Bishop Libby's series of podcasts in which she reconsiders the Christmas story by talking to modern-day equivalents of some of the Nativity’s main characters – the innkeeper, the shepherds, the angels, the wise men and more.
Episode #1: The Innkeeper
Bishop Libby is in conversation with Andrew Allsop, co-owner of Morley Hayes near Derby.
How does today's hospitality industry reflect the role of the innkeeper?
Towards the end of last year I was fortunate to have some study leave, which I spent in Oxford as a visiting fellow at Harris Manchester College. For much of its history, the college had a particular affiliation with Unitarianism and there are still some reminders of that heritage. In the college chapel there is a set of windows depicting the six days of creation. Each of the six lights shows an angel holding a globe representing what happened on that particular day. Above each of the angels is a caption – Enlargissez Dieu – a quotation from the French Enlightenment philosopher, Diderot. It means something like, ‘Broaden your concept of God.’ The point is an obvious one. How do we find out about God through the workings of the created order? And how often do we choose to ignore that?
One of the leading figures in the college a hundred years was a man called L P Jacks. I came across a passage in one of Jacks’s books, about the place of religion in schools, which I think, despite its somewhat dated language and style, is a good example of what Enlargissez Dieu might be about:
Not long ago I met one of our great schoolteachers – a veteran in that high service. “Where in your time-table do you teach religion?” I asked him. “We teach it all day long,” he answered. “We teach it in arithmetic, by accuracy. We teach it in language, by learning to say what we mean – ‘yea, yea and nay, nay!’ We teach it in history, by humanity. We teach it in geography, by breadth of mind. We teach it in handicraft by thoroughness. We teach it in astronomy, by reverence. We teach it in the playground, by fair play. We teach it by kindness to animals, by courtesy to staff, by good manners to one another, and by truthfulness in all things. We teach it by showing the children that we, their elders, are their friends and not their enemies.”
“But what,” I said, “about the different denominations? Have you no trouble with the parents?” “None at all,” he replied; “we have half a dozen denominations. But we treat the children, not as members of this church or that, but as members of the school, and we show them that, as members of the school, in work and in play, they are members of one another. We teach them to build the Church of Christ out of the actual relations in which they stand to their teachers and their schoolfriends, because we believe that unless they learn to build it where they are, they will not learn to build it afterwards anywhere else.”
“Do you talk much to them about religion”? I then asked. “Not much,” he said, “just enough to bring the whole thing to a point now and then.”
Finally, he added a remark that struck me – “I do not want religion brought into this school from outside. What we have of it we grow ourselves.”
From A Living Universe (1924)
I see in the words of Jacks’s schoolteacher the articulation of a profound theology of mission. It has been said that the starting point of a conversation or process is likely to be the finishing point, too. If we start with a narrow, diminished concept of God, we are likely to see everything within that restrictive framework. Perhaps Enlargissez Dieu would be a better watchword for our thinking about apologetic and mission.
In a world where organisational shapes and approaches to leadership change rapidly, it is important that we evaluate the parish as our key unit of operation for mission.
The enduring strength of our parish system is the importance of place. As human beings we have a deep sense of needing to be ‘placed’ – able to belong, feel secure with a setting that is familiar. The church building is often the minister of the centrality of place. The parish take this sense of place seriously.
Parishes are people – in an increasingly mixed and changing cocktail. There can no longer be a single offer or a simple formula. If the Gospel is to be proclaimed and witnessed to, then there will need to be variety, and a toughness regarding the choices of what might be possible with limited resources. Who are those most in need of the generous witness of God’s loving care?, and how might this offer be made?
God’s children live and grow through engaging with processes of formation. Public worship and the Occasional Offices have been one of our key contributions. Now the invitation has to be crafted more flexibly. Messy Church for young families, schools as structures for nourishing young people, breakfasts for men, festivals….. and moments to enable meeting others and sharing the love of God, made manifest most powerfully in appropriate worship and witness.
The genius of the Church of England is the parson, our commitment to providing pastoral care that gives leadership for such formation. Rarely in our history has every parish had its own resident ‘vicar’. But always, each parish is embraced by the gospel caring and teaching organised by the Church. We all contribute to the work of being parson in our own communities. There are three classical models of parsoning:
- The priest, who uses the worship and teaching of the Church to mediate the Good News of Jesus Christ into everyday lives.
