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.
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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change