The second Rebuilding Bridges conference on October 5 marked the 60th anniversary of George Bell’s death and continues the process of restoring his place in history.
An Opening Prayer was said by the Rev’d Ivor Cameron-Smith, who was made Deacon, and later ordained, by Bishop Bell, (and whom, as he said later, he had always revered).
As first Speaker, Bishop Dr Gavin Ashenden put, succinctly, the reason for this Conference, which was held in Church House, Westminster, on Friday, 5 October, 2018:
‘Our interest and concern today is the value and importance of reputation, specifically the reputation of Bishop George Bell.’
Significantly, during his speech, Bishop Gavin said: ‘George Bell was not a saint. There is no movement to canonise him. Such mechanisms do not exist in the Church of England, but there is plenty of evidence that Bell himself was a Christian whose whole life was orientated to the practice of self-restraint, self-giving and self-sacrifice.’
This was agreed with, and expounded upon, by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey of Clifton, and supported by the Rev’d Canon David Jasper, Professor of Literature and Theology, and Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Glasgow University. Indeed, Lord Carey noted, after the three had spoken, that the Conference had become more of a Seminar, with the interaction of comments.
That magical interaction of all the Speakers continued, with Questions and Answers throughout the proceedings, and with the contributions of Vasantha Gnanadoss, a former member of the General Synod, and the Rev’d Patsy Kettle, a former Minister in the Diocese of Guildford.
Rev’d Kettle made special mention of Richard Symonds who, from the time he organised, on 2 December 2017, a Bell Petition, supported not by hundreds, as he expected, but by thousands (see details on The Bell Society website), had worked tirelessly in the cause to remove the ‘significant cloud’ placed over Bishop Bell by the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, which he has never retracted.
The last speaker was Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson, whose father knew George Bell and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and she spoke of their friendship and work together. Mrs Grayson also spoke about ‘Sanctuary in Chichester’, the project to acquire a place in Chichester to act as a Centre for work with refugees and asylum seekers, and to commemorate Bishop Bell’s precedent of similar work in the years around WW2. Email for information.
Lord Carey closed the gathering with a heartfelt Prayer.