From Dover House to Lambeth Palace

November 28th was a busy day for me in my representative role as a moderator of General Assembly. My midday appointment was a Luncheon at Dover House (London) at the invitation of the Secretary for State for Scotland (the Rt. Hon. Michael Moore MP).  The occasion was the visit to London of the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (the Rt. Revd Albert Bogle). And then there was my early evening engagement: an invitation by Archbishop Rowan Williams to Evensong and a Reception at Lambeth Palace.

Dover House, the London headquarters of the Scotland Office has a fascinating and rich history that dates back to 1755. As a private residence, its occupants included a French Ambassador, a Commander of Chief of the Army, the first Viscount Melbourne, a Prime Minister and Baron Dover. Even more interesting than these names are the various historical sites on which Dover House was built, the Art work it houses and its decorative ceilings.

It is not often that one sits at the same table with so many Peers and politicians! Our conversations varied from freedom of the press (with the impending publication of the Levenson report), the story and work of the Scotland Office in London, family history and current issues in politics and in our Churches. I was struck by the number of the people in the room who had some form of connection with their local churches – as Elders or children of former ministers and moderators! I was delighted to hear from Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC (Advocate General for Scotland) about his connection with St. Columba’s in Cambridge. Conversations with my immediate neighbours at the table (the Duke of Montrose, Willie Bain MP, Lord Steel of Aikwood, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, the Revd John C. Palmers of the Church of Scotland) included topics such as the economy, young people, human rights, theology, the Scottish presence in the Caribbean and the engagement of Church in politics. In his brief presentation, the Rt. Rev. Albert Bogle made an impassioned plea for generosity, goodness and humility in the way leaders relate to each other in the public square.

If there is one person who has written and embodied (ecclesial) leadership in the Public Square, it is none other than Archbishop Rowan Williams. The chapel at Lambeth Palace was packed out with Church leaders and ecumenical representatives for Evening Prayer before the Archbishop’s Ecumenical Reception. Arriving early, I was able to feast on the brightly textured ceiling artwork (“From Darkness to Light”) in the Chapel that depicts aspects of the story of the Church of England (and that of Christianity in England). It was great to sing an Isaac Watts hymn (Give us the Wings of Faith) as we participated in Evening Prayer. In his homily, Archbishop Williams reflected on Matthew 10:26-27 as both a challenge and encouragement for Churches today in their ecumenical and prophetic vocation.

At the reception that followed, Archbishop Rowan Williams was thanked for his contributions to ecumenism at home and internationally. In responding, he noted that the gathering reflected a changed reality: that the world church is now right in our midst and that this growing diversity of the Church family should be seen as a blessing to the Christian faith in the British landscape. Indeed, I lost count of the number of ecclesial (church) traditions that turned out that evening to affirm the contributions of Archbishop Williams. It was noticeable however, that 98% of those of us in attendance were middle-aged (plus) males. There is a clue here about an urgent task before us all: the need for all Churches to work towards unlocking the full ecumenical potential of the whole people of God who are part of our tradition. The “world” is waiting to believe us!

And, having been a guest “at the table” of leaders of two “National” Churches, I am starting to better locate both our “dissenting” tendency and the comment that we are a church “punching above our weight”. And speaking of the latter, I found myself intentionally walking long distances and climbing stationery underground escalators to control my waist-line. My hosts were exceptionally generous!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *