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

refugees-welcome

The march through London yesterday

I was privileged not just to be at the Refugees Welcome march yesterday in London, but also to speak at the rally in Parliament Square.

You can catch me here

 

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

I was talking recently with some Norwegian friends – fluent in English, of course, but not native speakers. So when I said ‘that would be interesting’ I was asked ‘So, which of the seventeen meanings of ‘interesting’ would that be?’ A good question in that context, and for today. ‘Interesting times’ are times of uncertainty, maybe of danger; times of change, maybe of chaos; times of new possibilities, but also unexpected fears.  We are in the UK now living in interesting times.

My father was a meteorologist, which explains perhaps why I am even more interested in the weather than the average Brit (I wonder, how long will that term have its present meaning?). The weather is inherently unpredictable, but there are times when it is more difficult even than usual. The Met Office run their simulations  of what might happen, and sometimes a whole range of radically different outcomes are equally possible. That’s what it feels like now to me. No-one can predict what’s going to happen – we just don’t know.

So how do we live in these ‘interesting’ times? We start from a difficult place, in a nation deeply divided after an aggressive referendum campaign marked by negativity on each side. Counting up the votes in the boroughs and districts which (more or less) reflect my own episcopal area, there were 206664 for remain, and 203611 for leave – that’s a remain majority of  50.3%. Round here we are as finely balanced as anywhere in the country.

Living with uncertainty is never easy. All the more difficult when half of us are confronted with a future we voted against, and many of those who voted to leave seem to be in a state of shock at their victory. It’s a time when Paul’s words are particularly relevant, and a little frightening. As I write, it seems as if both our main political parties are descending into the sort of civil war that Paul warns against in Galatians. The break Gal5,14-15up of the UK is again on the cards, and no-one knows what the future holds for the political settlement in Northern Ireland. There are widespread reports of racist abuse of those who look ‘foreign’. A hospital chaplain reports that staff in his hospital, from many countries in the EU and beyond, are feeling as if all their work and dedication had been rejected.

Paul’s  answer is that we should instead love our neighbours as ourselves. That may be almost equally difficult for everyone. Those who voted to remain in the EU are asked to love those who voted to leave, despite everything – and vice versa. Not to agree, but to love. It’s only by doing that that we can demonstrate that we are still neighbours.

The sort of love which holds a community together is not romantic. It’s the practical act of recognising that we are responsible for one another’s well being, that my good is bound up with what is good for you. It’s part of the trust which enables us think of other people as sharing the same sorts of values as us, even if they express them differently. Both of those sorts of communal love are under threat. The referendum debate has led many people to suspect that half of their neighbours don’t share the same basic values that they have. It has left many wondering whether they have any place at all.

Neighbourliness needs rebuilding right now, from the ground up. Those who feel that they have been rejected need to know that they are still part of our community. Those who voted to leave and those who voted to remain need to reassure each other that they are still neighbours. The future is unclear, and looks likely to be a bumpy ride. The opportunities for division, recrimination and resentment are many. But we must heed Paul’s warning. Love is not an optional extra.

I should start with a disclaimer – this is personal, not the view of the Diocese of Southwark, still less the Church of England.

As the debate has unfolded, I have become more and more convinced that it is in EU-UK flagsour best interests to stay in the European Union. Behind the headlines, there are even more important questions here, which aren’t being addresses as far as I can see – what does it take to make a healthy community? how do human beings learn to live together in harmony? I spend my life helping build healthy communities, and dealing with situations when things go wrong in them, so I hope I have something to offer here.

If you’re going to have peace, you have to have relationship. Distance creates suspicion and distrust. Human beings have a natural tendency to assume the best of themselves and the worst of others – it’s one of those human traits Christians call ‘sin’. The best way to overcome it is to get to know ‘the others’ – so that they are no longer an anonymous and threatening enemy, but a group made up of individuals really quite like us. And this is important: peace between nations is not inevitable. Right up to 1914 there were people saying that war in Europe was unthinkable, inconceivable. I’d rather have us round the table arguing about farm subsidies than sitting sullenly apart and getting ever more anxious about what ‘they’ are plotting. Let’s stay together and continue to build a peaceful Europe.

I have also seen that communities that turn in on themselves do not thrive. It can feel so much safer and more secure to lock the doors and “keep out the foreigners”. But in the long term (even in the medium term) it doesn’t work. The flow of new ideas, new energy, new ambition that outsiders bring increases the liveliness and energy of society as a whole. Yes, it means that there is more competition, but we shouldn’t be afraid of that. We have the talent and the ability to rise to the challenge and thrive.

And finally, a community that is strong knows it has something to offer beyond its borders. The UK is a growing and prosperous country – except, often, in our own eyes. We have a huge amount to offer to the rest of the European Union. We do not have to regard ourselves as passive victims of “EU directives” – we have the capacity to make a real difference, to change things for the better. We should be talking about leading the EU, not leaving it.