The chance to serve is a blessing

Archdeacon Dawit Gebreyohannes Woldetsadik on moving from Ethiopia to a new life in London

My name is Archdeacon Dawit Gebreyohannes Woldetsadik. I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and my parents and family were devoted and strict adherents to the Ethiopian Orthodox church.

In Ethiopia the Menber Sebhate Holy Trinity Church of Shermodea, was my main church and very close to my home - less than five minutes by foot. As a result, I spent most of my life serving and learning in my local church.

By the Grace of God, in 1990 I arrived in London and made immediate contact with the head administrator of the church, Archimandrite Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel, the late Archbishop of Europe. From the beginning until he sadly departed from us, he was very kind in offering fatherly advice and support. He would go beyond the usual requirement in order to reassure myself and others, especially as he knew I was young, away from home and in a new environment. He opened the door of the church, allowing me to work closely with himself, members of the clergy, the church council and the congregation.

From then on, my service to the church grew rapidly. I was appointed to serve as archdeacon and elected as a member of the parishes council, taking charge of the church's Sunday School programmes. These new responsibilities gave me greater happiness, spiritual satisfaction and many experiences that I will always treasure.

The influence of Archimandrite Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel, also known as Abbune Yohannes, did not only stop in the UK. With him I was fortunate to travel to the Holy Land, Jerusalem, Europe, the USA and the Caribbean. I also moved around, helping to establish parishes in Holland, Belgium, France and USA.

There are a few events in my career with the church that stand out. The first was when Like Tiguhan Teklemariam - the previous administrator of the St. Mary of Tserha Tsion – and I tried to get a tablet (Ark of the Covenant), or Tabot, returned to Ethiopia.

The Tablet had been stolen from Ethiopia in 1848, brought to Edinburgh and kept in an episcopal church for more than 130 years. By the grace of God, in February 2002 myself, Like Tighuan, His Excellency Fissha Aduga, the former Ambassador of the Ethiopian Embassy in London, and others helped in negotiating its return.

Part of my role was accompanying the Ark on its journey from the UK to Addis Ababa. Since then Like and I have continued to seek ways to assist the return of many other church artefacts.

Another important event has been the issue of our church building. In 2005 I was assigned with responsibility for arranging various events, along with other current and past committee members, to raise funds. Now, finally, we've managed to raise the money to buy both the church and a vicarage. We still have a long way to go to clear the substantial outstanding balance but with prayer and by the Grace of God we may be able to accomplish our dream in the near future.

For Ethiopian Orthodox believers, prayer is the most sublime experience of the human soul, and worship is the most profound activity of the people of God. "There is no life without prayer. Without prayer there is only madness and horror. The soul of Orthodoxy consists in the gift of prayer."

I owe my life, praise, thanks, glories and everything to God for granting me the opportunities to grow up in the church and to serve it. Both in Ethiopia and abroad, this has indeed been a great blessing.

Arch Deacon Dawit Gebreyohannes Woldetsadik, moved to London from Ethiopia as a young man. He writes in the faith column about the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
Len McCluskey. Photo: Getty
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Unite leadership race: What Len McCluskey's victory means

His margin is smaller than expected, but you only need to win by one. 

Come at the king, best not miss. And they did miss, albeit by a smaller margin than many expected. Len McCluskey has defeated Gerard Coyne, his Corbynsceptic rival, by 59,067 votes to 53,544 to remain as Unite's general secretary. Ian Allinson, running to McCluskey’s left, did surprisingly well with 17,143 votes.

A couple of things to note. The turnout was low – just 12.2 per cent – brought down by, among other things, the need to cast a postal vote and the view of the McCluskey camp that the smaller the turnout, the more important the payroll vote would be. But more significant is that Unite has shed about half a million members, confirming that it is anachronistic to refer to it as “Britain’s largest trade union”. That is, for the moment, Unison, a public sector union. (Unison actually had a lightly larger general fund membership by the close of 2015 but this decisively confirms that trend.)

The shift attests to the bigger – and neglected – story about the labour movement: that it is getting smaller, older, and more concentrated in the public sector. That’s a far bigger problem for the Labour party and the labour movement than who leads Unite or the Labour party.

That aside, the small margin is a shock – as I wrote last month, Unite is quite well-run these days, so you’d make McCluskey the favourite even before factoring in the ability of the incumbent to make life easier for himself. Most in the trade union movement expected McCluskey to win and win well for precisely that reason. As one senior official from another union put it: “Jaguar workers are earning more because of Len. That’s what it’s about, really.”

So the small margin means that Coyne may be found a role at the TUC and gently eased out the door rather than removed hastily. (Though the TUc would be highly unlikely to accept that arrangement.)Ian Allison, however, will be less lucky. One McCluskey loyalist said that the leftist would be “hunted with dogs” – not only was Allison expected not to do well, allies of McCluskey believed that he had agreed to tone down his campaign. Instead Allison's success contributed to the close-run result. (Unite uses first past the post to decide its internal contests.)

What does it mean for the struggle for control within Labour? Well, as far as the finely-balanced national executive committee is concerned, Unite’s nominees are elected at annual conference so any changes would be a way off, in any case.

The result does however increase the chances that Jeremy Corbyn will be able to stay on after a defeat. Removing Corbyn would mean handing control back to Tom Watson, with whom McCluskey's relations are now at an all time low. “I think there’s a feeling of: you came for me, you bastard, now I’m coming for you,” a trade union official says. That means that the chances that Corbyn will be able to weather a defeat on 8 June – provided Labour retain close to what one figure dubbed the “magic number” of 200 seats – have now considerably increased.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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