The day the results of the referendum were announced, I joined in the Big Iftar in Luton town centre. The mood was subdued, but also held a deeply poignant determination that as a community, Luton was going to hold together. Iftar is a meal taken at the end of a long day of fasting. It is begun with dates, a bit of sweetness, and water, essential for life. Hosted by the borough council, with Muslim caterers and community police officers serving, there where Muslims and Christians and Hindus and people of no faith and people of many nationalities and traditions and languages, all joining together, to honour the sweetness of their friendship across cultures and faith, a sweetness that is essential if life is to flourish. In a town lodged in popular imagination as a birthplace for hate movements, the people at the grassroots level are weary of the reputation. When you have nothing left, rather than acts of desperation, maybe the only thing that matters is the relationship we have with the people around us – is it loving and nurturing, or is it one of fear and suspicion? We can only live in fear for so long. At some point we all need to reach out. Whatever the outcome of the referendum was going to be, there was going to be some upset. And in campaigns where all sides stoked fear, that upset was always going to be raw. But on this night in Luton, there was nothing but a quiet reaching out to one another, reaching out in respect and reaching out in a mutual effort to heal divisions and work towards the common good. This was the best of Luton.
My parish of Kimpton in Hertfordshire has a link with a parish in East Germany, which has sent us a message to reassure that they still hope we are able to keep a strong link of friendship and exchange as two rural, Christian communities. And we will be returning a message of love and support, that despite the outcome of the referendum, we will continue to strengthen the bonds between us.
That hate crimes have increased to such an extent following the referendum is surely a sign that more than ever we need to pull together. This past week a primary school encouraged their students to perform acts of kindness, by giving out flowers to people on the street, and placing handmade bookmarks with supportive messages written on them in library books. Each of these positive gestures not only make someone else smile, but change our own hearts, our own souls as well.
Taking the words of the Bishop of St Albans, it is vital to offer reassurance to those who are most fearful, listen to those who are frustrated or angry, defend those subjected to attacks of hatred, report abuse, reach out to our neighbours with simple acts of kindness, and work together for the good of all.
This is the full response to the referendum results written at the request of Madeleine Davies from The Church Times. For more responses around the UK, please see this link: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2016/1-july/news/uk/there-is-an-enormous-and-widening-divide
The following is a statement issued by the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, in response to the referendum result:
“The people of this nation have spoken, although the referendum has also highlighted the deep divisions that exist in our country. We must now move forward together. However, healing the divisions will require an acknowledgement that the vote in part reflects the increasingly polarised circumstances between the poorest and the richest people in our nation.
“It is my hope that all who voted will show grace whether they side with the victorious or the defeated. We must seek to rebuild neighbourly trust and acceptance on our streets, in our workplaces and clubs and schools. We will start with prayer in our churches and continue with our longstanding service to all the people of our communities. Most of all, it is vital for us to offer friendship and reassurance to those who might fear that this result will be exploited by factions peddling hatred and division.”