Weekly Letter – 4th June 2020

[There is no Letter from the Rector this week as Nerys is taking a well-deserved break. Here instead is a reflection by our Bishop from the Diocesan Newsletter]

Black Lives Matter
Bishop Ian

We all hope that, when it finally comes, the ‘New Normal’ will mean change for the better. But the news this week has made me ask, Will any ‘New Normal’ free us from racism?
On 25 May George Floyd was choked to death by police in Minneapolis, USA. His horrific death was filmed by bystanders who were pleading with officers to let him breathe. The killing of yet another Black person by police in the USA has ignited ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests across that country and in many others, including Scotland. In the USA the authorities, encouraged by the President, have reacted violently.
On 1 June police violently cleared space in front of an Episcopal church in Washington DC so that Mr Trump could pose in front of it, holding up a Bible. The church had not invited him, nor was it informed. The Presiding Bishop, the Bishop of Washington and other church leaders have condemned this abuse of church and scripture as an outrage. The College of Bishops of the SEC has sent a letter to the USA Bishops expressing our horror at the President’s action and our support for their condemnation of it: (www.scotland.anglican.org/college-of-bishops-condemns-trump-photocall/).
George Floyd’s killing and Donald Trump’s outrage are symptoms of a deep evil in Western society, the evil of racism. In Scotland we tell ourselves that we are an inclusive country, welcoming our immigrants, respecting our ethnic minorities, and that we don’t have racism. But the fact is that racism is here as well as in America.
Someone doesn’t have to feel hostile towards Black people to have racist attitudes. The fact that Black and Asian people are constantly treated as ‘different’ is a symptom of racism. For example, constantly being asked “Where are you from?” undermines people’s sense of identity and belonging, it affects their confidence, wellbeing, and mental health. Black and Asian people say that this happens to them even when their grandparents were born in Scotland.
Children suffer racism at school, from other students but also from teachers. Pupils tell how they are called the ’N’ word by other students, or bullied for wearing the headscarf. And sometimes, when they report it, a teacher will play the incident down. As a child said recently, “People say there is no racism here, but there is. Young people don’t feel comfortable reporting it, and if they do nothing is done.”
There are also more subtle and effective forms of racism, of course. They quietly reinforce the idea absorbed by White people as they grow up – that being White in Scotland is ‘normal’ and being Black or Asian is not, so that White cultures, White lifestyles and therefore White people are normative and even superior. Black and Asian people often have to grow up absorbing the same idea. It’s a legacy of our history of empire and colonialism and slavery, a subtle form of the evil of White Supremacy.
The boxer Mohammed Ali recalled as a boy asking his mother why all the angels in the church window were White. “Where did all the Black angels go?” he would ask. We’re about to celebrate Trinity Sunday, and Andrei Rublev’s extraordinary icon of the Trinity will again be the focus of many sermons and reflections. The artist Meg Wroe’s icon, “The Southwark Trinity,” adapts Rublev by portraying the three angels as Black figures, rather than White, two of them clearly female. Mohammed Ali would have approved, and so, I think, would Andrei Rublev.

I hope we are all angered and ashamed not only by the evil of racism in America, but everywhere it is to be found, including here at home. I hope those who are Black and Asian among us will feel they can courageously share the reality of their experience and that they can help us see through our prejudice and achieve true equality. And I hope those who are White will not keep silent, because silence in the face of evil is always collusion with evil.
Racism is evil because it denies the equal dignity of every human being. Racism is blasphemy because it denies God’s image in every human being. To stop racism, we need to become anti-racist as a church and as a society. This means changing the way we think and act, and being prepared to challenge others to do the same.
That’s because Black lives matter.


The New Normal?
Bishop Ian

If anything is about a ‘new normal’ it must be Pentecost – the celebration of the gift of the Spirit. New life, new hope, new love all flow from that gift, and transform the world.
As we celebrated Pentecost people were talking about a different ‘new normal’ – our life after the Pandemic. When we rebuild our lives, will we have a better sense of what is important? Or will we just rush back to the same old life? And what will ‘new normal’ mean for the Church? What will our priorities be? How will we welcome those who have been joining us online? How will we support those who are sad about people and things that have been lost? We all want to see the opening of our churches, but we also know that opening them safely will require care and patience. There will be practical Guidance offered to congregations and clergy when the time comes. In he meantime we pray and serve our communities as best we can. Thank you to all the clergy and others who are continuing to work to make this possible.