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Same old, same old, 30 years on

I'VE COME to the conclusion that Christians are funny people.  Seriously folks.  I’m not talking Richard Pryor funny, I am talking strange funny – so strange that sometimes you really have to scratch your head and say to yourself in a low slow murmur ‘Are you for real? Did I hear that right?’

Ok so what am I wittering on about now? Late last week I was in a meeting with two elderly white church ladies who were interested in working with me on a community project where I live in south London.  Both ladies greeted me warmly with “the smile”.  You know the over wide smile that says, ‘Oh I didn’t realise that you were er, coloured, but keep smiling Mabel, maybe she won’t know I know that she is not one of us.’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not paranoid or anything of the sort – it’s just a smile that I grew to know well as a child when my mother would drag my sister and myself to the local Baptist church in the 1970s.  It was indeed a place not known for its all-embracing warmth.  I remember vividly one Parade Sunday when we were in the Brownies and I had the job, that Sunday to carry the flag pole. My mum couldn’t attend but had asked Brown Owl to walk with us to Church.  Dutifully she agreed.

On the way she asked why it was that I was darker than my sister? And how come we had such pretty English names given the fact that we were West Indian?  As young as I was, I swear I gave her the biggest cut eye I could summon up in my tiny pinched face and said my mother and father made me and they also gave me my name.  Thinking back, it is my earliest memory of the dog whistle-racism where the message was ‘you don’t belong.’

Anyhow, I digress from the story of the two biddies that reawakened long forgotten memories.   So, we are sitting in the local café and they earnestly share how they wanted to reach out to the community and the wider community (which I figured meant black people) because, as Christians, they felt it is their duty and wondered if I could help them. 

In the next breath Biddy Number One told the story how a few years ago they found that more and more Africans had begun to attend their church which, at first, they found worrying.  I asked why it was worrying – surely it was a good thing that the attendance numbers had grown?   “Oh No” pipes up Biddy Number Two. “We were afraid that they would take over our church.”
I’m sitting there looking at both biddies thinking ‘Are you for real?’ and decided to tackle this head on.  I asked them if it was a group of say, Australians, would they have felt threatened? “Well no” says Biddy Number One, “that would be different.” 

So it’s a colour thing then says I.  Silence. 

In the uncomfortable quietness that followed - which I was not prepared to fill -  I re-lived my Brown Owl moment – some 30 or so years ago and realised that things had not changed one jot.  Sure God may exist but I don't think the human mind is able of comprehending his or, dare I say her - true nature.

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