Letter to parishioners, 4 June 2021

Friday, 4 June 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

Our Gospel reading for this week contains these words: He has gone out of his mind. These are words said of Jesus, and they refer to a moment when he and his apostles were so overwhelmed with the demands of the crowds that they: could not even eat. This apparently insignificant detail should be leading us all to ponder what lies ahead in the days to come, just as we should be reflecting upon other words in this week’s Gospel: if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

On 8 May the Diocesan Synod adopted the Bishops’ rescue and development plan for the Diocese of Lincoln. That plan has become known by its working title: Resourcing Sustainable Church, but stopping there fails to do justice to the great deal of work that has gone into preparing this rescue package for the Church in our Diocese. The full title is: Resourcing Sustainable Church: A Time to Change – Together. As you will see the full title is not just about money and clergy numbers, nor is it about protecting that which is ours, it is about a truly active partnership between all who value the Church and all who wish to see it flourish in the future.

This week’s reading from Mark’s gospel opens with Jesus demonstrating total commitment to serving those who have gathered around him, even to the point of seeming out of his mind. That commitment to loving and serving others took precedence over everything else, including the eating of regular meals. Jesus never hesitated to spread the Good News through word and deed. Sadly, we are not always so generous. We pride ourselves on our ability to prioritise the demands made on our time and resources. We rank those demands in an order of significance that suits us, usually without any consideration for others. It is years, even decades, of such prioritisation that has forced the Church into seeking a new way forward. The coincidence of the pandemic is irrelevant to the Bishops’ plan; Resourcing Sustainable Church: A Time to Change – Together was already being discussed and formulated before 23 March 2020! It was already being formulated because without a determined new approach the Church in our Diocese would descend into an uncontrollable downward spiral, a downward spiral constructed around the low priority it has been afforded by PCCs and individuals over many years.

In recent days, as news of the Diocesan plan has emerged, I have witnessed people focusing on small parts of a plan that extends to over seventy pages. It almost goes without saying that where people have drawn up their battle lines has been around those words that they, as individuals, find challenging and offensive, around those words that mean we must change. Sadly, that is both unfair and ultimately self-destructive. As Jesus teaches us this week: if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

As has been said many times in recent months, and not just in the context of our Diocesan plan, the coming days are going to see much change. For that change to be a constructive experience there is going to have to be cooperation and genuine ‘working together’. Without that mutuality the future will be very bleak indeed. The time has come to knock down walls and not to build them even higher as we protect what is ours to the detriment of others.  Let us learn the lessons of the self-serving and self-destructive lists of preferences and priorities that have brought us to where we are now and let us work together in prayer and Christian love to not just keep the Church alive, but see it flourish and grow in the times to come.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen