Radio: Recipe for success

16 April 2009

by Edward Wickham

AT EASTER, it is good that there is something on which all members of the Church can agree: Dr Sentamu is a jolly good thing. Last Saturday’s Profile (Radio 4) of the Archbishop of York would have made the most immodest squirm with pleasurable embarrassment: witness after witness vouched for his humility, inspiration, and charisma. Not only that — he is a great cook.

They loved him in south London, where he was well-known for dancing down the aisle with his congregation, and they love him in Yorkshire, where he was voted Yorkshireman of the Year.

But most telling was the tribute from Dr Rowan Williams, who praised his colleague’s loyalty — notably during the debate over sharia last year — and his diplomatic skills in the lead-up to the Lambeth Conference. The two of them, in the view of Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for The Times, make a great double-act: the intellectual Simeon Stylites and the vigorous, practical St Francis.

A place that the food-loving Archbishop would surely enjoy is Larchfield Community Farm outside Middlesbrough, the subject of a special Easter Day edition of The Food Programme (Radio 4).

Larchfield is part of the Camphill Trust project, an organisation started in 1939 by the Austrian émigré Dr Karl König as a way of providing work for people with learning difficulties after they had left the educational system. Larchfield is run both as a sheltered housing community and as a bio-dynamic farm, with everything from beehives to an on-site bakery and a butchers’.

There is a wide diversity of faith-types here as well. The head farmer enthusiastically explained his belief in the astrological forces that control his crops and animals; one of the volunteers explained how a group of them regularly held prayer-sessions near the beehives, to encourage the bees to stay (the depopulation of the hives is a pressing issue); and outdoor ceremonies are regularly held to mark the changing seasons.


But it would be an adamantine heart that was not moved by the final sequence in this programme, when the presenter, Sheila Dillon, joined Larchfield residents in a communal retelling of the tale of the Fourth Wise Man. It came as a complete surprise to this listener, at least, to find that the most spiritually uplifting ten minutes of radio over the Easter weekend should come at the end of The Food Programme.

Belief, Joan Bakewell’s series of interviews, made a welcome return to Radio 3 on the Monday of Holy Week, concluding on Good Friday with a fascinating encounter with Tony Blair. Now that the notorious Alastair Campbell decree “We don’t do God” no longer applies, the former PM was refreshingly open about his faith, and quite content to admit when he did not know the answer.

The son of a “militant atheist” father and a strongly Protestant mother, Mr Blair developed his child­ho­od faith at university, in the context of Christian Socialism. He is clearly uncomfortable with the lan­guage of “conversion”, and empha­sised that his entry into the Roman Catholic Church came at the end of two decades of attending mass.

Perhaps in the politics of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, they don’t do conversion.

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