I feel greatly humbled that I should have been invited to chair this ceremony today, but I am not at all sure why I have been.
Perhaps it is because I am British and involved in the life of the Churches in this country and because the ceremony is being held in Britain. That enables me to say to Mr. Templeton on behalf of all of us who are British here today how honoured we are that he should have decided that this country would be the location for the presentation of his Foundation’s prize; for it gives us the opportunity to meet in the flesh and to offer our respect to a few of those persons from other countries, and to other Churches and other religions who by their life and work give real meaning to that increasingly overworked phrase ‘improving the quality of life’ and, to quote the objective of the Templeton Prize, who ‘stimulate the know-ledge and love of God on that part of mankind everywhere’. For me, personally, the presentation of this Prize here today most particularly emphasizes the increasing inter-dependence of all men and, therefore, the need for greater concern by all men and women for all other men and women everywhere in the world of whatever nation, race, age, wealth or creed.
The judges, men and women, come from different nations, races and religions. The Prize itself has been given last year to Mother Teresa, a Christian woman, member of the Roman Catholic Church, working among the poor people in a country where Christians are in a minority. This year the Prize goes to Brother Roger, a Christian man, member of the Protestant Church, working especially among young people of all Churches and none, in a country where his own Church is in a small minority. The policy of the judges is clearly ecumenical in the widest meaning of the word — universal.
Personally, I am delighted that it should be so, because it lends weight to the growing importance for all men every-where of what in the Churches we call the Ecumenical Movement to which I am deeply committed through my membership of the World Council of Churches as a representative of the Church of England.
Unfortunately the only aspect of the World Council’s work of which most people in this country hear anything is the policy of making grants to certain organizations of oppressed people round the world through the programme to combat racism. But the World Council of Churches stands for much more and does much more than just that one programme. It carries out in the name of Christ and of all the member Churches a massive relief operation to refugees and poor people throughout the world; it concerns itself with the cry of the oppressed round the world for social justice; it has started, to do something about the need for development in the so-called Third World; it brings together bishops, priests and lay people, academics, pastors and administrators to discuss and act on matters of the doctrine, worship, witness and mission of the Churches; it brings together in dialogue the representatives of all religions and of ideologies and of none; it gathers together representatives of all the Christian Churches in the furtherance of the unity of the Church throughout the world.
It is the one institution in the world in which people from all over the world come together to discuss their common problems and opportunities not simply on the basis of their common humanity, as in the United Nations, but also on a commonly held fundamental conviction, namely confession that the Lord Jesus Christ is Saviour according to the Scriptures. It is not surprising that some of its statements and actions should be unpopular in one part of the world or another; the more it becomes a genuinely world body that will more and more likely be so; for the objective of the Christian Church should not be the avoidance of controversy or a striving after popularity but a deep commitment to God’s truth through our Lord Jesus Christ.