Jewish Cultural Fair – Lag B’Omer

Jewish Cultural FairI enjoyed opening this festival today and it was especially good to do as it is the first time Oxford has seen a Jewish celebration fair.  Rabbi Eli Brackman welcomed me as he has been heavily involved in the organisation that the Oxford Chabad Society has done for the event.  I was introduced by the Town Crier of Oxford, Anthony Church.  Was was glad he had his bell and loud voice with him!

There are many fairs and festivals established in our City so it’s great to see a new venture to celebrate Lag B’omer, an ancient Jewish holiday.   Lag B’Omer is celebrated on the 33rd day of the period between Passover and Shavuot and is meant to be a day of celebration during the 49 day period of contemplation and spiritual preparation for the giving of the Torah.

challahI’ve said this before: One of the wonderful things about Oxford for me is the great diversity of faiths and cultures and today’s celebration was certainly a very welcome addition to that. I hope it is the first of many such successful fairs.

There was lots of music at the festival and was really pleased to see a harpist Fien Barnett-Neefs and and the Klezmer band She Koyokh. The music really helped to make a great carnival atmosphere in the sunny weather.

There were two food stalls and they were both incredibly popular.  I had a delicious falafel sandwich.  There were also crafts stalls and on one of them there was the chance to make Challah bread.  I had a couple of attempts and they’ve turned out actually quite well!  There was also pottery painting and candle making, a book stall and a Jewish Scribal Stand.  There were even pony rides for children!

Also at the event was the Oxford Jewish Heritage Exhibition. A lot of work had gone into putting it together and it is generously sponsored by the heritage lottery fund. It tells a fascinating story of the history of Jewish people in Oxford from mediaeval times and I enjoyed reading it.

Carols with the Mayor of Abingdon

abingdon carols 1I had a great time this evening singing carols with the community in Abingdon.  It was a carol service with a difference in that it was held in the Aroma Coffee shop in the centre of town.  We were treated to some music by the Abingdon Society of Bell Ringers before the service started.  I joined Sam Bowring, the Mayor of Abingdon, and some

of the members of Abingdon Baptist church for a good sing and some traditional readings.  The coffee and cakes were pretty good too!

abingdon carols 2


Intercultural Mass

intercultureI attended inter-cultural Mass today as a sign of how much Oxford as a City values its cultural diversity.  It was good to be welcomed by the Catholic Caribbean Association and I was impressed to see that these inter-cultural masses have been held in Blackbird Leys for over 20 years.

Faith plays a very important part in any society so I was very happy to see everyone together  to share their faith journeys, faith experiences and to celebrate mass. Our City is one of many faiths and one of the things I have really enjoyed so far in my year of being Deputy Lord Mayor is the diversity of events and the fine traditions of all the faiths in our City.

I am grateful to to Olive Smith and members of the Catholic Caribbean Community for all their hard work over the years in making these important events happen.

It’s a real joy that through shared faith we can bring our many different cultures together in events like this – it was a wonderful celebration to the glory of God and to our continued faith journeys together across our different cultures and in peace and harmony and with respect for each other.

Needless to say, as with many faith-based events, there was wonderful food afterwards and a chance for lots more good fellowship and good conversations about all the good works done by the Catholic Community of Blackbird Leys and beyond.

Carols at Crisis

choirI went to a good event this evening at Oxford’s Crisis Skylight Centre.  I was pleased to be invited as this centre is in my ward and it has has support from my ward money allocation for the last two years.  We were treated to some nice mince pies and mulled punch and eleven separate carols, all well-known and all well-sung by the choir of Wesley Memorial Church, just round the corner.


We in the audience also sang, slightly less well!  The evening was rounded off by a prayer and blessing frrom Rev Martin Wellings, minister of Wesley Memorial Church.

On the way home along Cornmarket it struck me that Oxford City Council has done a good job on the Christmas lights this year – they look very good!

A meeting about Christmas light night

consultationJean Fooks and I met today with two council officers and a contractor about the events planned for 22-24 November in the City Centre to Celebrate Christmas light night.

We made quite a few points but the main one was about our fears that such a long closure of so many City Centre roads would cause utter havoc for the thousands of City Centre residents who had not been consulted about the event.  I also had not been consulted as a ward councillor which I find frankly staggering for an event of such size and disruption.  There are many disabled and inform people extremely worried that they will not be able to get to their regular places of worship on the Sunday too.

