Faith and Fear in the Public Square

It has been a very difficult period for our country, especially for London. Three terror attacks in the country, including one at London Bridge, plus a devastating fire at Grenfell Tower have shaken many of us

It has been a very difficult period for our country, especially for London. Three terror attacks in the country, including one at London Bridge, plus a devastating fire at Grenfell Tower have shaken many of us, and given us pause to consider the competency of local authorities in discharging their statutory duties. Despite its size, London sometimes feels quite small: many of us will have known at least someone directly affected by one of these events. Our prayer book in church remembers some people by name.

This sense of uncertainty has undoubtedly been compounded by the national political mood. Brexit dominates the news, with almost everything yet to be negotiated, and the outcome of the General Election (which need not have been called in the first place) has only deepened that sense of uncertainty. Locally, we welcome Marsha de Cordova, a practising Christian, as our new Labour Member of Parliament. I would like to put on record my appreciation for the wonderful constituency work and service by our outgoing Conservative MP, Jane Ellison. She was a great supporter of Battersea and many people locally have been helped in very practical ways by her.

Twenty-first century living is dominated by the news cycle, which is so fast-changing and immediate, that it is in itself unsettling. But, alongside that, local churches (and other places of worship) have become the focus of much of the response. Southwark Cathedral was at the epicentre of the London Bridge attack and you can read the Dean’s sermon at the ‘rehallowing’ of the Cathedral elsewhere in this newsletter. And the struggling parish church of St Clement’s, Notting Dale, has been able to respond to the Grenfell Tower tragedy with a greater speed and sense of compassion that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, with all the resources at its disposal.

We often imagine that the church needs to be responsive to the changes in culture that go around us, and there is much wisdom in sifting the spirit of the age and adapting. But, at the same time, there is something about simply being present, just keeping doing what the church has done for centuries, that offers a deeper wellspring on which to call in the public square. When the scale of tragedy is enormous, there is something to be said for the human scale of the local church, and for the simple kindness that is the hallmark of authentic spirituality. The regular round of worship, prayer and local service, reminding the People of God that we are called to be ‘in the world but not of the world’ offers a source of deep human compassion that, in moments of tragedy, other people sense. Pray God that nothing similar happens in Battersea as it has at London Bridge, Finsbury Park or North Kensington, but if it should, pray God that our spiritual and human resources are deep enough to enable us to reach out in compassion. If ever there was a good reason to be more regular in prayer and public worship, this must be it.

But not all is doom and gloom and we are people who offer the hope of Jesus Christ to the world. Sometimes there are glimpses of humanity that just catch us by surprise. Last Sunday, I was walking to Sacred Heart Church for a special service and was wearing my cassock, something I am not found doing often in the street. As I walked towards Battersea Square, I heard a car horn toot and I looked round. It came from a car containing two people, a father wearing a Pashtun hat and his daughter in the back of the car wearing a hijab. I didn’t know either of them. But both were waving with huge grins on their face, greeting me with a smiling warmth that took me completely by surprise. It was a little moment of grace.

I hope you encounter such moments of grace this month, especially as many of you take some holiday. I hope we can continue to grow to be a community of hospitality, compassion and prayer too, not just for our own spiritual growth, but for the sake of our community which we serve.


Simon Butler