Category Archives: Inclusion

MP, Mayor and Intersex advocate choose favourite hymns

Jeremy Hunt, MP; the Mayor of Farnham; a prominent advocate for those born with intersex traits; and other key members of the local community, are all taking part in an online service of their favourite hymns, which will be online here on Wednesday, June 10, from 6pm.

Each person has chosen a hymn and will introduce it online explaining why they like it and what their Christian faith means to them. The hymns are a mix of old and new, and range from the 17th century My Song is Love Unknown, chosen by Janet Martin, one of the key organisers of the Farnham Flash Festival, to the 1980s’ one The Servant King, chosen by Sara Gillingham. Sara, an accountant by profession, also works with the church, universities and the media to raise awareness of people born with intersex traits, which is her own story.

Each speaks about what the hymn and their faith means to them – for Sara Gillingham it is a faith in a God full of grace, in whose image we are made, and Christ there beside us; while Jeremy Hunt speaks of the stillness which his faith gives him and how it is reflected in his choice of hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. Among the other hymns you can hear are Father I Place into Your Hands, chosen by Bob Skinner, whom many will know from Farnham Foodbank, and Faithful One so Unchanging, the choice of Cathy Burroughs, manager of Hale Community Centre. You will also hear the rousing God is our Strength and Refuge, chosen by Pat Evans, the Mayor of Farnham, and sung to The Dam Busters March.

Lesley Crawley explains the thinking behind the service: “Favourite hymns can speak to us on a deep level, through the music and the words, and help us understand more about God and our faith. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to hear the choices of those who have so kindly contributed and understand more about what their faith means to them.”

Join us here on Wednesday, June 10, from 6pm, or on Facebook or on the parish YouTube channel. You may even want to sing along!

Black Lives Matter

In our quiet corner of Surrey where there is little ethnic diversity it may be hard to relate to the unrest taking place across the USA. But, however, distant we are in both miles and life experience, the parish stands with those who are reminding us – in increasingly urgent voices – that Black lives matter.

The reason is the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died last week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when Derek Chauvin, a white American police officer, kept his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, during which time Mr Floyd was gasping that he couldn’t breathe. For the last almost three minutes George Floyd was unresponsive. He died. Derek Chauvin has now been charged with murder.

This is the current background to the call that Black lives matter, but the background could just as well have been the death of Eric Garner or John Crawford or Michael Brown Jr or Tanisha Anderson or Tony Robinson or Michael Dean or Jamee Johnson or Yassin Mohamed or Finan H. Berhe… the list goes on and on. They were all black and they were all killed by police officers.

These were in the USA where the Black Lives Matter movement began, but the background is also the disproportionate number of arrests of Black people in the UK (three times higher than for white people)1; it is also the fact that Black workers with university degrees earn 23.1% less on average than white workers1 ; the fact that a survey found that 38% of people from ethnic minorities reported being wrongly accused of shoplifting between 2013 and 2018, compared with 14% of white people, with Black people and women in particular more likely to be wrongly suspected2. It could be the greater impact of coronavirus on Black people than on white people in this country which has highlighted longstanding inequalities in health, incomes, housing and employment3.

These, and many more reasons are why Black Lives Matter, a phrase that has sparked a campaign which is here in the UK too (blacklivesmatteruk.com/). There will be people who say“but all lives matter” and, of course, all lives do matter, everyone is equally important. And that is the point. When there is a group of people being treated unfairly, even brutally, when there is a group of people which is discriminated against even to the point of being murdered, then it is up to us all to say “enough!”

What does it have to do with this parish in north Farnham? Most of us will claim not to be racist. We also claim to be inclusive and to be so because we follow Jesus. But we have to put that into practice. We have to remember that Jesus responded to need where it was. When someone was on the margins and asking for help he didn’t check that the more privileged were OK first.

So what do those of us who are white do? For a start, don’t just listen to me, a white woman. Instead, you and I must listen to the experiences of Black people, we must look at ourselves and our own actions, and we must see where we can change and where we can stand against racism and for our Black brothers and sisters. We must ask what our faith challenges us to do – what Jesus, whom we try to follow, would call on us to do.

We need to listen to people like Siana Bangura when she tells us that “being anti-racist is a verb, a doing word” and that “Guilt has little use now, we need to see courage and action. In the same way that you love black culture, you need to show up for our struggles too.” We need to listen to British man Rakeem Noble who spoke on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show this week (1hr, 50)and explained why the UK is not innocent. And we need to read the Gospels.

