Well!  It’s less than a week since we were all wishing each other a very happy / fulfilling / prosperous New Year.  So, on the related theme of togetherness – and as a life-long ‘no faith’ humanist, I’d like to tell you [today’s Radio Oxford’s listeners], that I consider OxCoF (Oxford’s Council of Faiths) deserves to be respected by humanists and other non-believers.

Indeed, given that I’ve been an active participant in OxCoF activities for the past 18 months or so (i.e. ever since I was welcomed as their first “Associate, no faith, Member”, sometime in 2016), I’m fairly confident I’m right!

Let me expand:

OxCoF encourages its members and their followers to recognise that most of our own day-to-day moral practices are very little different to those of our neighbours regardless of their religion, or lack of it.  Thus, kindness, togetherness and mutual respect – and largely regardless of religious persuasion – now seem to come naturally to OxCoF’s current members.

A Google-assisted search for other towns’ and cities’ “Councils of Faith” shows them to be quite common across the UK, though I’ve not had time to discover how similar to ours they are.

Another feature of Oxford’s religious panoply seems to be almost unique: it’s the identification of a “City Rector” who seems (somehow!) to be charged with ensuring that our City Council doesn’t get too out of kilter with those local electors who “when appropriate” seem to want their local authority to take on some sort of religious, or multi-religious, persona.

And, until his recent retirement, the role had been very sensitively and skilfully undertaken by my friend the Very Revd. Robert A Wilkes – whose primary religious task was as the Church of England’s Vicar of St Michael at the North Gate, just off Cornmarket Street.

Bob, as everyone seems to call him, was also responsible for changing the content of Oxford’s annual Remembrance Sunday service from one totally based on a C.of.E format.  And, somehow, he changed it into one which successfully incorporates several prayer-filled paragraphs, written and spoken by senior religious representatives – on behalf of the four other world religions held by UK and Commonwealth military personnel – who had fought during the First or Second World War.

But, for many non-religious people [including many humanists] the expanded multi-faith Remembrance service seemed specifically designed to deny us any opportunity to grieve in any meaningful way.  So it was only a few years before Oxford Humanists were asking what could be done about the total exclusion of any “no-faith” wording, even for those who’d lost their faith, and possibly their lives, in Flanders’ trenches.

Bob was immediately sympathetic to our reasoning and, in conjunction with OxCoF members, had a new format up and running for the very next Remembrance Sunday service.

Thus, I’m very glad that my wife and I decided to retire within easy reach of the City of Oxford, a city which now probably leads the rest of England as far as respecting the around 50% of local citizens who, like us humanists, no longer find they need a religious faith.

John D White

January 2018.