Croydon


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

Last night I presented the findings of Croydon’s Opportunity and Fairness Commission to the Borough’s Cabinet. It has been a privilege to chair the commission. I logoam immensely proud of the work put in by Commissioners, Young Commissioners, the support team from the Campaign Company – and happy that the process seems already to have led to some specific initiatives which will make a difference in Croydon, especially to the poorest. It’s been very nice to be thanked and congratulated. But no-one’s asked me why I’m doing it – why did I say yes to what turned out to be another part-time job for a year, when I am pretty fully occupied anyway.

So I thought I’d ask myself, and share the answer here. It’s all because of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Behind my desire to make things better for people in Croydon; behind the pressing need to bring together parts of a fractured and sometimes mistrustful community; behind the desire to help Croydon tell a story of itself which will make its inhabitants proud to live here. All of those things spring for me from the incarnational mission of God in Christ.

God does not engage in a helicopter rescue for human salvation: he doesn’t lift out the lucky / righteous from the world while leaving the rest to burn: that doesn’t seem to me to be true to the biblical story. God comes among us, lives with us, lives as us, so that the whole world may be saved. God’s ambition is not so small as to want to save just a few: God wants to save the whole world. The whole world, not just the human beings – the whole of creation is in God’s sights for his renewing and saving love.

That is the gospel of incarnation as I understand it, and it is that that makes me passionate about working in the world for the good of the world. Why did I do it? Because I hope that in a small way, with all my imperfections and mistakes, I was joining in with God’s mission of love to the world.

In case you’re wondering, that’s the difference between the real Living Wage, and the government’s rebranding of the minimum wage as the ‘National Living Wage’. The
genuine article is calculated to provide a basic income which will enable a family to live without needing to get extra jobs – which will enableparents to spend time with their children, and have some of the rest and recreation time we all need. It doesn’t give anyone a luxurious life, but it should enable people to live with dignity.

That’s why I don’t believe wages should be set purely according to what the market will pay. The market will always pay the least it can get away with and still obtain a decent product. That’s what markets do. To treat wages as purely an affair for market forces means thinking of people as no more than the work they do. I can’t think about people like that, and I don’t think any Christian can either.

Markets are powerful and effective at many things, but they should not dictate our beliefs about human beings or our decisions about how we live together in society. This morning’s reading from the prophet Isaiah at morning prayer reminds us what a society is like that forgets its purpose, and what is the remedy:

Cease to do evil, learn to do good;

seek justice, rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

I believe that the Living Wage is one of the ways we can do in contemporary society what Isaiah was telling the people of Judah God wanted of them. As simple as that.

It’s very encouraging to see that a good number of dioceses and other church bodies have taken the step of becoming Living Wage employers, and some big employers have signed up, which is great news for many many people. I’m very glad that the London Borough of Croydon has now become an accredited Living Wage employer. But there are still many many others who haven’t taken that step.

Many parishes and churches are also employers (have a look here for one story), even if only of very few people in many cases. And many may be paying the Living Wage anyway. But it would be a great witness to society at large, and to the many employers who are members of church congregations, if each church which can was to sign up, and display its commitment to a society which exists for a higher purpose than the market: which exists to ensure to all its members the dignity of a decent human life.

It feels odd to be back in Croydon. I’ve just spent a couple of weeks with others from the church in this area, visiting the Anglican churches in Central Zimbabwe. It’s a link we’ve had for a long time, supporting each other in many different ways. While we were there we dedicated a hospital the church is building (at present the whole area has none at all), and attended an anniversary celebration. If any of you find church services a bit long, in Zimbabwe they can be into five hours on special occasions like that.

What’s really amazing to me is what the people in Zimbawe achieve in a country whose economy is at rock bottom. Unemployment is 80% (that is not a misprint). The currency collapsed years ago so everyone uses US dollars, and it seems to me, they have to pay US prices. But they haven’t given up, or just sat there waiting for someone else to sort out their problems. Despite the country being in deep trouble, local people – especially in the churches – are doing extraordinary things for themselves and one another: building their own schools and hospitals, setting up projects to grow food and develop jobs. While I was away Croydon’s Opportunity & Fairness Commission, which I’m chairing, published its interim report. I was sorry not to be in the country for that, but I’ve come back all the more convinced that despite national and other forces we in developed countries have many of the solutions for our local needs in our own hands. If the people of Zimbabwe are able to do so much with so little, why is it we feel so powerless?

I’m beginning to think that one of the most profound difficulties facing us in the developed world is that we’ve developed such a strong sense of our own impotence that we’re scared even to try. And of course there are far more rules and regulations.

I’m not suggesting we all just ignore the rules of our society. I am suggesting that maybe we have, collectively, internalised a sense that someone else will always stop us if we do anything that pushes the boundaries, that’s really new or radical. Maybe we’re living a myth of powerlessness, while all the time having power we just don’t use. I think it could be worth finding out.

It was with some nervous anticipation that I approached passport control at Harare Airport. Would there be problems getting in? Would I be interrogated about the purpose of my visit? Fortunately it went a lot more smoothly than it does for many Zimbabweans visiting the UK. I paid my $55, got the visa, and the receipt from another official whose job it was to do nothing else, through I went and there was Bishop Ishmael.

