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.