Be it therefore enacted by the King’s most excellent Majesty … that from and after the first day of May One thousand eight hundred and seven, The African Slave Trade, and all manner of dealing and trading in the Purchase, Sale, Barter, or Transfer of Slaves, or of Persons intended to be sold, transferred, used, or dealt with as Slaves, practised or carried on, in, at, to or from any Part of the Coast or Countries of Africa, shall be … utterly abolished, prohibited, and declared to be unlawful.
These words were part of the Royal Assent given to the bill that abolished slavery on March 25, 1807. The then Prime Minister William Grenville described it as ‘the most glorious measure that had ever been adopted by any legislative assembly in the world.‘
It was the work of many, but perhaps supremely the work of William Wilberforce, who as a back-bench MP, had introduced an anti-slavery bill many times, only to see it defeated. In 1791 Wilberforce had said ‘Never, never will we desist till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name … [our descendants] will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonour to our country‘.
Church of England bishops opposed it. It was evangelicals (within and outside the Church of England) and Quakers who led the fight. Public campaigning and mobilizing popular opinion played a part. At one point, a quarter of the country was boycotting West Indian sugar — thanks to women, mostly, who did most of the sugar-handling in the UK, then as probably now.
I was re-reading this story today 1 and two things struck me again: the fact it was the evangelicals who led the fight; and the fact it didn’t matter that it was slow.
We are seeing sights we never expected to see. Recently I made a rare foray outside our home to drive to our allotment. (Can’t cycle, might bump into someone, car is isolated.) I passed the fish-and-chip van that arrives every Saturday noon at our estate, with a line of people each 2m apart.
In the village I saw a hand-made A-frame sign: ‘Thank you NHS’ and I was reminded of Nigel Lawson’s saying that the NHS is the nearest thing the English have to a religion.
Outside the local supermarket a small queue was standing patiently, also maintaining their distance. Everything was quiet and orderly. I wondered about this. (We are having everything delivered so I haven’t seen the inside of a shop for some time.) Are only a few people allowed in the shop? Do they feel the same pressure as you feel when you are the only person in the bathroom and someone is standing outside? That would not suit my supermarket shopping where half the point is visiting aisles full of things you don’t need, picking up something that might form the ingredient for a new and interesting meal, carrying it around the shop for a while and then putting it back.
So that’s what’s going on in the world. It will be fascinating to see what changes persist when, as I hope, things get better. More Zooming, I suppose, or the equivalent. We’ve been having family get togethers each weekend for both my and my wife’s side of the family; everyone’s had a crash course. Going out for a meal again will be nice. Seeing grandchildren other than down a phone, extra nice.
Some of the seminars I’ve seen, such as the one just below this paragraph, are fundamentally optimistic about what this reshuffling of things will do for the ministry of the Christian Church:
We’ll see. Meanwhile I have to confess to a happy lockdown. Working from home as usual, bit more time for focussed work, company of my wife, summer flooding the garden early.
Even though pubs and high streets are still declining.
My childhood landscape included church buildings being sold and other church buildings displaying painted thermometers outside as they looked for donations for a new roof. Media portrayals of vicars portrayed them as nice but useless. The tone, back in the 1970s, was that churches were like other sunset British industries, poorly managed, needing government aid , ripe for selling off.
I wonder if it will change. Last year legendary researcher Peter Brierley counted 40,100 church buildings in use in the UK — more than than all the pubs. He noted that new builds and old buildings repurposed for new congregations were at least matching sell-offs, at trend that surprised him:
Although some Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist church buildings have closed in recent years, this loss has been outweighed by the growth of new Evangelical and Pentecostal church congregations.
Migration to the UK is another factor behind the buoyancy in the number of church congregations. One of the first things that new communities do when arriving in the UK is to set up a place of worship. These new congregations often gather in non-traditional spaces such as converted cinemas, warehouses or shops.
Although much has been written about the decline in church going in recent years, the number of Christian congregations and church buildings in the UK has remained remarkably stable.
