Government minister to pray with pro-hunt lobby

 Alun Michael, who has been among the targets of flak from farmers, countryside marchers and field sports campaigners, is taking part today a church service arranged by the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance. The Rural Affairs Minister will read a lesson at a harvest evensong at 5pm in the Anglican church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, to mark British Food Fortnight. He will read from 1 Kings chapter 17, which tells of Elijah and the widow's cruse of oil. The aim of the service, which has been arranged by the Countryside Alliance and the Guild of Fine Food Retailers, is to celebrate British produce and to give thanks for farmers and food producers, many of whom have been badly affected in recent years by diminishing incomes, BSE and last year's outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease. Many Countryside Alliance supporters, including the Duchess of Devonshire, will be coming to London to take part in the evensong. Mr Michael said: "The annual celebration of the summer harvest is an important event which reminds us of the vulnerability of those in rural communities whose livelihoods depend on it. "I'm delighted to be asked to take part in the British Food Fortnight harvest service at St Martins. As a regular worshipper at St Martins when I am in London, and as Minister for Rural Affairs, the service has a special meaning for me as it helps to bridge the perceived divide between rural and urban communities." The Rev Nicholas Holtam, Rector of St Martin-in-the-Fields, said: "We're giving country people a space to worship in town. Although I'm in charge of a city church, I'm also chaplain to the Farmers Club, so I hear all about the concerns of farmers. Parts of the industry are, frankly, going to the wall, with tenant farmers in particular having an awful time. "While I don't personally agree with field sports, on the wider countryside issue we're all in this together. All of us enjoy the countryside and we all eat food. We live and dine together, if you like." Mr Holtam said that both the St Martin's Social Care Unit, which ministers to the homeless and needy, and the charity Crisis Fair Share would benefit from food donations brought to the service of evensong, which he said would have a harvest festival theme. Catherine Tivoli, a spokesman for British Food Fortnight, said of Mr Michael's involvement: "The Alliance is much wider than just the hunting issue, and lobbies on a range of rural issues. Alun Michael is happily attending the service, but it doesn't mean that he is endorsing hunting." source: CoE Comms

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