The Bishop of Jarrow, The Right Revd Mark Bryant gave the sermon at the Miners Gala service in Durham Cathedral on Saturday 12th July 2014. A full transcript of the sermon follows: When I was growing up and starting to learn a bit about the Second World War, I was brought up with stories of the Blitz in the East End of London. I was told that everyone pulled together; everyone enjoyed the nights together in the underground shelters; everyone kept smiling; and everyone was singing along with Vera Lynn: there’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. We all pulled together; that was what the Second World War was about. And then I got older and I found myself working in Coventry which had been badly blitzed in November 1940. And I vividly remember visiting a family and they told me how as children they had been bombed out. The house had been hit and they had to go somewhere else to spend the night. They came back the next morning to try and gather a few things together and found that their house had been looted. It’s simply not true that we always all pull together. But nonetheless, I still want to believe that when we are at our very best we do pull together. If we had been here for this Big Meeting a hundred years ago, we could not have imagined that this would have been the very last meeting for 5 years, during which the Great War would have been fought and in which 745,000 British soldiers died, and perhaps over one and a half million wounded. The local pits stripped of their best and finest Miners, as in the early days so many of them went off to war, many, many of whom would never come home as those chillingly long war memorials in our communities bear witness. No doubt at that time many of our communities pulled together. It was fascinating at Wingate just a few weeks ago, to see the local newspaper that was produced to send to men at the front just to keep them up-to-date with what was going on in the village. When we are at our very best we all pull together. Thirty years ago, of course, we wouldn’t have been in here; there was no Big Meeting because of the strike. That strike affected different communities in different ways but one former NUM Branch delegate recently described that strike as Miners and their supporters standing up for “values of community of work solidarity; of look after each other rather than dog eats dog”. When things go well we all pull together. I have been really thrilled today to spend some of the time with a group marching with The Recovery Banner. I was glad to spend a bit of time with some of them at the Recovery Academy in Peterlee just a few weeks ago. Here are a group of people for whom addiction has not made life easy but who are discovering what it means to pull together and to help each other take control of their own destiny. When things go well we all pull together. This Cathedral has stood here for almost a millennium to tell the story of Jesus, who said that he came not to be served but serve and whose very first followers dreamt a dream in which people would no longer be differentiated as Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free men or women, but all one in Christ Jesus. Two thousand years on, the followers of Jesus are still struggling to live that out and to understand what that means but it holds before us a vision that the world is meant to be a place where we pull together and what matters is not
- whether we are in or out of work,
- whether we are on benefits, or
- significantly rich or hardly managing to get by,
- whether we did well at school or left with nothing
and sometimes that means that we have to look into our own hearts and our own prejudices and our own assumptions and see people more and more as God sees them. Because if I am honest with myself I am happy to pull together with those with whom I agree, or people like me, but what is needed is a willingness for us all to pull together with one another irrespective of whether we agree or get on or are like each other That was the vision spoken of by Clement Attlee, at the Yorkshire Miners’ Gala in 1947, the year after the pits were taken in to public ownership. No one of us, he said, can carry on without depending on the work of other members of the community. My sense as I go around the communities of the North East is that that is a vision that we need to rediscover more than ever. The reality we know is that we live in difficult times… Only this week I hear of a secondary school in the area for which Bishop Paul and I are responsible – a school with a simple school uniform – where over the past year staff have bought in the region of 50 pairs of shoes for pupils. This week a pupil arrived at school with feet completely sodden through – and she was helped. Something is not right and I am less interested in finding people to blame than I am in seeing how we pull together to put things right. And that of course is what the teachers in that school are doing. They are saying we must pull together It is easy to want to blame people. Of course people must be held responsible for their actions, but the danger is that when we blame others we somehow can too easily let ourselves off the hook for doing something about it. In this country we have been blessed over many decades now by our welfare state but I wonder if the down side of the welfare state is not that people could become dependent on benefits but rather that we think that the welfare state lets us off the hook in looking out and caring for each other. When we are at our best we pull together. Our communities will become healthier and better places for everyone when we discover again those values which have been there in our communities when they have been at their very best. We get glimpses of it already in the extraordinary generosity of so many people in supporting Foodbanks across the North East; in people giving up time and energy to work with young people, people working to support local Credit Unions. For many people in the North East this is not a good time and we owe it to them to ensure that we increasingly become communities that know what it means to pull together.