CHURCHES in London were at the forefront of efforts to help those whose homes and shops were destroyed this week in riots that the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, described as “appalling — but not wholly unexpected”.
Churches in areas including Tottenham, Hackney, Ealing, Peckham, and Croydon opened their doors to visitors, and held prayer vigils. Church of England clerics joined ministers from other denominations to walk and exercise a “ministry of presence” on the streets.
“The events of the past few days in London are appalling — but not wholly unexpected,” Bishop Chartres said on Tuesday. “Whatever the real motivations of those who have brought violence to our streets, there will be a proper time for sober analysis and an assessment of the role of gang culture in the capital.”
He said that churches in the diocese were “at the forefront” of “clearing up the débris and caring for the victims of what has happened”.
In a message sent to clergy and churches in London yesterday, Bishop Chartres, who had returned from visiting Enfield and Tottenham, said that the Church had "played a large part in reclaiming the streets for the overwhelming majority of responsible citizens by prayer vigils and public demonstrations of solidarity with other Christians and community groups".
The Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement saying that those who had committed acts of violence "have achieved nothing except to intensify the cycle of depravation and vulnerability". Dr Williams said the "major question to address" was "how to combat . . . the alienation and cynicism that leads to destruction.
"The Government has insisted on the priority of creating stronger, better-resourced local communities. This priority is now a matter of extreme urgency. We need to see initiatives that will address anxieties and provide some long-term stability in community services, especially for the young. Meanwhile the Church will maintain its commitment to all communities at risk, and is ready to offer its help and solidarity in every possible way."
Speaking in the House of Lords yesterday, Dr Williams said that the country's "educational philosophy . . . has been more and more dominated by an instrumentalist model; less and less concerned with a building of virtue, character and citizenship". He said a high priority should be placed upon "not only ... rebuilding the skills of parenting in some of our communities, but in rebuilding education itself".
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, also speaking in the Lords, asked the Government to provide assurance that "the broader question of resourcing of the police should not be too glibly tied up with current plans for cuts in public expenditure. The public does need to be assured that first things come first, the peace of the realm."
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the RC Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, said that the “criminal violence and theft” that had taken place demonstrated “a callous disregard for the common good of our society”.
On Monday evening, the Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Peter Wheatley, joined other church and community leaders at a vigil in Tottenham, where the first instances of rioting and looting occurred on Saturday night after a peaceful demonstration against the shooting of a man who lived in the area, Mark Duggan, on Thursday evening. Bishop Wheatley said: “These events cannot be allowed to define the Tottenham we know and love. . . What has happened will not conquer the hope which is set before us.”
The Revd Simon Morris, Assistant Curate of St Mary the Virgin, Tottenham, circulated an email on Monday saying that the church was “providing food and drink to people who have lost homes”, and that, on Sunday, “we will have a procession during the 10 a.m. mass to make God’s presence known on these streets that have seen such violence.”
The co-ordinator of the Pray Haringey network, the Revd Brendan Munro, said that churches were in liaison with the council to support practically those left homeless after the violence: “We want to help whoever needs it . . . We haven’t come in from outside the community — we are the community.”
The new Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, who moved to Bow on Friday, was on the streets of Hackney when rioters clashed with police on Monday evening. The Rector of St John-at-Hackney, the Revd Rob Wickham, told the Daily Telegraph
that rioting started in his churchyard after police made an arrest and a brick was thrown.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Bishop Newman said: “It was very significant for people to realise that there were people there without any agenda other than to bring an end to violence and rioting, and to pray and talk and listen.” A peace vigil was held on Wednesday, on the steps of St John-at-Hackney.
In a message to clerics in his area, the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, said: “Whatever sparked the original violence in Tottenham, the copycat looting and pillaging is not a legitimate form of protest — people are, sadly, trashing their own localities.”
Churches in Ealing, in west London, opened on Tuesday to provide refreshments and facilities for those helping to clear up after violence erupted in the suburb on Monday night. The Assistant Curate at St John’s, West Ealing, the Revd Sally Hitchiner, said that members of her congregation had taken the day off to help with clear-up efforts. A Blockbuster shop in the area, run by someone in the congregation, had been destroyed and looted, and some cars had been smashed, including one that was set alight.
“People don’t expect this in Ealing,” she said. “It is a time when a lot of people are turning to prayer and to community faith leaders.”
The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, who is also Bishop for Urban Life and Faith, returned from holiday early, on Wednesday, after unrest in parts of his diocese, including Lewisham, Peckham, Battersea, and Croydon.
Bishop Chessun said: “The images of violence and destruction on our screens do not represent the strong, hopeful, and vibrant communities I know so well. . . I know that the churches of Southwark diocese stand ready to play their part in bringing healing and hope to the places they serve.”
Bishop Chessun asked churches in Southwark diocese “to offer special prayers for the healing and peace of our cities when they gather for worship this Sunday, and week by week, remembering especially those who have been personally affected and have lost homes and livelihoods”.
The Vicar of St Mark’s, Battersea Rise, the Revd Paul Perkin, wrote on the Anglican Mainstream website on Tuesday that he and his son “were in the middle of streets being looted” in Battersea, late on Monday night, and that his church garden was used by rioters to stash loot.
“The police seemed to have no idea what to do. They set up lines but were like a disoriented army in battle which did not know where the front line was. The lines were neither containing nor defending any territory. All the looters did was to keep a few yards’ distance or move a street away, while the police stood and watched.”
Members of the congregation of All Saints’, Peckham, walked round the streets on Tuesday morning praying, and handing out sandwiches to police officers, many of whom had been on duty through the night. The Vicar of All Saints’, the Revd Jonathan Mortimer, said that the church was holding a special service on Sunday evening “to pray for peace and hope in Peckham”. He said that the MP for Southwark and Bermondsey, Simon Hughes, had been invited to attend.
The chief executive of XLP, a Christian charity based in Lewisham which works across London with young people at risk of crime, Patrick Regan, told Premier Radio on Tuesday: “We can’t arrest our way out of this situation. . . . Sixty-three per cent of kids whose fathers are convicted of crime go on to be convicted themselves. We should know when to intervene, and get our hands dirty doing it.” On Wednesday, Mr Regan met the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.
Speaking on Tuesday, the Rector of St Paul’s, Deptford, the Revd Paul Butler, who is faith adviser to the Mayor of Lewisham, said that it was “important that nobody over-reacts”, and that there was a “need for reconnection with some of our youth. . . These kids are angry and fed up; let’s not treat them as devils. They live in a social context that is difficult all of the time.”
Rioting also took place on Monday night further south, in Croydon, where shops were looted and a family-run furniture store was burnt down. On Tuesday evening, Emmanuel Church, South Croydon, was open for people to pray. Other prayer meetings were held across London.
The director of the Evangelical Alliance, Steve Clifford, said: “Prayer changes things, and, as Christians, we are called to pray on behalf of our nation. . . Once this madness is over, some serious and far-ranging questions need to be asked. How do we respond to pockets of young men and women growing up in our inner-city areas who have been failed by education, have little hope of finding employment, and to whom the gang is their community?”
A prayer vigil will be held at Westminster Central Hall in London tomorrow between 2 - 4 pm.
From the Church of England’s website
A Prayer for Peace in Our Communities
we pray for peace in our communities this day.
We commit to you all who work for peace and an end to tensions,
and those who work to uphold law and justice.
We pray for an end to fear,
for comfort and support to those who suffer,
for calm in our streets and cities,
that people may go about their lives in safety and peace.
In your mercy, hear our prayers,
now and always. Amen.