Election Service 2024

12 June 2024

This Election Service is the marking of the end and beginning of the next Mastership year. We gave thanks to those who "guided and cared" for the Company in the past year and bid prayer “upon those who will be elected to serve the Company in the coming year”.

Liveryman Toby Miller read from the Old Testament Psalm 112, the Master read from the New Testament, Acts 9.26-31 and the Sermon by the Chaplain to the Company, The Revd Dr Alan McCormack.

It was then back to the Hall for a barbeque and entertained by a jazz quartet.

The Sermon

We are here, on the Feast of St Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, to give thanks to Almighty God for the work and witness of this ancient Mystery of Merchant Taylors and to seek the continuance of His generosity and blessing in the life of the Company. We are here to remember with thanksgiving the work, especially of this past year -not least the dutiful and joyous example of the Master- but also to call to mind all those members of the Company whose labours of skill, whose acts of charity and compassion, have made a measurable difference through the course of many centuries.

Tonight, we are making a bridge from the present into the past. Tonight, we are celebrating and renewing an institution whose life is bigger and broader and larger than merely the sigma of its current assets and of its current persons.

The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors, like those other worshipful companies in the City of London, is what it is today because of all those liverymen of the past, names we remember and names we do not -the decisions they took, the time they gave, the resource they enabled, the commitment they displayed, the disasters they averted, the tragedies they suffered, and -cardinally- the conviviality and the fellowship they both created and sustained throughout it all.

Tonight, Master, Wardens, and members of the Livery and Freedom, you stand as the inheritors of a body of tradition, deep and ancient, that it is now your task responsibly to frame amid the uncertainties, difficulties, and challenges of our very modern world.

It is I think often unremarked that the Livery movement is both counter-cultural and non-hierarchical. It is entirely shaped by a commitment to humility and self-effacement. Livery companies are ‘communities of the convivial’ where hierarchies are authorised only by a sort of sacrificial inversion -always putting the other person first- and only on the understanding that those in power must exercise it to the benefit and the betterment of all. Such in essence is the quality of being ‘upright’. Such in essence, is the ‘light’ the Livery movement kindles in the darkness.

The concept of ‘mastery’ in the livery world is far removed from medieval notions of dominance and of the asymmetrical preponderance of power. The concept of ‘mastery’ in the livery world is based upon a fundamental requirement of humility and on an underlying and deeply religious idea of servanthood.

 Aficionados of the form will recall that this is especially clear among the Craft Companies of Glasgow, where ‘masters’ are called ‘deacons’- the word in English that directly translates the Greek Bible’s word for servants.

But whether they are called ‘Masters’, or ‘Deacons’ or something entirely other (think for a moment of Prime Warden Goldsmith or Upper-Bailiff Weaver) those at the imagined ‘top’ of a Livery Company are required to discharge much the same function, chiefly that of paying attention to and encouraging pluriform talent within the Company as a whole.

Summoned to continual acts of humility and self-effacement, Livery Masters should model what might best be described as a ‘caritative authority’, the careful and compassionate patterning of power which seeks its exercise in attentiveness, and in the determined flourishing of all within the community (in this case) of Merchant Taylors.

We have this year been most fortunate to have received the caritative attentions of the current Master, and indeed of the current Mistress. With assiduousness and charm, with a charisma that is both relaxed and unforced, they have presided at Company occasions. I have watched as it were from the wings as they have sweetened the experience of many a Company member and their guests, nimbly supported by the Court and Clerk. For the commitment, the gentleness, and the light, they have brought to their calling we must thank them most sincerely tonight.

The point is this - a Livery Master cannot discharge the magisterial function on his own. He must be supported by Court and Clerk but there is yet something more- for Liverymen and Freemen ought not themselves to remain but passive bystanders in magisterial and courtly work.

The humility and self-effacement, the uprightness and the light, exampled by the Master provide the pattern to be followed by every Member of the Company.

It is I think a requirement of a properly functioning livery that all should be involved and engaged in the caritative practices of the organisation. So maybe you sit on a committee, or maybe you liaise with a School, or maybe you engage with the charities, or with the Dragon Awards, or with a military affiliate, or with your wonderful staff. Whatever you do, you need to be doing something and that something needs always to be informed by counter-cultural models of humility and self-effacement.

Never forget that the practice of the Livery runs against the grain of this contemporary world. Your distinctive form of community cohesion, your particular and ancient associative tradition, is deeply strange, deeply at odds with most modern understandings of group organisation. It is as light to darkness. This is not something to apologise for, still less to feel awkward about, it is rather something to understand, to be committed to and- in short- to own.

You are not in this community of Merchant Taylors out for your advantage or advancement. You are not in this community of Merchant Taylors determined to succeed at the sharp and catastrophic expense of others. You are not in this community of Merchant Taylors which has entrusted to its care such splendid ancestral treasures actually about being possessed or rendered smug or self-satisfied by them.

If you are in thrall to anything it is -or ought to be- to the desire to frame a community of value, a community of the upright, a community of the humble, a community of the self-effacing, a community in which you can together promote your craft consonant with (as you say) a tradition of concord growing through small things.

 You are called I believe to frame a quite radical community of reciprocity, seriousness, justice, empathy, love, and -of course-conviviality. This is the surprising, enlivening, tradition that you have inherited from of old and in which now you stand. Be attentive to its summons. Hear what it is saying to you.

 Tonight, at this ceremony, when we begin to direct prayerful attention to what I suppose should be described as the important election taking place this July, we are brought to glimpse afresh something of the serious and enduring substance of the Company which is most of the time hidden from us.

Here, in Church, within the boundaries of a sacred in which Merchant Taylors have gathered for centuries, you are enabled to see something of the deep ontological structure of the Company, as an institution bigger than any of you and more extensive than any of its constituent parts.

History, they say, is the democracy of the dead, the place and the arena wherein those who are no longer with us get to have their say. Classical Christian theology makes much of this in teaching called ‘the Communion of the Saints’.

An idea that can seem rather remote in its abstraction, all puffs of smoke and alabaster statues, is instead quite proper and precise in defining the nature of both the challenge and the opportunity faced by institutions, like the Livery and the Church, which persist through centuries and millennia.

It asks you Liverymen to see your institution as the telling of a story and to realise your importance and your responsibility in the current iteration of it. It redoubles that responsibility by supposing as a default that what you do now should stand in some relation to what has been done before, to what has brought you to this point in your story, and it asks you to work out of the tradition, the ethos, and the pattern that has produced you, even where you may decide to deviate from it.

Tonight, in this Church, under the species of God’s eternity, we celebrate the Merchant Taylors’ lengthy past yet we do not worship it. Rather, we reflect on it, we hold it to account and qualify it through the counter-cultural criteria of humility and self-effacement.

As we thank God for his many mercies in this life, and especially for the work of the Master and Mistress in the past year, and as we seek His continued blessing in the life of the Company in the future, we seek of course that blessing also upon ourselves, we who are equally part of this centuries-long convivial and communal conversation.

Tonight, on this Feast of St Barnabas you receive the past as a gift, as a witness and as a guide to how you shall together imagine and create your future. Remember that you are a ‘Worshipful Company’ and know that that future is finally in God’s hands: may He bless you and may he prosper you in every work of your communal imagining.

 

‘Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness’. Amen.

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