In last week’s live-streamed Compline from St Mary’s community in Banbury, we prayed for the world to be healed from all malice and hatred, and that we might root out the evil of racism. We live in worrying times where divisions within society and between countries are growing wider again along all sorts of lines, and people are negatively labelled and judged by others with frightening speed and scant regard for the need to hear their story.

One of the recollections I have of studying physics at school is Newton’s 1st Law, namely that a body which is moving in a straight line will continue moving in that direction unless a force acts upon it. Looking back over our country’s history, we can see examples of extraordinary injustice and racism shown by earlier generations who had a sense of superiority over other human beings they deemed to be of little or no value. Many considered slavery normal and the exploitation of the oppressed as just the way society was. But this ingrained attitude started to change direction by the actions of remarkable philanthropists, such as those who founded schools and hospitals and who worked to abolish slavery and to promote human rights.

Our 21st century society is becoming more aware of our own shortcomings in the present day, and we are not simply condemning the unacceptable behaviour of previous generations. We are starting to recognise the on-going need to change our direction of travel. We too have to re-assess our own prejudices and value-judgements calmly and honestly, and be open to offering others a platform from which to speak about their experiences.

We have moved forward but there is still much more to do. We need to be willing to ask forgiveness for the times that we have contributed to injustice or have failed to acknowledge systemic racism and discrimination which is undoubtedly continuing across all sections of society. It’s not enough only to condemn the unacceptable behaviour of previous generations and applaud the efforts of those who worked to change the direction of that culture. We are called to support all who are disadvantaged, and to listen to the narrative of people who have so often been ignored. We need to change the direction of travel, following Newton’s 1st law to build a culture of peace.

The time I spent working at Coventry Cathedral taught me a huge amount about the ministry of reconciliation. The Coventry Cross of Nails, formed from debris of the bombed cathedral in the Second World War, has become an international symbol for peace and reconciliation across divisions of politics, race, religion, sexuality, environment and personal relationships. The core values of the Community of the Cross of Nails are summed up in the following guiding principles which address past, present and future:
•Healing the wounds of history
•Learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity.
•Building a culture of peace

As Christians, we believe that reconciliation comes from God and we believe that every human has value and worth as a person made in God’s image. As we move into a ‘new normal’ following on from the shake-up of our world by the Covid pandemic, let’s take the opportunity to examine our own prejudices, to change our own behaviour and actively seek reconciliation.

Sarah Bourne – 1st July 2020 sarahbourne@banburystmary.org.uk

First published on the St Mary’s Banbury web page earlier this month. 

CCN Thought for the Week for 17th July – Revd Sarah Bourne, former curate at Coventry Cathedral
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