I’m struck by the number of people saying they neither expected Brexit, nor understand why people voted for it, especially as the people they had spoken to about it were voting remain. This seems to exemplify the network society we live in, characterised by small groups we elect to join which are made up of People Like Me. The challenge for each of us, and perhaps especially for those of us who work in community roles, is what to learn from this, and what we might do in response.
Name-calling has been used through the campaign and in the last 24 hours of reaction to the result. Behind that, it seems there is a deep-seated culture of estrangement and blame. Estrangement because, though we each desire community, we also fear community and being vulnerable with others. And because we do not know our neighbours, we can only blame them for what we imagine were their reasons to have different opinions to our own.
The problem I hit in my job time and again is that people don’t trust the Church; religion is the enemy, we’re told. People are estranged from it, and blame it for all sort of evils. The thing is, what I see from the reactions to this referendum, is that the reaction to the Church is part of a larger reaction. The culture of estrangement and blame has played a part in breaking our trust of all kinds of public bodies, and even local neighbourhoods: we trust only ourselves and People Like Me.
I am challenged to ask what I can do in response to this as the vicar of a parish. Unfashionable as it is, and often part of the problem as it may be, it seems to me that the Church actually has something really positive to offer to our nation, especially at this time. I am often struck by the way the parish Church can gather an extraordinary diversity of people in one community in a way few other places can. My own Churches in Reading are made up of people from right across the world, various ages, employed, unemployed, and retired, members/councillors belonging to Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, and Green Parties, sexualities and views on Equal Marriage, to name but a few. I wonder how we can share this in order to bring more people together, so that strangers would become neighbours, and neighbours become friends.
For example, we have a patch of unused land that we’ve turned into a community allotment. We’re also looking at how we might be able to bring people together to cook and serve lunch together each Sunday for and with anyone who wants to come. Of course, offering this is the easy bit; enabling people to take initial steps out of estrangement and blame to join in with a community that is as mistrusted as much as it is misunderstood, is far more difficult. But we’ve got to start somewhere, and the mood following the Brexit vote compels me to seek partners in building communities that will challenge and break down the estrangement and blame we’ve all become too accustomed to, and which hold us all back from being all we might be.