Heresy or carrying a torch for Wightman

Doubtless the next week will be full of commemorative events regarding the Titanic sinking. However for those interested in free speech and free expression then April 11th– the day that I write- has significance. For today is the 400th anniversary of the last person to be burnt at the stake on the charge of heresy and he was a Staffordshire man. Edward Wightman went to the stake on the 11th April 1612 at Lichfield. He was a businessman and local Baptist minister in Burton. He also had business interests in Uttoxeter and Cheadle. Continue reading

Gaff Prone NULBC Councillor Describes Church as a “ËœCult’

A gaff prone Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Councillor has once again put his foot it ““ this time on Facebook.

Ashley Howells, Conservative councillor for Loggerheads & Whitmore, previously described Stoke-on-Trent residents as idle and overweight on social networking site Twitter.

His latest gaff came courtesy of comments made by him on Facebook.

Councillor Howells used the world’s biggest social networking site to describe religion, in particular the Church of England, as a cult.

Councillor Howells commented on a link posted by a Facebook user to a story in the Telegraph newspaper that reports that CofE congregations have halved in the last 40 years.

He said that the demise of the Church of England would remove one more myth based cult.

”quite”¦..however it would remove one more myth based cult”

Cllr Howells comments drew this angry response form another Facebook user.

”Sorry to hijack your message, which I happen to agree with, but I fear that Ashley Howells however has given another reason by which his bigoted one sided views have been revealed.

You would think that a councillor wouldn’t cause offence to a good portion of his electorate and his comments on Twitter have caused him to make public apologies before.”

His previous comments about Stoke-on-Trent forced him to close down his Twitter account.

Will his latest gaff force him off the social networking site Facebook?

”Upon meeting many villagers, we found that the various priorities outlined by me matched their concerns and demands to a very great extent ““ for example, residents want to preserve the rural characteristic of the area whilst enhancing local services such as children/youth facilities and senior citizen activities; local folk see a police presence and rapid response rate as key in preventing crime and reducing the fear of crime; residents of all our villages are concerned about Wind Farm, Quarrying and Methane Gas Drilling threats; highway safety and speeding are worries for many ……

I know that Loggerheads Parish Council, responding to its parishioners via the Parish Plan, wants to plan for an improved village centre and I will continue to work with them and the Borough team to drive the initiative on.
I’ve met many from the various community and parish groups which do such important work for the communities of the rural area and I look forward to working with them to enhance our shared quality of life”.

It would appear that the important role played by churches in community life, especially in rural areas like Loggerheads & Whitmore, is being dismissed by Conservative Councillor Ashley Howells, despite what his blog comments say.

It is obvious that his blog article on the NULBC website misleads the electorate and his true beliefs are hidden behind the words written.

Cllr Howells Facebook comments fail to respect those members of society who a practise their faith and enjoy playing a part in church life.

Councillor Howells comments will offend some members of Loggerheads & Whitmore communities and may well affect his chances at the next election as well as seriously diminishing his chances of being invited to open any church fete in his council ward.

48 new clergy ordained to serve north-west Midlands

Lichfield Diocese hits “younger ordinands” milestone as Cathedral welcomes its first woman priest.

Two major milestones will be met during seven ordination service taking place this weekend in Shropshire, Staffordshire and the West Midlands.

Amongst the 48 new clergy being ordained in the Diocese of Lichfield is the Revd Nest Bateman, the non-stipendiary curate of Lichfield Cathedral. Ordained a deacon last year; when she is ordained by the Bishop of Wolverhampton tomorrow (Saturday 19th June) in Penkridge, she will become the first female priest licensed to the Cathedral, outside the prebendaries, or honorary canons. She will preside at the Sung Eucharist in the Cathedral at 10.30am on Sunday.

The second milestone is a major step to reaching the Bishop of Lichfields’ target that half of all ordinands should be under the age of 35. The 22 new deacons, being ordained in the Cathedral next weekend, include 10 non-stipendiary (volunteer) clergy and 12 stipendiary (paid) clergy. Half of the new stipendiary deacons are under 35; and the percentage of all the new deacons under 35 is 27 per cent ““ continuing the progress made in recent years towards the total 50 per cent target.

