Paul Vallely: Welcome, Manchester’s new mayor

24 May 2019

Paul Vallely is moved by a service that brings different faiths together

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Manchester Cathedral, which was filled with members of the Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Jain, and Muslim communities, last Sunday, to welcome the new Lord Mayor

Manchester Cathedral, which was filled with members of the Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Jain, and Muslim communities, last Sunday, to welcome t...

THE rabbi began with a story about a migrant from a distant land who had recently settled near his city-centre synagogue and built a home with his partner, in which to bring up their offspring in this country. As his elaborate conceit unfolded, it became clear that the migrant was a rare bird, a black redstart, nesting next door. What he did not mention, the person next to me in Manchester Cathedral whispered, is that the black redstart is also the national bird of Pakistan. Story and metaphor reach, often in unexpected ways, across divides.

We greeted a new Lord Mayor last Sunday. The cathedral was filled with members of the Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Jain, and Muslim communities to welcome the “little lad from a remote village in Pakistan [who] went on a remarkable journey”, as the local paper put it, and who “is now Manchester’s first citizen”.

When Councillor Abid Latif Chohan, a human-rights lawyer, was sworn in, he vowed to help make the city a “fairer and more inclusive place to live and work”. The service reflected that. A selection was sung from the Qur’an (Surah 55.Ar-Rachman 1.18), which gave thanks for the abundant blessings of creation. A member of the Muslim community read from the Hebrew Bible. There were Christian hymns and prayers that could be embraced by all. There was something rather moving about the coming together of people from so many traditions “in order that we may understand our differences and share our common convictions”.

The address was given not by the Dean or the Bishop, but by Rabbi Reuven Silverman, who glossed the reading from Deuteronomy (11.13-21) so that it spoke with urgency to the world of today.

Those who love, serve, and obey God’s commands are promised “rain at the right time” so that they can harvest their own “grain, wine, and oil”. Yet today, rains come out of season and proportion. “I shall also give you grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will be satisfied.” God here places animals before people, and yet we are careless of the earth’s species, chasing them into extinction, failing to cherish the environment and its bio-diversity. “Take care that your heart is not deceived into straying, obeying other gods and worshipping them.” Yet we put the idols of efficiency, profit, and greed before people and plant.

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“God’s anger will then blaze out against you. God will shut up the sky. There will be no rain. The land will not produce, and you will quickly be destroyed from the good land which God gives you.” The first signs of that naturally disordered world are all around us: climate change is manifest in fires and floods, melting ice, animals, and people on the move.

“Put these words of mine in your heart and your soul. . . Teach them to your children.” Today, of course, it is our children who are teaching us — as primary-school pupils from the new Lord Mayor’s part of the city were there to remind us. Love your neighbour as yourself, the gospel reading said. Think globally, act locally, the rabbi prompted. It gave us a little glimpse of how we need to unite to make that real.

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