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The Diocesan Bishop for The Church of England in Lancashire, Rt Rev Julian Henderson, has praised The Speaker of the House of Commons, Rt Hon. Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, for his success in bringing the G7 Speakers Conference to Lancashire and for his comments prior to the event about the importance of freedom of faith in today’s society.

The Bishop and The Speaker were talking in a video from The Church of England in Lancashire timed to coincide with the major gathering, held this past weekend in Sir Lindsay’s home constituency of Chorley, and with the theme of ‘Secure versus open parliaments’, writes Ronnie Semley, Diocesan Communications Manager. 

Delegates included Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives; Richard Ferrand, the President of the French National Assembly; Roberto Fico, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies; David Sassoli, President of the EU Parliament and representatives from Germany, Canada and Japan.

Our new video is a ‘mini-documentary’ which specifically highlights the involvement of The Church of England in the international summit in several ways – including the official church service on Sunday for all the delegates which was held at the local parish church of St Laurence’s where the Rector is Fr Neil Kelley.

It also tells the fascinating story that lies behind the presentation of a new US flag to St Laurence’s by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Saturday; as well as the local connection to the Pilgrim Fathers through Myles Standish; one of Chorley’s most famous sons.

The new stars and stripes, which flew over the Capitol building during President Biden’s inauguration in January of this year, is now destined to appear alongside a much older flag which was presented to the church nearly 80 years ago by US servicemen stationed in the town during WW2.

Speaking before the conference began and welcoming the involvement of The Church of England, Sir Lindsay says: “It’s so important the Church is centre of this. Faith is important to people … and the special G7 service is so important to me … and to the other Speakers that are coming. 

“The conference is about fighting hate, intolerance and terrorism and about freedom of democracy and freedom of faith. How do we ensure that we have open democracy versus closed democracy? The fact there are people who will fight to stop the democratic rights of the people of the world, that is what this conference is about and (in that context) why faith is so important … it is all part of what we will be discussing. 

Sir Lindsay adds: “Bringing the G7 to Chorley means so much to me; it’s about getting people out of London and showing the other parts of the country; including my constituency.”  

Bishop Julian, who gave the blessing at the end of the service on Sunday and was invited to the conference welcome reception on Friday, thanked Sir Lindsay for putting faith front and centre in the conference.

The Bishop said: “Sir Lindsay has done a great job in bringing Speakers from around the world to Chorley. The Church has had a key place this weekend, with the flag dedication and then the service at St Laurence’s. Faith is there … at the heart of it.

“For the Diocese of Blackburn to be involved at this level in an international event is important and is also another important mark of the work we are doing as we seek to make our churches healthy and so transform the wider community.

“That’s our vision, that’s our mission and this is another demonstration of the partnership we share with all sorts of people to enable that to come about.” 

Fr Neil Kelley added: “At the heart of our service what we are focusing on is the friendship of God as outlined in the Bible but also, throughout the worship, we will highlight that the bonds that link us together in Christ are very strong bonds.”

Elsewhere in the video the story is told of the US flag presented by Speaker Pelosi and the town’s connection to Myles Standish, the Pilgrim Fathers’ military captain. The old flag was given by US servicemen who were stationed in Chorley during the war years and can still be seen hanging in St Laurence’s.  

To enable the stars and stripes to again feature in local parades and as a symbolic gesture of friendship, Speaker Pelosi handed over the new flag in a beautiful presentation case to Fr Neil Kelley at a ceremony on Saturday. It will now appear alongside its wartime counterpart in the years ahead.

Echoing the theme of friendship, in his sermon on Sunday Fr Neil thanked Speaker Pelosi for the gesture, saying: “Four hundred and one years ago, Myles Standish and others set sail for a New World. They were compelled by a new vision, a new way of living. We have celebrated the story of Myles Standish and the founding fathers again this weekend.

“The very special gift of a new American Flag to hang in this church is a symbol of friendship and unity. For us here in St Laurence’s it is a gift beyond price and we are truly indebted to Speaker Pelosi.”

Chorley historian, Stuart Clewlow, gives further background to the history of the US flag in the video saying: “When the service personnel came to Chorley many were only here for a short time. The officers especially would have stayed for a lot longer and would have been familiar figures in the town and at St Laurence’s.

“When they came to the church, they were acutely aware of the history and relationship that existed between America and Chorley. They knew about Myles Standish and his trip on the Mayflower in 1620; that he was at the first Thanksgiving and when St Laurence’s let them hold their thanksgiving service they gave their flag to the church as a sign of appreciation.” 

  • Video produced by Ronnie Semley and video production/editing Jim Cooke, Centreline Films 
  • Credit for the flag ceremony pictures: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor 
  • Credit for the service pictures: Clive Lawrence Photography 
  • Credit for the video stills: Blackburn Diocese on YouTube 
  • Sermon from Sunday by Fr Neil Kelley is attached with this press release