Nigel Baker

Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of FCO Outreach

16th June 2016

Disruptive dialogue

50th anniversary of Anglican Centre at Westminster Abbey
Evensong marking te 50th anniversary of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Image:©

An important event I attended this week was a service at Westminster Abbey to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Anglican Centre in Rome. The Dean was joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a range of ecumenical guests from Rome and the Catholic Church, from Orthodox and Methodist churches, and including the Pope’s Secretary for Christian Unity, Bishop Brian Farrell.

We are used to such ecumenical occasions. But we should never take them for granted. In a thoughtful speech later that evening at Lambeth Palace, Bishop Farrell – who is of Irish origin – reminded the gathering of just how “new” good relations between Christian churches are. As an 8 year old boy, a few years before the second Vatican Council and the establishment of the Anglican Centre in Rome, he recalled being roundly told off for allowing a friend, who happened to be Protestant, to come in to see his parish Church. I can remember casual anti-Catholic prejudice from my own childhood (I am Anglican). And we still live with sectarian hostility even today in parts of the British isles.

Which is why it is so important not to become complacent. The focus of much attention at state and faith level now is on relations between different religions – Islam, Judaism, Christianity. This is right, reflecting the vital importance for our increasingly multinational and multiethnic societies of understanding across religious boundaries. But given the challenge of Christian unity still remains after 50 years of dialogue, we should approach the inter-religious task with some humility. Bishop Farrell said that dialogue should not be comfortable, but also provocative and disruptive. I think he’s correct. Otherwise, it risks being superficial. Cosy, but achieving little.  In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s phrase, it needs at all times to retain “the prophetic edge”.

So if the Anglican Centre in Rome provides a little of the grit in the oyster, that’s all to the good. It’s a useful lesson for all of us involved in dialogue with those of different views, including at the diplomatic level. We can celebrate 50 years. But we must keep talking. Let’s not pretend that discrimination, misunderstanding and prejudice have gone away. In all walks of life, we still need the “disruption” and “prophetic edge” that honest, respectful and robust dialogue provides.

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1 comment on “Disruptive dialogue

  1. Thank you, Ambassador, for these insightful comments on marking the 50th anniversary of the Anglican Center in Rome held in London. Appreciated also, affinity of your comments with a situation in other churches today. Bishop Farrell’s intervention sounds very interesting. We pray the Holy Spirit blows away ‘disruptive’ spirit among the Christians.

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About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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