Good Samaritans in Shadwell

Community Organising l

Angus Ritchie – Director of CTC and Priest in Charge of St George-in-the-East in Shadwell – blogs on a week of events which have cast a new light on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

What is the message of the Parable of the Good Samaritan? When a religious leader asks Jesus: “who is my neighbour?” this story is his answer. And, as so often, his answer is deeply provocative.

Instead of identifying a neighbour whom religious leaders should love, Jesus identifies an outsider who is more loving than they are!

That story should agitate us today. For, through the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus continues to challenge us. Where might we discover people, beyond the walls of our institution, who teach us how to love like Christ?

Of course, the Gospel offers us a further agitation. It calls us to do more than bind up wounds. Jesus declares liberty to the oppressed and freedom to the captives In him, the humble are exalted and the mighty laid low.  In the words of Martin Luther King:

On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion… comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

This week, here in Shadwell, the church has been agitated – and agitating – in both of these ways.

On Monday, St George-in-the-East hosted a community organising assembly. We heard testimony from children in our parish school (pictured) on the impact of mouldy, overcrowded homes on health and wellbeing. Churches, schools and mosques came together to challenge the “edifice” that produces such injustice. We won a commitment from our borough’s Mayor to work for a Community Land Trust on a piece of land owned by Transport for London. This would secure decent, affordable for hundreds of local people in perpetuity.

On Wednesday, as we heard the awful news from Grenfell Tower, I received a phone call from one of our Muslim parishioners. Jusna runs a social enterprise called Meals on Heels, which skills up local women and feeds people who are in need. (We got to know Jusna through our local community organising alliance, and we are currently refurbishing the church kitchen to house this enterprise.) Jusna had already co-ordinated dozens of local women to provide meals for those affected by the disaster. She wanted to know if anyone from St George’s could join her team to distribute the food. It was shared at a roadside Iftar near the site of the tragedy (pictured below). Two of our team went, and were deeply moved by the “energy and love” of the group. As one said, “the Muslim women in our neighbourhood make me want to be a better Christian!”

Our church’s relationship with Meals on Heels exemplifies the deepermeaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We are being re-evangelised by the compassion and energy of our Muslim neighbours.

Together, Meals on Heels and St George’s have launched “The Open Table” – a monthly meal in the church offered freely to everyone, whether homeless or housed, rich or poor. (There is a third partner in this initiative – a Muslim-led charity who are supporting it financially.)  As a church, we believe that The Open Table exemplifies the Gospel’s call to hospitality and to mutuality. It is no exaggeration to say that our Muslim neighbours are helping us bear a more Christ-like witness to the wider community. If you are in Shadwell at 7pm on Monday 26th June or Monday 17th July, why not come along – and see a living Parable!

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