Prayer & Conversation for Brexit

Stephen Cottrell

It’s often said that the British solution to a crisis is to put the kettle on. There is wisdom here. Hospitality, fellowship and conversation build community and put things – even the hardest things – into a new perspective. We see each other as people, not as problems.

Last month churches around the country received resources inviting them to consider hosting community events and participate in five days of prayer following the 29 March – which has for three years loomed large in our national psyche as ‘Brexit day’. (Now – formerly Brexit day.)

The idea was introduced by the Archbishop of Canterbury at General Synod in February, and since then a group of bishops have, as speedily as possible, discussed what a pastoral response might look like.
Given that it is Lent, an already busy time for churches and with just a couple of weeks to get arrangements in place, another event for the busy timetable might seem madness. Yet, the process that we are embroiled in, and which appears to be unravelling right now, and will probably change again tomorrow, will come to an end at some point. When we wake up on that day, we will still be neighbours to one another.

The thing that distresses me is that since the referendum in 2016, we have fallen into the habit of defining one another as ‘leavers’ or ‘remainers’. We’ve got to put an end to that and say whichever way you voted, we’re still sisters and brothers to one another, both locally and as part of a global community.

Brexit has created a situation in this country which I don’t think we’ve seen for years where we are divided amongst ourselves over a single issue, and that’s not a healthy.

Some might suggest that ‘tea and prayer’ is an old-fashioned approach to fixing this, yet I do not believe that our national discourse can be healed through social media, where off-the-cuff remarks and self-curation serve to widen gaps, increasing our isolation under the guise of connectivity. Quite simply, there is no substitute for real human engagement.

The conversation we are trying to start is not really about Brexit itself, but about how we can love one another and how can we be good neighbours to one another. This sort of engagement is always better face-to-face. It requires us to hear one another’s voices and see each other’s expressions, to sense needs and vulnerabilities, and to empathise even where we may disagree.

So, my message to our churches is this: whether it’s tea or coffee, a beer in the pub, a glass of sherry in the vestry, conversations in your local school, community centre, church hall or park bench, invite people to get together and name the issues which divide and unite them even if it seems unpalatable and uncomfortable. Let’s try and take a lead in drawing people together so that we can re-discover our common humanity and our belonging together. It is the only way that as a nation we can begin to move towards a shared vision for the future. It might not be all smiles and agreement, but naming our disagreements is an important start.

Finally, some people have accused ‘Prayer and Conversation for Brexit’ as being an initiative from on high. Well, not really, this is more a blessing of what many churches and dioceses were already planning to do. Some have said, why wasn’t there more notice? Well, although we’ve known the potential significance of ‘Brexit day’ for a long while, the actual decision to make this a national initiative has only been made recently. Sometimes this is the best way to make decisions; reading the signs of the times and responding to what is happening around us.

So, put the kettle on; open the doors; invite the community in. I know we do this every day anyway; but let us do it with particular care and with a special intention for the needs of our nation and all its people at this particularly sensitive and challenging moment in our national life. And do it in a way that works for you.

The resources on the Church of England website are very adaptable to different styles of event, but as we have a presence in every community and know those communities well, we are uniquely placed to help make this happen. Don’t leave it until it’s too late.

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