I pastor a church in the London borough of Haringey, the most culturally diverse area in Europe. But there are real needs in the community that ten years ago, none of the local churches were meeting.
The churches were also very critical of the council. There was no dialogue, or cooperation between us and them. But that changed the day we publicly repented to the borough Mayor.
A small group of church leaders in Haringey meet every week at 6am to pray for the area. I first got involved in 1998 when they approached me to use my church building for an event. Their prayer meetings just blew me away.
The group had invited the Ed Silvoso organisation to come to the area for 40 days that summer and work with the churches. During those 40 days lots of things changed for us. We did a lot of repenting among ourselves, for example between black Christians and white Christians, and between denominations. Significantly, we began to see ourselves as just one church in the area with lots of congregations. We also had a growing sense that our attitude to those in authority, particularly to the council, was just not right. It was patently obvious that we had failed the scriptural mandate to pray for all in authority and to honour them. We became convicted that we needed to repent and find a different way to work with our local authority.
For the last of three events during the summer, we invited the Mayoress of the Borough, Shelia Peacock, to the New River Stadium. Over 800 people had gathered including church members and leaders.
At one point, we called all the leaders of congregations in the borough out onto the pitch – about 40 of us, from denominations and cultures right across the board. One of our number went on stage, knelt before the Mayoress and repented on our behalf. He led us in a commitment to support and honour the council and pray for them. It would be safe to say the Mayoress was completely lost for words, but we had a strong sense we had done the right thing.
We can’t claim any cleverness – I don’t think we knew what we were doing, except that we had to do it. We had no idea that anything would break loose as a result, so all that followed was as much a surprise to us as anyone else; but that’s the grace of God.
We began to pray for the council as churches and individual Christians, but there were practical outworkings too. It was as though saying sorry had removed a hidden barrier and created a different context that enabled things to happen. About seven of us from different denominations were ecumenical borough deans, and this included meeting with the council. As together we looked at the issues affecting the area we found that the door was wide open for churches to be actively engaged.
One of our first events celebrated the tremendous amount of development in the Broadwater Farm Estate following the 1985 riots. It was primarily Christian, but with a sense that something was different. We had prayed, now we were demonstrating with our lives that ‘saying sorry’ wasn’t just about words.
Shortly after, I had the idea of having a Peace Week, a multicultural event for all faiths in the borough. It ended up happening the week after 9/11, and became a phenomenal opportunity to demonstrate peace in Haringey when the whole of London was in turmoil.
The police helped us target areas in the borough for prayer and we held ‘On the Move’ barbeques, which gave an opportunity for many to talk to church members and express their concerns and fears following the 9/11 event. That week and the couple of weeks following saw a 35 per cent reduction in crime.
The Peace Alliance, which works with statutory agencies to promote peace and reduce crime really grew out of this initiative, and we have tremendous opportunities right across London, working with several key organisations.
I believe that for churches, just as with individuals, there is only one way to go forward with God and that is to face up to your sin, and repent of it and commit to live in a different way. But having said sorry, it is important to walk in repentance and demonstrate you are sorry by your actions. This is what we have tried to do in Haringey.