The advocacy of the Church of England has been well aired in the blogosphere over the past couple of weeks, with the Revd Stephen Heard’s guest post for Archbishop Cranmer The way the Church does politics is largely ineffective and our own contribution Politics and the CofE. This week, Gillan Scott has posted Five things the Church should be lobbying government about on Christian Today, concerning Sunday’s report from the Evangelical Alliance which discussed evangelical Christians’ views of poverty and how it should be tackled; and today on Archbishop Cranmer, Evangelical Alliance spins its own research to attack Government over poverty – both raising issues to which we will return.
Against this background and Sir Tony Baldry’s article in the current Ecclesiastical Law Journal, it is timely that Caroline Spelman, the recently appointed Second Church Estates Commissioner has herself both given us the useful acronym “2CEC” and posted on her new role.
2CEC: A voice for the Church in Parliament
I am delighted to have been appointed Second Church Estates Commissioner for the Church Commissioners of England. The role of the Second Church Estates Commissioner is to provide a link between Government, Parliament and the established Church. The Second Church Estates Commissioner answers oral and written questions from MPs about Church of England matters in the House of Commons, is a Member of Parliament’s Ecclesiastical Committee and steers Church of England legislation through the House of Commons. I will also be a member of the General Synod and a member of the Church Commissioners’ Board of Governors. This is a vital role which links the Church and the State. The Church is important for the future of our country.
My view of the place of the Church in the life of our nation was expressed by Her Majesty the Queen at the start of her Diamond Jubilee year: “the concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country. It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely.
Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.” Building a better society, working with others for the common good, creating an environment for those of all faiths and none to live freely – these are but a few of the benefits of the work of the Church which I hope to promote and sustain in the years ahead. Working with parliamentarians of both houses I hope to ensure these gifts are cherished, nurtured and handed on to future generations. So how did it all start for me? I had a church upbringing. My father was a Church warden and my mother taught in the Parish church Sunday School. As I write at the beginning of national volunteers week I am reminded of the extraordinary contribution of volunteers – essential especially in rural areas – with over 80,000 volunteers providing support & activities for children, young people& families in churches around the country.
When I had my own family it seemed entirely natural to take my three children to Church and I was actively involved in teaching at the Sunday school. I studied European studies and when I took up a full time role in Paris I was fortunate enough to worship at the Church of England Church at St. Michaels in Paris which took my faith to a new level. At the time St. Michaels congregation was composed of 47 different nationalities which also taught me a great deal about the global nature of Christianity and its inspiration for those of different backgrounds, cultures, languages and experiences.
I have been worshipping at Knowle Parish Church in my Meriden constituency for eighteen years. In my constituency there are Churches deeply involved in supporting the local communities of which they are part. Alongside regular Christian worship churches provide a variety of services from supporting foodbanks and debt advice centres through to lunch clubs for the elderly, family and toddlers clubs as well as walking with people through the most challenging aspects of life. While my own children are now older I believe it is important to work with young children and parents. My experience of Sunday school over time has been fundamental to outreach to children and parents alike, offering a place where families can come together and learn and grow in faith.
Inevitably there will be those who wonder whether it is proper for such a role as mine to exist in what they might argue is an increasingly secular society. My response would be to return once more to the comments of Her Majesty the Queen at Lambeth palace in 2012: “Faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action. Indeed, religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves.”
Caroline Spelman, Second Church Estates Commissioner
Mrs Spelman may be relieved to hear that her predecessor admitted to the House that he was neither omniscient nor omnipotent, HC Hansard 30 Oct 2014, Vol 587 (53) Column 39, and expect that with the many sources of information and comment now available, she will quickly gain his “compendious knowledge”. We wish her well in the role.