At Spring Harvest a few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing the Archbishop of Canterbury. I’d never heard him speak before, apart from bits on the news, but now had plenty of opportunity as he spent the whole of Palm Sunday at the event. I discovered that he has quite a sense of humour!
The theme of Spring Harvest was ‘Unity’ and Archbishop Justin has a huge desire for unity in the church and society and for reconciliation. Some years ago he was Canon for Reconciliation Ministry at Coventry Cathedral and has been involved in reconciliation in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. This is relevant in many parts of the world today, and, whilst it might be nice to think that our own country is an exception, that simply isn’t true. Various political issues are polarising opinion and dividing people at the moment, and the threat of terrorism, rather than uniting people, can make us defensive, leading to division.
In one of his talks the Archbishop also reminded us that over the past few months we have been asked what sort of country we want Britain to be. He said that every three to five generations people get this opportunity and that the last one was in 1945 when, out of a country shattered by war and dismantling its empire, a new Briatin emerged with a welfare state. He said that this sort of reimagining and action wasn’t easy, but we could be encouraged by the fact that it had been done before. He gave the example of William Wilberforce’s fight against slavery over a century before – one which took many years of perseverance.
Many of the people who were instrumental in these huge changes in the past were Christians. The Archbishop told us of the trio of R H Tawney, William Beveridge and Archbishop William Temple, all Christians who had been at school together, who were the minds behind the post-war vision for Britain. They were thinking these things through well before they were put into practice, and the Beveridge Report was published in 1942, right in the middle of the War. Wilberforce was also part of a Christian movement that wanted to see change in society. And Archbishop Justin said that if we wanted to see a better Britain today, the united people of God had to play their part.
Can Christians really make such a difference today? When you consider the many ways in which churches are now so active and making a difference – food banks, Christians Against Poverty and similar projects, Safe Families for Children (recently launched in Southampton and Eastleigh), Street Pastors, homeless shelters and many other unique local projects – the answer really has to be ‘yes’. We are already doing it. But can we bring all of this together in an even clearer, unified vision?
What sorts of values should be shaping us? Some of our leaders have reminded us to consider ‘the other’ as we approach the forthcoming elections – the poorest in society, refugees, those in the most needy parts of the world... There have been calls for us to be outward looking, rather than to turn in on ourselves. This inevitably involves risk, but no great vision was ever achieved without risk. We might reflect on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, who took huge risks to help someone who was different from him.
As we approach the anniversary of the brutal murder of Jo Cox MP, we might reflect on some of her last words: ‘We have more in common than that which divides us.’ Here in Bishopstoke and further afield, whatever happens in the coming months, I hope we can we build on that which we have in common and call upon our faith and imagination to contribute towards a better Britain and a better world.
With every blessing