1991 was the year that…
… the Gulf War culminated in Operation Desert Storm
… Tim Berners-Lee announced the World Wide Web project
… Freddie Mercury died
… Ed Sheeran was born
… Mikhail Gorbachev resigned and the Soviet Union was dissolved
… the then Bishop of Southwark, the Right Revd Ronald Bowlby, created the Social Responsibility Department of the Diocese of Southwark on 4 June.
Thirty years later, the department still exists, now as the Department for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. Reading Terry Drummond’s reflection in The Bridge, the thing that strikes me most is how similar my job is now to his then. The Christian calling to fight for justice, to tend the vulnerable, and to care for the creation that God has given us, has not changed. Sadly, many of the issues that we strive to address haven’t changed either.
We still run food banks, and we still campaign against unjust structures that result in poverty and exclusion. We are still worried about the plight of refugees and forced migrants, although now they are sometimes fleeing the effects of climate change as well as civil war. There are also changes and developments in what we do.
I think there has been a change for the better in the recognition of unjust structures in our society which impact adversely on those with global majority, but UK minority, ethnic heritage. I am not pretending that this has been fixed, but I’m not sure that in 1991 we even collectively recognised that there was a problem. The Diocese is proud of its diverse communities, and we stand together to recognise and challenge injustice, whether celebrating Black History Month in the Cathedral or remembering the murder of George Floyd in an ecumenical service last month.
Another substantial change is in our concern about climate change. We knew about climate change in 1991 – Shell made a video called ‘Climate of Concern’ that year warning about the catastrophic impact of global warming – but it has taken a long time for anyone to take this seriously. As more Southwark churches become Eco Churches, and we work towards our Bronze Eco Diocese award, we are tackling the foothills of the mountain of climate change.
All of this can feel quite depressing: 30 years later, we are still facing the same challenges and trying to solve the same problems, with some new ones added in. When I start to think like this, I have to remind myself that life is a journey, not a destination. I can’t solve all these problems. What I can do is be open to seeing and hearing the challenges and vulnerabilities around me, instead of closing my heart to them, and seek to respond in love to whatever comes across my path. This is how the JPIC Department can continue to support the diverse communities within the Diocese to follow the second great commandment: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mt 32:29).
Find out more about the work of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation department at southwark.anglican.org/jpic.