Of all Sundays, we decided to skip church on Pentecost, though we believe led by God’s Spirit, when we discovered “With banners held high!” would happen as a Whit march through Wakefield for the first time in 30 years. Following a service in the Cathedral and a blessing from the Bishop of Huddersfield, banners representing Trade Unions, communities, interest groups, and former collieries, would be carried through the streets culminating in speeches and musical performances. As Lynne and I are both children of Durham miners, we were drawn to the event to watch the banners pass by. What we didn’t expect was a placard being thrust into my hand, and so us joining the procession – me proudly carrying the message, “In the midst of plenty, we will not suffer want!” (words from the 1933 National Unemployment Demonstration). I didn’t share political views with many on the march, and many did not share my religious views. But here we were joining people who wanted to see the world a better place, and prepared to protest and work together for justice and peace, equality and diversity? We were wedged between NHS workers passionately protesting against the threatened closure of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and a group of artists proclaiming free speech and expression, each with colours of hair we wouldn’t see in church! But here is my cry – where were the dissenters we call URC?
The day began with us milling around with others, most of whom waiting for the shops to open at 10.30am. I couldn’t help but feel that if we had a church in a town centre, I would be abandoning outdated worship that attracted a shrinking congregation who only travelled in for the hour – instead, opening up the church to offer good quality coffee and breakfasts, and an opportunity to share prayer for 15 minutes or so, with video clips and modern music to spiritually chill to. Folks in their millions have been sold a “shopping experience” yet many are seeking a spiritual experience.
Then the people poured in from the towns and villages of Yorkshire for the banners held high event. Nice to be blessed by the bishop but even better by the glorious weather! And so we set off. People joined in with each other’s chants, like a liturgical wave. We were moved by the banner of the Durham Miners’ Wives Support Group, because they were our folk, and hearing stories of their struggles to hold communities together.
We heard a speech from a leading socialist who inspired the assembled with words like:
We have a heritage to inspire us!
We have a movement to be proud to belong to!
We have a future to challenge us where we are going!
We have a life to make a difference in the world!
The following speaker said that here was a sermon he could listen to every Sunday! And so could I, but when are we inspired by the same passion and truth which equally applies to our Movement – the body of Christ!? At this time of Christian Aid Week I was reminded of a prayer by Peter Graystone:
I dare to pray: Lord, let the world be changed,
For I long to see the end of poverty;
I dare to pray: Lord, let the rules be changed,
For I long to see trade bring justice to the poor;
I dare to pray: Lord, let my life be changed,
For I long to bring hope where good news is needed.
In the strength of your Spirit and inspired by Your compassion,
I make this promise to work for change,
And wait confidently for the day when
You make all things new. Amen.
Could not one of our churches have joined this procession to show solidarity with others committed to a better world, and to profess our dissent from the world’s injustice and greed, and even our dissent towards God’s Kingdom of Love as we are marching together to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion, the beautiful city of God!