Drinks and canapes were served and the guests mingled, introducing ourselves to one another. There were representatives from different churches and Christian charities and organisations. Amongst others I talked with Chris Mould (Chair of the Trussell Trust), Neville Kyrke-Smith (Director of Aid to the Church in Need), Commissioners Clive and Marianne Adams (Territorial Leaders of the Salvation Army) and Lynn Green (General Secretary of the Baptist Union).
The Prime Minister joined us and was talking to people until it became obvious that something was going to happen - and what happened next was very special. Chorister, Laura Wright sang for us and her voice was simply beautiful, it was a high point of the evening for me.
After Laura had sung the Prime Minister spoke. He began by affirming his Christian faith and saying how important he found it to attend communion during the week. He also spoke very appreciatively and movingly about the pastoral care he received from his local vicar.
He went on to make 3 main points:
1. He said that he wanted to ensure that Christians were supported and that he would do all he could to remove any obstacles that prevented Christian churches and groups from flourishing.It would have been good to have the opportunity to discuss these things further, there was plenty I would have liked to say, especially in relation to the third point. However there was only opportunity for a brief hand-shake.
2. He said that the government would speak out against persecution of Christians and he also spoke of the draft modern slavery bill.
3. He suggested that the churches and the government had in common a tendency to be deadened by bureaucracy and a need to evangelise, both wanting to work to support people and to improve people's lives.
So, my first reflections on this evening are that it was good to meet people engaged in working out their Christian faith in many ways and to talk with them about some very important issues. These included the persecution of Christians around the world, the way in which churches are working with chidren and young people including those young people who hav been excluded from schools, the work of the Trussell Trust and the iniquity of the need for food banks in the UK, The exciting and creative relationships that are developing ecumenically including those between the Methodist Church and Pioneer Network.
It as undoubtedly a privilege to be invited into Downing Street and to be a guest of the prime Minister. However, it was frustrating not to have the opportunity for any real engagement or conversation.