Protect and Survive

I cannot avoid the internal, soulful stirring which this nuclear proliferation brings. I don’t want to be associated with it.

I am of the generation who grew up exposed to the possibility of nuclear devastation. We were educated to realise the real and present threat of nuclear war and its aftermath. This was the precarious geo-political climate of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The government issued a pamphlet which became a film called Protect and Survive, a public information campaign intended to instruct the British nation how to survive a nuclear strike! But the British public were not supposed to receive this information until a nuclear threat was imminent. However, the media got (the nuclear) wind of it and provoked a public outcry which galvanised the government to release the Protect and Survive booklet, radio broadcasts and TV films.

Protect and Survive, the Government booklet which came to public attention in 1980

Soon after this, Raymond Briggs – of The Snowman fame – published his graphic novel, When the Wind Blows (1982). The book was later made into an animated film. The story features Jim and Hilda Bloggs, a retired couple, who hear a radio report about “an outbreak of hostilities.” Jim falls into line with the Protect and Survive literature that he has collected from his local library and attempts to build a shelter. The couple are chronicled for their innocence and understandable naiveté. But the threatening shadow of the nuclear winter does not retreat. The couple witness the blast and share its deadly effects until, at the end, Hilda insists that Jim should pray the 23rd Psalm. He does so but loses his way and in his confusion begins to recite The Charge of the Light Brigade!

This week, I have never felt closer to Jim and Hilda. I discern in myself a deep sense of protection towards those who are attempting to survive in the current context of the Covid pandemic, of climate change and of the proliferation of nuclear arsenal. This week the government’s defence spending review was leaked with the news of a planned increase of Trident nuclear warheads from 180 to 260 which will cost the nation upwards of £10billion.

At a time when every moral and political strand needs to be set towards the building up global health, community cohesion (cf the refugee and migrant crisis), environmental preservation and climate reversal, our last word is from The Charge of the Light Brigade! Perhaps we should retreat, put on the kettle and whistle a tune? But I cannot avoid the internal, soulful stirring which this nuclear proliferation brings. I don’t want to be associated with it. I don’t want to pay for it – which I will have to do. I want to oppose it with every creative, beautiful, natural fibre that I have. Yet, none of the mainstream political parties will support me. Thankfully the Church has written defiantly against these proposals. How many nuclear warheads do we need for protection? How many people do we need to kill to survive? How much of God’s world do we need to destroy?

I feel far from living in a liberal democracy today. I feel the fear of that same child growing up in the 1970’s, the child who didn’t have a voice then and doesn’t have a voice today. Compared to the wise, educated, and powerful political elite, I am the son of Jim and Hilda. A familiar cloud seems to be overshadowing this human family and all of their friends, their Church, their communities, their soil, their hopes, their beautiful world.

Dear Lord, when in fear of attack, please help me never to forget the psalm of the Divine Shepherd. Amen.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.”

Psalm 23

Meekly kneeling on our knees

“Meekly kneeling on our knees is no longer a bedtime habit but it is a clue to ending a day well.”

How is your Lent going? Are you able to sustain any resolutions? Are you able to hold on to any holy desires? We do have resources which may encourage us on our way, such as devotional books, sermons (check out our website), commentaries on the internet etc. Prayer is vital and to that end, please do try and commit to saying one of the daily offices. Again, you can find this with just one click on our own homepage. Common prayer, daily prayer and our opening up to a closer relationship with God become more realistic when this desire becomes habitual. 

Holy habits are beneficial in penitential seasons. In medieval times, penitence and confession was the glue by which communities, especially agricultural communities, were bound together. The locus for this sacrament was the parish church. Grace was conveyed upon the parish priest to offer absolution. To confess was/is to acknowledge a deep misgiving in order to rid oneself of the pain of guilt and terror of judgment. Perhaps we have moved away, somewhat, from the superstitious environment of pre-enlightenment belief but, I believe, there is a place for penitence and confession in a society tuned into words such as ‘wellbeing’ and ‘flourishing.’ 

A late medieval confession

If we are not prepared to exercise in a bit of self-examination, we probably will stunt our spiritual growth. Saying sorry is critical in that maturation process. By saying sorry we become aware of our own secret motivations and misdemeanors. We don’t have to wash our laundry in public but it might be helpful for our own health, and that of the community in which we live, to purge ourselves of any invisible toxins.

Meekly kneeling on our knees is no longer a bedtime habit but it is a clue to ending a day well. Try this for a Lenten exercise – at the end of each day, reflect upon your attitudes, actions and behaviours. Allow Christ to enter into your feelings of guilt, failure, ambivalence, happiness and hope and give them over as your night-time gift to God. See what you learn from sharing these deepest of deep experiences. It may well lead to a more peace-filled sleep and renewal for the new day.

Mothering Sunday – This Sunday marks the 4th Sunday of Lent, which traditionally is the celebration of Mother Church and Mothering Sunday. I hope that you can make our special Zoom service at 10am. It is an All Age offering and a profound observation of the life of Mother Mary, who characterises the marks of maternal love – patience, kindness, wisdom, compassion and faithfulness. 

A variety of familiar faces and voices will accompany us on our journey, so please do come along. If you have time, I am running a short quiz which focuses on the more bizarre elements of mothering – not to be missed! 

Mothering Sunday Service. Time: Mar 14, 2021 10:00 AM  Meeting ID: 965 2356 0501 Passcode: 551747. We start at 10am so please be on-line by 9.55am. It should only take 40 mins (if you are planning other activities).


Returning Home – We have a clear goal to return to public worship – Palm Sunday. We are opening the church for the 8am and 10am congregations with a new, up-to-date risk assessment in place. Unless we have a rapid rise in local new cases of Covid-19, I will be thrilled to see many of you in person. I also understand the reticence of those who have not received their second vaccination and continue to self-isolate. We will be continuing to livestream the 10am Eucharist for you and others who are unable to join us at this stage.

Summertown Health Centre – Talking of personal health, you are welcome to attend a Zoom planning meeting to discuss the possibility of a new health centre in Summertown. To access the meeting at 7pm on March 23rd, visit

Ecumenical Growth – St Michael’s supports the ecumenical partnership which has been an important part of its history. We will be welcoming All Saints’ Wytham to become the newest member of the Summertown-Wolvercote Church Partnership alongside St Michael’s, St Peter’s, Summertown URC and Wolvercote Baptists. We hope to celebrate our partnership in the autumn at Wytham.

St Michael’s Threshold – We will be undergoing investigations to uncover the source of the water ingress upon the new extension. The Building & Fabric team are committed to ensuring that the integrity of the new build is not compromised and lasts as long as the rest of the church!

Our Garden – The gardeners have been busy this early spring. Thank you to Suzanne and her band of green-fingered helpers. We are watchful of the wild flowers popping up and we are also hoping that the swifts, when they come, find a home this year in our nest boxes.