Festival of peace

The festival season this summer has definitely started with the fields of Worthy Farm in Glastonbury awash with people (normally the fields are awash with rainwater). Oxford-based supergroup Radiohead are the headline act tonight. Glastonbury does not stand alone, rockers can travel the country throughout the summer to be entertained – from the Isle of Wight to Reading to Leeds. But Glastonbury is the festival that I know. I went there in 1986 and witnessed the most incredible line up including The Cure, Madness, Psychedelic Furs, Waterboys, Level 42, The Housemartins, and the not-to-be-forgotten, Half Man-Half Biscuit!

The 1986 line-up at Glastonbury might never be surpassed!

Glastonbury was always promoted as a CND festival, raising money and awareness for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. That year (1986) various speakers were invited to the festival, one of which was the Bishop of Dudley, Tony Dumper. Bishop Tony was a lifelong pacifist, working the land in the Second World War as a conscientious objector. He was active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and so was an obvious choice to speak at Glastonbury. I met Bishop Tony when I was a curate, he had retained his passion for peace. I remember a time when a particular type of church mission displayed Christians wearing hearts on sleeves, campaigning for justice issues such as CND, joining anti-apartheid marches, promoting the Jubilee for Third World world debt etc.

In the Year of Our Lord 2017, as a follower of Christ and as a Christian priest, I have been struck by a sense of vexation and lethargy being displayed in our country. There was a chasm of ideology. Insight and debate were displaced in the lead up to the General Election. However, it was in the policy area of defence and, most notably, over Trident, that silence reigned. I talked dejectedly with a former colleague about the way in which the electorate is only able to promote a non-nuclear agenda through the Green Party (that is not decrying the Green Party but it pointedly displays a lack of electoral choice over life and death issues). My former spiritual director, Gerard Hughes SJ, a giant of the Church, (although he would never have owned that mantle) wrote passionately against the ownership and use of nuclear weapons, a madness supported by neurosis and folly. He argued that humanity has become confused in valuing a bomb rather than itself:

“We are in a severe crisis today, not just of the church, but of the whole human race. We have seen wonderful technical development, but we have become unhinged. We have lost the link between the words we use and what we actually do. It’s a most vicious illness: it faces us with annihilation.” (Cry of Wonder, 2014)

Tony Dumper, Gerard Hughes… what might others in the Church today say about the millions, billions, being invested into a tried and tested procedure leading to mass destruction? How might we become better informed about our faith in the man of peace, Jesus Christ, in order to demand the ending of this accumulation of arms? How many times over do we want to destroy the world and remain silent, or just happily confused, as the current austerity measures deprive those in greatest need? It is, as Gerry Hughes observes, “a most vicious illness…”

I wonder if there are others who read this blog who might also feel an unease about the way that we have set the wrong priorities for our current context. Surely, after the recent spate of terrorist attacks and disasters in our own country, we need to provide the resources for a multi-cultural, religiously-diverse society to flourish. In the June election, I did not have the opportunity to vote for the scrapping of Trident. I was not able to use my democratic privilege to inform government policy. Perhaps it is time for the Church to raise its voice and encourage a festival of peace – one that notices the crisis of today?

(The views expressed in this Blog are entirely my own and are not intended to reflect any opinions of church members at St Michael & All Angels, Summertown).

For this week’s news and Sunday reading sheet, please click here.

Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.