- The prophet, through whom the light of Christ proclaims a challenging critique of present failings, while proposing radical new possibilities.
- The prompter, who gathers and enables others to make creative responses to our challenges and opportunities, embracing those within the Church and those beyond our borders, in a common and connecting formation in goodness and grace. Calling all sorts and conditions of people to grow together as children of our Heavenly Father.
As the season of annual meetings is underway, we might like to consider in our own particular context how we can best be called to craft a parish for the future, and thus work seriously together on the future of the parish.
Constantine and Empire
The advent of Constantine as Emperor in 306 marked a key moment in the Gospel of Jesus Christ becoming a public faith. Up until that point Christians had endured a challenging journey – periods of peace and proselytising interspersed with the most horrific persecution. A world of political instability and religious terrorism.
Constantine laid the foundation of what came to be known as the Holy Roman Empire. The Church became a public body offering a Gospel of love to bind together the different cultures of what was thought to be the civilised world. A Holy or whole Empire.
The Importance of Coins: Cash Flow
As in every age, money was the sacrament of seriousness. Money provided the means for people to organise their lives and express their priorities. Money was produced in the form of coins. One of the ways in which Constantine connected his disparate peoples was through the use of money – the flow of ‘cash’.
First, during his reign, the images on the coins shifted from pagan symbols to signs of the cross and of the Christian faith. The means of organising life and ordering priorities was clearly part of a Christian enterprise – an expression of the love of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Second, Constantine enabled significant investment in the Church, providing buildings and ministries to express this Gospel of love in practical ways. The beginning of an infrastructure for a Holy Empire. Word made flesh.
Cashing the Gospel
We are heirs of these significant developments, called still to witness to the organising of life and the ordering of priorities as an expression of the teaching and example of Jesus Christ – in public life as much as in private pilgrimages.
Coins, or, in our case credit cards and notes! have a part to play in this mission and witness. Money provides the most accurate sign of how we choose to organise our lives and our priorities.
Cashing the Common Life
As we launch a new Common Fund this autumn, I hope that each of us can consider carefully and prayerfully how, in our times, we can contribute to our church offering spaces for worship and ministries for witness. Each of us will have coins, cards, notes in our lives. A key part of our witness is how we might use them to enable the Gospel of love to be made more manifest – as witness, invitation and celebration of that kind of gift of new life which Our Father longs to pour out for the blessings of all His children.
The Currency of Love
Money is something common, connecting and challenging. Too easily it becomes the ultimate measure and value: a false god. We need to use it as a form of service and fellowship – the currency of love.
Skills and Character
One of the key strategies for the future of work and of wellbeing is the Government’s commitment to apprenticeships. In a world of less predictability about career paths, job opportunities and regular work, there is a welcome move to equip people with both the skills and the character to find useful employment – to develop the self and to contribute to the needs of society. This is true at every level. Training for the traditional ‘professions’ involves a mix of practical and theoretical learning – as much as preparation for more traditionally ‘hands on’ occupations. This “apprenticeship model” is recognised as an especially important approach to the preparation of young people for the world of work. Apprenticeships produce a creative mix of skills and character that equip people with ‘life skills’ that are flexible and the basis for future development. What can the Gospel contribute in this kind of world?
1. Master and Apprentice
Jesus uses and endorses the model of master and apprentice. A student will never become greater than their master (“it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher”. Matthew 1024). Rather there is a profound mutuality. Jesus gives Himself to those He calls to apprenticeships. In turn, like those first disciples or learners, we respond by giving ourselves into the great enterprise of His kingdom – in which we are given a share. The key to the Master-Apprentice relationship is not ‘what is in it for me?’ – but what am I learning to develop myself and to contribute to the enterprise. Self called into service for the sake of society.
2. Apprentice and Master
The learners/disciples called Jesus ‘Master’ but between them they were called, equipped and commissioned to offer particular leadership and ministries. Apprentices are learners discerning and responding to a call, accepting the responsibilities of a commission, and always open to future development, challenge and change. The Gospel places the exploration and ownership of vocation at the centre of each human journey, and as the key to the flourishing of society.
