Bishop of Doncaster
Posted by Bishop Peter Burrows on 10th April 2017 | Comments: 0
As we are aware the diocese has been on a journey and I don’t intend to rehash again the things I said in my pastoral letter and Presidential Address to Synod. As I’ve said before, this is a day when we come together as lay and ordained colleagues from across the diocese. This is a solemn time, but also an occasion of great joy as deacons, priests and bishops renew their commitment to serve made at our ordinations. And the whole people of God - licensed ministers or not - recommit themselves to the service of God as his disciples. The Chrism Eucharist is very much about building our confidence; as we gather together in shared commitment to ministry and mission, as we gather around the altar united in the Eucharist, renewed in God’s service through the strength of the Holy Spirit symbolized in the oil of Chrism, the sign of God’s anointing Spirit empowering the church and his people.
As we gather around the altar together we know that none of us are worthy of our calling, none of us are really great. We know that we’re not called to promote ourselves or our ministry as being the greatest. We’re called to proclaim the greatness of God in all we do and say and him alone. We’re called take up our cross in humility and put the service of God and others first. That’s the mark of Christian leadership and we can only do it through God’s grace, and the strength of the Holy Spirit.
Through God’s good grace we gather at this service which draws to a close our seven days of prayer for healing and reconciliation. On Friday we celebrated the appointment of Pete Wilcox as our new Diocesan Bishop and that is one of the pieces in our healing journey. We will of course get to know Pete over the next few months and years, and we look forward to welcoming him to the diocese in due course.
But this service is the first opportunity we’ve had to come together as a diocese since the announcement of Bishop Philip and the events surrounding it - both within and from outside the diocese. This is a time for us to recommit ourselves to God’s mission, to each other and to the process of moving on, without in any way diminishing and undermining the questions and issues that we still need to face as does the wider Church. One of the things that’s remained steadfast throughout these months has been our commitment to God’s mission as focused through our Diocesan vision and strategy, and in that I take great comfort and rejoice in this.
As we approached this week I’ve been helped in my own thinking by the well-known story the story of Jacob and Esau which reads like a juicy novel. The brothers are born to Isaac and when Isaac is near death he desires to give Esau - the older of the brothers - his blessing. In biblical times, a blessing was to grant the other person a place of honour and status usually given to the first born son, in this case Esau. Yet, as the story unfolds, the father is tricked into giving the blessing to Jacob the younger son, whose name means “He deceives”.
Imagine the shock and horror that Esau felt when he learns he’s been cheated. How on earth are these two characters ever going to be reconciled? Biblical reconciliation is the process of two previously alienated parties coming together, coming to peace with each other. And why is this the case? Because God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ and if that’s the case, we can surely be reconciled to each other. We should no longer be counting our offences but be focused on Jesus and what unites us. The absence of reconciliation robs the church of the power of unity.
Prayer and openness are a critical part of the process of reconciliation. When in prayer we come closer to God and listen to what he’s saying to us rather than our own voice, our own inner thinking. God reveals to us all sorts of things amongst which is a desire to look at broken relationships and put them right. Prayer is like ointment for the wound of the broken relationship. The wound will often be messy and infected by hurt and hardened feelings and emotions running high. God will need to soften the hearts, ease emotions if the wound is to be healed. God will in prayer bring understanding to the reconciling parties. So one guiding principle in reconciliation is – Don’t seek God in prayer unless you want to make things right with others. Unless you want to change.
We’re told that the angels met Jacob – but why, we may ask, did they turn up. Whatever the Angels said to him it was powerful enough for Jacob to feel the need to make amends, he had to be right with his brother.
Here’s the second principle – You can’t live in peace and harmony with God until you’re living in peace with each other. Broken relationships result in a broken relationship with God. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift to the altar, leave your gifts there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt 5:23-24). If you’re offering a gift of money or praise and remember someone has ill will or hard feelings against you, go to that person, seek reconciliation, make amends, be at peace.
Jacob knew he’d done wrong and needed to make it right. He had to take the first step. He needed to take the initiative. So here’s another guiding principle, it has to be intentional. Restoring a broken relationship is like mending a broken leg. If you break your leg you have to go to the hospital so that the Doctors can set the leg in plaster and healing can take place, otherwise it’ll never mend. The same is true with broken relationships; they won’t mend by accident, you have to intend mending them. When you’ve broken your leg there’s only so long you can ignore the pain and hurts and so it is with a broken relationship.
