Sunday, March 25, 2007

Set All Free!

To the Cathedral this evening for a service to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Act Abolishing the Slave Trade. It was a weird and wonderful mix of Anglican formality and Afro-Caribbean zest, enthusiasm and downright chaos. Gospel choir, lots of ladies in fantastic hats (the Dean said wryly that it wasn’t often that he felt under-dressedin his own Cathedral but this was clearly one of the times) and a small girl dancing in the aisle, just a few rows ahead of me, whether there was music playing or not.

The first person to grace the pulpit was very impressive – both in his words and in his person. I couldn’t stop thinking of how unimaginable it would have been 200 years ago that a black man should be speaking out from the pulpit of Gloucester Cathedral while the Bishop sat listening silently several feet below. He talked about the loss of self-hood that slavery imposed, and went on to talk about contemporary slave-masters that still shackle black British youths,- ignorance, disrespect and mediocrity.
A later speaker told of the chain that remains around an old cotton tree in Kingston, Jamaica…left in memory of the slaves that were flogged there, but being gradually hidden as the tree grew and increased in girth. Memories are long but in the end the effects of slavery may be forgotten, the distorting impact upon black and white cultures finally dissolved.

We thanked God for those whose eyes had been open to the evils of slavery, and who had worked to overcome it, repented of our part in injustice and committed ourselves for the future. An amazing woman sang a Spiritual with overwhelming passion, to a smokey jazz accompaniment and then FabBishop gave us his blessing. At this point the proceedings became high farce. A congregation that had been significantly less static than your standard Cathedral bunch were not going to hang around now that the show was over. Instead they rose and made to depart, leaving the official procession, in all its glory, to jostle its way through the crowd to reach the door. I wondered if the Crucifer had considered pole-vaulting, and it struck me that there might well be a few lessons in freedom that could usefully be learned. Priceless

Edit: For an account of transatlantic celebrations, go here


Quotidian Grace said...

You'll be happy to know that in Houston, Texas my church also celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Act Abolishing Slavery in Britain! I described our wonderful service in today's post.

God bless the Brits for leading the way!

Cal said...

Sounds fab. I went on the Walk of Witness on Saturday with various Archbishops. Jolly good and jolly cold! Made it easier to be empathetic as well as sympathetic!

Love the picture you used on this post. I worked for 4 years in the offices of Anti-Slavery International where the original banner is hanging in the meeting room. I used to look at it often when I was waiting for the kettle to boil and it never ceases to speak to me.

Lorna said...

The pic is wonderful and I liked what you wrote about the tree

but I do hope that we never forget the effects of slavery - because we ignore history at our peril.

I so want to see amazing grace - it's not here yet. Have you seen it?

Kathryn said...

No, I've not seen the film yet - not sure if I will, as it has had mixed reviews and has been accused of minimising the horrors of the slave ships...Also, this is just NOT a good time of year for outings to the cinema, and I suspect that once the dust settles the film will have moved on. We'll see. Anyone any first hand reactions to it?

marcella said...

I might try and see it. It doesn't seem to be about anything more than the white Wilberforce, but at least it's talking about the subject. I am astounded (I was going to say ashamed but I didn't actually choose the curriculum) that in studying History (including British History 1800-1918 for O Level, European History 1800-1945 for A Level, and then British, European and American History 1800-1960) we NEVER dealt with the Slave Trade in any detail at all - truly appalling now I come to think about it.

Jonathan Hunt said...

I hope to see it but the Easter dust is a bit unsettled for me too and by the time we get round to it Cheltenham Cineworld will probably have withdrawn it for lack of support.

I wonder if people miss the point about the film - it is essentially ABOUT Wilberforce and the 'clapham sect'.

This is no bad thing, because all I have heard through the BBC day after day is 'triumph for the human spirit', 'the city of Hull has a great tradition of free thinking and liberty', yada yada yada.

Virtually no mention of God, of course. He had nothing to do with it.