Bishop Rob's Message
The 12th message to all in the Parish from Bishop Rob Gillion, who has been licensed as an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Lincoln and is half time Interim Priest in Charge of our parish of St John's.
"Thoughts for a Clergy Conference"
The last few months have been very difficult for all of us. The messages and information about how we behave in the light of Covid-19, especially in relation to others, been coming to us thick and fast and has sometimes difficult to assimilate.
The Lincoln Diocese Clergy Gathering, which is an annual get together, has had to be conducted by zoom. The theme ‘Sing a new Song’ invited clergy to consider doing and being Church differently.
I was invited to lead a couple of retreat addresses on zoom. I thought you might like an extract from my first address this month and one from the second next month.
I have been challenged, as we all have, to provide an appropriate model of church ministry during this period of lockdown. With the help of a very imaginative team from St Johns parish we have offered worship through the church website from our lounge, garden and on our front doorstep and at Pentecost in Church on my own, and that was somewhat uncomfortable as I faced a Church of empty chairs!
We’ve rung around the congregation, and others in the parish who we know are living alone or in need. We’ve discovered zoom and teams found ways to use the Church website and Facebook more effectively. I hear of prayer meetings on line, choirs singing together by zoom and other imaginative ways of being a faith community on line.
Others who have congregations with limited access to internet are perhaps visiting on a two metre distanced doorstep and some are feeling inadequate because they don’t have access to all the whistles and bells. We shouldn’t. In different situations there are different challenges. To some extent I would embrace the slower pace rather than the over use of new technology; it is exhausting! Perhaps this gathering is an opportunity to step back and remind ourselves of our calling to serve Christ through his Church.
I am suggesting we might immerse ourselves and those we serve in the Book of Psalms perhaps, often referred to as, ‘The Prayer Book of Jesus’. 67 out of 150 are Psalms of Lament. Some of the Psalms don’t conclude in restoration and hope but, instead, in devastation and despair. Honest songs. Psalm 88 for example which I was invited to read on a trip to the Holy Lands in the cell under Caiphas’ house where Jesus was held before his trial and crucifixion.
In our liturgy we do tend to put brackets around those parts of the a psalms we find uncomfortable. Bonhoeffer admitted the Psalms are ‘read only occasionally, for these prayers are too overwhelming in design and power and tend to turn us back to more palatable fare.’
A diet of unrelenting triumphalist hymns and choruses become a disastrous scenario in the world in which we need to acknowledge fragility suffering and brokenness.
I believe however that there is a strong relationship between songs of lament and songs of praise. We need both enabling in us, through the Holy Spirit, freedom to express all that we are feeling, both the pain and the joy. This enables a renewal of trust, authenticity and honesty.
Lament is certainly the first words of the Psalter, but Praise is the last. Notice that, whatever the Psalm, we always end with a doxology in praise of God, although not of course during a penitential season.
This movement from plea to praise is essential, the reality of the pitiful plight of the world on the one hand and the reality of God’s game changing grace on the other. Lament is praising in the dark.
The Christian Church must then lament but not stay there but, instead, look forward in hopefulness. The spine of lament is hope, not the vacuous optimism that things will get better, but a deep conviction that God has not severed the umbilical cord that, as always, binds us to the Lord. A three stranded cord of faith, hope and love!
I conclude with a poem by Leslie Dwight. For many 2020 should be a year to forget but for him he suggests 2020 may lead to singing new songs of:-
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary so raw –
That it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us
From our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change
Declare change, Work for change. Become the change
A year we finally band together, instead of
Pushing each other apart
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather
The most important year of them all.
May God bless you and keep you may his face shine on you and give you joy peace and love in Jesus name. Amen.
As I shared with you previously I will be finishing my ministry with you in August so you may be thinking of singing a Song of Lament or even perhaps a Song of Thanksgiving! Whichever song we sing it needs always to end in a note of hopefulness.
I do hope that next month will bring us together face to face (still with social distancing). There is nothing like a live encounter with family and friends.
With every blessing
Yours in Christ
Click below to read earlier messages from Bishop Rob
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