Of course, the relationship is easier to mend when the offender apologises to the offended. But what happens if the offender doesn’t admit their part. Scripture make it even more difficult for us because it tells us that the offended is to take the initiative in seeking reconciliation. Jesus says “If your brother sins against you go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” (Matt 18:15). Note that it’s just between the two of them. The instinct for most of us, if we’re the offended, is to go round soliciting sympathy and support for ourselves and our cause; we plead our side of the story, to validate our own feelings. But we don’t go to the person who offended us. (Tell them the story about the school confirmation and what the children said about falling out with their friends.)
If we’re to reconcile relationships, we need to have the courage and conviction to go directly to the one who’s offended us and to do so not in a spirit of accusation or revenge, but rather in one of clarification.
After many years Esau and Jacob met. Jacob bowed to the ground seven times as his brother approached. It’s an act of humility. Jacob came with the right spirit and attitude. He acknowledged that he’d done wrong. He’d tricked his brother out of his blessing. He was at fault. Humility puts us in a position for reconciliation to occur. A price has to be paid for reconciliation and that’s often called “swallowing your pride”. Every act of reconciliation requires someone in the hurting relationship to admit some responsibility and a desire to repair the damage. Our failure to practice humility allows fractured relationships to fester and puts us in opposition to God. Remember “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
At the face to face meeting Esau ran to meet Jacob and hugged him and they wept. It’s a picture of vulnerability. To embrace someone else is to expose the heart and that reveals a damaged relationship. At that moment you reveal the hurt and pain caused, admit wrong. Reconciliation can’t happen until the heart is exposed to another. The danger is, of course, is that as soon as you do that you risk it being broken again and many of us don’t want to risk it. But the opposite is to shut out all humanity and surely none of us want to live our lives in isolation from others, however risky that might feel.
Jacob wanted to find favour in the eyes of Esau. He sought peace. He desired to put the past behind him. He humbled himself before Esau. And then Esau spoke those life changing words “Brother, I forgive you.”
Forgiveness isn’t an optional extra in the process of reconciliation. Forgiveness means letting go so that you can get on with the rest of your life. Forgiveness means hoping the best for the other.
Jacob wanted to make things right. He’d stolen his brother’s birth right and all the inheritance that goes with it. Restitution is an attempt to restore that which has been damaged or destroyed and seeking justice whenever we have the power to act or influence those in authority to do something. Restitution is really difficult though, when you have said words that have damaged a person and their character.
Jacob acknowledges his wrong. Esau forgives. The once broken relationship is mended. Wouldn’t it be nice if every relationship ended that way? And if we want it to it can. In the story of Jacob and Esau we catch a glimpse of God. Jacob says to Esau “For indeed, I have seen your face and it is like seeing God’s face, since you have accepted me.” (Genesis 33:10). If you want to know what the face of God looks like, go to your sister or brother you have offended, ask their forgiveness, then hear them say, “you are forgiven”.
As Paul reminds us in Ephesians, God breaks down all barriers. They’re reconciled through the cross to God and are to be reconciled to others. It’s costly because reconciliation is cross shaped.
Think about it. We have broken our relationship with God over and over again. We hurt God greatly with our disobedience and rebellion. God doesn’t have to forgive us. But like Esau and Jacob, God comes to us through his Son, Jesus Christ, embracing us all, calling us brother and sister and saying “I forgive you”. As God has forgiven us, we are to forgive those who hurt us. As God has reconciled with us, we are to reconcile with each other.
As an author Phil Cross put it “With only three nails and 2 pieces of wood, with one rugged cross, Jesus built a bridge”. That is what reconciliation is about, it’s the bridge that Jesus built and which allows unholy people to be reconciled to God and each other.
We’re to live this out. We are to overflow with reconciliation we’ve received from God, who changes our relationship to him and to each other, who enables us to be different. He says, be the teachers of my way and my way is peace and justice and love, not violence, bitterness and conflict. The gift of the church to the world is reconciliation.
