Public disorder and looting - a local church's response

On Saturday, looting and disorder broke out in Tottenham, leading to a great deal of suffering and significant loss to property. The lawlessness and greed has rightly received universal condemnation. Last night, online social networks and local radio stations were beginning to report the spread of the violence to Islington and other parts of city.

Thankfully, the most frightening rumours proved to be false. No lasting damage appears to have taken place here and we express our sympathies for districts that have suffered much worse. This morning, the Islington Gazette reports that in our locality, the police station at Tolpuddle Street was surrounded by up to 70 youths and that some disorder took place near the N1 Centre.

St Mary's, like all Church of England churches, is not solely concerned with its members and those who come to its services. We're a parish church, which means that we give focus to the area between Angel and Highbury Corner, bounded to the west by Liverpool Road and to the east by Essex Road and Canonbury Lane. Our parish does not limit our mission, but it gives us a special concern for the people who live, work and use the district in which our church was established a thousand years ago. And as Islington's first church, whose parish once covered the majority of the present borough, we identify with the borough in a particular way.

So what should a local church do in response to these events?

  • The first response is to engage with the issues. We're here to seek the welfare and prospering of all people, believing that God is concerned for peace, justice and the well-being of communities. For us, the streets are as significant as the sanctuary. There is no boundary between church and world at which our hopes expire.
  • The second response is to celebrate all that is good here. And we don't just affirm the entertainments of Upper Street, where the lights are bright and the music is loud. Islington is a great place because of all the people who belong here. From an astonishing range of backgrounds the mixture of  lifestyles, cultures and backgrounds people make Islington their home and their place of work. Community relations are good. So we affirm that last night's disturbances did not result in rampant lawlessness here and we commit to seeing that this remains the case.
  • We pledge ourselves to invest in strengthening relationships. As a church we can work with others to ensure that a locality becomes a neighbourhood, that "community" is more than a wish-word. On our agendas at the moment are the summer playscheme that our Community Partnership offers to children, the follow-up to our Soul-in-the-City Summer Camp, a Peace event with other faiths planned for the autumn, investment in our local school, providing a community celebration for all people through the Soul-in-the-City project which was endorsed by political leaders from the main parties, sharing in the regular Pray Together for Islington events, which bring the issues of our borough to a wide range of church leaders and members. We will work with everyone who is committed to the common good and we will look especially to serve those without power or voice.
  • We commit resources, giving some 25% of our income to other charitable bodies, at home and abroad. We'll be looking at ways of making the investment of funds in local mission particularly in a way that strengthens provision for local people in the greatest need. Through the St Mary Islington Community Partnership, we'll be looking to serve a growing number of community groups and people. The Youth Club remains a vital part of provision for young people in this area.
  • We bring all this before God in worship and prayer. In our Sunday worship and our daily prayers, we ask for forgiveness for the injustices we have allowed and the people we have overlooked. We urge each other on to work for a better world in the strength that God supplies.
Islington is already a great place. We will strive with others to make it better still.

Update: The Bishop of Edmonton and Tottenham's Faith Leaders will host a Vigil of Hope tonight.