Letter to parishioners, 3 September 2021

Friday, 3 September 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

This week, and for the first time in almost two years, I went on a train journey to London. Having completed my lateral flow test and stocked up with a supply of masks I went, with some trepidation, to the station. The train, despite leaving in the ‘rush hour’, had very few passengers. When I arrived at Kings Cross Station there was an almost eerie sense of emptiness. My journey involved a journey on the London Underground, which was another strange experience. I had never seen it so deserted during daylight hours. As I journeyed around London I found myself thinking about this Sunday’s reading from the Letter of James.

On Sunday we will hear of the way in which our expectations and our prejudices influence the way in which we treat others. James will remind us of our propensity to afford those who appear affluent and respectable the ‘places of honour’ in our daily lives. He will go on to remind us that God honours the poor as much as he honours the rich, and that our focus should be firmly fixed on loving our neighbours. James reminds us that Jesus did not distinguish between rich and poor, but rather on those who lived a life of true faith, and those who did not. So, what led my thinking down this path as I stepped with considerable uncertainty on to the streets of London?

The issue that became foremost in my mind was the wearing of face coverings. As I journeyed through London I saw many signs inviting the general public to care for others as well as for themselves by continuing to wear a face covering, and to wear it properly, that is covering both mouth and nose. Since the government’s removal of the compulsion to wear masks, I have experienced several instances of aggression and rudeness in Church where people have claimed their ‘right’ not to have to wear a mask any longer. I saw more of this on my day in London. The majority of people I saw wore masks every time they entered an enclosed space, but not everyone. Those who did choose to heed the warnings placed themselves at a careful distance from those whose eyes had come to display a degree of challenge and defiance. This simple issue had changed the general atmosphere in a subtle but tangible way. There was an unspoken air of criticism and rebuke, versus an unspoken air of ‘I will do what I want’. As I journeyed home from London, having decided it could well be another two years before I repeated the experience, I pondered on what Jesus might have said and done.

It is very easy for us to judge and condemn others. As creatures capable of reasoned and logical thought, we make up our minds on a whole range of subjects on a minute-by-minute basis. Very few of us act as we do out of sheer cussedness, although there are some who do! But, as we wrestle with the changes and chances of this life, we all come to slightly different conclusions. As a referee in this societal melée we use a democratic system which we entrust with the task of making decisions on our behalf. But, surely that is not the whole story.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. We are also called to love our enemies, and to love them as much as Jesus loved us. Whichever one of these versions of Jesus’ teaching you might prefer, they all present us with the same steep hill to climb. Whether the issue revolves around coronavirus precautions or whatever, we are all called to love and to respect those alongside whom we live out our daily lives. Let us set aside our propensity for self-gratification and let us journey through this life in a spirit of generous and open-hearted love and respect for all. Let us work even harder at being Christ-like in all we say, and think, and do.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen