John Proctor and I were invited to the Spirit of Windrush thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey on Friday, the 70th anniversary of the arrival of MV Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks with over 500 women and men from the Caribbean. These people agreed to emigrate to the UK, at our government’s request, to help us rebuild the UK after the devastation of the 2nd World War.
“What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.” C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves” (1960)
I had forgotten that C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, when suddenly on our bus trip of the city, there was the stately lion, Aslan no less, looking benevolently down upon us. We were the group of global church leaders attending the Presbyterian Church of Ireland annual Assembly. We had wined and dined well on Irish hospitality, and the conversations had flowed easily in a continual spirit of conviviality. We were made to feel welcome, we were indeed welcome at the heart of decision making and reporting in their denomination. When the Moderator Revd. Dr, Charles McMullen announced his theme for the year, “Making Relationships – Compelled by the Love of Christ”, it all made sense. Of course, we must befriend and walk with people, otherwise they are not going to hear and receive the Gospel. And to be effective witnesses for our Lord, we need to be in relationship with each other, as the one body of Christ.
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?