The Lawyers Christian Fellow-ship celebrates its 150th year today (4 March), with a service of thanksgiving led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Rt Honourable Dr George Carey, at the Temple Church. Other distinguished guests include the president of the Law Society and Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Master of the Rolls.
The fellowship began as a prayer union in 1852, when John McGregor persuaded Christian lawyers in the Temple to meet on a regular basis to pray for the profession and for their Christian witnesses within it. John also comes down to us in the annals of history for his adventurous expeditions in his 'Rob Roy' canoe. In this small craft, comprising a sail and a minute cabin, he made several epic solo voyages through Europe and Scandinavia. Early members of the fellowship included Baron Pollock, Baron Pigott, Lord Cairns and Lord Justice Lush. Groups around the UK soon followed and the national fellowship was born. Groups still meet regularly in the Temple, Lincoln's Inn and in the West End, and each group's membership ranges from trainee to senior partner, pupil to QC. There are also active groups in cities from Edinburgh to Southampton.
Over the years, the fellowship has enjoyed the support and service of some remarkable people. Apart from present incumbent Lord Mackay, in 1927 Lord Hailsham became president and was to remain as such until 1950. He was succeeded by Lord Denning, who continued in an active and encouraging role, first as president and then as patron, until his death in 1999. Equally remarkable was the contribution of the Coningsby family: Francis and his son Thomas served as secretaries of the fellowship from 1938 until 1974.
Times change. Like so many organisations, the fellowship has had it ups and downs, but it has never lost its basic vision of “influencing lawyers and law for Christ”. In 1902, its 50th Jubilee year, the decision was made to become involved practically in the overseas mission field and to support members of the fellowship who had left legal practice for full-time Christian work overseas. Recent years have seen new initiatives, without adding to the growing pressures on members' time.
Lawyers are an influential group within that society. Our members now operate in a secular and very politically correct environment, and it is an aim of the fellowship to ensure that they are supported to maintain and encouraged to share their faith by leading holistic lives for Christ.
As Christians called to the law, fellowship members believe it is the individual member's duty to be “salt and light” in the secular workplace – the office, the court, the police cells – both in what they do and how they do it. That includes sharing their faith when appropriate. It also involves an active sense of mission, in going, sending or praying.
Some of our members have left over the last 150 years to work towards seeking justice for those in the UK or to work in legal missions around the world. More are now involved in work in the developing world than at any time in the fellowship's history. Suzie Webb, now a trainee in Leeds, is one member who has experienced the ups and downs of working in a foreign mission. An intern with Christian Legal Education Advice and Research (Clear), based in Nairobi, one of her functions was to visit outlying areas to educate villagers about their land rights. On the occasion of her first talk, she found herself confronted by an audience of entirely naked villagers. Not something the fellowship had quite prepared her for.
Some are called to send others into the mission field – to support them financially or in other practical ways. The retiring collection taken on the day will be specifically for the work of the Kenyan Christian Lawyers Fellowship's work in the slums of Nairobi and Mombassa. Others are called to pray for those who have answered a specific call and taken the step of faith by, for example, working as an intern with Christian legal missions such as the Clear project or the International Justice Mission (IJM), working alongside Christian policemen or freeing the captives by investigating and bringing before the courts the perpetrators of hideous abuses of power in corrupt legal systems around the world.