Reflections on the Conversion of Paul

Towards the end of January we were invited to celebrate the conversion of St Paul. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) appoints a lesson from the Acts of the Apostles 9:1-22 which describes Paul (then known as Saul) on the road to Damascus. He was not on this road by coincidence; he was not out taking the air or exercising, but was embarked on a journey specifically to seek out “any of this way”, by which of course he meant Christians, with the intention of bringing them “bound unto Jerusalem”. We are left to ponder as to what fate would have awaited our brothers and sisters upon their arrival; I think it fair to conclude that their welcome would not have been a hospitable one since we know that Saul was deeply hostile to Christians.

As he travels the road “suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven”; so bright in fact that he was blinded and brought to his knees, whereupon he heard a voice – the voice of Jesus. After this, still blinded but with the assistance of his fellow travellers, he followed Jesus’ instructions, and continued on his journey.

Meanwhile, the Lord is busy giving instructions in a vision to his disciple Ananias: that he should visit Saul and by touching him restore his sight. Now Ananias was skeptical, for Saul clearly had a reputation, but the Lord explained that Saul was “a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles”; so off he went to carry out the Lord’s instructions.

And so it came to pass that Ananias found Saul in Damascus, and he restored him of his sight as the Lord had commanded. Saul was “filled with the Holy Ghost” and “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God”. Saul had become Paul.

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An Accidental Crusoe

As a child you probably learned the story of Robinson Crusoe, the protagonist in the novel commonly known by that name, written at the beginning of the 18th century by author Daniel Defoe. The full title of the book hardly trips off the tongue, “The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years, All Alone in an Uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, Near the Mouth of the Great River Oroonoque; Have Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, Wherein all the Men Perished but Himself, With an Account how he was at Last Strangely Delivered by Pirates”; but it is at least instructive of the central theme of the story: that Crusoe found himself “all alone in an uninhabited island”.

In these present times, living with the restrictions imposed to try and repel the threat of Covid, many of us will have felt alone, cut off from most of life’s social interactions that we had taken so much for granted; and our homes, which once played host to visiting friends and family coming from near and far, have become their own uninhabited islands. What then might we learn from the story of Crusoe, as he grappled with circumstances recognisable to us?

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Dignity in Destitution

Asylum seekers are often the bottom of the pile when it comes to support and sympathy.

Each person has their own story of how and why they have made the difficult decision to leave their home and maybe their entire family, to make a long, often terrifying and dangerous journey to another country. They are frequently traumatised, bewildered and confused by the hostile reception they get from the Home Office, when they finally get to the UK.

They are people like us, who had a home, a job, a normal life and a simple wish to continue living in peace. War, persecution and discrimination are common reasons for their need to escape, sometimes to save their lives. The choice is not made lightly, and their hope is to rebuild a life somewhere free from persecution and conflict. Sadly, they are likely to find the UK a less welcoming place than they hoped and have the added issues of language, isolation, poverty and unemployment to deal with.

Asylum seekers will initially be given Home Office support if their case is thought to be worthy of consideration. If their case is turned down after further consideration, they will then be left destitute, with no recourse to public funds and no accommodation. This can happen very quickly, leaving them street homeless.

One of the most distressing problems for destitute asylum seekers is lack of shelter. They rely on charities to find them accommodation of some sort and, of course, anything is better than being on the streets and vulnerable.

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Climate tips for December – Christmas Crackers

  1. Real trees have a much lower carbon footprint than artificial ones, especially if disposed of by wood-chipping. An artificial tree would need to be reused for ten years to be comparable.
  2. This Advent ponder on Jesus’ coming to be with us on earth. How are we preparing His creation for Him to live with us here? Pray for grace and wisdom to play your part in caring for creation.
  3. Watch your shopping trolley. In the UK our food spend increases by 16% in December, make sure you are not over catering and that extras are not going to end up in the bin. 
  4. Celebrate the joy of Jesus coming to be with us. Wonder at his incarnating, He embraced being human, vulnerable and very much part of the creation that He made to restore it all back into peace with God.
  5. Calculate your carbon footprint for 2019 at Climate Stewards. Did you make any reductions this year? Take responsibility for your 2019 emissions by carbon offsetting. Set a target for 2020.

Offset your carbon emissions

It’s almost impossible to completely eliminate your carbon emissions, but carbon offsetting can help reduce your overall impact – and for less money than you might think.

Websites like offset.earth will invest in tree planting and carbon reduction schemes for as little as £1.25 a week, or others like www.myclimate.org/compensate will let you easily offset one-offs like a flight, a long car journey or even a cruise. Take a look around and see if there’s a way you can carbon offset your lifestyle.

Barnbow Lasses: Shells, shells and still more shells

The buildings at Barnbow have been demolished to make way for new housing, but the names of the streets there come from a dark period in the munition factory’s history.

The factory was built during the Autumn of 1915 to supply shells to the front. Shells manufactured by the Leeds Forge Company in Armley were transferred to Barnbow via specially laid railway tracks, and the platforms at Crossgates station were extended by 800 feet to accommodate the workers being ferried to the factory from places like Castleford, Wakefield, Harrogate and York, as well as all areas of Leeds. By December 1915 production was underway.

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Climate tips for November – Around the home

  1. If in doubt, switch it off: it is never more efficient to leave appliances running when you are not using them. Make sure you switch everything off at the plug before you go out and before you go to bed.
  2. Ensure your heating is switched off at night and when you are away from your home (except in sub-zero conditions) and save 500kg CO2e a year. Don’t heat rooms you don’t use, turn the radiator off and close the door. Smart thermostats can go even further, sometimes slicing up to 30% off your heating bill whilst keeping your home more comfortable.
  3. Read your meters monthly to check how much fuel you are using, or see if your supplier can fit a smart meter. This kind of monitoring can save on your fuel bills and also up to 250kg CO2e a year, as you keep a closer eye on your energy use.
  4. Find out if you have any unfilled cavity walls and (if yes) have them filled. This extra insulation can make a significant difference to the comfort of your home and save over 1 tonne of CO2e.