Moving Forward

 I am not a member of synod, so I listened, as did thousands of others, to the live stream of the debate yesterday. Even from a distance, the hurt, and the love of those seeking to apologise for that hurt was palpable. It was an impassioned debate, full of pain, full of questions, full of a desire to discern God’s will. It made me think that the Church of England can do good disagreement – whatever the headlines promising ‘turmoil’ say today. It was a debate full of grace.

I am so sorry as a member of the reflection group that we didn’t get it right and the fact that we caused distress to so many.  I know that an apology is hollow unless we move on in a different way which learns from our mistakes.

The challenge now is how together we make the debate and vote count for something. Alongside many others today, I am left with some questions.

What does radical inclusive Christianity look like in a church where there continues to be a vast distance between views over sexuality?
How can we clarify what we disagree on and still find common ground which looks radical?
How can we ensure that everyone is included in moving forward?

What we need is time – I know this is frustrating to those who think we have taken far too long already. But we will need time if we are to do better.  Our faith, and our belief in a loving God, demands we do so.

Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen

(The Collect for the second Sunday after Trinity)

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to take note

 

Sitting with a member of clergy recently I encouraged them to reflect on how they normally discerned what God was calling them to do and suggested that is how they were likely to discern God’s movement in this instance. 

 

This meeting led me to reflect on how the Church of England as a body has discerned God’s movement in the past, and how it is trying to do so now over issues like human sexuality, it has not been an easy or painless process.

 

Today the meeting of the church’s General Synod begins and the highest profile agenda item will be the report from the House of Bishops on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations. Its publication has attracted a range of responses – some people have felt betrayed and rejected and I recognise the legitimacy of their response but, as one of those on the drafting group, I can honestly say this was not the report’s intent.

 

The House of Bishops wants to affirm the integrity and value of each person affected by what is said in the report, and offered up the paper in all humility. I still stand by this intention and alongside all my colleagues, who served on the bishops reflection group, are motivated by the desire to find a way forward together.

 

We are an episcopally led and synodically governed church and the House of Bishops operate within the context of synod and ecclesiastical law. The debate which will take place on Wednesday at synod is a ‘take note’ debate.  I pray that synod members will speak into the debate and as far as I am able I will play my part to ensure the House of Bishops takes note of all the responses.

 

The report from the House of Bishops has been offered up in prayer and, as others have said, it was not intended to be the final word, but a resource for dialogue.  I pray that Synod will take seriously their role in reflecting back to the House of Bishops the response of the Church of England, and that they will be heard.

 

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#LoveYourNeighbour

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Last week I celebrated Candlemas with the children from St David’s Primary School in Exeter. We thought about darkness and those places we had been when there was no light. We talked about what it made us feel and the children spoke about fear and loneliness.  I spoke about disorientation and the ability to feel alone and lost.

I then asked what could we do to reduce our fear and help us find our footing in the dark ?– of cause the answer came turn on the light!

Traveling along the Grand Union Canal last year we entered into the Braunston Tunnel. The Braunston Tunnel is 2,042 yards (1,867 m) in length. Built by Jessop and Barnes, the tunnel has no towpath and is 4.8m wide by 3.76m high and it is very dark! However it only takes a small amount of light to give orientation and direction.

It is often our small actions which can bring light into the lives of people – the way we say good morning, looking out for the person who lives next door, calling someone up who lives on their own – small ordinary actions which make an extra ordinary difference.

But the challenge for us is not just to do this for people who we love or are like us but also for those who are different – the stranger and the refuge – event those who hate us.

In Australia in the wake of a terrorist attack of the gunman in a Sydney café they began to see an Islamic phobic backlash. This sparked support for Muslims in a campaign called #I’ll ride with you.

It was started in Facebook by Rachael Jacobs, who said she’d seen a woman she presumed was Muslim silently removing her hijab while sitting next to her on the train: “I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone’. Thousands of people have now joined the spontaneous campaign, offering to meet Muslim people at their local stations and to ride with them on their journey – small actions bringing light.

Next week is Valentine’s Day let us think about we can do to bring light to others and not just those we love!

 

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Kindness a cure for loneliness

The end of this month will see the publication of a Royal Commission on Loneliness. Conservative MP Seema Kennedy will take the plans forward started by the late MP Jo Cox with her friend and fellow Labour MP Rachel Reeves.

