The speech Bishop Rachel Treweek might have made

This is the speech that I would have liked the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek to have made this week on entering the House of Lords.

My Lords – I am overwhelmed by your generosity in welcoming me to this house. Your warm and unprecedented applause as I was introduced to this house contrasted so strongly to the experience of being in the General Synod when the key votes were taken which allowed women, at last, to become bishops in the Church of England. In that place and at that time both women and men who rejoiced in that change were silenced and told that applause was inappropriate. Your own enthusiastic welcome to me here in this place stands in stark contrast to that experience and I have no doubt that it will give many pause for thought.

I ask you all to understand that the things that I am about to say about membership of this place are said out of the deepest respect for the ways in which your Lordships work and the diligence with which you scrutinise legislation. However, it is plain to me that having taken my seat here, I must now depart.

There is only one other country in the world which reserves places in its legislature for clerics and that country is Iran. Keeping seats exclusively for so-called “senior” clerics can have no place in a modern democracy. The good things that have been accomplished by my brother bishops who have sat here hitherto are commendable but fall a long way from convincing me that any of us who are appointed bishops in the Church of God should sit as though by divine right in the parliament of this land.

I remain convinced however that Christians should be involved in public life. For that reason, should the opportunity ever arise for the people of Gloucester to choose their own representative to sit in this place in a reformed Senate of the Nations of the United Kingdom, I would strongly wish to serve them and would consider offering myself for election to the cross-benches of a much changed House.

There is an air of constitutional change that is blowing through this land from the north to the south. My Lords, those of us who sit here by virtue of privilege or patronage cannot be unaware that change is coming. Let us all commit ourselves to the reforms of this House that will lead to the stability of this realm.

My Lords – whilst expressing no little delight in being introduced to this place, it also falls to me to remind your Lordships that the recent legislation that was enacted that brought me here was based on the principle of positive discrimination for those women who are consecrated as bishops. Notwithstanding my joy at being here today, my life has taught me to oppose discrimination wherever it is found regardless of whether it is for regressive or progressive causes. The wisdom that I have received not only from feminist thinkers but also from the wisest friends tells me that people should only ever be promoted in life through merit and never because of their gender. My joy in being here is tempered by my embarrassment at having been “leapfrogged” into place by legislation that means that another person who might have expected to serve here cannot do so merely because of my gender. I make no apology for being here today but I ask your Lordships to ensure that no piece of legislation ever favours anyone by virtue of their sex.

It remains the case that women who become bishops do not have the same authority in the Church of England that men who become bishops have. Your Lordships will  not be surprised to learn that it is my view that the recent consecrations of women as bishops are a welcome step – but only a step towards the full equality of men and women. Our work towards that goal has taken a giant leap forward but remains unfinished.

In choosing not to sit in this chamber and not to participate in its learned debates, it is my hope that I will provoke a period of reflection within the Church of England about our relationship with the state. My decision not to participate in this venerable institution will one day be mirrored by a decision by the Church to divest itself of the privileges of power, not least in the arena of education. I shall work to ensure that all schools offer the finest education that could possibly be on offer to our young people and that they do so liberated from the control of an established church or indeed any other faith group.

In departing this place, I remain loyal  to the Church in which I work. My colleague the Archbishop of Canterbury has the unenviable task of balancing what it right with the pragmatic realities of complex political situations. I have no doubt that he believes in his heart that men and women should be treated equally everywhere. Notwithstanding this, he has given his good name to a situation where bishops who happen to be women are, even now, not bishops who have parity with their brothers. The Archbishop’s head has ruled his heart in coming up with one compromise after another to appease those who, in the church, are unable to show me the generosity that your Lordships have shown over my recent consecration. I remain loyal to the Archbishop’s heart if not his head – a heart which burns for bringing the Good News to this land. He must know, as all people of goodwill know, that we are hampered in our task of bringing the liberating news of Jesus Christ to England and beyond, whilst the church remains famous more for homophobia and sexism than the love of God.

On the matter of homophobia, I know that your Lordships will be pleased to hear that I met with all my sister bishops recently and, as ever, we discussed issues of equality within the church at great length. I am delighted to be able to report that we speak as one in condemning homophobia and in longing for a time when we can celebrate the arrival of gay and lesbian bishops amongst our number on the bishops’ benches of the General Synod. As women, we know that justice demands that we work tirelessly for all who are excluded or discriminated against. That will begin with working for and with those who are in same-sex relationships to ensure that discrimination against them becomes unthinkable. But that is merely where we will begin. We will not end there. Our ambition is justice for all.

It is the work of a particularly evil genius in the church to come up with a policy – “gracious restraint” which makes it harder for progressive people to work towards eliminating sexism and homophobia from the common life of the church and consequently from the common life of this land. We know from scripture that the powers and principalities of darkness must ultimately fall. Such will be the case with the so-called “Five Guiding Principles” of the Church of England. No Christian can ever elevate the desire to be nice to one another over the gospel imperative of doing what it is right.

This House has done a great work for justice this day in delaying and opposing the government’s attack on the poor by the reduction and withdrawal of tax credits. The temptation to remain here to join you in similar struggles is great but for now at least, I must fight with you but in other places.

My Lords, this, my maiden speech will also be my valediction. And as I depart I wish upon you all and upon your work the benediction of almighty God that is due to all those who work for the common good. I chose to work in a different way and in different places but, and here I have no doubt in my mind, for the same common cause for which you all labour – the well-being of the people of this land.

