Labour, social activism and God in East Ham

PUBLISHED: 10:00 12 February 2016

Rev Quentin Peppiat at St Mary Magdalene Church in East Ham

Rev Quentin Peppiat at St Mary Magdalene Church in East Ham


New Labour’s media handler Alastair Campbell famously stifled Tony Blair’s Catholic zeal mid-interview, telling his boss: “We don’t do God.”

But thankfully for Rev Quintin Peppiatt, the king of spin isn’t around to stop faith informing his work as a Labour councillor in East Ham South.

Indeed for the vicar at East Ham’s St Mary Magdalene, his faith has helped shape his politics and self-confessed “left-wing” identity.

“Social action is as important as faith,” he said. “Faith doesn’t exist in a bubble. Faith informs politics – you can’t just keep it in church when you’re part of a community.”

Before the Buckinghamshire-born vicar came to serve Newham in 1995, he volunteered as a teacher in Grenada shortly after US president Ronald Reagan invaded in 1983.

From Grenada, he applied to study Theology in Oxford, where he was active in opposing the tradition of excluding women from Church of England ordination.

“I was quite a rebel – I remember strikes outside Lambeth Palace,” he said. “I believe the equality and generosity of God’s nature is shown in scripture so an equal leadership role for women is essential.”

The former chemist believes an enlightened church is something to be embraced, warning against Biblical literalism.

“The scriptures go into debates about Jews verses Gentiles and whether Christians should be circumcised – they’re not the sort of arguments we’re having today,” he said. “In the Anglican Church we use scripture and tradition but reason must be part of the mix.

“You can’t just say ‘the word of God is the word of God’.”

The 52-year-old, who is chair of governors at East Ham’s Vicarage Primary School, said his 886-year-old church would continue to endure secularism and pluralism.

“The change that has happened even just in my life in East Ham is massive,” he said. “The only constant at St Mary Magdalene is that the people are always changing while the building remains.

“Railing against it is like railing against the tide.”

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