A Letter from your Vicar



My dear Friends,

‘Innocent until proved guilty’ has been paramount in the British justice system through the centuries and I for one find it very concerning that in many situations today, we seem to have forgotten it. We live in a time when we are finding out all sorts of what would rightly be described as ‘inappropriate behaviour’ by famous people in various walks of life. There is no doubt that where questions are raised, and accusations brought, there must be a full investigation. However the media seems to give the impression that any accusations, however unsubstantiated or not, must be true and particularly so when the person is held in many other ways, in high regard.


One of the stories which has concerned me involves charges being raised against a man from the earlier part of the twentieth century, Bishop George Bell. He was a remarkable man who died in 1958, and whom the Church has, up to now, regarded as a ‘saint’. As Bishop of Chichester during the Second World War, he was involved with helping displaced persons and refugees wanting to come to England. Also, as a man of great Christian principle, he condemned blanket bombing instead of targeted bombing of German cities. His voice was not always a comfortable one for those in power but he was widely respected. One, or now two, individuals have accused him of bad behaviour with them when they were children. I cannot know the truth, though the evidence is apparently slim, but what I do know is that his reputation has been seriously undermined and until he was proved guilty, we didn’t need to know his name.


This has happened to many other famous people and even when they are proved to be innocent, the slur somehow remains. Where is the fairness? Where is the motto ‘Innocent until proved guilty’? No one is perfect of course and so only ‘the one without sin’ can cast the first stone of condemnation. See the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery in John’s Gospel Chapter 8, verses 2-11.


As the month of March moves to its conclusion, so we reach the climax of the story of Jesus. What sort of trial did he have? Was he treated as innocent until proved guilty? Certainly not! The trial before the Chief Priests gives every evidence of a trumped-up charge and although the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, wanted to release him, fear of mob rule sent him to the cross as though he were a common criminal. In this way Jesus totally associates himself not only with all suffering people but with those specifically, who have been falsely accused.


It is so easy to think of how other people behave, or should have behaved, and far more challenging to ask ourselves do we sometimes fall into the trap of making judgements of people – well in my knowledge all people do. In itself it is not too serious unless such judging means that we fail to see the other person as firstly innocent until proved guilty. How easy it is be critical without knowing the whole facts.


As this season of Lent continues, it is not too late to make a resolution to avoid making judgements, when we really do not understand the life and circumstances of someone else. It is God who truly knows and when he is our Judge, we have someone who longs to see the good in us and is always ready to forgive completely our faults and failings when we acknowledge them and say how sorry we are.


The great Festival of Easter awaits us as we move into April – the time when Jesus shows how his love proves to be greater than the hatred of those who condemned him. We celebrate the power of God in raising him from the dead and remember that whatever goes on in this world brought about by human beings, his love is supreme.


Your loving Priest and friend