3. Apprentices for God
The Gospel witness is entrusted to Christ’s church. We must model and offer this commitment to ‘formation’ for ourselves and for our communities through our relationship with our ‘Master’ and Lord. Each parish is, at its most basic, a community of vocation and formation. In our Diocese the Director of Vocations and the School of Formation offer particular wisdom and resources to enable us to fulfil this kingdom responsibility most fruitfully.
Take Time to Reflect
In the ‘quiet’ month of August, when meetings are less and many church activities pause, it would be good if each of us took time to prayerfully examine our own apprenticeship – our vocation and our formation. Then, we need to play that part in the calling and forming of our churches, and in the further development of our own skills and character. A small step keeps the journey alive.
A model for today
July provides an interesting moment to consider the place of Grandparents. On 26 th July we are invited to observe what, for many, will be a very obscure feast: Anne and Joachim: Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The ‘Grandparents’ of Jesus.
We are especially conscious in our own times of the significance of grandparents. Providing support for family, and amazing energy into community life and the neighbourliness that keeps people connected in an age of increasing isolation and loneliness. Many of our churches benefit enormously from grandparental energy and commitment.
Gospel in Action
In grandparenting we see inspiring modelling of the value of family, the offering of time and skills beyond more immediate and self-centering concerns, and a huge generosity in sharing resources and offering sacrificial service.
Grandparents can be seen as a great advert for so many of the virtues that the Gospel endorses for the proper flourishing of human life. More, grandparents would be the first to acknowledge how much they receive from family, friends, social engagement.
God has no Grand Parents
And yet – there is a strange fact in the Divine Economy. God has no Grandparents! In Jesus we see God in our midst, Son of the Father. But no theology of a ‘Grand’ Father.
What might we learn from this mystery? First, the energy, commitment and contribution, not to say wisdom, of grandparents may seem to begin from an intergenerational set of relationships – but, in fact, it becomes something broader, richer, flowing beyond these merely human arrangements, to be part of an outpouring of a Spirit enabling greater wholeness. In theological terms, a ‘Holy’ Spirit. The significant factor is not one of generational sequences, but of gracious reaching out to enable a greater fullness of life, hope, faith, love. Origins and creation taken up into something new, ever broader and richer.
From human to Divine
Perhaps God has no grandparents because the point and the power of Life cannot be contained simply in human relationships or structures. Rather these necessary ‘arrangements’ are simply the vehicles God gives for His grace to be nourished, shared and tasted.
Grandparents often say that the great advantage they feel is the freedom to ‘go home’ and take a break from so much that they take on themselves. Home is the place for re-creation, reflection and reshaping our offerings into the world around us. Church provides this ‘Home’ in a special way.
The potential for alliance and connection between our contemporary phenomenon of grandparenting and the work and witness of the Church has never been greater. A key element for mission in our time. Perhaps the fact that God has no grandparents can provide an affirmation of grandparenting as service, a wider perspective of the Holy Spirit made manifest for the flourishing of all, and an agenda for each of us seeking to be Christ’s Church afresh in this generation – through the discipline of re- creation, reflection and being recharged.
Lincoln press release Click here
Archdeacon Christine said: “ I am excited and deeply honoured to be invited to be the next Dean of Lincoln and at the same time saddened to be leaving a diocese where I have received such warm hospitality. I have enjoyed so many opportunities to grow and develop and serve the people of Derbyshire as archdeacon of Chesterfield.
Being a Christian is about following Jesus and answering his call upon our lives.
Sometimes that call comes unexpectedly, as it did when I first responded to an invitation from Bishop Alastair to explore the role of archdeacon in the diocese of Derby back in 2010. Having lived in Sussex most of my life it was a step of faith to travel north into an unknown county.
In responding to that sense of call and vocation, the last six years have been filled with moments of extraordinary grace and generous support and encouragement. I have loved being one of your archdeacons.
It has been a privilege to work with some outstanding colleagues, to support parishes in their work of mission and ministry to their communities and be alongside so many dedicated and hardworking clergy and churchwardens.
Now the Church is once again calling me on to a new ministry.
I have so often found God to be a God of surprises and the journey of faith to be an exciting adventure. As I prepare to leave, I go with gratitude for the impact that your lives have had upon my own faith and pray that the Christian community I leave behind will journey on, responding to God’s call, continuing to share the love of God with the people of Derbyshire.”
