On the shoulders of giants | Bishop Toby | Windrush Day 2023

This reflection was delivered by the Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Toby Howarth, at a 75th Anniversary Service Windrush Generation at the Alhambra Theatre Bradford on Sunday, June 25, 2023.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak here this afternoon on this historic occasion when we mark the 75th anniversary of the Empire Windrush docking at Tilbury with that pioneer generation, the giants on whose shoulders we stand.

I am reminded of the story in the Book of Ezra when the returning Jewish exiles gather to re-build the temple in Jerusalem. We’re told that there was both great joy and loud weeping.

That’s what we’re feeling today. Joy and celebration for the enormous contribution made by the Windrush generation to our city and our nation, but also the tears as we remember the huge cost paid by so many of that generation, that continues to be paid today.

Speaking as a Church of England bishop, I am acutely aware of the hostile reception in many of our churches when African Caribbean Anglicans in their Sunday best showed up on a Sunday morning and were told that they were not welcome and should probably go to church somewhere else.

Not that all of them took that racist advice. I have served in two churches, in Birmingham and in London, where a small group of Windrush generation women and men politely and stubbornly stayed. And in both cases, as the numbers coming along on a Sunday dwindled, they were the faithful ones who prayed and petitioned for the church to stay open. And God heard their prayers so that both congregations are now thriving. And they are deeply honoured and deeply loved.

But, I have to ask myself, what if our British churches had lived out the Bible teaching that we are all made in the image of God? What if we had lived out the Gospel message that in Christ Jesus we are one body? Were not the spiritual gifts and the spiritual energy of that Windrush generation exactly what our churches needed, and would our churches not be very different today if we had been respectful and open-hearted and welcoming to our sisters and brothers in Christ?

I apologise on behalf of our church for our racism, for our cowardice and for our lack of love. And for the wounds that many still carry.

And I also want to pay tribute to the tenacity, the resilience and the love, in the face of hostility, ignorance and bigotry, with which the Windrush generation contributed so much to our communities and to our nation.

And, as I don’t have much time, I want to focus on one particular gift: you blazed a trail for our society to recognise and to honour ethnic and cultural difference. You did so at considerable cost. That cost continues to be borne in the racist attitudes still shown within government and other national and local institutions, as we all know.

But the life of this city is infinitely richer because of you.

The life of our nation is infinitely richer because of you.

My own life is infinitely richer because of you.

Thank you.

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