Dear Church Family,
This week's letter has been written by our parish Licensed Lay Minister Tino To. He writes...
During the last few months of lockdown, I have really missed the face to face contact with you all and the hugging and hand-shaking when saying the Peace during our Sunday worship, and today I would like to share with you an incredible true story I have read recently in the Church Times.
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Many of you who watched the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Prince Harry & Meghan) in 2018 would have noticed the outstanding choir (The Kingdom Choir) that captured people’s hearts. Karen Gibson is the founder and director of that choir. Karen recalled that when her mother was first invited to England to work 50-odd years ago, her first month was spent trying to find an Anglican church similar to the one that she had been used to in Guyana. She looked up the churches in the area and found one not too far from where she lived. After a few weeks of attendance at the Sunday services, the Vicar waited for her at the end of a service, extended his hand to shake hers, and said,
"Thanks for coming, but don’t come back, please.”
It was a slap in the face to have been invited to the country to work, only to find ignorance and discrimination in all areas of society, and particularly to be so casually dismissed from the one place in which she should have found refuge. This painful experience still lives vividly in Karen’s mother’s mind after 50 years.
Later in 2018 after singing at the Royal wedding, Karen had some business to attend to at a church near her and took her mother along not knowing that it was the same church that had rejected her mother over 50 years ago. They were greeted by the Vicar, a friendly lady in her forties, with a big smile and hug. Karen mentioned that this was the church her mother used to attend over 50 years ago. With genuine interest, the Vicar asked, “And how was your experience – was it a good one?” Karen’s mother said nothing but simply bowed her head with a wry smile. The Vicar then looked at Karen with wide enquiring eyes and a quickly reddening face, and asked, “Really? Is that what was going on here?” Karen said nothing but gave her a knowing look.
Suddenly, without giving it a second thought, and to the great surprise of Karen and her mother, this love-filled Vicar dropped to her knees in front of Karen’s mother, and with heartfelt repentance, poured out the most impassioned apology. This gesture stunned both Karen and her mother who reacted with a smile and body language of forgiveness.
Weeks later, Karen and her mother returned to the church where Karen was to hold a Community Gospel Concert. It was a very successful concert with almost everyone from the local community in attendance – black and white, young and old, all faiths and none. The Vicar welcomed them all and there, once more, with a deeper understanding of injustices suffered by the Windrush generation, she asked for forgiveness for those who had been wronged by the institution that she represented.
In so doing, she helped to heal the wounds of a community.
This is such a beautiful and moving story. Obviously both Karen and her mother were amazed. Who would have thought that over 50 years later, in the year of the 70th anniversary of the Windrush, reconciliation and healing could be found through the love and conscience of a woman who had not been born when the offence had been committed, but who cared enough for an old woman she had never met to embrace her on bended knees and to apologise for something her predecessors had done?
This compares with what our Lord Jesus Christ did for us. The Vicar represented her institution in her act of kneeling; Jesus who is the Son of God, without sin, represented us – the human race - and suffered the ultimate humiliation of dying on the Cross to redeem us from the sin of the world.
To some, Christianity is just about doing good, about duties, and about rules, morality, guilt, and virtue, yet it leads to something beyond all that: there is love and forgiveness, sacrifice and reconciliation, all of which Jesus taught us by example.
Sisters and brothers, does this story resonate with any of your own experiences in life? Do you have areas where you need to seek forgiveness from others or to forgive anyone that has hurt you or disappointed you? Sometimes it is not easy to forgive or ask for forgiveness, but with the help of Christ who first loved us and first forgave us, we can learn to do the same.
Forgiveness brings healing, and reconciliation brings love and unity.
Much love in Christ,