As Lesley Crawley says: “The Black Lives Matter campaign is so important because there are such gross inequalities between the way Black people and white people are treated, not just in America but here too. It is of central importance to us as Christians because Jesus, time after time, stood on the side of those who were marginalised. He stood up for lepers, for Samaritans, for the disabled, for women, for the poor… the list goes on. If these passages were removed from the Gospels then there would be very little left. Our heartfelt prayers are for an equal society, and until we get there, we lift our voices with those from whom justice is denied.”

Let’s add our voices to those calling for justice, for George Floyd and for all Black people.

Stella Wiseman

Note:  I have capitalised the word Black because I have been following the guidance of Lori L Tharps, Black woman and journalism professor, who wrote: “Black with a capital B refers to people of the African diaspora. Lowercase black is simply a color.

1 Race report statistics, Equality and Human Rights Commission www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/race-report-statistics

2 Robert Booth, Aamna Mohdin, The Guardian, December 2, 2018. www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/dec/02/revealed-the-stark-evidence-of-everyday-racial-bias-in-britain

3 Haroon Siddique, The Guardian, May 27, 2020 www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/27/call-for-coronavirus-uk-race-equality-strategyCMP=share_btn_tw&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialSignIn

Photo: George Floyd memorial. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

VE Day

Today we commemorate the end of World War II in Europe, 75 years ago, the end of almost six dark years of a war against a fascist ideology which sought to destroy all freedom and which denied the God-given beauty and equality of all people.

As we remember, let us vow never to let it happen again.

Join us here for a VE Day service on Sunday, from 9.30am.

Everyone is welcome

This is just a reminder that EVERYONE is welcome to the churches in our parish. God does not discriminate. God loves and welcomes all of us, whoever we are. Sometimes the church doesn’t appear to offer that welcome, particularly to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary or intersex, but all are welcome in this parish, and we work to challenge discrimination and exclusion.

Our inclusive values mean that we extend this challenge to all areas of discrimination and we belong to Inclusive Church, a network of churches, groups and individuals uniting around a shared vision:

We believe in inclusive Church – a church which celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate. We will continue to challenge the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality. We believe in a Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”

We will get it wrong. If you feel excluded or discriminated against, tell us. But let’s work together to offer God’s welcome.

 

Picture by Cecilie Johnsen on Unsplash.

Special atmosphere and Santa at SHIP party

Families from Sandy Hill met Santa Claus and showed off their dance moves at a party at St Mark’s on the Monday before Christmas (December 23).

The families, from the Sandy Hill Inclusive Partnership (SHIP), enjoyed a party which included table tennis, pool, art and craft, music and dance provided by the performing arts school Boogie Pumps, and, of course, a visit from Santa Claus who brought gifts for all the children and their parents too.

“It was a really special atmosphere,” said Francis from Boogie Pumps, who led the children in a dance session involving hoops, pom poms, baby sharks and a lot of energy and enthusiasm, while the general consensus among the families was that it was “awesome” and “we’ve been spoiled!”.

More than 100 presents were provided for the children following the annual Farnborough Business Park Christmas Gift Drive, collecting brand new toys, clothes, vouchers, make-up and jewellery for some young people. Members of St Mark’s, St John’s and St George’s churches had also donated enough presents for the SHIP adults to take home a bag of gifts each too.

A big thank-you to everyone who gave so generously, and to everyone who helped put on the party, including Waitrose who provided some of the food. It was great fun and a lovely start to Christmas. We are looking forward to other events with SHIP in the new year.

A justifiably proud SHIP

“SHIP has been a lifeline to me and I’m sure many others”.

The SHIP in question is the Sandy Hill Inclusive Partnership, a combination of residents and professional groups involved with the community and with a vision to enable Sandy Hill to become a cleaner, safer place where there is a good sense of community and everyone can have a voice.

SHIP is based around the Hale Community Centre, formerly – and still often – known as The Bungalow, and its work reaches far into the streets around, drawing together families and individuals from across the estate.

A recent report of activities from December last year to summer this year indicates just what an impact the group is having, from 95 people going to the Princes Hall in Aldershot to their pantomime, 70 – including many new families – attending a Christmas party – and 50 coming over to St Mark’s Church to play games, have lunch and do craft at February half-term. There was a sold-out trip to Marwell Zoo, a visit to the beach, a craft event, basketball, a busy session of picking up litter followed by tea, a summer barbecue and lots of new relationships formed, including with St Mark’s where two joint events have now been held and more planned in the future. Other churches and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have also joined in events.

