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Monday, 27 February 2017

Discover & explore - George Griffin Stonestreet

Yesterday's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook, explored poetry through the writings of George Griffin Stonestreet. The service featured the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields singing Salvator mundi by Tallis, Remember not, Lord by Purcell, the woman with the alabaster box by Pärt and The Lord bless you and keep you by Rutter. 

The next Discover & explore service is on Monday 6 March at 1.10pm when, together with the Choral Scholars, I will explore the theme of sport through the life of Robert Stuart de Courcy Laffan.

In today's reflection I said:

One of the interesting tasks it is possible to give to children when they visit St Stephen Walbrook is to ask them to find the fire engine in the church. I wonder if you would be able to find it yourself. I’ll give you a clue, as it can be found on the memorial to George Griffin Stonestreet who died in1802.

Stonestreet was the Managing Director or Secretary of the Phoenix and Pelican Companies, whose London Headquarters were at 70b Lombard Street, and whose memorial was erected here by proprietors of those two offices. This white marble monument is centred on a worn, high relief figure of a young, fair woman leaning on a pot, holding a scroll in her free hand. The Pelican feeding her young is carved on the plinth above, a tiny fire engine is bottom right, ship and parcels to the left, and
above all is a pot with winged cherub head handles, wreath of flowers, and at its top, a phoenix, thus covering both institutions. The monument is signed by the highly accomplished sculptor John Bacon Junior, and dated 1803.

The company Stonestreet directed was established as the Phoenix Fire Office in 1782 by London sugar refiners discontented with the rates of premium charged by the established fire insurance offices. By 1783 it had 58 agencies, and the early success of the company meant that by 1790 it was able to establish minimum rates for insuring London riverside wharves and warehouses against fire. From 1782 the company started to insure overseas properties belonging to English merchants. Agents were appointed in France, Germany and Portugal in 1786-1787, and in New York and Montreal in 1804.

The Phoenix’s survival and growth depended upon the energy and intelligence of its senior management. Notable in this respect were George Griffin Stonestreet, secretary from 1786 to 1802, and his successor Jenkin Jones, secretary from 1802 to 1837. Under their guidance the Phoenix weathered the depression in the insurance industry in the late 18th century and early decades of the 19th century. By 1815 the Phoenix had overtaken the Sun in premium income.

This period also saw the Phoenix establish the Pelican Life Assurance in 1797, acquire several large provincial operations, set up agencies across Britain, and, perhaps most importantly, penetrate the European market from the Baltic Sea to the Iberian Peninsula. Simultaneously the Phoenix established itself in Canada—in Montreal in 1804—although the War of 1812 and the burning of Washington, D.C., by British troops put an end to its first operation in the United States. These early foreign ventures are indicative of the Phoenix’s foremost place in the overseas expansion of British insurance companies.

In 1797 trustees of Phoenix Assurance established the Pelican Life Office. The firm became the Pelican Life Assurance Company, before merging with British Empire Mutual Life Assurance in 1903 to become the Pelican and British Empire Life Office. Pelican dealt in life assurance, annuities and (from 1847) group schemes, in the U.K., North America (from 1807) and overseas, operating through the country agencies of Phoenix Assurance. Over time Pelican acquired the business of Life Star (1818-1822) and Manchester Fire and Life (1824-1847). By the 1820s it had agents in France, Sweden, Germany and North America, and by the 1840s it had invested in the railways and offered short-term loans to docks and canals. The company also began to invest in foreign railways during the 1850s. Pelican amalgamated with Phoenix Assurance in 1907. Today these companies are part of the Sun Alliance Group.

George Griffin Stonestreet’s business is part of humanity's search for ways to guard against the potentially catastrophic consequences of loss. Paul Mills notes that a 'theme running throughout the book of Proverbs is that prudence and foresight characterise the wise. A mark of such wisdom is abstinence and saving: In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has. (Proverbs 21:20)'

'The ability to subjugate current desires in favour of future needs is one that the ungodly often lack – ‘let us eat and drink … for tomorrow we die’ (Isaiah 22:13). Consequently, the adjunct to the Christian suspicion of debt is the prudent saving up for necessary purchases. The most dramatic example of God’s advocacy of prudential provision was in the prompting of Joseph to store the surplus from seven Egyptian harvests (Genesis 41), for these not only enabled Egypt to survive the ensuing famine, but preserved the descendants of Abraham. Truly, saving saved the people of God.'

'Scripture is adamant that the fulfilment of extended family responsibilities is the Christian’s paramount practical religious duty. This is primarily effected through the earning of daily income.
However, there are some circumstances, such as one’s death, where it is hard to envisage how one’s dependents could be provided for without the prior accumulation of wealth or insurance against such risks. Although trust in God’s provision on a hand-to-mouth basis is possible, even admirable, as a single person, the task becomes much more difficult when one has dependants. Indeed, not saving when required by such circumstances could be construed as presuming upon God. Freedom from such concerns is one of the reasons for Paul’s commendation of Christian celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:32-3).'

'While mutual dependence in times of trial among Christians is to be welcomed, it is irresponsible for the spendthrift deliberately to place him- or herself in a position of vulnerability. It runs contrary to the teaching in Paul’s letters that the Christian should work diligently in order to avoid dependence on others and be in a position to assist the needy.'

'In numerous areas of Christian experience (e.g. evangelism, healing) God has chosen to act mainly through, and in response to, the prayerful actions and efforts of his people. Hence, exercising foresight and acting in response does not necessarily betray a lack of trust in Providential oversight.'

'Conversely, however, protecting oneself from every contingency through high levels of savings and insurance, under the guise of ‘prudence’ and ‘self-reliance’, is indistinguishable in practice from resorting to wealth as the ultimate source of one’s security. We must examine our hearts before God. For the Christian is required not only to hold to doctrines in theory, but to embody them in the way he or she lives (e.g. James 2:17).'


Heavenly Father, your word promises that you know all the material things that we need to live but we find it hard to trust. We pray now for all those who struggle with the burden of personal debt: for those too frightened to face the problem, for couples who cannot talk about it, for children who cannot understand but live with the worry. We pray also for those who are consumed by money worries, anxious about jobs or homes or the future; those who feel they have lost control of money and cannot cope. We pray especially for those we know or love who are struggling. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father, on TV, in magazines, in shops and on billboards we are surrounded with adverts telling us how we should look, what we should wear or own, drive or desire. We pray that you will make us aware of these pressures so that we are free to think and feel and act in a godly way around money. Make us wise in our decisions to spend and to save, to borrow and to give, that you may be Lord in all parts of our lives. We pray especially for our children and young people who experience pressures to own and to spend which most of us never knew. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father, you want us to be a generous people offering our time, our skills and abilities and our money to your service. In our personal finances, Lord, give us wisdom to manage money well and to practice heartfelt generosity. Guard us, Lord, from holding tight when we should be letting go and honouring you as Lord of all we have. Help us to remember that you are the Giver of all we have and to relinquish pride of ownership and be truly free. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Blessing

May Christ who for our sake became poor make us rich in everything – in faith, speech, knowledge, giving and love. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.


The Dixie Hummingbirds (feat. Vickie Winans) - Lead Me, Guide Me.

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