This weekend, the Iona Community at large gathered for The Big One in London.
Ruth Harvey, Leader of the Community, kept a diary of the weekend’s events.
Friday 21st April, London
Our day starts early as we pass multiple Extinction Rebellion pickets outside government departments. We add our voice to those of our friends outside the Department for Levelling Up. What is the ‘Spirit Level’ we’re looking for when power is so supremely skewed in favour of the rich, the privileged, the oil-guzzlers?
Next stop: the Ministry of Defence where the Iona Community has been asked to join in with CND and others picketing hapless MoD workers on their way to and fro. The culmination is a gathering of 30+ picketers plus banners, encircling the MoD, led by a town crier shouting, “militarism destroys the earth”. The guile and determination of these well-seasoned campaigners is humbling and inspiring. With lived experiences from Greenham Common and the Aldermaston Marches, they bring their best to the worst of the world.
Iona Community Members and Associate Members then re-grouped to join with hundreds of others from faith-based organisations for a service of worship. Ruth Valerio and Archbishop John Sentamu were inspiring. The contradictions that face all of us in church networks were hammered home by a placard around one worshipper’s neck during the Archbishop’s address: ‘CofE must divest from fossil fuels.’ Contradictions, paradoxes and hypocrisy abound over the course of this weekend together.
A bit like attending a funeral, it was so good and lovely to be together in community – and then we kept reminding ourselves why we were here.
Our small troupe became a large gathering of Iona Community folk, including a batch of our passionate Young Adult Group Members, elders and all ages in between. We joined the pilgrimage to Parliament Square, banners fluttering in the drizzle, singing our way across the Thames and weaving through the streets of Whitehall, past Big Ben to a rally in the heart of the Westminster Government. A bit like attending a funeral, it was so good and lovely to be together in community – and then we kept reminding ourselves why we were here. The juxtaposition, the paradoxes hit squarely once again.
Saturday 22nd April
Saturday begins by listening to Associate Member, Martin Wroe offering a ‘Thought for the Day’ on Earth Day. He focussed on the life and witness of Julian of Norwich who reminds us of the powerful impact of an acorn. We gather with Friends around a Beech Tree in St. James’s park, holding silence while drummers drum and families thrum past. One Brummy Friend ministers about the glory of the shade offered by this and other trees, and the magnificence of the roots spread out even more broadly beneath us. And we sit in still-awe as we reflect on all the good godly-creation that is being lost or already gone.
Onwards then, back to Parliament Square, bumping into the stalwart Garelochead Horticulturalists on the way. They are a band of remarkable, rebellious women who stand up and speak out against nuclear weapons, and against all that destroys life. Our own Helen Steven and Ellen Moxley are past and founding members of this merry radical band.
At the Faith Hub, hosted by Christian Climate Action, we rally the troops for The Big One – a march to encircle parliament. At the given moment stewards instruct us to lie down on the road and take part in a mass ‘die-in’ illustrating the death and destruction that our addiction to oil is wreaking on all of creation. We are assured that at that moment we are part of a 50,000+ strong action to encircle Parliament in this way. A profound sense of solidarity, despair and hope overwhelm – and there’s that sense of paradox and perplexity once again.
We are part of a 50,000+ strong action to encircle Parliament.
Marge Toller, Iona Community Member and passionate leader of our CCN Peace dresses up as a Badger and leads the way on this march. We release recorded bird song into the air and children and others wear animal masks to illustrate the enormity of the situation in which we find ourselves. Sharks and larks, badgers and beavers, wolves and whales walk gently together on our streets and so we live with yet more paradox.
The day draws to a close with a circle debrief of weary marchers sitting in the shade of another beech tree. We each share a highlight, a low light and a deep light, listening carefully as stories are shared through laughter and sobs of wretchedness when the vastness of the destruction we are living through and our sense of powerlessness overwhelm. Weaving through these moments are stories of encounter, longing, renewal of friendship and above all a sense of solidarity within our community – gathered and scattered – and between the many hundreds of agencies and networks here.
Sunday 23rd April
Our final day closes with the largest paradox of all. We are chicaned underneath Big Ben, waiting to cross the road of Marathon runners, Mo Farrah, a brilliant marathon athlete, trafficked as a child to the UK, zips past us on one side while XR protesters peacefully wave colourful flags for creation on the other. Pundits tell us this race to save the planet ‘is a marathon, not a sprint.’ And yet it surely feels like the urgency of sprinting is what we need as time ticks relentlessly on.
We gather finally in Parliament Square with friends from St. Luke’s Church in Holloway to worship in hope and hopefulness. Many of us – of all faiths and none – moved to tears by the sense of possibility nestled within the songs and the litany and the rage. You’ll find a link to the liturgy here.
We are a ‘gentle, angry people’.
We are a ‘gentle, angry people’. And we are singing, and marching, we are lying down, protesting and picketing. We are standing in solidarity with one another and with Earth, for all our lives.