I write this article on Friday 24 June, I’m sure it will go down in history as one of the most momentous days of the 21st Century. Everything has changed and yet nothing has changed, we all have to wait. Will it turn out to be the day that Britain finally voted to de-couple itself from an inefficient and out-dated institution and so secured its economic future? Or, will it be regarded as the day when we precipitated the end of the Union as we know it and initiated a turn of events that created a little England lonely and isolated, clinging to a reinvigorated European Union and an ever closer connected world? Who knows, I don’t have a crystal ball. We wait to see what the next few years will bring.
As a Christian I believe passionately that we are all equal in the eyes of God and yes, God does have a preference; for the oppressed and vulnerable. We all matter, we all have dignity and we all have worth. This theological position underpinned my preference.
I observed with interest this morning the voting patterns of places where I have lived and worked. As many of you know I was born to working class parents in a deprived and deeply working class part of East Manchester called Droylsden, it was and is still, with the odd exception, white. As a child in the 1960s it seemed to be quite a reasonable place to live, however things began to decline in the 70s, first with the closure of the cotton mills, then in the late 70s and early 80s heavy engineering and steel making. Those of us who could leave left for university never to return, you might say we were the lucky ones, we got out. I became acutely aware of Droylsden’s decline when I moved down to London, my frequent visits ‘Up North’ to my father made me realise the size of the gulf that existed between my poor, white, working class home in the North West of England and my much wealthier, liberal and multi-cultural home down here in London. Going to the working men’s for a pint with my father and his friends introduced me to a world of seething resentment and outright racism. There were moments when I felt deeply uncomfortable and I confess, very frustrated that I didn’t air my liberal and inclusive values more readily. Now most of these people were kind and good, very, very different from you and me, but basically decent people. Yet there it was, in the room, real racism, a hatred of Europe, and everything it stood for, blamed for changing our way of life, blamed for introducing mass immigration, blamed for just about everything and as a result fostering a hatred of the political class who were seen not to listen and not to care.
Change is the key here; the old Droylsden began to change with the closing of the mills in the late 1960s and as the pace of change increased in the late 70s and early 80s so did the pace of industrial decline. The people on the whole stood still, there wasn’t much work around to compensate for their changing fortunes and they didn’t move to find new work. Something had to give, in years gone by it might have been violent revolution, but that’s just a bit too European, we do things differently over here, we fester, we blame the other, well last night the boil was lanced. Yes, there is seething resentment against the political elites, the fat cats and all those who seem to have made fortunes. These people want change and don’t believe the traditional political establishment capable of delivering the kind of change they require. They want better lives, they want more of what they see on TV, and they want more money. So they are looking to alternative political parties, offering cheap racist answers to deliver the kind of change they crave that most of us think unrealistic, undeliverable and deeply offensive. How we manage the next few years is of supreme importance. Do we decline into a country of hatred, blaming the other for every ill? And when I say other, I don’t just mean immigrants, I mean anybody who doesn’t fit a very narrow world view. Or do we attempt to build bridges of reconciliation, acknowledging the obvious disconnects and attempting to stop this growing culture war in its tracks? These are challenging times, and there are no easy answers.
It was a great pleasure on Sunday afternoon to attend the ordination to the sacred priesthood of Andy Rooney and eleven other deacons from the Kensington Area at St Mary Abbot’s, Kensington. Andy’s own personal story of faith will lead him into a new form of priestly service: he was called, and has willingly and generously responded to his call. The following evening a group of us from St Nick’s attended Holy Innocents, Paddenswick Road where Fr Andy said Mass for the first time, and Fr Simon preached. It was a very moving occasion. We pray for Andy, Michele and their children, also for the people of Holy Innocents, where Andy will continue to serve his title as Curate.
Across the Church, in this country and abroad, Petertide is a season of ordinations. The ordination of deacons in the diocese of London will take place this Saturday afternoon in St Paul’s cathedral. I look forward to being present at that service to witness and pray for several ordinands whom I know. This is a time of new beginnings, and commissioning to serve the living God, and we give thanks.
However, it is not just the call to ordained ministry that we celebrate. There are so many other opportunities to serve God both within the Church, at work and in our local communities, and we all need to discern where God is calling us to be. Nevertheless, as we were reminded in our gospel reading last Sunday, God’s call can take us well outside our comfort zone, towards those who make us question our own values and priorities. We might be called to give up our job for something less certain, which pays us less, or to move home. In whichever way it comes to us we can’t avoid the moment of commitment – when we actually have to let go of the safe way and set off on an uncertain and costly path. So let’s remember this week all who are discerning their vocation at this time, let’s pray that they will be guided by the power of the Holy Spirit and that their ministries will bear much fruit.