Earlier this year the diocese of Lichfield commissioned television journalist Robin Powell to produce a video report to be shown in churches to support the Bishop of Lichfield’s call for younger ordinands to come forward. Those being ordained over the next two weekends had already been selected and had begun training before that video was shown.

The video is available below and is on the diocesan website: or the diocese’s You Tube channel: The diocese also has a special website designed for young people considering ministry in the Church of England:

There are three orders of ordained ministry in the Church of England: deacon, priest and bishop. New clergy are ordained first as a deacon; ordination as a priest usually follows a year later. New stipendiary clergy will serve as a curate alongside an experienced priest for their first three or four years; as a continuation of their training. Non-stipendiary clergy will work in a variety of roles, dependent upon the needs of the parish to which they will serve.

Petertide, the period around St Peter’s Day (29th June) is a traditional time for ordinations.

Stoke-on-Trent Church Launches Emergency Appeal After Lead Theft

The Rector of Stoke, the Revd Preb David Lingwood has launched and emergency appeal this morning to raise over £30,000 for repairs to the roof of Stoke Minster.

Stoke Minster

The repairs are needed after an incident on 19 April where lead estimated at £13,000 was stolen. Five men were arrested near the Minster on 19 April after a member of the public called police to report suspicious activity. 4 men have been charged with the theft of lead and will appear at North Staffordshire Magistrates Court, Fenton on 27 May, the fifth man is wanted after failing to answer bail.

Although the Minster is fully insured, the underwriters will not insure churches for the theft of lead although the insurance company itself will pay £5000 towards the claim, leaving the church to find the balance of the cost of repairs itself.

The thieves managed to remove 72 sheets of lead from the roof before the police were called and in doing this they caused several thousands of pounds of damage to the actual roof structure.

Stoke Minster is the latest of a number of churches in the area to be targeted by lead thieves, Astonfield in Staffordshire Moorlands was recently subject to lead theft. The thieves made 4 visits in just over a week to remove lead.

Gavin Drake, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Lichfield said, ‘all our churches have treated their lead with smart water to help combat thefts. Smart water allows police to trace lead back to an individual church in the diocese, so if they stop a vehicle carrying metal they can quickly check for the presence of the smart water and then check to see if the metal has been stolen. The smart water works in such a way that even if the lead is melted down it is still possible to test the metal.’

People wishing to make donations to the appeal can do so either by calling in at the church and making a donation, using the donation envelopes, sending cheques to the Minster payable to Stoke Minster or by visiting the online donation site that has been set up, linked from the bottom of this article and the Stoke Minster website.

Bethel City Church – An agnostics impression

Last Sunday, Tony, Mike and myself went down to Bethel City Church in Abbey Hulton. Tony had called me a couple of times to see if I’d be interested in shooting a bit of video down there and asked me if I wanted to do the interviews.

I was a bit unsure about setting foot in a church in a reporting mode, I go to school plays and the like but, that’s just paying lip service, it has no further impact upon my life.

I remembered the 1980s. we had a really active Christian neighbor, he raved about the reverend Billy Graham. After a while our indifference and his enthusiasm drove a wedge between our families, and I guess that experience made me suspicious of modern Christians, the group who have been rudely labeled as “happy clappers”.

I’ll be the first to say that I went to BCC firstly to do the article. I am an unbeliever, have been for years, despite having a church upbringing.

Dont get me wrong, I still like Churches, fantastic buildings with awesome architecture and sculpture. I love their historical value. Their records of Births marriage and Death have been invaluable to my genealogical research. I have spent many happy hours tramping round graveyards reading inscriptions looking for lost ancestors. However, that has been where my interested has ended. I don’t go in to churches for what they offer, GOD.

That said, BCC was something different. I’m not a “Bandwagon” kind of Guy, so I won’t say it lightly.

They have got it organised, you don’t just wander in and be alone wondering where to sit, there are people there to help you find a parking space, they greet you as you enter the church, you are looked after.

That in itself makes a massive difference to the way you feel when you walk into a church. Being brought up church of England, I often felt like the black sheep (no pun intended) when I walked into the church. The people knew me, knew I was a rebel, knew I liked a drink, bucked authority etc, and it showed, it showed in their reactions and their commitment, their relationship towards me. I’m not blaming them for everything, I was most probably a toe-rag of the first order, but I reckon if someone had tried to reach out instead of judge me, it might have been a different story.

