Thursday, 24 July 2008

News from the Big Blue Tent (8)

We haven’t been in the tent today, we’ve been in London.

I could write about the lunch that Rowan and Jane hosted for some 1500 friends and colleagues in their back garden, or the graciousness of Her Majesty who won the hearts of the conference and our guests with her legendary conversational gifts in another back garden a mile or so away. I could congratulate the staff, stewards and drivers who managed the logistics of decamping the entire conference a two hour journey up the road for a day. If you want a funny, it would be the line from a well-known hymn quoted by the bishop next to me as several hundred purple clad bishops headed in unison for the Embankment Station urinals, “All one body wee”. But the only real story today is of how we marched together to uphold the Millennium Development Goals and to call for a radical commitment to justice and mercy from (especially) the governments of the wealthy nations, and of how Gordon Brown pledged his commitment in person.

We marched not simply as well-fed bishops of the west but as bishops and spouses from (we were told) some 130 or so countries. Many of those marching live in places torn by war, depleted by poverty, threatened by climate change. They come from dioceses where children have no schools, curable diseases kill many and harvests fail. Physically it was a march of 1500 churchmen and women, symbolically it was a march of the 80 million Anglican worshippers we represent and a march for the sake of the billions in whose countries we live and work. Crowds lined the streets and applauded. Some stopped what they were doing and joined us as we journeyed past the great departments of state in Whitehall, past Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster, past the Abbey and over the river to Lambeth.

I’ve been in meetings before where Gordon Brown (UK Prime Minister) has spoken on the subject of poverty, so I knew it was a passion of his. But even for me, let alone for those hearing him for the first time, this was a speech to remember. It was an integrated effort of heart and mind. Without visible reading of notes he drew on both the macro-economic statistics of poverty and the individual, named, people he has met at the point of their deepest need. There was oratorical flourish in his comparison of the effects of the speeches of Socrates and Demosthenes on their audiences (was this a subtle contrast between himself and his predecessor?). He set everything within the great tradition of campaigning and action on behalf of the oppressed and excluded by Christians and other faiths. But the crux of the speech was in the specific commitments he made on behalf of his administration, and which he pledged to take to the United Nations debate in September. I must have spoken to dozens of people as the day rolled on; I didn’t find anyone who was less than full of admiration for what we had heard.

Can we take this on into the rest of the conference, as a reminder that the world and we have bigger issues to address than what bishops do in their bedrooms (in my case mostly sleep and blog)? I hope so. The next few days will tell.

Highlight of the day: that Prime Ministerial speech

Lowlight of the day: returning tired to the campus tonight to yet another huge queue at the one outlet and handful of overstretched staff distributing food. But unlike many around the world we did all (eventually) get fed.

Posted by David Walker on Thursday, 24 July 2008 at 10:03pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Big Blue Tent | Lambeth Conference 2008

There's no doubt that Gordon Brown cares very deeply about international poverty and development, and whatever happens at the next election, he can walk away in the knowledge that he has made a real difference with initiatives such as debt relief and the 'call to action' at the UN. It has always surprised me therefore that Church of England bishops from Stephen Lowe to Graham Dow have treated him in a most derogatory manner.

Good that the PM is prepared to make specific commitments rather than just talk the talk. It is depressing and telling though that this is deemed far less newsworthy by the BBC and other media than some sex scandal case.

Posted by: John Omani on Thursday, 24 July 2008 at 11:56pm BST

Only a cynic would say there was anything incongruous about a Scottish Presbyterian preaching to a gathering of bishops attending an anti-poverty rally before tucking into cold lemon and thyme scented breast of chicken with fresh asparagus and porcini mushroom relish, washed down with Pino Grigio or Chiraz, while leaving room for cream teas with the Queen.

Watching the news reminded me of another march for a popular social justice cause I attended recently: London Pride. The marchers on that occasion were not so kindly disposed towards HM Government represented by Harriet Harman, who was heckled over gay asylum seekers. Incidentally, St Martin's in the Fields was the only public building on Trafalgar Square to be flying the rainbow flag. The bells were ringing and a wedding party emerged from the church. Someone in the crowd on the Square wondered whether it was another gay wedding. It turned out not to be. Next year perhaps!

Posted by: Hugh of Lincoln on Friday, 25 July 2008 at 12:22am BST

What a Wonderful Whimsical Word from Westminster by Bishop David Walker! It does our hearts good, out here in the Southern Hemisphere, to read such Good Tidings as this message of Christian Witness of the Lambeth Delegates and Visitors to the City and Governments of the world in London.

Would that their lordships will take to their hearts the message of the Prime minister, whose passion for justice is so obviously present in his welcoming speech.

No doubt some of the bishops from the Third-World dioceses, who are motivated to express their opposition to the call of justice on issues of gender and sexuality at the Lambeth Conference, will be affetced by the call to seek the real priorities of the Gospel - not only in their own dioceses, but in the wide world of Anglicanism.
We pray God that this will be so.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 25 July 2008 at 12:41am BST

Saw the press coverage of the march this morning. Awesome. And they say that pan-Anglicanism is dead. Rubbish. we should all be proud of our church.

Posted by: John on Friday, 25 July 2008 at 10:27am BST

Yes, Ron Smith-- such wondrous Whimsical and Gracious accounting. I feel so glad that all is so well with the (anglican)world --not to mention the wider world beyond privelege and safety ....

Indeed, What a witness !

Posted by: Treebeard on Friday, 25 July 2008 at 10:48am BST

John: "we should all be proud of our church."

Ah! So that's what that unfamiliar sentiment was. And I thought it might just be dyspepsia.

Posted by: MRG on Friday, 25 July 2008 at 2:03pm BST
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