I write this in high summer – so of course I’m wearing a jumper and looking at the rain dance down the Rectory study window!
But by the time this autumn edition comes out we may well be putting all summer clothes back in the bottom of the wardrobe, and reaching for wintry woolies. Do you have a favourite coat or jumper you secretly rejoice in reclaiming, even though it means the weather turning for the worse?
At this point we all mutter a quiet prayer to St Margaret of Scotland – patron saint of fashion – that the moths haven’t been munching our beloved winter jumpers since we last saw them.
Incidentally, St Margaret is the patron saint of fashion because she worked to ensure her subjects could weave better quality cloth, and have better clothes and higher standards of living as a result. St Margaret of Scotland, pray for us, and our favourite cardigans!
Anyway, it’s not the contents of your wardrobe that is filling my gaze in this view from St Giles’, it is fabric of another kind. I take a deep breath before wading into such a contentious field, but it is the social fabric that I find filling my mind and heart as I speak to people, and as I pray in St Giles’ Church. As your Rector I have the privilege to speak to so many different people, in different circumstances and ways of life. My heart is heavy with the bundles of confusion, hurt, anger, and plenty more, that everyone seems to be carrying.
Public discussions around workers’ rights, the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, gender and identity, migration and refugees. Everywhere I look there are bonfires, that burn white-hot with people, relationships and opinions. I am fearful of news and social media for the extra fuel they pour on. From where I am sat, nobody is ‘winning’ in these discussions, and everybody feels worse off. The tangle of knee-jerk responses mixed in with plenty of arguments, and some statistics (although few sensible ones) and a complete lack of historical awareness make for a poisonous mix of insecurity and indignation on all sides of every issue.
I am purposefully avoiding specifics. I am certainly not going to advocate for one side of any of these discussions. Partly because I have been privileged to speak to people in so many different places on all these subjects that I can understand (at least to a certain extent) where they are coming from. But mostly because it isn’t the issues alone that weigh so heavy in my prayers and conversations – it is the way we are living with them and each other. That is just as important.
St John writes in chapter four of his first epistle in the New Testament that ‘there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’. Jesus, again and again, says to His disciples and other hearers ‘do not be afraid’. I wonder if a great deal of the disintegration of the social fabric that we are experiencing is grounded in fear and insecurity? As we move closer to the next General Election I wonder if the campaigns will engage with vital issues around climate, infrastructure, housing, and care or whether they will simple stoke our fears in order to divide and capture us?
Some commentators suggest that President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was motivated by his fear of loss of support at home. When we are afraid and divided, the devil runs amok. When we refuse to let fear take hold, but choose peace and love then we are strongest, wisest and best.
I realise this is no small task. On my study wall (next to my rain soaked window) is a photo of my patron saint – Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Fr Desmond and I trained under the same West Yorkshire Anglican monks. It is about all he and I have in common! But I do seek to be like him. He consistently chose to live from a place of strength found in the love of God, not the fear and division that surrounded him. In the prayers of the Church, in daily Holy Communion and silent meditation, Arch (as he was affectionately known by many) found the strength to weave a different social fabric. May I humbly suggest that we ask God to help us do the same? If we decide to weave a different way of being for those with whom we share life, who knows what good knock-on effects it might have?
St Margaret worked to improve the cloth for her subjects. As we retrieve our autumnal cloths, perhaps we might aspire to something similar for our social fabric? To refuse (despite all the odds) to weave harmful, divisive, defensive cloth, and instead chose supportive, generous, thoughtful fabric in everything we say and do?
Various Scottish fabrics are world-renowned and highly prized nowadays. They are often made in very small workshops. Small beginnings and small-scale production are not to be dismissed! Desmond Tutu and St Margaret of Scotland, pray for us!
The Reverend Canon Jack Noble
Rector, St Giles Cripplegate