Last Sunday evening, rather unusually, I found myself yawning during one of my own sermons. I soon noticed it was very catching. Lots of people began to yawn. Yawns spread quickly, so do good words.
For people of faith, acts of silent and passive witness, that have no need of words, can be very powerful. I learnt that a few months ago when the Quaker community in Swansea gathered an array of faith communities, and other principled people of no faith but passionate values, to encircle a Mosque and to protect it from any possible harm at the hands of the “Welsh Defence League.” That took courage and said a great deal about the community dynamic in Swansea. It also spoke powerfully about something distinctively Welsh in post devolution Wales. Communities who used to occupy the same space, but in mutually excluding bubbles, are now increasingly learning the value of talking to each other.
Things were a little different in Newport a few days later. Members of the Welsh Government’s Faith Communities Forum had already given their formal support to fantastic community activists who had arranged a Peace Vigil on the eve of the anticipated protest of the “WDL” to the city. That night, I was asked to speak from the Christian perspective. The atmosphere was far too tense for any yawns.
I was taken aback by one special moment. Expressing a personal belief in public, that all of us in Wales had a right to be different and distinctive while retaining an equal right to belong and to be deemed equally Welsh, prompted a proud waving of tens of little Welsh flags. I wondered that night what Lloyd George would have said if he could now see what he once described scathingly as the “Newport English?” Perversely, thanks to the “WDL”, some of us were privileged to see a new and diverse face to an old nation begin to emerge. It was fantastic.
I wasn’t there in Wrexham but many from an array of faith communities and of none, stood their ground against the “WDL” by celebrating the town’s diversity. That too brought people together in the most powerful of ways.
Some of us will be gathering tomorrow night at the Senedd building steps, to celebrate Cardiff’s diversity and to reject anything that might seek to harm community relations in Wales’ capital city. The Peace Vigil will begin formally at 8 p.m. and will seek to be suitable for those of all ages.
Earlier today, a journalist asked me what messages we hoped to convey in countering anything that the “WDL” had to say. In the context of immigration, many will speak of numbers. There may be some legitimacy to those debates.
For far right groups, the issue isn’t numbers. It’s never the question of the numbers of those who are too many – whatever their distinctiveness. For them, the real issue is the one distinctive human being that’s too many. That one human being, could be any one of us. That’s why many of us will stand together in a quiet but powerful Peace Vigil tomorrow night on the steps of the seat of our national democracy. In a new, diverse and sophisticated Wales, none of us will be asked to stand alone.
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