Sermon at the Salvation Army in Clydebank

Here’s what I said yesterday at the centenary celebrations for Clydebank Singing Company at Clydebank Citadel of the Salvation Army.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer.

Major, I wonder whether you’d mind me starting with a confession.

I know it is not the Salvation Army way but in the tradition that I come from, we have confession before we have anything. I tend to work a busy Sunday – I’ve already done one service this morning before I came here and I’ve got another regular one at 6.30 pm and sometimes I’ve got a couple more on a Sunday too. And all of our services begin with confession.

(To be honest, sometimes on a Sunday I just don’t get the time to go out and have a good sin between one confession and another – but that’s another story).

But the thing I have to confess this morning is that when I came through the doors of this place last night – I kept hearing people talk of holy things. Worship long past. Friendships made. Decisions to love God made here in this place and promises made here on this platform.

I have to confess that that wasn’t the first memory that I had. When I came through the door all I could remember was being chucked out of Sunday School here one week for being disruptive.

As it happens I can’t remember exactly who it was who turfed me out but it is a fair bet that it is someone whom I was sitting on the platform with last night. Sometimes God gives us the holy gift of forgetting things.

Major – I’ll try to make amends today.

A funny thing happened to me this week.

I got a year older. And I did it by having an unglamorous birthday.

Last Thursday was my birthday. No more for me the joys of being 48. From now on it is the waiting game that is being 49. What use is 49?

Fifty may be fabulous but there’s nothing glamorous about being 49.

But here we are celebrating a birthday that isn’t just glamourous it is exiting too – the 100th anniversary of the Singing Company here in Clydebank.

It is a huge honour to be asked to say a few words this morning. In coming back here, I’m coming back to a place that I’ve not been in for about 35 years. (And I’m sure that the last time I was here it was 3 times bigger than it is today – I don’t know how you managed to shrink it). Other people will be here on this reunion weekend with their own memories and their own reminiscences of what it was like to be here a long time ago.

But my roots here go back a little further. My own grandparents were the corps officers here in the 1930s and so in coming to speak here today I’m returning to their platform. And that feels strange – not strange in an unpleasant way but strange all the same. I know all kinds of circles have been turning as people have turned up this weekend.

I couldn’t have predicted that I’d become a preacher when I sat here week by week and meeting by meeting. And certainly my Sunday School teacher (whoever it was) wouldn’t have predicted it for me either.

Perhaps that experience of being excluded was the start of the ministry that I have today for one of the themes of my life is to provoke people into thinking about who is being excluded and who is being left out. My default position is that no-one is ever excluded from the love of God. And if I learned that here one way or another then I’ve a lot to be grateful for in coming back.

But I can’t help my mind travelling back through time.

The Singing Company here has been a thread running back through the life of the corps here for 100 years. As such it has had a huge influence on a huge number of people.

As I think back through my own family history here I find myself thinking of the people who saw this town change. I think of my grandparents coming here as corps officers in confident times. And hearing the singing of a fairly newly formed singing company when they did.

I think of my mother being held as a baby in a shelter up the top of the town by parents as the bombs fell.

As they waited for the bombing to stop, they didn’t know whether her brothers, my uncles (also singing company members) would make it home from band practise.

I only heard that story this year – I’d never heard it before.

But the truth is, God doesn’t give us the gift of nostalgia – it isn’t one of the fruits of the Spirit. God gives us experience to prompt us to share in God’s loving works here on earth. That the kingdom may be brought one step closer every day that comes.

The story of my uncles picking their way up the hill really came home to me in recent weeks when I realised that the bombs are still falling on people. And that young people are not just trying to find their way to safety up Kilbowie Hill – they are walking across Europe.

And they need the same things my uncles needed. They need safety and security and someone to welcome them.

I think our task is to join with others in welcoming them in God’s name.

Inevitably this weekend, we think of both joys and sorrows. Of highs and lows.

As I stand here I think of all the things that happen to all of us that I know have been in the conversation of all who have come to this reunion weekend. Loves and partings. Births, and deaths and marriages and all the things in-between.

And there is one constant thing that we find people do through it all.

They sing.

This Singing Company has sung through changing times and through changing days.

Yet I’ve no doubt that there’s something at the core of what it does that has not changed at all.

For through all our sorrows and through all our joys we sing of a God who loves us.

I don’t know whether you are someone who comes here week by week or someone who has just turned up out of the blue for this reunion. I don’t know whether you can still remember the things that you sang years ago or whether your mind goes blank when you think about what you sang here. I don’t know who you are or why you’ve come here today.

But I do know that God loves you. And I know that simple truth was the very cause of setting up the Singing Company and the reason that people have given their time and their energy, their talent and their skills – simply because they’ve caught something of the idea that God’s love is real and God can be known and that the joy of the Lord is worth singing about.

And that’s all I’ve really got to tell you this morning. God loves you to bits.

It is the same message that my grandparents preached here. It is the same message that the singing company has sung about for a hundred years. And it is the same message that we take into the future. The love of God gives me hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

I’ve no real idea whether the Singing Company will be around in another 100 years. I hope it is but I can’t know what the future holds.

But I do know that in a 100 years it will still be the case that God loves human beings and wants everyone to be drawn into that love.

When we come to a reunion it is inevitable that we look at the way we’ve changed. But the truth is, when we sing together we find ourselves singing about things that haven’t changed at all. God still cares for us and God still loves us.

Last night the massed Singing Company sang through a concert where the love of God was the ever present theme.

We have only one life to live. And God has only one message to give.

Which is that all you need is love.

Love, love. All you need is God’s love.