As we headed out on the way to Gweru, where the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe has its cathedral and offices, I was struck by what a ‘green and pleasant land’ I was looking at. It was the rainy season, of course, but nevertheless I realised right away what an abundance of natural gifts Zimbabwe has. But we were driving down the main road to South Africa – what should be a major conduit for trade – and the road was largely empty. We passed several large farms which had fallen into disuse.  Time and again during my stay I was reminded that the basic amenities of society are in a St Michael Kwekwepoor and declining state, and that the economy is operating at a very low level.

Amid the natural beauty and the economic tragedy, I was almost overwhelmed by the vitality, energy and enthusiasm of so many of the people I met. Most of them were from the churches, of course, but I could see that there are many Zimbabweans of all sorts working really hard to create pockets of growth and stability. The churches were not merely full of people, but full of purpose – reaching out to their communities in worship and service.

The picture shows most of the congregation at St Michael’s Kwekwe – the children and the choir are out of sight. The Mothers’ Union, all in uniform, occupy the entire right side of the church.

The thing I came away most convinced of, was that our partnership with the church in Zimbabwe must be genuine partnership. All Christians have something to give to the whole body of Christ; and all have something to receive. Precisely because of our very different situations, we in Southwark have much to learn about our own life of discipleship to Christ as we grow in our relationship with the churches in Zimbabwe.

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present* help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city;* it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.*
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.*

Some of you may remember seeing Mostar on the television, under siege in 1992 and 1993 during the civil war which ended with the break up of Yugoslavia. The ancient town in its beautiful setting was divided into three parts, with gunfire exchanged at practically point blank range across the streets. Most famously, the ancient bridge was destroyed by a lengthy bombardment, eventually collapsing hundreds of feet into the gorge below. The Old Town of Mostar, which centred in the bridge, was a pile of ruins. Some of the destruction wasn’t militarily important – it’s been described instead as “killing memory”, in which evidence of a shared cultural heritage and peaceful co-existence were deliberately destroyed.

This summer, along with thousands of other tourists, I visited Mostar, in what is now Bosnia Herzegovina. Now it is all restored – and more than restored. Visiting Mostar is like visiting a brand new medieval town – except that there are some ruined shells of buildings outside the centre, reminders of the conflict. But in the Old Town, it is almost as if it had never been. The memories are hidden away, easy to ignore by the tourists flooding through the streets. Everyone who lives there knows what happened – but it feels as if it’s all a bit too painful to remember. Instead there’s the marvellous restoration, making it look as if the destruction had never been, and the focus on the good living to be made from tourism.

The civil war tried to destroy the memory of peace, and the restoration (it seemed to me) tried to wipe out the memory of war. The whole thing made me realise how important it is to remember – to remember the good as well as the bad, the violence of war as well as the harmony of peace. If any people tries to live without memories, we lose our moorings, we end up tossed this way and that, no longer really sure who we are or what our identity is.

Remembrance Sunday is a day when we can remember together both the tragedies and the glories of our history, and those millions of individual stories which make up the story of our community, and our nation. We bring our own stories and memories – some of conflicts many years ago, some of the conflicts still being fought today. We remember them together, because it is only by doing so that we are able to make some sort of sense out of the suffering of war.

So today we remember those who have died in war: particularly those who fought, but also those who were the civilian casualties, those who were too old or not old enough to have any part in conflict, the countless people whose lives were devastated by injury or bereavement. It’s a day when we remember much that might have been otherwise, that might have been happier and better. And so grief is part of what remembrance must mean.

But then alongside grief there is also respect, and honour. Respect is not the pride that glories in defeating enemies, that makes itself out to be somehow better because it is stronger. When we honour the fallen, we are not making judgements or giving a verdict but recognising something good in itself. Remembrance did not begin as a celebration of victory, but as a way for a nation to deal with the fact that 887 thousand servicemen had died – about 2% of the entire population of the country.

Today we share a proper respect for those who have gone before us and have done what had to be done, even at the risk of their own lives. When we are uncertain about whether we have the strength to live for our deepest beliefs and values, it is right to take inspiration from those who were ordinary people like us, but yet found the strength to do the job they were given even in the face of death. Whether they were infantrymen or pilots, or seamen, fire fighters or stretcher bearers; whether they carried arms or healed the wounded, it is right to respect and honour those who did the thing their conscience told them was right, even if it led them to risk and lose their lives.

Psalm 46 was written out of the experience of war. The writer is experiencing a tumult which is almost like the end of the world: and war can be that much of a catastrophe. But beyond the uproar of the nations and more powerful than the worst catastrophe, the writer has faith in God. For him, and for all those who believe, God is the one who can bring peace and give strength in the midst of the greatest turmoil, because it is God who will also bring peace at last to the whole earth. God is not weak; in this psalm he is portrayed as defeating the forces of war, making peace through his own victory.

When we also attempt to make peace – and even when it is necessary to use the controlled violence of war in order to oppose even worse – we can hope that we are motivated by a desire, not to put ourselves in the place of God, but to make the peace in which we will see that we share a common humanity and a common creator, and that war should have no place in our relationships between nation and nation.

So in our remembering today, with grief, with respect and with honour, we also look forward in hope to the promise of peace and justice which is our common aim, and which is made possible for us today by those who went before us.

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