This morning Stephen chaired the national Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast, which was attended by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the first time in its 20 year history.
Held in the Houses of Parliament's Westminster Hall, and attended by over 700 people, the breakfast carried the theme "Global Christianity in the 21st Century" with the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Revd Justin Welby, invited as the key note speaker. It was the first time an Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed the event.
Archbishop Welby spoke passionately about the identity and role of the global modern church saying: "I hope and pray [the church] will never just be useful – what a dreadful condemnation that would be."
Speaking personally of his recent visit to Pakistan, he added: "The Church...is a suffering church in this century. It is growing and in growing it suffers. It carries a cross...in Lahore two weeks ago we met some of the clergy and the Bishop of Peshawar who were involved in the bomb explosion last September at All Saints Church, an Anglican church, in which over 200 people were killed. And you ask them: “How are things recovering? Are people still going to church?” “Oh,” they said. “The congregation has tripled.” It is a suffering church and a church of courage."
He then called on the church to serve the poor, saying:
"The poor are not served by a divided church obsessed with inward issues. Pope Francis said last year... “listen to God, hear the poor”. When we listen to God we are looking outwards, not inwards to the life of the Church...
...God has no preferences, except a preference of love for the poor, the week and the vulnerable...the Church is the most effective Church when it demonstrates that love...Love and outward-looking should be the characteristic of the Church. Holiness, radical difference in lifestyle. And truth and love drive action and attitude."
Speaking after the event Stephen commented on the "significance" of the breakfast: "This morning is an indicator of what I see to be true in communities across Britain: the church has a huge role to play in the life of this nation. It has stood up to be counted at a difficult time; leading the way in caring for the poor and standing up for the marginalised. The popularity of this event, reinforced by the presence of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the first time, is a sign of what I see to be the increasing momentum of the church. Far from becoming an irrelevance, the church is on the move; caring, loving, bringing hope and making a difference. I would like to thank the Archbishop Justin for his words and all those who contributed to making this breakfast such a huge success. We have great cause for optimism."
Labour Party Leader, Ed Miliband, described it as a "pleasure" to attend what he deemed to be an "important and inspiring" event.
David Cameron, the first Prime Minister to attend the event since Margaret Thatcher, referred to the breakfast as ‘a special moment in the Parliamentary calendar’ adding, ‘I believe very deeply that we should be confident in Britain about our status as a Christian country...greater confidence in our Christianity can also inspire a stronger belief in our work as politicians to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.’