About 15 years ago, I remember feeling very low after a breakup of a relationship, I thought I’d go and seek solace in a church. Not one church in Newcastle was open that day. Not one. I went home alone without being able to talk to anyone. I get the feeling that couldn’t happen with the BCC.

Whilst we were there, we never wanted for anything, we were announced to the whole congregation who welcomed us with claps and cheers. They brought us drinks and accommodated us in every way. The cynical amongst you will say ” Of course they did, they wanted a favourable article!”
Well that’s possible I’ll concede but as we know, fakery shows through eventually and if there’s any there it will out in time. I didn’t’ see it.

What I have seen so far isn’t scary or sinister, it’s just positive. It’s more positive than I’m used to, one can become cynical when you follow politics.

I haven’t had the energy and the inclination to be nice and lovely to people all the time like the guys at BCC were, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like their approach,or that it hasn’t influenced me. Surely we all aspire to be better people?

When I say better, I mean better to other people. Sometimes I’m an asshole, I’m pushy, I question everything, I wont take no for an answer, I rush and drive too fast, I expect everyone to operate at maximum efficiency or get out of may way. In my opinion being better has nothing to do with money.

For me, you could take all the money in the world and burn it in a big pile and I wouldn’t shed a tear. You can take your fancy cars and posh clobber, your sky TV and conservatories and blow it all up, I’m not interested in it, it doesn’t impress me.

I want to learn how to love others,(I’ve read the Kama Sutra). I want to be more accepting and really help those who struggle. I’d like it if people who were further along spiritually …would do the same for me.

I could actually feel the energy radiating out of that church hall on Sunday, it was tangible, it affected your emotions. I keep mine well wrapped so, it must have been strong.

To all the cynics I’d say, if you are interested in doing good work helping Stoke, Get down to BCC, and get involved with Love Stoke. This will give you a chance to see how things are operated, and if you don’t like it or feel uncomfortable , then no one could say you didn’t give it a go. No one tried to force religion on us whilst we were down there.

I’ll definitely be down there again soon to see what projects I can get involved with, I’m not into the God stuff really but I am into the close community and love stuff, who can really get enough of that?

Bethel City Church – A Positive Light In Our City

Two things that should never be discussed, if you listen to the experts, are Politics and Religion.

Well, on this site Politics are dissected on a daily basis and as this site supposed to push the boundaries we thought we would do religion!

Recently, whilst we on this site have been busy networking with people through the medium that is ‘Twitter’, we had noticed a number of incredibly positive local people.

All of these people were tweeting about something called ‘BCC’ and after a bit of research we found out that this particular BCC was indeed  Bethel City Church located here in Stoke-on-Trent on Leek Rd, Abbey Hulton.

Bethel City Church

 Our interest was fuelled even more by a letter that was published in the Sentinel by the Lead Pastor James Galloway in response to a comment article by the excellent Martin Tideswell. (No relation to our own Tideswellman).

 Bethel City Church

Martin, it seems has had similar experiences to my own regarding religion and the occasions that I have needed to visit Church in the past few years [I’m a bit older than him – so it’s been mainly funerals!].

Bethel City Church are the force behind Love, a project that has won an ‘Our Heroes’ award.

This project does truly good work. They have a team of dedicated volunteers and they go out into the community and undertake a variety of work to improve and enhance life in the City of Stoke-on-Trent. They manage to get some major support from retailers and businesses in the City which helps with materials etc.

The Pits n Pots team decided to pay  Bethel City Church a visit and I can honestly say we received one of the warmest welcomes you could ever imagine.

The actual service was like none any of us had witnessed before.

There was no ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon or maudlin hymns. There was no reliance on the traditions of the past hundreds of years. There were no formal clothes and no penitence and blame.

What there was though, was an incredibly inspiring ‘preach’ by Pastor James Galloway that did not talk at you, but to you. The music was rock ‘n’ roll and the whole service was upbeat and lively , featuring something called the ‘Bethel Bounce’.(see video)

Christian church congregations are dwindling in numbers week by week. Church buildings are being left empty or turned into warehouses and the such like.

Bethel have managed to buck the trend – big time!

So,  is this the new face of religion that is fit for purpose for this day and age and for the needs of the modern day family?

