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4/5/2012 4:00:00 PM

The Bishop of London was the preacher at the 70th United Guilds' Service held at St Paul's Cathedral on Friday 23rd March 2012.  The Lord Mayor and other City representatives as well as Prime Wardens, Masters and Liverymen from all 115 City Livery Companies and Guilds attended.  This Service has been held annually since 1943.  The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres KCVO DD FSA, the Bishop of London, gave the following address: 

The first United Guilds Service was held 70 years ago. The preacher was the Bishop of London – I remember it well. The City in 1943 was a bomb site and this service was introduced to raise morale.

Prefaced by the Lord Mayor’s hospitality last night for Masters, Wardens and the Upper Bailiff with excellent speeches and today with no one knowingly underdressed it still raises spirits.

If 60 years makes a Diamond Jubilee what is the appropriate description of a 70th anniversary? The answer is of course Platinum. Platinum, a metal described as “dense but malleable; precious with a remarkable resistance to corrosion even at high temperatures.”

With devastation all around St Paul’s in 1943 this service was an act of spirited defiance. The Spirit is not some mould grown on the rock of economics as Marx suggested but a vast and transforming energy. It was a dark hour but proved to be the prelude to the defeat of Nazism and the beginning of a period of unprecedented prosperity for the people of this country and liberated Europe. The enemy in 1943 was despair and it was overcome by the Spirit.  Churchill the Prime Minister in 1943 found the right words – “I should be unworthy of your confidence and generosity if I did not still cry – Forward, unflinching, unswerving, indomitable until the whole world is safe and clean.”

Later on, however, the enemy proved to be complacency.

This is the 20th anniversary of the publication of a book by an American academic entitled The End of History. The idea was that we were close to building a heaven on earth - without God of course - but with the assistance of liberal democracy and market economics. Later on there was to be the further suggestion that the history of boom and bust was also at an end.

Now of course the tectonic plates are shifting once again. The relation between the centres of global power, prosperity and population are changing. As a country we are in the midst of a time of painful adjustment following the financial crisis. There is also the common challenge of climate change and environmental degradation. There is no return to the normality of the day before yesterday. Those working in the City today are in the forefront of defining a new normal in our life as a society.

Part of the work involves recovering our moral equilibrium and a clearer sense of the relation of the market to human flourishing. The work of the St Paul’s Institute together with London Connexion and the various initiatives of the Lord Mayor and Corporation are together making a contribution to defining the new moral norms on which the future reputation, the prosperity and sustainability of the City will depend.

Moral energy, however is not so much released by invoking grand general concepts but by personal example and having lively sense of the narrative of the institutions in which we are involved and our part in developing the narrative. The Livery Movement has shown platinum quality “dense but malleable, precious and highly resistant to corrosion even at high temperatures” by morphing into a vast charitable enterprise but also one in which conviviality can serve to encourage and sustain common standards of behaviour.

In the complacent years our educational system paid too little attention to the formation of character and the cultivation of the classic virtues of prudence, temperance, courage and justice. I was speaking the other day to an employer – not it must be said Lord Sugar – about the importance of this aspect of our mutual education. He said, “My business hires for skills and then after experience most often fires for flaws in character”.

This accent on character and the new moral norms, however, only takes us so far. History has not come to an end and neither has the spiritual evolution of the human race.

For Christians Jesus Christ is the living embodiment of God’s plan for spiritually evolved human life. God so loved the world that he was generous and gave himself to a violent world in the person of Jesus Christ. He taught the way to life in all its fullness. It is the way of going beyond ourselves in generosity and service of our neighbours. The more we diminish in ego the more we grow in soul.   

More and more explicitly as her reign has unfolded over sixty years our Queen has spoken of and exemplified this spiritual wisdom.   In the message released at the beginning of this Jubilee year Her Majesty said, “As I mark sixty years as your Queen, I dedicate myself anew to your service. I hope that we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness.” The same note was struck in the Queen’s address to Parliament on Tuesday.

These are remarkable statements at a time when the poison of cynicism is pervasive and short termism dominates too much of our public life.

I was especially struck by the words “convening strength” in the Queen’s message. Daily experience often seems to suggest that we are on the way to what Jeremy Bentham described as a “society of strangers”. Perhaps that is why we invoke the concept of the “community” so frequently because we are aware of its fragility and the truth that in some parts of the country, fragmentation has gone so far that community is hard to find. But over the past sixty years the Monarchy has proved over and over again its “convening strength” and a capacity to hall-mark and foster the development of a community of communities which can give colour and encouragement to our individual lives.

I believe that the Livery Movement already is and has the potential to be more than ever, one of the oxygenating plants in our life together nourishing that realm of public service and neighbourliness which lies beyond the world of partisanship and contention.

Jubilees are occasions when we can take the longer view and check our bearings. Of course it is true that a person who has a sense of history without a lively sense of destiny can be a very tedious fellow. I am convinced however that a person with a sense of destiny and no sense of history is a very dangerous fellow. The same goes for a City.

Our country has changed profoundly and in many ways for the better over the past 70 years and in the period of the Queen’s reign but as we find ourselves in this time of painful adjustment Churchill’s words again are wonderfully resonant “Our past is the key to our future which I firmly trust and believe will be no less fertile and glorious. Let no one underrate our energies, our potentialities, and our abiding power for good.”

Much changes but the imperatives which closed our first lesson remain “Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the Queen.”