matters is not how much we earn but the good we do. I might still be convinced that it's important to apologise for the wrong I do and try to make amends. But those beliefs would have no fixed date in my diary and I might never get round to acting on them at all.
Religion isn't the only way of thinking about ultimate questions. There are others, philosophy for example, or science. But philosophy and science never created rituals. And when you lose ritual you lose much else besides.
When people pray, they ritualise the sense that there is someone watching over what we do, and that creates internal restraints. When we lose that, we have to invent another form of watching, closed circuit video cameras, and that's the beginning of a loss of privacy.
When we have the Sabbath, we have dedicated family time. Lose the Sabbath and a generation later families begin to fracture. Ritual structures time the way music structures sound. It turns life into a work of art, giving it shape, proportion, grace and beauty.
In English the world secular comes from seculum meaning worldly, so religion signifies something other-worldly. But the Hebrew word for secular, chol, actually means sand. And that, without ritual, is what we can sometimes become: a grain of sand blown by the shifting winds of moment and mood. Rituals help us consecrate time, weaving into our lives the things that are important, not just urgent. And with that, may I wish you shanah tovah, a good new year."
Saturday, 8 September 2007
On BBC Radio 4's Thought for the day this week Indarjit Singh, editor of the Sikh Messenger spoke some wise words, reproduced here with full and very grateful acknowledgement to the Beeb for providing a platform for some of the more sensible thinkers of our time.
"Religion has come in for a bit of a hammering in the last few days. According to an opinion poll published in the Sunday Times, nearly half of the people in this country feel that religion is harmful. And Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee, the newly appointed President of the British Humanist Association, speaking on the BBC Sunday Programme, expressed anger at the influence of religion on public life.
It's all pretty strong stuff, but I believe there's reason for the unease. The track record of religion in power or authority is not very good. It's been more about preserving or extending power than working for a just and peaceful society. Unthinking allegiance to power structures rather than teachings has often led, and still leads, followers to behave like fanatical supporters of a football team, bent on vocalising their inherent superiority
The problem is that ethical teachings of religion are easy to state but extremely difficult to live by. It's much easier to believe that we are simply the best and God on our side, no matter what we do.
As for the actual teachings of religion, we put them in ornate books; and set them to beautiful music. We build and adorn beautiful places of worship and engage in rituals to please God. It's all a bit silly really. As Sikh Scriptures remind us, God the creator of infinite universes and all that exists, is hardly likely to be impressed by such shallow flattery.
The Sikh Gurus were fully aware of the danger of the religion falling into the hands of those who put power before principle, so they decreed that the Sikh faith should have no priests, no hierarchy of religious leadership and no power structure, only the abiding guidance of the Sikh scriptures.
Like some teachings of other religions, our Scriptures remind us of core values for responsible living:
*to look beyond self to the needs of others;
*to work for social justice,
*to look after the weak and vulnerable,
*to put principle before expediency
*to stand up to injustice whatever the cost.
Sadly the word 'religion' today has been debased almost beyond repair, but I'm sure if an opinion poll were to ask if such values should influence public debate as well as our individual lives, the response, even from those who say they have no time for religion, would be far more positive."
Friday, 7 September 2007
BBC NEWS UK Most say UK is in 'moral decline' click
More than eight in 10 people believe that Britain is in moral decline, a survey has found.
The poll, for new BBC One show The Big Questions, found only 9% disagreed that moral standards were falling.
Of 1,000 adults asked, 62% said religion was important in guiding the nation's morals, while 29% disagreed that faith had a role to play.
And people said they were more likely to help a stranger who had collapsed than try to stop anti-social behaviour.
Tuesday, 4 September 2007
The world's fastest growing faiths
1. Islam:Growth rate 1.84 per cent* with 1.3 billion followers worldwide
2. Baha'i faith: Growth rate 1.70 per cent with 7.7 million followers worldwide
3. Sikhism: Growth rate 1.62 per cent with 25.8 million followers worldwide
4. Jainism: Growth rate 1.57 per cent with 5.9 million followers worldwide
5. Hinduism: Growth rate 1.52 per cent with 870 million followers worldwide
6. Christianity: Growth rate 1.38 per cent with 2.2 billion followers worldwide
Atheism is growing at a rate of 1.39 per cent and Afghanistan has the fastest growing population of Atheists.