I wonder if the aftermath of Covid-19 will change things more. Surely things have moved on from the 1970s. In all the long recession, churches have been the backbone of the foodbank provision. Many times they are providers of youth work or family care when councils have cut provision. Some (like our own church) run day care for the elderly. Street pastors help those youngsters experimenting with too much alcohol on Friday nights. Churches and Christians are at the core of the community help in Covid-19 in my very limited observation. Churches have not gone the way of British Leyland, the National Coal Board, or British Steel, or British shipbuilding.
I have the idea that in this country people may stumble across the Christian church like finding an old coin, brushing off the dirt, and realizing it’s still worth something. We’ll see.
I’ve haven’t blogged about the lockdown because I’m as baffled as the rest of us. Two things coincided in my head today though (May 5th, still locked down at the time of writing). It happens I am having a happy lockdown, working at home as I have done for more than 30 years, but with my wife’s company which is lovely.
The first thing I learnt (courtesy of a newsletter from the mission agency where I used to work, WEC) is that the lockdown is a time of waiting, a kind of winter. That reminds me of what happens to individual souls sometime. One of the things about waiting/winter is the way new connections are being forged underground that will lay foundations for a brilliant spring.
The second thing I read was Nicky Gumbel saying about the multiplied demand for Alpha now that it’s online:
‘every week a new Alpha Course will start in the morning and in the evening. We couldn’t do that when you’re meeting with food and all the rest of it. You can only do three a year. We’re starting two every week.’
A third thing is that this is an unexpected setback to everything; covid-19 is a spanner thrown into the machinery of the world. Perhaps it is a spanner we threw ourselves or (to change the metaphor) perhaps it is a wave sweeping the globe because of a convergence of a series of human failings. No matter: we make bread by kneading together yeast, water and flour.1 Kneading, while presumably not pleasant for the kneaded, gets yeast to places it never got before.
In God’s hands, perhaps, consequences of human missteps can be forward steps for the Kingdom.
So you abbreviate a prayer, and use the acronym as a way of slipping out the prayer without all the normal formalities.
‘OMG’ is the most widely-used micro-liturgy I know, not commonly used in God-worshipping circumstances. But there are others.
KOPO is the acronym of Keep On Pressing On. Best used when breathless, for example walking to the top of a hill. I guess it’s a pep-talk mostly, but it includes an element of prayer since it includes the thought, ‘Oh God help me, I don’t have any breath left.’ Helpful for hikers, the disabled and the fearful.
OLGA (Oh Lord God Almighty!) is another helpful abbreviation if you haven’t time for the full expression. Handy to use repeatedly: ‘OLGA, OLGA, OLGA!’
JRMWYCIYK, pronounced ‘Germ-whichick’ is the shortened version of a last-gasp prayer: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.‘
OGHMOMAS is a good one: O God Have Mercy On Me A Sinner. Useful in many contexts. Pronounce the OGH like you are clearing your throat or speaking Arabic and put the emphasis on the first syllable: Ogh- momas! It thus can be made to rhyme with ‘Oh mama!‘ or ‘Oh moma!‘ but is a bit more holy.
Ancient usage, or indeed God himself, may have originated the first micro-liturgy. The Name of God as appearing in the Old Testament is often printed in English Bibles in small caps. It was not pronounced apparently. It is nowadays usually rendered ‘Yahweh’ by the kind of people who regard themselves as experts in this stuff and often have beards.
Someone pointed out that it is what we say every time we breathe. The ‘Yah’ is the breathing in; the ‘Weh’ is the breathing out. Two thoughts flow from this:
All the animal creation is constantly breathing prayers to God. Every breath is worship.
If you are one of those people who worry you may stop breathing sometime, such as if you forget during the night, it may come as a comfort that with every breath you do take, you can think of yourself as reaching out to God.
I am interested if other people use micro-liturgies. Confess all! I doubt it is just me.