Bishop of Rochester on the role of faith-based organisations in South Sudan

17.10 RochesterOn 4th July 2018 Lord Curry of Kirkharle led a debate in the House of Lords, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the current humanitarian crisis in South Sudan and to support the delivery of a lasting peace settlement and longer term economic and social development.” The Bishop of Rochester, Rt Revd James Langstaff, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Curry, for bringing forward this debate, I apologise to your Lordships for scurrying in slightly late at the beginning, having been taken short, as it were, by the rapidity of the previous business.

A year or more ago, I was passing through Nairobi airport, dressed not quite like this but recognisably as a bishop. A gentleman also clad in a purple shirt was approaching down a corridor. Both of us having time to spare before our flights, we fell into conversation. My new friend was a bishop from South Sudan and was on his way home after a meeting of Church leaders from across Africa—from places of conflict and from places that were recipients of refugees from those conflict areas. Our conversation was one that will stick in my mind for the rest of my life, I suspect, as he shared with me the reality of existence in his diocese. He and his colleagues had been discussing the Church’s role in peacemaking and reconciliation in those settings.

As has already been generously acknowledged by many, the churches have a particular role in South Sudan, as in other places. I fully understand the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, about the most recent Khartoum declaration and the prospects thereof, but I guess that if we on these Benches are paid to do anything, we are paid to be people of hope. Therefore, I dare to pray with others for a lasting peace and for humanitarian development and economic and social development, for which a lasting peace is the necessary precursor.

The noble Earl referred to the connection of the diocese of Salisbury with South Sudan, and my right reverend friend the Bishop of Salisbury would be pleased to have that acknowledged in this debate. These long-standing connections between English dioceses and parts of the Church overseas are important factors in enabling the relationships to continue. They often work at a very local level and should be encouraged and fostered.

As it happens, a young woman from my own diocese is currently in South Sudan as a development worker with Tearfund, which has already been referred to. As I think is quite well known, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has personally been significantly engaged in issues in South Sudan, having recently visited South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. I am not someone who is easily moved to tears but I came very close to it when the archbishop spoke following the visit that he made to South Sudan in 2014, when he went into the heart of the conflict zone and visited the town of Bor. He spoke of the horrendous body count that he witnessed there. He stood at the mouth of what was in effect a mass grave and was asked by the local people to pray. Again, the sharing of that experience is something that will stay with me for the rest of my days.

The role of the United Nations has already been acknowledged in this debate. It recognises that in South Sudan the Churches and other faith-based organisations have the greatest reach and credibility among the people of any organisation. That is of course partly because the Church is already there—in the form of her people in every community, every village, every town and every place. Because the Church takes the form of those local people and local communities, it, of any organisation, cannot abandon South Sudan and its people because it is South Sudan and its people in so many respects. Its leaders have, with much frustration and setback, sought to contribute significantly to reconciliation processes at grass-roots and other levels, and they will continue to do so. Whether it be in the episcopal province of South Sudan or the wider South Sudan Council of Churches, they, I know, stand ready to continue to play their part in whatever way possible—in peacemaking and reconciliation, and in humanitarian and aid work.

Therefore, I ask the Minister, in responding to this debate, to pledge that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to engage with us and with the faith communities, and perhaps especially with the office of the most reverend Primate, not least because the archbishop now has on his staff at Lambeth Palace a South Sudanese bishop who brings personal knowledge and awareness to that place.

Our sisters and brothers in South Sudan, especially the bishops and other leaders, have pledged to continue to work for lasting peace even against the considerable setbacks that have been happening and which no doubt will continue. They are there for the well-being of the whole nation and I encourage Her Majesty’s Government to seek the opportunity to engage with them as partners.


Lord Bates (Con) [Minister]: … The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester reminded us of the importance of the Church’s role. He reminded us of the special connection with the diocese of Salisbury and of the special commitment of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who I know Chris Trott, the UK special representative for Sudan and South Sudan, will meet later this week on the importance of peacekeeping and reconciliation.

…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester asked what we will do to continue to engage with faith groups. We believe that they are significant. Indeed, the only institutions on the ground are the faith institutions, the churches. We confirm that the UK will continue to engage with them. The UK recognises the vital role that the Church has to play in establishing peace in South Sudan.

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