My hope for next year: that we learn how to recognise the face of God in the stranger and the refugee, and to welcome those unaware angels.
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?
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.
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
I’m proud today to have had a part in the letter from many leaders of many faiths, encouraging the government to adopt a more generous and inclusive policy towards those who seek asylum in this country. You can find the letter here, and coverage of it here and here – and these are my reflections:
Our government is committed to offering asylum to those who come to this country and who have a genuine claim. It is even more committed to preventing them from doing so. Successive governments have made it more and difficult for anyone to get here in order to make a claim: the ‘wall of Calais’ is just the latest attempt. We levy heavy fines on those who transport people to this country without passports and visas – and those genuinely in need of asylum are exactly the ones who can’t get documents to allow them to travel. We take advantage of the fact that few asylum seekers can get here direct, to insist they should have made their claim somewhere else.
The result? We drive asylum seekers into the hands of people traffickers. Those who only have to spend all their resources are the lucky ones – they didn’t die along the way. We increase the profits from organised crime. I hope that very few people, as individuals, would treat another human being that way. And it’s still wrong when it’s done by the government on our behalf.
There are simple things the government could do which would have a huge impact. To issue humanitarian visas so that people could come here to have their claim assessed, so that refugees don’t have to risk their lives to reach their families. To reduce the many restrictive rules that prevent families from being re-united, by preventing lone refugee children from bringing their parents to the UK, and making it extremely difficult even for adult British citizens to do so.
These changes would be neither expensive nor impossibly complex. In Italy, the government is working in alliance with churches and charities to issue visas in the Middle East and North Africa which allow those seeking asylum to avoid the traffickers. On arrival, the sponsoring churches look after the new arrivals, teaching them the language and helping them become integrated into the community. In this country likewise, there are thousands who have family members still in areas of conflict, there are hundreds of churches, mosques and charities who would be glad to offer sponsorship or support. But the UK government isn’t interested.
These moves should not be controversial. The wonder to me is that we have ever put in place measures which divide families in this way. The leaders of many faiths who have written today to the Prime Minister have done so in the conviction that the proposals we make are in the best interests of our country as well as those we should be reaching out to help. All our faiths compel us to affirm the dignity of all human beings, and to offer help to anyone in need. We rejoice in the mosaic of different faiths and British communities that we now represent. Some of us came to this country from other countries of birth; others, like myself, have been British for many generations. But we all recognize that the best of this country is represented by the generosity, kindness, solidarity and decency that Britain has at many times shown those fleeing persecution, even at times of far greater deprivation and difficulty than the present day. The U.K. should be proud to take its fair share of refugees, as we have done in the past, to exhibit to those in most need the very best of Britain.
Just posted on the diocesan blog – http://southwarkcofe.tumblr.com/post/149876038913/what-makes-a-good-life