The Co-ordinator of our Near Neighbours programme, Revd Tim Clapton reflects on events in Woolwich ahead of the EDL march there…
Last Wednesday the community of Woolwich and the world were stunned at the murder of a young man. Thankfully murder is not a common feature of our lives in London, but sadly it does appear all-too regularly. A week does not go by without a report of yet another young man stabbed to death in what is often described as a ‘gang murder.’ Each one a tragedy, mourned and never forgotten by a family, each one an indication that something is profoundly fractured in us and in our communities.
But there was something different this time. It was a young man serving as a soldier, safe in his homeland with a waiting wife and family. It was different because we all witnessed the aftermath of the event on TV. We saw how these horrific events unfolded amongst ordinary people. Some pushed shopping trolleys past the scene, perhaps without noticing or hurrying away with fear.
But we also saw the ordinary passer-by speaking calm words of challenge to one with weapons still in hand. She reached out into his hatred, saying in her own words that darkness will never overwhelm us. We know also that local women held the body, a pieta, as a proxy for his own mother.
Today, people of faith in Woolwich are meeting in the town centre and Mosque. By the simple sharing of tea and biscuits they mark the death of Lee Rigby. They will be conscious that tomorrow the political extreme right wing will march and once again (mainly) young men will threaten their community. But these events will make the people of Woolwich more focused and determined.
How do we know this? We know it because we have worked alongside the faith communities in Woolwich for some time now. Near Neighbours has shared inter-religious work with the local Mosque and awarded grants to some local initiatives which have brought together people of different faiths and ethnicities.
A local Pentecostal church ran a football tournament and workshops for their own young people and some Muslim young people. A local lady was aware she didn’t speak to the women at the school gates because they were of a different faith to her, so she organised a series of children’s fun-days where she met these other mums. Other young people of diverse faiths received a Near Neighbours grant and together worked on an inter-religious environmental project in the town. In themselves these are not news worthy events nor will they make it onto the national radar. But these projects build relationships and trust, they are small but they are the essential glue when a community is hit hard.
Over the last few days at the Centre for Theology & Community there have been a lot of telephone calls and the exchange of hurried messages. Which Government Minister will visit Woolwich? Will the local faith groups be organising an event and who do we need to speak to? Who should be invited to this or that emergency meeting? In the shock and enormity of all we felt we should do something and we struggled to know what best to do. But actually, the work had already been done. The young people had played football and had their motivational workshops together; other kids have planted trees together. The mums have shared their fun day and somehow this has all made a difference.
What is for certain is that once we all have dispersed today after the tea and biscuits and left the way clear for the English Defence League tomorrow, we shall continue to believe that people of faith can and do work together for good, we shall continue to award Near Neighbours grants and support grass roots people and projects so that more drops of glue can hold together the community in Woolwich. We shall also continue to know that no brutality, no murder, no fascist marching will quench the spirit and goodness seen in the people of Woolwich last week.