Cheltenham banner
urclogo
Skip Navigation LinksHome Page > In Touch > Minister's Letter

Dear Friends

You may have heard about the parking problems we had in February. On the morning of Sunday February 17th, the Traffic Wardens were putting Penalty Notices on cars parked in the lower part of Montpellier Street, close to St Andrew’s. When they were challenged, they claimed it was because the parking tickets had been purchased from “the wrong machine”. The machine in question is at the corner of Montpellier Street and Fauconberg Road. All the street parking signs point to it and we had used it ever since the parking scheme was introduced.

I was given a Penalty Notice so I immediately put in an official appeal and contacted my County Councillor. Edith Black, on behalf of St Andrew’s, contacted the Cheltenham Councillors. The Wardens went on issuing notices for the next few days but by midweek there was a flurry of emails from County Council Officers acknowledging that something had gone wrong. From Thursday everything was back to normal and on Saturday, I received an abject letter of apology for a “processing error” and the Penalty Notice was withdrawn.

Submitting the appeal and making contact with Councillors took time and effort but it had to be done to challenge a piece of nonsense that was causing inconvenience and distress. Some people might have simply paid up because they were unsure how to challenge a decision, or not have the time or knowledge or be unwilling to confront authority.

 

When we are in a position to act against foolishness or injustice, it is our duty to do so. There is nothing un-Christian in this. The Church has always celebrated those who have stuck their necks out on behalf of those without a voice but has perhaps it has been more comfortable if there was no direct benefit to the protestor and especially, if the protestor was at some risk. Of course it takes more courage when there is risk but it is always important to protect the vulnerable against abuse. It may seem more honourable if the protestor has no direct interest but challenging bad practice and injustice is imperative.

 

Paul was always ready to use his Roman Citizenship when he was in trouble and that will have offered some protection to his friends and kept the Mission on the road. Jesus responded to meet pressing human need by healing on the Sabbath and challenging Temple practice when he drove out the traders. These and other examples should encourage us.

 

One other feature of the encounter with the Traffic Wardens sticks out. It was clear that they knew what they were doing was absurd. One was even seen photographing the street parking sign with the arrow pointing to the “wrong” machine and in the early part of the week there was a feeble attempt to provide “cover” by taping over the instructions on the signs. When the Wardens were challenged, they could only say that they were “following instructions”. Unswerving obedience to orders that are stupid or even worse, illegal or immoral, is a feature of oppressive and authoritarian organisations and societies. At the War Crimes trials in Nuremberg, the Nazis claimed they were “obeying orders” but it cut no ice.

 

When Luther produced his Ninety Five Theses in 1517, he wanted to open up debate in the Medieval Church especially over the question of indulgences. The Church simply could not deal with such a challenge to its authority so Luther ended up leading a breakaway Church even though that was not his original intention.

We derive our Church traditions from other Reformation strands, but debate at Councils (Church Meeting, Synod, General Assembly) under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is central to how we make decisions. If you look at the Statement of Faith and Order in the back of Rejoice and Sing you will see how we balance our view of Scripture as the source of what we are and do with tradition, experience and knowledge. This is why we value good scholarship. This is why few of our members are Fundamentalists or Literalists when it comes to the Bible.

 

In Matthew’s account of Jesus commissioning his Disciples in their mission, we have Jesus warning them of the dangers and instructing them to be “wise as serpents and innocent (or harmless) as doves” (Matt 10 v16). This should always be our guide – to use all our powers but to conduct ourselves prudently, courteously,  and beyond reproach in our dealings, especially in pursuit of justice and protection of the weak.

Tony Jeans

Photo from Prestbury Passion Play . Thanks to Daphne Eden

Passion

   Find a Church   Contact Us