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‘Robust and prophetic’ response to race-based politics in Luton

30 May 2012


From Mr Peter Adams and others

Sir, — Dr Jim Shepherd’s letter (25 May) in response to the Revd Isabella Image’s article (Comment, 11 May) looked for “a prophetic voice for justice and tolerance” in Luton in answer to the English De­fence League (EDL) march on 5 May.

The Church in Luton did, indeed, offer just that, through quiet, deter­mined, practical — and often courageous — action. We didn’t demonstrate: too many already want to do that in our town; but we could not be missed.

The work of the Church on the demonstration day involved some 50 church leaders, Street Pastors, and town-centre chaplains. They escorted vulnerable people through protest areas, calmed tensions, countered rumours on text and Twitter, comforted the distressed, directed traffic, and helped people find public transport. In both EDL and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) protest areas, they showed the love of Christ for all by challenging misconceptions and lies; called for peace when tensions were height­ened; and even prayed for the bereaved and sick.

In the weeks leading up to the day, Christian leaders sat on com­munity-cohesion groups, spent a considerable time in the Muslim community, spoke at community meetings, and talked to both the EDL and the UAF. The policing of the event — which was, indeed, “fair, firm, and friendly” — was in part because two of us both sup­ported and challenged police strategy in the operation Gold Commander’s com­munity-reference group.

Since March 2009, when the current chapter of militant op­position to our Muslim community began, the Church in Luton has been at the leading edge of op­position to the hatred and intoler­ance of the EDL, and political ex­pressions of the same ideas. Our work has not been primarily political, and our voice not ex­pressed through demonstrations, or even “processions with crosses”.

Instead, we have sought to be practical, and to be good neigh­bours to all. Bishops and the Arch­deacon have been here regularly. The culmination of the preparation for the event was a peace vigil the evening before, led by Luton Council of Faiths in the grounds of St Mary’s.

If we can say so ourselves, it was a robust and prophetic response.

(Canon) Stephen Purvis, Area Dean of Luton; Kevin Devey, Lay Co-Chair of Luton Deanery; Chris Barnes, Chair of Churches Together in Luton; (Canon) Richard Franklin, Vicar of All Saints’ and St Peter’s, Bury Park, Luton; Peter Adams, Interfaith Community Worker
c/o St Mary’s Church
Church Street
Luton LU1 3JF

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