Welcome to this morning’s video service. You’ll find it by following this link:
It’s lovely that, in these lockdown days (and weeks, and months …) we can worship together online, using these video services. I’m delighted, this morning, to welcome my friend and colleague, the Rev’d Dr Gareth Sherwood, CEO of Bournemouth’s YMCA, to share with us his reflections on the scriptures and how they shed God’s light on our lives.
Bournemouth YMCA has been working across Dorset to benefit the community and transform people’s lives for over 140 years. Like many of my predecessors as Rectors of the town centre, I am very glad to serve as a YMCA trustee: “Our vision is of a loving, supportive community in which everyone can develop their full potential in mind, body and spirit.” People want to know what inspires and motivates us at YMCA – and it is simply the desire to bring people and communities closer to Jesus. We are completely inclusive in our reach, and make no secret of our inspiration, always and only, God in Jesus, crucified and risen.
I am happy (though deeply sad about the cause) to associate us with what Denise Hatton, national CEO of YMCA England and Wales, has recently written:
“The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on the 25th May has shaken the world. To die as the result of police brutality simply because of the colour of your skin is unacceptable. George Floyd’s death has sparked the response that it has because it is a blatant and public example of the deep-rooted racial discrimination that members of the black community routinely face.
It is perhaps easy to think of this appalling event as a problem that exists elsewhere but for so many young people in this country they face a daily battle against racism – casual, systemic and targeted. Speaking out against discrimination has come to feel pointless. For them, nothing has changed and nothing will change.
This moment feels different. I have been struck by the sheer numbers of young people coming together; people of all races standing side by side to protest for their rights and to stand against inequality. It is a fight that we must all be part of.
As the founding YMCA Movement in the world, I want to be clear that YMCA fundamentally believes in equal opportunities for all. No matter the colour of skin, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, ethnicity, age or social background. Every person should have the opportunities to belong, contribute and thrive within our communities without fear or discrimination.
But it is not simply enough to believe in something. We must act also.
YMCA in England and Wales stands in solidarity with everyone fighting to end racism and discrimination, and calls on communities to unite and work towards achieving a more just and inclusive future for all. YMCA wants to do its part to achieve this too – to speak out where we see discrimination and injustice, to encourage active listening, and work with young people of all backgrounds to advocate for change. By doing this our young people will be able to wake up in a country more unified and an inclusive place in which to live.”
In truth, speaking from my own experience, it has taken humanity a long time to not learn these lessons very well. I have pulled a book from my bookshelf, and I see that I bought it in Durban, in June 1977. Let me quote to you from it words that Desmond Tutu wrote, published in, ‘Relevant Theology for Africa’, in 1973. He was based in Bromley at the time as the African Director of the Theological Education Fund, with which I was involved as a student representative of the Student Christian Movement (I have happy memories of Desmond’s infectious laughter bubbling-up and filling an Indian restaurant in Bromley after one meeting). He wrote:
“For most non-Africans, ours was the dark continent – of course, they were not to know that one day we would be chanting ‘black is beautiful’. Then black was the colour of the devil, white the colour of the angels, of Jesus Christ, and perhaps even of God. The black races were devoid of light, wallowing in the gloomy darkness of ignorance and superstition. If you started from this premise, then your missionary policy was logically mapped out for you. You had to save the benighted natives from themselves. You had to bring the light of the Gospel. You had to demolish everything so far as you were able from their dark past. You had to clothe these naked pagans in western clothes so that they could speak to your God, the only God who was obviously unable to recognise them unless they were decently clad. These poor creatures must be made to sing your hymns hopelessly badly translated, they had to worship in your unemotional and individualistic way, they had to think and speak of God and all the wonderful Gospel truths in your well proven terms.” (1973, 41) Desmond goes on – but you have, doubtless, got the point.
At least – have you? In the early 1970s many of us who were students thought that what Desmond had written was self-evident. I had a wake-up call in 1976 that it was not so for everyone. I found myself in the middle of racial riots spreading throughout Southern Africa and including the school in Lesotho where I was in my first teaching job, and I was boys’ boarding master. South African police had opened fire on protesters in Soweto and the ripples of destruction and angry confrontation spread like wildfire across the sub-continent. By that time, Desmond was my Bishop in Lesotho, and he helped to calm things down. But did people learn from it?
Perhaps there was some learning, and an over-spilling of God’s grace, because those of us teaching in the Anglican school in Lesotho, landlocked by the Republic, in the late 1970s never expected that Apartheid could end, as it eventually did, without a continent-wide blood-bath. There was serious evidence in 1994 and 1995, when Nelson Mandela became President, of unexpected grace and goodness. Perhaps people had learned?
And yet here we are now in 2020 having to re-state those principles. More grace and goodness are needed. We must pray to God for that. Ours is a God who constantly reveals love anew in death and resurrection.
On a more mundane, but also important, level we currently need some assurance of ‘resurrection’ from this lockdown. I am hoping that celebrating St Peter’s Day together in church at 10am on Sunday, 5th July, with our guest preacher, Canon Sue Wallace, will be an opportunity to feel, tangibly some of that assurance of resurrection. Do join us if you can. The building will be clean, hand-sanitisers will be in place for everyone to use, and we shall observe careful social distancing. I shall write more about this next Saturday. Put it in your diaries, please.
Keep safe and well,