What image does the word ?angel? conjure?
Many will instinctively visualise wings, harps and radiant figures which are neither male nor female. Few will think first of that strange book at the end of the Bible which speaks of angels associated with specific places. In the book of Revelation it seems that the angel of a place or community characterises attitudes and patterns of behaviour. The ?angel? is equivalent to the spirit of a place or a group of people.
Since arriving in the Borough in June I have been reflecting on the angel or spirit of Swindon. What things seem ?written in? to our attitudes and behaviour as a town?
Which of them enrich our life together and are strengths to be celebrated and developed? Which of them diminish us and hold back our growth and maturity?
For me the obvious starting place is our pioneering spirit and instinct to embrace and develop new technologies. The town had its birth as a response to innovative technology in the shape of the railway and was the first place in Wiltshire to have a telephone exchange. Nowadays, Swindon provides a base for leading edge companies like Motorola, Intel, Honda and BMW.
While some saw the advent of the M4 as a threat to rural life, key Swindonians appreciated its significance and did their best to bring the motorway within closer reach.
In these times of ecological and environmental awareness, Swindon is among a small group of boroughs looking to become ?carbon neutral? and its churches have taken a lead in pursuing green energy schemes.
It seems to me that our pioneering spirit and receptiveness to new directions is a foundational strength. Perhaps underlying this is a greater willingness to face the necessity of change and to cooperate with it rather than resist it.
Such flexibility within the economic sphere has been mirrored in the social sphere, in that Swindon has been adept at integrating people from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures. At various times in the post war era, Swindon has absorbed significant numbers of immigrants into the wider community with relatively little social upheaval. In a world which is becoming increasingly divided and ?tribal? this is a precious quality.
Overall Swindon is characterised by a spirit of care and concern for others. This is evidenced by the large number of community organisations seeking to provide a helping hand or make life better for those who find themselves in difficulty. I have been impressed by their range, and the skill and commitment of those who give their energies through them.
Having highlighted these considerable strengths of our spirit, what might be said about ?the dark side??
The most obvious thing to me is insecurity which in an individual would be summed up as a lack of self-esteem. For a variety of reasons Swindon has become a place to deride and pour scorn upon.
The town is caricatured as a dump, a cultural wilderness, or a lawless and heartless urban sprawl. What worries me is that we are buying into this caricature – even when we instinctively deny it or protest.
Bishop Lee on a visit to Hreod Parkway School in July
As a town we are not comfortable with what we are. We seem to often look at other places and compare ourselves to them rather than enjoy and celebrate what – and who – we are. It feels like we try too hard to be acceptable to others; this is a characteristic of immaturity.
There is much more I could say but space forbids me going further. Maybe it is a good thing to affirm several positive qualities of our town?s spirit or angel and only mention one failing. Inevitably this is a preliminary, provisional and personal reflection but I hope some of what I have written resonates with others? perceptions and experience.
I shall continue to ponder the angel of Swindon because the better we understand the spirit of the town the better we might build on our strengths and overcome our flaws. If we know who we are we may better appreciate what we might, with the grace of God, become.
At this time of the year the mention of angels conjures up a throng of children gathered around a tableau of the holy family and fidgeting with their haloes!
It is both a delightful and pressurised period. Despite all the busyness and demands may you find the peace of the Prince of Peace and enjoy a happy and holy Christmas.