Eucharist and protest add to Church House embarrassment on arms trade links

By staff writers
June 30, 2015

Participants in a conference sponsored by arms companies were surprised to find Christians celebrating Holy Communion on the steps of the Church House Conference Centre when they arrived this morning (30 June).

Church House, the administrative headquarters of the Church of England, is under increasing pressure not to host events linked to the arms trade. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21835)

The 'Land Warfare Conference 2015' takes place for two days starting today. It is organised by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a military thinktank, and sponsored by companies including Lockheed Martin and MBDA Missile Systems, which are frequently criticised for arming oppressive regimes.

Church House has faced calls not to host arms trade events for the last three years and many such conferences have been greeted with protests and prayer vigils outside the building.

But the celebration of Holy Communion on the conference centre steps has been regarded as an escalation of the controversy. The Communion was celebrated by a Church of England priest, the Rev Adam Dickson of Manchester.

Over 20 people, including Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Quakers and others attended the act of worship. Pat Gaffney, of the Catholic peace group Pax Christi, read from Luke’s Gospel the account of Jesus’ protest against money-changers and unethical trading in the Jerusalem Temple.

“The peace of the world is the peace of wealth and empire, of borders and nations, of warfare and weapons,” said the Rev Dickson, prior to Communion. “But Jesus says to his disciples, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. Not as the world gives, do I give you.’”

The worshippers then shared a sign of peace – a handshake or hug – with each other. Some sought to do so with the arms dealers and soldiers entering the conference, a few of whom agreed to shake hands. Despite being invited, none of those walking through the doors to the conference agreed to receive the bread and wine of Communion.

Adam Dickson prayed to “the God who proclaims peace against the violence of the world”.

The worship was organised by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi and the Christian Network of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

Meanwhile, a petition by CAAT attracted hundreds of signatures within an hour of being launched this morning. It calls on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to intervene and speak out against Church House’s hosting of arms companies.

Church House point out that the bookings are not made by the arms companies themselves but by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a right-wing thinktank. Critics say this makes no difference when the conferences are sponsored by arms firms.

Church House's argument was further undermined following the news that St Paul's Cathedral has now ruled out hosting events sponsored by arms companies, whether or not the booking itself is made by an arms company. St Paul's Cathedral explained their new policy in a letter to the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

The decision to share Holy Communion while protesting outside the event was defended by Christian writer Symon Hill, a member of the CAAT Christian Network.

"Communion is a memorial and a celebration of Jesus, who was tortured to death by the oppressive Roman Empire after his nonviolent activism," said Hill. "As a Christian, I have faith that Jesus rose again, heralding the eventual defeat of the unjust powers of this world."

The petition launched by CAAT can be signed at https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?pli=1#inbox/14e4433019b66ebf.

[Ekk/1]

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