By John Ellis
As the last 100 days to the General Election count down, nearly 400 converged on Coventry for a day preparing for a Christian contribution to the Election campaign. Thoroughly prepared by the staff of our Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT: Baptist, Methodist and URC), the day also followed the publication of the lengthy Pastoral Letter from the Bench of Bishops to the people and parishes of the Church of England. We were not engaged in party politics or denominational politics but seeking a Gospel lens through which to view our political culture.
Having first discussed these matters with Justin Welby when he was a rural Curate, and knowing that he was keen as Archbishop of Canterbury to have some engagement with the United Reformed Church, I was delighted he accepted my invitation to be our morning keynote speaker. I understand those who feel he should have addressed a General Assembly not an ecumenical event, but his diary makes an Assembly Moderator’s life look positively lazy and had we restricted the invitation to Assemblies he would not have been able to accept until 2018 at the very earliest. And for me personally, working ecumenically with Methodists and Baptists feels like honouring the URC’s DNA, rather than corrupting it.
The Archbishop’s address (now available as a podcast) encouraged us to notice the positives in our political scene, such as the unexpectedly low unemployment figures. He commented that over his two years as Primate his respect for our political leaders had generally increased, not diminished, as he had got to know them as individuals and learnt directly about their motivations. Nonetheless, he robustly rejected any notion that the Church should stay out of politics and suggested that the Sermon on the Mount would probably have been as popular in some sections of the British media as his bishops’ letter. He observed that the Pastoral Letter had been condemned by almost everybody except for the minority who had actually read it!
The JPIT Conference also provided a variety of workshops to equip church members for their work locally, including one led by our Youth Moderator, Andrew Weston, on the important question of young people’s engagement with the political process. It also saw the launch of JPIT’s own Election Pack and was properly held within worship at each end of the day. I hope this event will be a springboard for godly action as all the Churches accept their responsibility to be salt and light amongst the electorate as we approach 7 May.
For a short film about the conference have a look at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XL9QP1ojwZQ&feature=youtu.be&noredirect=1