This week is "Faith in the World" week and it got me thinking about my relationship, as Police & Crime Commissioner, with our faith communities in Wiltshire and Swindon.
And, a number of events over the past few months came swiftly to mind:
I used, on occasionally Sundays when in London, to go to Holy Trinity Church in the Brompton Road. As a family we loved the informality of the worship and the modern music. As some may know for around ten years I was a member of a Christian music group, called New Creation. We visited many local Churches & schools to bring an alternative to "Hymns Ancient & Modern". It was our visits to Holy Trinity planted that seed. So it was with enthusiasm that I accepted an invitation to attend the civic launch of the Pattern Church in November. Based in Swindon's historic railway quarter this initiative by the Diocese of Bristol, is described as a resourcing church. It is set to become "the home base for providing fresh energy, people and approaches which will resource other churches across the town and contribute to social transformation". I was interested to read the leader, Revd. Joel Sales, had spent time at Holy Trinity as well.
In March, I was at the Temple Swindon Hindu Temple & Cultural Centre for the Festival of Holi, the Festival of Colours, organised to promote and foster equality and tolerance and to bring people & communities together. There was Bollywood music, Dhol (Indian drums), snacks, tea/coffee & people celebrating by greeting each other using both dry colours and water colours. When everyone is covered in paint, everyone is equal.
In April, the Civic Service took place in Highworth Church following its reordering. St Michaels & All Angels was built in the 15th century, when Henry VIII was King, and after 12 years planning has had a major refurbishment costing that community £1.2m. The building is Grade 1 listed, so all works have been heavily supervised, but now it has a new kitchen & cloakrooms, underfloor heating, modern lighting and is fully accessible for those with a disability. The replacement of the 19th century fixed pews, with stackable and comfortable chairs has made the building much more flexible, for both worship and community use.
In June, I attended the Murthi Sthapana Matotsav Ceremony at the Swindon temple. The Hindu community had, until a few years ago, no place of prayer or worship in Wiltshire. The centre has been open for around three years, and this invitation was to be present at the ceremony of instilling the Divine Spirit into an Idol that gets transformed into a Deity. Priests from around the world attended that event, which is very special for the community, and can only take place at defined times.
Since I became Commissioner I have always had a warm welcome at Trowbridge Mosque, in Longfield Road, when I have "dropped in" for Friday prayers and was I was very pleased when they opened their doors for "open Mosque Days".
Since 2008, Wiltshire Islamic & Cultural Centre has been holding events in the county and I was please to visit their new premises at The Pavilions, White Horse Business Park for prayers & breaking the fast during Ramadan. Just like the Christian faith groups, the followers of the Islamic faith meet in different groups, where they may have a common faith but differing cultural or ethnic backgrounds.
These, of course, are only the celebration of specific events.
Our faith is with us in all we do, and why it is so important to me that we have a force chaplain and volunteers from many faiths who are available to our staff, and the public in major incidents.
I am aware that not all are mentioned, but I should mention particularly those of Jewish faith, for whom prejudice runs through history, and the Pagans for whom Wiltshire holds particular sites of importance. Suffice to say I stand with Jewish community on Holocaust Memorial Day each January and policing of our equinox days make special reference to the needs and respect for Pagans.
My job as Commissioner is to hear and present the views of all Wiltshire & Swindon people, and to direct & influence the local policing accordingly. To do this I try to make contact with, and support, as many people and groups of people as possible from across the broad spectrum which makes up our county - and that includes those of faith.
To that end, I feel privileged that I have a special relationship with all faith communities here which I hope will continue to grow and develop during weeks like this one and throughout the year.