Anglican bishops march through London to urge action on global poverty

Published July 24, 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and other faith leaders, Anglican bishops and their spouses cross the Lambeth Bridge in a walk across Central London to demonstrate their commitment to “to put pressure on those who have power and resources” to help end poverty across the globe.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams Thursday urged world leaders to “find greater political commitment to addressing poverty and inequality” as he and 1,500 Anglican bishops, their spouses as well as other faith leaders took to the streets of London to dramatize their call for governments to fulfill their promise to halve poverty by 2015.

Curious Londoners and tourists lined the streets fronting Parliament Square as the world’s Anglican bishops in purple cassocks and their spouses in national dresses joined faith leaders and anti-poverty activists in marching from Whitehall Road before wending through Parliament Square, Lambeth Bridge and then to the courtyard of Lambeth Palace for a rally.

The marchers carried purple placards that read “Keep the Promise,” and “Halve Poverty by 2015”, in reference to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the UN. Participants also carried the Poverty and Justice Bible, which highlights 2,000 verses of scripture relating to poverty and justice.

At the rally, Archbishop Williams presented British Prime Minister Gordon Brown with a letter urging him to press other governments to set a timetable for achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“Our leaders need to invest in and strengthen their partnership with the church worldwide, so that its extensive delivery network for education and health care, alongside other faiths, is fully utilized in the eradication of extreme poverty,” said Archbishop Williams in his letter. “…Because our faith challenges us to eradicate poverty, and not merely to reduce it, we should be all the more alarmed that with the half way mark to 2015 past, it is clear that most of these achievable targets will not be met.” The cause, he said, “is not lack of resources, but a lack of global political will.”

Archbishop Williams warned that the MDGs are also being “undermined” by climate change, which is “already hitting the poorest hardest.” Governments, he said, must also commit to “ambitious cuts in carbon emissions, appropriate to the size of their economy and historic responsibility.”

Mr. Brown, for his part, urged churches to apply more pressure on governments when the UN meets for an emergency session on September 21. “It’s poverty that needs an emergency (session),” he said “We need a march not just here in Lambeth but in New York…. We’ve got to redeem the pledges made by government.”

He said that he was not hopeful that the goals would be met by 2015 and that, in fact, change may not come in 100 years until “the will to act” can be found.

UN member states have pledged to meet the MDGs, which also include halting the spread of HIV-AIDS, empowering women, reducing child mortality, providing universal education, improving maternal care, ensuring “environmental sustainability” and developing a global partnership for development.”

Mr. Brown paid tribute to faith leaders at the rally saying “there are millions of people you may not meet who owe a debt of gratitude for the work that you do” in alleviating poverty and other social injustices.

He described the unprecedented walk as “one of the greatest public demonstrations” by a faith community. He was met with applause when he said that the walk sent a simple but clear message “that poverty can be eradicated, poverty must be eradicated, and if we all work together, it will be eradicated.”

He added: “Was it not you who (initiated) Make Poverty History” that provided debt relief to the world’s poorest countries?” He said that debt relief has enabled some countries to allocate resources for hospitals and schools and provide some HIV-AIDS treatment.

“Let’s work together for transformation that we know we can achieve,” said Mr. Brown, noting that in the past people thought that ending apartheid in South Africa was an “impossible dream.” But because “men and women of faith fought to make it happen, change happened,” he said.

In his letter, Archbishop Williams noted that in 2005 in Ireland and in 2007 in South Africa “the Anglican Communion collectively committed itself to be ready partners in meeting the goals, with their clear and time bound targets to halve extreme poverty.” But he said, “regrettably, despite some important progress in some regions and nations, these goals will not be met for millions of people for whom we have pastoral care.”

Archbishop Williams said the U.K. government has demonstrated “consistent leadership” towards meeting the targets of the MDGs. But, he added, “Christian pastors and world leaders cannot stand by while promises are not kept, when nations are tempted by the easier path of preserving their own wealth at the cost of other people’s poverty.”

Archbishop Williams said the Anglican Communion, along with other faith communities, has been active in fighting against poverty and injustice. “Our struggle is seen not only through prayer and advocacy, but also by directly serving many of the most marginalized people in our world through the daily provision of education, health care, emergency relief and counseling,” he said. “In this we are among those who build and bear hope for life when hope might otherwise be lost in cycles of violence, drought and disaster.”

Canadian bishops said the walk held resonance for all bishops. “For every bishop the issues of poverty and development are part of their daily life no matter where they come from – developed or the developing world,” said the diocesan bishop of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Sue Moxley. “The issues around the MDG – education, health care, equality for women and all those things are part of everybody’s life.”

Bishop Moxley said the walk also sends the message that while Anglicans may have “differences about other things, this is something we all agree on and we all want to be together in saying that this is important and we have to pay attention to it.”

Bishop Percy Coffin expressed hope that the walk will “heighten awareness of extreme poverty that exists” around the world. He added: “It’s deplorable and it is our ignorance probably that we’re not responding to the extent that we need to reach our goals.”

As the sea of purple cassocks passed through Westminster Abbey, the Anglican Journal asked onlookers if they knew what the march was about or if they knew what MDG meant. Most said, “I’ve got no idea, really.”

Ecumenical participants to the Lambeth Conference joined other faith leaders in the walk, among them Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster; Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi; Sir Iqbal Sacranie OBE, Dr. Indarjit Singh, OBE and other senior representatives of Muslim and Sikh organizations.

The walk passed a number of famous London landmarks including Downing Street, the home of the prime minister, Big Ben and the houses of parliament and Westminster Abbey. While the mood was, for the most part, quiet – with about 60 photographers and members of the media walking ahead of the march, along with some members of the London Police and Lambeth conference stewards who provided security – a few African women marchers sang songs as the walk progressed. The weather, originally forecast at 30 degree was a comfortable 23 degrees when the walk began at 10:30 a.m.

The walk was organized by the Anglican Communion in partnership with Micah Challenge, an international movement that engages churches worldwide to speak out about poverty and advocate for the MDGs.

After the rally, the bishops and their spouses – who traveled from Canterbury in southeast England where they are holding their once-a-decade conference – were invited to a lunch at the Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Later in the afternoon, they proceeded to Kensington Gardens for a tea with the Queen.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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