The Dean’s Reflection column with the Very Reverend John Dobson

The annual plough Sunday service saw police chief Lisa Winward address the congregation.
The annual plough Sunday service saw police chief Lisa Winward address the congregation.

North Yorkshire is the safest county in England and Wales, and with some success the police are countering the real challenge of rural crime. So the congregation of Sunday’s annual Ripon Cathedral Plough Sunday service learned.

The speaker was the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, Lisa Winward. She has been the regional force’s most senior officer since last summer and clearly has a good grasp of the challenges to law and order in our communities. She described the efforts of officers to counter crime and protect us; efforts that are enjoying some success.

She fully understands, as many others do, how vulnerable rural communities and isolated farmsteads can feel in the face of the coordinated efforts of criminal groups.

The hundreds-strong congregation included people from across the region who are involved in farming, rural businesses and community life. Her Majesty the Queen was represented by the Lord Lieutenant for North Yorkshire, Mr Jo Ropner.

The plough was duly blessed by the Bishop of Ripon, encapsulating our prayers for God’s blessing on the production of our food in the coming year, and for strong, safe communities.

The chief constable explained the principles guiding the work of the police. She explained that they add up to the way in which her force cares for people, not least the vulnerable – and criminals will often target the vulnerable. Significantly, the Rural Taskforce was established in 2016 despite the obvious challenges of austerity.

The efforts of its 17 officers are countering rural crimes such as: farm machinery and vehicle theft, poaching, and livestock theft. One, perhaps obvious, lesson is that prevention is better than cure.

This excellent address gave me an opportunity to thank our chief constable and the region’s police for serving and caring for us. It also reminded me of the significant difference made by the Church to the reduction of crime.

The church understands that no one is perfect – daily it deals with real people in every circumstance of life. We only have to read as far as the third chapter of the first book of the Old Testament (Genesis) to be reminded that Adam’s and Eve’s failings have cast a long shadow over human history.

The rest of the Bible tells of how God has tried to put things right. We humans will always need the mercy and love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – and many ‘second’ chances. We can’t be perfect, but we can be forgiven.

Even so, there is still the responsibility to try to live well and to do right. Jesus once said that the whole law (God’s rules that point us towards fruitful and fulfilling lives) is fulfilled when we love God with all that we are, and love others as ourselves.

No, we are not perfect. And knowing what is right does not always enable us to do it. Saint Paul once wrote that the good that he wanted to do was the very thing that he couldn’t do.

Tragically, this is part of the human condition. But having a pointer towards what is right, as seen in Jesus Christ, and being encouraged to do it, makes a difference both to each of us as individuals and to the world around us.

Christ’s capacity to transform the world for the better has often been see as light for a potentially dark world. We will be celebrating this at the Cathedral in our spectacular annual Candlemas service on Saturday, February 2 at 7.30pm. You are very welcome.