From the Parish Priest, Fr Nicholas Clews
It is ironic that we mark the centenary of the end of World War 1 just as we prepare to leave the European Union. A century ago there was a fundamental realignment of power in Europe. The growing tension between Britain, France and Germany had apparently been resolved and Germany, the aggressive challenger, was now clearly the underdog. We now know that the tensions were suppressed and not resolved at all.
A century on we are about to loosen our ties with the rest of Europe and to create new independent relationships with other nations the world over. No one can foresee where that will lead.
All over the country there are war memorials inscribed ‘lest we forget’. What is not at all clear is what it is we must not forget! In the midst of Brexit fever, we might be tempted to suppose that we must not forget that we are an island nation quite independent of the rest of Europe and that must long continue!
In which case we should remember a small ceremony taking place in parish churches all over Britain every Sunday, as proud new parents gather round a font to see their new baby sprinkled with a few drops of water as a priest says, ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.
What can a baptism possible have to do with Brexit?
The answer is this: that in baptism we become part of a body of people which stretches across every continent in the world and through twenty-one centuries. No-one is baptized into the Church of England (there is no such organisation as the ‘Church of the United Kingdom’!): we are baptized into the word-wide church.
One of the criticisms made of the EU is that it has been a rich man’s club. One of the possible gains from Brexit is that Britain might choose to establish new relationship with the poorest countries in the world to their benefit. We might downplay our European identity in order to gain a world identity.
The Church of England Diocese of Leeds is already aware of this. We have well-organised links not only with churches in developed countries such as the United States and Germany but also with countries very different from ourselves: Mara, Sudan and Sri Lanka. These are personal links: I know many people who have visited both Sudan and Tanzania and the Treasurer of one of my churches also sorts the finances for the link with Tanzania.
What we must not forget is that through our baptism we have a fundamental solidarity with other Christians not only in Europe but throughout the world.
But we were not born baptized! Our earliest and most important identity is that we were born as human beings or, as the author of Genesis outs it, ‘in the image of God.’ That amazing status unites all six billion people throughout the world. Perhaps, more important, it unites me with the family next door who may be Hindu, East European or just – in some undefined way! – different.
A century ago we had the chance to create ‘a world fit for heroes to live in’. We fluffed it and the result was the Second World War. In our own time Brexit is a chance to work for a better world. The danger is that we become insular as a nation. The opportunity is that we become more outward looked. The latter is undoubtedly the Christian option.