I am not very sure our points were taken very seriously and it does increasingly like councillors who are not part of the Labour administration really are not taken seriously by the paid staff and that the need to consult us as ward councillors doesn’t really seem to register.

I wish the City Council would understand that Oxford University is not just an historic backdrop against which it can do what it likes, but rather a busy and active world-leading centre of excellence in education and research.  I don’t think it is reasonable to disrupt that so comprehensively in what is the height of University term.  Without the University there would be very little of Oxford – it is one of the main wealth-creators of the City and certainly one of the biggest employers.  The City Council would do well to remember that before it tramples all over its activities with such massive disruption.


International day of Peace

This event was held jointly by the Oxford Islamic Information Centre, The Oxford Council of Faiths, The United Nations Association (Oxford) and the Global Ceasefire Project.  It was a good coming together of those passionate about peace and there was an excellent speech by the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, Tim Stevenson OBE, and I was invited to say a few words on behalf of the City of Oxford.

Although the last world war ended almost seventy years ago I think we can all agree that the world sometimes feels like it is not a very peaceful place, with terrible things going on right now in Syria, Afghanistan and many other parts of this our world so I am grateful to all the work all organisations like those that organised today’s event do to promote global peace.

On a national level, in these times of economic difficulty it can be very tempting for people to start blaming their problems on other groups of people and we have seen some of that with the far right and the far left in unfortunate clashes that I think do nothing to bring peace and understanding to our country or our communities. What an amazing example however the members of the mosque in York set earlier this year by offering tea and a game of football to those who were trying to intimidate them. We all have much to learn from that.

On a more local level, I am extremely proud to live in a City where we are largely at peace with each other. Faiths co-exist and there are generally good relationships between councils, employers, universities, other places of education and churches. It’s wonderful to be able to celebrate that with the friendship walk each summer and I think it sends a very strong message both of intent and warning to those who might try to disrupt peace in our City and beyond.

Oxford Hindu Temple & Community Centre Project 5 year celebrations

hinduI attended this event today at Deputy Lord Mayor at Kennington Community Centre and was welcomed by Dr. Gyan Gopal and heard the 5-yearly report of the project from him as well as enjoying sharing worship and offerings with those present and a good talk about how beneficial it would be to Oxford Hindus to have a permanent temple.

One of the many things I love about our wonderful City of Oxford is its ethnic, cultural and religious diversity so I was particularly pleased to attend these celebrations. I am impressed that OHTCCP has such a strong organisation with so many committee members who clearly do so much for this Hindu community.

As a person of faith myself I know how important the discipline, community, shared responsibly and time for prayer and reflection that come with faith are to a healthy and fulfilled life. I am really pleased to see how many communities in Oxford take their faith so seriously and how much of a positive influence it has on their lives and the lives of those around them. Well done to OHTCCP for its work to advance Hindu religion and culture and promote spiritual teaching and observances that serve to enhance understanding of Hinduism.

In Oxford it is great that faiths work together so well through the Oxford Council of faiths and I’m always pleased to join the annual friendship walk that happens earlier in the summer. It’s a great achievement that this community also has a stop for Hindu prayers as part of the walk.

I wish the Oxford Hindu Community every success in its aim of acquiring premises for a Hindu Temple and a Community Centre to cater for the religious, social and cultural needs and activities of its members and I hope the fundraising strategy and efforts produce resources to realise that dream soon.

Abingdon on Thames Civic Service


It was a pleasure to attend the Civic Service in Abingdon on Thames today to welcome and bless Abingdon’s new Mayor, Councillor Sam Bowring, a good personal friend and a fellow Lib Dem!  The service was at Abingdon Baptist Church and was conducted by David Fleming, the minister of that church.  There were a lot of chains in attendance, including the ones worn by the Lord Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea and several neighbouring mayors.  We had a short procession into the church and I was pleased to walk with Nicola Blackwood MP, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and it was nice that she was supportive of me over the recent attacks I’ve been suffering from the far left.


The service was positive and inclusive and included a short dialogue between David Fleming and Sam Bowring about her hopes for her year as Lord Mayor of Abingdon.  It was good to hear her asking for prayers that her and her fellow councillors would serve their town to the best of their abilities and with the interests of those they represent always at the top of the agenda.  There was a good sermon about civic service and how Christians are called to serve which I found helpful.  We sang lots of music I’d not heard before, with a rather good band accompanying us.  The service was rounded off with a blessing song from the junior church children complete with actions.