Well, that’s for you to make your minds up about. But, whether you are religious, or have an interest or a dedication to a religion, what cannot be doubted is that this church and these people love this City and are committed to making a difference. They are reaching out into the City instead of waiting for the City to come to them.

Through the work that they do via they are a positive identity in our City, and for that they deserve a huge amount of credit.

Watch the two part video that shows  Bethel City Church in full swing and listen what they have to say about their role in the City.

Bethel City Church

This article/video/photo’s were put together by the Pits n Pots team of Tideswellman, Mike Rawlins & Tony Walley.

Changing my mind…

The responses that I got from the piece that I wrote on climate change obviously have sparked fierce debate and probably reflect the divide there is in the country. But the counter opinions expressed to mine lead me to think about the whole process of making up the mind about a specific issue and the use of evidence. In other words why do we think the way that we do. Is it influences in the home or at school and how these views we have are liable to change or not?

If I look back on the opinions I held 20 or 30 years ago I would say that in some ways my opinions have been reinforced and in other ways they have changed.

Things that are immutable as far as I am concerned are a belief in the European ideal- I have always been a committed European and helped in running an information point in Hanley for the Pro market cause during the referendum in 1975. And since that time the view has held and strengthened following visits to a number of European countries.

I have always been a progressive on race and relations issues and I am proud of my involvement with the Anti Apartheid Movement in the 80s which in the context of Stoke ultimately lead to the granting of the Freedom of the City to Walter Sisulu in 1984.

I guess I have always championed the underdog and having suffered periods of unemployment have a healthy scepticism about the relationship between Government and the individual within the welfare system

And of course there are the Green issues. In the 80s I was a local member of Socialist Environment Research Association which had a lively organisation in the 80s.

On the other side of the coin I am more tolerant of the positive impact that faith groups can make and in the City we have an excellent example in Saltbox and in Leek “Churches Together”. In the past I would have been suspicious of the influence of the church in areas of social policy.

I have fallen out with the Labour Party- a process that began with Kinnock and completed by Blair. I cannot forgive or understand the relationship that New Labour has forged with a particularly repellent form of free market capitalism and I suppose I was present at a pivotal moment in this relationship. In July 1995 I helped out for a week at the Littleborough and Saddleworth by election. It was the week that Blair had flown over to Australian to meet with Rupert Murdoch and other senior executives of News International. The item was head of the news on the 6 O’clock news that summer evening. I watched the news in the TV room with one other person Peter Mandelson was sitting in front of me and I guess he was very pleased at the outcome. That unholy trinity sums up what was wrong with the New Labour project. With some in the party that I knew moderately well like Ian McCartney was like the last 20 years has been like seeing a replay of the science fiction classic “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and somewhere there is a factory producing look a like pods of politicians that once had principles.

I would also say that I am far more favourably inclined to the USA than I was in the 80s and having the country I remain a great admirer especially of the institutions and the political philosophy that founded the country. I think that we exported some of our better ideas in the grafting of the constitution

And I guess I am more positive about the role of science and the scientific approach. In the 90s I was involved with an anti MMR group in the North West and the view that there was a link between the vaccine and autism. I think the science has disproved that connection although the scepticism and disbelief around this issue has had tragic consequences with the rapid increase in measles. When she was old enough I ensured that my daughter received the MMR vaccine without any ill effects.

So there is the gauntlet I have thrown down why people choose to believe what they believe and are they susceptible to change or do they hold opinions as it were, given that we were debating climate change- until hell freezes over.

Should Religions Fund Their Own Presence Within The NHS?

Comment by Warren

The National Secular Society, an organisation made up of non-believers in religion, has told the NHS that it could save around £40 million a year, by asking religious groups to fund their own presence in UK hospitals. They also suggest that this money would be better spent on the provision of more nurses and cleaners on the wards.

At the moment all patients staying in hospital have a right under the NHS charter to religious observance, whatever faith they may be, with the Trusts paying for faith representatives and places to worship and pray.

The NSS asked 233 trusts how much they payed for this and the average amount was £48,953 per year. This amount excluded admin costs, pension payments, office space used, training and the upkeep of chapels and prayer rooms. Â  With all this taken into account a figure was reached of £40m, which could pay for 1,300 extra nurses or 2,645 extra cleaning staff.

