I’ve been Ordained for nearly twenty five years, and during that time I’ve done a number of professional development courses in my time, and some of the best have been delivered by Common Purpose, an organisation that brings leaders across towns and cities together, in order to build up strategic networks and to see models of good practise at work in different contexts. I’ve had the opportunity to work shadow a number of other professionals across Manchester, Calderdale, Kirklees, and Wakefield.

For the last few years I’ve tried to set up my own work experience as part of my journey through Lent, spending one day a week in the shoes of someone else, watching, listening, learning, from the challenges they face and the way in which they work. These experiences I’ve found help to inform my understanding of the world of work outside of the Church and to which I can refer when speaking truth to power, and in my preaching. If the Church is to remain relevant to society, its really important that the Church understands the challenges and the pressures that ordinary people face on a daily basis, whether you are a blue collar worker or a Manager, work for the private, public or voluntary sector, it doesn’t really matter, because who ever you are and whatever your job, God is interested. In fact, Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, encouraged Clergy to go out into the world and find out what God is already doing – and that is precisely what I hope to find during Lent 2020.

This year I will spend a day in the House of Lord’s with Lord David Shutt of Greetland, a local Calderdale Working Peer; with Chief Constable John Robbins whose father Lt Colonel Walter Robins I buried last year; Catherine Rutter the new Managing Director of Lloyds Banking Group who employs over six and a half thousand people in Calderdale through the Halifax Community Bank; Smart Move the Homeless Charity; and finally Calderdale and Kirklees Women’s Centre, who support vulnerable women through domestic violence, prostitution, and prison release to name a few of the things they do.

Tuesday morning my alarm went off at 6am as I took the 7.10am train from Halifax to London. By 10.40am I was walking into the House of Lord’s to be greeted by David Shutt, a Liberal Democratic Working Peer for some twenty years now. David has had numerous roles over the years, including being Deputy Chief Whip during the years of the Conservative Lib Dem Coalition. I often meet David at numerous events across the year in Calderdale, but I’ve never seen him at work. I was certainly ready for coffee, and we quickly joined the Welsh Peers celebrating St David’s day, with hot coffee and welsh cakes, and some introductions to some of David’s colleagues, including Dick Newby whose wife is a Residential Canon of Ripon Cathedral, and Tim Razzall, whose brother Charles, was a Vicar with me in Manchester, and whose daughter presents Newsnight regularly for the BBC.

David has his Office at Number One Millbank, across the road from the House of Lord’s, and was formerly owned by the Church Commissioners, until they sold it to the Lord’s a few years ago. The rest of the morning was spent in a Briefing meeting with policy advisers and other Civil Servants, in preparation for a Select Committee meeting which David was Chairing that afternoon following Questions in the Chamber.

Over Lunch I sneaked out across the road to catch up with Lord Keith Bradley of Withington, my former Member of Parliament in Manchester, whose sister and brother in law were both killed last year in the Shri Lanka killings, and who had been a great support and ally in my previous post.

At 2.30pm the Procession of the Speaker came swiftly into the Lord’s Chamber, and the doors firmly shut whilst Prayers were led by one of the bishops on duty that day. In the Church of England twenty-six bishops sit in the Second Legislator, representing all the people and communities whom they represent across their Diocese, be they people of faith or none. Today the Bishops of Salisbury, Peterborough and Worcester were on duty.

I sat in on three questions before leaving the Chamber to attend the Select Committee:

Lord Storey to ask her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the costs of clinical negligence?

The Earl of Clancarty to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the provision of arts and cultural services at local and regional level?

Baroness Hussein-Ece to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to tackle radicalisation in prisons in England and Wales?

At 3.15pm in one of the Committee rooms David Chaired a Select Committee on the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. This was a review of the Act to see if it was still fit for purpose? The committee received aural evidence from Virginia McVea, Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, followed by evidence from three Local Authorities – Watford Borough Council, Braintree District Council, and Woking Borough Council. Each Local Authority organised elections in a different way: one used Poll Cards that each elector had to present; another simply kept a Registration List; and yet another used photo identification to try and prevent fraud. Northern Ireland has had eight elections in five years, and there is a sizable minority percentage of people who chose not to register to vote at all. Much discussion revolved around good practise, and the introduction of Voter ID cards, something the Government is clearly considering for the future. The Select Committee are due to visit Northern Ireland later in the month. The Committee sat for two hours and was live on BBC Parliament.

David and I then met my second son Joshua, who lives in London, for some food, before David headed back to the Office to pick up emails and I took the train back to Halifax.

There were many faces across the Chamber I recognised, mainly ex ministers from the Other Chamber and now looking somewhat older. It was good to see some Cross bench Peers like Lord Robert Winston, the eminent medical scientist, and Baroness Floella Benjamin, actress and television presenter. The Lord’s is a strange mixture of people from many walks of life, who collectively bring much wisdom to ensure that the Government of the day makes laws that are sensible and not from the hip. They share with the Commons some interesting characters who make our political life that much more interesting, and I’m in favour of retaining an unelected House, and think the present system isn’t all that bad, even though it will never be perfect. To reduce the number of members would be no bad thing, although the reality is that there is a core number who do the majority of the work, whilst the others turn up on dressing up days! To elect members would make it more of a political animal, and we already have the Commons who provide a weekly pantomime at PMQs, we don’t want or need another one.

The role of the House of Bishops is an interesting one: many in the House value their contribution, whilst a noisy minority outside pour scorn on their involvement and cry for disestablishment. I’d like to think the bishops provide an opportunity to speak truth to power, to speak from the constituents within their Diocese, be it rural communities to the inner cities of our major conurbations. Without being party political, and representing all people, whether of faith or none, they bring a neutral voice to important debates, and reflecting the spiritual dimension of our national life and within society as a whole.

Much of the Old Testament contains information about Jewish Law, and in the Gospel’s we begin to see how Jesus came to over throw the Sanhedrin’s obsession with obeying the Law before anything else, and in healing the sick on the Sabbath, Jesus begins to fulfil the promises of the ancient Prophets. Religious authorities have been involved in law making for centuries, and we are reminded that laws that Political masters are often worth nothing, but laws that bring us closer to one another, that provide security and respect for the created order, finally bring us closer to God, our creator and redeemer.