Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Bishop of London calls for “human compassion” at Thatcher funeral

The death of Margaret Thatcher on April 8 provoked reaction from people across the globe.

Some recalled the strength and fervour of the UK’s first female prime minister, while others focused on her perceived failings and injustices. 

However, at her funeral on April 17, she was remembered as a wife, mother and friend as well as a politician.

The Bishop of London, Right Rev Richard Chartres, said: “Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.

“There is an important place for debating policies and legacy; for assessing the impact of political decisions on the everyday lives of individuals and communities. “Parliament held a frank debate last week. But here and today is neither the time nor the place. This, at Lady Thatcher's personal request, is a funeral service, not a memorial service with the customary eulogies.

“At such a time, the parson should not aspire to the judgements which are proper to the politician; instead, this is a place for ordinary human compassion of the kind that is reconciling. It is also the place for the simple truths which transcend political debate. Above all it is the place for hope.

“But it must be difficult for those members of her family and close associates to recognise the wife, mother and grandmother in the mythological figure. Our hearts go out to Mark and Carol and their families, and also to those who cared for Lady Thatcher with such devotion in her last years.”

Bishop Chartres recalled Baroness Thatcher’s attitudes to the people she worked with during her political career. “The letter from a young boy early on in her time as prime minister is a typical example,” he said. 

“Nine-year-old David wrote to say: Last night when we were saying prayers, my daddy said everyone has done wrong things except Jesus. I said I don't think you have done bad things because you are the prime minister. Am I right or is my daddy?

“Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that the PM replied in her own hand, in a very straightforward letter, which took the question seriously: However good we try to be, we can never be as kind, gentle and wise as Jesus. There will be times when we do or say something we wish we hadn't done and we shall be sorry and try not to do it again… 

If you and I were to paint a picture, it wouldn't be as good as the picture of great artists. So our lives can't be as good as the life of Jesus.”

The Bishop also reflected on Margaret Thatcher’s incredible rise to power: “It is easy to forget the immense hurdles she had to climb. Beginning in the upper floors of her father's grocer's shop in Grantham, through Oxford as a scientist and, later, as part of the team that invented Mr Whippy ice cream, she embarked upon a political career.

“By the time she entered parliament in 1959 she was part of a cohort of only 4% of women in the House of Commons. She had experienced many rebuffs along the way, often on the shortlist for candidates only to be disqualified by prejudice against a woman; and, worse, a woman with children.

“She applied herself to her work with formidable energy and passion. But she continued to reflect on how faith and politics related to one another.

“In the Lawrence Jewry lecture, she said that ‘Christianity offers no easy solutions to political and economic issues. It teaches us that there is some evil in everyone and that it cannot be banished by sound policies and institutional reforms…

'We cannot achieve a compassionate society simply by passing new laws and appointing more staff to administer them.’

“She was very aware that there are prior dispositions which are needed to make market economics and democratic institutions function well: the habits of truth-telling, mutual sympathy, and the capacity to co-operate.”

You can read the full funeral address from Bishop Chartres here


  1. I was really struck by Thatcher's answer to the little boy's letter. It shows real humility - not something I readily associated before with her...

    A great summary of the day - thanks.

  2. Thanks Claire, I thought that letter was really interesting too.

    I know there are a lot of mixed opinions about her, but I thought the Bishop did a great job of bringing out her good points.

    It made a nice change from all the 'Ding dong the witch is dead' attitudes that rip away the dignity of a human being who has just died and must hurt the family when they're already grieving.

    She certainly made mistakes... but I've made a few of my own so I'm keeping my stones firmly in my pocket!

    Hope you're well x