Reverend Reflections


Having chaired the packed Wanstead Youth Centre public meeting last month, Revd James Gilder of Wanstead Parish talks about hope, faith and turbulent politics in the first of a series of articles

I write this whilst looking over from my study window to Christ Church, on an early March day that could just as easily be January. We had a little work done on the church roof some time ago and it occurs to me that today, with its snow and bitingly cold rain, will be a good day to test if the weatherproofing has done its job. 

A short walk over to Wanstead Park and its near-empty ponds tells a different story, though – that of the ongoing drought, which seems something of an alien concept to Europe in winter, yet is all too real this year. 

The changing climate is, of course, a huge source of alarm, and has led many people to have a sense of hopelessness about the future. Between the climate emergency, wars, artificial intelligence and goodness knows what else, it sometimes seems like humanity’s capacity for ingenuity tends to outpace its capacity to guard against the havoc such progress might wreak on us all.

Should we just abandon all hope of a bright future, though? I hope not! Last night, it was my privilege to chair a meeting about the future of Wanstead Youth Centre. The centre was packed, with every seat taken and many more local residents standing, whilst Redbridge Council and the Save Wanstead Youth Centre campaign each put their points and local residents asked questions.

Much has been said about the decline in standards of civil debate in recent years, but I was hugely impressed at both the degree of local interest there was in saving the centre and the level of politeness and respect that was shown on both sides, despite obvious differences of opinion. It certainly made my job as chair much easier! In fact, I was given to think that if our leaders, nationally and internationally, could regain some of the civility that was shown in that meeting, they would probably engender far greater levels of trust from us all.

Nobody likes a braying mob (Parliament, take note!). Lots of psychologists have studied what happens when the power of the crowd takes over – and it’s generally not rational behaviour. The obvious example of this from the Christian faith is when the crowd inexplicably chose to free Barabbas (a dangerous criminal) and yet condemned an innocent man to die (Jesus Christ). At this time of year, Lent, Holy Week and Easter, many in this parish will visit our churches to walk through the story of Easter once again – a story of hope and faith set against a backdrop of turbulent politics and threats on every side. 

Whatever your beliefs are, I wish you every blessing, peace and hope for a better future.

To contact Reverend James Gilder, call 020 8530 8743 or visit wnstd.com/parish