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We are leaving the EU but not Europe, church leaders insist

31 January 2020

Prayers said to hold Brexit Day ‘gently’


Britain’s Ambassador to the European Union, Tim Barrow, hands the instruments of ratification for Brexit to the Secretary of the European Council, General Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, in Brussels on Wednesday

Britain’s Ambassador to the European Union, Tim Barrow, hands the instruments of ratification for Brexit to the Secretary of the European Counci...

YEARS of Brexit negotiations have left the UK “bruised and divided” — but the Christian values of kindness, humility, and respect must live on, church leaders have told the Government.

The UK is due to leave the European Union today, three-and-a-half years after the EU Referendum. A statement on Tuesday by the leaders of ten denominations — including the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, the United Reformed Church, the Quakers, and the Scottish Episcopal Church — called on politicians “to set an example over the next weeks and months as we move towards negotiations which will require further decisions about priorities for the nations of the UK”.

The Church of England was not among the signatories of the statement, which was issued by the Joint Public Issues Team and circulated to other denominations before publication.

The country should offer sanctuary to refugees and be intolerant of discrimination and hate, the church leaders state. International agreement must also continue to “address effectively” the climate crisis, global inequality, and conflict.

“We greatly value the love and friendship of our sisters and brothers in other European Churches,” the statement goes on. A public letter was being sent on the same day “to assure them that these relationships will continue”.

“We also recognise that 31 January will bring uncertainty and anxiety to many EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in the EU. Leaving the EU cannot mean abandoning our responsibilities towards these families.”

The statement goes on: “Brexit exposed and exacerbated divisions in British society. The deeply held convictions that fuelled the Brexit debate will not simply go away, but our Christian faith urges us to be people of peace and reconciliation. If the bitterness of the last four years is not to persist in polluting our national life, we will all need to resist the temptation to hold on to the hurts of the past, or to act in ways which will be perceived as triumphalist.”

Their open letter to Europe praises Christian tradition on the Continent, and churches’ work to challenge xenophobia, religious discrimination, wealth inequality, and national self-interest. “The UK is leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe. . . The diminishing of political ties and accountability will not affect or impede our commitment to our partners in other parts of Europe.”

A spokeswoman for Church House was unable to say why there was no C of E endorsement. She pointed instead to the prayers being released daily by the Archbishop of Canterbury this week to mark “the momentous event of leaving the European Union”.

The first prayer, on Monday, mentioned: “By your mercy we live in peace in a land which offers the hope of plenty for all.” The second, on Tuesday, stated that the people of the UK who “live in a country of choice and abundance . . . have chosen our future outside the European Union.

“Establish in us holiness and mercy towards each other,” it goes on, asking that “we be generous to forgive where we have been offended and to seek forgiveness where we have done wrong”.

The third prayer, on Wednesday, asked God to “look with generosity” on the UK. “We see the consequences of selfishness, materialism, and greed on all sides, and we recognise the anxiety some feel about the future.”

In December, the Church was criticised for releasing a prayer for the General Election which suggested that the vote would “discover [God’s] will for our country”.

A prayer from the President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Barbara Glasson, also released this week, read: “However we feel about today, we mark this Brexit day as people who grieve or celebrate together. . . Let us hold this day gently, giving ourselves permission to leave without elation or despair, determined to love our neighbour, support the weak, and welcome the stranger.”

A ComRes poll of more than 2000 UK adults published this week suggested that one in ten people in had prayed about Brexit. People living in London were more likely to pray (38 per cent) than UK adults generally (23 per cent). Of a list of significant events from the past year, people were most likely to pray about the Australian wildfires (18 per cent), the London Bridge Attack (18 per cent), and US and Iran conflict (11 per cent).

One in seven people said that they had prayed as a result of social media-led campaigns (#prayfor).

The Secretary of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler, said: “Our prayers will be both for the healing of the divisions that have come to light over the last four years and for our political representatives as they work to shape a plethora of future relationships.”

Separately, Quakers in Britain and Ireland released a joint statement affirming their friendship. “We recognise that Brexit is not an endpoint, but a step in the continuing relationship between our respective countries. . .

“We also maintain our shared commitment to peace in Northern Ireland. Both our Quaker communities have worked for many decades to support and embed peace in Northern Ireland, and we are aware how fragile it can be. We urge that all people, politicians, people of faith and others, act in ways that help maintain and strengthen this peace.”

In his short book, Looking Beyond Brexit (SPCK), the Area Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Revd Graham Tomlin, draws parallels between Brexit and the English Reformation. “What has less often been remarked on is the long and difficult task of bringing divided society together after the split from Rome,” he writes.

“If we are to learn anything from our history as a nation, it should be the dangers of allowing divisions to harden into irreconcilable hostility: we have been through civil war before. However, undertaking the kind of patient work that was required in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could bring our divided and polarised nation back together.”

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