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Diversity is 'a gift', says Archbishop Justin during visit to Southall

Monday 22nd July 2013

Archbishop Justin praised diversity as 'a gift, not a threat' and condemned actions which 'spread hate and cause division' during a visit to Southall, West London this morning


Archbishop Justin meets school children visiting the Sikh Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha during a visit to Southall, London, this morning. Picture: Marc Gascoigne.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has described both the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby and recent attacks on Muslims as "evil acts" by those who seek to "spread hate and cause division". 

"The attacks on minority ethnic groups across the country that there have been over the last few weeks are inexecusable, unacceptable and a scandal to a tradition of hospitality in this country of which we should be deeply proud and which has contributed far more to us than it has taken from us," he told an inter-faith audience gathered at Featherstone High School in Southall, west London. 

He added: "I want, as I have already done, to acknowledge the pressure that our Muslim friends and colleagues have faced over the last few weeks. There have been terrible attacks, I know that the vast majority of those in this country and especially people of faith would join me in condemning utterly any act of violence against anyone because of their faith.

"We want you to know that we stand with you, we will do so privately and publicly. We will do so persistently and I pray in the grace of God, persuasively. We will do all we can to support the security forces, the police, in bringing to justice those who seek to spread hate and cause division in our community."

Archbishop Justin told his audience that diversity was a "gift not a threat" and he did not want to live in a "monocultural" society. He said he "rejoiced" in the example of inter faith co-operation and community work he had witnessed in Southall.

Archbishop Justin was speaking after visiting St John's Church, the Shree Ram Mandir Hindu Temple and the Sikh Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, where 20,000 free meals are served every week in Southall. He also met Muslim leaders, currently observing the Ramadan fast, at the Central Jamia Masjid Mosque in Southall.

The Archbishop said the work done by different faiths he had witnessed in Southall were an example of the "kind of country that I am proud to be in."

He said: "It is hard to say that religion is a spent force when you come to Southall, this is something that people need to see and hear, it is hard to argue against diversity in a place like this."

Donation 

During his visit the Archbishop announced a £25,000 grant from his discretionary fund for a new 'regeneration and reconciliation' centre hosted by five churches in Southall. The centre will work to "raise religious literacy and boost the profile of local faith groups and their contribution to civic life," according to the Revd Mark Poulson of St John's Church, Southall.

The Kings Centre, which is in its early planning stages, will be staffed by Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu advisors. 

Alongside faith education, the centre will include a business hub, credit union and debt advice centre. Meanwhile the plans also include therapy, counselling and meditation services for individuals, family and communities. 

The Revd Mark Poulson thanked Archbishop Justin for his donation, and said church leaders in Southall had welcomed his "prophetic voice" on banking and finance. 

"We want to embrace the business community and speak prophetic words which enable the whole community to flourish. We know that you are speaking into this situation for us out of rich experience, and that your leadership is borne out of love," he said. 

View a photo album of the Archbishop's visit to Southall 

Read the full text of Archbishop Justin's speech at Featherstone High School below 


 

Archbishop Justin's speech at Featherstone High School, Southall, London, 22 July 2013

It’s fair to say that I’m completely overwhelmed by my experiences this morning – absolutely extraordinary things that you’ve been doing here. Featherstone High School’s head teacher, Mr Wadwa, governors, head students and sixth form students, thank you for this amazing welcome and for putting everything on – especially when some of you at least should be on holiday. So thank you very, very much indeed, it’s hugely appreciated. And I was deeply inspired by that presentation by the student ambassadors of the Southall Black Sisters. That was spectacular and very memorable indeed. 

It was good to hear Baroness Eaton, her work with the Near Neighbours programme is one of the hidden treasures of what is going on in bringing communities together so they can be more like this one, and I’ve been very privileged to meet her this morning. And this extraordinary school, it’s amazing. 

What I’ve been privileged to be a part of this morning is not just about Southall. It is vitally important for our nation and even more widely. Diversity is a gift, not a threat; it is a hope, not a danger. The kind of country I want to live in has as one of its best examples what goes on in this area. I don’t want to live in something that is mono-cultural.

