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22 Jul 2023

NextImg:Church in Shock After Wooden Cross Burnt in Graveyard, Threats Made

A Church of England vicar has been left asking whether it’s safe to open his church for worship after a recent threat to “burn down the church” has apparently been followed up by a cross burnt in the churchyard this week.

A church in East London that was recently the subject of a threat to burn down its 19th-century building has now had a cross burnt in its churchyard, in an incident which has chilled parishioners and left the priest concerned that his repeated warnings of rising aggression in the area have not been heeded.

A large wooden cross was burnt in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, Great Ilford in East London on Wednesday evening, Father Gareth Jones said. He told Breitbart London that: “…we found a charred cross propped up against the wall of the church, still warm from where it had been set alight… we’ve always had antisocial behaviour in the area, but this is an escalation following on from a threat to burn down the church a few weeks ago”.

He continued: “I don’t know how to protect my flock and I am seriously considering whether it is safe to open for worship.”

Fr. Jones said while he had tried not to alarm parishioners, his churchgoers were nevertheless shocked and concerned about the lack of support the church and community had received from the local government until this point. The Church of England vicar said he had raised concerns several times before but every time had “been ignored and dismissed”.

Only after the charred cross was discovered did Fr. Jones say he felt progress was being made, with a meeting on Friday with senior local police officers and local government officials. They, he said, “promised immediate and substantive action”.

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Reflecting on the local situation which has contributed to the rise in aggression, Fr. Jones said he and the church had traditionally had a very good relationship with local rough sleepers, and had “expended a lot of time and resources on working alongside them”, including providing a place to sleep, clothing, and meals.

But the nature of the local community has changed noticeably in the past year, with the priest saying it is no longer “the same people” and that there has been an “escalation” in aggression, despite his best efforts. Staff from the local government authority who are tasked with maintaining the graveyard now treat the area as a “no-go area”, he said, refusing to go there after “how they were treated by rough sleepers” in the past and in light of the cross burning.

Despite the threat to burn down the church by a rough sleeper and the subsequent cross burning — whether these are linked is not yet known but the police are now involved — Fr. Jones said a major concern is there is simply a lack of support for vulnerable rough sleepers themselves, and he hoped this incident would be “the catalyst for change and real long term solutions”.

These developments follow reports in the national press on the rising issue of homelessness and rough sleeping in the United Kingdom. As reported by The Guardian last month, rough sleeping is up 21 per cent in London in just a year, with Mayor Sadiq Khan revealing that rough sleeping is rising most quickly among “people who are from outside of Europe”.