TRINITY 2 Sunday 21 June
St Peter’s has a long history of welcoming black people from the Caribbean and West Africa. In the 1950s, pioneering Fr John Perry (still remembered for running a Rock & Roll club in the crypt), created a culture of openness and respect which I believe underpins St Peter’s today. For decades the congregation has been a more or less even mix of black people and white people, home-owners and renters, British-born locals and ‘gentrifiers’.
St Peter’s congregation has a history of worshipping together from a mix of cultural backgrounds but with a shared experience of Anglicanism – the Church of England overseas. When Anglicans from the Carribbean arrived in London churches they carried letters of introduction from their parish priest back home. They were not looking for Pentecostal house church worship. They wanted to worship in the parish church in the proper Anglican way. The hurt caused by churches who turned away their black brothers and sisters is still sickening to hear.
Perhaps it is because of this history that St Peter’s has continued to worship in much the same way we did in the late 1950s and early 60s; sitting in pews, holding hymn books, accompanied by the organ, robed ministers and altar servers at 10am on Sunday morning.
One of the deep joys of ministry at St Peter’s is working with families who have grown up together in church over 40 years.
One of the most powerful ways we have shared and grown in faith over these past decades is in home groups during Lent (and at other times of the year). Going into each other’s homes is so different to simply sharing the same pattern of worship and a few biscuits after church.
We see and touch and smell each other’s homes – an intimate glimpse of how others live, when not wearing their ‘Sunday Best’. We open ourselves to the hospitality of strangers. And we learn a little about the struggles of others.
St Peter’s is not one happy family/toffee coloured melting pot. The divisions in the congregation – racial/social/economic/gendered/political – are as marked as ever. Much of the time we have learnt to avoid getting snagged – perhaps over time abrasion smooths some.
But amongst the tangles and sharp edges of our intersecting histories, St Peter’s Church treasures our fragmentation. Through our communion in community – our weekly coming together before God to give thanks and praise – we express a deep sense of companionship.
But people get hurt when the rough edges are not noticed and we avoid talking about the things that divide us and hurt us. I hope St Peter’s Church in the months and years ahead can continue to offer the whole neighbourhood community an open space to talk – to speak and to be heard.
Structural racism is a massive issue. We hope and pray that these extraordinary times will radically shift public thinking and political action. Not everyone will feel called or able to protest on the streets – banners/messages in windows to show support as so many households have done in support of the NHS would signal support to those who are taking risks to be on the streets.
As we are separated by this virus and discover ways to worship at home – alone or with others in our household – the church needs to adapt to new ways of worshipping together and expressing our communion in community. In offering our shattered selves and communities to the maker of all things we will be remade.
Next Sunday, St Peter’s will celebrate its Petertide ‘patronal’ festival – plans for the customary BBQ with bring-and-share lunch, a flower festival, concert and launch of a new art project Stations of Creation will not be taking place. Please send a postcard from quarantine (virtual or real) to share news of how you and your loved ones are surviving.