Posted in Uncategorized

Don’t you love illegal immigrants?

A guest post from Rev’d Martin Kettle. Martin is a policy advisor to the Church of England. He writes in a personal capacity.

Christians do not want a hostile environment. We want to love everyone. That means we want to love illegal immigrants. We DO love illegal immigrants.

Because we love them, we don’t call them immigrants, because we don’t like using nouns as labels to stick on people’s foreheads. This person came into the UK at the age of 4 with their family, is now 21 and is now in a detention centre pending removal. Is this prison an immigrant? Someone else has been here since the 1960s, having come from Jamaica: for sure they migrated, but that doesn’t make them less British than anyone else. And of course, ‘immigrant’ is very often racist code for someone who seems to belong to a visually identifiable category of people many of whom have come to the UK in the last 50 years.

Because we love this person, we don’t call her ‘illegal’. No one is illegal – that is, no one exists illegally. In some places it has been illegal for black and white people to make love. So dual-heritage people were in that context illegal, in exactly the same sense that ‘immigrants’ may be ‘illegal’ today. No one exists illegally, anywhere, ever. God’s favour rests on each single one. Worse still, of course, is turning the adjective into a noun, ‘illegals’.

A hostile environment begins with what is politely known as ‘othering’. The oldest profession, in politics, is the uniting of the people against a common foe. If a real foe does not exist, it becomes necessary for one to be invented. Internal enemies, as in the human body, are the most potent. How we, with absolute rightness, boil and rage against anti-Semitism and all racisms, which slam the label of enemy on a group of fellow-citizens.

A government minister last week said ‘there should be a hostile environment for people who have no lawful right to be here’. The vision seems to be that those unlawful people experience a hostile environment, while everyone around them does not. This is the stuff of sci-fi. An environment is an environment. If, say, it is overcast, that is an environmental phenomenon. There are never small clouds localised over the heads of specific individuals who are marked out as potential targets of imminent precipitation.

There is enough evidence, already, that the measures which Parliament has incrementally approved in pursuit of this hostile environment are constructing an environment for everyone which is markedly nastier. As with all incremental growth of state-sponsored intolerance, the process proceeds step by step and with the drawing in of groups of people to take on, like it or not, something of the demeanour of an enforcer. People working in banks, the DVLA, doctor’s surgeries and hospitals, in NHS IT, in education. Nearly 2 million private landlords, and employers. At the same time, access to justice for the individual has been progressively curtailed by severe restrictions on legal aid and the reduction of appeal rights.

It would not be difficult to set up proper research projects to test the impacts of all this. That really is not happening.

As a nation, we are concerned about integration, about social cohesion. Dame Louise Casey’s report two years ago pointed out the risks to national well-being of having divided communities. There are consultations going on now about the issues. This is a fabulous opportunity for Christians to speak of the common good, to reach for those organic metaphors about community unity with which the New Testament is liberally stuffed. It simply is not possible, either in logic or in the real world, to talk about Britain both in this way and in terms of a hostile environment.

The latest move is to speak not of a hostile environment but of a ‘compliance environment’. To be sure, a clipboard is a less alarming thing than a lynch-mob. Nevertheless, the world of Kafka is as dystopian as any vision of violent enforcement. Compliance or hostility, it still comes down to the fear of a knock on the door. ‘Your papers do not appear to be in order’ is one of the more chilling stock phrases of social drama.

Where do Christians go with this? As ever, to the divine dignity of the human person, and the divine callings of human society. Everyone is fearfully and wonderfully made, whatever label is branded on their brow. Communities have a vocation to hear, welcome and celebrate each and all.

The big point is: none of this is incompatible with people being responsible for their actions, and being held responsible. For all but an out-and-out no-borders internationalist, of whom there are rather few, it may be right that a particular person who has entered the UK illegally should be removed from the UK. It is not necessary to pillory and execrate that person in the process.

