The Church has many resources that are not available to politicians. Politicians are practitioners of the art of the possible: they keep the show on the road, nudging it in varying directions; they fix things; they make promises within a limited horizon.
But the Church has permission to sing songs – songs of lament, songs of confession, songs of hope. I submit that all are necessary today. Lament that is unrecognised expresses itself in anger and accusation; lack of confession leads to mistakes being perpetuated; and hope gives direction to our decisions and our action.
Lament names the ache and the void we carry around with us. For me, that involves the pain of a fractured European identity, where my claim to the rich heritage of our continent is being attenuated; where our neighbours continue to shape their future, painful as that may be, and we watch from the side-lines. It involves lamenting the drabness of a world diminished by limited freedom of movement, as multi-lingual chatter disappears from our high streets, we lose the efficiency and enthusiasm of European tradesmen, and our universities struggle to keep a vibrant exchange of ideas alive. And I mourn the rejection of the great insight of the European Project whereby economic activity and social values go hand in hand.
Confession follows on easily from lament. I confess that I missed opportunities to share with people at home the excitement and the depth of reflection from meetings with church partners in Europe, acquiescing too easily with the view that Britain isn’t interested in Europe. I confess to leaving it to others to support refugees and to publicise the contribution our migrant communities have made to the country. And I confess to having done too little to engage local communities in the decisions that affect them.
Hope names a future that is at odds with the one we seem to be embracing. Let us hope for a future of international cooperation, where nations put their resources and fortunes at the disposal of others rather than hugging them to themselves. A future where citizens engage with politics at a deeper level than being observers to a soap opera and where they reconnect with each other to construct a rich tapestry of social relationships. A future where economic opportunism is kept in its place and the quality of life of our suppliers and their families is part of the equation. A future where we value the intrinsic worth of strangers as well as friends and recognise the part they can play in realising our dreams.
Tomorrow we will put our technocratic hats on again and plan and envision and mobilise for outcomes and scenarios, but first we need to connect with our grief and our fears. From that we will be liberated to face the challenges ahead.
About the author
Alison Elliot work engages with the university, civil society and the church. Formerly a lecturer in cognitive psychology, she is currently an Honorary Fellow and Associate Director at the Centre for Theology and Public Issues at New College, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh. In 2004 she became the first woman to be appointed Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. She was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches in 2009, having represented the Church of Scotland on its Central Committee for 12 years. She has been Convener of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and is a Trustee of Volunteering Matters. She was a member of the Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services in Scotland (the Christie Commission) and has chaired a review of land reform for the Scottish Government. She holds a OBE and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.