Posted by Bishop Peter Burrows on 18th March 2017 | Comments: 3
As we are all now aware, following a period of prayer and reflection Bishop Philip decided last week that, for the sake of God’s mission in the Diocese, he should withdraw from the appointment as the next Bishop of Sheffield.
In the life of the diocese the past few weeks have been difficult and painful. The appointment of Bishop Philip raised questions and concerns in the minds of many, both within the Diocese and the wider Church of England. Others welcomed the announcement.
Both those concerned about the appointment, and those fully supportive of it, women and men and across traditions, have experienced a sincere and deep sense of personal pain and hurt which we have tried to respond to through the listening exercises. Alongside this there has been a corporate sense of pain across the whole diocese as we have struggled to hold things together in a spirit of unity, mutual respect and flourishing built on confident relationships, dialogue and a focus on God’s mission. What is clear is that there was more than one narrative being expressed and it is important that in relationship with God and each other we find a way of continuing to graciously listen, love, and in a spirit of unity within our diversity, ask for healing, reconciliation and a way forward.
Much of the hurt and pain caused has been through the use of social and other media outlets. Perhaps that was inevitable, but it has meant that as a diocese we have lived out our deeply held disagreements and concerns, which it is right to express, in the full glare of the media which has raised the temperature and tensions. A number of the latter emails and letters I received have been concerned about this most public airing of our differences. Eventually, of course, the media will lose interest in us, but we as a diocese must find a way of continuing in dialogue with each other.
There is clearly much to reflect on and there will, as I said in my statement last week, be time to consider what lessons there are to be learned over the coming weeks and months. The national church will also need to continue to reflect and pray about the issues this has raised.
I would however like to take this opportunity of thanking all those who wrote to me or had individual conversations expressing their personal support for me in this most complex of times and as we seek God’s wisdom. Your kindness and generosity to me has been greatly appreciated. As I have said before it is my intention to support everyone as best as I am able, as we make this journey with God and in relationship with each other.
A lot of the questions I have been asked have been concerned about process and in some cases questioning the validity and legality of it. It also become clear that not everyone is familiar with the Five Guiding Principles, mutual flourishing and New Norms, New Beginnings. The nomination of Bishop Philip was made within the framework and processes agreed by General Synod which reflect the aspirations of the Church of England to be a broad church that embraces diverse traditions.
The Crown Nominations Commission, which is the nominating body, met in November to interview the candidates. The CNC is a body with fourteen voting and two non-voting members. The voting are the two archbishops, or their representative, six members elected by the diocese and six elected by General Synod. A third of the elected representatives were female. The non-voting members are the Prime Minister’s and Archbishops Appointments Secretaries. The appointment was made in line with the Five Guiding Principles which were included within the House of Bishops Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests which was part of the package on which the Measure and Canon made under it formed a part.
It has been established for over two decades, both within the Church of England and within the Anglican Communion that both positions, those who support the ordination and consecration of women, and those who in conscience cannot support that, are fully Anglican.
For many years the Church of England wrestled with how to accommodate this commitment to supporting both positions while also permitting the consecration of women as bishops. The Church’s first formal attempt to do this failed when the General Synod rejected the relevant legislation in November 2012.
At the second time of asking, the Church of England did pass legislation to permit the consecration of women as bishops in July 2014, after a process of reflection and dialogue to learn the lessons of its previous failure. The package that was agreed, and passed into law, in 2014, was founded on a declaration by the House of Bishops, approved by the General Synod. The declaration comprised five guiding principles, and above all a commitment to “mutual flourishing” for all traditions within the Church.
The declaration specifically provides that:
- A diocesan bishop may be either a bishop who does, or who does not, ordain women;
- A diocese may express a view, prior to a diocesan see being filled, as to whether the diocesan bishop should be someone who does or does not ordain women;
- In every case where the diocesan bishop does not ordain women, there should be at least one bishop in the diocese who does ordain women;
- Senior leadership roles within dioceses should continue to be filled by people from across the range of traditions.
Those provisions are part of the “mutual flourishing” that is central to the declaration and to the package. The declaration also recognises that “there will need to be sensitivity to the feelings of vulnerability that some will have that their position within the Church of England will gradually be eroded and that others will have because not everyone will receive their ministry.” It appreciates that the practical working out of these arrangements may not be easy, for the Church as a whole or for individuals. To reject the Five Guiding Principles is to reopen the settlement made by the Church of England in 2014 which enable both supporters of women’s consecration, and those opposed it, to flourish alongside each other within the church.
