Love hopes all things

Lucy reflects on this week’s events: Pride London, ordinations and the General Election.

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Church Window Mask

This time of year, as Mariama mentioned in her sermon on Sunday is ‘Petertide’.  The Feast of St Peter is on 29th June and to coincide with this, the church often holds its ordination services, making people deacons and priests.  This year, Ayla has been in the Diocese of Truro in Cornwall leading the ordination retreat there. (It’s customary to spend the 4 days or so before your ordination in a retreat contemplating the road ahead, and, sometimes, as I remember all those years ago, wondering a little what you’d let yourself in for…).

If you would have told me at my ordination at Petertide in 1995 that in 2024 I would be dancing in my dog collar in the courtyard of the church I serve in the middle of London, to a DJ set hosted by a drag artist, who was also a member of the congregation, surrounded by thousands of people, many young, many older, incredibly diverse, by turns tearful and joyful,  I would just not have believed you.  One of the most moving aspects of the Pride march and celebrations was that throughout the day, countless people approached many of us who were representing the church – lay and ordained – to tell their stories of hurt and exclusion from Christian communities, and their astonishment that such an unequivocal celebration of humanity could be held by a church.  It seems to me that this sort of celebration, insisting, in the words of the New Testament, that love is patient, kind, not arrogant, that love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things – and, in the end is the greatest gift from God: this insistence that love is what life is all about –is more needed than ever.

Because the election result in France over the weekend, the fiercely contested issues in the USA in advance of their election in November, the political rhetoric designed to appeal to the fears in us that have not yet been cast out by love (cf 1 John 4.18), these debates indicate that this sort of stand is more needed than ever. In churches, societies, communities of all kinds.   On Thursday this week, citizens in Westminster will come to St James’s to vote as we are a polling station for the General Election.  Two weeks ago, all the main party candidates came to the church for a Citizens hustings convened by young students in Westminster to answer questions about climate change, housing, the care system and immigration.

We often call the whole physical site here – the church, garden, courtyard- public sacred space.  It is, yes, a historic site, crafted at the end of the 17th century which saw the transformation of politics and religion in a civil war that scarred not only this city and country, but Europe too.  It is open. It is for people of all faiths and none. It is, we hope and pray, a place that every day stands up for the dignity and beauty of all human beings made in the image of God and all beyond-human living beings on the earth.  It is public sacred space where the principles of celebration, community, forgiveness and challenge are every day expressions of our faith.

Politics can seem grubby, hopeless, too partisan or simply unable to deliver the right combination of stability and change.  It’s a much reported aspect of today’s population that levels of trust in politicians is low.  And before we get smug, trust in church and religious leaders is low too.  For good reasons. Trust has to be earned every day, over and over again.

In this year of elections, it’s been telling that the longest applause in both the US and UK elections has sometimes been given to people who express something like ‘none of the above’.  In more than one election the sense ‘is this the best we can do?’ pervades some of the debate as we talk together about what sort of society we want to create and sustain.  It is not easy to lead in this environment, and the power that politicians are able to deploy demands the highest standards from them, as from all of us.

Inequalities and injustices persist.  And in this situation, we are asked to live, as the philosopher Albert Camus said,  we are asked to live ‘to the point of tears’.

Inequalities and injustices persist.

But so do we.

And more importantly, so does the vision set before us by Christ: that the table is set for everyone, without exception, in the context of divine gifts that we call Creation.

How will you take part in this democratic moment in a society that is often so siloed, verbally violent, unable or unwilling to listen to one another or commit to walk in each others shoes even for a while? Will faith be one of your guides?  Politics at its best is a combination of inspiring vision and the thoroughly practical  ‘getting it done’.   Which is also a good combination for a church that knows, as St Augustine reminded us ‘Without God, we cannot. But without us, God will not’.

If I may end on a personal note in this week of reflection, I thank God every day for the most amazing, challenging, sometimes bewilderingly complex, sometimes astonishingly simple, life as a priest in such a public ministry in the middle of the city. I pray that together as St James’s the pilgrim church,  we will keep watching for the movement of the Spirit who dances in Creation, learning afresh in this generation, how to work for a better society and a fairer one. And most importantly, in a hurting and unjust world how to love others as we are loved by God: profoundly, enduringly, eternally.