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Of peace and public inquiries

Earlier this month, I sat through a public inquiry on a popular local walk, which, to much outcry, was blocked by a new landowner in 1997. The county council concluded that it should, indeed, be designated a public right of way, which led to objections from our neighbour, the (business) owner of a piece of ancient woodland, and a local free-range egg farmer. How to think and act Christianly in such a situation?

As ever, we need a theological ‘hook’ that can help us forward. One such is the concept of shalom, much richer in meaning than its usual translation - “peace” - suggests: “completeness, wholeness, peace, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony; the absence of agitation or discord. …shalom is much more than the absence of war and conflict; it is the wholeness that the entire human race seeks.” The Greek word for peace, eirene, “includes harmonious relationships between God and humanity, individuals and individuals, nations, and families. Jesus as Prince of Peace gives peace…” (Quotations from Hayford's Bible Handbook, Nelson, 1995.)

So, for me, shalom / eirene might describe Eden (Genesis 1.31), heaven (Revelation 21-22) and the goal of God's mission in the intervening period (Luke 4.18-19) - seeking to heal individuals and communities, physically and spiritually. So to ask, “How do I join in with God's mission?” is to ask, “How do I promote shalom?”

God is a god of justice and the law of the land has clear criteria by which a right of way is established, so helping to elucidate the historical facts was clearly important. I also chose to speak out against one objector's tactic of besmirching the proponents as confused, senile or lacking clarity in their evidence, believing that the issue should be judged on fact, not insinuation, and in a spirit of mutual respect (Philippians 2.3).

We await the written outcome, but what if, as is likely, the footpath is established? Two of the objectors are local employers, on whom the well-being - shalom - of the local community in part depends. That needs recognition. Further, if a shalom-conscious interpretation of “have dominion over… every living thing” (Genesis 1.28) means eschewing farming that gives creatures no life, free-range egg production should be welcomed, and ‘welcome’ cannot include ‘not in my back yard’.

Shalom demands that walkers exercise as much respect for landowners’ rights as walkers expect themselves. And, when passing through the ancient woodland, all must take care not to damage the special habitat: shalom includes harmony with the planet. A further complication arises from the misfortune of the egg farmer, who bought these fields precisely because there were no footpaths across - later to discover that there was an extant route not yet classified (and therefore not findable by solicitors’ searching). That he has died leaving his widow to manage on, leaves the community with a particular duty to look out for her interests (Zech 7.10).

So when you wish someone ‘peace’ in a worship setting, think big!

Yours in Christ

Peter Nicholls


“At times when wondering why I'm spending time on a course on top of three children and work etc etc, something would crop up and remind me just why. I can see how the stuff learned can be of so much use to those that know loss.

Thank you most of all for allowing me to find the answers for myself.“

Being Beside Someone Bereaved runs again in September.

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