In the document New Norms New Beginnings which was commissioned by Bishop Steven recognised that this journey within the diocese would not be easy. It said “working towards a Diocese where all can flourish and enjoy the highest possible degree of communion will take a significant commitment from every member of the church and will rely on consistent and clear leadership. It will be important for the Diocese to explore ways of embedding the Guiding Principles within our culture. It will be important to find periodic ways of auditing where we are as a diocese against the Guiding Principles and to hold one another to account on our fulfilment of them”
As I have reflected on the past few weeks and on where we are as a diocese I have been helped by a re-reading of Bishop Tom Wrights commentary on Philippians 2:1-4 “So if our shared life in the King brings you any comfort; if love still has the power to make you cheerful; if we really do have partnership in the spirit; if your hearts are at all moved with affection and sympathy – then make my joy complete. Bring your thinking into line with one another. Here’s how to do it. Hold on to the same love; bring your innermost lives into harmony; fix your minds on the same object. Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody as superior. Look after each other’s best interests, not your own”.
Tom Wright tells the story of actors in a play needing to know exactly what each one is doing so that it fits together otherwise it becomes a circus act. On stage, the actors were not out for their own individual glory at each other’s expense. The play worked because everyone worked together with the same object in mind. That’s a bit like what Paul is urging on the church in Philippi. That he says is what the church should be like. There is an old Jewish joke that says if you’ve got two rabbis you’ve probably got three opinions. This is often how it feels in the church.
As our own debate has highlighted there are big theological differences. There are hurts and pains, some stemming from past experiences, some caused by recent events. It raises the whole question of how we can live together in the way Paul indicates, how can we think the same, loving each other completely, regarding everyone else and their opinions as superior to our own. To many this may seem impossible or at least a very long way off.
The answer, as Paul points out, must be that everyone must be focused on something other than themselves and we know very well that is Jesus Christ, the King, the Lord and God’s mission to transform his world. This is the ministry and mission to which God has called us all, clergy and laity, women and men and whatever our tradition.
This passage is about unity and its motivation. It’s about our own inner lives and conviction and the practical outworking of it.
Our motivation should be because we want to live this way. We know the comfort that comes from belonging to the body of Christ, the Christian family from being in Christ Jesus. As we live in that family we should endeavour to grow in love more and more however difficult that may sometimes be. That love should sustain us especially in the most difficult times of our relationship. As the spirit filled people of God we should be desirous to work together more and more in a single direction as focused through our diocesan vision “We have been called to grow a sustainable network of Christ-like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place which are effective in making disciples and in seeking to transform our society and God’s world”
The inner life of unity is however perhaps the thing that seems most difficult. How can we possibly bring our thinking in line with each other? Unity by itself cannot be the final aim. As Tom Wright points out unity is possible among thieves, and many other types. What matters, he goes on to say, is that Christians, like the actors, all focus single-mindedly on the play, on the divine drama that has unfolded in Jesus Christ the King and is continuing now in the final act with themselves – ourselves - as characters. Bringing their thinking, he says, into line with each other wouldn’t be any good if they were all thinking something that was out of line with the Gospel. Our inner lives must reflect the Gospel. We must all remain fixed on the facts about Jesus Christ and the meaning that emerges from them. We are called to perform the extraordinary feat of looking at one another with the assumption that everybody else and their needs are more important.
Tom Wright tells another story “I remember once going to lunch with a friend who had invited about twenty or thirty people. Some of them were quite well known public figures. As he said the grace at the start of the meal, he also said, very firmly. Remember: the most interesting person in the room is the one sitting next to you! Multiply that up a bit into a congregation, and you’ll get somewhere near what Paul is saying”.
So where are we as a diocese? We are in a difficult and complex place with no clear guidelines as to how we move forward because no other diocese has been in this place before. Are we damaged by the recent disagreements? Yes, we are, but not terminally. I have heard people say that mutual flourishing as a concept in the diocese is now set twenty years back. I hope and pray not. I sometimes wonder if I am being naïve. I have been accused of pastoral platitudes, but I believe passionately that we are called to focus on the Good News, and I do sincerely hope and pray that even with our differences we can find a way of living together in unity and respect focused, as Paul reminds us on, Christ and God’s mission. If we can’t then we really do have to do some real soul searching about what we are about as a diocese and as God’s people called to serve the whole of the Sheffield diocese and its people who are themselves a diverse and mixed community.
