from Revd. Malcolm Hickox
‘Love is stronger than hate’
When we moved into the Victoria Road manse five years ago and I stood at the sink (yes, I do occasionally!) I thought the view of the garden looked a little boring! From one of the bedroom windows I saw how bright, colourful and vibrant our neighbour’s garden looked and the challenge was set! Having created gardens in our previous manses I had originally vowed to be content with what we found here, but sometimes the urge is too strong and the gardening bug took over.
But what about our windows on the world, what do you see? The recent terrorist attacks and the horrendous Grenfell Tower fire have left many traumatised and most of us feeling shocked and helpless. In a statement, the former President & Vice President of the Methodist Conference, Roger Walton and Rachel Lampard, said, "The horror of the burning tower in Notting Hill will be imprinted on many people’s minds for a long time. Our shared grief has, however, only intensified as we heard the stories: of the people who are lost, people who have lost everything, and people still searching for the lost. Few of us will have been able to witness these events unfold without weeping. And now comes the anger, at those with power, at past decisions, at powerlessness."
The Methodist Church in Notting Hill was the first public building outside the police cordon after the fire, and immediately became a focus for grief and practical help. If you look down the church aisle and through a large window you see the burnt-out tower, a stark reminder of death, destruction and pain. It’s a bit like looking at the cross and contemplating the crucifixion, but we don’t stop at the cross, we are taken forward to resurrection. It’s almost certainly too soon to be talking of new life whilst the emotions are so raw. There is anger as well as grief and with understandable cause - anger at God; anger at those who had the power to act, but didn’t; and anger at a society which values the poorest and most disadvantaged less than others.
Back in 1962, Donald Soper had a vision for mission in the Notting Hill area and he created the first ever Methodist Team ministry with three energetic and talented ministers, later joined by a Church of Scotland minister. They soon discovered that Notting Hill was an area of extreme social deprivation and that the roots of most of the area’s problems were the appalling housing conditions, with rogue landlords like the infamous Peter Rackman. Within a short time the Ministry Team responded by establishing the Notting Hill Housing Trust and gradually grew a stock of quality, fair-rent properties. In 1966 they helped establish the housing charity Shelter and later persuaded the government to change its housing policy.
It’s ironic that fifty years later Notting Hill Methodist Church is at the centre of another housing crisis, where the most vulnerable have suffered again. The world may have moved on in many ways, but some of the principles of mission remain the same: to stand alongside those in need, to offer care and to remain silent so as to feel the loss, the pain, the fear and the anger of the people; and then, when the time is right, to speak out for justice. During their year as President and Vice-President, Roger Walton and Rachel Lampard, took as their theme the text from Micah: "What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God". That seems so appropriate for the Church’s mission in Notting Hill.
Two weeks after the terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena, an array of top musicians and the local community came together for an extraordinary concert with the message that ‘Love is stronger than Hate’. One of the performers, Justin Bieber, gave us a window on his faith when he said, ‘God is good in the midst of the evil. God is good in the midst of the darkness. He loves you.’
In her address to the Methodist Conference, the President, Loraine Mellor, spoke about hospitality and generosity, and the story of Jesus sharing breakfast on the beach with his disciples. They’d been fishing all night, but only had a catch when Jesus told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat. Notting Hill Methodist Church is offering hospitality and generosity in the midst of an angry, grieving community. Believing that love is stronger than hate is ‘other side of the boat theology’! Looking out of the window of our new home in Seaton Sluice to the sea and beach opposite, I shall hold onto that image of Jesus on the beach. I pray that it will also strengthen your faith and enable you to be part of God’s mission.