Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Following the Referendum
The Referendum delivered a decision for the UK to Leave the European Union. So we have to take responsibility for what we have done and allow the consequences to be worked through. It will take time for these to clarify, not least because the simple In/Out question has opened deep divisions among us and the changes it has triggered at the moment feel seismic.
One of the problems is that the result was close and fractious. There are Christians on both sides. Some are delighted, others are downcast; a lot are bewildered.
The economic situation currently feels very uncertain. Some turbulence after a decision like this was probably inevitable, but the absence of political leadership is making this worse, with both major parties retreating into internal disputes. Tragically, the murder of Jo Cox reminded us that most of our MPs, of whatever party, are committed, decent and extraordinarily hard-working. Pray for our politicians in this extremely testing time.
Within the Diocese of Salisbury the voting figures were on the whole more clearly to Leave than the 51.9% for Leave in the country overall:
West Dorset: 51%
North Dorset: 56%
East Dorset: 58%
Weymouth and Portland: 61%
These figures do not show the extent of division. In Wiltshire one electoral district voted 75% Remain whilst another was 83% Leave. This is how it was across the country and there is no single explanation as to why this happened or what it means.
There was a very marked division by age. A survey suggests that the breakdown by age of those who voted was:
18-24: 75% Remain
25-49: 56% Remain
50-64: 44% Remain
65+: 39% Remain
Many young people are angry and feel that their future has been taken from them by an older generation who appear to have had it all.
In some places the vote to Leave was out of the anger of people who feel their needs have been ignored in an age of austerity in which others seem to be thriving. At the ordination of Deacons yesterday I said that Deacons are to work with fellow members of the Church in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible. That is a Gospel imperative.
Churches are centres of community and the Church of England is present in every community and serves the whole community. Please do all you can to get people listening and talking about what has happened because the extent of division has made even the conversation difficult.
We are now preparing to leave the EU but we are still European. It is vital that we keep a vision of how we belong together in this world. The vote was about what political institutions will best support us in our being people who are English, British, European and global citizens. Love mercy, act justly, walk humbly with God and one another. (Micah 6.8)
Ours is a diverse, tolerant and creative society. That has seemed a considerable strength of the UK. The opening ceremony of the London Olympics was only 4 years ago. The country was proud of that narrative. Many of our neighbours who have made their home here are now feeling insecure about whether they are wanted. It might help for us also to think about the 2.2 million British people living elsewhere in the EU and the universal wisdom in the Gospels taught by Jesus that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
On Sunday morning, I presided at the eucharist in a full cathedral for the ordination of 12 Deacons to serve in parishes across the Diocese from West Dorset to the north of Wiltshire. Life goes on. It struck me very forcibly that when the first disciples gathered as the community of the resurrection they were puzzled and afraid, as many of us are now. Our task as a Church is to live as people who love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. That might prove to be a very challenging Christian witness in our present circumstances.