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St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace...

Service of commemoration upon the 25th anniversary of the Bishopsgate Bomb

On 24th April a number of members of WCoMC’s Faith Group were privileged to participate in a special service of commemoration upon the near destruction of this ancient City church by an IRA bomb, which fell in 1993.  Richard Chartres, former Bishop of London, told us how the church had survived the great fire of London, the second world war, and then, apart from the South arcade, had been reduced to rubble by an IRA bomb. He had been Bishop of Stepney at the time, and the church had been on the redundancy list, so the majority opinion was that its redundancy should be accelerated and the church demolished. Bishop Richard had, however, seen an opportunity for the creation of a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, particularly as the Good Friday agreement had just materialised. His suggestion was outvoted by 12 to 1, but he soon became Bishop of London and changed the arithmetic! Interestingly he had ‘phoned Archbishop Basil Hume to suggest that together they should lead a venture to establish a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace there. The response, to his surprise, was an immediate agreement to this initiative, and the project has prospered thereafter.

This was a service marked by the attendance of Sir John Major, Livery Company Masters, Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy, those affected by the bomb, together with senior representatives of Muslim, Jewish and Sikh faiths. Since the church holds only 90 people comfortably, the balance consisted mainly of the great and the good – and us!  The service opened with Sir Tony Baldry, Chair of Trustees, reading a substantive message of support from Prince Charles, who has apparently taken a keen interest in the venture from the start, and opened the restored building after reconstruction.  Bishop Richard welcomed everyone warmly, giving us his historical version of how the new St Ethelburga’s church rose from the ashes. He gave particular thanks to the Clothworkers’ (which gave £1m towards the rebuilding) and Saddlers’ Companies, and all who had helped to nurture the Centre as an active promoter of inter faith reconciliation and peace. After a hymn ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken….’ there were a series of bidding prayers led by Bishop Precious Omuku (Sub-Saharan Africa), Dean Oliver Ross (who will be giving the address at our Annual Service in September), and Bishop Trevor Mwamba (formerly Botswana, now in Barking). Bishop Richard gave some personal reflections on the deeper implications of his vision for the Centre, recognising the significance of conflict resolution in our lives, as instanced by the Good Friday agreement. He also recalled that a former Vicar of the church had, in the 19th century, translated the Koran into English, and a memorial tablet attests to this remarkable feature – surely an indication that the promotion of inter-faith understanding would be an appropriate purpose for St Ethelburga’s in the future.

The choir of St Botolph sang a psalm and an anthem during the service, which was a delight to listen to, and there were scripture readings given by Sheriff Neil Radcliffe and Trustee Freddie de Lisle. The highlight of the service was a video by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been a former Chair of Trustees. He spoke movingly of his direct involvement in reconciliation work, stemming from his past role at Coventry Cathedral where he led a team assisting conflict situations on a wide scale. He told us that reconciliation was now ‘in his blood’ and drew attention to the need for reconciliation within ourselves, with those around us, and with God. We should recognise the potential of God’s assistance, through his Spirit, in achieving a measure of peace by being prepared to come together in humility to find a consensus. He commended the work of the Centre in its fields of Reconciliation, Refugee support, Interfaith action, Spiritual stimulus. He spoke so naturally and passionately, without notes or teleprompt, and was inspirational in what he told us.

The service concluded, after a hymn ‘Now thank we all our God…’, with prayers read by four Trustees, including a Muslim and a Sikh. A final blessing was given by Bishop Paul McAleenan, representing Cardinal Vincent Nichols. The service was followed by a splendid reception at Saddlers’ Hall, where we were warmly greeted and refreshed in the usual manner – the champagne was exquisite! Members of our Company may wonder what each of us may do to help further the important work of the Centre. Might we suggest that you consider participating in the occasional activities of the Faith Group, particularly if held at St Ethelburga’s, and corporately perhaps we might review the possibility of giving a modest grant to one of the Centre’s ongoing projects. 

John Watson

John McLean Fox









                                                  WCoMC FAITH GROUP