“God of eternal love and power, save our Parliamentary Democracy;
Protect the High Court of Parliament and all its members from partiality and prejudice;
That they may walk humbly the path of kindness, justice and mercy.
Give them wisdom, insight and a concern for the common good.
The weight of their calling is too much to bear in their own strength,
Therefore we pray earnestly, Father, send them help from your Holy Place,
and be their tower of strength. Lord, graciously hear us. Amen”
++ John Sentamu, Archbishop of York
At the end of a week which has seen major cracks open up in the political landscape, you don’t have to go far to find calls to concentrate on the need to support the poor and disadvantaged. Of course, it wasn’t that long ago since Theresa May herself called for ‘bringing the benefits of the free market to everyone in our society’.
We often speak of tech giants as disruptors in modern economies and commerce, but Brexit has itself become a disruptor par excellence; and many can’t see where the benefit will eventually emerge. It’s not just disrupting Theresa May’s priorities.
And there’s no doubt that the European Union itself is in very similar dire straits, riven with populism and economic dysfunctionality.
So this week, we look at how the needs of the poor and disadvantaged have become the priority for the Church of England’s General Synod, and why the prayer above is so central in re-focusing minds.
In its four-day assembly last week, the General Synod (of which I am an elected lay member) focused attention on the homeless, those living on social housing estates, the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, the pernicious impacts of gambling advertising, and the needs of young people. Entwining social action and evangelism in one of the most outward-looking gatherings for many years, there was a real commitment to change things for the better. Indeed, the Bishop of Burnley, who introduced the debate on social housing estates, asked members to vote against his motion if they were not prepared to deliver it. It passed almost unanimously.
Here are the links to the Church’s background papers on these key subjects:
- The Homeless - two papers, A & B
- Social Housing Estates
- Gypsy, Roma & Traveller communities
- Gambling Advertising
- Young People - two papers, A & B
Then, on Saturday afternoon, the Archbishop of Canterbury introduced a ‘State of the Nation’ motion challenging the Church to help reconcile the sharp social divisions which have arisen throughout the country, particularly as a result of Brexit. It was a compelling debate, finishing with the prayer at the head of this newsletter, drafted by the Archbishop of York and which is repeated by him and many others several times each day at present.
After the debate, I asked the Archbishop if he would add the European Union into the prayer. Explaining that ‘omnibus prayers don’t work’, he undertook to prepare a separate prayer for the EU which, as readers will be aware, I consider to be significantly more challenged than the United Kingdom. I look forward to receiving and publishing it in due course.
It’s important to recognise that the Brexit vote arose directly out of that EU economic dysfunctionality:
- mass migration across Europe from countries which should have depreciated their currency to drive their economy, but couldn’t because of the premature imposition of the Eurozone; and
- a massive democratic deficit which denied all these migrants the opportunity to vote in general elections and, of course, in the United Kingdom in the Brexit referendum itself.
I’m sure that the Diocese of Europe (paradoxically part of the Church of England) would confirm that the yellow jackets in France, the far right and far left populists in Italy, and the new German intransigence is all driven by that same economic dysfunctionality: the result of imposing a single currency before political integration has been established.
So, we should do all the good things proposed in those outward-looking Motions at the General Synod, and particularly that work of reconciliation: but we should also engage more with the need for evolution of democratic structures to match the evolving shape of nations. That’s why the prayer for Europe will be so important. Christian love brings freedom but, in our material world, freedom must be based on both politics and economics to be real - both of which are denied to so many people throughout Europe at present.