“Let me remind you – as we also approach the Nativity celebrations – that the Virgin Mary, after giving birth to Jesus Christ, sought refuge in Egypt to protect her newborn from tyranny and intolerance.”
So finished Mr Nasser Kamel, Ambassador of Egypt to the UK and Northern Ireland, at yesterday’s prayer vigil in honour of the 25 Coptic Orthodox Christians, mostly women and children, who lost their lives in the recent tragic bombing of St Peter’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo. Archbishop Justin Welby also spoke, alongside Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, at the Innocent Victims’ Memorial, Westminster Abbey. I was glad to represent Churches Together in South London (CTSL) at this touching service, and to be part of a widely ecumenical gathering. Mr Kamel emphasised that despite their sorrow, the people of Egypt remain united against ignorance, intolerance and extremism.
Working with CTSL, I find myself in the midst of so many who are advocating for and witnessing to unity and diversity. Earlier this month, London’s church leaders expressed their grave concerns about not only the scale of the refugee crisis, but also the rise in racial tensions that have accompanied the recent referendum.
In response, they have launched a new campaign – #LondonUnited. This encourages churches of all denominations to showcase their community work, particularly for refugees, asylum seekers and destitute migrants. Throughout the Christmas season, people can share stories of community cohesion in our capital, using the hashtag #LondonUnited. I don’t believe there’s ever been a more urgent and relevant time for ecumenism, and for communicating that we – all the parts – are one body. Because this Christian model of embrace and welcome is catching.
CTSL represents over 50 local ecumenical networks across 10 London boroughs south of the River Thames, and is one of 49 intermediary bodies around the country for Churches Together in England. If you’re in south London, you can find your nearest local network on our website here.
My role as Ecumenical Officer is relational and missional, and is responsive to the needs of the ecumenical networks, the needs of our community, clergy and church leaders, and the needs of our city, country and world. This year, CTSL’s main events have focused on the refugee response and it is clear that the Church’s joint efforts to welcome people who have been forced to move, has been a driving force in ecumenism last century as well as this.
These gatherings aim to work out how to strengthen our response, with organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need, USPG, Housing Justice, Christian Aid, Citizens UK and many others joining local representatives of ecumenical networks. Also represented have been south London leaders from the United Reformed, Salvation Army, Roman Catholic, Quaker, Pentecostal, Orthodox, Methodist, Free, Baptist, and Anglican churches.
Last year when the UN had their climate summit in Paris and the Pope wrote Laudato Si, we held an event focusing on climate justice and invited Springs Dance Company to perform The Green Project, which they made in partnership with Tearfund. The spiritual dimension of experience and response that the arts bring to these enormous issues facilitates a renewed compassion and permeates denominational distinctiveness. Following the performance piece, Ruth Valerio, Director of A Rocha UK, presented Eco Church and explained her desire to see more churches caring for God’s earth as part of all their care. Do take a look at the link, made for churches of all types.
If you’d like to know more about the refugee-response events, and to keep up-to-date with CTSL’s activities, take a look at our Facebook page, and I’d love to hear from you via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Claire Crowley, Ecumenical Officer at Churches Together in South London
Title photo credit: http://www.bill-green.co.uk/