There’s no room for grace. That’s according to Lincoln’s Inn, one of the UK’s oldest legal institutions, which has decided to replace a prayer before meals with a humanistic reflection. Imogen Hill says the decision risks erasing centuries of history


One of the UK’s oldest legal institutions, Lincoln’s Inn, have recently decided that they will no longer use a Christian grace at meals, except after chapel.

Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos, explained that their decision signifies, “the importance we place in providing a setting in which all feel welcome.”

The decision follows that by Tiverton Town Council, who recently announced a similar move to axe prayers before the start of full council meetings.

For those not familiar with the workings of the Inns of Court; there are four: Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn, Middle Temple and Inner Temple. They are all based in Legal London, and worth a visit if you want to find some peace and quiet away from the hubbub of the city. As a student barrister many years ago, it was obligatory to eat 24 dinners in the Inn to qualify and be called to the bar. Woe betide the aspiring barrister who did not complete their dining quota! That has now been reduced to ten which, during a cost of living crisis, can only be a good thing.

Saying Grace

I am a member of Inner Temple. Before dinner, a simple grace is said: Benedictus benedicat, which roughly translates as: “May he who is Blessed bless [this food].” After dinner: Benedicto benedicatur (“The Blessed One has blessed”).

For the dinner to qualify towards your quota - and thus being called to the bar - you must be present for the first grace and remain until after the last one. This is not a usual dinner. A gown is worn and a horn is blown to summon you. It is full of mystery and wonder; a special rite of passage into a profession that is noted for upholding the rights of the vulnerable and representing those in need without fear or favour.

The Inns were founded by bishops, and the Christian faith was an integral part of that

With such history, any reform is likely to be controversial. Lincoln’s Inn ‘scholars’ have courted controversy by replacing the Christian grace - “Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us and these thy gifts which we receive from thy bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen” - with the more humanistic reflection: “In this moment of silence, let us give thanks for all that we are about to receive and for the company of this Honourable Society.”

Christian tradition

As a barrister, I am dismayed that tradition is being jettisoned in favour of political correctness.

It is sad that, in the name of progress and inclusivity, we’re erasing centuries of history. The Inns were founded by bishops, and the Christian faith was an integral part of that. Each functions as a place of education, awarding scholarships and providing training to aspiring barristers. We should be proud of our heritage.

Saying grace before a meal reminds me to be thankful for God’s bounteous provision. As a barrister, it reminds me that I am part of a profession that spans the centuries and continues to uphold the rule of law.

Speaking to colleagues, none appeared to see the need for change. Some were horrified, viewing it as tinkering with what was a significant moment for reflection. Others felt that the modern reflection was at odds with the anachronistic paraphernalia - wearing gowns, blowing horns and the traditional rules and regulations associated with dining in Hall - which is also far from inclusive.

I don’t mind what Lincoln’s Inn chooses to do; it is not my Inn. But I pray that the Inner Temple holds fast to the glorious traditions of the Bar. We have a round church (well worth a visit) with an internationally acclaimed choir. It would be incongruous to replace this Christian heritage with a humanistic reflection, whatever clamour there may be to erase history.