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Politics and Mission: Rediscovering the political power of what Christians do by Martin Gainsborough

16 June 2023

Peter McGeary looks at worship’s implications

ONE of the truly frightening parts of being, as I am, the Vicar of St Mary’s, Cable Street, in the East End of London, is that in years past we would be visited from time to time by an old friend of the parish, the late and very great Fr Ken Leech. He would sit at the back in church, listening to my vague attempts to preach and to pray, and always be very kind about what he had to endure.

A recurring motif in Ken’s brilliant and disturbing books is his refusal to detach spirituality and doctrine from social and political engagement: what you believe should affect how you behave, and the more active your life, the more contemplative it needs to be.

Martin Gainsborough was consecrated bishop for the Kingston Area of the diocese of Southwark in February. No sooner has he begun his episcopal ministry than this timely book appears. He wants Christians to engage anew with the world, not by arguing with the current modes of political discourse (a raft of notions which he calls “political liberalism”), but, rather, by a recovery of a different mode altogether, one that is rooted in a Christian view of God and humanity and the relationship between them.

For Gainsborough, the Christian vision, first, needs to reject the over-individualistic notions of rights and freedoms which determine so much discussion, at least in the West — although elements of Catholic social teaching have been wise to this for some time, it has to be said. Second, we need to move ourselves from a homocentric to a more theocentric view of things, to see other things and other people as gifts from God, not there for our amusement or exploitation.

And, to foster this, Christians need to utilise the forms of thought and action that are right in front of them: they need to pay attention to liturgy. The book gives examples (baptism, eucharist, funeral, and so on) by which we can (re)acquire an understanding of creation as God’s gift and not our plaything, and how we amend our behaviour thereby. Questions for reflection and suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter make this book suitable for group use.

Liturgy cannot but be a communal thing, even when recited on one’s own. And it cannot but be a political activity by its very nature: we are making certain statements and assumptions about ourselves, other persons, and the world by reciting the texts that we do. Those of us who recite the Magnificat daily at evening prayer should know this.

Perhaps this book is, above all, a call for Christians to pay a bit more attention to the things that they say and do when they are in church, that they might amend and improve what they do when they are not.

The Revd Peter McGeary is the Vicar of St Mary’s, Cable Street, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.


Politics and Mission: Rediscovering the political power of what Christians do
Martin Gainsborough
Sacristy Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.69

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