Last evening I attended a gathering at Lambeth Palace, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife Jane.
It was a very friendly gathering, under the vaulted wooden roof of the Guard Room, and the watchful gaze of portraits of some of Dr Williams’ 103 predecessors. I was given a very warm welcome, first by staff, then by Jane Williams and then by the Most Reverend Father in God, by Divine Providence Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan – or Rowan for short.
I had never met him before, and found him a warm and inquiring man, skilled at putting his guests at ease and clearly interested in the borough where the Palace stands. I will be following up our conversation – Peter Bottomley MP was desperate to cut in – with a letter.
Of the other guests there this evening it was good to see Muslims, Jews and Catholics and people of other faiths (and none) invited together with Anglicans. As a politician (and atheist), I had an interesting discussion with an Anglican and a Catholic about the role of Bishops in an elected Upper House. The Church of England seems to be agnostic (ha!) about the need to reform the Lords, but obviously wants to protect the right of the Lords Spiritual to sit in the House. I was arguing for a wholly elected Upper House, and floated the idea of a number of places being reserved for elected faith representatives (by which I meant people from various levels of the various faiths standing for election, not just C of E Bishops). The answer from the Catholic was that people who had failed to get selected as party candidates would then put themselves forward as faith candidates. I fear the discussion reached a smiling deadlock at this point.