If we only realised this we could save the country a lot of money and close most of the immigration detention centres, without going soft in any way on illegal behaviour. Local communities can, with the right information and resourcing, support and hold people, treating them on equal terms as mature and accountable adults.

Our representatives in Parliament are very keen, to their credit, on the resettlement of vulnerable and traumatised refugees in local communities. Various schemes are growing, and the more local civil society is vitally engaged in the resettlement process, the better the outcomes and the value for money. Faith groups are prominent in nearly all of this.

Exactly the same community dynamics can enrich the way in which as a nation we respond to people whose right to be in the UK is in doubt. There are examples in a number of countries around the world, which have been rigorously researched by the International Detention Coalition. Places where people’s lives, including family life, are not just put into a damaging state of stasis while the process grinds on, but where they can work and volunteer and study and contribute and pay taxes and generally be human while their cases move towards a determination.

This has been about immigration. Not primarily about those who seek asylum, ask for protection as refugees for whom return would be impossible or dangerous. But wherever you try to draw distinctions between good and bad migrants, true and false asylum seekers, economic migrants and refugees, you will find uncomfortably broad overlaps and borderlands, grey areas which, for the people who live in them, can be very grey indeed.

Our government, our Parliament, our people, are not ogres. There are so many in the Home Office, in every place, trying to do the best job in a humane manner. Often there are open doors to engagement: for example in the weighing of asylum claims resting on the profession of Christian faith, where church representatives have long striven to contribute to informed and rational casework processes, with some success especially at the present time. But the thread of Christian values running through our country’s self-identity has a real and practical role in national discourse about immigration, one that is readily shared among those of other faiths and none. It is not about hostility and its close relation, hate. It is about community and its personal correlate, love.

Posted in art, Uncategorized

Guest blogpost: Broken Beauty

The Japanese art of Kintsugi works with brokenness. Ceramics that have been damaged are repaired with gold.  This is a mending process that acknowledges rather than hides from the past and in so doing takes the risk of something new.

This theme of Broken Beauty is the title of an artist residency in Southwark Cathedral that will take place in May and June 2018 to mark the first anniversary of the London Bridge attack.

Southwark Cathedral was in the centre of the terror and violence of that night and remained closed for a week afterwards. As a member of the congregation, I was deeply aware of how painful the closure would be for the Cathedral staff at the very moment when the cathedral would have wanted to be open for those in need of solace.  The fabric of the building had been damaged including external and internal doors.  During the Dean’s sermon on the first Sunday after the cathedral was reopened, Andrew Nunn explained how the marks on the Sacristry door would remain as an acknowledgement of what had taken place and this painful event in the life of the cathedral and the local community.

My artist residency includes a specially commissioned work incorporating prints taken from the Sacristy door together with prints from other parts of the cathedral that have been worn and damaged over the centuries, during which time the cathedral has been witness to many periods of violence. Goldwork will be added to the piece as an echo of Kintsugi. This installation will be hung in the RetroChoir from 2nd June 2018 alongside two of my existing pieces on the theme of mourning and healing.

‘Quilt’ combines printmaking and textile as a reflection on mourning.  This was first exhibited as a group show in Roundhay, Leeds in the exhibition ‘Word turned upside down’ in 2017, taking a contemporary look at the Beatitudes.  This piece was created in response to Jesus’s saying: ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.’ The quilt is made of men’s cotton hankerchiefs. Each square contains a fragile monoprint on tissue paper. Running through each print are gold stitches.

Heirloom continues the theme of broken beauty. Instead of disgarding these broken shells, each has been painted in Japanese Sumi ink and the edges gilded.  Sometimes the most important things to pass on are not perfect objects but qualities that strive to find beauty and work for wholeness, to be repairers together. There will be two community events linked to this residency, Mending Circles where participants are invited to bring an item of clothing to sit and mend together (you can book in here (June 4th) or here (June 7th).