Where are faiths growing fastest?
Faith Where is it growing fastest?
Baha'i faith Qatar
Buddhism New Zealand
Chinese Universalism Finland
Roman Catholicism Sierra Leone
Confucianism Northern Mariana Islands
Hinduism United Arab Emirates
Islam Soloman Island (followed by Norway)
Neo Religionism United Arab Emirates
Sikhism United Arab Emirates
At 15 I left school to work on a local newspaper and then, two years later, left home to work for a bigger paper in the Welsh valleys. It was then that I stopped going to church. Saturday night was pub-crawl night, which meant that Sunday morning was spent recovering. But in any case I realised that going to church was a meaningless exercise. I was bored by the ritualised responses, by priests who seemed to have nothing to say, by my own failure to be genuinely moved by any of it.
Yet I continued to pray. I prayed every single night without fail for half a century. The problem was that I had absolutely no notion of the God to whom I was supposed to be praying or, for that matter, why I was praying. Did I really think my prayers would make any difference? I doubt it. So, if I was getting nothing out of it and neither were the people I was praying for, why was I bothering? Mostly, I wanted to believe. I envied friends with an apparently solid faith their certainties and the comfort their faith appeared to bring them.
My years as a reporter and foreign correspondent took their toll. I was not much more than a boy when I watched the miners of Aberfan digging for the bodies of their children after the coal tip crushed their school. A few years later I was watching weeping mothers trying to free the bodies of their children from the ruins of houses wrecked by an earthquake in Nicaragua. In various African countries I have seen children, all hope gone from their blank and staring eyes, slowly starving to death. In divided countries all over the world I have seen the bodies of young men horribly mutilated by other young men for no other reason than that they belonged to the wrong tribe or religion.
In war zones I have listened to soldiers – ordinary people like you and me, with their own children to love and care for – justify the slaughter of other entirely innocent human beings, other children.
And over and over again I was asking myself the other Big Question, one that would not have occurred to the innocent little boy on the aerodrome: where was God?
Friday, 31 August 2007
Under the 2003 Licensing Act, the City government is obliged to review and revise its licensing policy, touching upon the activities of all pubs, clubs, restaurants, and other places of entertainment and shops where alcoholic drinks are bought and sold. The City Council website has made the draft policy document available for examination from for a consultation period running from 1st August to 1st October 2007, before it is adopted by the City Council.
This is not a controversial document. It is well thought out, and addresses many common concerns arising from the culture of excess and debauchery on which both day and night-time city centre economy appears to thrive today. If it has any short-comings, these may indeed come out during the consultation period, or they may not.
The deliberations that went into producing fifteen pages of the document reflect the wide range of organisations with responsibilities touching upon the safe and effective running of every aspect of entertainment, leisure and public order in the City.
However, the list of consultation partners doesn't extend to other retailers or people who habitually worship in one or other of the churches of the area affected in central Cardiff, or indeed those of different cultures who take issue with the levels of alcohol products being sold.
The views of retailers will certainly have found representation through contributions by the police and Community Safety Partnership. But it is less certain that churches' views will have been represented, any more than those of voluntary agencies dealing with problems of alcohol and drug abuse. These organisations do have an opportunity to comment on the draft policy document, but have played no part in its formation. Whether or not they could have made a constructive contribution to policy formation remains unknown, because they were not asked or, if asked, not listed. People with potentially critical perspectives cannot be presumed to be obstructive in their contribution to shaping a policy, but they do offer a perspective all too readily overlooked, and may be able to offer helpful insights on the containment of social problems arising. But only if asked.