The Guardian News Paper reported that the pair have revealed the huge amount of work Cox had already carried out on the issue, partnering with 13 different charities and exposing evidence of loneliness across a number of different groups.

“Jo wanted to achieve something practical,” said Kennedy. “So this is all about trying to achieve change that is concrete – not just about sitting around and talking.”

Jo Cox

Age UK in Devon showed that 17% of older people who live alone have less than one contact a week, 11% less than one contact a month

The terms ‘isolation’ and ‘loneliness’ are often used interchangeably, but they refer to two distinct concepts. Isolation refers to separation from social or familial contact, community involvement, or access to services. Loneliness, by contrast, can be understood as an individual’s personal, subjective sense of lacking these things to the extent that they are wanted or needed. It is therefore possible to be isolated without being lonely, and to be lonely without being isolated.

For instance, an older person can be physically isolated (living on one’s own, not seeing many other people etc.) without feeling lonely. For some, physical separation is a result of choice. Similarly, one can feel lonely in the midst of other people. Older family members and care home residents may not appear to be physically isolated, but their relationship with the people they live with may not be enough to ward off loneliness, particularly when the death of friends and loved ones takes away the companionship they need.

Various factors have been found to increase older people’s risk of experiencing loneliness and isolation. Some are related to personal circumstances: for example, loneliness and isolation are more common among people who are widowed or have no children. Others involve life events, such as sudden occurrences like bereavement, or having to move into residential care, or gradual developments that give rise to a perception of having become lonelier over time. Poor physical health and mental health are also associated with loneliness and isolation, as is the expectation of future poor health.

The Church continues to have a presence in some of our most rural communities – a sign of Gods enduring love. The Church seeks to build relationships with people and here in the Diocese of Exeter – the Church of England in Devon we are seeking to serve the community with joy.

Therefore I wonder how can the church work better in partnership to help reduce loneliness?

Churches provide an essential social link for many through church services, coffee mornings, the Mother’s Union, in formal and formal pastoral care. It is also often the first point for support after the death of a loved one and increasing they work with others to talk about death and good death.

But maybe the greatest cure for loneliness are acts of kindness. The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, in his blogg on the 11th November 2016 wrote “I reckon kindness is one of the most underrated virtues in today’s world. It isn’t bland or soft or feeble or weak. It isn’t about namby-pambyism or avoidance of conflict. Kindness comes when, even where it isn’t deserved, we dare to offer an opening to humanity and mercy, regardless of cost or reward. It is more than being nice and it can be very demanding in certain circumstances.”

I hope that the Royal Commission will provide encouragement for us as individuals and churches to reflect how we can increase our ability to demonstrate kindness to those alone.

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What Legacy for 2017?

I don’t know what you have been doing since Christmas day but according to the press families across the country have been in front of their computers and on the internet attempting to stave off the post Christmas blues by booking their summer holiday. By the amount of holiday literature through my letter box in the last few days the travel industry clearly believes this is an opportunity. Amongst the leaflets I had information on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 2011 our family holiday was walking 200km of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, also known in English, as the Way of St James for our holiday. The route runs in north-west Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where the apostle St James is said to have been laid to rest. It has been a pilgrimage since medieval times but many walk for pleasure as we did (although at the time I had to keep reminding myself that it was for pleasure we were walking!). It is the nature of long distance walks that you have time to encounter people and to exchange stories along the way. It became apparent along the way that many were walking to find themselves – to rediscover who they are or the person they seemed to have lost in the business of life. It also interested me that there were also those who left something of themselves along the way. At points along the way, often under the characteristic sign of the shell, people left something of themselves, comments, shoes, pictures, sun glasses, items which were an expression of their need for others to have known that they have past that way – to leave their mark on the way.

Roads are good places to understand who you are and who others are.

As we face the changing of another year it is natural that we find ourselves reflecting on our journey who we are and what are we leaving on the way?

So often we want to leave a legacy which is about the material – just like the glasses, shoes and comment cards left along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, so others know that we have passed this way.

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But the gospel challenges us to see that Jesus’ incarnation – God with us – offers us an alternative narrative to which we should live and be remembered for – one shaped by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience forgiveness and love.

