Shared language for the soul

On June 17th – a perfect summer’s evening ‘all soft and still and fair’ – the Sandford St Martin 2024 Awards ceremony took place in one of London’s most beautiful and iconic buildings.

Nestled on the south bank of the River Thames, Southwark Cathedral is at the heart of what has long been a lively and diverse community and a hub for the cultural life of the nation. Chaucer’s pilgrims set out from there in “The Canterbury Tales. Actors at Shakespeare’s Globe and the Bard himself were parishioners. Charles Dickens father was confined in what was once the neighbouring Marshalsea Debtors Prison and characters and scenes in The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield and Little Dorrit were inspired by his visits to the area. 

These days, in addition to being a vibrant place of worship, prayer and reflection, the Cathedral also hosts a busy programme of cultural and arts events – including our celebration of the best of UK broadcasting exploring religion and ethics.

The Very Rev’d Dr Mark Oakley, Dean of Southwark, opened the evening’s proceedings.

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SSMT copyright 2024 Dr Mark Oakley, Dean of Southwark_2_Carmen Valino
SSMT copyright 2024

It is my pleasure and honour to welcome you here to Southwark Cathedral this evening. Frankly, I couldn’t be more pleased to be able to host these awards here this evening. At a time when we have never had so many words but never been so disinclined to believe them, at a time when the boundaries between facts and opinions and lies, are publicly disappearing, and a time when there is heightened self-promotion coupled with a low self-awareness, this is when we need journalists, reporters, filmmakers, and writers who are passionate and fearless in the search for, and the sharing of, truth. When many are trying to be examples of power, our journalists and creatives, must show the power of example. And that’s why we’re here tonight, because they do. 

These Awards are also important because they celebrate work that helps people understand the philosophical, historical, political, and emotional intricacies of religion and ethics. Again, there is much around at the moment that would prefer dishonest simplicity to an honest complexity, but the work we acclaim this evening refuses that impatient temptation, creating instead accessible approaches into understanding how human beings make sense of this life and navigate themselves through it, through our world’s faiths and through ethical seriousness. I can’t help thinking that our day-to-day language in contemporary society is much more secular than we actually are, but we have no native or shared language for the soul. Your work helps to translate at such a time, and, as I say, I not only want to congratulate the shortlisted tonight, but to thank them very deeply. Tonight may be even more important than we realise.