Alison Clark is a British artist whose work includes drawing, painting, printmaking and installation. Her work revolves around a sense of place, whether documenting a shoreline or printmaking from the interior of a church building. This she combines with her academic interest in listening.  She has exhibited across the UK including an artist residency in St Peter’s de Beauvoir Church, Hackney in 2016 and a solo exhibition in Orkney in 2017, where she is a member of Soulisquoy Printmakers.

Both the faithful and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!

Let us renew our confidence in preaching, based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher, and that he displays his power through human words.

Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 69-70

Posted in Church of England, Croydon, Poverty and Justice

Suffering – the little children

It’s been nearly a year, but this has provoked me to return to the keyboard …

In the last few weeks, OFSTED judged children’s services in the London Borough of Croydon to be inadequate – the lowest rating. Last year, the same thing happened in Wandsworth and the year before in Lambeth – and that’s just in the diocese of Southwark. Across the country, the services that local authorities offer to the most vulnerable children are buckling under the pressure of (rightly) increasing expectations coupled with decreasing resources.

The normal range of reactions have followed. Those who are sufficiently distant look on in alarm and anger; those who are more nearly involved, or who think they might be able to make something of it, begin to look for ways to cast or shed the blame. Among the many failings identified in the OFSTED report are suggestions that some people may have focused more on making the systems look better, rather than responding to the practices which were putting children at risk. When things go wrong it’s a natural though not a noble human reaction to try to cover your own back.

It’s a normal human reaction – and maybe one that we all share, particularly when we look on, and don’t think about how we might also be in some way responsible, or what we might do in response. There is more to it than being involved in the work of children’s services, in Croydon or anywhere else. We are all connected to one another in our society, so it doesn’t feel at all right to be angry at the conduct of others without asking the question ourselves about how we might need to answer for this state of affairs.

When something goes wrong so often, and so drastically, it asks a question of all of us, not just those of us in Croydon (or in Wandsworth, or Lambeth, or …). What is happening in children’s services is an effect of a wider phenomenon for which we are all responsible. As many commentators have said, UK voters demand Scandinavian standard services while only being willing to pay USA level taxes. That contradiction is now paying out in the lives of the poorest and most marginalised. At that national and political level, it is all our responsibility.

But in our local church communities as well, in our schools and chaplaincies, it is our responsibility actively to work for the wellbeing of our communities. It is at the heart of our mission as God’s people. Of the five marks of mission identified by the Anglican Communion, the third is ‘To respond to human need by loving service’; and the fourth
To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation’.

At a time when statutory authorities are struggling more and more, will we just criticise? Or will we take our part in mending a broken world?

