June 22, 2004
By Kathleen LaCamera*
LONDON, England (UMNS)—Two Methodist pastors have been invited to take up seats in Britain’s House of Lords.
Rev. Leslie Griffiths, superintendent minister at Wesley’s Chapel in
London, and the Rev. J. Roger Roberts, a minister serving in the Welsh
Dyffryn Conwy Circuit, were among the 46 people awarded “life peerages”
for their service and contributions to the British Empire.
Lord Giffiths and Lord Roberts officially will be presented to the House of Lords on June 30.
“It was a bolt from the blue, it really was,” Griffiths told United Methodist News Service.
to a high-profile congregation at Wesley’s Chapel, Griffith thought
that the representative from Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet who
appeared on his doorstep had come for a pastoral chat. “I made a pot of
tea and sat down thinking I knew what she wanted to chat about, but I
The Rev. Leslie Griffiths
the news of his life peerage via fax while serving as the interim pastor
of the largest Welsh congregation outside of Wales, the Dewisant Church
in Toronto. The congregation immediately gave their 68-year-old
visiting pastor a standing ovation.
life peerages and other similar awards are part of 2004 Queens Birthday
Honors List. Those on the list are recommended by political and
community leaders throughout the United Kingdom. Honors are awarded to
individuals from all walks of life from school crossing guards to sports
personalities to charity volunteers to business people.
particular category of “life peer” brings with it the title of “Lord”
and full voting rights within the House of Lords. “The Lords” is
Britain’s second parliamentary body after the House of Commons and has
some similarities to the U.S. Senate.
Griffiths and Roberts come from Wales and will take on names reflecting
their Welsh roots. Leslie Griffiths becomes Lord Griffiths of Pembrey
and Burry Port in the Dyfed. Roger Roberts becomes Lord Roberts of
in French, Griffiths and his wife, Margaret, spent 10 years in Haiti
working directly for the Haitian Methodist Church on issues related to
education and community development. That firsthand experience has made
him a valuable advisor on Haiti to the UK Labor Party and the Blair
former president of the British Methodist Church, Griffiths has also
worked extensively on international issues related to Africa and the
Middle East. He has served as a teacher, headmaster and school governor
at home and abroad and also has been active in addressing urban social
problems related to homelessness, addiction, penal reform and
resettlement of displaced people.
The Rev. J. Roger Roberts
In a recent interview with the British Methodist Recorder,
Griffiths recalled his early life in the small Welsh village of Burry
where he was raised single-handedly by his mother. His family was so
poor that Griffiths did not have meat at home until he was 16 years of
age. Members of the local Methodist chapel put up the money needed to
buy Griffiths’ high school uniform and funded his school trips.
said he hopes that his contributions as a preacher and in the Lords
will “vindicate the faith people have had” in him over the years.
who had since returned to Britain from Canada told United Methodist
News Service he still hadn’t “come to terms” with his peerage.
from a quarrying [mining] background,” he explained. “When your fathers
and grandfathers have been toilers and hard workers, to think one of
their family members has got a peerage, it is really a totally
incredible situation. It shows British democracy at its best.”
addition to serving in his North Wales Methodist circuit for 34 years,
Roberts has been very active in the Liberal Democrat party in Wales and
has run for political office on five occasions.
Griffiths, he has passion for international work. He has been involved
in development and relief efforts in Rwanda and Ethiopia and is also
committed to children’s advocacy in the UK and overseas.
Griffiths and Roberts say they look forward to contributing to the
House of Lords in areas related to their firsthand experience and
expertise. They also welcome the national platform and opportunity for
networking their seats will bring.
“This is the public
ministry of the church,” explained Griffiths. “I’ve always fought hard
to stop the church in bewildering times from retreating and turning in
on itself. We [the church] have important things to say about the
who confessed to wanting to duck under the table every time someone
refers to him as ‘Lord’ said, “I really think that God has called me to
this. I intend to be a Methodist minister in the House of Lords and look
forward to working with my fellow Methodist ministers.”
and Roberts will join the only other ordained Methodist in the Lords,
Kathleen Richardson, Baroness of Calow, who was named a peer in 1998.
She was the first woman to serve as president of the British Methodist
Baroness Richardson sits on the neutral “cross-benches” in the Lords
with no particular party affiliation, Griffiths and Roberts will take up
seats firmly within their chosen party’s benches.
on why he will sit on the Liberal Democrat Party benches, Roberts said,
“I was a little lad when the war was ending. I saw pictures of the
concentration camps when the gates of Auschwitz opened…Even then, I
thought ‘this must not happen again.’ Each person must be treated with
dignity. That’s part of me being a Christian and the liberal that I am. I
am a real liberal.”
said he will have “very, very good friends on all the benches” but that
he does not believe in “keeping a studied neutrality” in the House of
Lords or in his parish for that matter. He believes people in both the
church and in civil society appreciate knowing where a person stands.
shall be a very loyal member of the Labor Party. I am a total supporter
of Tony Blair, who I think is the best leader since [William]
Gladstone,” he added. “Politicians as a class of people are very
undervalued. I want to affirm politics and politicians. Politics is the
art of the possible.”
*Kathleen LaCamera is a UMNS correspondent based in Manchester, England.
News media can contact Linda Bloom (646)369-3759 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.