Terry Sanderson, NSS president, told the Radio 4 Today programme:  “If people were given the choice they would choose nurses and cleaners, front-line services are under pressure. As the recession bites, its important that savings are made wherever they can be.”

Father Paul Manson, a Roman Catholic hospital chaplain from London had this to say:  “There is a demand, we are there because there is a demand on the ground for chaplains to be present.”

I say that’s all well and good Father, that’s not in question, who pays for them is. Â  I know this is not local, but it’s nice to to get a break from the local stuff sometimes. What are your thoughts, who should be paying for this, the NHS or the bodies the chaplains stand for?

An interesting one this.

Source: BBC Health News Webpage.

Hodge Urges Rethink on BNP!

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Margaret Hodge

Margaret Hodge

A minister has told the government it needs a “more sophisticated narrative” to counter the threat of the British National party. Margaret Hodge, who is on compassionate leave from the cabinet, writes in this month’s edition of Progress magazine that Labour needs to change tack after “decades of political complacency”.

“We need to understand that people who vote BNP do not see themselves as racists … The traditional shame has gone. So bringing voters back to Labour cannot be based on negative condemnation and has to be built on positively convincing people that Labour is on their side, listening and responding to their concerns – and we need a more sophisticated narrative on the BNP,” she writes.

The culture minister has been urged by other colleagues fighting the BNP in their constituencies to be silent on the threat of the far-right party after her first warning appeared to backfire in April 2006. Then Hodge detected that eight out of 10 white, working-class voters in her Barking constituency in east London may have been tempted to vote for the BNP.

She said that “no one else is listening to them” on the issues of unemployment, high house prices and local housing for asylum seekers.

In the local elections the following month, Hodge’s comments were blamed for raising the profile of the BNP, which won 12 of the 13 Barking seats it contested. The party delivered a bunch of flowers to her office to thank her for her comments.

In this year’s European elections, the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, is standing in the north-west region and hopes to become the party’s first MEP. Under proportional representation, he needs 8% of the vote.

The concern over Nick Griffin’s Euro campaign has  intensified recently with the news that the Bishop of Manchester has called for voters to not waste their votes on June 4th.

The Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, accused the BNP of preaching a message of “division and hatred” during an address to Manchester City Council.

The BNP is fielding eight candidates in the North West, including party leader Nick Griffin, in the elections.

Bishop McCulloch called on voters not to squander their vote on any political party or candidate “who promotes division, exclusion, blame, or who in any other way seeks to stir up racial and ethnic hatred”.

He warned councillors that the far-right party would exploit “the difficult times which presently face our country” to turn “one community against the other”.

He also said that sensitive debate by mainstream political parties was the way forward.

Referring to the BNP, he said: “They will exploit the difficult times which presently face our country, trying to turn one community against the other.
“They will use difference as a scapegoat, because they have nothing else to offer in response to the issues we face.

“We all know in these difficult times that many of our local communities are fearful about the future – fearful for their jobs, their homes, their economic prospects.”

He said an uncertain future could be faced by sensitive debate and democratic representation and added: “At the heart of our political process is belief in democratic representation – a belief that values difference and seeks the common good.

“The British National Party does neither. It offers only division, fear and hatred.

“I make no apology for speaking of the British National Party directly.

“This party has a racial analysis at the core of its philosophy. It claims that it is not a racist party but it calls at least for segregation of the races.”

Simon Darby, BNP deputy chairman and spokesman, accused the bishop of abusing his position and claimed that many thousands of people would vote for the party.

He added: “He (the bishop) gets paid very well, his job is safe and he probably gets a house provided and other trappings and ordinary people don’t have that luxury. He’s out of touch.”

Roy Goodwin, BNP organiser for Blackpool and Oldham, criticised the bishop.

He said: “The pews are empty so they must be doing something wrong. They want to keep out of politics and stop bashing the BNP.”

The BNP failed to win an MEP seat in the North-West in the 2004 European elections.

Mr Darby said they received 6.4% of the vote and needed to get about 8.5% of the vote to win one seat in June.

Pits’n’Pots asks is there being to much made over the rise of the far right BNP?

Are government right to be concerned over the rise in popularity of the BNP?

Is it right for religious leaders to participate in the political debate?

Source: The Guardian