17 June 2017

Message from the President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference following fire at Grenfell Tower.

The horror of the burning tower in Notting Hill will be imprinted on many people's minds for a long time. Our shared grief has, however, only intensified as we heard the stories: of the people who are lost, people who have lost everything, and people still searching for the lost. Few of us will have been able to witness these events unfold without weeping. And now comes the anger, at those with power, at past decisions, at powerlessness.

The Methodist Church in Notting Hill has been at the forefront over the last few days. It is the first public building outside the police cordon, and has been a focus for grief and practical help. The people there and its leaders will need our prayers and support long into the future.

At times of such heartbreaking events we risk being overwhelmed. How can we respond?

Our first response, along with the prophet Ezekiel who was among a people from whom everything had been taken, has to be one of being alongside people and holding silence (Ezekiel 3.15). To sit with people. To listen to them. To lament for and with them. To offer care and to remain silent as we feel the loss, the pain, the fear, the anger.

For there is certainly anger, and it is not to be dismissed or condemned. There is much to be angry about. People will feel angry at God. Angry at those who had the power to act, but didn't. At a society which values less those who are the poorest or most disadvantaged in society.

We are often afraid of anger. We have an image of Jesus as "meek and mild". But we also see Jesus in the temple, who was angry to the point of overturning tables. Yet this was not an act of violence but a symbolic expression of anger in the prophetic tradition, disrupting the actions of those who would discriminate against and exploit the poorest at the door of God's house. We should be angry at the kind of injustices emerging from this catastrophe: the apparent underinvesting in the well-being of poorest and the ignoring of their concerns. And we should all repent where we have been complicit with injustice in the past.

But the anger of Jesus is focused not on retaliation but on the righting of injustice. Matthew tells how, after overthrowing the tables, the blind and the lame came to Jesus, the very people who had been excluded from the temple by those with power. They came to Jesus and they were healed. Jesus's anger led to justice. It showed that a different way was not only possible, but was required of the people who followed Jesus.  

Our time as President and Vice-President has been one of change: we have had the resignation of a prime minister, the signing of Article 50, a new US President and a General Election. We have had horrific terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, as well as in so many countries around the world. And now we are rocked by Grenfell Tower. It is increasingly clear that we are a divided country, and a much more divided world. 

Is this a turning point? Is God asking of us a new and radical response? The love of God, and the command to care for our neighbour, does not finish at the end of our street, or even at our national borders. And if that is the case, then we have to consider - and prioritise - the needs and voices of the poorest and the most disadvantaged, not only in this country, but in around the world. 

So what do we do? We face the reality that we cannot change everything tomorrow. But we must hold in front of us this alternative way, the picture of the kingdom of God. And then we have to proclaim it and live it out, in our own lives and in our communities. But it must not stop there. It needs to spill out into a passion for transforming the political and economic world, working with all who share a vision for justice and the common good. We remember that judgement in Matthew 25 is reserved for those who have not lived out the ways of the kingdom.

During this year as President and Vice-President we have taken the text from Micah: "What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God". Now is a time to cling to those words, realise that they demand of us repentance for our past actions and present privileges, and to commit ourselves to love without measure, act for justice whatever the cost, and do so whilst walking humbly with a God of love and justice.

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