Thursday, 30 August 2007
Canton Uniting Church is a Baptist/URC Ecumenical Project of about 100 members, on Cowbridge Road East. It was formed in 1995 on the site of New Trinity (URC) and rebuilt with monies from the sale of Llandaff road chapel (Baptist), sold to the Chinese Christian Church. The new church and suite was designed to express the new church’s mission statement to be open to the community by both being accessible and contributing actively to the life of the community around. This has been pursued in numerous ways, affecting some hundreds of people per week:
1. The buildings, both the church and the extensive halls at the rear, are regularly let out to community groups on a regular and one off basis. This includes Weight Watchers, choirs, keep-fit and a counselling service, from any faith and none.
2. Alcoholics Anonymous occupy exclusively a designated suite, including their emergency call line.
3. A Play Group, registered and fully equipped, has met for many years for four mornings a week.
4. A Day Centre for the elderly meets every Wednesday for lunch and recreation.
5. A shopper’s Coffee Morning most Saturdays for the passers-by.
6. Uniformed organisations, long established, Guides, Brownies, Rainbows and Boys Brigade are based here.
7. ‘United by Lights’ is an annual interfaith/cultural evening in November, in co-operation with the Gurdwara in Riverside.
8. One World Week events are put on with the Canton and Riverside Churches Together in October.
9. The Treganna Family Centre is a major initiative, made possible by a generous legacy, in partnership with Spurgeons (a UK wide children and family organisation), started in 2006. With a full-time manager, a fully qualified social worker and nursery nurse, a rapidly growing programme of courses and groups for young, often single, parents and their babies, and others, together with an advice service, which is increasingly being used by incomers to Cardiff from all over the world, is building up. This is done in collaboration with statutory and voluntary groups from Canton and also the adjoining Community One areas of Riverside, Ely and Caerau.
10. Congregational life provides care and support not only for members, but also their families and friends and many strangers at key points in life such as birth, marriage and bereavement as well as at time of crisis. There are also meetings that provide a wider range of people opportunities for social contact. The community embraces those with various disabilities.
11. Charitable donations are raised regularly, in different ways, for international and local causes which can amount to several hundreds of pounds per annum.
Friday, 24 August 2007
Some people in Cardiff are not sure whether their religion would prevent them from agreeing to donate their organs after their death – yet all the major religions in Cardiff support the principles of organ donation and transplantation.
It is important that people from all backgrounds donate organs, as there is a much better success rate when transplants are carried out within the same ethnic group.
Black and Asian people are three times as likely to need a kidney transplant than white people, so there is an even greater need for more black and Asian donors.
This information has been written by the NHS with the support of religious leaders of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.
Kidney Wales in Cardiff leads on the cross cultural issues that arise from organ donation.
Thursday, 23 August 2007
The City Centre Management team considered that despite the crowds expected for the match, there was no reason why the Walk, and open air service should not be able to take place, since a large proportion of the crowd would be in the stadium at the proposed time, and there would probably be fewer shoppers than a normal Sunday afternoon. While big sporting events attract accompanying spouses to go shopping during the match (if they are not otherwise attending it), many more people in South Wales are deterred from Sunday shopping on match days, on account of the noise, mess and crowds and inaccessibility before and after the match, so retailers (apart from fast food and souvenir merchants, also hoteliers) don't generally benefit from Big Match days. City Centre management knows its constituency!
In the event, the Walk organisers, although they had gone to the trouble of publicising it, felt obliged to cancel in the week before, aware that many older people, or parents with young children, who may want to take part, would equally be deterred by the thought of it being a Match Day, and the possibility of having to walk a long way from their parked cars. Public transport is not great on Sundays at the best of times, and gets disrupted by Stadium events. The majority of participants, living 3-4 miles out, would need transport to get within range of the city centre, or else would not have been able to manage to arrive at the rendezvous point for the Walk in good time.
Sunday sporting and leisure activities involving either the demands of large crowds or road closures in the city centre, disrupt 15-20% of regular Sunday commercial and religious activity in the heart of the city each year. There is no shortage of good-will on the ground to allow all activities to co-exist. Any and every major event involves collaboration by a wide range of organisations to ensure smooth running. However, the fact that both commerce and religion both suffer from the disruption, despite representations and protests about not being taken into consideration, suggests that consultation and 'partnership working' in the city is not as effective as it should be.
