Recent Events

I am caught by a combination of fury and admiration at the recent election result. Fury that we have once more been led into a period of uncertainty by our political leaders. Admiration at the democratic system that produced such a finely nuanced result that reflects so closely the voting of the referendum.

I am taking hope from the newly painted white walls in our church hall. Our local Syrian Restaurant Ayam Zaman  has painted the church hall at their own expense. Why would they do this? They want the option of using the church hall during Ramadan. Muslims fast between the hours of sunrise and sunset during Ramadan. Each evening meal is a celebration. We are just over the road from the restaurant and they feel that they could use the hall as an overfill to their restaurant for people's evening meal together. 

The issue for them is that the hall is in a shabby condition. Once a week we feed 60 homeless people. Islam and Christianity are agreed on the need to care for the poor in society and they appreciate us for doing so. They decide to paint the hall for us and describe it as their gift to us from the community. 

I feel proud of our church being given credit for its work with the poor and dispossessed rather than for its beautiful music or historical heritage. “I prefer a church” says Pope Francis, “which is bruised hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets”. In this instance we are that tatty church to which he refers

Whitewashed walls are no answer to the recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester but they give a glimpse of how the country could be, if we were able to learn from each other. Quite apart from the quality of their food I am able to absorb the riches of their story. Ayam Zaman means “the old times”. It is a poignant name for a Syrian restaurant to call itself, evocative of the days before the troubles started. I sit at a table in the restaurant, for hours at a time, writing my sermon for the coming weekend. They never charge me for the coffee I drink and they describe themselves as being proud of the fact that I sit there as I do. 

Other opinions on recent events come from children and young people with their own particular brand of urban pragmatism. A young person [15] said to me that he was more likely to be killed by a car than by a terrorist. On being told that a school trip was being cancelled for security reasons a child [10] replied, ‘there were only 22 people killed in Manchester but millions in the country so we should be safe’. Another child [10] said  [of the Westminster bomber] he would have been more dangerous if he had had a gun rather than a knife. 

Children work things out as they are going along. Adults systematise according to conclusions they have already reached. The contribution that that the Church can make to society, over this next period of history is to help people to think with a child's determination and fascination for self discovery. 

We are in the middle of a process, of which a hung parliament is only a part of rethinking how we want to live together in society. We are 'lions led by donkeys' as we stumble towards the conclusion of what was set in motion by the events of last year.

2016 saw the European Referendum and the launch of Brexit, the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme and the publication of the Chilcott Report into the Iraq War all happen within a fortnight of each other. These events left people unsure of how to relate to each other within society. Those who voted for or against our exit from the European Union distrust those who voted differently. Add militant terrorism into the mix and there is a once in a generation opportunity for the Church to help people to reimagine different ways of being together as one society.

There is an important role for the local church in building social cohesion. By gathering different people together from across the local community. The parish church is the best place to explore how this might be so. Emulsion painted white washed walls in the church hall show what can be achieved at a local parish level. I am vicar for the local area and not simply chaplain to a congregation. In Shepherds Bush we are a community of communities and so I am free to enjoy the company of all. 

It has now officially been recognized that the best place for people of different cultures to meet is in a church. The Social Integration Commission (2014) identified that churches and other places of worship are more successful at bringing people of different backgrounds together than gatherings such as parties, meetings and weddings, or venues such as pubs and clubs. While spectator sports events are the most successful at bringing people of different ages together, churches are the most likely place for people from different cultures to meet. It will take healthy parish churches to deliver a harmonious national life over this next period of history.