Rev Toby’s – March Letter

Dear friends

At the end of the month we will celebrate the freedom from sin, guilt, fear, isolation, and eternal death that Christ brought us through his death and resurrection.  He became a prisoner that we might be free, he went down into the prison house of death, that we might be set free to live with him for ever.

Do take the opportunity to share in the range of services taking place during Holy Week.  There will be special services each evening (Monday to Thursday) – Monday and Wednesday at Altham St James, and Tuesday and Maundy Thursday at All Saints.  On Good Friday we shall have a special act of worship at 10am, for all ages, starting at church and following the way of the cross to Barnes Square.  A quiet Good Friday Service follows at Altham at 2pm.  All this will make the celebration of Easter morning – and our keeping of the whole Easter season – far richer.

As usual, if you know of anyone who can’t get to church at Easter and would like Holy Communion to be brought to them at home, please have a word with me or a member of the pastoral team.

As we prepare to celebrate that freedom, it is sobering to face up to the reality of those whose lives don’t share in the freedoms most of us enjoy.  Around 46 million people around the world are modern day slaves.  And its not just a problem in far off countries.  It is estimated that there are 11,700 of them here in Britain.

Modern slavery is an umbrella term for all forms of slavery, trafficking and exploitation.  At the core of this crime is deception. Survivors of modern slavery tell stories of being sold a better life. They are often vulnerable, coming from areas where there is little possibility of work. They are offered a job, a chance to make money and to build a new life for themselves. Those who offer these opportunities may even organise their travel to a different country, controlling every aspect of their trip.

The job they are offered turns out to be a lie and instead they are forced to work in difficult and degrading conditions, with little or no pay. The threat of violence, to themselves or their families, hangs over them and traps them in their situation. Even if their trafficker does not physically control them, a mistrust of authority may stop them from going to the police. This is the reality for 11,700 men, women and children in the UK.


Victims of forced labour are made to work long hours, often in hard conditions, without relevant training and equipment. They are forced to hand over the majority, if not all, of their wages to their traffickers. In many cases victims are subjected to verbal threats or violence and often large numbers of people are kept in the same house in horrific conditions.  Cases of labour exploitation have been widely reported in car washes and nail bars, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Victims have been found in the manufacturing, entertainment, travel, farming, and construction industries.


Sexual exploitation involves any non-consensual or abusive sexual acts performed without a victim’s permission. This includes prostitution, escort work, or pornography. Women, men and children of both sexes can be victims and many will be controlled through violence and abuse.


Victims of domestic servitude are forced to work in a private household. Their movement will often be restricted and they will perform household tasks like childcare and house-keeping over long hours and for little, if any, pay. In rare circumstances where victims receive a wage it will be heavily reduced, as they are often charged for food and accommodation.  Victims will lead isolated lives and have little or no unsupervised freedom. Their own privacy and comfort will be minimal, often sleeping on a mattress on the floor.


Organ harvesting involves any organ that can be removed and used, of which kidneys and livers are the most commonly traded. Traffickers may force or deceive their victims into giving up an organ, or victims may agree to sell an organ but are not paid or paid less than the promised price. Sometimes victims are treated for an illness, which may or may not exist, and their organs are removed without their knowledge.

Modern slavery knows no borders, and people of all ages and races can be victims; it is a global issue.  Potential victims referred to the National Crime Agency in the UK came from 108 different countries, the most common of which were Albania, Vietnam and the UK.

The Church of England’s Clewer Initiative is seeking to encourage us all to be alert to modern slavery – and even to the possibility that we might come across someone who has been trafficked or is being kept as a slave.  It highlights certain signs to look for.  Signs of being malnourished, having untreated in juries, wearing no safety equipment.  Living accommodation that is dirty, cramped and overcrowded.  Not being allowed to travel alone – perhaps being collected and dropped off in a crowded minibus with other workers.  Avoiding eye contact and hesitant to talk to strangers.

As with other crimes, it is important that you report any suspicions of modern slavery to the police. Do not attempt to intervene yourself, as you may put yourself and those around you – including the potential victim – in danger.

  • If there is an emergency and someone is in immediate danger, call 999.
  • To report any non-emergency suspicious activity then call your local police on 101.
  • For further advice call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.

As well as being aware of potential victims here, and seeking to buy ethically produced goods from overseas, do pray.  I will leave you with this prayer which you can make yours.

Lord of the lost, we pray today for all those who are victims of modern slavery: people lured from their homes and families; people deceived while trying to find a better life; people who are desperate to trust anyone. Help us to be more vigilant and watchful; to be aware of those who may need our help, and those who do not know where help may lie. Amen

I pray that Lent continues to be a precious time of growth for you, and Easter when it comes brings you renewed joy and peace.

Love in Christ.



Cathedral Festival of Prayer

At the beginning of February, Blackburn Cathedral welcomed hundreds of people from across Lancashire to share in the Festival of Prayer.  Our own ‘Open the Book’ team presented the gospel story to families present as part of the ‘messy church’ option.

I was accompanied by Stuart Dilworth who writes, “Thank you to Rev Toby Webber.  It was good to see a lot of people at Blackburn Cathedral.  The Bishop of Burnley took the service and then the lunch was good.  I went to the workshop on prayer through music.”

It was a really good day, indeed.  I expect there will be a similar festival focussing on another topic next year, so look out for it.


Scargill House

I am really pleased to report how well bookings are coming in for the weekend 28-30 September.  I still have plenty of spaces available for single rooms – just £135 per person, full board.  If you’re interested, please complete a booking form, available from either church or I can email it to you if you contact the vicarage.