Connecting with Culture
It’s been said that culture is ‘what we make of the world’, but what does that look like as Christians? How can we begin conversations about what’s goin...
They came, the invited but unwelcome.
They came, clutching a grip* full of clothes and Dick Whittington dreams of streets paved with gold.
They came, a slow, steady stream on a ship of steam, the first 500 arriving on the HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks on 22 June 1948, 75 years ago this week. Things would never be the same again. Oh how the Empire strikes back, and in such style!
The stream burst into Pentecostal blaze, a Windrush of Caribbean culture, colour, carnival, and church. The bystanders watched perplexed, asking, ‘What is this and why are they here on our soil?’ So, even in June, the newcomers were met with something colder than the harshest British winter, the famous British reserve but now decoded in signs that read, ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’.
But with Lord Kitchener’s migrant anthem ‘London is the Place for Me’ blaring from the original ghetto blasters, the exodus had begun. The migrants in exile seeking the peace and prosperity of the land they believed the Lord had called them to belong.
On this anniversary, I am reminded that the Windrush story is my parents’ story, my story, and my children’s story. Stories my mum told us of being deliberately scalded by hot water in a London Transport canteen and my dad chased like prey for sheer entertainment.
And yet, they still come today.
Another generation of migrants full of dreams, unwelcome but this time also uninvited. Unscrupulously trafficked. Nameless people on nameless boats. Many never make it, and who will remember them? Dreams and bodies drowned in a watery, unmarked, mass grave.
Where today is the protection of the foreigner, the welcoming of the stranger, the feeding of the hungry (Leviticus 19:34; 23:22) spoken of in the words of the Christian faith? The migrant continues to expose our deepest darkest fears and prejudices.
Yet every nation needs a new stream of dreamers to reinvent itself culturally and economically. Those given the opportunity to settle in the UK need to be treated with dignity in the workplace, welcome in our neighbourhoods, and treated with respect on our streets. For they, like my parents, will gladly return the favour, caring for the sick in our hospitals, the elderly in our care homes, and educating our children in the classroom.
If we overcome our fears, turning our prejudices into a welcome, we could turn the migrant crisis into a future cause for celebration.
Chris is a Baptist minister in Clapham, south London
*The nickname name given to the small suitcases in which West Indians brought their belongings.