Sermon given at the Civic Service on Sunday 4 July 2010.
4 July 2010 at 11:00 am
Reverend Gary Bradley, Chaplain to the Lord Mayor of Westminster
As it is the Fourth of July, let us begin with a little verse from America!
“I love to drink martinis
But two at the very most:
Three, and I’m under the table;
Four, and I’m under the host!”
This delightful admonition to prudence at party time was written by the American drinker, socialite and wit, Dorothy Parker, but I cannot tell you when, nor in what circumstances. Finding ourselves in Westminster Abbey let us be charitable and imagine Ms Parker waiting for her companions at the Round Table at the Algonquin and idly browsing the pages of a New Testament kindly left for the purpose by a member of the Gideon Society. Perhaps her eye alighted on Philippians chapter 4, verse verse 5. Dorothy Parker didn’t have the doubtful advantage of endless new translations of the scripture. She had to rely on the King James version. What she read would have been not “let your gentleness be known to everyone”, as we heard to-day, but “let your moderation be known”. Moderation. A word of richer resonance, embracing concepts like the avoidance of extremes, temperance in conduct and expression, and, importantly, self control.
Embracing, in fact, so much of what Jesus Christ said about leadership, which is what we celebrate today as we give thanks for our Lord Mayor and City and pray for them.
You recall Christ’s words, in chapter 20 of St Matthew’s gospel: “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In the second reading today, St Matthew exhorts us to integrity and this, too, is a quality vital to sincere and acceptable leadership.
The unwelcome news of financial irregularities over expenses in our houses of Parliament has occasioned public ridicule of those who hold public office and, more harmful yet, cynicism about those in authority. The people look for a harvest of grapes and figs and find nothing because of foul soil; they long for sheep-like gentleness and perceive the greed and appetite of wolves.
Distrust of authority extends beyond political life. Unsavoury and selfish behaviour in the world of finance has made the word “banker” a difficult word now, a word which seems to need an apology attached.
The Church is not immune to the prevalent mistrust of all who occupy positions of authority. Of course the pricking of pomposity in any area of life is welcome. Thirty years ago, as a curate in Saint John’s Wood, the wearing of my priest’s cloak in the street would probably elicit cries of “Batman!” but it was all rather good natured. Now, following horrifying disclosures about the behaviour of a tiny number of the clergy the whole priesthood is viewed in a different, more suspicious and antagonistic vein. It is very uncomfortable, even if understandable. Those of you who watched Tom Hollander in the first episode of “Rev” last week would have witnessed his sensitive portrayal of the effect of being on the receiving end of that bigotry, that unintelligent, uninformed yet very sincere anger.
It sometimes feels that anyone in a position of leadership is an aunt sally, put on a pedestal for the sole purpose of being knocked from it. Well meant legislation concerning child protection, for example, has had the unintended effect of creating an expectation of wrongdoing and, with the imprimatur of government, allows the implied understanding that we are all potentially dangerous unless we have a certificate to say that we are not! No wonder we have a society which in so many respects is mistrustful and cynical. And no wonder that fewer and fewer people put themselves forward to serve, only too aware of the hoops through which they will be obliged to jump and the criticism they will inevitably face.
This imbalance of perception needs to be addressed and we need to celebrate and encourage leaders in our Society. Today, especially, we have to thank all those who serve as Lord Mayor, Aldermen, Councillors and Officers within our great, yet needy and fragile City. Authority is not a bad word or concept. It is ordained to be good for the stable ordering of life and the bettering of conditions for all God’s people. In the New Testament , Timothy exhorts us that “prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made...for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty”. Authority well understood and properly exercised is something to be celebrated, not mocked.
But I want to go further than thanking and encouraging: I want us to cherish our leaders as deserving the love and respect of those who give so much of their lives to the community for its enrichment rather than their own. Cherishing is an oft forgotten concept. We can admire our leaders, whether or not we like or approve them; we can support them, again, irrespective of their attractiveness; we can deck them in robes of gold, red or blue. But do we cherish them for being what they are called to be, for fulfilling their vocation as leaders?
It returns, as it so often does, to the musings of Dorothy Parker, prompted, as we speculated, by our first reading. Moderation is the watchword. Our leaders will regain the respect that leadership demands if those qualities of avoiding extremes, tempering conduct and expression, and exercising self control in all public and private affairs. Perhaps then the cherishing can be demonstrated in the return of Trust by the People.
The Mayorality is in for a busy week: a Citizenship ceremony tomorrow and Wednesday; here again, in the Lady Chapel, on Monday; Kensington Gardens on Wednesday to encourage children’s involvement in the arts, then to bid farewell to the Ambassador of Switzerland; on Thursday to visit the crew of HMS Westminster in Portsmouth; and on Friday to meet and encourage those who support the life of the theatre in the West End, so important to us as a City, before meeting the staff and children at Burdett Coutts Primary School on their Founder’s Day; then to W9, one of the more vibrant areas of our city for a festival of the arts. Saturday brings participation in a Fun day for Health which should ensure stamina for the British 10K run beginning at the Hard Rock Cafe at 9 o’clock on Sunday morning later collapsing, gratefully, at St John’s Smith Square to encourage junior musicians from the Royal College of Music.
I am sure that at each of these events not only will the Mayorality be represented, but so will the hard work of local councillors, officers and community leaders to ensure that these events are taking place, reinforcing the message of rich diversity and activity within this great British cultural City of Westminster. And as years of austerity stretch before us, at local levels it is imperative that the City and the Citizens continue this work together.
So, dear Lord Mayor, enjoy your year of bringing joy, encouragement and challenge to our City. And remember Dorothy Parker’s wise words, especially if the Swiss Ambassador offers you a third martini, or, Heaven forbid, a fourth! I have an idea! Perhaps we could pay Watts of Tufton Street to embroider those four lines in the hem of your robe for the edification of future Lord Mayors. It wouldn’t cost too much and in your forthright manifestation of moderation, you have already saved money on the Civic Banquet!