I asked for the Letter from Church Leaders to be included in this Newsletter, as it is something that has been preoccupying my thoughts over the summer. I know that I am not alone.
I want to ask you, whether, having read about the St Andrew’s Church in Malta, you think we might do something to support their efforts on the frontline. A quick look at their church website will show you that they are already receiving financial support from the Church of Scotland for their ministry to migrants. There might be something practical we could do. I say this, because most of us feel so completely helpless.
If you question the wisdom of this, or ask whether it would be just a drop in the ocean, I would ask you whether we can learn from the story of the abolition of the slave trade. Most of us know about William Wilberforce and his life-long campaign for abolition. We might therefore be looking for one person (one man?) to take a lead. We might be wishing we had leaders with the faith and the evangelical zeal that Wilberforce and his friends had.
But then we might be missing the significant role of thousands of other unnamed people. This is said to be the first mass movement for political change. There were medallions, logo merchandising (for the first time), pamphlets, banners and all the paraphernalia that we associate with a modern campaign. Having seen pictures of sinking boats in the Mediterranean, and hearing of people drowning because they were locked in the holds, I was reminded that an iconic image of a slave ship “The Brookes” – a drawing showing how people were being stowed as cargo – was pivotal in swinging public support towards the anti-slave trade campaign.
As a Methodist, it is heartening to remember that John Wesley’s last public letter at the end of his life, was to the young Wilberforce encouraging him in what was to become his life’s work. It is salutary to remember, though, that the vast majority of Christians were opposed to abolition, when the campaign first started. Slavery was mentioned in the Bible, and not condemned, so what was all the commotion about? Two hundred or more years afterwards, we all know which side we are on, but it wasn’t so easy at the time.
And it isn’t easy for any of us today. The pressures of human migration, and the causes of it, are huge subjects. There is still human trafficking. There is criminal activity, as well as human fear and human aspiration. There are pregnant women and little children with nothing in the world to call their own. It is difficult to know what to do or what to think. But can we do nothing? The slogan for the campaign to abolish the slave trade was, “Am I not a man and a brother?” Do we hear echoes of that cry from migrants today? “We are not animals! We are human!”
In the midst of all this horror, one thing that we can do is to show respect for those we do know and love. In that way we can avoid generalities about people. As the popular hymn says, “Neighbours are nearby AND far away.” So it is good to report that the pastoral tea was a great success – thank you to all who arranged it. And the ministry of prayer on a Tuesday morning, once a month, continues. The numbers attending have been a bit low recently, but this is a faithful witness, and an act of loving care, which is much appreciated.
I write a letter on this topic because I want to keep the conversation flowing. What does it mean for us to be Christians, whose “citizenship is in heaven”? (St Paul to the Philippian Church, Chapter 3 verse 20)