The Church of England is facing embarrassment as one of its own priests prepares to pray for peace on the steps of a church building as generals and arms dealers arrive for a major conference.
The Rev Helen Hayes intends to lead an act of Holy Communion shortly after 8am today (28 June 2016) at Church House, near Westminster Abbey.
She is among several thousand Christians who object to Church House Westminster – the conference centre in the Church of England's administrative headquarters – hosting a conference sponsored by arms companies. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York are among the members of the Church House board.
The act of worship and witness is organised by Christian pacifist group the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Rev Helen Hayes, a Pioneer priest working amongst people who are homeless in Leicester.
The 'Land Warfare Conference' is expected to explore defence policy following last week's Brexit decision. Organised by the Royal United Services Institute, a pro-military thinktank, it is sponsored by companies including Airbus (formerly EADS), the second largest arms company in Europe. Airbus arms oppressive regimes including Saudi Arabia, whose injustices include suppression and persecution of Christians.
The conference will be addressed by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon on the following day.
Over 3,000 people have so far signed a petition calling on Church House not to host events sponsored by arms companies. This would be consistent with the Church of England's own investment policy, which rules out buying shares in companies that make more than 10 per cent of their turnover from weapons.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) is disappointed that Church House's leadership have consistently refused to engage in constructive discussion on the issue, repeatedly sending brief responses to letters, which fail to address the points raised. FoR have been calling for a change of policy by Church House since 2012.
FoR's call is supported by other Christian organisations including the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, as well as secular groups such as the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and the Peace Pledge Union (PPU).
The Rev Helen Hayes said: "We are here today to reflect on the arms trade and to pray for its victims – for sisters and brothers suffering the violence of conflict and war, human rights abuses, homelessness and hunger. Jesus died on a cross because he refused to stop speaking out for the poor and oppressed. He refused to stop speaking out for those with no voice, for those with no power. The victims of war need the church's voice to stand 'with' them, stand 'for' them, not collude with those who stand in the corridors of power and further enable them to oppress the weak and the vulnerable. We all need to see the consequences of our actions and confess where we have not had the courage to speak out for those most in need so that we may stand firm in the name of peace."
* Fellowship of Reconciliation http://www.for.org.uk/