In the midst of life’s mundane, there comes the occasional moment to treasure. Such a moment is what 12 noon on Friday 22 June 2018 promises to be. It marks the 70th anniversary of the docking of MV Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks on 22 June 1948 with its significant passenger list of over 500 people from the Caribbean, mostly Jamaica. These were young adventurers grasping the opportunity to sail into what they hoped would be an economically bright future for them and their families – even as they left all-year-round sunshine and real heat behind. Most dreamt of returning richer after five years.
This was not the first presence of African people in Britain, but the Windrush’s significant numbers at once sent tremors through the British political establishment and cultural police, leading inexorably to that evocative ‘Rivers of blood’ speech by the late Enoch Powell MP. Somehow, that African people contributed to building Hadrian’s Wall in the 3rd century, that many had lived in Britain as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, that some made the ultimate sacrifice defending Britain and its Empire in World Wars 1 and 2, meant little or nothing to those who believed in white supremacy and could only imagine black and white coexistence if white privilege was guaranteed. Powell was to later imply that if migration as that represented by Windrush persisted, in a short while ‘the black man would have the whip-hand over the white man.’
The 70 years since the docking of the Windrush have been in many ways similar to what went before in one significant sense. W. E. B. Du Bois the American sociologists described it as a problem of the ‘colour–line’. This has manifested itself in many different ways including: enduring inequalities based on race/ethnicity in social, economic and political spheres; riots, deaths and maiming particularly in former industrialized inner cities; with the occasional glimpses of what could happen if we learned to love all of God’s creation and embrace fellow human being as made by and in the image of Creator God – just like me.
Out of a background of opportunities denied, futures blighted, hopes dashed and faith challenged has emerged a major cause for rejoicing: the emergence of the Black Church Movement in Britain, a movement that permeates the entire Christian community and beyond. At its core is the Black (mostly Pentecostal) Church. Proving doubters wrong, the Black Church in Britain has shown that a key response to a hostile socio-economic and political environment is self-reliance and self-determination. As the Black Church has shown itself strong, resilient and self-assured – those who once called it a ‘sect’ now call it ‘partner’, fellow travelers on the journey of faith in a troubled world.
Alongside the Black Church are those Black Christians who refused to bow to the racism that sought to exclude them from their traditional belonging to European-initiated denominations like Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, et al. Choosing to remain because ‘this is my church’, they continue to wage spiritual warfare on persistent racism and inequalities – principalities and powers in high and holy places. In the face of experience to the contrary their faith leads to an embrace of a vision of a church and world in which all live in justice and peace.
The Church therefore continues to strive to be the best example of what the late Dr martin Luther King called, the beloved community. To that end we to pray to God: ‘Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.’
On 22 June 2018 in Westminster Abbey, 2,200 people will gather to mark Windrush@70. We will be giving thanks to God for the Godstances that have brought us here. In the words of a song: ‘Look where God has brought us, he has brought us from a mighty log way’. The story of that journey of the Windrush Generation will be told through three lenses: invitation, mixed welcome, resilience/overcoming. These will take the forms of narration, images, displays, music and a sermon by The Rev’d Joel Edwards, and specially commissioned musical piece by renown composer Shirley Thompson, MBE.
Against the background of the recent ‘Windrush Generation’ citizenship controversy this service will be a mark of how far we have come while making it plain there is yet some way to go. For the sake of future generations we put our trust in God and hope for a brighter tomorrow based on hard work, ingenuity, a commitment to love self and other, and a relentless resistance against the forces of evil. We believe God has and will always have the ‘whip-hand’ over evil.
Bishop Dr Joe Aldred
Chair of the Windrush@70 National Service Planning Group
Staff member of Churches Together in England
This article was originally posted on the Black History Month website.