THE BISHOP OF EBBSFLEET'S LETTER
Bishop John Richards sent me this letter addressed to our constituency. All of us, I believe, would agree with what he says. It might be an idea to make it more widely available either by publishing it in your parish magazine, reading it from the pulpit or adding it to your Web Page. I intend to do the last myself
A Vision for 1997
Galatians Chapter Six Verse Two `Carry one another's burdens and this way you will fulfil the law of Christ'
One of the phrases that is in current vogue in the Church of England is `collaborative ministry' The trouble with such expressions is that they have such a secular ring to them, and there is also a strong suspicion that this is one more idea that is being imposed from above. Sadly it also has to be admitted that certain bishops and archdeacons who echo this phrase so loudly are not always the most conspicuous in practising the theme they advocate in the course of their own ministry. However, it would be a pity if such defects in presentation did not encourage us to recognise that implicit in the concept of collaborative ministry are ideas deeply rooted in the New Testament, and not least in the New Testament's advocacy of the practice of charity at the deepest level
At the level of the parish church it has always been the case that the most healthy parish is one where there is profound mutual respect between priest and people, and a sense of mutual loving support. At this juncture in the Church's history the need for such mutual sympathy and care has never been greater. It is always dangerous to talk loosely about being beleaguered or persecuted, but nevertheless it has to be recognised that the Body of Christ is now placed within a very secular society and this makes the task of Christian ministry difficult for both priest and people. At a superficial level the Church is now encountering people at all levels who are deeply sceptical in their attitude towards the Gospel, and their values and priorities make it very difficult for them to come to terms with the message and claims of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only too easy in such circumstances for a parish to become very demoralised. It is therefore incumbent onus all to encourage one another in the ways of the Gospel and in the face of indifference or hostility to hold fast to our Lord as the Way, the Truth and the Life.
In the last two or three years it has been increasingly common for traditionalist clergy to meet together for mutual support. This in my view is greatly to be encouraged, although it is equally important that traditionalist clergy and laity play a very frill part in the processes and committee life of the Church at all levels. We owe it to God that our voice should be heard. However, these gatherings of traditionalist clergy are of immense value and provide very positive opportunities. It is important that they are not occasions for mutual self pity, but seen as times for reflecting on the challenge of the Gospel and how it can be presented best. There is an enormous amount of talent in all our churches and traditionalist clergy working together should seek to galvanise this talent to the best advantage. In all the parishes represented at such gatherings there will be specialist talents, for example in youth work or amongst the elderly, and the clergy should be considering how on a collaborative basis this talent can be used best amongst the various parishes concerned. It is also important that traditionalist parishes should not in any way be isolationist. Patronal festivals for example provide a splendid opportunity for churches in any one area to provide one another with
mutual support and encouragement in worship. In my experience in various parts of the dioceses in which I serve one sees clusters of Catholic parishes growing together and rendering one another a great deal of mutual support and comfort. This is greatly to be encouraged and I would hope that it will become the norm.
There are however opportunities for collaboration on an even wider scale. On one occasion I noticed some photographs in a vestry in a Midlands parish. These photographs showed pictures of children enjoying themselves at the seaside. It emerged that a link had been formed between this parish and a seaside Catholic parish in Devon. Each year children from the Midlands parish were encouraged to have a holiday in the Devon parish. This was an outstanding example of where a UPA parish was receiving very strong support from a more affluent Catholic parish elsewhere. Surely it is possible for such links to be forged on a much wider scale. MI the parishes involved would benefit and it would be a ~eat source of mutual encouragement for parishes over a wide area to form links and at the same time be prepared to learn from each other. I would hope, therefore in 1997 that attention could be given to the possibilities of twining taking place between a whole variety of parishes in the Catholic tradition.
I remember about two months before his tragic death the late Gary Bennet observing to me that Catholic parishes had a lot to learn from Evangelical parishes in terms of warmth, generosity and concern within the fellowship of the church. I believe this to be partially true, although already I have experienced a great deal of these great qualities in many of the churches that I visit. I also detect in the words of an Oxford incumbent that the fun is returning into the life of the Catholic parishes. Pray God that this will be so. I said two years ago that the reputation we need to have is one where the Catholic parishes are seen as centres of excellence. I think we need to be clear that there is nothing mysterious about excellence in the Church of God. Excellence is to be found where the love of our Lord Jesus Christ is the dominant force in peoples' lives. This love expresses itself in compassionate concern for others, and this should be the hallmark of all our churches. I do however pray that these great virtues may be found and our churches may indeed be seen increasingly as centres of excellence.
Finally - and this is possibly the strongest challenge to all of us - we are called upon to exercise the deepest charity towards those in the Church with whom we profoundly disagree. It is indisputable, in my view, that the Church has been badly damaged in the last few years by the depth of acrimony, bitterness, and anger, that has surrounded various divisive issues, and such anger and bitterness were almost inevitable. Penitence before God at this state of affairs is surely the calling of all of us. As we enter another year however, determined though we must be resolutely to uphold and promote the faith in Christ as we believe it to have been revealed to us, we engage in this spiritual warfare with the weapons of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and not in the factious spirit of the World. The burden of Our Lord Jesus Christ in situations of strife can be exceedingly heavy, but it is only through the power of His Holy Spirit exercised through prayer and charity, that such situations can be satisfactorily resolved.
These are the visions I would wish to set before you for 1997
+ John Ebbsfleet
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