The report also emphasised that: “it’s not always about numbers but about the individual need of that person/family and the positive impact the activity may have on them at that time and this is not easy to measure”.

One of the groups involved with SHIP is WiSH – Women in Sandy Hill. These are the people who are responsible for the garden by and indeed inside the boat just outside the Community Centre, and they have also been taken part in craft activities, autism awareness, cake decorating, sensory bottle making, and are currently engaged in a 12-week Art for Wellbeing course (some of the work is shown below).

Wish art

Some extra outside recognition came this year when the results of South and South East in Bloom were announced in September. In the ‘Your Neighbourhood’ category, Hale Community Centre’s Get Growing Gardening project received a Level 4 Thriving award – progressing from Advancing in 2018.

Melissa, who chairs SHIP, said: “I am amazed by what SHIP has achieved and what individuals in the community have achieved. I have made friends, watched friends flourish and achieve new things and seen individuals go from knowing no-one locally to talking to others regularly and getting involved in community activities….We are proud of what SHIP has become and what it means to people on the estate. There is work to do and people to reach but I believe that Sandy Hill is somewhere to take your time and slowly things will flourish and we are seeing that.”

Coming up soon are more activities, including a Remembrance concert at St Mark’s Church with the Rushmoor Concert Band. Proceeds will be split between Rushmoor Concert Band and SHIP. Tickets are £5 (children free) and there will be a raffle and refreshments. Tickets on the door or by emailing halecommunitycentre@gmail.com

To finish as we started with the words of a resident: “If only they knew how much they helped me. I just can’t find the right words”.

 

Division and peacemaking

A sermon preached at St Mark’s on August 18 on the text Luke 12: 49-56.

The text from the Gospel today is a tough one. It is about Jesus saying he came to bring division to the world. (You can read it here). I gather that far more learned people than I am have decided today to preach on one of the other readings in the lectionary but at St Mark’s we don’t read these, so I have to deal with the Gospel.

Mind you, the other readings (Isaiah 5: 1-7; Hebrews 11: 29-12: 2) aren’t that easy, because they talk of some of the less pleasant things God is portrayed as doing – eg drowning the Egyptians – and this is something that we have to deal with.

And here in this passage, what is going on? Is Jesus talking about his death, about the end times, about strife within the community? Fire is something that is used in the Bible to purify and is painful and associated with a vengeful God.

And what about saying that he had come to bring division? I thought he was the Prince of Peace. After all he said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’.

Or was he talking about what inevitably happened because of the radical, anti-establishment nature of the Gospel? Jesus was a divisive character then and continues to be. Those following him at the time would have been seen as radicals and no doubt this divided families, as it still does in some places. And a gospel which said that the outcast was worthy, that the poor should inherit the earth – was this upturning of values the fire he was talking about? It was obviously going to divide people.

And if Jesus inevitably divides people, what are we meant to do about it? Do we just say, oh, that is OK, Jesus said there would be division so I am right to be divided against my friend, neighbour etc? That seems like a lazy, literal interpretation of the text.

I’ve been reading various interpretations of the text and they have been useful but also exposed something at the root of why we have the problem of division –  ie there are lots of interpretations and I, like most of us, have leaned generally towards the ones I agree with and have discounted the others. That interpretation suits me, that one doesn’t so I will go with the first and not the second. Or I can’t fit that one into my narrative so I will ignore it. It doesn’t fit with the conclusions I have already reached.

The issue of my liking some interpretations and not others, the issue of not even considering some interpretations, is fundamental to the issue of division which he talks about and is horribly resonant with society today. I don’t know when there was last such a divided country. The same goes for America. And as I look at people who support opposite views to mine I find myself thinking – how could you? How can you be so: ignorant, selfish, blind etc etc? And they no doubt look at me and say much the same. That sort of attitude and division is not going to bring healing to the world.

Think for a moment about something you are convinced you are right about. What do you feel about the people who disagree with you?

The same goes for church. This was really underlined recently for me when I went to the first Surrey Pride and spent some of my time arguing against a group of men and women from an organisation whose main aim appears to be to challenge LGBTI+ people, and persuade them to turn away from their sexual identities. I believe passionately in a God who accepts people just as they are. This group were made to leave the Pride event – one of the ambulance staff there said that one young person had had a panic attack after they had spoken to this group – but stood outside to talk to people there with the police keeping a watchful eye. The police were fantastic and stood close while I spoke, ready to intervene if they were concerned for anyone’s safety.

Neither the group nor I was going to persuade or even listen to the other. We both knew we were right. But where did that leave us? Probably both sides feeling self-righteous and cross.