This will not be easy, I do not underestimate the real pain and hurt that has and continues to be felt across the traditions by women and men, clergy and laity. We may never get to the point of total agreement and we certainly won’t if we do not remain fixed on Christ but I also believe that the final goal of living together in unity focused on the Good News and the transformation of people’s lives must be worth the effort. We are called to make this journey together in joy as women and men, seeking mutual flourishing and in the highest possible degree of communion.
In the meantime, the Archbishop of York will in due course submit the name of an alternative candidate for the diocese.
And I close as I did in my press statement, by reiterating what the Archbishop said to us all “We should use this time of Lent as a period of penitence, repentance and reflection both individually and corporately. It is my sincere hope and prayer that such a period would act as the basis for reconciliation across the diocese as we rebuild relationships or trust and confidence and refocus on God’s mission and our vision for growth and the transformation of communities. We should continue to pray for each other and Bishop Philip and also for the next person chosen by God to be the new Bishop of Sheffield who will be coming into a slightly different diocese than it was a few months ago. I will also continue to pray for you all.
Posted by Bishop Peter Burrows on 3rd January 2017 | Comments: 0
Aristotle is supposed to have said “The more you know, the more you know you don't know.” As we reflect on the past twelve months many will do so with joy, some with sadness and others with disappointment and regret. At the beginning of 2016 none could have known what would impact on us personally, nationally or globally. Few of us would have predicted ‘Brexit’ for example. We may have anticipated the continuation of war and terrorism and done so with a great sadness in our hearts, praying that peace would one day engulf not only our own lives but the whole world and we continue to do so. Many would not have predicted the events that have engulfed their own lives both the joyous ones and the less so.
As we look to a New Year none of us again know what lies ahead. However good the previous year might have been we will start the new one in the hope and anticipation that it will better than the last. I witnessed this during the New Year celebrations where people spoke hopefully about 2017 even sometimes in a negative sense “Whatever this year brings it can’t be worse than the last” I heard a number of people say.
At the start of a New Year many of us will reassess where life is taking us, determined to take a new direction, we’ll make New Year’s resolutions, most of which we won’t keep. But in reality most of us have no idea what lies ahead and that can be unnerving, in part because we like to think we are masters of our own destiny. Life is uncertain and unpredictable and it’s difficult to know where to find hope, peace and fulfilment.
There is little we can do with the unpredictability of life but Christians believe that we needn’t be overcome by it. Hope we believe lies in the Christ child who came to earth, who lived amongst us, and who died so that we might have our sins forgiven and find new life in him. Some say that you can’t believe in God because you can’t know what you don’t know. However, those who have come to believe in Christ have discovered a reality, a love that’s changed and transformed them. It may not have made their problems go away but they see them in a new light and surrounded by the love and support of a community.
In the Church’s year we are about to celebrate the Epiphany. It’s the familiar story of the three wise men visiting the infant Jesus. There is much about this story that we don’t in reality know but it sets us a number of lessons which we can take into the New Year. The gifts we can offer may seem trivial and modest, but they represent the giving of ourselves to God which is the most important gift. Secondly, like the wise men we’re on a journey both to discover Jesus and make him known to others. Thirdly, the wise men through the grace of God came to faith in Jesus and so can we.
At the end of the story the wise men went home by another road. We too this year can walk a different road, it may be uncertain, but it’s a road that if we stick with it can lead to Jesus which will lead to transformation and a new life in him.
Bishop of Doncaster speaks about the need to help those less fortunate in our communities at Christmas
Posted by Bishop Peter Burrows on 25th December 2016 | Comments: 0
Posted by Bishop Peter Burrows on 28th November 2016 | Comments: 0
Some of you may know that a couple of weeks ago the diocese had a Peer Review. Peer Review is a process being introduced to facilitate learning and improve shared accountability across the Church of England. The primary objective being to help strengthen mission and finances in the dioceses.