Monday, 20 August 2007
THE Archbishop of Wales met drinkers in a city centre bar for a debate on the pros and cons of religion.
Dr Barry Morgan led the debate, Is Religion Bad? at Dempsey’s Bar, Castle Street, Cardiff, last night at Solace, the church in a bar.
Nearly three quarters of the Welsh population described their religion as Christian (72 per cent). The White group contained the highest proportion of Christians (73 per cent), and majorities of Black Caribbeans and people from Mixed ethnic backgrounds also identified as Christians (70 and 51 per cent respectively). After Christianity, Islam was the next most common faith. Cardiff had the largest Muslim population (4 per cent of the local population) but in the country overall Muslims accounted for less than 1 per cent of the population (22,000 people). Most Muslims were from Asian backgrounds, including 7,000 Pakistani Muslims and 5,000 Bangladeshi Muslims, although nearly 3,000 White people also described themselves as Muslim.Among other faiths the next largest groups were Indian Hindus (over 4,000) and White Buddhists (3,000), followed by White Jews and Indian Sikhs (both about 2,000).Age structures of the different religious groups reflected their ethnic composition and the secular trend among the White population. Between 5 and 6 per cent of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were pensioners, compared with 24 per cent of Christians and 30 per cent of Jews.Across Wales 19 per cent reported they had no religion and a further 8 per cent did not record an answer.
Welsh, Muslim and Scouts
CARDIFF PROUD OF FIRST MUSLIM SCOUT GROUP
The Scout Association set up its first Muslim group in Wales in Cardiff.
It is not a surprise that Islam integrates with the principles of Scouting and the activities and ideals that the group promotes enhances the young that that have joined.
It isn't generally known, but the Scout Association has a long record of working within the Islamic community and there have been individual Scouts from a Muslim background for more than 30 years, which may come as a surprise to those that thought Scouting was securely tied to Christianity.
As does Islam, according to Nazeed Rahman, leader of the 1st Cathays al Huda group. The Cardiff-based group was officially launched in March 2006 but has actually been operating for a year and has 90 Beavers, Cubs and Scouts.
Rahman stresses that although the present members of 1st Cathays al Huda are all Muslims, the group is open to boys and girls from any religious background and the language spoken is English. "Obviously there will be times when we are apart from the rest, such as with prayers and only eating halal food, but this is a group for all."
Indeed, relatively few activities are specialist to any particular Scout group, according to Waghorn. "A group in a predominantly Muslim area would fundraise for Islamic Aid, or would help tidy the grounds of the mosque," he says. "But the majority of activities would be the same because young people enjoy discovering new things."
A broad base was the trigger for 1st Cathays al Huda. Rahman says: "We were attracted to being part of a large youth organisation, one that is open to everyone and sets high standards. It offers a range of skills and disciplines and being out in the countryside is brilliant as it offers a new experience for many young people."
BILAL DISCOVERS SCOUTING
Saturday, 18 August 2007
Churches, Chapels, Mosques, Temples - if they're lucky, there'll be more to their domains than just a building. It'll be a forecourt, a parking area, a garden, and in the case of Christian communities perhaps even a cemetery. In some cases graveyards around churches are managed by the City Council, as subjects of long standing formal agreements, though not always.
Any religious building with a modicum of open space around it will at some time or another, if not constantly, suffer from the problem of casual litter dropping, sometimes even dumping of larger kinds of rubbish - chairs, sofas, old bikes, and so on. This is inevitable when, for the most part, caretakers no longer live on site. Rather than take stuff to the tip or ring the Council to come and take unwanted things away, the prevailing anti-social habit is to leave them in the nearest unattended open space, public or private.
When a religious building is adjacent to a pub, or in the case of the city centre, set in the very heart of party-land, the amount of rubbish discarded daily, can be huge - packaging, bottles, cans, fast food wrappers (and uneaten food), publicity flyers, plastic bags, condoms, discarded clothing, shoes, syringes are all commonplace items needing to be picked up, especially after Friday-Saturday nights, and after Big Match days.
