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