Hymnigrants – Calais Shocker

When I popped into my favourite café this morning for an illicit breakfast, I happened to get to read the only paper that was available, “the Sun”, and the story that stood out had the same title I have used for this posting. It was about a program due to be screened on our televisions in the near future – BBC’s “Songs of Praise”, that will come from the makeshift church based at the “Jungle” camp hosting the 5000+ asylum seekers who are staying there, in conditions that are generally reckoned to be pretty awful.

While the Sun was none too pleased with this piece of news and made some pretty derogatory comments in expressing its displeasure, I was delighted because church if it means anything should embrace everyone, especially destitute asylum seekers who seek the Almighty. Songs of Praise is an iconic program that is broadcast early Sunday evening, ever since 1961. While I am an irregular viewer, I do watch and have generally enjoyed the program ever since it began. The last program I watched, a couple of months back, featured a local group – “The Fishwives”. While one of the trends I am not keen on these days is the dumbing down of religion in the attempt to appeal to a wider audience, much of the music played is very good and includes many of the well known hymns and songs that I like, and this is interspersed with personal testimony which, more often than not, I find to be inspirational.

I discussed the future of the BBC in a recent blog. I think programs like this are/should be part of the BBC’s future despite noting the consternation of the Sun for its ultra liberalism, by deciding to host the program at the camp. I continue to worry at the nastiness of this popular newspaper that is read by and influences many. Its article begins “BBC chiefs sparked outrage last night by filming Songs of Praise at a notorious Calais migrant camp. Producers from the flagship religious programme shot footage at a ramshackle church on the Jungle site, where 5,000 migrants have been trying to sneak into Britain”. While it does quote (fairly) those involved in putting on the program, I feel the intemperate language it uses (the editorial is worse) is an aspect of newspaper reporting I find objectionable and is typically rabble rousing rather than thought provoking.

While I am sympathetic to the Sun suggestion that the BBC should do a Songs of Praise for the truckers and holiday makers that have been affected by the antics of camp dwellers trying to enter the UK illegally (some of who will likely appear in the program), I am pleased the BBC have made their decision and I hope they will stick with it. I also see it as significant from the point of view that the church with all its faults should be reaching out to all sorts of people, especially the needy, and in the present climate of hopelessness (check out my “Crisis in Calais” blog) it is right to do so. Here hope, more by accident than design, is the reoccurring word and is what these people need more than anything. As Giles Fraser, the clergyman involved in presenting the program, said regarding the baulk of the congregation meeting in this most basic of buildings: “They aren’t illegal immigrants, yet. I have no problem with the BBC filming Songs of Praise here. I think the church is the real thing. It is in the centre of the community.”

Note: The Daily Mail has also run the story (and likely other newspapers). Like the Sun, it seems to show little sympathy with the positive possibilities. I understand the program is due to be aired by the BBC 1700 on Sunday 16/08/15. I look forward to watching it.

Update 16/08/15: Just listened to the program on BBC iPlayer. Not scintillatingly good but at least ok and a mainly fair presentation of what is happening, albeit only scratching the surface. I see the programme was mixed with other non related items which good in itself (I love Matt Redman) the BBC should have saved this for another programme and done more to recount the stories of the migrants and why they are in the camp in the first place and maybe how this relates to faith. Sadly, since the Sun made its rant not only has the Daily Mail joined in objecting but so has the Daily Express. As for the British Government, led by Prime Minister, David Cameron, the lack of empathy toward the residents of the Jungle camp is glaring and sad, showing poor understanding, pandering to a vocal minority among the populace and lacking political will and gumption. While disturbing, I go back to the hope message. My hope is in God and not politicians and newspapers. While there are no simple solutions beyond the sort of kind acts reported in the programme the need to respond appropriately at all levels remains.

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