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BLACK LIVES MATTER: TAKING THE KNEE

Taking the Knee – a sermon for Trinity 2020

by Deacon Jessica Foster

There are 4,000 people in Centenary Square. Most of them are young. Many of them are Black, some are Asian and some are White. Many are carrying home-made placards. There are waves of chanting: No Justice, No Peace; Enough is Enough; Say their Names; I can’t breathe; Black Lives Matter.

Poignant moment Black Lives Matters protesters take knee in ...

There is a lull in the chanting. It lasts longer than other silences and I notice that the people in front of me are ‘taking the knee’, lowering themselves to the ground in a symbolic gesture of reverence and humility.My son Joel and I and the people standing around us join them. Soon the whole square is kneeling and quiet. Placards are lowered. There is a pause followed by spontaneous, sustained applause.

I don’t know why 4,000 people knelt or what they were thinking. I can only guess. Some of us, I am sure, were honouring lost friends. Black people who have died in custody, in prison, in bungled arrests and on our streets. Some of us were honouring Black lives diminished by racism; people who have suffered injustices perpetrated by our systems of housing, education, and social care. Some of us were acknowledging our role, the times we have been silent, the times we have exploited our privilege unthinkingly, the times we have not cared enough to do or say anything. Perhaps some of the White Christians were thinking about our particular history; from the slaves branded with the initials of an Anglican mission organisation, to the lack of hospitality shown to the Windrush Generation and the unconscious bias still faced by Black people who seek to be a full part of our institution.

As the clapping faded, people stood again but we were changed. Changed by our corporate act of repentance, remembrance, and reconciliation. It reminded me of the Climate Strikes and once again we were being led by young people, people the age of my children, who seem to be the prophets for our times.

I feel ashamed that we have left the world such a mess and our young people are now being forced to take a lead, to tell truths we would rather hide and ask questions we don’t want to answer. They have not yet got so tied up with the systems that they are afraid to challenge. They have not invested in the structures to such an extent that the prefer the status quo to anything new.

Sometimes as Christians, we are not expected to ask many questions. We listen to sermons like this without being asked to interrogate what is being said. We have neat doctrines and formulas that tell us how to behave, who will get to heaven, how God is experienced and how we should worship. But at Trinity it is hard not to ask questions. I am yet to meet anyone who can give me a convincing explanation of what it means to worship this three-in-one God.

When I am asked about it, and I am a lot in interfaith conversations, I can’t and don’t want to offer a tidy doctrinal package. I can only offer the truth, that it is a metaphor, a mystery, poetry. Imagery reaching for that which can’t be described. The deepest, most beautiful things cannot be described directly. We don’t have all the answers. Our faith is not cut and dried. Our understanding of God is not complete.

And now we are learning again, our understanding of the world is not complete. We have had blinkers on and made assumptions. We have accepted bland explanations and half-truths because it is convenient to us. Our young people are now begging us to look again. They are calling us like the prophets to envision a new way of living. They are challenging us to stop living as if racism, supremacy, patriarchy, and the exploitation of the planet are inevitable.

The prophets amongst us: young people and the church's way forward

One of my boys said this week that they could not understand why the church is not at the forefront of the movement for change. I am sure that question is being asked by many in that generation.

We need to change. As individuals and as a body. We need to ask some questions of ourselves and of those in power. We need to accept that what we have always known is not all there is. We need to welcome voices that are not often heard to explain our scriptures and share their experiences with us. We need to renew our faith and change our ideas about God, in order that God, so often depicted as a white, blue-eyed, European man stops being familiar. We need to allow our faith to be a source of questions, not a store of easy answers.

One thing that is often said of the Trinity is that is a model of community. Challenge can sound overwhelming or accusatory when we hear it alone. And today we can’t be together but we remain a community. Together we can learn to practise how to live as Jesus lived, empowered by the Holy Spirit so that all God’s children in their diversity and difference may know justice, peace and freedom in a society where no life is worth more than another and no-one is martyred for the colour of their skin.

A DEACON WELCOMES RAMADAN

Deacon Jess Foster muses on the potential of respecting Ramadan for building better community relationships.

Why I Welcome Ramadan

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Five minutes ago I walked into the house. Its ten to ten at night and my youngest son shouts from his bedroom – there are samosas on the table. And there are.  Crispy vegetarian samosas – one for each member of the family – and they are still hot.

These samosas, along with all sorts of other delicious meals and snacks, have been arriving in Ramadan most days for the last 10 years or so. They are cooked by my neighbour who began her fast today. In the last few years we have shared much more than food over the fence – we talk about prayer, parenting, how faith affects our daily life and weather, washing and children.

As an interfaith worker, I am invited to join my friends as they break their fast in mosques and restaurants, in community centres and banqueting suites. I go as often as I can and I have learnt from this hospitality to invite my friends to come with me to church at Christmas or Easter.

Last year, at St Peter’s Hall Green, where I am a curate, we decided to offer hospitality in our church building and we were delighted that about 80 people came together to break the fast – sharing an Iftaar meal.  This year we are accepting the hospitality of a local community centre and working with them to offer hospitality to some of the people living in Birmingham who are refugees from Syria and to women who do not come from Muslim families, but have converted (reverted) to Islam and often break the fast alone.

As a church we are learning about the dimensions of both offering and receiving as we explore hospitality together and learn how to build bridges with our neighbours from different faith communities.

For me, the hospitality of being both a guest and host is at the heart of the Gospel.  Jesus knew how to be a good guest – I would have loved him to be at my wedding when the wine ran out – and a great host, washing the feet of his tired and dusty guests. The hospitality of God offers us fullness of life on earth and the promise of eternal life. The Holy Spirit built community at Pentecost that broke through cultural and ethnic divides and continues to draw people together both inside and outside the church.

Hospitality turns the stranger into a friend; it opens the door to reconciliation and urges us to see the world through the eyes of another.  It might start with a samosa but it could end by opening our hearts, minds and spirits to love our neighbour as our self.

This blog was written  on Monday (6th JUne) for the Church Of England blog  http://cofecomms.tumblr.com/

LAUNCHING DEACONS’ TOOL KIT

It’s a joy to announce the launch of the Diocese of Exeter’s Deacons’ Tool Kit, a new and growing collection of resources by deacon practitioners on key aspects of diaconal ministry.

DEACONS’ TOOL KIT

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So far, the Tool Kit offers:

  1. Andy Farmer’s Deacon in the Workplace (Andy is a diaconal ordinand, to be ordained this year);
  2. Deacon Jess Foster’s Deacon in an Interfaith Context;
  3. Deacon Terry Drummond’s Deacon in the Public Square;
  4. the Potted History of the Diaconate which is already one of this blog’s Pages;  and
  5. Deacon Gill Kimber’s four-session parish mission preparation course, Preparing for Mission.

All resources are downloadable, and the Preparing for Mission course can be adapted to different contexts.

Other resources are on the way and will be added  from time to time.

Do take a look:  http://exeter.anglican.org/ministry/vocations/diocesan-deacons/

If you’re a deacon with experience in a particular sector of diaconal ministry and you’d like to contribute, please get in touch with me either through the Comments or at deacons@tutanota.com

The Tool Kit is also available on this blog on one of the Pages (see right-hand tabs)