We all recognise the tensions between our crowded, contentious mass society of competing views and values, and the Christian ideal of God’s children as a harmonious or ‘whole’ (holy) community. Such tensions run rife within and between our churches, as well as providing a key context for contemporary mission.
Running at Different Speeds
Part of the challenge is to recognise that God creates a bewildering variety of opportunities and possibilities. The Easter story reports the story of John and Peter running to the tomb – towards meeting the mystery of Resurrection. They ran at different speeds. John, the poet and person of imagination, the ‘mystical’ gospel writer, arrives first. He does not enter the tomb but he sees and believes - an intuitive faith. Peter, practical leader and organiser, comes afterwards but goes straight into the empty space – to check, question, seek more reassurance. Peter, the rock, displays the characteristics of the person concerned with structures, responses, solidity - less intuitive, more experiential. These two forces have been in tension within the church ever since. The art of being church in a way that creates community is to be able to live with discipleship running at different speeds and being gifted with different insights.
A Common Foundation
But there is a common foundation. This month we recall Matthias, chosen to take the place of Judas as one of the twelve apostles. His story reminds us that some discipleship, as with Judas, can run at a speed which is disloyal and destructive: too caught up with its own agenda. But the story of Matthias has another message. Two candidates were proposed, Joseph (or Justus) and Matthias. Doubtless they brought different possibilities. The choice was made by ‘lot’, not by detailed criteria. However, one qualification was essential – to have accompanied Jesus on His journey from baptism to Ascension, and thus to be a witness to the Resurrection.
From Baptism to Ascension
In our complex and challenging times, each of us is called to run more closely towards the reality of Resurrection. We will journey at different speeds, and bring different gifts and insights. Too often such a collection of Christians can look (and feel!) like a disorderly crowd. We need to make a witness to that deeper truth that unites crowds into community. The truth that each of us is called to be joined together in accompanying Jesus from baptism to Ascension – the journey of the Christian year – and to be a witness to the Resurrection. Even if our differences seem to be as profound as those between Peter and John.
The Month of May
May is the month of Matthias. The call to be on the team of committed disciples. It is the month of the Ascension – joining us in worshipping the Risen Lord and beginning the next cycle of accompanying Him on the earthly journey. Finally, May is the month of Pentecost when the Spirit who called and blessed Matthias was poured out on a vast range of people and perspectives, baptising them all with grace. So none of us have an excuse!
Be prepared to be called and to be challenged.
Easter Day: The church celebrates
Across the country and across the diocese Easter Day sees churches decorated, churchyards tidied, bells rung, flags flying from church towers, and people worshipping in significant numbers. Whatever their style of worship, at the heart of the Easter celebration is the rediscovery, in sacrament and prayer, that Christ is truly risen. Hope is renewed in many, many hearts.
The risen Christ: beyond the church
But I want to go on and suggest that the risen Christ is not only to be found in the church. Indeed the Easter stories that we read and hear in church tell of a Christ who was risen outside and beyond the gathered groups of disciples. They found him, and were surprised to find him, out in the world, on the road, and only then did they find him in their gathered worship (Luke 24: 13-35).
Christ is risen: in financial inclusion
I have become a director of a credit union, the Derbyshire Community Bank. One of the largest credit unions operating in our county, it is now moving into the City of Derby. Credit unions are about offering loans to people, often on the edge of financial well-being, who otherwise might fall into the hands of loan sharks. They offer loans on very reasonable terms. They can also help people to learn the discipline of regular saving. They also need investors of course, and it’s hugely encouraging to know that several PCCs in the diocese are looking to invest in the Derbyshire Community Bank. In the work on the bank’s board of directors I have come to sense the presence of the risen Christ – giving us energy and wisdom for the task. And in the work of trying to include people into the circle of financial well-being, I have sensed the Kingdom of the risen Christ, his work going forward. Hope, for those on the edge financially, is being offered.
