I write this year’s Christmas Letter from Westminster decidedly early – in fact as my last act on my final day as your MP for Ludlow, before once again becoming your local candidate for election on Thursday 12th December. So it is refreshing to look forward and think of the season of goodwill, rather than December’s bracing weather on the campaign trail!
Like many in South Shropshire, I shall be celebrating Christmas with my family. But sadly, for many Christians around the world, the simple act of celebrating the birth of Christ runs the risk of persecution and death.
I firmly believe the UK can and should play a role in ensuring freedom from persecution of Christians around the world. So I have followed closely the Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for persecuted Christians, conducted by the Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, which was published earlier this year.
The Review is the conclusion of a project that began in December 2018, when the then Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, asked the Bishop of Truro to carry out this important research, with the full support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
Bishop Mounstephen's report has identified specific steps the UK Government can take to address the issues faced by persecuted Christians around the world, and I am pleased Ministers have accepted the recommendations in full.
The freedom Christians enjoy in this country allows the Church of England to continue to play its important role in South Shropshire – from spiritual guidance, to educator, and protector of heritage and the environment, the Church fulfils many roles in our community, as the Archbishop of Canterbury saw first-hand on his recent tour of the Hereford Diocese.
There will be many Midnight Mass and Christmas Day services in most of the beautiful churches around South Shropshire, and Christingle services to help raise funds for the Children’s Society.
Of course, Christmas is not a time of relaxation for all, including those who work over the holiday, like our Armed Forces and Emergency Services staff, to whom we should be immensely grateful for their constant professionalism. I also visit the Royal Mail sorting office each year, to thank local posties for coping with the mad rush to deliver cards, parcels and presents - and this year election leaflets and postal votes - before Christmas Day.
So if you get the chance, please take the time to thank those who you know will be working over Christmas. A kind word goes a long way, and will let them know how much you appreciate what they do.
I wish everyone in South Shropshire a very happy and peaceful Christmas, with best wishes for the coming year.