CHURCHES across the country have been urged to hold “tea and prayer drop-ins” next weekend to encourage reconciliation over Brexit.
The initiative, “Together”, is supported by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and have resources produced by the Liturgical Commission and the Mission and Public Affairs teams.
These include prayers, passages of scripture for use in a variety of settings, conversation starters, and downloadable graphics.
“Together” was launched on Monday in response to divisions in the country, exacerbated by the possibility that, if no extension to the Article 50 process is forthcoming from rest of the European Union, the UK will leave without a deal next Friday. On Wednesday the Prime Minister told MPs that she would seek an extension until 30 June but no further.
Speaking on Wednesday evening, Mrs May blamed MPs for the delay to Brexit. In a television address, she told the public “I am on your side”, and suggested that she would bring her Brexit deal back to the House of Commons for a vote next week.
The EU has indicated that it will only back a short delay to Brexit, until 22 May, if Mrs May’s deal is passed by MPs.
Of the “Together” initiative, Archbishop Welby said: “As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to demonstrate that love for God and for each other, along with compassion, solidarity, and care for the poorest, are our defining values.
“These values have been the bedrock of our national life for many centuries. They are not simply our history: they are also our best hope for the future.”
He went on: “For this reason, a century from now, the Church will be remembered for how it responded at this crucial moment in the life of our nation and country. Will we be those who worked to defuse tension and hostility? Will we be those who called for civility and respect in how we speak about, and treat, each other?
“Will we be those who never stopped praying with urgency and hope for our country, our communities, and our political leaders — and for a way forward that allows every person, family, and community to flourish?
“This is an opportunity for the Church of England to join together in prayer for God’s Kingdom to come, and for the good of all in society. I hope that each of us will take hold of these resources to help us pray for our country at this critical time.”
In the General Synod in February, the two Archbishops presented a State of the Nation motion that said: “Social divisions feel more entrenched and intractable than for many years,” and that divisions in political parties were “stifling the emergence of a hopeful and viable vision for the common good in our communities” (News, 1 March).
Dr Sentamu said: “St Paul advises and urges Timothy to ‘offer petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone, for sovereigns, and for all in high office, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life, free to practise our religion with dignity’. Such prayer is right, and approved by God our Saviour, whose will it is that all should find salvation and come to know the truth. Beloved in Christ, let us also pray without ceasing.”
In a London diocesan ad clerum, the bishops have invited parishes in the capital to take part.
The letter reads: “At this time we want to encourage our churches and congregations to pray for unity and for people, whatever their personal views, and to come together to ensure that whatever the outcome we work together to bring about the best possible way forward for the communities we serve in Christ’s name.
“Together with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, we are therefore inviting you to mark the day by joining in a national prayer initiative of five days, and consider hosting a tea-and-prayer drop-in session in your parish on or around Saturday 30 March.”
Soon after the EU referendum, the Synod voted for a motion that said dioceses should appoint a Brexit-fallout “champion” (News, 15 July 2016).
Some clergy expressed surprise at the short notice given. The Team Rector in the St Luke
in the City Team Ministry, Liverpool, the Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, wrote on Twitter: “It’s absolutely bonkers. No way we can organise tea parties on demand on what’s already a busy weekend. . . If we had been going to do stuff for Brexit day, we’d have planned it months ago.”
The Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, Dean Emeritus of Durham, voiced a different criticism. In a blog post, he wrote: “My problem with it is that it’s so inward-looking. It mentions our families, our communities, our nation and our leaders. But I don’t see any reference to the European family of peoples and their flourishing, any sense that Brexit is at risk of damaging long-cherished friendships and alliances across our continent.
“I don’t see any acknowledgment of what we as the people of Britain have been able to contribute to the EU, nor the ways in which we have been able to act together to champion the poor and the voiceless, human and social inclusion, leading in environmental concern and helping to foster peace, justice and reconciliation in Europe.
“Christianity urges us to think in a Catholic, that is, universal, way about community. As part of a worldwide company of Christian peoples, surely the C of E should be modelling the ability to think beyond its own national and ecclesial boundaries. Why was this opportunity missed when it comes to the issues we might explore at tea-time?”
Speaking to the BBC last week, the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said that there was “bafflement, bewilderment, and bemusement all round” with what was happening with Brexit at the moment. “People in my diocese are at the sharp end of this: we’re on a cliff-edge, and the uncertainty must end to give people a sense of stability. The uncertainty of Brexit is paralysing people’s lives and decisions about their future.”
On Thursday, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, responded to the criticism. “Brexit has created a situation in this country which I don't think we've seen for years where we are divided amongst ourselves over a single issue, and that's not healthy.
“Some might suggest that ‘tea and prayer’ is an old-fashioned approach to fixing this, yet I do not believe that our national discourse can be healed through social media, where off-the-cuff remarks and self-curation serve to widen gaps, increasing our isolation under the guise of connectivity. Quite simply, there is no substitute for real human engagement.”
He recognised that Lent was a busy time for churches, and acknowledged the shortness of notice: “Some people have accused this of being an initiative from on high. Well, not really. This is more a blessing of what many churches and dioceses were already planning to do.
“Some have said, why wasn’t there more notice? Well, although we’ve known the potential significance of 29 March for a long while, the actual decision to make this a national initiative has only been made recently. Sometimes this is the best way to make decisions; reading the signs of the times and responding to what is happening around us.”
In this light, Bishop Cottrell encourages churches to take part in the initiative. “It might not be all smiles and agreement, but naming our disagreements is an important start.”