It's clear that the consumers are responsible for the mess, fuelled by the lack of expectation on the part of vendors that they have a responsibility to manage the rubbish their trade generates outside their premesis. However, it's those responsible for religious buildings that have the task and pay for the cost of clearing up other people's mess.
Sometimes, the sheer good will and pride of local council bin men and street sweepers leads to a rubbish strewn area around a religious building being cleared unofficially. If the amount of rubbish cleared and put out in bin bags by community members exceeds what officials presume and expect, charges can be imposed. The rubbish is often very mixed, and there have been occasions when fines have been threatened for not sorting waste material in the prescribed manner. Volunteers are bearing responsibility for clearing up mess which is a direct result of the city's social and economic development policy, and bearing costs which are nothing to do with the activities of their membership.
But when the Council's Cleansing department is approached at senior management level, the dogma is simple and fundamental. 'The Council is responsible for cleansing the public realm. If an area is not in the public realm, it's in the private realm and cleaning it up is the responsibility of its owners. Therefore, your problem is not our problem.'
A large corporation working in the city with economic muscle is able to negotiate and get the results it desires. If it doesn't get what it wants, it has the resources to sue the Council for having policies, which compromise the corporate bodies' domain. But religious communities, even large denominations, don't have that kind of resource, or at least are not prepared to use it in that way. The source of the problem lies in the depths of the philosophy on which city governance rests.
According to the dogma, there is the public realm which the City Council manages, everything else is private. Religious communities, great and small are neither private bodies, nor are they businesses. The vast majority are registered charities. They are governed and managed for the most part by volunteers, and their paid workers are supported by voluntary subscription. Their realm of operation is the public domain, and they are subject to legislation regarding health and safety, fire, insurance, child protection for public bodies, just like businesses. However, they are not 'owned' by shareholders and directors who benefit from an economic activity. They are sui generis.
Ownership of religious organisations passes from one set of elected trustees to another. They are responsible for the properties belonging to them which are located in the public realm, and are open to the public. Religious organisation trustees are not-for-profit office holders in bodies collectively 'owned' by volunteers in a way that distinguishes them from private households and commercial enterprises. But this fact is not recognised by city government or its administration as being significant, despite the large contribution made by religious bodies to the social weath and welfare of the city.
The major exception is where religious bodies own and run schools -around 28% of those run by Cardiff LEA have Church Aided status, and there is a well run working partnership between religious and local government officers which manages these. There is a Council for Voluntary Action which has recognition and partnership agreements with the local authority which operate in other specific areas, like community safety, sport and leisure, health education and youth work. Indeed, particular religious community projects participate and benefit from this arrangement like others. But, when it comes to public religious buildings, owned and used for sacred, cultural and social purposes by voluntary led communities, there is a serious policy blind-spot. Not only in the area of cleansing. Also in the realm of public accessibility.
Many religious buildings are rendered increasingly difficult to access due to traffic controls and parking regulations. Issues of crowd management in the city centre on weekend Big Match days and other leisure and sporting events can bring major disruption to ordinary citizens attending worship, or weddings, or just socialising. Rights of access are not infrequently suspended, with sketchy and sometimes disparate public information available, and there is no proper discussion of principle or practice. Only those who are skilled and experienced at negotiating access to religious places are able to arrive at their destination easily.
Good will is rarely lacking on the part of the people on the ground following orders, but leadership and management is often fragmented and hard to communicate with for anyone who is an 'outsider' to those in control. This generates feelings of frustration and resentment, as many in religious communities feel the Council did not consult them, or advise them properly, or if they did, found their wishes ignored.
Local government officers close to the situation are often not unsympathetic to the problems. It's at the level of executive leadership (elected and employed), that decisions are made which lead to a sense of alienation from public life on the part of some religious communities. Even if City leadership is sympathetic, when the matter is passed down the chain of command to be dealt with, implementation proves to be inadequate, as service managers are accountable for budgets and year-end balance sheets. This is used as an alibi for refusing to re-visit plans and priorities.
