On Sunday 26th July the Tunbridge Wells Ward of the Church hosted the Civic Service for the new Mayor of the Borough of Tunbridge Wells, Cllr Chris Woodward, a member of the Ward. The service was conducted by Bishop George Fahey and presided over by Stake President Stephen Baldock, and his 1st Counsellor, Leighton Bascom, also members of the Ward.
Besides local members, there was a good mix of visitors. The service was attended by past mayor Mrs Barbara Cobbold; Andrew Backway JP; three Borough Councillors, Harry Allen, Sarah Hamilton, and Bill Hills; and Sue Hall representing the Tunbridge Wells Quaker Meeting. Also attending was architect Dr Philip Whitbourn OBE. It was a pleasure to meet and chat with them after the Service.
Hosting a Civic Service was a rare occasion for the Ward, as most prior Mayors of the Borough have been of the Anglican faith. The typical programme of past mayors’ services had to be adapted to align with the Church’s practices. The focus of the Service became the Melchizedek priesthood blessing on the mayor by Bishop Fahey, as ‘voice’, with the assistance of Presidents Baldock and Bascom.
In his address Bishop Fahey drew attention to Doctrine & Covenants (Section 58:27-28), in which the Lord said: '… men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness'. He added, “Civic service and duty are important to members of the Church. We are actively encouraged to participate in civic life, to serve, to vote, and to help effect social change for the better. We believe that democratic government is sanctioned by God and that the betterment of our societies should be achieved by the proper exercising of civic machinery.”
He drew attention to Joseph Smith’s response to being questioned about what the Church adherents believed: “As well as doctrinal beliefs relating to the reality of God, His Son Jesus Christ, and doctrines pertaining to spiritual matters, Joseph's answer included: ‘We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honouring, and sustaining the law. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men. … If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.’” (See Article of Faith 12 and 13.)
Bishop Fahey continued, “How can we summarise principles of Christlike leadership and service? During his earthly ministry Jesus taught, ‘he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.’ This king of kings, prince of peace, and son of God led a ministry of exhausting work in the service of others. He had no fixed abode, taught, and ministered to others far past mealtimes, and on at least one occasion was so exhausted that He was able to sleep through a storm on the Sea of Galilee. On the evening before his crucifixion, the same on which He shared the last supper, He showed the measure of His leadership by washing the feet of His disciples. Indeed, in this Church we believe that ‘no power or influence can or ought to be maintained, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, by love unfeigned, by kindness and pure knowledge – without hypocrisy, and without guile’ (Doctrine & Covenants 121:41-42). Such are the leadership methods that the humble follower of Jesus Christ should strive to use – patterned after the methods of the most influential leader to have ever walked the earth.”
After about 35 years of corporate life, Chris had started his own small business in 2003. His family circumstances did not make it possible to serve a full-time mission with his wife. He added, “I decided the time was right to direct effort to serving my community more widely. During those early days of pondering what I should do, someone from the local political establishment came knocking on my door in 2005. The rest is ‘minor’ history.”
Chris was inspired by Gordon B Hinckley, who in a conference address in April 2000, when aged 90 (five years after becoming President of the Church), declared of David Haight, a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles, who was then 94, “I am an old man trying to catch up with Brother Haight! I'm given to meditation and prayer. I would enjoy sitting in a rocking chair, swallowing prescriptions, listening to soft music, and contemplating the things of the universe. But such activity offers no challenge and makes no contribution. I wish to be up and doing. I wish to face each day with resolution and purpose. I wish to use every waking hour to give encouragement, to bless those whose burdens are heavy, to build faith and strength of testimony [in the Saviour].”
Chris hopes to echo Gordon Hinckley’s wish “to be up and doing” while still in his somewhat-young 75+ age group. He adds, “Like all of us, I need purpose—achieving something that is worthwhile. I have found serving as Borough Councillor to provide some of this.” Chris said of the reading from Matthew 6:1-4 given by young Sister Eliza Brecheisen, that “it always reminds me that when we give our time and resources to help others, that God expects us to do it without broadcasting what we do. He knows what we do. As I serve publicly as Mayor, I always try to keep that message uppermost in my mind.” Young Brother Aaron Yoosuf’s scripture reading from 2nd Corinthians (9:6-7), reminded Chris to cheerfully do his very best while he has the health, strength and will to do so.
Brother Woodward has chosen as his mayoral theme, The Rising Generation, a phrase well known in the Church. He wants to make sure that the voice of The Rising Generation of the Tunbridge Wells Borough is heard by local civic and community leaders. He is working to form a Forum for Young People in the Borough, drawing in representatives from year 10-13 students in fourteen local secondary schools.
He has also chosen to do all he can to raise funds for the local charity, Mental Health Resource, which supports both adults and young people with mental health concerns.
The youth of the Ward contributed much to the Civic Service by way of readings and prayers, as well as serving as waiters and waitresses after the Service, roving among chatting attendees, offering them finger food and soft drink—something they performed excellently. (For completeness it is to be noted that the food had been prepared by the Mayor and Mayoress in the early hours of that same morning! A rare thing to behold.)