‘Walking the walk’ in protest at arms fair

NofaithbiblesUnited Reformed Church minister, the Revd Mark Meatcher, joined various religious and campaign groups in a week of action against the world’s biggest arms fair. The Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) event takes place at Stratford’s Excel centre from today (12 September) until Friday.

Pax Christi, the international Catholic movement for peace, and Quaker Peace and Social Witness were among those protesting against the biennial arms fair, which brings together arms companies and buyers involving some 35,000 people. The event has long been condemned by human rights advocates for its role in facilitating the supply of weapons and other security equipment to governments that include repressive and aggressive regimes. 

Churches have been actively involved in the campaign for an international Arms Trade Treaty to promote more responsible trading, which came into force in December 2014 and was adopted by the UK Government. The week of action to ‘Stop the Arms Fair’ began with a day of worship, prayer and nonviolent action by a coalition of faith groups as truckloads of equipment began to arrive at DSEI. This was followed by another action day featuring music, art and drama in a ‘carnival of resistance’, and yesterday (11 September) by a silent candlelit vigil.

The Revd Mark Meatcher, minister for the Chelmsford and Area Group of United Reformed Churches, was one of many church representatives to support the week of action. Here are his reflections from the first day of protest:

‘I attended my first “proper” demonstration when I participated in the #Nofaithinwar day at the ExCel Centre in London on 5 September. I met so many wonderful people, including the police force tasked with keeping law and order while the demonstration was going on. The experience filled me with hope for the future of humanity but also challenged me about my faith and what it means to me.

‘Mine was a relatively tame protest. Since I am a minister of the United Reformed Church, I turned up in uniform, so to speak. I discovered that simply being there as a church minister­ – joining others to say that I believe the arms trade, and the arms fair are wrong and are not the best ways for us to work in peace – brought a response from many people. They said: “Thank you so much for coming; thank you for talking the talk and walking the walk” – a response that moved, challenged and humbled me.

‘Some protesters stood in the road, others chained themselves together, had to be cut apart, and were arrested. Some people hung themselves from bridges to try and prevent the lorries carrying weapons from entering the exhibition centre. And what did I do? I participated in a drama in which Britannia was married to the Arms Trade, performing three times during the day. I joined the Quakers in their worship for an hour late in the morning as we stood at the side of the road. We placed Bibles and grapes in the roadway in the hope that this symbolic act would be noted, and might help those bringing weapons into the exhibition centre to think about what they were doing. It prompted bemused looks from the police, who weren’t sure what to do about this kind of protest.

‘We listened to a Jewish contributor commentating on the Old Testament scriptures. We celebrated Communion in the middle of the road alongside a Methodist and an Anglican ordinand and with Quakers and others from various backgrounds. We shared in worship and prayers for peace with Pax Christi – another experience filled with humility and wonder – and worshipped with Buddhists.

‘We left the day inspired and challenged, wondering how God wants us to continue the campaign; how best to work for peace and to challenge the world view that we need might to control our world. This world view fails to recognise that building and selling weapons of war is not bringing peace but only continuing to destroy communities.’

Read Mark Meatcher on Twitter @markmeatcher13
Image credit: © Paul Stygal