Friday, 25 March 2011

The Census

Filling in your census form may seem like an unwelcome extra chore on the weekend when you lose an hour’s sleep but it will probably fascinate people in a hundred years time.

Like a time capsule the information creates a snapshot of living in 2011. The questions about your occupation and the number of rooms in your home and who you share it with paint a picture of life now which will no doubt intrigue people in 3011.

Campaigns to put religion as ‘Jedi’ are a fun but flippant response to what is a serious question, even if the answer to the question about religion is ‘none’.

Everything we do relates to what we believe about how the world was and is and why we believe it. If the census is to tell something about how our society is and will be shaped then knowing what people believe will tell us more than any other of the questions put together.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Conference on Sustainable Agriculture

Food and agriculture remain subjects of ongoing interest and importance.

Over the past year, a subgroup of our Council has been discussing sustainability in agriculture, and is preparing a report for the General Assembly in 2012.

Some weeks ago, we invited a range of experts to a conference to help us explore these concerns and learn more about the issues. The purpose of the conference was not to provide firm answers but to help shape the thinking of the Council in preparing the report.

After a keynote address by David Atkinson, Convener of the Scottish Churches' Rural Group, discussion workshops looked at different approaches to the topic.

Pete Ritchie of Whitmuir Farm introduced ‘Our mutual food’, a report exploring local sourcing of food.

Edinethics Director Donald Bruce discussed Science and agriculture - new technologies, new opportunities, new challenges, while Richard Frazer and Josiah Lockhart of the Grassmarket Community Project spoke about community supported agriculture: local food production, transition towns and allotments.

Other workshops explored the view from the farm: issues and challenges facing farmers, led by NFU Scotland representative John Picken and the view from the Scottish Government with Antje Branding.

Read a fuller report about the conference and its conclusions.

In its work on sustainable agriculture, the Council is particularly interested to explore the questions around what congregations can do. If you would like to contribute ideas and comments, please contact Climate Change Officer Adrian Shaw.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Child Sex Trafficking in Scotland – a ‘national scandal’

Today’s report from Tam Baillie, the Scottish Commissioner for Children and Young People, must be a wake up call to everyone in Scotland.

The fact that dozens of children are being used as sex slaves in our cities, towns and neighbourhoods is utterly repugnant. This should be a call to action for everyone in Scotland. How can we let this happen?

The report calls on the UK Government to encourage more inter-agency co-operation, appointing an independent child trafficking rapporteur and to ratify without delay the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.

It asks that the Scottish Government acts to lead the efforts of local authorities to combat child trafficking, including providing proper funding for the investigation of suspected child-trafficking. And if the UK Government does not appoint a UK rapporteur on the issue, then the Scottish Government should appoint a rapporteur for Scotland, accountable to the Scottish Parliament.

This issue is one that the Church of Scotland Guild has been concerned about for some time.  Last year they brought an ACTS-produced report on trafficking to the General Assembly.

I intend to write to the Home Secretary in the UK Governement and the Justice Secretary in the Scottish Government asking that they urgently take action on these recommendations.

Can I ask you to write to your MP and MSPs as well? This story should create an outcry. Please speak up on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Eco Congregation Scotland Annual Gathering

On Saturday in Bridge of Allan the Eco Congregation Scotland movement held its annual gathering. This year is the 10th birthday of Eco Congregations, which is one of the fastest growing community-based environmental initiatives in the country.

Around a hundred people from across Scotland and representing a wide variety of Christian traditions met and shared in fellowship and worship.

As a symbolic act of the growing sign of the movement branching out throughout churches across Scotland, everyone present was given a small tree sapling with the invitation to plant it in a church yard or community garden. The trees, all native Scottish species, will then become a physical symbol of growth and our concern for caring for the earth in neighbourhoods all over the country.

If your church is not already part of Eco Congregation Scotland, you can find out more on their website or keep up to date by following their blog.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

It is no sin to be dependent

The Welfare Reform Bill is one of the UK Government’s flagship policies, and its impact will affect all of us. It begins being debated in Westminster tomorrow, when it has its 2nd Reading debate in the House of Commons.

I’ve written before about my concern about the language and rhetoric that politicians have used in this debate. It is good therefore that there has been a shift in some of the thinking and words used by Ministers, such as Iain Duncan Smith’s responses to the Work and Pensions Select Committee last month when he said:

"If it’s of any use, it also helps politically to tone the rhetoric down quite a bit. We can turn the knob down on this. There is always this "fraud, fraud, fraud" and everyone wagging their finger at everyone else, bit the truth is that quite a lot of we hear about politically and constantly as fraud is often complexity error. It is very easy for us to say it is fraud, and people feel quite stigmatised by that. The truth is that quite often it has nothing to do with them; it is simply that the system itself means that they did not understand what they were meant to be doing, yet they are apparently committing a fraud. A lot of them did not know that that was the case. We hope that, politically, this will tone some of the rhetoric down and basically stop people being accused of something that, frankly, is partly because of the system and has nothing to do with them."

The Church of Scotland, with our partners in Faith in Community Scotland, have written to all MPs representing Scottish constituencies about the Bill and the debate tomorrow.

In the briefing we outline some of our beliefs about the principle of the welfare system:

Our nation comprises of people who care for one another.

It is important to remember what the welfare system is intended to achieve. It is the means by which we, as a nation, pool our resources to support the most vulnerable members of our society and ensure that everyone has access to adequate resources to live a dignified and healthy life.

Change should not be about cutting costs, but making the system work better and for more people.

The goal of welfare reform has to be to make the lives of people who need help easier and we urge the Government to seek to take steps through its planned reforms of the welfare system to seek to reduce the levels of inequality in our country – an inequality which we believe damages all parts of society.

Dependency is not a sin for which requires penance in order to spur people into laying it aside.

Dependency is a fact of life, for us all; we depend on each other, rich and poor, disabled or able‐bodied. This is what makes us human. Perpetuating the myth that only those in receipt of benefits are dependent – and using that as a basis for policy – is divisive and undermines the social cohesion which the Government seeks to foster.

The goal of welfare reform must not be to reduce the cost of the welfare system or to reduce dependency but to enable all members of society to contribute as they are most able.