In the congregation this evening were some who had arrived in Tilbury Docks on the Windrush in June 1948. One of them, Samuel King MBE went on to become the first black mayor of Southwark and is co-founder of the Windrush Organisation. The Windrush Organisation has sposored Emancipation 1838, a project which aims to inform people about the experiences of the African Caribbean people since emancipation including a focus on the lived experience of African Caribbean women. African Caribbean women were well represented this evening. Dione had organised the event and was quietly ensuring that all went smoothly. Revd Simone Olagoke representing the black majority churches, gave an address on the theme of vision and aspiration and reminded us that the vision was God's and great things could be achieved by those who serve God. The singing of 'Swing low, sweet chariot' was led by a young woman so powerfully that I was moved to both tears and joy.
Four of us gave addresses during the service. In addition to Simone Olagoke, the Bishop of Stepney, Rt Revd Adrian Newman,spoke on the theme of freedom, I spoke on the theme of change and the President of the Baptist Union, Revd Ernie Whalley spoke on the multicultural church and Britain. (If you want to read my address you can find it at ruthmgee.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/change.html)
The Seventh Day Adventist Men's Choir sang 'Rise ye children' at the start of the service - another spine-tingling moment.
|The Choir sings|
Did I glimpse the glory of God tonight? I certainly did in places you might expect and in the unexpected. Certainly there was glory in the worship. But I found glory as well in the stories that were shared. They were not easy stories to hear, there were stories of fear and forced servitude, of rejection and prejudice. So where is the glory of God in that? I glimpsed God's glory as I heard people testifying that they knew that God was with them and would eventually set them free. This was not to lessen the horror and the struggle but it was to recognise the truth of incarnation, of God with us, of holding onto that even when the 'evidence' suggests otherwise. I found glory in the singing of songs like Swing Low Sweet Chariot, songs which were sung in captivity but testify to faith in the ultimate victory of love.
And after all of that, as I was leaving the church, I was called back and met Revd Armstrong Fummey. Armstrong and I trained together on the Northern Ordination Course and I will always remember his powerful testimony and great faithfulness, it was very special to meet him unexpectedly this evening.
One last thing. I arrived early on Clapham Common and found a seat on a bench where I sat and waited. A young man came and joined me saying to his friend, 'No, I am really serious'. He had seen my clerical collar and cross and he asked me to pray with him. I did. He is thinking he should go to a church. I pray that he does and that when he does, he is made truly welcome. And I wonder, should I wear the collar more often?