I grew up in Streatham, South London and it will always have a special place in my heart and affections. As a local I used to know my way around the area without even trying. I knew the cut throughs for bikes and shortcuts for cars, I knew the best record shops (I know!) and which shops would be the first to sell the latest comics. I knew all the safe places and places to avoid. Last year myself and Grant Robbins attended a one-day conference in Streatham, and I was discombobulated by how much change had taken place there. Even the station I used to use every day for school and work had been redesigned, staircases and exits had changed. Everything was familiar but different.
I’ve written a letter to the RBC community today outlining our thoughts on meeting together following the announcement that churches can reopen after the 4th July. I want to argue the point that we never closed, in many positive ways our community has been more open, active, and united than ever before, with regular and better attended meetings. We just meet remotely- we certainly haven’t been closed. But when our building opens it will be familiar but different and for many of us the changes will be very disconcerting. Rather than focus on what we can’t do…. how things used to be, we are positively concentrating on what we can do…. We can meet, we can pray, we can socialise, we can re-prioritise, we can reimagine the RBC community. Some people won’t want or be able to physically come to the building, so we are investing our resources into developing our online presence alongside our incarnate local expression of community. It will be familiar but different for all of us.
‘Familiar but different’ applies to the new moral awareness prevalent as we emerge from lock down. Encapsulated by the black lives matter equality demonstrations. The ‘familiar’ is that many people accept that discrimination at any level is wrong. The ‘different’ is the new awareness of systemic inequality and prejudice based on ethnicity and skin colour which runs deeply in UK society. The difference is white people like me learning about the privilege that we have been advantaged by based on our skin colour and ethnicity. This is more than a reinforced political correctness about what can no longer be said but a realisation that a change is long overdue. The encouraging difference is that this demand for awareness and change is being voiced across the boundaries of colour and ethnicity. One of the first baby steps in this direction is to listen to the voices, opinions, stories, and experiences that have historically been subdued, quietened or just dismissed. My fear is that despite the intentions of many people arguing ‘don’t all lives matter’? the reality is we are not really listening to what is being said. I’m not the best voice on this issue, I suggest you read Yinka Oyekan’s Facebook posts or YouTube videos by authors like Akala
Listening is the last ‘familiar’ but ‘different’ theme to mention today. Since our 24:7 prayer week finished last Sunday the team have been engaging in listening to the reflections and feedback as it comes in. Deep in the DNA of RBC is an activist mentality, to plan, organise and keep busy. But this week we have been learning to listen. The amazing thing that God seems to be saying through the diverse voices of our community could be distilled to one powerful verse…
‘I am doing something brand new, something unheard of. Even now it sprouts and grows and matures. Don’t you perceive it’? Isaiah 43:19
And I’m quoting from The Passion Translation which for many folks will be familiar but different.