Pride and glory
THERE is plenty of glitter on the sanctuary carpet — not the result of an angelic visitation in the night, but from the painted faces of marchers taking part in London Pride, which comes right past the end of the road. The huge Christians at Pride section marching noisily past the church this year included the radio and TV presenter Revd Kate Bottley and other well-known faces. Our own Sunday service included a heartfelt rendition of the 1955 Elvis hit “Where no one stands alone”.
London Pride is an enormous event that, if you are located in the middle of town, you simply cannot ignore. For us, it meant a ball-pool full of children at a Pride tea- party on the day of the march, and then seeing some of them come back to take communion the next day with purple hair and rainbow faces, still excited from the parade.
I know that our line in the UK Church is that we’re trying to “disagree well” on this topic, which, of course, must be right. But, frankly, it was humbling to witness such exuberance and joy among our LGBTQ+ Christian asylum-seekers from Uganda, Nigeria, and Ghana, dancing their way through the weekend celebrations.
The sound of silence
MONDAY morning brings not glitter but emails about scaffolding. I confess that, for me, it’s one of the least interesting parts of incumbency: spending more time than I’d like, dealing with heads of terms for scaffolding licences — even though it means welcome income for the church. I now know more than I ever thought possible about the negotiations necessary for lay-up areas, site hoarding, the removal of building waste, and the cessation of noisy works.
On which subject, I travel to Gloucestershire University to give a lecture on silence. The irony of doing this is not lost on anyone there, and so we begin with some silence together before talking about it for another hour. Before the lecture, I have tea with some students (bribed to attend with the promise of pizza from the chaplain). We discuss freedom of speech at universities, the ethics of the tactics of Extinction Rebellion, and the radical nature of Jesus’s life as recorded in the gospels. Along with whether it is ever OK to put pineapple on a pizza. The consensus, interestingly, to that last dilemma was No.
A COUPLE of weeks later, I have the twenties and thirties group from our congregation to lunch in my flat. These mostly twenty-somethings are in work, rather than college, but I’m struck by the similar passion that they have to make the world a better place, especially in the light of the climate emergency.
This extends to the personal choices that they are making every day. For much of my ordained life, I’ve been cooking baked potatoes and chilli for parish meals. Nowadays, with these young Londoners, it’s all veggie, and, increasingly, vegan. I’ve become quite a devotee of spinach salad, sprinkled with almonds and dates — although quite often I secretly imagine a beefburger on the side.
Begging to differ
METAPHORICALLY covered in both the dust and glitter of Piccadilly, I go to spend a day in a synagogue just outside London, to talk with rabbis and priests about the fractured society of which we discern we are a part. The Government’s counter-extremism commissioner, Sara Khan, sets out an impassioned vision of an inclusive society, challenging faith leaders to speak up for tolerance and fairness against a backdrop of rising reports of hate crimes categorised as anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.
A brilliant dialogue then follows between two Jewish academics who debate the origins and nature of the Brexit vote, both arguing that the vision of a tolerant society is not enough because the fractures are somehow more “tribal and emotional” than mere tolerance will acknowledge.
This interfaith discussion was much more than what often happens at such gatherings — described by a rabbi friend of mine as “tea and samosas” — where everyone is a bit too nice. There was real disagreement in the room, but also a shared commitment to using our best imaginations and energies to bring whatever healing balm we can from our faith perspectives to the fractures that we see in our own towns and neighbourhoods. This included admitting where faith was more a cause of the mess than a solution to it.
Our commitment was deepened and sharpened (in me, at least) by the encounter and conversation. We agreed that one of the key ways in which faith communities — including synagogues and churches — can contribute is by finding ways to resist becoming “echo chambers” or “filter bubbles”: refusing to become siloes, or simply assemblies of the like-minded.
AT THE eucharist later that week, in a side chapel on an ordinary weekday, my mind returns to those conversations. I remember one of the academics asserting that the Brexit divisions will not be healed just by economic arguments, nor even political processes. He called for a deeper recognition of our common humanity: our capacity to grieve, to rage, to feel left out; and our capacity to co-operate, to want the best for someone else, to give ourselves away — all of which are evident on all sides of the arguments in which we are currently enmeshed.
This deeper level of encounter is where religious practice comes alive, and so I found myself standing at the altar, even more full of hope than previously that the continuing rituals of the Church are important in ways that are hard to describe.
The Revd Lucy Winkett is the Rector of St James’s Piccadilly, in the diocese of London.