Monthly Archives: February 2021

Thought for the week 28th February – Education and Wisdom

Education and Wisdom

Not surprisingly, the Covid vaccines continue to be in the news; there is rightly much celebration at the remarkable speed they are being made available, but also concern that not everyone who would benefit is coming forward for vaccination when called. Part of the problem is “mis-information”; the lies that the vaccines contain microchips, dangerous materials or human foetal cells. Some leaders, including a few within the Anglican Communion, have spoken out without properly checking their facts. Earlier this week I was talking to one of my colleagues at work (Aston University) who specialises in vaccines; he had produced a short education article on the Covid vaccines that seems to be having a very positive effect; https://drdanpatten.wordpress.com/2020/12/14/covid-19-vaccines-sorting-fact-from-fiction/. He has been told of how the article doubled the number of people in one local facility willing to be vaccinated. Giving people the facts really can work and I highly recommend the article!.

 

Pleasing though this is, I have to say that I have never had much success by simply providing facts to get people to change their mind; I know myself that my deepest beliefs are resistant to this. As I write this article, news has broken of how the Queen has urged people to take up the vaccine because it helps others; both by stopping us spreading Covid and also from taking up resources if we fall ill. I suspect this appeal to our emotional and moral sense will reach many who will not be moved by simple facts.

 

To change our behaviour we need to use both our head and heart; we need facts, but we also need to use our emotional/spiritual senses to accept the need to change. This is part of what the Bible calls wisdom; it is what it means when it asks that God will “write” his laws on our hearts.

 

Zoom events and services – week beginning 22nd February

1) Wednesday Home Group, 7.00pm,

 

During Lent, we will be considering “Hard Questions”, picking up some of the issues raised in the Sunday Service (available on the Highley St Mary’s website). If you haven’t listened to the service, don’t worry, just come along and listen or join in with the discussion, as you want. This week, we consider the churches attitude to same-sex relationships.

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2) Friday Morning Prayer, 9.00am

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3) Friday night prayer, 9.00pm

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4) Sunday Morning Prayer, 10.00am (Whilst lockdown lasts)

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Thought for the week 21st February – Lent conversations, questions and challenges

Lent conversations, questions and challenges

One of losses of lockdown has been conversations with groups of friends, whether round the dinner table, the pub or sharing in some other activity. When we gather we talk about all kinds of things, but perhaps the best conversations are those when we hear something  that gets us thinking; those that spark off an internal conversation in our own head when the group breaks up. It can be a statement we feel we strongly disagree with or perhaps something new that resonates with us. In either case it makes us think through what we believe and can result in us having a deeper understanding; either to affirm what we previously thought or come to a new position.

 

One of the big issues we all need to deal with is to understand our own spirituality; not just whether we believe in God or not, but what are our core values and beliefs; what sustains, inspires and moves us. In the Christian tradition, this is what happens at Lent, the season we are now in. It is a time of self-examination, when we grapple with the fundamentals of our faith. That means challenging ourselves and being prepared to face hard questions honestly. It does not mean that we are going to get simple answers to them; often it is about learning to live with doubt and uncertainty. With our benefice this Lent we are running a series of sermons and workshops on “Hard questions” which we hope will help people better understand their faith. But whatever belief system you subscribe to, the discipline of self-examination and the courage to challenge ourselves by asking questions is a vital part of our spiritual growth.

 

Zoom services and other events week beginning 15th February

1) Ash Wednesday Service, 7.00pm,

 

Note this is a different link to usual as Mike is hosting the service.

 

https://us04web.zoom.us/j/77828665480?pwd=RVJnVXFWTmVBTmQ3cWR6bTk1RlRFdz09

Meeting ID: 778 2866 5480
Passcode: KVf01Q

 

 

 

 

 

2) Friday Morning Prayer, 9.00am

 

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Meeting ID: 359 285 1895

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3) Friday night prayer, 9.00pm

 

 

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4) Sunday Morning Prayer, 10.00am (Whilst lockdown lasts)

 

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Thought for the week 14th February – St Valentine

This Sunday is February 14th and we all know what that means… Valentine might be the only Christian saint most people could name in this secular age; certainly the only one whose festival they celebrate, albeit without any reference to Valentine himself. The Valentine who we celebrate on the 14th February was probably a  Christian priest who was martyred in Rome in the 3rd Century. He is said to have restored the sight of the daughter of the judge who initially was charged with investigating him. He was released but rearrested and eventually beheaded. One version of his story is that just before his execution, he sent a letter to the daughter whose sight he restored; this seems to be the origin of his association with romantic love.

 

Whatever the truth of the tradition, Valentine’s Day is now a celebration of romance and the physical love between a couple. The church has sometimes seemed rather embarrassed by physical love; the passion and joy that this involves. It has overtones of uncontrolled emotion and indeed, it can pass into lust and a desire for self-satisfaction that can be destructive. But it can equally be something higher; a mutual joy between individuals who can imagine nothing better than to be united as they love each other. This is what we celebrate in Christian marriage, it is what we might hope that all couples enjoy and is also can be a useful way of thinking about the love of God for ourselves. So celebrate the day and remember Valentine, whose passionate love affair with God was stronger than life itself.