During the last decade questions have been asked about what defines our communities and what legacy is it that we are leaving – we have seen inquiries into the behaviour of our media and financial systems, we live with the legacy of the MP expresses, we have seen investigations into allegations of abuse in people’s private lives but also in care homes for the most vulnerable in our society, we have seen inquiries into the care received by patients in our hospitals.

Many have reflected publically on what drives and builds our communities and so often in seeking for a solution and for a means to build compassion and care into our community or to improve our moral framework we look to regulation and legislation or top down initiatives such as ‘The big Society’.

Having worked in government with responsibility for improving the care and compassion of nurses in the NHS and for developing community across England I know that the answer is complex but I also know that it has more to do with the heart and with our actions as individuals than it does a legislative process or regulation or financial reward.

There are wonderful examples of positive community activity which are not brought about by legislation and it wasn’t done for material gain it was about compassion and kindness.

In response to God’s generosity of love in the incarnation we are called to be stirred and motivated to act to bring healing and wholeness, restoration with God and restoration of community. This will not always be easy and at times we will find ourselves in difficult places and it will cost but the incarnation asks us what is the legacy which we leave in 2017?

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Unity Despite Difference

Last week we remembered the Saints and English Martyrs. This is a lesser festival in the Church of England and it can be easy for us to forget that people have died because of their Christian faith in this country.

Those from the Diocese of Exeter that visited Thika last month will have seen first-hand the impact of the threat to the Christian Churches with many of the churches in the diocese employing guards to protect the congregations from the threat of suicide bombers.

Later this month Father Mourad, a Syrian Catholic Priest who was taken by the Islamic State but rescued by his muslin friend, will speak in Exeter Cathedral and Cathedrals and Churches across the country are going red to remember Christians in the Middle East who have been killed because of their faith.

When we talk about the cost of Christian discipleship in this country it is often about the personal cost of our call and not the cost to us as of the risk to life or death.

Jesus calls the disciples to leave everything else behind and follow him even if it may bring suffering and persecution.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, The Cost of Discipleship makes it clear: While God’s grace is always bestowed freely, it is never bestowed cheaply.

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field, for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price for which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.” (P. 47)

Bonhoeffer suggests that it is when we understand the cost of God’s love that we can surrender our lives to God in gratitude and faithful obedience. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.

 Bonhoeffer goes on to suggest that the Church is made up of those who acted, worked and suffered with Jesus and they manifest to the whole world a visible community.

Bonfire night at the beginning of this month recalls the events at the palace of Westminster when a group of conspirators so angered by the few rights given to Catholics that they took the law into their own hands and planned to blow up parliament.   It speaks of a time when the Christian church in this country was so divided that there were wars, armed conflicts and people were burned at the stake.

In the last dialogue of Jesus in John’s gospel he calls us to be a visible community to the world. This unity isn’t a formal arrangement it is based on and should mirror the unity between the Father and the Son. And the result is that the world will see and believe.

Bishop Robert in his blog from Thika mentioned that the conversations in Thika, crossing tribal and religious boundaries are no difference than those required in the UK. But in a divided world where divisions have often run down religious lines there is no excuse for Christian not to work together afresh in every generation towards the unity Jesus prayed for.

As pressures on the Church of England are moving us potentially into a more divided present let us pray that we may remember it is the love of the Father, that costly grace, which makes Jesus present to the church and through the church to the world.

Love which is generous, love which is gracious and love which is able to hold unity despite difference.

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The Beauty of the individual

Everyone deserves a safe place to call home and it is a sign of a compassionate community to welcome the stranger. So it is good news that over the last few days the UK has welcomed refugees from Calais. However I have been surprised at some people’s response to this act. Their comments have sought to dehumanise people and promote discrimination.

In June Truro Cathedral was home to an art installation by Imran Qureshi. From a distance it looks like a pile of rubbish – up close you see that it is made up of individual pieces of paper – each one containing a beautiful picture of part of a garden. Imran Qureshi’s art installation (After which, I am no more I, and you are no more you) reminds us that it is only when we get close to people that we understand them and appreciate them as individuals.

Thomas Merton became a Cistercian monk because he wanted to escape from a world filled with wicked people. But a few years of religious life, he went to the local town one day to have something printed, and the scales fell from his eyes. He wrote in his diary,

‘Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts… the core of their being, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more greed.’

Let us get up close to see the beauty of people rather than comment from a distance.  Let us #changethestory.

 

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