Philippines Independence Day Celebrations

philippines1I was invited to attend the celebration of the 115th Philippines independence today at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, hosted by the Oxfordshire Filipino Community, affectionately known as FilCom.  This organisation was founded 11 years ago in Oxford and this is the 10th annual independence day celebration it has held.  It was also the first time it was held at the Kassam Stadium, which, given the size of the place, I think us a good indication of how successful it is.

The morning started with a parade with some lovely flowers and fine Philippine national dress on display, including lots of very enthusiastic children.  There were brief introductions from lots of the sponsors and then we had a large joint mass, presided over by the Priest of the Church of Corpus Christi in Headington.  I stayed for lunch but sadly was unable to stay for the afternoon cultural show which looked like it would be great fun.

I learned today that there are probably about 3,000 Filipinos in Oxfordshire and about 1,000 of them are members f FilCom.  The Filipino community is hugely inclusive and integrated and engages in many religious, sporting and cultural activities.  The community does a huge amount for the people of Oxfordshire and it is said that if you removed all Filipinos from our County then the NHS would fall apart as so many work in our hospitals, particularly as nurses.

It’s fantastic to see the Filipino community successfully reaching out to so many other communities including Nepalese, Indonesian, Chinese, Malaysian and Vietnamese people. It is a real credit to the causes of celebrating culture, building relationships and advocating equality and diversity right across our county.  This sort of work is incredibly valuable, and never more so than in times of economic difficulty. I know that when times are hard, people can be tempted to blame their problems on others – and that helping people get to know their neighbours and set aside their differences is the best way to avoid this happening.


There were lots of dignitaries there, including Voltaire Onesino D Muricio, the First Secretary and Consul at the Philippine Embassy in London.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit the Philippines myself, and I have very fond memories of all I saw in Cebu and Bohol, and all the people I met. I hope that the Filipino community feels as welcome in Oxfordshire as I felt in the Philippines.

Faiths walking together

interfaith3I took part in the Oxford Council of Faiths friendship walk today and was pleased that the Lord Mayor of Oxford was willing for me to join her as Deputy Lord Mayor in a show of support from the City for events that promote peace and understanding between Oxford’s faiths.  Cllr Abbasi, the Sheriff of Oxford, was also there although not in civic bling (can I say civic bling here?). There were probably 300-400 people on the walk and that included large numbers of local faith leaders and members of local congregations including our minister, Carla, and several members from my own church, St. Columba’s.

interfaith2The Friendship Walk has been happening for many years in Oxford and is a fantastic coming together of many of Oxford’s faiths and their communities.  It starts at the Synagogue in Richmond Road with prayers and then moves along to St. Giles’ Church for more prayers, after which it moves down to Radcliffe Square.  The last leg of the walk is the longest taking the group along the High Street and Cowley Road and up Manzil Way to finish at the Oxford Central Mosque with prayers, singing, speeches and a wonderful meal with the main course provided by folk from the central mosque and desserts from the Oxford Jewish community.   It was great to hear firm and unequivocal condemnation of the killers of the drummer in Woolwich from the Oxford’s Muslim leaders.  I’m sure it’s no more than anyone in Oxford expected and sure is it certainly shared by all faith communities in our City.

All are welcome on the walk and it includes prayers all said together from those of Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Islamic faiths.  Sikhs were also present as well as those of other faiths and none.

interfaith1Against the current national backdrop of increasing violence against those of some faiths, particularly Muslims, I think it is incredibly important for Oxford’s Civic Office holders to show support for all efforts to promote inter-faith cooperation and understanding and I was certainly proud to be part of yesterday’s event.  It is great that we have very little hate in Oxford against any religion and I think it is so important that events like this continue to happen and be well supported so that Oxford may stay like that.  It’s a fantastic opportunity to engage with other people that we don’t know well and to learn a little about them and their faith and to share in some of our common human experience.  It was great to hear firm and unequivocal condemnation of the killers of the drummer in Woolwich from the Oxford Muslim community and I’m sure it’s no more than anyone in Oxford expected and is shared by all faith communities in our City.