Certainly this area has, as we’ve heard, faced huge challenges and continues to face them – economic as well as cultural. But it is generating a positive future for all those who live here, and generating it, equally, independent of and irrelevant to their cultural background or how long they’ve been here. 

And I want to echo the words that we heard about the condemnation of the evil actions, whether they are the murder of Drummer Rigby, or the attacks on mosques, the attacks on minority ethnic groups across the country that there have been in the last few weeks, are inexcusable, unacceptable, and a scandal to a tradition of hospitality in this country of which we should be deeply proud – and which has contributed far more to us than it has taken from us. 

So this morning I’ve rejoiced in myself at seeing an example of the kind of country I am proud to be in. And it’s also a country, in this area, that is based in faith traditions. We celebrated Morning Prayer at St John’s, a passionate worshiping community in which followers of Jesus Christ from a wide variety of backgrounds come to worship in the power of the Spirit of God. 

Then we walked a few hundred yards up the road, visiting the Sri Ram Mandir that I understand represents not only a thriving community in itself, but has also given much to local inter-faith and community work. A few minutes further along and we were at the extraordinarily impressive Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha with its huge stained glass window representing the commitment that Sikhs bring to their faith and the wider society – and Sikhs have set an example in so many cultures of their commitment to blessing the culture in which they find themselves. Then we went to the Central Jamia Masjid mosque to wish a blessed Ramadan to our Muslim friends, who are fasting from three in the morning until 9 o’clock at night out of commitment to God.  And we’ve just heard from young people about the work that they are doing and the things they are learning. It’s hard to say that religion is a spent force when you come to Southall! This is something that people need to see and hear. It is hard to argue against diversity in a place like this. 

There is a verse in the Bible, in the book of Proverbs, which talks about ‘iron sharpening iron’. The image that this verse is giving us is an image of people – and I would say communities – who are strongly committed to their own beliefs, and as a result, in a good way, ‘sharpening’ each other up, as they reach out to each other in dialogue and witness and a willingness to work not just for their own narrow interests, but together for the common good of their neighbourhoods. 

We heard, in that very impressive talk about care for the elderly in the community, about the need for beneficence. In the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, the Israelites in exile in Babylon, are told to bless the community in which they have been put by God. There is a common tradition there of seeking to bless where we are. 

It’s the confidence and humility that says ‘I can grow in my own faith through my encounter with someone who believes differently or not at all.’ I know that Mark Poulson and his congregation at St John’s, as well as others of you here today, have been committed to this vision for many years. It’s not an easy task, but it is a task that, if we succeed, gives us a future in this country that is far greater than any alternative on offer.

A lot of people in our wider society think that if you put people of different religions together, especially if they are profoundly committed to their own faith, they all start fighting. But this place shows how false that is.  Whether it’s the courageous advocacy of the Southall Black Sisters, caring for the elderly, or bringing people of different faiths together to protect our environment – as we’ve heard from A Rocha – I know that we could have heard many more examples if there had been time. 

Part of what it means to respect each other and to be together is to stand with each other when a particular community is under pressure. And I want, as I’ve already done, to acknowledge the pressure that our Muslim friends and colleagues have faced over the last few weeks. There have been terrible attacks. I know that the vast majority of those in this country, and especially people of faith, will join me in condemning utterly any act of violence against anyone because of their faith. We want you to know that we stand with you. We will do so privately and publically. We will do so persistently and – I pray by the grace of God – persuasively. And we will do all we can to support the security forces, the police, in bringing to justice those who seek to spread hate and cause division in our community. 

So thank you for what has been a really memorable morning. For seeing an inspiring school and for meeting so many people who have really lifted my spirits and shown me again how much we have to celebrate in this wonderful part of London, and how much potential we have in this amazing country in which we live. 

Learn more about the Southall Black Sisters 

Learn more about A Rocha

 



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