IT IS a shame that the words associated with interfaith cohesion sound so dull. “Transition”, “integration”, even “transformation” might be subheadings in the sort of report that corporations commission at great expense but then never act upon. It is salutary, then, to encounter a room full of people who use such words with enthusiasm and passion. This was the Blue Drawing Room of Buckingham Palace on Tuesday evening, where the Queen had invited 160 people actively involved in what is effectively community-building, often from nothing. These were people whose faith journeys might not have brought them into contact with the question asked of Christ: “Who is my neighbour?”, who answer it instinctively or by reference to the tenets of their own religion. They see the duty to care for the people around them as a sacred one.
Perhaps it sounds less dull to list some of the work that is being done by those at Tuesday’s gathering: welcoming refugees and asylum-seekers; feeding the hungry; campaigning for housing justice; combating loneliness; re-integrating ex-prisoners; fighting knife-crime and drug-trafficking; halting social ills such as prostitution and female genital mutilation; supporting women who have experienced domestic violence; using gardening to promote mental health; entertaining elderly people; employing survivors of human-trafficking; and, above all, promoting contact between faith and ethnic communities who live side by side but who most often fail to encounter one another.
What united everyone in the Blue Drawing Room was surprise that their modest efforts (as they saw them) should attract the attention of the Crown. At a time when funding for local government continues to be pared away, and social services are stretched to near breaking point, it was encouraging to see that the efforts of ordinary men and women, volunteers in the main, are recognised in such a memorable and generous way.
ON page 38 we carry a news story about the death of Peter Ball, former Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, thereby relieving an obituarist of the task of summing up the benign and malign aspects of his character and life, even were it possible to separate them. His Church Times file contains a draft obituary submitted, we assume, in the mid-1990s. It describes the allegations of abuse that led to a police caution in 1992 (and his imprisonment in 2015) as “now more widely known to have been a plot against him”, and talks of the “safe and healing environment” in the religious houses where much of the abuse is now known to have taken place. The piece will, of course, never see the light of day; but it is an example of Ball’s plausibility and the widespread disregard at the time of his victims. The Church’s safeguarding record needs further work, of course, but at least it has improved since that time.