Diocesan Windrush Service

Diocese remembers Windrush at special service

Remember. Learn. Pray.  These were the watchwords chosen for the diocesan service to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush from the Caribbean in Tilbury on 21 June 1948, with disembarkation the following day. 

Bishop James presided at the service, held at St Margaret’s in Rochester on 30 June, and the Rev Jeremy Blunden, Rector of St George’s, Beckenham (and the Bishop’s Adviser on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Affairs), was the preacher. 

Thanks were also due to the Rev Ann Norman, who developed the idea of the service and to those from her church, Christ Church Erith, who read and led the prayers.

St Margaret’s had been chosen for its links with John Newton, the 18th century reformed slave trader and author of the well known hymn, Amazing Grace, which was one of those sung by the congregation of around 35 people, drawn from around the diocese.  It was in St Margaret’s that Newton had married Mary Catlett in 1750.

Reflecting on time in Birmingham

In his opening remarks, Bishop James remembered his time in parish ministry in Birmingham in the 1980s.  A number of those who had come to England on the Windrush were among his congregation and he highlighted how thankful he had been for the significant contributions they and their descendants had made to parish and community life. 

At the same time he recalled, he had also been aware of the separation from their families that they had known, as children had had to be left behind, to join their parents only later. 

They had also suffered the full force of blatant racism in the community and from church congregations too, including their parish churches.  It was small wonder that black-led churches were founded and self-help groups established.

Personal connection to Windrush

In his sermon, the Rev Jeremy Blunden told how own his father-in-law from Jamaica had worked on the railways as a cleaner, later working proudly as a guard on the Intercity 125.  His mother-in-law had worked for the NHS before going on to work for Bishop Wilfred Wood, the first black bishop in the Church of England. 

The recent Windrush scandal was to the fore in the thoughts and prayers of those present, and Jeremy reminded the congregatoin of the heartbreaking stories that have emerged in recent years and months, with people being ‘treated as human commodities’. 

Those who had sought to raise concerns had themselves been the subject of abuse.  Referring to the reading from Lamentations read in the service, Jeremy pointed out that racism was nothing new. In contrast, Jesus, as was heard in the reading about the healing of the centurion’s servant, shows himself free from prejudice and visibly concerned with the individual and their needs.  Those there that day, said Jeremy, were ‘witnesses to revolution in Capernaum’. 

The sermon ended with a call for each one to ignore labels and to deal with individuals, though still having room for difference; the closing words, stressing that we need to demonstrate that ‘our courage is to stand in solidarity with the oppressed’, were welcomed with applause.

The themes of the prayers drew together many of the strands of the service, leading the congregation to reflect on  their own lives and attitudes. Rev Chris Stone, who attended the service said:

"As we went on to receive the bread and wine, it was a wonderful demonstration of how people from different backgrounds can come together in Christ.  Importantly, all we did, we did together.

"We remembered together, we learned together and we most fervently prayed together."

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