Humanist Chaplain firsts in East London

The appointment of a non-religious ‘Chaplain’ in the London Borough of Redbridge in East London has proved to be an important milestone in many ways. ‘Spiritual Life’ column Ilford Recorder 26.1.22.

My appointment as Humanist chaplain to the current Mayor of Redbridge has seen several firsts. They are important milestones in the Borough’s embracing of inclusivity and modernisation.

It is the first time full council meetings have been opened with a non-religious reflection rather than prayers.  I began the first reflection with the famous quote from murdered Humanist MP Jo Cox, reminding what is often a fractious chamber that ‘We have more in common than divides us.”

It is the first time there has been a non-religious representative speaking alongside faith-leaders at the Borough’s Remembrance Day service, a reminder that the victims of war include many without faith. I quoted from ‘The Pale Blue Dot’ by Humanist writer and scientist, Carl Sagan, and spoke of the fragility of our planet and the importance of nurture and kindness.

It is also the first time a non-religious representative has spoken at the Holocaust Memorial Day service. My reflection at the January meeting of Redbridge Council includes the warning from writer, Jewish atheist and Humanist, and Auschwitz survivor, Primo Levi. “It happened, therefore it can happen again.” Not least a reminder of the importance of cherishing our moral compass.

Every reflection has spoken of decent universal values. They are relevant to everyone, whatever their religion or belief. 

It is hoped that my appointment, a temporary honorary position, has set a precedent and that, going forward, non-religious representatives will continue to play a role  in these important civic occasions. 

Ilford War Memorial Remembrance Sunday 14 November 2021. Over 500 attended from across the diverse community in the London Borough of Redbridge. Pictured in front of the memorial following the ceremony, from left to right, are Paul Kaufman (Humanist chaplain to the Mayor), Councillor Jas Athwal (Leader of Redbridge Council), Roy Emmett (The (Humanist) Mayor), Councillor Jyotsna Rahman Islam (Deputy Mayor of Redbridge), Wes Streeting MP (subsequently appointed Shadow Secretary for Health and Social Care).

A wreath was also laid by the Humanist Chaplain to the Mayor of Redbridge at the very well-attended memorial service held on 11 November at Fairlop Waters in Redbridge. The ceremony remembers the 6,500 men and women from the UK and around the world who served at RAF Fairlop in the two World Wars. This year’s event focussed on those who served from Belgium.

Paul Kaufman
Chair East London Humanists

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