These past weeks I have been listening.
I have heard stories of grief – of the death of loved ones, and how difficult that has been when restrictions have prevented contact and the comforts of mourning ritual.
Those who are unwell have shared how it is living with disease of the body and with mental ill health, both acute and chronic.
People have talked to me about their anxiety because of insecure housing, uncertain financial future, the well-being of loved ones, the impact of so much change and having to re-imagine what comes next.
These are stories of honesty and reality.
Some feel broken and disintegrated, some feel angry and let down.
I have heard of such courage and recognise remarkable resilience and persistence.
It has been humbling to be entrusted with such raw intimacy.
The Kingdom of God has seemed close, recalling that Jesus said: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11)
I have also listened to stories (sometimes from the same people) of hope – of people coming to faith, of faithful people discovering gifts and ministries, of opportunities for service and partnership in and with communities, of new ways of worship, of witness in the whole of life – in home, at work and school, with neighbours and friends, of the work of the Kingdom coming to fruition.
Woven through my listening have been wonderful glimpses of the fruit of the Spirit – of love, and joy, and peace, of patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5).
Most of that listening has been in our diocese (and what a pleasure to travel again to be with you and to offer hospitality in person at Bishop’s House, as well as the now ubiquitous gathering on Zoom) but I want to share three brief stories from beyond our borders:
- through my role as Vice-Chair of The Children’s Society, and in connection with my place as a Lord Spiritual on the House of Lords Select Committee on Youth Unemployment, I listened to a young refugee who arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied minor, who shared his story of navigating the asylum system alone, and the impact on his health and well-being, and so for his education. Remarkably, he is now in training to be a solicitor and is coordinating a national youth led campaign to lobby for unaccompanied child refugees arriving in England have a legal guardian (join the campaign #DistressSignals);
- as part of the Bishops Prison Team, with particular responsibility for Children and Young Offenders, on a visit to a Young Offenders Institution (a secure unit for children aged 15 -18) I listened to a teenager who has found a sense of peace and place through the Chaplaincy and was confirmed in August. He read a favourite Bible passage and prayed for me as I left. He knows he cannot break the cycle of his offending alone and hopes to find a church community on release who will continue offer alternative networks for support (consider if your church could register to welcome ex-offenders by join The Welcome Directory,).
- and, in preparation for the delayed Lambeth Conference (gathering of Anglican Bishops from around the world) I’m part of a Zoom discussion group with Bishops from Hong Kong, Malawi, Sudan, Philippines, Colombia, Australia, Ireland and from our diocesan link province of the Church of North India. We have heard how India is still suffering critical levels of Covid infection, and the health system is collapsing. In addition, many areas of North India have suffered disastrous flooding – but we have heard stories of transforming generosity and sacrifice as Christian communities reach out to the most vulnerable, including orphaned or abandoned girls (please join the diocesan Harvest Appeal 2021 supporting St Elizabeth’s Hostel in the Diocese of Calcutta).
Together we weave the threads of all our stories into the Kingdom of God – marked by generous faith, courageous hope and life-giving love.
That which St Paul wrote, in a different place and different age, holds true for us today:
“You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich… the grace of God has been granted to the churches [that] during a severe ordeal of affliction, [our] abundant joy and [our] extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8)
Be assured of my continuing prayers,
The Rt Revd Libby Lane
Bishop of Derby