Before ordination I worked at the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary and then for the Civil Service.
I witnessed strikes, demonstrations and marches against cuts, wages and a variety of other matters and concerns. Over the years I’ve become less convinced that these sorts of actions are the best way of getting a point over or serve a campaign well, but I support the principle and the right for people to protest peacefully about issues they feel passionate about. But this doesn’t include groups who deliberately stir up hate and violence against those from other cultures, ethnic groupings and faiths such as we witnessed last week at Hexthorpe and the march by the EDL - the English Defence League.
They claim to defend the English way of life but the best way of doing that isn’t through provocative demonstrations but by getting to know and understand each other, by promoting tolerance and acceptance. We should be proud in Doncaster that different groups have integrated into the life of the town and communities, adding richness to our life together. This is a cause for celebration not violent and extremist protest.
There are debates to be had about how we all, whatever our background, culture, faith or no faith, live together in mutual respect while managing differences. We must not succumb to or be fooled by populist propaganda.
The church has promoted the recognition and affirmed the equality of all people regardless of backgrounds, creed or colour and I pay tribute to the churches and others in Hexthorpe who last week conducted themselves with integrity and compassion for others and work hard at community cohesion.
I would also like to pay tribute to three women I met a couple of weeks ago demonstrating outside Doncaster Minster at the start of a service. They were campaigning against the closure of residential homes in Doncaster and were genuinely concerned about the impact this would have on their loved ones. I spoke to them for a short while as they explained their concerns and anxiety. They asked me to pray for them which I have done on many occasions since.
Doncaster Council has hard decisions to make with a vastly reduced budget and this will inevitably be felt keenly by those on whom the cuts impact most in whatever way that may be.
I mention this because the three protestors demonstrated how to make an impact with integrity, compassion, and conviction but without disruption. They stood near the main event, wore T-shirts with a clearly-worded logo, and spoke with passion to me and others to make their point. They weren’t rude and didn’t disrupt what was happening. Their quiet protest was more powerful and moving because of its respectful silence and less easy to dismiss because of its authenticity. If you’re going to demonstrate, these three women showed us the best way to do it. I wish them well with their campaign and assure them of my continuing prayers and blessing.
* Peter Burrows, Bishop of Doncaster