February’s molecule of the month – Covid

 

 

Covid and a Scientist

Many will know that in addition to being an assistant curate in the Severn Valley Benefice, I am also a scientist; I lecture and carry out research in pharmacology at Aston University. For the last 30 or so years, my research has centred around a substance called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), although in recent years my interests have broadened. Currently I have funding to carry out two projects. One is a novel way of developing antibodies to recognise proteins that are found on the surface of cells; one of these recognises CGRP and is called the CGRP receptor. When it interacts with CGRP, it changes shape and this in turn activates the cell. This relates to the second project, which is using computers to understand how receptors change shape to activate cells. New antibodies will tell us where receptors are found in the body and how this changes in disease; they can also be used as drugs. A better understanding of how receptors change shape will help us design new drugs which bind to them. Modern science is a team effort and both of these projects are being carried out with my long-term collaborator and friend, Professor Mark Wheatley at Coventry University; in addition, the computer project is being driven by another friend and colleague, Dr John Simms, at Aston University.

Our research is some distance away from producing drugs that can be given to patients; we are interested in the underlying science. There are also no very strong links between CGRP and Covid. As a result, we are not directly doing Covid research; others are much better placed to take the lead on this. However, ultimately our research may feed into therapies to treat Covid.

The Covid virus attaches itself to our cells by means of the “spike protein”, which exists on the outside of the virus. This is a large protein (Fig 1) with several different parts. It is embedded in the outer covering of the virus using a “stalk”, and the “headgroup” of the protein sticks out into the blood of the person who is infected. This headgroup is able to recognise a protein that is  found on the surface of cells in our lungs (and a few other places) called ACE2 (Angiotensin converting enzyme 2). This normally makes a substance that helps control blood pressure. Unfortunately, it also sticks tightly to the headgroup of the Covid spike protein. When the two bind, the Covid spike protein changes shape and pulls the virus against the surface of the lung cells allowing the virus to enter and damage these cells.

Vaccines work by getting our immune system to produce antibodies that bind to the headgroup of the spike protein, so stopping it from sticking to ACE2 on lung cells. The technology we are trying to develop for new antibodies may provide new ways of making vaccines. Our work on how proteins change shape may help us understand both how mutations to the spike protein can change its properties and also develop drugs to block it from bringing the virus into contact with the surface of lung cells.

 

 

Fig – The ACE2 protein (bottom, green and blue), sitting in the membrane covering lung cells, binds to the Covid spike protein (top, purple and pink) Taken from the Protein Structure Database. [labelled CovSP ACE2]

Thought for the week 7th February – Captain Sir Tom Moore

Captain Sir Tom

Like many people, I was saddened to hear of the death this week of centenarian Captain Sir Tom Moore, who last year raised £32 million by walking 100 laps of his garden. Despite great age, death is rarely easy to confront; the knowledge that a loved one had a long and fulfilling life is unlikely to take away the pangs of loss. But we still can reflect on his achievement. For many, simply getting to the age of 100 would be enough, but we remember him for his vision of how he could help others despite his obvious physical frailty. I admire him, not because he raised £32 million pounds, but because believed that it was still right for him to do what he could to serve. The actual sum he raised was irrelevant, it was the act of self-giving that was important.

As a Christian, I am meant to take inspiration from Jesus’s sermon on the mount; “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled”. I am not sure how seriously I actually take those words; the promise that if I seek to do what is right, I myself will be filled with a “right spirit”, the strength to do more right. I’m busy, it’s not going to make any difference, somebody else will do it. How fortunate that Captain Tom ignored those voices, if they ever whispered in his ear. We build God’s kingdom here on earth by individual, small steps, one lap at a time of right-doing. And little by little, we and those around us are built up as citizens of that same kingdom.

February Draw of the 100 Club

Today the 6th draw of Billingsley’s 100 Club took place. Number 10 won £61 with numbers 88 and 53 both winning £30.50. Since the first draw last September 16 people have won a total of £1,124. Two numbers have been draw twice and on several occasions new members have won on their first draw entry. There are still numbers available for anyone wishing to join. All details are on the 100 Club page.

Many thanks to Bonnie and Mike who  made the draw.

Zoom events and services for week beginning 1st February

1) Wednesday Home Group, 7.00pm,

 

For the next few weeks, we are looking at the book of Nehemiah

 

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2) Friday Morning Prayer, 9.00am

 

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Meeting ID: 359 285 1895

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3) Friday night prayer, 9.00pm

 

 

Join Zoom Meeting

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Meeting ID: 359 285 1895

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4) Sunday Morning Prayer, 10.00am (Whilst lockdown lasts)

 

 

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Thought for the week 31st January; Vaccine Stories

Covid vaccines are in the news. As I write on Friday, two new vaccines have shown successful results in clinical trials. Unfortunately, a new term has also entered into our vocabularies; “vaccine nationalism”, with the EU and Astra Zeneca embroiled in a row about supplies. This is not the place to pronounce on who is right and wrong, but it is depressing; the World Health Organisation has declared its concern over the possibilities of export controls being applied to vaccines. Science has given us the tools to fight the virus; sadly, by itself, it does not give us the wisdom to know how to share these. But, lost in the current war of words, is another story that I find even more challenging. On Monday, Norway announced that for every vaccine it administered to its own citizens, it would also donate a matching vaccine to go to a poor country. I admire this act, but I really am not sure if I would dare do it if I had power in this country. Leaving aside political consideration, is our death rate so high that we have a moral responsibility to first control our own epidemic? How do I judge between the lives of people in this country and elsewhere? I simply do not know and I am grateful I do not have to make these decisions. A colleague who I was talking to in the church about this dilemma pointed out that there are organisations such as Unicef that allow personal donations to worldwide covid vaccination programs via their websites (e.g. https://www.unicef.org.uk/donate/coronavirus/) and this is the best I can come up with in response to my own dilemma. We can at least celebrate the actions of nations such as Norway (and our own country in offering free facilities to characterise new versions of the virus from anywhere in the world) and companies such as Astra Zeneca who will supply their virus as cost-price to countries who cannot afford it, whilst pondering how best to act ourselves.