Boris and Gove

Now What? A Brexit Blog

Following the Brexit vote, how should the church respond? It's easy to say everything will be all right, but what practical things can we do to help heal a divided nation?
27th Jun 2016

On the Saturday morning after the UK had voted to leave the European Union, I walked into my local corner shop where the Sikh owner was on his knees sorting the morning papers. Each carried the story of the result. As I bought some flour and eggs for the girls breakfast, he looked at me with fear in his eyes. “What’s all that about?” he asked, anxious about what it meant for him.

At that moment an older man walked into the shop and I felt a flash of anger. An older generation had voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU, condemning younger generations to a future they didn’t want. I felt a rush of outrage at the injustice of it all. It quickly subsided, but I was struck by the emotions I felt and the ease at which one can locate someone to blame.

A few days on and it is clear that the UK is a deeply divided nation. London and Scotland voted to remain with clear majorities, but those areas disenfranchised and disillusioned, particularly in the North East and South East voted to leave with larger majorities than expected. The most likely Leave voter was a white, working class man over 60. The most likely Remain voter was a young graduate female living in London or Scotland. For many there is a sense of shock that is palpable and if my Facebook feed is anything to go by, I am sure many of you feel that yourselves. But for others, the result was a glorious exercise in people power and a vote for independence.

What is also clear is that a leadership vacuum has opened up at precisely the moment decisive and clear leadership is essential as the nation seeks to navigate its way towards this new future. Following the resignation of the Prime Minister, those Conservative politicians supporting Brexit seem to be less than forthright on the way forward, whilst also backtracking on some of those arguments made during the Leave campaign. In a time of instability and uncertainty, quite remarkably, there does not seem to be a plan for what happens next. Meanwhile, the Labour Party is engulfed in division as at least half of the Shadow Cabinet has resigned in an attempt to force the leader to stand down. All this while the momentum for a new Scottish referendum on Scottish independence appears to be gathering pace once more.

So, how might we respond as individuals and as a church? Paul’s words to Timothy seem the right place to start “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Tim 2:1-2) Pray for the people. Pray for the renewal of relationships as the heat of debate cools. Pray against bitterness, resentment and anger. Pray for reconciliation. Pray for our leaders. Pray for the leadership of all our political parties. Pray for the negotiating team that has the monumental task of working through the implications of the vote in all its legal complexity.

Prayer is something all of us can do. But, we can do more. We can play our part as a church in the re-imagination and rebuilding of our nation that now needs to take place. For us, I think that involves three things:

First, it means building on the learning that has taken place on the Friendship First course hosted by Mosaic. The visit to the mosque in Stanmore was an extraordinary moment for us. We heard a testimony last night of transformed friendships with Muslims thanks to the course. Charting a positive course through the diverse communities that make up Harrow seems to me to be a particular calling on the church.

Second, this month, we hosted Ezra Church, the Romanian community that hires our building on Sunday afternoons, at our 11.30am service. It was an incredible time when two communities and cultures came together under one Lord to worship and pray. In light of the debate that was raging around us that was increasingly fixated on immigration and the fear of the stranger, this felt like a prophetic act driven by the Gospel. Jesus calls us to be a city on a hill, a light to the nations. It seems to me that part of that for us is to demonstrate that our common identity in Christ is of much greater significance than our identity as Britons, Romanians or Europeans. So it is my hope that our relationship with Ezra church might continue to flourish and grow as we work together as partners in the Gospel in Harrow.

Third, I also wanted to let you know about a significant event taking place this week. A group of faith and community leaders are gathering together at the Vicarage on Wednesday to formally launch the Sponsoring Committee for Harrow Citizens. Harrow Citizens will be a local chapter of London Citizens, a broad based grassroots alliance of community institutions including churches, mosques, synagogues, trade unions, and schools working together for social justice and the common good. Community organising is a new form of politics from the bottom up that refuses to pander to fear, instead working with those from different religions, cultures and ethnicities to empower civil society and resist the power of the market and the state. I hope that St Peter’s will be one of the leading institutions in this new alliance that can ensure every community in the borough of Harrow feels like they have a voice and a place at the table.

So, these are challenging times for us as a nation, but there are things that we can do to make a difference. God remains sovereign, the kingdom of God is amongst us and we are citizens of heaven, a new humanity. I believe that, as a church; God’s people in this place, we can demonstrate these truths in practical and tangible ways as we look towards the future together.