So what do we do about these divisions?

My personal response to division has usually been to try to pour oil on troubled water, try to keep everyone happy. Division is bad, right? OK I didn’t try that at Pride but that was unusual. Usually I have tried to be a peacekeeper.

But maybe peacekeeping isn’t the way forward. If we just try to keep the peace then we are less likely to deal with the issues that are causing the division in the first place. We will ignore those issues and they will fester and cause greater issues and greater divisions. Maybe that is one of the things we have been doing in this country which has led to such division now. If one lot of people have felt left behind and another happy with the status quo, maybe that was inevitably going to lead to the divisions we have over Brexit, or inevitably going to lead to Donald Trump.

I think there has been another factor which has been at play here too, encouraging the rise of the right wing, something which has exacerbated the divisions. As a more liberal society has emerged there has been a push back by those whose position and power is threatened – chiefly the mainly white patriarchy.

So we have divisions and if peacekeeping isn’t the way to solve them, what is? Maybe looking at what causes division would help us grow and change for the better. Maybe this is one of the things Jesus meant when he talked about division and about reading the signs. He was saying that there will be division because his way is challenging to the status quo, challenging to the powerful, challenging to the haves, and it is right that it is challenging and divisive, because if it isn’t society will never grow and change and follow his way.

So maybe we shouldn’t be peacekeepers but something more proactive – peacemakers. Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ not blessed are the peacekeepers. Peacemakers are those who look at both sides, see both sides as having rights and responsibilities, offer both sides a way forward. Peacemakers at their best are those who try to look at the world through the eyes of both sides.

But, says the follower of Jesus, my side is obviously right. I am obviously right. My understanding of what Jesus wants is obviously right.

How do we know our interpretation is right? Maybe a little humility would be good here, and maybe a little bit of trying to listen, to each other and to God. I have become more and more convinced that prayer is a way forward (even though I am not good at practising what I preach!). If we pray, try to listen to God as well as each other, then maybe we will change within. Maybe that is the fire that Jesus meant – a fire within us which changes us.

Stella Wiseman

Picture by Sunyu.

 

Taking Pride in inclusion

The first Surrey Pride took place on Saturday, August 10, and we were proud to support it and to join in the parade in Woking town centre and the event in the park afterwards.

For too long churches have treated the LGBTI+ community appallingly, at best offering a half-hearted welcome, at worst supporting, even leading, persecution. This is changing, but slowly, and even at Pride in Woking there were people from a group who preached that it is possible to  ‘leave’ LGBT identities and sexual practices as these are ‘in conflict with the Christian scriptures’. Their preaching caused at least one young Pride-goer to have a panic attack in what should have been a safe space. The group was asked to leave but stood outside the main area with the police keeping a watchful eye on them as they continued to approach people.

Thankfully, those at the Christians at Pride stand were welcoming everyone just as they were and offering blessings and assurance that God loves us all, including our sexual identities. To be celebrated and loved like this is a powerful message and one that the church needs to shout out loudly. We try to do so in this parish which is why St Mark’s is sporting a rainbow flag at the moment and why we support the Rainbow Church services elsewhere in the diocese. It is also one of the reasons we belong to Inclusive Church, an organisation that is committed to celebrating and affirming every person and to challenging the church “where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality”.

There will be people in the parish whom this affects personally and there will be people who disagree with this stance. We welcome debate but we ask for respect and humility on all sides. Above all, we ask that we try at all times to listen to God and to seek God in each other.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13, v 35)

egg and sid at Pride

Pride is a colourful event!

Inclusive-church-logo

Hundreds flock to first flower festival

“Warm, welcoming, colourful, life-affirming, loving, nourishing and sustaining.” That was just one description of the inaugural flower festival at St John’s Church over the weekend of May 18-19.

The festival was a huge success and attracted hundreds of visitors who gave warm praise for an event which was packed not just with people and flowers, but also with art, craft, music, refreshments and a happy, relaxed atmosphere.

Community groups, local organisations, artists, schools, churches, charities and other faith groups all came together to create floral displays, art and craft, filling the church with colour and scent. There were flowers on window sills, tables and in the pulpit; paintings on walls and easels and strung across the church; floral photographs on display; a table of hats with a floral theme; and even a chance to taste gin made with local elderflowers.

The tea and cake stand did brisk business, while others sipped Pimm’s, and a table full of plants from Bells Piece, the local Leonard Cheshire home, was almost emptied, partly thanks to the advice and selling skills of gardening expert John Negus. In all the festival made more than £1,100 for the church to help it in its work in north Farnham.

