In My Father’s House...

An edited version of the Bishop of London’s address at the Mansion House

It is a privilege to second the Archbishop of Canterbury's response to the Lord Mayor. Sydney Smith, the witty nineteenth-century Canon of St Paul's, one remarked that he had ‘alas, only one illusion left – the Archbishop of Canterbury'. Although he also said that ‘among the smaller duties of life, I hardly know anything more important than that of not praising where praise is not due’, it would be a dereliction of duty not to thank the Archbishop, on behalf of us all, for his leadership, and in particular his unstinting work both before and during the Primates' meeting last month. It enabled the Anglican Archbishops worldwide to proclaim that we are still a Communion, a cross-cultural unity that seeks to serve our one world at a time of huge promise and peril.

My Lord Mayor, you have alluded to your theme for the year: ‘Innovate here, succeed everywhere’. The world is changing around us. Unchallengeable Western hegemony is being replaced by a more genuinely multi-polar world, and the City of London is one of the places where the reality and the challenges of this shift are most obvious. One of the applications of your principle must be to establish in these islands a new sense of inclusive identity which could be of service to a world in which religions and cultures are accessible to one another in way unprecedented in history.

It is of course right to insist on universal abstract principles like tolerance and the rule of law; but abstract universal principles do not evoke the love and the energy that generate creative communities. Communities are made by stories that translate principles into flesh and blood, and give us characters like your grandfather Admiral Lord Mountevans, the Antarctic explorer whom we can admire and emulate.

Followers of Jesus Christ must be tolerant not because we believe so little about God but because we believe so much in God who gave his life for the sake of his enemies.

Fr Raniero Cantalamesa, Preacher to the Papal Household, in his sermon at the inauguration of the General Synod also reminded us of the true unity of Christians. He said that ‘in many parts of the world people are killed not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostal but because they are Christians. In the eyes of our persecutors we are already one. Let us be one also in our own eyes and in the eyes of God.'

Our country ceased to be a confessional state in 1828, with abolition of the Test and Corporation Act. Thereafter there has been a free market in religious ideas, while the public space has been held open for voices of faith. It is one of the glories of the City of London that the first Jew to sit in the House of Commons [Lionel de Rothschild] was one of our elected members of Parliament.

Since that time, the Church of England has grown more and more conscious of its responsibility towards the many faith communities represented here tonight, and of our common concern for the health of the whole community. But we also have a role in articulating a more inclusive version of the English story. Scotland, Ireland, and Wales have in recent years very properly recovered a sense of their own special identity. If there is no comparable development and celebration of the English story in which a creative effort is made to weave new strands into the national narrative and rituals, then the field will be left empty for the xenophobic and the terminally nostalgic.

‘Innovate here, succeed everywhere' – the principle certainly applies to the fresh opportunities opened up for communication by the social media. As well as the Lord Mayor's Show, you have used contemporary means of getting the message across. We in the Church need to catch up. I am launching tomorrow one innovation – Prayers on the Tube.

You may have escaped us in the cinema.
You won't get away from us on the Tube.

Mind you, I doubt whether I am the person to be talking about innovation. On a recent visit to one of our primary schools, I was asked if I remembered anything from my time at school. ‘Yes,' I said, ‘I was the ink monitor.' It was a role given to a particularly responsible child. You had a metal can with which you filled the china ink wells set in the desk tops. and you learnt to write copperplate using a steel nib. The children looked totally baffled and then the teacher came to my aid – ‘Oh yes,' she said, ‘we've just done a project on Victorian London and there's one of those cans in the exhibition.'

My own claims as an innovator may be slim but, on behalf of all your guests, I thank you and the Lady Mayoress for your leadership and for your generous hospitality. As Homer says in the Odyssey, ‘a guest never forgets a host who has treated him kindly’, and you have entertained us not only kindly but royally. ND

Lord and Lady Mountevans entertained the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England to dinner at the Mansion House on 18 February.

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