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Sermon at the 73rd Service of the United Guilds of the City of London

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Revd Nicholas Holtam
Posted By : Nicholas Holtam Friday 20th March 2015

A sermon preached by the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam at the Sermon at the 73rd Service of the United Guilds of the City of London in St Paul’s Cathedral on 20 March 2015.

 

Readings: Proverbs 8.1-16; Colossians 3.12-17

By wisdom kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by wisdom rulers rule and nobles, all who govern rightly. (Proverbs 8.15,16)

 

As Bishop of Salisbury and a former Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields I have good reason to thank you for your generosity. There is a great tradition of philanthropy among you. One of the things I learned working with homeless people is that giving is good for all of us. Living generously is one of the marks of being human. Thank you for your kindness and generosity.

 

In 1124, the then Bishop of Salisbury, Roger le Poer, who was also Chancellor of England, summoned the coiners of the realm to London. The punishment for those who had clipped the coins was to be castrated and have their right hands chopped off.  It was rough justice but they had seriously weakened society by debasing the currency and undermining the economy. So it must have been a relief that less than a hundred years later the Archbishop and Barons forced bad King John to seal Magna Carta  in which it was said that,

No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned...
disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs...
outlawed, exiled, or in any other wise destroyed...
but by lawful judgement of his Peers, or by the law of the land.

To no man will justice be sold, denied or deferred.

Like the country at large, Salisbury is celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.  We have one of the four original copies. Indeed, everyone agrees that ours is by far the best! 

 

A few months ago, the media enjoyed reporting what to the rest of the world seemed the rather surprising fact that according to The Lonely Planet guide Salisbury this year is the 7th top place to visit in the worldbecause of Magna Carta.   One report concluded:  

Colin, 55, sitting in The Haunch of Venison, said, “I’ve lived in many places around the country and the world but of all the places this is my favourite.  It’s certainly up there with Norwich.

As you know, the City of London featured prominently in Magna Carta. Just as the Church of England shall be free, and the liberties of freemen under-written,

The City of London shall have all the Liberties and Customs
which it hath been used to have.

 In this London was the model of freedom for all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns, and Ports.

 In Magna Carta, the City helped establish standards for fair dealings.

There will be standard measures of wine, ale and corn (the London Quarter), throughout the kingdom.  There should also be a standard width of dyed cloth, russet and haberject.... Weights are to be standardised similarly.

The Guilds and Liveries played a very important part in this.  Your origins were not just in wealth creation, trade association and philanthropy but in fair dealing, in justice. Indeed wealth creation is destroyed by the absence of justice.

 

The primary purpose of the City is of wealth creation, not only in an economic sense but in terms of our well being, the common wealth. Working in this huge concentration of resource and power we need an honest commitment to one another as well as to individual gain.  Traditionally this was established through face to face dealing and trust that I am as good as my word. This is more complex to achieve now but no less important. A property developer told me recently that he had a reputation for repeat business. That’s a great test, and good business

 

In 2007 the Chairman of a bank told me his company had a problem. It was the ambition of some of his best staff to make enough money by their mid-40’s to be able to leave and do something “really useful”. He said they didn’t seem to think banking itself is a public good, that it is ‘really useful’. Their aim was to acquire wealth for themselves so they would gain the freedom to do good.

 

The financial crash that followed reminded us sharply that there is as much potential and need for good in the way we make wealth as in its distribution. 

 

A recent monograph on Quaker Capitalism and its Lessons for Today[1]  showed that successful Quaker businesses in the C18th and C19th did not pay higher wages than their competitors, neither at the bottom of the business nor at the top.  But they emphasised the importance of the integrity of relationships in business, that it is not only about the deal but about the values and culture of the business. 

 

At Friends House, the Quaker Headquarters on the Euston Road, modern Quakers have an employment practice that wage differentials will not exceed 4:1.  No one is paid more than 4 times the lowest paid. Most will think they are less business-minded than their predecessors and too idealistic so I asked another bishop with a reputation for being quite business minded what he thought. “That’s a bit tight”, he said. “I think I’d go for 8:1.  I’ve tried it out on others none of whom has exceeded 25:1. The City clearly thinks differently because the wage differential in FTSE 100 companies average 232:1. 

 

In our world the wealthiest 1% own as much as the poorest 50%. 

 

This is at least striking. Make of it what you want but it does question the integrity of relationships and the values and culture of business, and those things really do matter. 

 

You will have seen that the Bishops of the Church of England have written a Pastoral Letter about the coming General Election. We are concerned about people becoming estranged from one another. So the letter is entitled, “Who is my neighbour?”, which was the question the lawyer asked Jesus when he wanted to test him about the meaning of the summary of the law that we should love God and our neighbour as our self. 

 

Rather like Salisbury being the 7th top place to visit in the world it’s best not to believe everything you read in the papers. The Bishops’ letter was determinedly not party political but said that, 

We support policies that respect the natural environment, enhance human dignity and honour the image of God in our neighbour.[2]  

We encouraged people to cast their vote not just out of self-interest but for the common good.  That doesn’t seem a very controversial application of Jesus’ summary of the Law that we should love God and love our neighbour as our self.   

The Jesuit priest Fr Gerry Hughes, in a book published just before he died last November, identified that we are facing a spiritual crisis. He wrote:

We have seen wonderful technical development, but we have become unhinged. We have lost the link between the words we use and what we actually do . . . It faces us with annihilation. (Cry of Wonder, 2014)

 

St Paul said much the same in the Epistle to the Romans:

For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

 

We all know it in our own experience, personally and corporately. Fr Hughes encourages us to explore the mystery of our own human experience. Attending to our inner conflict can, he suggests, reveal to us a vision of the transformation into which we are all being invited, in all that we are experiencing, in every moment of our existence. This is like Carl Jung, who said that the person who looks outside dreams, whilst the person who looks inside awakens.

 

The Guilds and Livery companies of this City have a great history and present responsibility in relation to the culture and integrity of the City in respect of the responsibilities of wealth and capital for investment, saving, encouraging employees, community involvement and charitable giving. 

 

The ability to make wealth depends on creativity, love and justice, on the integrity of our relationships and trust in one another. Encourage one another. Take nothing and no-one for granted. Give thanks for everything. 

“May Christ inspire us all to live with faith, hope and charity, united by our commitment to our common life.” (From the Bidding Prayer for this service.)




[1]  Richard Turnbull, Quaker Capitalism and its Lessons for Today,  Centre of Enterprise, Markets and Ethics, 2014.

[2] Who is my neighbour? A Letter from the House of Bishops to the People and Parishes of the Church of England for the General Election 2015.