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Two British Methodist ministers become Lords

 


Two British Methodist ministers become Lords

June 22, 2004    

By Kathleen LaCamera*

LONDON, England (UMNS)—Two Methodist pastors have been invited to take up seats in Britain’s House of Lords.

The Rev. Leslie Griffiths, superintendent minister at Wesley’s Chapel in London, and the Rev. J. Roger Roberts, a minister serving in the Welsh Dyffryn Conwy Circuit, were among the 46 people awarded “life peerages” for their service and contributions to the British Empire.

Lord Giffiths and Lord Roberts officially will be presented to the House of Lords on June 30.

“It was a bolt from the blue, it really was,” Griffiths told United Methodist News Service.

Used to a high-profile congregation at Wesley’s Chapel, Griffith thought that the representative from Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet who appeared on his doorstep had come for a pastoral chat. “I made a pot of tea and sat down thinking I knew what she wanted to chat about, but I didn’t.”

Roberts received the news of his life peerage via fax while serving as the interim pastor of the largest Welsh congregation outside of Wales, the Dewisant Church in Toronto. The congregation immediately gave their 68-year-old visiting pastor a standing ovation.

The life peerages and other similar awards are part of 2004 Queens Birthday Honors List. Those on the list are recommended by political and community leaders throughout the United Kingdom. Honors are awarded to individuals from all walks of life from school crossing guards to sports personalities to charity volunteers to business people.

The particular category of “life peer” brings with it the title of “Lord” and full voting rights within the House of Lords. “The Lords” is Britain’s second parliamentary body after the House of Commons and has some similarities to the U.S. Senate.

Both Griffiths and Roberts come from Wales and will take on names reflecting their Welsh roots. Leslie Griffiths becomes Lord Griffiths of Pembrey and Burry Port in the Dyfed. Roger Roberts becomes Lord Roberts of Llandudno.  

Fluent in French, Griffiths and his wife, Margaret, spent 10 years in Haiti working directly for the Haitian Methodist Church on issues related to education and community development. That firsthand experience has made him a valuable advisor on Haiti to the UK Labor Party and the Blair government.

A former president of the British Methodist Church, Griffiths has also worked extensively on international issues related to Africa and the Middle East. He has served as a teacher, headmaster and school governor at home and abroad and also has been active in addressing urban social problems related to homelessness, addiction, penal reform and resettlement of displaced people.
 
In a recent interview with the British Methodist Recorder, Griffiths recalled his early life in the small Welsh village of Burry where he was raised single-handedly by his mother. His family was so poor that Griffiths did not have meat at home until he was 16 years of age. Members of the local Methodist chapel put up the money needed to buy Griffiths’ high school uniform and funded his school trips.

Griffiths said he hopes that his contributions as a preacher and in the Lords will “vindicate the faith people have had” in him over the years.

Roberts, who had since returned to Britain from Canada told United Methodist News Service he still hadn’t “come to terms” with his peerage.

“I’m from a quarrying [mining] background,” he explained. “When your fathers and grandfathers have been toilers and hard workers, to think one of their family members has got a peerage, it is really a totally incredible situation. It shows British democracy at its best.”

In addition to serving in his North Wales Methodist circuit for 34 years, Roberts has been very active in the Liberal Democrat party in Wales and has run for political office on five occasions.

Like Griffiths, he has passion for international work. He has been involved in development and relief efforts in Rwanda and Ethiopia and is also committed to children’s advocacy in the UK and overseas. 

Both Griffiths and Roberts say they look forward to contributing to the House of Lords in areas related to their firsthand experience and expertise. They also welcome the national platform and opportunity for networking their seats will bring.
 
“This is the public ministry of the church,” explained Griffiths. “I’ve always fought hard to stop the church in bewildering times from retreating and turning in on itself. We [the church] have important things to say about the world.”

Roberts, who confessed to wanting to duck under the table every time someone refers to him as ‘Lord’ said, “I really think that God has called me to this. I intend to be a Methodist minister in the House of Lords and look forward to working with my fellow Methodist ministers.”

Griffiths and Roberts will join the only other ordained Methodist in the Lords, Kathleen Richardson, Baroness of Calow, who was named a peer in 1998. She was the first woman to serve as president of the British Methodist Church.

While Baroness Richardson sits on the neutral “cross-benches” in the Lords with no particular party affiliation, Griffiths and Roberts will take up seats firmly within their chosen party’s benches.

Commenting on why he will sit on the Liberal Democrat Party benches, Roberts said, “I was a little lad when the war was ending. I saw pictures of the concentration camps when the gates of Auschwitz opened…Even then, I thought ‘this must not happen again.’ Each person must be treated with dignity. That’s part of me being a Christian and the liberal that I am. I am a real liberal.”

Griffiths said he will have “very, very good friends on all the benches” but that he does not believe in “keeping a studied neutrality” in the House of Lords or in his parish for that matter. He believes people in both the church and in civil society appreciate knowing where a person stands.

“I shall be a very loyal member of the Labor Party. I am a total supporter of Tony Blair, who I think is the best leader since [William] Gladstone,” he added. “Politicians as a class of people are very undervalued. I want to affirm politics and politicians. Politics is the art of the possible.”

*Kathleen LaCamera is a UMNS correspondent based in Manchester, England.

News media can contact Linda Bloom (646)369-3759 or e-mail: newsdesk@umcom.org.

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