On Tuesday of this week, I attended an unusual tea party held at the St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, on the invitation of Sir Sigmund Sternberg and others. Sir Sigmund, a leading member of the Jewish community, has long been a champion for better understanding between the faiths, Christian, Jewish and Moslem.
Our hosts on.this occasion were the Co-Founders of the Three Faiths Forum, Sheik Dr.
M A Zaki Badawi. Sir Sigmund Sternberg and the Revd Marcus Braybrook. Jointly hosting the occasion was the Rt. Rev Richard Chartres, Bishop of London and Chairman of the Trustees of the St. Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation.
This is a particularly suitable venue for such a celebration, since St Ethelburga's is the church almost completely destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993, but brilliantly recreated through the initiative launched by none other than the excellent Bishop of London.
Dr. Charxres was appointed Bishop of London in 1996 and quickly spotted that the gap left in Bishopsgate by the former gem of a church would be the obvious site for a symbol of faith in face of that very kind of terrorism that had occasioned the disaster.
Backed by Cardinal Hume, he got to work, and soon received a most generous gift from The Worshipful Company of Clothworkers for £1.2 million. Since 1998, another £3 million has been raised from City sources.
The result has been a restoring of St Ethelburga's that has been little less than miraculous. Many of its original unique features have been faithfully and skilfully restored. The west front is almost entirely new, but clearly visible are fragments of old Tracery which have been restored.
The south arcade is still window, with new stained glass by Helen Whittaker showing St. Ethelburga. Appropriately, the text taken is "pray for the peace of Jerusalem," with the heavenly city made up of fragments retrieved from the original C E Kempe window. "I was anxious not to build a new old church, but to see the scars," says the Bishop.
"There's been a church on this site for 1000 years. We're here for the next 1000 years. Were not going to be rubbed out by a bomb," All credit must be given to Sir Sigmund Sternberg for yet another exciting initiative. Among the honours he holds is that of being a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory, no doubt with further deserved honours to come.
The Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, is housed in a simple steel and glass construction behind the south arcade, while the nave is used for meetings, seminars, exhibitions and regular services. For the bishop this is critical. "St. Ethelburga's remains consecrated, not secular," he says. "That's an important part of it, not incidental."
This is part of the tremendous general impact made by the church in the City and elsewhere since the taking of office of the present Bishop. What he says of St. Ethelburga's has a wider relevance. "I believe in continuities, in memories. Similarly, any society that loses its memory has real problems."
The ceremony was attended by the Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Gavyn Arthur, who is an old friend of mine, and with whom I had an interesting talk. He feels that the resurrected St Ethelburga's will become an important City landmark and that The Centre will play an increasingly vital part in the life of the locality.
In the course of the ceremony a presentation was made to Sheikh Dr Zaki Badawi for his eightieth birthday. Dr Badawi is a leading member of the British Muslim community. He is an expert in, among other things, Muslim banking, a complex branch of knowledge owing to the fundamental objection — subject to practical exceptions — to the taking of interest.