London audience feel like millionaires as Tutu gets lifetime award

Each year, the Templeton Prize celebrates an individual with extraordinary accomplishments in spiritual understanding. This year, the award went to one of the most famous faces of the anti-apartheid struggle, Archbishop Desmond Tutu

OCH03 (Large)ARCHBISHOP Desmond Tutu arrived in London last week to attend a breathtaking award ceremony in his honour, marking one of the greatest accomplishments in his life – receiving The Templeton Award.

The ceremony honouring Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his unrivalled achievements in the field of “spiritual progress” was held at the City of London’s Guildhall, where hundreds of guests and revellers came together to celebrate the moment. Among the international guests, diplomats, ambassadors and religious dignitaries, several celebrities also took their places to recognise Archbishop Tutu’s achievement not only in South Africa as leader of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, but also as an inspiration to people worldwide as a beacon of forgiveness.

Lenny Henry was among the well-known faces sharing the limelight during the reception after the ceremony, as did performers Peter Gabriel and Eddy Grant. But despite the star-studded nature of the event, 81-year-old Tutu still managed to express his gratitude for the award in his typically modest ways, sharing his views on the human condition as the cornerstone of his work:

“A person can be a person only through other persons. You can be generous only because you learnt from another how to be generous. We were created to be members of one family, God’s family, the human family.”

During the ceremonial event, Annie Lennox OBE led the musical contributions, sharing the Neil Young classic “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” as well as the Jimmy Cliff cover “Many Rivers To Cross”, with a captive audience delighted to witness one of Lennox’s first public performances since her ravishing participation in the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony. Married to a South-African herself, Lennox has been an advocate in HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa over the years and has built close personal ties to the Archbishop in due course.

But the musical bookends and motivational backbone of the awards-ceremony were without any doubt given by The London African Gospel Choir, who energised the audience in song and dance like you only can in true African style. The leaders of the powerful choir, Luyanda and Prudence Jezile, were visibly proud of participating at the ceremony – almost as proud of their incredibly talented 11-year-old daughter Asanda, who is currently competing as a semi-finalist on “Britain’s Got Talent”.

American composer Eric Whitacre also performed two choral pieces, with his outstanding “Lux Aurumque” tantalising the audience and adding even more spirit to the dignified event with a 24-strong choir. The Grammy-award winner is currently composer-in-residence at Cambridge University and the first choir director to ever present a live, virtual choir.

Another resonant voice piercing through the focus of the audience was that of Archbishop Tutu’s own daughter, Mpho Tutu, who is a woman of the cloth herself. Along with the Archbishop’s grandchildren, she did not only attend the ceremony, but participated as the spiritual celebrant of the proceedings, and did so with unequalled inspiration. But as the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far.

In addressing the hardship of living under apartheid-rule, Mpho Tutu managed to identify a notion of struggle suffered by every South African at that time and not only by the direct victims of a misled, fascist ideology. In prayer, she asked for a divine blessing for the joyous event and for all the joys in life that are celebrated in spite of all adversity, and she also asked for a blessing of all of life’s struggles themselves.

“Bless our joys and bless our sorrows” – a succinct and erudite tagline that might perhaps mark Mpho Tutu for a future Templeton Award herself. With these words and with all the dignity of a ceremony worthy of a true ambassador of peace, the Templeton Awards event managed to observe a noble moment in time for the Archbishop and for everyone in his presence.

The Templeton Award has been awarded annually to outstanding achievers in spiritual matters for forty years now. In its ongoing endeavour to promote spiritualism, the Templeton Award has accomplished to reach a level of international recognition, which is only outshone by the likes of the Pulitzer Award or the Nobel Peace Prize (of which Archbishop Tutu is also a laureate). The Templeton Foundation proudly calls its laureates “entrepreneurs of the spirit”, with previous winners including Mother Theresa and the 14th Dalai Lama. Established by philanthropist Sir John Templeton, it is also the world’s largest monetary award, with GBP 1.1 million of prize money at stake.

Upon receiving the award, Archbishop Tutu joked “This makes me a millionaire,” however, it is highly likely that every last audience member felt even richer for having had the opportunity to witness this inspiration of a generation in such an up-close and personal manner.

By Sertan Sanderson, 2013