Sitting in the Lantern Crossing of Westminster Abbey close to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope was certainly an event I hade never expected to happen, let alone share in in any way. But there I was sat amongst my fellow diocesan bishops and the Roman Catholic bishops. This was itself significant; both at Lambeth Palace earlier in the afternoon and in the Abbey the Anglican & RC bishops sat mixed up together. We chatted whilst we waited (and there was plenty of waiting) about both light and serious matters. But we were there together, alongside one another. We listened to our respective ‘leaders’, both extraordinary theologians; both quiet humble gentle men; we worshipped and we prayed together. We share a common agreement about the dangers of secularisation, and the issue of the marginalisation of Christianity, and faith more generally. We are equally committed to the reality that faith has to be a public matter and cannot be relegated to the private sphere. We share a desire that the good news of Jesus Christ is made known in our land, and that we stay true to our Christian roots and values.
The symbolic act of being together, highlighted most strongly by the ABC & Pope praying together at Edward the Confessor’s tomb and by jointly blessing us, does make it plain that the things that unite us are more stronger than those which divide us. Our common commitment to Jesus Christ as the Lord and Saviour of the world is what holds us together.
As I left the Abbey with a couple of colleagues the crowds were still cheering, chanting and jeering. Here, and on the way to the Abbey earlier, there was the delight of British tolerance in seeing banners praising the Pope and those protesting held side by side and the bearers apparently content to stand alongside each other. Across the cheers I also heard someone shout at us ‘shame on you’ – presumably they thought we had compromised ourselves by being there. At one time I would have thought that myself but not now; Jeus Christ unites us and our common witness to him is more important than our disagreements on other matters.
I share the Pope’s concern about the marginalising of faith and the erosion of our Christian roots. But I’m not sure anyone had briefed him about Baroness Warsi’s words to the Anglican bishops of our islands just 2 days before. She was very clear that she, and the Govt she serves, want to work with the churches, and all faiths, in a very positive way. She wants to end any sense of marginalisation. We wait to see how this will affect Govt practice but they were certainly words that I hope someone shared with the Pope before he leaves our shores.
The meeting in Lambeth Palace and the service in the Abbey (wonderfully put together and organised it must be said) were historic events. It was an honour to be a part of them. What I find myself wondering will be the next steps and the longer term outcome?
These are but a few first reflections and I am happy to receive comments in response.