Dear Paul and Jayda,
We wanted to give you an update in how things are in Luton since you've always expressed concern at the state of the church here. Since you can't come to Luton just now after your own venture here in January 2016, Holy Week seemed a good time to write.
I'm writing over a coffee after returning from our Luton churches' Good Friday walks of witness through different parts of Luton. It was my privilege to to join the churches in Bury Park in carrying the cross along the main shopping street there. Five other similar walks took place around the town, including that through the town centre ending up at my own church, St Mary's. Hundreds of local Christians took part in the various walks.
We know you're interested in Bury Park so let me tell you more of that walk. We visited five churches, and members of several other churches took part. As we walked along the main street we were greeted by lots of local shop keepers and shoppers, Muslim in the majority. It was a quieter walk than last year when after your own visit, local Muslims were especially keen to greet us. In fact they organised to meet en route to distribute candles dedicated to peace. It was deeply moving. I wrote about it last year, you may have read my account here. .
Back to this year - at each stop a part of the gospel account of Jesus' journey to his death was read. On a couple of occasions we prayed for those suffering for the sake of their faith. And it was very moving outside the church in the heart of busy Bury Park to hear the Gospel message clearly spoken out. At the last church, inside in this case, we heard a challenge to hope in the face of death, knowing that it's the Christian message that Good Friday always leads to Easter Sunday.
You see, it's our experience that we can live, work, and importantly worship and preach as Christians here. I'm not pretending it's always easy. To claim that would help no one. But we are with talking about the challenges with our Muslim friends, and the authorities, and they are slowly being sorted. But when it comes to Good Friday we can carry the cross through the town as we have always done.
(And just so we are being really honest, we are not sweeping last Sunday's story of Luton Islamic Centre under the carpet. We are looking at it along with our Muslim colleagues..)
I guess the difference is we carry the cross a bit differently to you. I've been watching the way you've been working in Sparkboook Birmingham this week, and remembering your own so called "Christian Patrol" here last year. Your actions seem to provoke people's angry response. I'll not try to tell you why, but I would ask you to think about it.
I still remember Jayda's words in a video recorded after you met with us early June 2015 which went something like this: "The Christian leaders in Luton told us they tried to live at peace with their neighbours, even when they were Muslims. How can you live at peace with people who want to kill you?" I know many many Muslims, some very well, and none have expressed a desire to kill me. (The closest they come to it is by overfeeding me with their hospitality. Call it 'food jihad' I guess.) The reason I mention that is that it seems to me we have very different views of what we can expect from Muslims. And that leads to very different experiences as we meet them. And very different styles of engagement with them.
The cross to me is not to be thrust in people's face, to be used agressively and divisively. Yes, it has been used in the past as a symbol of conquest, and become associated with violence, destruction and death. But those things are far removed from its true meaning of sacricial love, of forgiveness and of life. Yes, it is a point of division from our Muslim neighbours. But when they're prepared to greet us as we carry a cross past their mosque it shows those differences can be overcome for the sake of good neighbourly relations.
Tempted as I am to continue I am not here to preach to you, but to let you know how things are. So I'll stop here. I will finish by reminding you of what churches across the U.K. had to say to you after your Luton visit last year. Britain First Denounced By Every Major Christian Denomination In The UK.
Let me ask you to reconsider this Easter how you represent the cross, especially in Birmingham. We are praying for you.