Christ is risen: in school
In preparing our plans for a new Cathedral School in Derby, diocesan representatives and I went on site visits to see what excellent schools look and feel like. A school in Derby took my breath away. Educational attainment across the city is not uniformly high, but this was a school which has lifted standards and achievement markedly, has a brilliant atmosphere, and has a framework of care and attention to the individual child which hugely impressed me. I saw the Head Teacher speak to a young pupil who initially looked a bit lost and sheepish. The Head knew his name, knew about him, and knew just how to lift his spirit. The youngster seemed to grow by inches in front of our very eyes. Standards rising, an atmosphere of encouragement and esteem, a school running well and happily. Again I sensed Christ’s incognito presence as pupils and staff worked hopefully together, in an unglamorous spot, to draw the very best out of the possibilities that God provides.
At Easter, always and every where
On Easter Day we hear of Christ risen – and the stories we hear tell us to walk out into the world and find that it is so. So we rejoice, and we join in the work he has begun.
The Very Revd Dr John Davies
Dean of Derby
A distinctive feature of the way we celebrate Christmas is the giving of gifts. As society has become more materialistic, and driven by an increasing desire for ‘growth’ (economic, social, personal) – our gifts have multiplied in number and expanded in range. The challenge of finding the right thing for a particular person.
Of course we want to please the recipients of our giving, and to spend our money well (good investment!). These criteria are important to givers and receivers. An expression of the greater perfection we try to act out at Christmas. Along with the provision of favourite foods and special treats.
From Presents to Presence
But what is really happening in the giving and receiving of gifts? An acknowledgement of a valued relationship. An expression of love and affection. An ownership of obligation or duty. In each or any of these transactions, the core is the giver making themselves present in the life of the receiver – as an act of grace (freely offered) and as a sign of connection not taken for granted, but enhanced by being expressed generously. Presents make present the giver into the life of the receiver – for good, with grace.
Presence as Present to Us
And this is the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ. A gift to Mary and Joseph in the stable. A gift of a chorus of glad tidings and peacefulness to shepherds in their ordinary lives. A gift of authority, welfare and organised worship to Wise Men from the high civilisation of the East.
A gift to each of us if we will acknowledge the presence of God in the presentation to us of this life. A gift bringing real goodness and grace into ordinary lives, into the structures and rituals we need to hold us together and help us to make sense of our deep instinct to find peace on earth, goodwill among people, and a sign of that Glory which gathers all these fundamental human conditions into the hope of heaven.
Hark – Herald Angels Sing
I am sure that each of us will choose the presents we give with great care. To show our love and affection to family and friends, and to make ourselves present to them in goodness and grace.
May we take time to allow our Father, to give His gift to us – a Son, a person who can be present in our lives - a Saviour bringing and enabling goodness, grace and glory.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing,
Glory to our new born King.
Ministry for Mission
I have recently been re-reading the Venerable Bede – monk and church historian in the eighth century. His Latin text was part of my syllabus as a student! I have been reminded of some important principles about ministry to deliver God’s mission in our time.
Principles for Today
In July the General Synod discussed the Reform and Renewal Programme being pursued by the Church of England in order to mobilise our resources to be most effective for God’s mission in the twenty-first century. There is the challenge of maintaining our inheritance of a parochial system that embraces every community in the country. Further, there is a challenge to find new and appropriate ways of being ‘church’ in our times. Both challenges depend upon the leadership and witness our church can offer.
Key proposals include:
Doubling the number of candidates for ordination.
Discipleship being our key priority – equipping the people of God.
Creating a learning community to shape and support the leadership of the Church.
Bede and His Wisdom
In the eighth century, as the parish system was developing, there seemed to be a huge gap between the resources of the church for mission, and the needs of disparate communities not easy to reach (then because of poor roads; today because of cultural confusions about Christianity).
Bede wrote to the Archbishop of York making some suggestions:
More priests to preach in the villages, celebrate the holy mysteries and baptise – we would call this traditional church today.
The need to employ ‘adequate leaders of salutary life’, who could ‘teach the truth of the faith, and the difference between good and evil’. We would call this discipleship – focused on the two great issues that perplex our time: truth, and an understanding of good and evil.
Ministry for Mission
How should these resources be best deployed? Bede believed in the importance of minsters – we might use the term Resource Churches. Centres where priests and lay ministers were gathered for prayer, support and strategic deployment. We would call such arrangements ‘learning communities’. Locally in the Diocese we are using the term ‘School of Formation’.
