Maundy Thursday 2016
Location: St Paul's Cathedral
In the words of the prophet Isaiah “they shall repair the ruined cities”.
It is always a huge encouragement for me and I hope for you to gather with fellow builders and repairers of the ancient devastations in these days of holy week. Together, we are tracing the events which led to sentence being passed on the old world and the eruption of the new life of Easter.
I am much encouraged despite the impression given by a faulty spell checker which advertised the fact that I had recently preached the City of London’s traditional ‘Spital sermon by claiming that the Bishop of London had delivered the “Spiteful Sermon”.
Easter life is visible all around the Diocese. Since we launched Capital Vision 2020 three years ago 13,000 Ambassadors for Christ have been commissioned and 20 new worshipping communities have come into existence with many more in the active planning stage. 25,000 bookmarks have been distributed in support of the “Pray for Seven” campaign and the launch of “Capital Mass” in this Cathedral has re-affirmed our determination as a church to be “confident, creative and compassionate”.
As we approach the half-way point of Capital Vision, however, there are some matters for concern. In particular, although we are continuing to attract about fifty candidates for the ordained ministry every year, that is not enough to offset the very large number of imminent retirements. 70% of the present cohort of stipendiary clergy is due to retire by 2030. We ought to be recruiting at least seventy a year both to supply our own needs and to assist the church in other parts of the country. I hope that every one of us will make it a priority this year to encourage more vocations from every part of the community.
God calls people into his service as deacons and priests at various points in life but we obviously need more young people. The other disturbing aspect of the progress towards our Capital Vision aspirations is that there is little evidence of an upturn in the numbers of young people participating in worship and service. Part of our response must involve a closer alignment between work in the schools of the Diocese and our Capital Vision.
Thanks to the leadership of Inigo Wolf, Liz Wolverson and the team at the Diocesan Board for Schools the past few years have seen a remarkable expansion of provision of church school places in London together with successful efforts to ensure that we have a school improvement programme in place which has delivered higher standards in schools like Holy Trinity Tottenham. A few years ago Holy Trinity was in special measures but now under aspirational leadership and with the support of the new Diocesan Academies Trust the children have triumphed in the most recent SATs – the Standard Assessment Tests. They came top in the borough and 7th in London as a whole. I was thrilled by the atmosphere when I visited the school earlier in the year. The singing at Assembly was hearty and electrifying. It was a demonstration of what can be achieved when the “Church is Christ-centred and outward looking”; looking to express our faith in partnership with people of good will in the local community.
In response to London’s growing population a number of new schools have been opened. I was especially encouraged by a visit to the recently founded William Perkin, Church of England Academy which has been graded by “Ofsted” as “Outstanding” in all departments. I was there to bless the new chapel which is at the heart of the school.
There are often suspicions that the Church is involved in education for our own selfish purposes. Schools like William Perkin give the lie to such slurs. Admissions favour the local community and there are no religious tests with the result that the pupils represent the diversity of the community in Greenford. The Church has always sought to care for the health and wellbeing of the whole community nationally and locally.
A respect and welcome for multi-cultural diversity has enriched London and our church life but we can only flourish and derive the maximum benefit from diversity if there is a strong framework within which we can co-operate for the common good and learn to appreciate one another. In a challenging national and international situation, anxieties about extremism are one sign that the framework needs reinvigorating. With the atrocities in Brussels and Paris very much in our minds it should be obvious that you cannot exorcise the Satanic by creating a spiritual vacuum.
The insistence on individual human rights was a valuable emphasis in the post war context as we recovered from the experience of totalitarian regimes and confronted a surviving totalitarian regime in the Soviet Union. Now a new balance has to be established which involves a fresh appreciation of the vital importance of the communities and institutions which mediate between the individual and the State. Families, schools, professional bodies, unions, and churches all have a part to play in equipping individuals to play a responsible part as citizens. The civility and mutual respect, and the ability to compromise, essential for the functioning of a mature democracy, are incubated in such intermediate bodies. When such an education is not available then democracy degenerates into an “ochlocracy”, a crowd of atomised individuals, stirred by short term media induced frenzies, incapable of holding on to the bigger picture and instead reacting piecemeal to a succession of single issue campaigns. A mature democracy which respects minorities and develops policies in complex areas which involve long term planning is not compatible with the kind of bumper sticker politics most obvious in the highly partisan American political arena.
In these circumstances we are committed to supporting schools which equip young citizens to play a creative part in British democracy.
Our motivation for being involved in education is not self-serving but it is explicit. Every single school whether connected to a religious body or not is a faith school in the sense that there is implicitly or explicitly a view of human nature and an understanding of what is worthwhile in life which shapes the curriculum and the culture of the school. At a time when so many people seem to think that the “economy” is the crucial reference point for our lives and that fitting young people to be productive units in the economy is the paramount task, it is especially important for there to be genuine pluralism in the education system.
No church school in the Diocese of London yearns to replace the study of evolution with dogmatic creationism. We respect the developments in empirical science as the themes chosen for our new secondary schools attest. William Perkin was both a man of faith and an experimental scientist and the partnership with Imperial College is a vital part of the ethos of the school but in all our Diocesan schools we strive to offer a wider curriculum designed to enrich life in all its fullness.
The nakedness of the land has recently been illuminated by the attempt to enlist schools in the communication of “British values” as a way of combatting “extremism”. Merely invoking universal abstractions like tolerance, fairness and civility cannot generate one iota of the energy needed to build a community and transform individual lives. Such virtues have to be embedded in a narrative and a community and exemplified in the lives of role models if they are to have substance and transforming power. The dramatic narrative found in the Bible and the community of interpretation constituted by the Christian churches and other religious bodies are a priceless asset in the struggle to build a cohesive society with sufficient positive conviction and energy to resist the siren calls of divisive ideologies which are hugely attractive for impressionable young people in search of a meaningful personal identity. Any education to equip young people to face the promise and peril of life in the 21st century must include a commitment to religious literacy, ethical clarity and spiritual awareness. These themes should pervade the curriculum not least in music, art and sport rather than being corralled into some demarcated area. The business of the State is to ensure that the living traditions in our pluralist society have space to flourish without the State itself being drawn into the role of an ideologically driven Big Brother, profligate with ever more detailed regulation.
A recent article in the Economist entitled “Battlefields of the Mind” concludes with this comment – “One Prevent Officer in London jokes that more students should be encouraged to study theology. Why not? In a battle of ideas, knowledge is the most powerful of weapons.” The Wisdom of God which we see in Jesus Christ is an even more powerful weapon of peace.
We are in the second decade of a century of great promise and great peril. We shall play our part in London resilience in the event of a crisis but more significantly in our day to day work as ambassadors for Jesus Christ we are making our contribution to engendering hope and building the city that is to come, the City of God which is founded not on blood taken but as we remember this Holy Week on blood given. May God bless you as you open the door to His future in your work and worship this Easter. Amen