This week has re-activated some significant memories. Memories of incidents that have shaped my life and my theology. Let me tell you about just one of them. There are others.
At the bottom of this article are 2 photographs from an incident that sits in my memory as a constant reminder of what happens when poverty and ethnicity and neglect combine to create hopeless environments and unquenchable anger. I had just taken up a ministry position in Hornsey Tottenham Nth London. I’d been there for about 8 weeks. One of my first pastoral visits was to an elderly West Indian woman. Clara was her name. She lived in a 2nd floor flat on the Broadwater Farm housing estate. It was a challenging experience. She insisted on meeting me at the bus stop and we walked to her home.
There were no lifts in the block of flats. The stairwell was full of urine, excrement, rubbish and old blankets. I was watched closely by everyone on the street. But Clara had lived there for over 20 years and had the respect of the community, so I felt safe. Kind of. She opened the door of the flat and invited me to sit at the kitchen table by the window that overlooked the street. It was a visibly bleak outlook on local life. Her home was a comforting oasis in the middle of a failed urban experiment. As we drank tea, she talked about her life and her home town of Montego Bay in Jamaica. How they had come to London expecting great things. Her and her husband. How he had died shortly after arrival in a work accident in 1963. She had no children. But she had her church. Or rather, churches. She was Baptist in the morning. Methodist in the afternoon. Spiritualist in the evening. She went to the evening service with her neighbour, Tom. A good man but drank too much.
She asked me to pray with her. She was concerned about the young people on the estate; unemployed with nothing to do all day but hang around the street and make mischief. She was deeply troubled by recent incidents with the police.
She insisted on walking to the bus stop and waiting for the bus with me.
2 days later the Broadwater Farm riots erupted. PC Blakelock was killed and many people injured.
Cars were burned and homes destroyed. Clara was given a new place in Wood Green and on her first Sunday in her new place I went with her to her ‘new’ local church where she met a family she had known back in Jamaica. She felt connected again.
I will never forget Clara or Broadwater Farm – or the consequences of systemic neglect.
All lives matter – not one, any more nor any less, than any other. But some lives and groups do warrant more advocacy than others.