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Windrush 70th anniversary celebrates love, hope and unity

More than 2,000 people gathered at Westminster Abbey to honour Caribbean migrants' input in the UK

As the songs sung by the gospel choir filled Westminster Abbey, I found myself wondering whether recent migrants from the Caribbean would ever have imagined such a scene: a significant aspect of their cultural roots being celebrated in a royal church in the centre of London. It was a real privilege to attend the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the arrival in Britain of the Empire Windrush, carrying immigrants from the Caribbean.

In attendance were UK prime minister Theresa May, London mayor Sadiq Khan, and home secretary Sajid Javid. More than 2,000 people, including cultural leaders, children of the Windrush generation and individuals connected in some way to the voyage in June 1948, joined in the celebration, which marked the contributions made by Caribbean migrants to British society.

Seated in the choir stalls, Kingdom Choir – last seen at the royal wedding on 19 May – sung The Anthem, a hymn familiar to the Caribbean congregants. As the choir delivered, As I travel through this pilgrim land, there is a friend who walks with me, leads me safely through the sinking sand, it is the Christ at Calvary,” the guests began at first to sway and hum, before breaking out into a clap and then applause, which filled the Abbey. We all would have been on our feet if there weren’t clear instructions to remain seated. 

There are few moments when cultures are as juxtaposed as when gospel music resounds in an ancient abbey – a beautiful reminder that God is God of the heart, not the building or the culture or the colour. At the Evangelical Alliance we passionately believe in the power of the unity of God’s people. We’re eager to see Christians from all backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities standing together before God, to celebrate one another, and so it was a delight to experience the convergence of cultures for such a special occasion. 

Speaking from Jeremiah 29:4 – 11, former general director of the Evangelical Alliance, Rev Dr Joel Edwards, gave the address. He focused in on verse seven: But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” He spoke of the contributions of the Windrush generation to society, reminding the assembly of the Caribbean nurses in the NHS, increasing numbers of community and political leaders from Caribbean backgrounds, and the place of Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in 1993, in the Windrush story.

The Windrush generation came to Britain because they had been invited and had seen a hopeful opportunity for themselves and their families. Their story has been a long one of assimilation, rejection (including on occasion by the church), success, disappointment, and joy. Dr Edwards reminded us that the Christian faith is one of hope: God who was our help in ages past will always be our hope in years to pass.”

For those of us in church, we must continue to ask ourselves, does our Christian community really echo the call to love and accept? Are we always reaching across our divides to find our commonalities? As Dr Edwards said, It costs more to love than to hate.”

Dr Elizabeth Henry, from national church institutions, part of the Church of England, wrote in the order of service: During this service of thanksgiving may we contemplate on the lessons of hope, love for one another in responding to the call, resilience in the face of rejection, and compassion in the contributions so generously given by the brothers and sisters of MV Empire Windrush, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” 

About the author

Alexandra has been at the Evangelical Alliance since 2015. Previously she worked for Alliance member Release International. Alexandra has a masters degree in Democracy and Democratisation from University College London and spent time with the Baptist Missionary Society in Kosovo. Alexandra is part of the leadership team at her church.

See more from Alexandra Davis

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