I Can't Breath
When I was Vicar of Highbridge, I was involved in celebrating the memory of Frank Foley, a former MI5 agent in Berlin in the 1930’s who had saved great numbers of Jews from the Nazi regime by granting them visas, often under tenuous circumstances, to come to the UK. Towards the end of my time I agreed to the church being used for filming a documentary about the man, which included a short interview with me. I met the crew and the presenter, an older man dressed in jacket and tie and for all the world looking like an academic – whatever an academic looks like! As we were talking along came the director, effectively the boss, wearing jeans, a t-shirt and bearing a Rastafarian haircut. And he was black. To my shame, I was momentarily surprised, for I expected “the boss” to be more like the first man than the second.
Now I would not consider myself a racist. Indeed, I prefer to reserve that term for those who want to discriminate on racial grounds, who believe that their own race is superior to another. But although I have never taken and would never take such a position, it was a reminder that all of us can be subject to unconscious bias, based not on what we believe, but upon what we expect.
I was asked recently whether St Andrew’s had a position on the current Black Lives Matter movement. I simply referred them to Archbishop Justin’s post that was shared to our Facebook page recently, deploring racism in all its forms. Indeed, in our own Diocese, Bishop Peter has said that the senior staff will be looking to set down an action plan to ensure that racism has no place in the Church here. Again, we would not expect to find open racism in Bath & Wells, but we do need to check that we are not inadvertently discriminating against BAME people in our processes, assumptions and decision making.
The cry, “I can’t breathe,” the dying words of George Floyd, brutally killed by a police officer in Minneapolis recently, has become the watchword of Black Lives Matter, and all who want to see an end to racism in all its forms. The Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, used the same phrase in a piece he posted to social media as a cry of protest from all who suffer discrimination and injustice because of their gender, sexuality, or their social, economic or cultural background. Bishop Philip believes that these, too, cannot breathe, because injustice stifles, “life in all its fullness,” that Jesus came to give us all (John 10,10).
There does come a time when Christians have to make a stand, sometimes in a very public way, as did Martin Luther King in the 1960’s. Like Gandhi before him, he always urged that protest should be carried out peacefully, not that it prevented either man dying as martyrs to injustice. There is always a cost to prophetic witness.
I recently heard our society described as a, “post-deferential, low trust, high accountability” society. There is much in the world to stifle the spirit of the powerless, and there are a lot of angry people out there. For some, the jury is out on whether tearing down statues is the right thing to do, but it is clear that it is incumbent upon leaders – indeed upon us all – to draw together not divide, to heal and not to wound, to listen as well as speak and to make decisions that are life-giving rather than life-limiting.
As Christians, we can think of many words to describe values we would hope to see in a world that aligned itself with the Kingdom of God. Whatever our take on the events we see around us, let us remember that the greatest word, the greatest value, quality, of all, is Love.
Reopening for Private Prayer
We were all pleased to hear that the Government had given the go-ahead to churches reopening for private prayer from 13 June. We had little notice of the date and many of us were still working through the Guidance that had been issued by the Church of England to help us reopen in a way that was safe. The Standing Committee has met (virtually!) to complete the recommended risk assessment, which has to be signed off by the PCC. In line with the Guidance, there will be a number of restrictions in place. This is to assist with managing the level of cleaning that needs to be done between open sessions as well as the safety of the public.
From 28 June, St Andrew’s will be open for private prayer on Sundays from 10.30am until 3.30pm, and on Thursdays from 9.30am until 12.30pm. Please remember that these times may vary with the availability of the limited number able to lock and unlock the church, but we will try to hold to them as closely as possible. We are sorry but it will not be possible to join in with streamed worship on a Sunday.
When visiting, please follow the directions on the signage in church, particularly the use of hand sanitiser on entry and exit. There will be prayer leaflets in pews designated for visitors. Please take them (the non-laminated ones) away with you. Any other printed matter should be brought with you from home and return with you. The toilet will be available for use. We regret that it will not be possible to light candles, nor leave written prayer requests, but links to lighting a virtual candle on the Church of England website will be provided for those who find it helpful.
There is no official word yet on a date for restarting public worship. It is sad that there are so many restrictions and we hope that before too long we shall be able to use our building fully once again. Sadly, the pandemic may be waning, at least for now, but it is not over and we must all keep safe.
Although final details have yet to be confirmed, it looks like the Ordinations this year will be held over the last weekend of September in Wells Cathedral. On the Saturday, Katy will be ordained priest, while Louise will be ordained deacon on Sunday. Social distancing measures mean that the numbers attending will be very limited so it will not be the occasion we hoped for. Even so, it is a joyous time as we see two people called by God reach a milestone on their vocational journey. Our prayers to them both at this time as we approach what would have been only a few short weeks ago, but also praying that when the time comes their own joy will be complete.
Congratulations to Louise Bale on her appointment as Curate at St Mary Magdalene with St John the Evangelist, Taunton. Louise will continue to work as part of the Chaplaincy Team at Musgrove Park Hospital, and will continue at St Andrew’s between now and her ordination.
St Andrew’s & Social Media
Don’t forget that you can keep up with church life via our Facebook page, on which our Sunday Eucharist is streamed live each week at 10.00am. You can now also find us on Instagram, as well as on our website.
A small group is working on knitting and crocheting woollen pieces to stitch together and hang on the Hall railings to add a bit of cheer to our community at this difficult time. It comes with love from us all to the parish we serve. (See photos in the Picture Supplement.)