Methodist Church

British Methodist woman leader keeps Parliament in order

LONDON – Ms Ruby Beech’s “day job” is a position that dates back to at least the 15th Century. As an Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms in the British Parliament, Ms Beech, 51, helps look after the security and administration of the House of Commons.

When she is not making sure British lawmakers can do their jobs in a safe and efficient environment, she can be found doing her other job: serving as Vice-President of the British Methodist Church.

Appointed in 2005, she is only the second woman to hold a Sergeant-at-Arms job in the Commons’ 700-year history. Her workdays can stretch from morning to past midnight and encompass responsibilities as diverse as corralling rowdy Members of Parliament to issuing photography permits.

Last July, she was elected to a one-year term of office of Vice-President by the national church’s Annual Conference. It is clear that she thrives on her dual life.

“Politics is a way of helping people work in communities. It’s a way of looking after the least well-off and protecting those who can’t protect themselves,” she told United Methodist News Service in the Commons tearoom recently while on a break during a legislative session. She was wearing her Sergeant-at-Arms attire, which includes a ruffle collar and black suit.

An unapologetic idealist, she said that even though both church communities and politicians make mistakes, “at their best they work towards many of the same worthwhile goals”.

Centuries of tradition
She said that while in medieval times, the Sergeant-at-Arms undertook administrative tasks such as “collecting loans and impressing men and ships”, the administrative side of her role today included elements of “facilities management” work.

Ms Ruby Beech thrives on her dual job as Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms in the British Parliament and Vice-President of the British Methodist Church

“I do general management things like overseeing special stationery, issuing permits for car parking and bike racks – what someone once called ‘high level trivia’. I do big contract negotiations as well,” she said.

“It’s that Bible thing about if your neighbour is cold, give him a coat. My job is about trying to help people with their basic needs, making sure there are clean toilets, hot food and car parking space. You hope that your presence means that those basic needs are being met and that you’re someone to talk to if not. It frees MPs up to do the things they need to do.”

The other component of her job has both a ceremonial and a security dimension. Many of her predecessors have been members of the armed forces. She and her four Sergeant-at-Arms colleagues are responsible for safety and order inside the legislative chamber.

When the House is in session, the Sergeant-at-Arms sits near the Speaker of the House and monitors the security inside the chamber. Should any unauthorised person get into the chamber (as a protester did in 2004 when he threw flour over then-Prime Minister Tony Blair) or should MPs get out of hand during a particularly lively debate, it is up to the Sergeant-at-Arms to sort things out.

This historic security role means that the five Sergeants-at-Arms are the only people in Parliament authorised to carry a sword, even though pegs for the swords of MPs still exist in the Commons cloakroom. She wears her sword primarily on big state occasions, such as the

State Opening of Parliament, though she notes that her male colleagues tend to wear theirs most of the time.

She has also been trained to carry the Mace, which symbolises the authority of the Speaker of the House. The Mace, a ceremonial staff, is carried into the chamber when the daily session begins, and out at the close.

Local preacher at 17

Ms Beech grew up in a small village near Nottingham, where her father worked in the local mines and her seamstress mother taught her that there was “nothing a woman couldn’t do that a man could that was worth doing”.

While attending a Methodist summer youth event at the age of 15, she “recognised God in Jesus for the first time”. By the time she was 17, she was a local preacher in training. – United Methodist News Service.

Kathleen LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.