‘Happy Wedding Anniversary’ said an unfamiliar voice across the table. This was not to be an intimate dinner for two. Instead, courtesy of Andrew’s role as President of The Law Society of England & Wales, we attended The Lord Mayor’s Banquet.
Also attending were many well known figures of the British Establishment. I am not one for pomp and ceremony, but amidst the stunning surrounding, fanfares, sumptuously dressed tables, toasts and speeches, it was clear that God was very much at work.
Sometimes Christians feel that there is little sympathy for faith at senior levels within our nations leadership. That can cause:
1) A siege mentality where we either fail to have any impact on the world or
2) Negative campaigning that can appear as bigotry (but perhaps is sometimes born out of fear?)
The powers of darkness have nothing to fear regarding the former and the latter can simply give rise to a harder form of secularism, even perhaps resulting in the establishment of bad case law.
Well, what I witnessed last night blew my mind!
David Cameron spoke of the phenomenal work that churches are doing. In his speech he spoke at length about how the church is the most effective agency of change in local communities, even amongst hard to reach communities.
The Archbishop of Canterbury claimed that as a nation, we had much to be grateful for regarding the work of DFID (Department for International Development.) He spoke about the significant DFID money being given to Churches and Christian Charities. The reason? It is widely acknowledged that the churches have the community ‘know how’ at home and abroad and can bring sustainable grass-roots change.
The Late Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf, herself a former President of The Law Society, said that a major highlight of her Mayoral year had been in St Paul’s Cathedral where there was a service to celebrate 20 years since the Ordination of women as Anglican priests. She said ‘Glass should be in the windows, not in the ceiling!’ Last year in her speech as incoming Lord Mayor, she challenged the Archbishop to work to raise the number of women in senior levels within the church. This year, the Archbishop cheekily responded by challenging ‘the city’ to raise the number of women board members in FTSE 100 firms to reflect society! 😉
Opposite me, a highly decorated top ranking Police Crime Commissioner leant over the table to ask what I felt about the role of religion in politics. What ensued was a stimulating conversation about the importance of a degree of separation between church and state (which was interesting given the setting). We discussed the need for the church to have a prophetic role ‘speaking truth to power.’ He argued that the church needed to have a greater voice and he asked me ‘where is the Baptist voice?’ Shouldn’t Baptists be in a better position than the Established Church to speak truth to power? ‘Perhaps’, I thought, but it got me thinking once again about the fact that in our desire for decentralisation, we could be in danger of losing the power of a unified public prophetic voice.
Knowing that I was a minister, the guy to my right-a retired stockbroker and a liveryman tried to get a rise out of me by speaking about the ‘phallic nature of the table decorations’ (I have to say it wasn’t the first thing that crossed my mind!) He then moved on to state that he didn’t really agree with women bishops. Still not getting the rise he anticipated, he started asking various probing questions about the nature of ‘call’, experiential faith and why there was a need to respond to Christ if Christ has indeed ‘already done it all.’ Halfway through the evening, he asked for my business card saying that I had been the first person courageous enough to straight talk with him about his need to respond to all that Christ had done.’
To my immediate left was a wonderful senior female minister in the Church of England. The gentleman to her left opened a conversation with us both by saying
‘Wow – you two don’t look anything like church ministers used to when I went to church as a child.’
We both smiled politely….having heard something similar many times before.
He then asked us what we found to be the most frustrating aspect of ministry. We both spoke about how apathy and fear within the church hinders the work that God wants to do in individual lives and in the the world through the church. He said that he felt that this was a generation that generally lacked courage. He then challenged the church to take a lead in this nation by showing it how to live courageously! He left saying that he had been immensely inspired by the conversation!…..So had I!
As a woman, life in ministry (not least getting into it in the first place) has presented a catalogue of difficulties. However, there are many amazing advantages of being a woman too! One of these is the ability to take people by surprise precisely because you don’t look like they think a typical minister looks! Perhaps it is the novelty factor or just curiosity, but if it provides an inroad to the Gospel, then I am not complaining! These comments often lead almost immediately into deep questioning and sharing from both men and women.
Last night was also a reminder that God is at work in profound ways within our nation that perhaps we do not often see.
‘The Establishment’ were the ones setting the church a challenge – to show leadership by living courageously; to speak truth to power; to continue to bring transformation in our communities.
All I had to do what to open my mouth and respond to what The Holy Spirit was already doing in lives within that room!
And so…..If you are praying for the leaders of this nation-be encouraged! If you are not, then you should be – so get down on your knees in prayer and then get up off your knees and live courageously!
Church-we cannot afford to be fearful, complacent or apathetic. There is a world waiting for spiritual leadership and there are national leaders calling for the church to lead by example!