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Preacher: Revd Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner
Title of sermon: Racial Justice Sunday 2022
Date/time/service: Sunday 13th February 2022 – 11am Choral Eucharist
“He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.”
Thirty years ago, I was doing my curacy in a church in Bedford. For the people of that city there were very different ways to think about this parish. Depending on your point of view, it was either a) a vibrant multi-cultural community or b) the wrong side of the railway line. For some people an exciting place to live and for others, different; dangerous; unknown.
If we are honest, we can all find the unfamiliar unsettling. There’s a human tendency to seek the familiar and reassuring. Not for everyone, but certainly for many people, both family and friendship circles can look very much the same. Yet when we gravitate towards this familiarity we also deny ourselves rich opportunities to learn and to grow. In Bedford I made friendships that have lasted over the decades and given me insight into the experiences of people with backgrounds very different from my own. Friends whose parents came in the Windrush generation, answering the UK’s request for workers.
Most churches did not make welcome the devout Anglicans who answered this call. It was suggested to people that they would be more ‘comfortable’ somewhere else. Congregations that would have been energised with new life chose instead to close the door on difference. To understand this I cannot commend enough the book ‘Ghost Ship’ published in 2020. Written by a parish priest, A D A France-Williams, it tells the often harrowing, frightening and true accounts of what it means to be black in the Church of England.
Our Gospel reading this morning begins with a seemingly innocuous detail. Having spent the night up a mountain in prayer, ‘He came down with them and stood on a level place’.
‘He came down with them and stood on a level place’.
Getting to be with Jesus isn’t supposed to be difficult. When you read what France-Williams describes you certainly don’t get a sense of the Church as a level place. Instead, it feels like an optical illusion, where things that appear level accelerate advancement for some while sinking others into an abyss. A game of snakes and ladders where only some people know the rules and control the dice. The many accounts, actions and experiences the book describes show how deeply wired into the church’s life are the assumptions and attitudes that sustain white privilege.
When Jesus stood on a level place people came from everywhere to be near him. ‘A great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon’. They came to this great teacher in a level place to be healed. To confess their sins and be put right. To hear how they needed to be, in order to enter the Kingdom of God. It was a place without privilege or hierarchy – a place where need and love were all that mattered.
‘Ghost Ship’ concludes with a call for change. Racism in the church cannot only be a concern or an issue when people from BAME communities are present. Too often in the church that’s the reality and it needs to stop. Simply saying that our bit of ground is level fails to see the bigger landscape of which York Minster is a part.
France-Williams ends by quoting a South African author who reported on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Antjie Krog:
“Reconciliation will only take place… the day whites feel offended by racism instead of feeling sorry for the blacks”
We can all be part of that change. We can do more, far more, to make sure that all those God calls into the church find it to be a level place. A place where hidden rules and unspoken barriers are set aside. But it will only happen if we are all committed to making a change.
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