Bede was content for each minster to ‘develop its own system of regulation’. Resources need to be marshalled appropriately. We see this as the potential role of the new Deaneries.
He concludes his advice with the observation that Bishops should ‘ordain priests, and institute leaders’. I am up for that – how many of you are ready to offer yourselves for such service?!
The Shop Stop
Department stores were developed in the 1870s. Until that time people went to the shop or the market to buy what they thought they needed to sustain and enjoy life. Of course people would browse, and see, and buy, new things. But ‘shopping’ was generally targeted to wants and needs.
Church and Common Life
The same was true of church. People went to public worship to be taught and sustained in the Christian faith. This common experience and set of reference points provided the basis for community – common standards and values. Of course people would see and pursue relationships and practices beyond these ‘norms’, just as they would be in church and let their imaginations explore the atmosphere, the words, the stained glass and the crucifix. But the liturgies were fixed, and ‘spirituality’ was generally nourished through a fairly set approach to the needs and wants of the soul.
The Department Store
The Department Store was a sign of huge shift: from a targeted, functional approach to sustenance and survival, to something very different. Now, in one place were assembled nearly all the goods a shopper might need or want. The atmosphere shifted from being functional to one of coaxing demand – encouraging the individual to see and want more than they might have envisaged when they entered the store. With ‘eternal’ florescent light and pastorally helpful staff the focus was upon each person feeling comfortable, able to seek ‘personal’ service and satisfaction. There soon developed a money-back guarantee to reinforce this prioritisation of personal control and commitment.
A New Heaven and a New Earth
Now the big stores set the scene for the seasons, offer loyalty and credit cards, provide carefully chosen mood music. Each invites identification with a particular version of ‘heaven’ – where dreams are fulfilled and life is made worthwhile. A very particular kind of spirituality!
Church and Choice
Meanwhile – in church – we have an increasing contrast between a similar shift towards offering customer satisfaction – built around the needs and dreams of the ‘customer’, and that deeper spirituality which challenges each of us to become a slave, a servant – giving ourselves up to the agenda of others. Love god and love your neighbour as yourself – Jesus taught. This is the seed of a very different spirituality – about service rather than satisfaction, and about sacrifice rather than success. We are challenged to define our lives not by what we purchase, but through what we give away.
Shopping and Spirituality
Shopping is important for our survival. We are blessed with so much choice. It provokes a certain kind of spirituality – whose logic is individuality and competition. Witness the chaos at sale-times!
Spirituality enlivened by Jesus Christ, is even more important for our survival. It provokes another kind of life – informed by the Holy Spirit, bound together in God’s grace, and paying particular concern to those who lack the obvious trappings of a good life.
As our purses and wallets become stuffed with ever more loyalty cards, should each church provide a loyalty-to-Jesus card? If could be the first thing we see when we go shopping. It might provoke prayer for a different kind of lifestyle!
There is a well-known hymn, written by Susan Warner in 1868, with the refrain – you in your small corner, and I in mine! Each of us lives in a small space – in a locality, with family, friends, at work. In the modern world we are more and more conscious of others in their own very different small corners. We call it ‘diversity’.
From Corner to Circle
There are two things that connect the corners and put us in a single circle. One is the planet, the environment. Something we all share. On which we all depend.
The other is the mercy of our Creator God who gives each person life and breath – the seed of eternity.
The circle works through ‘harvest’. Partly our work together on earth to provide nourishment and sustenance: the harvest of fruits. But harvest also happens through our sharing together in a spirit of co-operation – the harvest of fellowship.
From Derbyshire to Delhi
Each year in our Diocese we celebrate this harvest of fruits and this harvest of fellowship.
In 2014 we expressed this connection and companionship between our small corner in Derbyshire and the life of our brothers and sisters in Delhi, in the Church of North India. I am delighted to report that your wonderful generosity raised £21,500 to enable women in the slums to establish small recycling businesses. Making the most of the harvest of the fruits of the earth. Building the capacity for a spirit of confidence and community to enrich life in these testing corners of God’s creation.
Thank you for helping us to connect the corners – and to create a spiritual circle of grace and goodness in which we can all give thanks to the Lord for His mercy, and for the new life He grows amongst His children. The fruits of our fellowship continue to grow.