Posted in Croydon, Remembrance

Remembrance and shock: this Sunday in Croydon

This is my sermon at Croydon’s Remembrance Sunday service

I have just got back from a visit to Jerusalem – a city full of memories. Memories of key moments of faith for Jew, Christian and Muslim. Memories also of conquest and betrayal, war and oppression, recent and more ancient, and in every direction. In many ways Jerusalem seems to me to be a city paralysed by memory. We do this, because they do, or did that; we cannot do this because they did not do that … . The past can paralyse the present and disable the future. It can become a burden so heavy that it is no longer possible to move to a new place, to explore new possibilities. That is the danger of remembering badly.
This year, in Croydon, as well as remembering the past we are living with the tragedy of Wednesday morning. Lives lost in peace, not in war; ordinary people doing the ordinary things we all do, suddenly killed and injured in a moment’s catastrophe. We are still as a community dealing with the shock of the event – especially for those closest to the dead and injured, it seems still to be happening in the present, here and now. The reality has yet to sink in. Those who came away without great physical injury will still be living with what they experienced and saw, as will those who were the first responders.
It is too much to deal with all at once. We take time to adjust; it’s normal and healthy to do so. Because suddenly and shockingly, people with whom we were sharing our present, our everyday lives, have moved into the past. Yesterday many of us were at St Edward’s church in New Addington, where people gathered to pray, and to grieve. Many others walked to the site of the crash and left flowers. Those actions are the first steps in the long journey of remembering well. There will be many other steps to come, in grief for those whose lives have been lost or changed, in giving thanks for the lives of those who have died. But the journey has begun.
In Croydon, in this peacetime tragedy, we are beginning the journey of remembrance. On this day, Remembrance Sunday, we continue to walk the same long road. The shock of the terrible loss of life in World War 1, out of which this day came, is no longer a conscious memory except for a very few. We pass on as a society the memory which is not personal for most of us. We look back and give thanks for those who lost their lives in war, for the courage of ordinary people who did not hide from their duty. Even though we do not remember the events of World War 1, we still remember them because they have become part of our story of who we are, what our society is about.
And because conflicts continue to arise, this continues to be a time when many personal memories of loss come to the fore. Remembering well starts with the past, with the names written on the memorials, with our own memories and losses.
Remembering well also means recognising that the tragedy of war does not take sides. The grief of a widow is the same whatever their nationality; a child who has lost her parents doesn’t suffer more or less depending on which nation’s bomb fell on them. Remembrance began as a way of dealing with the pain of a particular, and dreadful, experience a hundred years ago as hundreds of thousands died in the trenches of World War 1. It is still that, but that is not all it is.
If our Remembrance is a time when we return to old wounds and open them up, then we are in danger of becoming like Jerusalem: unable to escape from the chains of our history. But if it is a time of healing, then the memories of the past can provide for us a resource for the future. We remember the past in order to redouble our resolve not just to live for ourselves, but to know that we are part of something which is greater than us as individuals. For those who are people of faith, that commitment draws us beyond ourselves into the body of believers, and provides a framework for our lives. For all of us who are citizens of this country, there is also a calling to recognise our common good, to seek the good of one another, and not simply our own advantage.
And if we do Remembrance well, we are learning how to respond to our present day tragedy. The first and necessary and right thing to do is to live with the grief, and the shock, and the anger and the bewilderment. A loss like this is not something one can ‘get over’ in a few days, or weeks, or months. Supporting one another through that process, as friends, as families and as a community, is the beginning – and it lays down the foundations for remembering well. Mark Smith, Dane Chinnery, Phil Seary, Dorota Rynkiewicz, Donald Collett, Philip Logan and Robert Huxley – even those of us who never knew them will join in remembering them. We will remember them well, as we remember those who have died in conflicts over the years.
I have spoken of our work as individuals and as a community in remembering. That work of remembering well is sustained and enabled by the God who remembers us all. To God there is no barrier between death and life, because he is the fountain of all life. So all that God remembers is alive; all those from whom we are separated by the barrier of earthly death are alive in him as we are too. The infinite, creative and compassionate love of God sustains us in our grief and enables us to remember what is past, to remember those who have died, in hope and in trust. For Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Anointed One, is the great sign in this world of the hope of resurrection.
Psalm 122 famously asks us to ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem’. It is not inappropriate to apply that line also to our place and time – ‘Pray for the peace of Croydon; may they prosper who love you’. As we gather today to remember the past, and in our present shock, whether we are people of faith or none, we commit ourselves again to a future of hope in which we serve one another, and seek the good of all.

Posted in Croydon, Uncategorized

Croydon Tram tragedy

A statement from leaders of Croydon’s Faith Communities on today’s tram derailment.

As leaders of the faith communities in the Borough of Croydon we join together to express our grief and shock at this terrible accident. We are remembering in our prayers those who have lost their lives, the injured, those who have been bereaved and their friends and families. We pray too for those in the emergency services who have responded so quickly to this tragic event.

This Sunday’s Remembrance Service at Croydon Minster, alongside remembering those who have died in war, will also include prayers for all those involved in this tragic accident.

The Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon

The Revd Reuben Martin, Convenor Croydon Churches Forum

Nisar Karim, South London Council of Mosques