Visitors were enthusiastic with their praise. “Beautiful flowers to match the beautiful church,” said one visitor, while another said: “Lovely – so great to see community projects working together”, and another: “I had a brilliant time and was made to feel very welcome by all of you”. There have already been requests for another festival next year.

“Thank you so much to everyone who took part over the weekend,” said Rev’d Lesley Crawley. “The festival was a real celebration of community and creativity and was a fitting launch to a series of events to mark the 175th anniversary of St John’s Church. Thank you to those who visited the festival; to those who contributed displays, art and craft; to the musicians; the cake-bakers; those who served tea, coffee and cake; those who moved tables, washed up, put up posters and bunting – everyone who took part in any way.

“For the past 175 years, St John’s has been a focal point in the village and we want to ensure that it is being used by the community in a way that is relevant to contemporary needs. We have been conducting a survey to ask what people want from us and there is still time to take part. You can find the survey in the church or at  https://goo.gl/XQQ8qT.

“Please do come to the rest of our 175th anniversary events. First we have a talk on June 5 on Art, Architecture and Christianity in Victorian Britain by the renowned expert Christopher Herbert, and we will be following this with an arts and crafts exhibition on June 22-23, a party in the churchyard on July 20, an afternoon of tea and reminiscing on August 3, and a celebratory service with the Bishop of Guildford and former clergy from St John’s on November 24. Everyone is welcome at all or any of these events.”

 

Pictured top is the display by the Farnham Baha’is. Photo by George Britton.

 

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When inclusion means we have to change

Inclusion is a journey. Inclusion is not easy. Inclusion is worth it.

These are three conclusions I reached at the end of a weekend conference called ‘Being an Inclusive Faith Community’ at the beginning of the month.

It was a challenging and moving weekend at which a small group of us gathered in the warm and welcoming atmosphere of Woodbrooke Quaker Centre in Birmingham. I was the only non-Quaker in the group, which was led by Mark Russ, tutor at Woodbrooke, and Ruth Wilde, national co-ordinator of Inclusive Church, an organisation to which this parish belongs.

One of the first lessons of inclusion in a faith context is that the light of God shines in everyone, and we had this written up in the room in which we met, alongside other guidelines drawn from Quakerism including the belief in true equality and that Quakers seek to follow ‘the right way, not the popular way’.

These tenets are key. We probably think we are all lovely and welcoming and never exclude anyone, but when we take a deeper look we can discover that not everyone is as included as we might think. Changing that is an ongoing process and can meet opposition, not least in ourselves. For if we genuinely welcome everyone in, we will welcome in those we don’t understand, those we don’t like, those we don’t approve of, those who challenge us. Heck, we might even have to change.

There are several exercises I would like to try out in the parish following on from the weekend. One of them is to make us look at our own privilege and how we unconsciously or otherwise make it harder for others to feel truly accepted and valued. Are there people in our churches who feel they have little to give because of their background, illness or disability? Are there people who are not listened to because they find it hard to express ideas or because no-one thinks to ask them? Are there people who do not come into church because they believe they would not be welcome and if so, what have we done to make them feel like that? What barriers are we putting up?

I think that listening to each other’s stories and our true, lived experiences is key here, and not just listening but acting on what we learn. So if someone says that they feel left out or unwelcome, ask why and genuinely listen. If someone says they are afraid of something, or overwhelmed by it – too much noise perhaps – what can be done which also allows other people to express themselves? We are not looking to become some lowest common denominator which seeks to please everyone and ends up pleasing no-one, we are looking to become a radically welcoming community where everyone’s gifts and voices are heard.

It’s not easy and we will get it wrong time and again. There were times even in a group committed to inclusion, as we were that weekend, when we found it hard to understand each other. Sometimes it can be too hard. Sometimes genuine listening and being prepared to accept that we have to change is a step too far. It is possible to exclude ourselves.

I think there is a good example of this in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32) which ends with the younger son, who has previously rejected his father and the life he lived with him, coming back and being welcomed by his father with open arms and a party. This understandably upsets the older son who refuses to join in because he has dutifully stood by his father, worked hard and as he says, never been given so much as a young goat to kill so that he can celebrate with his friends. The father replies “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

I hope that at this point the elder son came in to the party, welcomed his brother back and maybe found ways of getting along with him, even learning from him. We believe we have a God who is worth sharing so we must share and celebrate with everyone, and we must be prepared to change in following the radical welcoming God who will never give up on any of us.

 

 

Picture by Rémi Walle. Unsplash.