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Justice service at Oakham Castle prompts Rutland columnist Allan Grey to reflect on kindness and humility

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Just recently I found myself once again inside the beautiful All Saints Church in Oakham, writes Rutland columnist Allan Grey.

As someone with a secular mindset, my church visits over recent years have been limited to the few weddings I have photographed, and sadly to too many funerals, but not however to visits for regular worship. This time however, the lovely lady and I had been invited to join the justice service for the county of Rutland by none other than our High Sheriff, David Wood. The service of prayer and thanksgiving was for those who administer the law, and timed just prior to the bi-annual sitting of the crown court in Oakham Castle, which every two years resumes its role as England’s oldest seat of justice, first used as a Crown Court in 1229.

Alongside the High Sheriff were members of the clergy and the judiciary, as well as figures from both administrative and charitable organisations from within the county, all dolled up in their appropriate finery and decorative bling.

Oakham Castle with All Saints Church in the background
Oakham Castle with All Saints Church in the background

It was one of the more memorable church services either of us have attended, notwithstanding the sample size is relatively small, and amazingly I soon even found forgiveness for the cooling effect of the all encompassing structural stonework of the church on a cold October morning. A lone fanfare from an accomplished Oakham School trumpeter announced the procession, as they filed their way solemnly to the best seats in the house, sorry pews in the church. This was followed by hymns and prayers, interspersed by the beautiful voices of the Oakham School chamber choir.

The service was bidding to value the freedom and civil liberties we all enjoy in this country, to give thanks for our system of law and order, and to commit ourselves afresh to the cause of justice for all in our communities, not just locally, but worldwide. Justice readings combined clauses from the Magna Carta and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights followed by a reading from Micah, a Hebrew prophet from the Book of Judges in the Bible’s Old Testament.

Micah is an old Hebrew name that means, ‘who is like God’. He lived during a period of time where there was no king, nor judge over Israel to keep the people in line with God’s commands, which loosely translated were threefold, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God, this verse having become most popular among both Jews and Christians, quite clearly promoting social justice.

Allan Grey
Allan Grey

All well and good I thought, the usual motherhood and apple pie we hear in a church reading, until that is, the inspiring Reverend Canon Tim Alban Jones, Chaplain to the Bishop of Peterborough stepped up to give the sermon. Deliberately noting to a full church that he was choosing not to start by delivering any lawyerly jokes, deciding perhaps that members of the judiciary would have heard them all before, and members of the clergy might not understand any of them, he swiftly moved on to pose the question: “What is justice?” Like any right minded individual today, the first person he consulted was Dr Google, second entry, so I tried the same and found this definition... “justice, the quality of being just, of being righteous, of being equitable, of being moral”.

OK, but then further research uncovered this definition, being righteous literally means, “to be right, especially in a moral or divine way”, albeit maybe too many of us these days make our own judgement on our righteousness, rather than leaving it to others.

But then Canon Tim moved on, trying to pull together all the strands of definition he had found, and lighted upon, “the glue that holds society together”. Now I can understand that, the more just society is, the more likely it is to hold together when the going gets tough, and it’s plenty tough enough for many at the moment. This didn’t sound like any sermon I had heard before, it wasn’t specifically religious, albeit it had its origins in God’s commands to Micah.

The centre piece of Canon Tim’s sermon was the commending of God’s command to everyone in their day to day activities, albeit slightly amended, “to do justice, to love kindness, to walk with humility”. You don’t need to believe in God, or to go to church on a regular basis, or to pray to anyone, to embrace those 10 words as a credo. It has certainly given me pause for thought, it’s certainly a credo I would aspire to, how well do I live up to it, that’s definitely for others to say. Unlike any other church service I have attended in my memory, both I and the lovely lady came away refreshed, inspired even, still discussing long into the evening how it had impacted the pair of us, and quite a few others from comments received, well done The Most Inspiring Reverend Canon Tim Alban.

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