As part of the process each diocese is asked to complete a self-assessment form which explores developments relating to growth, the common good, re-imagining ministry, strategic leadership, leadership culture and the use of resources. The consultation on the day included members of the Bishop’s Staff, the chair of the board of finance, lay and ordained chairs of synod. It also included telephone interviews with a number of lay and ordained people from across the diocese prior to this, so it was I think pretty thorough.
Part of the self-assessment included a SWOT analysis, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and I’d like to highlight a few things in the hope that you might recognise and possibly even agree with some of them.
Strengths we said included real diocesan ownership of the vision and mission with a commitment to growing new disciples, transforming communities, mixed economy church, Fresh Expressions of church of which there are 56 across the diocese, pioneer ministry, including experimenting with interim ministers, a commitment to mission and work with children and young people and Mission Partnerships, to name but a few. Critical to delivering any of these and the overall diocesan strategy has been the deep commitment and tremendous work done in the parishes in which we celebrate and rejoice and in the lay and ordained leadership we have and are continuing to grow. Thank you for all you are doing which is greatly appreciated and valued. This is supported by the Parish Support Team appointed to help parishes implement core strategies and which has been very effective. We rejoice in a Bishop’s Staff committed to mission and growth and that very same commitment is one of the key elements we are looking for in our new bishop. And again personally I’d like to thank the staff team for their support and work and also that of the staff in the Bishops offices and the Diocesan Office.
Overall we have collaborative leadership across the diocese which includes significant unpaid ministry of self-supporting and retired ministers and a breadth of recognised lay ministry and a commitment to training, not least through the new St Peter’s College. We also have a real commitment to growing vocations to lay and ordained ministry supported by an experienced and wise team, with a good choice of vocational pathways and training providers. Clear leadership priorities and plan for education is another key priority as is developing our Safeguarding following a positive audit. And for this we’ve been extremely grateful and blessed by Linda Langthorne our Safeguarding officer who only joined us this year and the Safeguarding Management Group.
These and many other things being done imaginatively a creatively particularly at parish level make the Diocese of Sheffield an exciting place to be and minister. It’s an attractive place for our new Bishop to come and join in the positive direction we have set. It’s a place where despite the difficulties of attracting people to the north as we know we want to invite others to join us on our journey.
That’s not to say we didn’t recognise areas for further development and there are a number of things that we’d describe as works in progress, not least as we come out of a period where the previous bishop led the vision clearly, and pulled the team together. There is a certain anxiety that a new bishop might have different ideas which causes some faltering. We have again highlighted this to those being considered as our new bishop.
We are aware that all of us are working at capacity and beyond. Progress of the Mission Partnership model is not yet proven and fully owned. There’s no strategy for under-represented groups. And as indicated filling vacancies in existing parish models still dominates and difficult to shift. And there were a number of other things we identified.
So we’re in a good place, good heart, good health but honest about what still needs to be done and there’s no complacency just hope, expectation and anticipation in God’s mission
All of our strategies are based on becoming an outward focused and engaged church bringing people to faith and walking alongside people on their journey in life and faith. There are practical things we have to do such as finance and they can’t be ignored but most importantly we’re called to mission. One of the strategies which I haven’t yet mentioned but which is critical to this is our Salt and Light strategy, and that too was questioned at the peer review with an admission that it hasn’t perhaps had the same prominence as other aspects of our vision. This is partly due to the fact that many good and significant things that come under the umbrella of “Salt and Light” are already being done in our parishes mostly unnoticed and often undervalued. We have individuals and teams of people working keenly in supporting others as part of the vision to transform our society and God’s world, supported by the Board of faith and Justice
It may be some while since you looked at this key strategy document and so it’s worth reminding ourselves about some of what is says. The document reminds us that God calls his people to pray for the coming of the Kingdom and to love our neighbours as ourselves. In the Old Testament God called Abraham so that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. The law that came through Moses is a law that upholds the rights of the widows, orphans, refugees and the poor. The prophets call us to challenge unjust structures. The Gospels tell us that Jesus came proclaiming God’s Kingdom, peace and justice. His whole ministry was about serving others, relieving the suffering of others and challenging those in authority and power. Jesus called his disciples and he calls us to have an impact beyond our own community as “Salt and Light” in the world. The call to serve our society and transform God’s world is a key part of discipleship and our witness to the difference Christ makes in our lives as we draw others to faith.
