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/ 3 April 2014

East London clergy respond to Evening Standard piece

On Tuesday, the article ‘We should revive the East End’s Christian spirit‘ appeared in the comment section of the London Evening Standard, arguing that "for the moment, Christianity has lost its way", focusing specifically on East London.

A number of clergy have been responding to the piece, with a selection being sent to the Evening Standard. Here are some of these responses.

The Revd Ric Thorpe, Vicar of St Paul’s Shadwell

I love the English trait of laughing at ourselves whilst allowing a deeper dig at something we hold very dearly. Whether it’s Rev. or the Vicar of Dibley, the Church too is not afraid of caricature or teasing or showing our weak side. It’s a sign of confidence and security. Also it’s not the whole story. 

The Church in London is growing in many ways – not least its confidence. Our own church, and three we have partnered with, have grown from 50 members to over 600 in the last nine years. The Church of England has been around for centuries and it is not afraid of change or challenge. Here, the Bishop of London is leading the way forward in raising the profile of the Church’s confidence, compassion and creativity through our strategy for London – Capital Vision 2020.

Instead of closing churches, the Diocese of London is planning 100 new churches in the capital over the next seven years. There is a confidence in inviting a new generation of people who may have disconnected with the church of the past but who are keen to encounter God today. People haven’t stopped being spiritual and churches are helping people find real answers to life’s great challenges. 

Churches in London are compassionate. Foodbanks are a Christian initiative helping the very poorest in our city to get the help they need. In our own church, we have many volunteers who get back from a long day of work in the city to roll up their sleeves and help in our debt advice centre, or who take precious time out to cook and deliver a meal for 20 for our night shelter, or who take annual leave to help on a local children’s club. This is not unusual. All over the East End, other churches are doing the same and more.

Churches come in many shapes and sizes because they are creative in connecting with the diversity of the people in this wonderful city. In the East End and across London, church congregations are big and small, diverse or focused, networked or local. They come in all shapes and sizes because it is not a monochrome faith but one that celebrates its diversity. Its differences are its very strength; its weaker parts make it more accessible. 

Far from losing its way, Christianity is alive and well, and even thriving in the East End, and all across the city.

The Revd Cris Rogers, Associate Vicar of All Hallows Bromley by Bow

The East end is a dynamic place to minister, with a wonderful cross section of clergy all working together across churchman ship and faith boundaries.

All Hallows had weekly attendance of 7-10 people in 2009 and has now grown to around 130 adults and 20 children each Sunday. I don’t believe this is the only example of a church with life in any shape or form. As I look out over the East End, I see churches working on some wonderful and dynamic projects, bringing the area alive with excitement and anticipation. There is so much good work going on across the Diocese in London. However, sadly when you try to share what is happening with the church in the East End, there are those who wish not to see the good news. 

At All Hallows we have worked hard in the last few years to build up the church as a central community hub. Working with other faith groups and community groups we have developed deep and lasting relationships which benefit the whole community. We engage the community weekly through family work, youth work, alcohol and drug work, health work and school programs. At Christmas we worked with the Linc Centre (run by Poplar Harca) to run a hugely successful community Christmasn Fayre. Last year over 700 people attended the event to buy locally made gifts, eat a mince pie and enjoy each other’s company. The event was attended by a wide range of the local community giving it a truly multicultural East End feel.

In January we opened our Fern St Centre, where we run programmes with the elderly, craft and singing work with a cross section of people across East London. It’s also here that we’ve developed some phenomenal youth programs for young people on the local Estate. 

Partnering with other Christians and faith groups we have worked to help play our part in a night shelter with Growth and meet regularly with a group of Bengali Muslim men to eat curry and set the world to rights. This group have gone on to help us serve the community food at our yearly community BBQ events.

Christianity is alive in the East End, from thriving Anglican churches to Baptist, Methodist, Catholic and free church all connected to the local community. St Mary’s Bow has been pioneering an independent food bank with other faith groups. St Paul’s Shadwell has invested huge amounts of energy into starting a Debt Management program that they then have shared across other churches in the East End. Tower Hamlets community church runs some creative and dynamic youth work called the Canaan project.

All Hallows Church has a clear mission statement, we know what we are about. All Hallows Bow is here to be an explosion of Joy, by making Jesus known, in the local community, to see lives transformed. We have a clear vision and strategy to love our local community back to life. We know the message that we wish to share but are gentle in our approach.

The Revd Preb. Alan Green, Chair of the Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum and Rector of St John on Bethnal Green

Ajmal Masroor (Ajmal Masroor: We should revive the East End’s Christian spirit, 01/04/14) is clearly not paying attention. The bells of St George’s ring regularly and the churches of Tower Hamlets all remain active as centres of worship and as participants and leaders in the wider community. In fact, the Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum, which includes faith representatives from across the East End – including from the East London Mosque – has collaborated on work that includes defence of the Muslim community against the English Defence League and others who seek to undermine or threaten the good relations within this diverse borough. 

Contrary to what Mr Masroor states, church communities in East London maintain their commitment to all who live in their parish – whatever their religion. Jesus makes clear we meet him when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and make the stranger welcome. Churches in Tower Hamlets run food banks, night shelters, soup kitchens, debt counselling centres, outreach work with disaffected youth; have excellent mother and children groups, youth clubs,  after school clubs, pensioners drop-in; we host Alcoholics Anonymous, mental health groups, English language teaching and a whole range of ethnic communities to help them maintain their language and tradition. Such work crosses all religious and ethnic boundaries: indeed much of it is done in partnership with other groups, very often Muslim groups. 

While it is not reflected in every parish, the Church of England in London has been growing over the last decade. Diocese of London figures show that membership of East London churches are up 14% over the past 10 years. In Tower Hamlets, where the population of some of the parishes is overwhelmingly Bangladeshi and Somali, it is hardly surprising that church membership in those parishes has shrunk – however, in other parishes it has grown.  

Mr Masroor also makes the mistake of confusing diversity of opinion – even theological opinion – with "wishy-washy ideas." The Christian clergy I know in the East End are certainly not wishy-washy. We are passionate about our discipleship and our calling to serve God and our neighbours in this wonderful place. That service is borne out in many different ways and has different theological nuances and social expression. These debates are not a sign of weakness, but of strength, because they encourage mutual respect and an openness to what we would see as the action of God within the world, not only in the Church.

There is much more to be done, and I would very much encourage Ajmal Masroor to recognise that that Rev. is not a fly on the wall documentary, but a comedy, in which exaggeration is a tool at getting at truth with laughter. I invite him to come along to the Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum, of which I am Chair, to join us in our work.


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