St Mary’s Church, Marlborough May 30th 7.30pm
The Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, published in 1662, contains the petition in one of its prayers that under the monarch we may be ‘godly and quietly governed’.
It is a statement that can seem to be simultaneously both bland and weighty. To be ‘quietly’ governed can appear as an endorsement of the staus quo but godly governance presumably entails valuing (and governing) people in a way that God would recognise rather than disown.
If this happens, then ‘quiet’ governance is less about the staus quo and more about the effectiveness of government .
For these reasons, I believe that the 17th Century prayer that we may be godly and quietly governed is a suitable prayer and approach for the 21st Century church.
There are great sensitivities around any statements church leaders make during election campaigns. In 2015, the Church of England Bishops produced a report Who is my neighbour? No doubt because it asked some hard questions, the report was denounced as being an attack on the Conservativ-led Coalition Government. This time the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a ‘pastoral letter’, the content of which avoids any such contention and can seem simply like a manifesto on behalf of good causes.
For government to be quietly effective requires the skill of engaging with complex matters and competing interests, as well as negotiating the constraints of time and finance. Precisely because it is so multi-layered, the art of government can probably only be properly understood by those who actually practice it.
But the call to be godly governed is a call not just to honour the dignity of the human person, it is also a recognition of the constraints of government itself. For one of the essential lessons of faith is that when men and women over-stretch themselves trouble tends to follow. This over-stretching can happen to both individuals in the market place and to the institutions of power themselves. It needs to be avoided.
That is just one reason why we have a responsibility to engage with the political process and pay attention to it. Candidates at elections need to be challenged as well as given the opportunity to explain what they offer to the electorate. On Tuesday May 30th at 7.30pm there will be a hustings held in St Mary’s Church, Marlborough when we have the chance both to listen and to question. Do come along if you can.