The strategy document also highlights a number of things that need transforming such climate change, poverty, war and violence, the sense of powerlessness experienced by many, inequality and inequality that undermines community cohesion, levels of care available to an aging population, young people and families, the treatment of asylum seekers, those with disability and mental health issues, unemployment and the economy and of course not forgetting ourselves. We need to look at where we see God already doing work, we need to develop partnerships within and outside the diocese, and we need to pray.
One of our link officers Pete wrote this and it can be found on the diocesan website “I’ve often noticed that God, incarnate in Jesus and present in our neighbours, calls us to meet and serve him in and through our vulnerabilities. This can feel painful and risky when we have lived experience of the issues we seek to address. This is especially true for congregants or those on the fringes of congregations whose involvement with the Church may principally be focused on their activities supporting others who are vulnerable and isolated”
The strategy also suggests the way we as individuals and churches can respond and we are encouraged by the number of Salt and Light link officers we have in our parishes.
The issues I’ve highlighted in this strategy inevitably impact most on the poor and vulnerable and I, we, are constantly reminded of this in ministry. But we too sometimes become vulnerable in our own lives and need transforming. As many of you know Jane was diagnosed last year with Early Onset Alzheimer’s and dementia care is a core intuitive of the Board of faith and Justice. That has meant for me and Jane inevitable readjustments to the way we live and plans for the future. But without the support of people in the diocese, friends and family and the excellent care offered in Doncaster things would have been much more difficult and grim. The small but significant offers of help and support, the kind words in difficult moments have transformed what could have been an even bleaker future. It teaches us that while we are looking to our greater communities don’t forget those around you may be in need of God’s transforming love.
In ministry, like many of you, I constantly meet and am humbled by conversations with people facing situations that I can’t even begin to imagine. Horrific stories of asylum seekers and what they’ve witnessed, the vulnerability, hostility and corruption they’ve faced and the abuse suffered by traffickers. On our streets we daily face those who are homeless, alone and afraid and many just walk by and ignore them. I often challenge myself to think how I would feel if I was out on the street or if a member of my family or friend were out on the street and ignored daily, when a kind word, a hot drink on a cold winters day might help transform their lives.
Of course we want to transform people’s lives by bringing them to Jesus and to have lives that are changed and transformed by his saving love and grace. But with some we have to start at the practical level of help and support and show them God’s love in action.
This was brought home to me in a recent conversation with an organisation called “Night Stop”. Night Stop is part of DePaul UK which is part of DePaul international, a group of charities working to support homeless and marginalised people around the world. They have recently opened a night stop in Sheffield. Night Stop services offer emergency accommodation to vulnerable young people at risk of homelessness in the homes of trained and vetted volunteers for one night at a time. Over 600 volunteer households opened their homes in 2015 and there are 33 services running in the UK. Last year they provided 13,438 bed nights.
And this is what one of the hosts said
“We have two daughters of our own, and we thought if anything had happened to them, we’d have liked someone to take them in,” Denise says.
“We moved in to this house two years ago and it had a spare bedroom; I wanted it to be for someone to sleep in, not just get filled up with junk! Some time later I saw an article in the paper, asking for volunteers who had a spare room to help look after young homeless people.
“All the young people are different. Some are very unsure, they don’t know what they’re doing, others are more confident and take it in their stride. Some are wondering what’s going to happen next.
“I just assure them that they’re known about now, they’re in the system, and for the moment they have somewhere to sleep while they get some help.
“One young man had been sleeping in the park and the railway station, so without Night stop he would certainly have been rough sleeping again
In the diocese I hear regular stories of people helping in this way or helping at foodbanks, dementia café’s, luncheon clubs, addressing issues of poverty and environmental projects.
We may sometimes feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what God is calling us to do, we may feel inadequate as I do every year at this time when I’m bombarded with charities asking for money and I feel slightly guilty that I can’t respond to them all.
We are about to enter Advent, as God’s people we wait the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. The church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. And we’re called to continue his mission, his work, and his ministry in the in-between time and that includes a bias to the poor and marginalised in the very broadest sense, a reaching out in love and compassion to help their practical needs as an outward example and witness of God’s love and in drawing them ever closer to their Lord and Saviour.