Secularisation is a widespread process in which religious life and institutions disappear from the public domain and are regarded as only belonging in the private realm. In some critical aspects, Cardiff City Government's world-view enforces this by a policy that has crept in without public consent. It is not an issue on which political campaigns are yet fought in Britain today, although Welsh church disestablishment in the early decades of the 20th century was indicative of things to come, and open hostility to 'faith schooling' on the part of militant Humanists increases in its vehemence. Whilst independence of church and state is mutually beneficial, the weakening of religious community participation in public life has come about as many established religious communities have defaulted upon their civic responsibilities, being preoccupied with their own decline. As a result, the City does not benefit as much as it could from the kind of creative moral and spiritual input that can enhance public life.
Meanwhile the welfare of the City is not well served by the crude public-private dichotomy which holds sway in the Local Government official's mind-set. Anti-discrimination and social inclusion legislation won't make much difference. It will just extend the playing field upon which major issues can remain avoided. A change of philosophy is needed that will result in a change of culture amonst those who are paid to serve the needs of the whole community of communities that is the Capital City.
Friday, 17 August 2007
At the end of school during term times, the reasonably adequate existing car park overflows into the High Street and around the adjacent parts of the Green with the vehicles of parents picking up children. The main through road, Cardiff Road, is a commuter route in and out of the city which has seen its traffic multiply exponentially as a result of recent satellite housing development, so the junction of High Street and Cardiff Road is a major traffic jam blackspot.
This is everyday normality, when there is not a wedding and funeral or other big ceremony involving hundreds of people going to the Cathedral.Whenever there is a Cathedral event, the chaos and delay, not to mention distress caused when a cortège has a crematorium rendezvous to make after a service, are the cause of complaint. All who live in or visit Llandaff City are affected by this and remark upon it. At a time when Cardiff tourism has undergone major expansion, its fine ancient Cathedral has seen no increase in visitors. Despite the proliferation of brown and white tourism traffic signs, coach companies know all to well the difficulties of taking people within short walking distance of the Cathedral. Things are worse, since 'improvements' to the Green were imposed by the City Council. And imposed they were, against the wishes of local residents, the Dean and Chapter.
There were consultation meetings at which the plans were explained. The Llandaff Society and the Cathedral Chapter and its Council registered strong objections and warned the impact of these measures would have on the village. Nevertheless, the measures were voted through by the City Council, and implemented with surprising haste, thereby rendering objections futile. The Cathedral and village is not lacking in skilled and expert people to engage in policy debate or help formulate plans that from the outset are bound to have consequences for all residents as well as visitors. There is no evidence to suggest that this resource was enlisted to help shape an improvement plan that would genuinely make the village more accessible to locals and visitors, and enhance its environment.
Meanwhile, St David's Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral in the city centre cul-de-sac of Charles Street is seeing significant growth in attendance due to recently arrived Eastern European and Asian immigrants. It suffers problems of traffic congestion at service times caused by the conflicting needs of worshippers who need to arrive by car, and shoppers displaced from recently demolished multi-storey car parks, wanting to pick up goods from the neighbouring Queen Street pedestrian area shops. Existing provisions to regulate parking are frequently flouted, making it impossible for vehicles to turn around or pass each other. Traffic wardens, if there are any to be found are prone to penalise worshippers and shoppers with complete impartiality.
Plans to 'improve' the situation on the street, as a key gateway to new shopping developments and pedestrian areas, will affect businesses in Charles Street as well as the Cathedral and Ebeneser Chapel opposite. The Cathedral is working on a development plan for its ancilliary buildings to serve better the expanding social and cultural programme. Any 'improvements' to Charles Street could either be the kiss of death to these ambitions or the breath of life. At the moment, disruption caused by commercial re-development means an inevitable struggle for both local authorities and the Cathedral to cope. It is not yet apparent whether there is sufficient will to ensure future 'improvements' will work to everyone's benefit.
One thing seems certain - the functioning of two major religious institutions of the City Borough of Cardiff, with throughput of at least a thousand people every week, has been seriously compromised by local government in action.