Toleration for Jews and Muslims was first campaigned for by a priest at St George the Martyr Church in Southwark. Now, next Wednesday, there will be a multi-faith tree planting in his honour. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Christians will plant a tree of peace outside the church, just a few hundred yards from Borough Market, the tragic scene of a horrific attack by terrorists claiming, falsely, to represent Islam.
The tree planting has arisen out of the plans to celebrate in 2020 the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage from London to America. The Mayflower Pilgrims had been well received by Sephardi Jews in Holland and they were already sympathetic to Islam, so both the Pilgrims who sailed to America and those who stayed behind in Southwark supported toleration for Jews, Muslims and all other religious faiths.
Such thinking was very radical for the 17th century but Henry Jessey, a priest at St George’s, went one step further. From 1644 on, working with Menasseh ben Israel, the Jewish leader in Holland, he campaigned for the readmission of Jews into England and in 1656 their campaign was successful. At the same time good relations were established with the Muslim Turks.
Next Wednesday the tree (a May tree so as to reference the Mayflower) will be planted by representatives of several faiths. The tree is being paid for by Sadiq Khan’s multi-faith tree-planting scheme. Invited to attend by Southwark Council are Imam Muhammad of the local mosque, Jonathan Sedgwick of St George’s, Rabbi Morris of the Bevis Marks synagogue (on whose site in Aldgate the Pilgrim Fathers met in 1620 to plan the voyage) and Peter Stevenson of Crossway Church, nearby, the remaining descendant of Southwark’s Pilgrim Church of 1620.