Angola and Education
This year, 2015, we are working with another small corner of God’s life and love – girls and women in Angola. They are often penned into a very small corner indeed – lacking opportunities for education or work beyond the narrowly domestic. Gifts denied the opportunity to grow, flourish and contribute to the wellbeing of the wider community.
Further details will be available soon – for parishes and for schools. There will be a special launch event. We are working in partnership with Christian Aid, who have excellent local links.
The Generosity of God
Please try to be generous. Give thanks to God for the blessings of life in your small corner. Let us see if we can make our contribution to the harvest of fruits and fellowship that our Lord longs to raise up in Angola, and in Derbyshire, and in our life within the comforting circle of His grace.
Earlier this year the House of Bishops published a letter to the people of the parishes of the Church of England for the General Election 2015 entitled: “Who is my Neighbour?”
In seeking the common good the bishops have commended to us policies which respect the natural environment, enhance human dignity and honour the image of God in our neighbour. Our own statement about our vision for the diocese speaks of acting in the service of the common good within the communities of Derbyshire and through our engagement with the wider world. Bishop Alastair in his recent publication The Word on the Street invites us to consider the missionary challenge and opportunity of taking full ownership of our democratic responsibility. When our faith and political participation work together to respond to the needs and concerns of our society we offer a vision of a world made new, a new order transformed by the indwelling spirit of Jesus Christ.
As we approach the General Election and consider all the political manifestos being offered, we might ask ourselves the critical question: What does it mean to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God and how does that impact on the way we vote and the choices we make in support of our neighbour and mutual flourishing?
As well as an individual response there is an on- going need for collective action. Our participation in political dialogue needs to continue post-election. Sunday by Sunday as we exchange The Peace with one another we affirm our identity as the Body of Christ and the priest invites us to “pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life”. It is through working together as the Body of Christ, with a commitment to collective action, that we seek after justice, serve our neighbour and act as advocates for the poor and the marginalised. Being sent out “to live and work to God’s praise and glory”, will include activity and a voice in the public space.
This month we will elect a new government. Once the democratic decision is made it will be important for us to continue to engage in mission as we enact the common good through service to our neighbour. We are an incarnational community about the business of making Christ known in the world through lives that seek to bring blessing,
reconciliation, justice and peace to all.
It will also be important to uphold our newly elected leadership in prayer.
We said goodbye to my last parish eight years ago on Easter Day. Having been very happy there, it felt odd to have the sadness of farewell in the context of Resurrection celebration: “Alleluia. Christ is Risen!” in floods of tears!
This time our farewells are to be made on the eve of Lent, maybe a better liturgical fit. Lent is kept in imitation of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness after his baptism. In that time he reflected on his calling, on what God was asking of him. He broke new ground, away from the comfortable and familiar, and wrestled (in those strange, dream-like stories of temptation) with who he was and how he was to be faithful. Oxfordshire and Ripon College Cuddesdon is hardly the wilderness (!) but the sense of stepping out into the unknown to discover what blessings and challenges God has for the future is strong for me just now.
And, I hope, for all of us. Famously the Hebrews were reminded them that “here we have no abiding city” (Hebrews 13. 14) and the metaphor of journey is powerful for Christian discipleship. Specifically journey through the wilderness: Moses led a rabble of runaway slaves through the Red Sea out into the desert. There, through long ramblings and hard experiences, they were forged into God’s people and prepared for the Promised Land beyond the Jordan. That is the pattern for the Christian life between the waters of the baptism (the Red Sea) and death (the Jordan). Lent is an annual rehearsal in miniature of this pattern.
Bishop Alastair writes....
November is a month for remembering the terrible challenge of war – or what we now call ‘military action’.
There are, understandably, many views about the rights and wrongs of war, the priorities for peace, and the best means of combatting evil and promoting goodness. These are important debates, and Christians have much to contribute.
But – beneath debate about options and actions, the reality of war contains a humbling stream of sacrifice for the sake of others. And in this November season of remembering with thanks all who have given or risked their lives for their neighbours, we are publishing a book in the Diocese – ‘Sacrifice Remembered’.
It brings together an amazing and moving collection of memories and reflections from the people of the county – including some of our current primary school children.