How churches are helping to heal Brexit divisions – Neil McNicholas

AT a meeting of our “Churches Together in Yarm” group, concern was expressed at the particularly unpleasant divisions and wounds that are opening up within our communities and, worse still, our families, as a result of the on-going debacle caused by Brexit.

Churches are having prayer vigils as a result of the Brexit crisis.
Churches are having prayer vigils as a result of the Brexit crisis.

Those received unanimous agreement from all the members present as did the further suggestion that we try to do something to counter this situation by holding a prayer vigil for peace and unity – more of that in a moment.

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Uncertainty over Brexit has been blamed for everything from climate change to why my upstairs toilet won’t flush properly! Most, if not all, of the current predictions of doom and gloom are based purely on politically motivated wishful thinking that can have no basis in facts or corroborating data, given that this it has never happened before.

Britain remains deeply divided by Brexit.

It serves only to further muddy waters already turbulent from over three years of waiting for the result of the 2016 referendum to be put into effect and the longer the will of the people is side-lined, the worse it will get.

It seems to me that once upon a time an individual’s political leanings were always respected as being private to them, a principle that generally frustrates the efforts of those tasked with knocking on doors prior to elections trying to acquire the vote of the residents, and those hovering outside voting stations asking people how they voted. It’s none of anyone else’s business.

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Brexit has laid all of that bare. It may have been possible for people to maintain the private nature of how they voted in the referendum, but the ongoing efforts of those on the losing side to overturn the result and therefore of the people who voted to leave to defend the outcome of that democratic process, has gradually drawn out of people everywhere an admission of how they voted and therefore, by association, their political stripe.

This has also happened largely because, for the last year or so, there is hardly any other topic of conversation whenever people are gathered. Having said that, I had friends round for dinner and, as a result of a superhuman effort on everyone’s part, at no point throughout the entire evening was the ‘B’ word mentioned. That’s the sort of personal determination and achievement that, it seems to me is deserving of a place in the Honours List or even a medal from the Pope!

Ordinarily, however, in the words of The Borg (as Trekkies will know), resistance is futile and conversation will inexorably turn to Brexit and, before long, everyone’s political colours will be displayed for all to see and blood will be spilled (hopefully only figuratively speaking).

And it’s all of this that has contributed to the animosity and aggression that is currently plaguing our nation, our communities, our social gatherings, and sadly causing divisions even within families, and that is precisely why we don’t normally talk politics and why the way we vote is our own business and no one else’s, but after more than three years of indecision and parliamentary farce, all is now revealed.

This was the reason for the concern expressed at our Yarm Churches meeting – the damage and divisions being caused and the distasteful side of society that is increasingly showing itself. The question was asked as to whether we might try to do something spiritual together, and so the idea was proposed of a local prayer vigil to which, of course, anyone would be welcome, to be held in the most visible and central of our churches – which just happened to be my own – for a whole day during which anyone of any faith or of none could call into the church either to pray (whatever their practice might be) or simply to spend time in quiet reflection in an effort to try to counter the ill-effects we see and experience that Brexit is having.

I’m sure this isn’t a unique initiative by any means and hopefully similar efforts are going on in church communities elsewhere, or that our own efforts might inspire others. As they say: you won’t know how good it feels not banging your head against a wall until you stop doing it. We have been banging our heads against the Brexit wall for over three years now and while our politicians appear content to keep on doing so whatever their personal motivation might be we aren’t, and so on October 8 anyone who wishes will be welcome to call into Yarm’s Catholic church (St Mary & St Romuald’s on the High Street) which will be open all day from 8am to 8pm and, for however long they wish, be a part of our prayer vigil for peace and unity and reconciliation.

Neil McNicholas is a parish priest 
in Yarm.