A blog post by Revd Azariah France-Williams.

A Warm Welcome?

Ghost Ship - Azariah FW

There is a myth that black West Indians were invited by the U.K government after WW2 to help rebuild the shattered British landscape. In fact, the government was not willing to have members of the Islands come over. They sent emissaries to the Islands to in effect declare:

“England is not open for business, thank you for your interest, we do not need your help.”

The problem was Islands like Nevis had incredibly high literacy rate coupled with easy access to English newspapers. The classifieds were clear, England was bleeding and needed labour to staunch the flow of blood. So although the government did not want the black presence, the businesses did.

One of the travellers over that period was a nineteen year old girl from Nevis who boarded an Italian boat called the Lucania. The sea spray flecked her cheeks as she boarded British passport in hand in 1955. That young bright-eyed teenager was the woman who would become my mother. She came to bring her strength and her love as a full citizen, with full rights, bringing her full self. But it can be hard to bring your gift and feel like you are merely tolerated. She worked as a seamstress and would sit on the long bench in front of her sewing machine at Hepworths factory in Leeds. Her white colleagues had a game where they would all shuffle down the bench until she toppled off the edge of the bench. White supremacy can not accommodate anyone that is ‘other’ and will strive to reestablish a world where the ‘other’ is on the floor. Although she was treated badly, she determined to make others feel welcome driven by her faith and love.

There is a Peters and Lee song called ‘Welcome Home’ the lyrics are warm and melodic, causing one to sway and smile whatever mood you were in before listening. School was not easy for me for a range of reasons. Whenever I arrived home from school, I would spot the net curtains twitch and I would know what to expect. Upon entering the house the ‘Welcome Home’ song would be blaring out at top volume and my mother would take my hand and pull me into the hallway, and dance with me. After I got over the embarrassment I would sway along and join in with the singing. We would laugh, and settle into the rest of the afternoon.

Mum welcomed me in the place she received no welcome. U.K stood for UnKind.

To some extent my mother came to the U.K to find some purpose and identity. As a ten-year old, when the second world war had finished, she wanted to now be a part of the ongoing rebuilding enterprise. She was coming to the mother country for affirmation and validation. It was a big journey with companions along the way and the thought was always that she would head back to Nevis, head home after she had done her bit, seen the world, and saved up some money to cultivate her patch of land, return and settle down. Because we all know there’s no place like home.

There is no place like home.

In the movie the Wizard of Oz Dorothy and her ragtag crew of three friends and Toto seek him out to receive the gifts he is presumed to be able to offer. Dorothy’s dog Toto pulls back the curtain and then they met the wimp behind the wizard. He shuffles from behind a curtain and the game is up.

A biblical hero with his three friends on a journey is Daniel. The story here is that they survive their own tornado and are taken to the land of power and oppression. The sheer scale and magnitude cowed many of the stolen into capitulation to the new power. They had their names changed and the emperor, the Wizard demanded they saw the world he did.

He set up a huge statue to himself and demanded everyone gathered to worship, and bow down to this oppressive display of power, but Dorothy and her three friends, I mean Daniel and his companions, would not bow down seeing the fragility behind the projection of power.

‘There is no place like home.’ Daniel and his friends bring a sense of home with them. They connected to the God of their ancestors and even in a strange land they stood despite the risks. In my book Ghost Ship, I am attempting to stay standing, I am holding onto the edge of the bench, the Church of England has rejected her children from other lands. Well eventually Dorothy got back home, and Daniel’s descendants returned, but now identity was hybridised. Home would have to be reimagined all over again. My mother never made it home but made herself a home to so many. 

God knows black lives matter, God is unambiguous about that love. When our doorbell rings and someone different to us turns up at our door, in our nation, at our church can we dust off the record player and play ‘Welcome Home,’ they may be tired, and one day it may be you needing to push the doorbell hoping to hear the music.

‘in as much as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me’


Azariah France-WilliamsRevd Azariah France-Williams is the author of Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England available from Amazon and SCM Press.

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