SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: The work of the priest and the politician?

Sir Peter at the unveiling of the Dame Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square
Sir Peter at the unveiling of the Dame Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square

Most of my waking hours are given to secular activities, serving individuals and groups, trying to help them to meet responsibilities and to overcome difficulties.

It is noticeable how often these overlap with religious teachers, ministers and priests.

At Wednesday’s post-communion simple breakfast in the Speaker’s House, the Rev. Canon Dr Rosemarie Mallet spoke to MPs and Peers about knife crime and about a scheme to help give vulnerable young people better chances in inner city areas. She told us about the scheme and charity Word 4 Weapons.

The evening before, Virginia and I joined the Westminster Abbey congregation for the interment of the ashes of the former Dean Dr Wesley Carr. By chance, I have known each dean since Alan Don who had played a part in the 1953 Coronation. At the service was an honorary steward who had lived in South Africa’s Fishhoek in the late 1940s when I was there as a child. A trust that makes charitable gifts from the estate of my American cousin has contributed to the new Abbey Gallery high in the triforium, to be accessed by a modern Gothic styled lift.

Earlier in the day, I joined the gathering in Parliament Square to watch the unveiling of Dame Millicent Fawcett’s statue, the first for a woman joining the 11 men. Her sister Elizabeth was the first female doctor. Millicent gave a life time to gaining votes for females: how stale the arguments against look now? Campaigners want 50:50 male and female MPs. My wife and my niece have been elected; 2:1 in this family.

On Monday, at the 25th anniversary service in St Martin-in-the-Fields for Stephen Lawrence, memories came back from the most upsetting event from my former service as MP for Woolwich West, later renamed Eltham. The retired Methodist minister David Cruise spoke. He had taken the moving funeral for Stephen.

After readings by Sadiq Khan and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, Prime Minister Theresa May gave the announcement that Stephen’s mother Doreen, now Baroness Lawrence, had agreed that each year April 22 would be Stephen Lawrence Day, hopefully giving attention to the opportunities and achievements of younger people.

On Saturday, local Christians against Poverty had kindly gathered with Virginia and me in central Worthing. We heard about the practical effective help available to individuals and families who need help to reset serious debt problems. I give thanks for the outreach work of members of the New Life Church. Like the good work of the united Worthing Churches Homeless Projects, it is impressive to see what a group of concerned individuals can achieve.

The day before, I visited the local successor to an organisation founded in 1844. George Williams, a London draper, aimed to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy ‘body, mind and spirit’, reflected in the sides of the YMCA logo. Now the local organisation has a foyer to help young people establish their lives.

Across the country, at times particular groups face discrimination and threats. On Monday I joined the All Party Group against anti-Semitism. The Community Security Trust reported on the results of attitude surveys. I made the fair practical point that there needs to be an overlapping approach that protects and gives confidence to all. No to anti-Semitism. No to Islamophobia. Fairness for believers, for humanists and for atheists.

Across the constituency I serve, and throughout this country we share, let us work together so all may live in peace, without being judged adversely by the colour of our skin or by our religion or by the party of our choice.

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