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Don’t just wait for justice to roll down, says archdeacon at George Floyd service in Brixton

26 May 2021


“I WILL use all my breath to call out racial injustice, telling out that black lives do matter,” the Archdeacon of Croydon, the Ven. Dr Rosemarie Mallett, said during a service to mark the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in police custody in the United States (News, 5 June 2020).

Mr Floyd’s death on 25 May 2020 sparked worldwide protests against racism which led organisations, including the Church of England, to review their efforts to achieve racial equality (News, 23 June).

The ecumenical service of reflection, titled Doing Justice, which was live-streamed on Tuesday evening, was organised by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland at the New Testament Church of God Church, Brixton, in south London. The recording is due to be broadcast as BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship programme this weekend.

The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell; the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally; the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin; the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Angaelos of London; and the Pastor of Jesus House and Pentecostal President of Churches Together in England, Pastor Agu Irukwu, were among the socially distanced congregation.

CTBI/YouTubeThe Ven. Dr Rosemarie Mallett

The 90-minute service was led by an academic theologian, Eleasah Louis, and the charity and leadership specialist Mark Sturge. It began with a series of spoken reflections, by Dr Mallett and others, on the theme “No longer the same”.

She said: “From the moment of his pain-filled death, I knew things could no longer be the same. I thought of he, George Floyd, who died a terrible, racist, and deliberately emasculating death, like too many other fathers, brothers, sons. He is no longer, and his last breathed words have become our rallying cry.”

Mr Floyd, who was 46, died in the city of Minneapolis last June while being detained by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, who could be seen in a video kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. Mr Floyd was heard to say: “I can’t breathe.” Chauvin was immediately dismissed, with three other officers, and in April a court in Minnesota found him guilty on three charges, of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter (News, 23 April).

Dr Mallett continued: “I am no longer the same. Part of me also died on that road, the part that shares my indelible and much-loved skin colour and African heritage, deliberately disempowered. I, too, was pinned on that street, and I will use all my breath to call out racial injustice, telling out that black lives do matter.

“We must no longer be the same. We all need to stop waiting for justice to roll down, and, as churches, join with others, proclaiming that now is the time for change. And to not only say it, but actively stand up and speak out.”

CTBI/YouTubeThe IDMC UK Gospel Choir

Congregational hymns, sung by the IDMC UK Gospel Choir, included “On Christ the solid rock I stand” and “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah”. There readings from Psalms 44 and 13 and St Luke’s Gospel (18.1-8) by Pastor Irukwu and Archbishop Cottrell. The service also included sung solos solos and poetry.

In an act of remembrance, a cross was placed on the dais, at the foot of which pupils of St Martin-in-the-Fields High School for Girls and Archbishop Tenison’s School, Lambeth, laid candles. A minute’s silence was also observed for Mr Floyd and “all those who have lost their lives while in police custody, and to racial violence” in the British Isles. The address was given by the chief executive of the Ascension Trust, the Revd Les Isaac.

“The killing of George Floyd was projected on a global stage,” he said. “It gave a panoramic view of the challenges that black people and people from all over the world are facing in terms of injustice within the 21st century. . . [It] was not an isolated incident.” Hundreds of thousands of people around the world had been “displaced and killed with impunity by the perpetrators”.

CTBI/YouTubePupils of St Martin-in-the-Fields High School for Girls and Archbishop Tenison’s School, Lambeth

On Wednesday, Bishop Hudson-Wilkin expressed her gratitude to the organisers of the service. “It was important to mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder — it reminds us that the deeper issues of racism, marginalisation, and injustice remain at play in our world. Justice and love are at the heart of the gospel, and this service was a demonstration of our ongoing need to walk side by side with one another to call out injustices of any kind, speak truth to power, and challenge unjust structures.”

A virtual memorial service was also held by the US Episcopal Church on Tuesday night. The Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry said in his sermon: “When the world saw George Floyd murdered by those charged to protect and serve, something moved. Something changed. And while we do not know how it will unfold, people began to pray with their lips and with their legs.” 

The liturgy was designed by the Bishop of Missouri, the Rt Revd Deon Johnson. Lighting a candle at the end of the service outside of St John’s, Washington, he said: “A single light has the power to dispel even the longest shadow. As we share the light from these many flames, may these candles be symbols of our burning hope and our shining light, that we may act out of hope and compassion to mourn with those who grieve.” 

Diocese of Indianapolis The Bishop of Missouri, the Rt Revd Deon Johnson, speaks during the memorial service  

On the same day, the Episcopal Public Policy Network urged its members to press Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act 2021 to address racial and criminal justice reform. The legislation would ban chokeholds, and provides for reinvestment in community programmes and seeks to reform the practice of police investigations.

The Bishop of Minnesota, the Rt Revd Craig Loya, told the Episcopal News Service on Tuesday that the work of healing continued in churches across the twin cities. “It would be hard to overstate the trauma that the murder of George Floyd caused in the city of Minneapolis and beyond, and out of that trauma has come a real commitment to the long work of racial justice and healing.”

The diocese has funded the community group Twin Cities Stand Together, which offers a clothing, food, and toy bank, and plans to turn its basement in Gethsemane Episcopal Church into a charity shop. It also plans to start a youth basketball programme.

Bishop Loya said: “I was ordained as Bishop of Minnesota about a week after George Floyd was murdered, in a cathedral that is not far from the place where he was murdered. It was clear to me in those days that the work of racial justice and healing would need to be a central part of my work as bishop.”

Watch the service here
Read the order of service here

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