So said Rowan Laurence, whose picture created a twitterwave on the night of March 7.
It is true that Brick Lane, Bethnal Green and Shoreditch is a standard place to see the unusual. The iron filings are many artists, fashionistas, tourists, trippers of many kinds, eccentrics and sometimes the unhinged; the multiple attractions of the area are the magnet.
So it was that Rowan snapped a picture - not the one in this blog - which went on Instagram and Twitter of a young man carrying a crucifix south along Brick Lane on a sunny Friday afternoon.
What Rowan did not know was that the crucifix had been taken from the church of St Matthew, Bethnal Green, where I am Rector. The picture was interesting and recorded what some thought was an artistic event, a religious act of witness, a stunt or a confrontation against local non-Christians. (We have sadly had some right-wing provocateurs carrying out self-styled ‘Christian patrols’ in the area.)
In the web of modern connectivity, the image found its way to a member of the church, who sent it on to me, who further distributed it and so the world of social media goes on. I do not know how many times it was retweeted. My brother is a mathematician; maybe I should ask him.
The next morning a colleague was laying out the church – now denuded of its crucifix of artistic merit and with local historical significance – for a morning of prayer and reflection when a cab pulled up in front of the building. Through the glass doors was discerned a large, cloth covered object.
Running to greet its bearer, who was in tears and apologising, my colleague exclaimed, ‘You’ve brought him back.’ Yes, it was the crucifix. Repentant, remorseful and with a personal tale of sadness and troubles, a young man bore it back with his story:
He had been in the church for a while. He has had personal difficulties. Anger welled up and he took up the cross, expecting and wanting someone to stop him. No-one did as he made his way along Cheshire Street, Brick Lane – where the picture was taken – and beyond.
It seems he was unaware of the global social network interest. He, in this time of Lent, had felt remorse and repentance and had restored that which had been removed. His tears fell as he put the cross back into place.
Church members, as the woman and the shepherd of the parables of the lost and found coin and sheep, rejoiced. It is sometimes too easy to express pious sentiments. It can on occasion be hard to be charitable.
A church member who met the man laid out the challenge: ‘He did at least see the error of his actions and returned, in need of our prayers and forgiveness. And in this time of Lent we are all seeking our Lord’s forgiveness. We cannot expect this unless we ourselves are able to do likewise.’
That is the strange and normal challenge of trying to walk the faithful road in Brick Lane, Bethnal Green and Shoreditch – and everywhere else, for that matter.