Tuesday, 24 March 2009

What were you doing twenty years ago?

As I look back to twenty years ago and begin to feel even more boring and old than usual I realised that 20 years ago I was preparing to lead worship for Holy Week for the first time. I was the student minister at Gerard's Cross URC during the holidays in 1988-1989. My memory of that it is that my Good Friday sermon in an ecumenical setting went rather better than the Easter sermon.
I also went to watch the Oxford-Cambridge boat race live for the only time in my life!
Just before Holy Week a group of us from college went to Southall (in North London) to work with John Parry and Froukien Smit and experience life in the inter-religious project there. Our group of men and women were welcomed into Mosques, Gurdwaras and Hindu Temples. This was a time of heightened tensions. January had seen copies of Salman Rushdie's book Satanic Verses being burned in the street in Bradford.
I can still remember: the utterly amazing food we ate that week - just how many chapatis did we get through; the beautiful moving ceremony we attended at the Sikh Gurdwara as the Guru Granth Sahib - the scriptures - are put to bed; our time with the Southall Black Sisters and with the sergeant at the local police station; the evening visit to the Hindu temple for prayers; our Bible studies and prayers as a group; the sound of the men washing to prepare for prayer in the Mosque. I realise that I also kept some kind of journal on pieces of looseleaf A4 of those days, they were a powerful time of linking theology, politics, feminism and social concern, and a very important part of my training for the ministry. I left Southall to go to Gerards Cross, just up the road but light years away, from inner city to stock-broker belt.
On Maundy Thursday we held a foot washing liturgy together with the Methodist congregation, I found myself kneeling at the feet of the police sergeant we had quizzed on issues of domestic and racial violence. He looked at me in recognition as I washed his feet. Afterwards he came up to me and said "You were the one asking all the difficult questions!"
Twas ever thus!

Thanks to last week's New Stateman (yes we get our copy a week late) for triggering some of these memories. 1989 The Year of the Crowd - I liked this from the Future Belongs to Crowds:

The memorable events of history, wrote the psychologist Gustave Le Bon in his book The Crowd, “are the visible effects of the invisible changes of human thought”. Writing in 1895, less than 50 years after the publication of the Communist Manifesto, he believed that the future of politics belonged to the masses, and predicted that society was on the cusp of “the era of crowds”.
Even in an age of mass political activity, 1989 stands out as a year of profound change and convulsion. This issue is dedicated to recalling some of its more dramatic crowd set pieces. “When a civilisation is rotten,” Le Bon wrote, “it is always the masses that bring about its downfall.” By 1989, the communist states of eastern Europe were corrupt and decaying; yet it was the power of crowds which pulled the Iron Curtain down during a time of extraordinary optimism.