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The Next Chapter Begins 3 (A Challenge) ...

 The Challenge
Once it sank in, the prospect was frankly terrifying! The 'integrity of the Walls' put an immediate ban on even a picture being hung on the church walls let alone the whole interior surface being hung with 30 large textile panels, each about as long as the height of the lower walls. These were valued and valuable works on loan from groups of women around the world and under the care of a major British Museum which had never worked in such an unusual, unorthodox and unknown 'gallery space' before. Nothing had been

Angel 2004

seen like this in the short history of the building - what if it really did violate the building? what if it was totally inappropriate to the panels themselves? There was nothing to go by and, not for the first time in the years which followed, did the Incumbent feel the burden of a huge risk being taken which could discredit the church rather than serve. Six years later, even more terror attended the risk of installing 800 square feet of shimmer disk installation (85,000 metalised reflective disks) on the exterior of the church in Rose Finn-Kelcey's award winning 'Angel' - but more of that in a later section!

Of equal concern was what was happening in this part of East London at the time. On the day that Shamiana was to open (May 1998) an extreme right-wing Borough Councillor was elected for

Church porch, Shamiana

the British National Party. Racial tension was already high and here was a cleric of the wrong colour celebrating the work of women of every nationality with (as it turned out) crimson textile banners outside the church in Bengali, proclaiming, 'Shamiana, the Mughal tent.' It would not have been unthinkable for right wing extremists to use this event as a way of demonstrating how unwelcome outsiders and immigrants were in the East End. As this is written in 2011, the English Defence League is asserting the same claims in the East End. This is an issue which remains alive in our midst.

But none of this seemed ever likely to come to pass with the firm reservations of the 'old guard' still protecting their building from possible violation of purpose. If, together, we are builders of the Kingdom of God, and not just the Vicar with token nods from the congregation, then there had to be ownership of this, not just by the congregation or the Church Council or churchwardens, but by those who might have the strongest reservations about any of this. Duncan therefore committed to having those who might be the most resistant as the working group to explore this new posibility and if they were, in the end, to turn down such an idea then it would not happen. These were they who faced the biggest challenge in allowing the church to be used in such a new way and who would therefore take the biggest 'risk', and not some new boy at the helm!

Without them on board, this would simply be imposition. The new parish priest was strongly advised in high places to impose a new order and sweep away the old order, right at the beginning of his ministry here, as a way of dealing with so much opposition. He was regarded as weak for not doing so by so many other incumbents at the time. However, he tries to live by a theology of Church which strives and struggles to include in as many as possible, however awkward and difficult that may be, rather than to do cosmetic surgery on the Body of Christ and make something which is made more in our image than in the Image of the Christ who made and loves and has a saving purpose, even for awkward customers!

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