U.K.’s Anglican Prime Minister

Theresa May arrives for a cabinet meeting at Number 10 Downing Street in central London on July 12 • REUTERS/Neil Hall

Postcard from London

By John Martin

Unlike their American counterparts, British politicians tend to be reluctant to bring God into public discourse. Prime Minister Tony Blair’s director of communications, Alistair Campbell, once stopped Blair from answering a question about his Christian faith. “We don’t do God,” Campbell said.

Politicians of the left can say without censure that they are not believers. With those on the right the position tends to be more opaque. Conservatives like David Cameron and Boris Johnson, who attended schools where chapel was compulsory, tend to have a somewhat patchy grasp of religion. They nevertheless are familiar with church language and will mouth the words of hymns on public occasions.

The U.K.’s new prime minister, Theresa May, defies the pattern. She has openly spoken of her Christian faith: “It is part of who I am and therefore how I approach things.” Her conviction grows from being a daughter of a Church of England vicar and a regular churchgoer.

The Rev. Hubert Brasier, May’s father, died in a car accident when she was 25. He trained at College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, the highest of the Church of England’s high-church colleges. Mirfield, home of the Community of the Resurrection, has trained generations of priests who deliver mint-perfect sermons without a script.

A typical vicar of Brasier’s generation often ventured into the streets in a cassock and was addressed as Father, even by those outside the church. Their ministry focused on the sacraments, a commitment to justice, and serving the poor. They took on parishes in deprived areas that other clergy avoided.

Brasier named his only daughter after St. Theresa of Avila, the 16th-century nun who became a reformer of the Carmelite order. It was her lot to live through the turbulent times of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation that plunged early-modern Europe into bitter and protracted warfare.

In her formative years, Theresa Brasier lived in a goldfish-bowl village vicarage household, and people needing pastoral care would show up at any hour. In Britain it’s fashionable for cynics to mock Church of England clergy for their advocacy of the poor. But these clergy are often the only members of the professional classes who live in deprived areas and have a finger on the pulse of the community.

The prime minister has described herself as a one-nation conservative who is concerned that her party has been too allied with elites and out of touch with ordinary folk for whom life is a struggle.

She finds herself in a leadership role when once again Europe is experiencing challenging times.

She will likely be familiar with St. Theresa’s best-known prayer: “Let nothing disturb you, / Let nothing frighten you, / All things are passing away: / God never changes. / Patience obtains all things / Whoever has God lacks nothing; / God alone suffices.”


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