At General Synod yesterday there was a debate on the EU Referendum. I wanted to speak but wasn't called. So here is the speech that never was....
Due to its proximity to the sea (it sits at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour) and its Naval and seafaring connections Portsmouth Cathedral is known as the ‘Cathedral of the Sea’ and has a prayer which reflects that. I’ve reproduced the prayer at the end of this blog in case you haven’t discovered it before.
We have recently connected with Sailors’ Society, a wonderful organisation which supports seafarers around the world. Their Public Engagement Manager Chris Tuck (great bloke!) And I have started to organise regular prayer breakfasts at the Cathedral to pray for seafarers, the port, the city and the wider world. We met last Thursday and Chris brought with him a picture of Jesus and the disciples on a storm tossed boat. It also had a quote on it from G. K. Chesterton: “We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.”
In light of recent events in the world and following the European Referendum in this country this picture and quote seemed very appropriate. We also read the story from Mark’s gospel of Jesus calming the storm (Mark 4:35-41).
The last two words of the Chesterton quote struck me profoundly. What is a ‘terrible loyalty’? Like many cities up and down the country Portsmouth is deeply divided about the issue of Brexit and its effects will be felt sharply by the people of the city. It is a seafaring city, a port which connects us to Europe for trade and leisure purposes. It is the home of the Royal Navy and has its fair share of refugees as well. In fact just last year the City Council debated the issue and subsequently sent a letter to the Home Secretary asking for Portsmouth to be removed from the list of named cities for refugees. Whilst the debate was taking place there were demonstrations outside from people objecting to the motion and supporting refugees as well as masked far right protesters carrying placards demanding that refugees and immigrants be sent home. There is an immigration removal centre at Gosport and All Saints’ Church in the city centre runs an incredible refugee drop in centre. Portsmouth is a retail centre and we know through our retail chaplains how worried retail workers are about their zero hour contracts and lack of stability which will only get worse in the next couple of years.
There is no doubt Portsmouth is both affected by and divided on these issues.
Personally I was amazed at the strength of feeling the referendum caused in me. I am not going to tell you how I voted as in terms of what I am about to say about ‘terrible loyalty’ it shouldn’t matter. I discovered in subsequent days that members of my family and good friends had voted differently to me. I was surprised and shocked about how this made me feel and in fact couldn't bring myself to communicate with them for a while. I simply didn’t know how to respond or deal with the anger and pain I felt (whoops, just nailed my colours to the mast I guess). These issues are deeply felt and cause sharp divisions.
For me as the country deals with the implications of Brexit the biggest issue is how we begin to repair the division which has opened up. How we move forward together in the best interest of the world and the nation. Perhaps this is where ‘terrible loyaly’ kicks in because if we are going to achieve this then there will be a cost, a cost to all of us. Those still reeling with shock or anger have to listen to those who voted differently to us. People who are pleased with the result have to respect and respond to the fact that almost as many people are hurting or are angry and need to be respected and listened to as well. That will be costly to all.
The Church has a key role to play in this task. The Christian faith encourages, no it demands, that we work towards unity. The church knows only too well that this is costly, indeed terrible. Sometimes the church has been good at this, at others not so. The Church is presented with both an obligation but also a golden opportunity to be agents of reconciliation, to bring people of different views together in safe spaces and in creative ways to move forward so that the country, Europe and indeed the world may flourish. If we are to do this then we must be seen to be able to do it ourselves. There are many differences of opinion within the church but we have common ground in God’s love for us and our identity in Christ. We need to gather around that and publicly demonstrate that it is possible to disagree well, to live well with others who hold a different view to us. Indeed to achieve mutual flourishing within our diversity. It sounds impossible and is it difficult and costly but perhaps this is the ‘terrible loyalty’ that we owe each other?
At the current session of synod we shall enter shared conversations on human sexuality. This is a golden opportunity to model what we want for the nation and the world. I pray we do not waste it.
The Prayer of Portsmouth Cathedral
“The Cathedral of the Sea"
Creator and Father of all,
We pray for those who go down to the sea in ships
And serve upon the waters of the world.
Bless them and those who minister to their needs,
That they may put their trust in you
And find in you a strong anchor for their hopes
And so be filled with your peace,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.