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Lords Diary: The Lord Bishop of St Albans

Lords Diary: The Lord Bishop of St Albans

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Last week I spoke in Lord Alton’s debate on the persecution of the Uyghur people in China. It was moving to hear contributions from all benches describing the horrors being perpetrated.

My speech focused on whether our nation is willing to do what is morally right and pay the economic price for voicing our opposition. Being Muslim, the Uyghurs will not be celebrating Christmas, but they will nevertheless be in my prayers this season. The day after the debate I received a letter informing me that I’m a disgrace as a bishop for defending the rights of Muslims. My detractor had glossed over my many interventions of behalf of persecuted Christians and, it seems, they had not grasped the fact that defending human rights involves speaking up for all minorities, whatever their faith or lack of it. 


In St Albans Cathedral we marked the beginning of Advent with a special service. While Christmas is for children, Advent is definitely for adults, providing a safe place to gaze into the dark abyss as we meditate on the themes of death and judgement, and the hope of restoration. After months of restrictions, it was wonderful to see a packed nave again. Starting in pitch darkness the congregation gradually lit their candles until the entire building was aglow in gentle light as we prayed to God to lighten our darkness. 


Following the second reading of my Private Members’ Bill, the Coroners (Determination of Suicide) Bill, I’ve been busy meeting members of the House and experts in coronial law. The origins of the bill lie in my frustration at the government which seems in denial about the appalling levels of suicide associated with gambling-related harm. All those speaking in the debate were positive, though the minister said Her Majesty’s Government could not support it. I soldier on.


Last winter’s storms brought down three trees in my garden. After kicking around various ideas, I have embarked on redesigning the area as a physic garden. Pleached fruit trees are now planted against the walls and this week, assisted by my hard-working gardener, in went more than 400 herbs and plants. I can’t wait to see it burst into life in the spring.  


The arrival of the Omicron variant on these islands is a powerful reminder that we have to take a global approach to solving this pandemic. On Thursday I was granted a topical oral question about the sharing of vaccines with the developing world. My diocesan colleague, the Bishop of Hertford, who was formally a professional epidemiologist, is doing amazing work leading the Church of England’s engagement across the Anglican Communion to help the global vaccination rollout. Church leaders in developing countries are often well placed to overcome vaccine hesitancy; so I was delighted when the minister agreed to meet us to explore how we can help. 


On Saturday we installed the new dean of St Albans Cathedral. Jo Kelly-Moore is a former dean of Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand and has recently been working as the Archdeacon of Canterbury. It was a splendid occasion, with a cracking sermon from the new dean, who will be a worthy successor to Jeffrey John. 


Among today’s jobs is to write a speech for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill next week. As the lead bishop on agriculture, I am bringing back my amendments on Hare Coursing with the support of the National Farmers Union, various police forces and many members of the House. It seems to be clear to nearly everyone that these amendments would make a huge difference for many of our farmers and landowners who are adversely affected by this crime.


Years ago I set a personal record for singing Hark! the Herald Angels Sing no less than 26 times in various Christmas carol services. So far this year, I’ve clocked up nine. Only 15 to go. 

 

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