I am Superintendent of Wesley's Chapel, "the
mother church of world Methodism". I'm the guardian of Wesley's
bones and the Museum of Methodism. That's my day job.
I also write, broadcast, chair an important
educational project, and all kinds of bodies relating to Haiti. I'm
also active in the House of Lords.
The theology of both the Wesley brothers was utterly
orthodox, and brilliantly expressed in prose and verse.
They focused on the Christian faith in its inward and outward
expressions. Theirs was an inclusive understanding of grace, and a
total commitment to social holiness. This inebriating combination
sets a standard against which the Church of all ages should judge
Haiti was my very first posting, my curacy, as
Anglicans would call it. We lived there for ten years. When I went
out, the dictator Papa Doc was still alive. I met him twice. His
infamous Tonton Macoute were everywhere, and people were
terrorised. He died shortly afterwards and his son took over. It
was still a dictatorship, and a tough old time. Of course, there
were compensating factors.
I went out because I spoke French, but ended up
with 48 churches to look after, and was a bishop before I was
ordained, and nobody spoke French; so I had to learn Creole. Now
it's been devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes, but clawing its
way back with the same brilliant, creative people. I've just been
back for the 40th anniversary of my ordination, my fourth visit
since the earthquake of 2010.
I'm also excited by the work I do as chairman of the
Central Foundation Schools Trust, related to the Dulwich
I was ordained to the Methodist ministry on 21 January
1973: 40 years ago. I was a Local Preacher for ten years
before that. The places where I've served have changed, but my
ministry, in its basics, hasn't. I've consistently refused
preferment. I've only ever wanted to be what Anglicans would call a
"parish priest". Teaching, preaching, pastoral care - these have
been the fundamental elements of my ministry from start to
How can I possibly explain the privilege of being with
people in their most precious and intimate moments: when a
baby is born, at times of crisis, when couples marry, when there's
a bereavement? And having the company and stimulus of young people,
day in, day out, keeps an old man like me from getting grumpy. My
whole life has been blessed by these privileges.
A good preacher commends Christ and the Christian
way. She's someone who has something to say, who believes
what she says, and says it with passion and conviction. Because
she's a good pastor, loves people, she is able to respond to
questions the congregation are asking themselves. A sermon should
be a participative, not a passive, act within the liturgy.
The Revd Jubilee Young, a famous Welsh Baptist
minister, preached on the Good Samaritan in Zion Chapel, Llanelli,
when I was a teenager. The bench pulpit he preached from became the
road from Jerusalem to Jericho and, for sheer drama, it totally
captivated the attention of all 2000 people present.
Anglicans infuriate me. I love the Church of
England. I still haven't recovered from the "great rejection of
1969" [News, 18 July 1969]. My theology and churchmanship would
make me a liberal Anglo-Catholic - I'm actually "High Chapel" - but
with a sharp Evangelical cutting-edge. I've hated seeing Anglicans
tearing themselves apart over issues that are really, at the end of
the day, marginal to the great task of witnessing to Christ in a
world that is happily committing suicide all around us.
I should add that it's a great privilege to offer these
criticisms as an Honorary Canon of St Paul's Cathedral,
where I've been a member of the Cathedral Council for the last
dozen years, and as an Honorary Fellow of Sion College.
I didn't grow up in a churchgoing home, and the
Methodist chapel was just round the corner. So it was an accident.
Methodism in Britain is at a crossroads.
Numerically, it has suffered a steep decline in recent times. It's
seeking to re-invent itself as "a discipleship movement shaped for
mission". I wish it well. But it is fast moving away from the
Church I have served all my life, and I know I shall end my life
feeling deeply saddened at this loss.
It should be to the Church of England what the
Franciscans or Dominicans are to the Roman Catholic
Church. But to forge that identity as a freestanding
entity makes no sense.
I'm angered that the Anglican Church has not found it
possible to be more generous, imaginative, welcoming over
the years. All the fuss about the voting about women bishops. . .
The percentages were almost identical in 1969; and the Methodists
had voted themselves out of existence. Really, we should be
organically part of the Church of England, and ready to move
Nothing had led me to believe that I was going to enter
the House of Lords. I love it. It's such a friendly place,
and the grand people I'd only previously seen on television turn
out to be simple souls and breathing human beings. For me, it
completed the flush: a boy from the gutters in a faraway village in
South Wales ends up with John Wesley's pulpit, a seat in St Paul's
Cathedral, and another on the red benches in the British
I regret that my mother didn't live long enough to see
how remarkably my life has worked out.
The Lords needs pruning. There are too many
members. We need a retirement age, and to deal with the hereditary
question once and for all. It doesn't lend itself to coalition
government. But it's far more "representative" than the House of
Commons: gender, range of disciplines and experience, disability,
ethnicity, and faith. It wouldn't take much to turn it into a
first-rate instrument for the review and scrutiny of legislation,
and for debating matters of current concern.
The Bishops are the nearest we've got to "constituency"
members, who speak for geographical areas. And they
retire! They do need to think a bit harder about how to work more
Margaret and I have been married for 44 years.
Our three children have turned out to be fine and upstanding
individuals, all blessed with good relationships. Our two
grandchildren are growing up fast.
I shall continue to write and think. When I
finally slow down a little, I'm sure the company of my family will
be an increasingly important strand in the texture of my life. But
there's also death to deal with. I want to be able to embrace the
Grim Reaper in the same way I've kissed and hugged members of my
congregations down the years.
Margaret is a retired radiographer, who puts
her very best into everything she does. Unlike me, she's a "kosher"
Methodist. I'm happiest when Margaret and I are cooing and gawping
at the latest pictures of our grandchildren as they come to us via
the wonders of cyberspace.
The biggest decision was leaving an academic career I
loved to enter the Methodist ministry, which I've loved
even more. And the decision to go to the rough realities of Haiti
rather than the comforts of a teaching job in a theological
I'd like to be remembered for having written one decent
poem. Poetry is my deepest literary love, and I can't
write it for toffee.
I admire Toussaint Louverture, who led the
slaves of Haiti to freedom. His heroic deeds, combined with his
humility, remain astonishing. Wordsworth's sonnet to him is one of
I have read Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov and
Tolstoy's War and Peace at least half-a-dozen
The view of Burry Port from Pembrey "mountain",
especially when the tide's in . . . this is home, the place that
"What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole
world at the cost of his true self? What can he give to
buy that self back again?" This is the verse bedded in the deepest
recesses of my mind. The passages in Deuteronomy which describe the
Jews wading into their promised land with orders to exterminate the
local populations are distinctly odious.
I am angered by the plight of the poor and
suffering - in a world that could so easily do something
about it. How long, O Lord, how long?
My only real prayer is that I be given heightened
awareness, so that I might see the world as near to the
way God might see it as is humanly possible. I want to be delivered
from my dullness of spirit and my bourgeois sensibil-ities.
I'd like to get locked in a church with Rowan Williams
and Jeffrey John, who were made for each other, and whom I
want more than anything to rediscover each other. I'd make sure I
hid the key until my mission was accomplished.
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port was talking to Terence Handley