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To belong

07 February 2020

THE United Reformed Church has contributed a booklet of stories and reflections for use on Racial Justice Sunday this weekend. Among them is this text by Robert Becher.

You have all been invited at this time to this place
We don’t just want an invitation: We want to be welcomed.
You are all offered a warm welcome to this place
We don’t just want a welcome: We want to have a voice.
You are all welcome and this is a place for listening
We don’t just want a voice: We want it to be heard.
You are all welcome here, and your story will be heard
We don’t only want to be heard: We want to be believed.
You are welcome to this place where no truth is denied
We don’t only want to be believed: We want to be trusted.
You are welcome to this place where your words are accepted
We don’t only want to be trusted: We want to be loved.
You are welcome to this place where God’s love embraces all
We don’t only want to be loved: We want to know we belong.
Whoever belongs to God, belongs among us, for we are one in Christ.

What is valuable here is the way that Becher acknowledges the genuine desire of the host (neither party is identified) to receive the newcomer as Christ would — and yet also the inadequacy of each response until the sequence ends. Here, too, is the persistence of the newcomer who, like the host, develops a fuller understanding of what it is to be equal. There is no blame; there is, none the less, a robust expression of what justice and equality demand.

Next week the General Synod will debate a private member’s motion on the Windrush legacy, reflecting on the nation’s treatment of the British Commonwealth citizens who began to arrive in the UK in 1948. The motion, proposed by the Revd Andrew Moughtin-Mumby, Rector of St Peter’s, Walworth, includes a call to lament the conscious and unconscious racism experienced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Anglicans, not least in the parish churches where they sought a welcome. Moughtin-Mumby’s background paper relates how, in 1961, one of his predecessors in Walworth turned away a Barbadian woman on the steps of the church. Such behaviour is inconceivable to a generation raised in a multicultural country; but the shame of it lingers, and it is right to recognise that the present interracial ease has developed by stages over time.

There are more stages to come. Differences in educational attainment, disproportionate numbers among victims of crime or in prison populations, common assumptions made on grounds of creed or skin colour, a scarcity of role models in management and the higher offices in the Church — all are signs that the voyage begun with the Empire Windrush has still to reach its destination.

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