st pauls harlowThis morning saw Harlow’s Civic Service at St Paul’s Church in the town centre.

I was privileged to be asked by the current Chairman of the council to read the Psalm.

The Civic Service is a really nice moment in the towns political life as Councillors from all political parties come together to pray for the town that they all serve.

It reminds me that my service to my hometown of Harlow is also a service and sacrifice to the Lord whose Kingdom is everlasting.


Here is the Psalm:

Psalm 145

A psalm of praise. Of David.

 I will exalt you, my God the King;  I will praise your name for ever and ever.

Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.

One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.

They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty— and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

They tell of the power of your awesome works— and I will proclaim your great deeds.

They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.

All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you.

They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts

    and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,  and your dominion endures through all generations.

On Sunday I was at St Paul’s church for the third annual civic service, hosted by the Chairman of the council Mike Garnett.

It was a lovely service and very well attended by Mayors and Chairmen from around Essex, overall a wonderful chance to showcase Harlow.

I was asked to make an address to the congregation on what we pass on to our children.

Here is a copy of what I said

Cllr Sue Livings the Chairman of Harlow Council held her Civic Service today.

It’s an annual event and an important one in the civic life of the town. We have Mayors and Chairmen from accross Essex come to the town to see and hear about the very best of HArlow.

This year the children of Downs School Choir were particularly good.

I was given the honour of being asked to give the first address.

Here is what I said:

  • It’s quite fashionable these days to be thankful. Actors, on winning an Oscar or a BAFTA thank their managers, their fans, their families and their loved ones. An MP winning a seat at a General Election thanks his agents and campaign team, the police, the people who counted and supervised the vote and, most importantly for us politicians who must never forget them, the new MP thanks the people who voted for him to get him in power in the first place. If someone buys you a present, you thank them (or at least, you should thank them, even if it’s your Aunt who’s bought you yet *another* horrendous jumper for Christmas).

    Here in Harlow who should we be thankful to? There are the obvious people – the men and women who look after Harlow and its people day after day. The street cleaners and refuse workers who work long into the night after we’ve gone to sleep to make the town tidy for us when we go to work. The bus drivers who get us to and fro where we’re going every day. The civil servants in the civic centre and elsewhere who make Harlow run on a day to day basis. The Armed Forces who put their lives on the line to protect our. Health professionals who keep us well or look after us when we’re not. Fire and Rescue people who help us in emergencies (and I think the residents of Berecroft are particularly thankful for their help these past twelve months) or the Police who try to keep the streets safe. Perhaps you’re thankful to your neighbours and friends, the ordinary men and women of Harlow who so often go out of their way to help an elderly person who needs their shopping doing or just provide companionship to those in need.

    Or maybe when we think of Harlow we should think of those like the architect Sir Frederick Gibberd who did so much work in the late 40s and early 50s helping to plan and design the wonderful town that we live in today. Over half a century later we are still the beneficiaries of his design to have a town where everybody could get to a park within walking distance of their front door, and where today we have one of the most extensive cycle networks in the country.

    Yes perhaps it is right to thank those who made the town in which we live. But if that’s so, then there’s someone far more important today to thank for Harlow. As I prepared this speech I was reminded of a joke I was told a while back which I think makes my point for me.

    Some scientists went to God and said, “God, we’re so capable now we don’t think we need you anymore. We think we can do all the things you can do. We can make humans in test tubes. We can recreate the Big Bang in a laboratory. We can see to the end of the Universe. We just don’t need you anymore”.
    “Alright then”, said God. “I tell you what. Let’s have a creation contest. If you can make a man like I did, out of the dust of the Earth, then I’ll agree that you no longer need me and I’ll go away and leave you to it”. The scientists had a quick discussion, worked out a way to make a human from some dust and quickly agreed to the contest.
    The next day God and the scientists met and in full view of the gathered TV cameras and newspaper reporters the contest began. The referee counted down, “Three, two, one” and blew his whistle.
    At that sound, the chief scientist crouched down to the ground and was about to scoop some of the dust off the floor into a test tube when God coughed loudly. The chief scientist looked up and God said, “Hang on a minute. You get your own dust”.

  • This afternoon, while I’m thankful to the men and women and children of Harlow who make this such a great town to work and live in, and while I’m thankful to those who lived in the years after the Second World War and planned and built this amazing place, I also want to give thanks to someone else. While we humans build with bricks and mortar, God builds with atoms and souls.

    Before the beginning of time God knew that we would be gathered here today and as the leader of Harlow Council I want to acknowledge and give thanks today for his love and care for us. While sometimes I don’t understand some of the things that go on in God’s world and why he lets evil things happen, I know that I’m thankful that he loves us and that he loves all the people. I’m thankful that through Jesus all things were created, all things in heaven and on earth, things invisible and invisible, all things powerful and things weak; our homes, our families, our friends – everything was created by him and for him. And I’m not ashamed to say that I’m thankful that through Jesus’ death and resurrection I can know him and that I can be with him forever.
    Thank you God for all that you have done, are doing and have still yet to do in Harlow and in the lives of the people of Harlow. Amen.

This morning Mrs J (the other Councillor Johnson) our Daughter and I went to St Paul’s Church for Harlow’s first ever Civic Service.

The Civic Service was arranged by Harlow’s Conservative Chairman Tony Hall who was also responsible for suggesting that we appoint the first Chaplain to the Council last year.

It was a lovely service, attended by lots of people who are involved in the civic life of the town, and a great chance to showcase something good about Harlow to the rest of the county, who sent representatives in the form of many Mayors and Chairmen. Lord Petre, the Lord Lieutenant of Essex was also in attendance, welcomed by both the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the Council.

There were readings and thoughts from Tony, Robert Halfon the Conservative candidate for Harlow, the Council’s Chief Executive and the Labour MP – who snuck out part way through the service (I’m sure he had some important Government work to do on a Sunday afternoon) and a former MP for the town who is the Chairman of Harlow’s Civic Society.

The congregation were also in rather good voice for the Hymns, and the National Anthem at the end of the Service.

The whole congregation were all then invited back to the Civic Centre for light refreshments by the Chairman.

There were only two things wrong with the morning, the first, something that irritated me – I sat behind Stan Newens, the former MP for the town, an ardent socialist who I don’t get on with at the best of times. To give you an idea of his outlook on the world, he wrote a book praising Nicolae Ceauşescu, and his exploits in Romania. Anyway at the national anthem, Stan visibly shuddered and clamped his mouth firmly shut. I am sure it was only coincidence that the entire row behind him sang with even more gusto.

The second thing, which annoyed me, but really should annoy everyone in Harlow, is that there was not a single member of the opposition in the congregation; and just so I am not being biased with the evidence, the majority of the Conservative group were in attendance.

Now I know Councillors are busy people (seconded by Mrs J!) and I know that not everyone can make everything, but not to have any members of the opposition, either from the nine Liberals or the five labour members, is frankly disgusting.