February 26, 2022
In my last ad clerum, I expressed my intention to use today’s presidential address to reflect a little on our upcoming Holy Sabbath period during this coming season of Lent. So if you read the letter (and I don’t assume you all did), this address will not surprise you.
But before we get to that, it would be remiss of me not to refer to the events unfolding in Ukraine and the great act of evil we are witnessing on our television screens and on social media. We are already seeing heartbreaking stories that remind us once again of the destructive nature of war: on communities, families and nations. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York yesterday called for an international conference to secure long-term agreements for stability and lasting peace. They also called on Christians to make Sunday a special day of prayer. I hope that all churches and communities of worship in our diocese will join them in praying for peace, for those who are making important decisions at this time and especially for all those who are already suffering from fear, grief and grief.
And so, as we turn our attention now to our own concerns and the life of this diocese, I hope we will retain a sense of perspective on the challenges we face and remember that our greatest calling is always to be those who live in peace and harmony, through our common life in Jesus Christ.
From my first days in the diocese, from the first encounters I had, I felt the high levels of exhaustion and anxiety that prevailed. I don’t want to repeat the reasons for this – they are complex and multifaceted and we all know them well enough. But I want, as I did before, to name the reality that is our current context. Under pressure, the extremes of human nature often reveal themselves and I think we have seen this demonstrated in our Diocese. There have been extraordinary acts of kindness and generosity shown by individuals and church communities, where the love of Christ has been lived out, bringing light to the darkness that many have experienced. And I thank each and every one of you for your part in it.
But there have also been examples of what I can only call poor behavior – people under pressure showing a lack of gentleness and patience, a lack of compassion and a lack of the kind of indulgent and generous spirit to which we are called. Much of this is understandable, given the circumstances, but if we name reality, then that too must be named; and if we want to approach it, then we have to be intentional about it. If we can’t be kind to each other, then we can’t fulfill our mission in the world.
In these months since I became your bishop, I, along with others, have begun to address some of the challenges we face. Very early on, I quickly realized that the luxury of waiting was not an option. But I also felt that as a diocese we would benefit from finding a way to pause and breathe deeply; to take stock and tap into the gifts of the Holy Spirit as we turn our faces to what lies ahead. This, in a nutshell, is the Holy Sabbatical. A metaphorical pause, giving us the opportunity to breathe deeply, rest and recalibrate as we strive to hear the voice of God calling us into a new future.
The Holy Sabbatical is, and I say this emphatically, not an initiative. I know that many are tired of initiatives coming from the so-called center and I have consciously sought to reduce or even avoid them. Rather, the Holy Sabbatical is an invitation for each of us individually, but also together in our different groups and communities, to enter into a different rhythm and a different way of being. It may be about deepening our personal discipleship, but it is also and above all about our collective life and how we might – as a diocese – hear what God is telling us. So, it’s an invitation, and if you choose to respond to it, it will offer you a balm; but it will also be a challenge because truly listening to God means we must build spiritual practices and daily prayer habits. There is no shortcut; it will not happen automatically but will require discipline and commitment.
It will not be an easy journey and I certainly do not advocate a lazy approach to Lent. This time is not about doing nothing but about choosing to do the most important thing of all, which is giving time to God. Some business will have to go on as usual, but you are invited to set your priorities carefully, to reduce the turmoil as much as possible, and to present yourself before God with no other objective than to be in his presence. And of course, the more of us who choose to participate (individually and collectively), the greater the impact is likely to be; because I have no doubt that there will be an impact. But, and this is the paradox, we do not commit ourselves for the results but simply because it is good to present ourselves before God and to live there. So we are taking a step in faith (expecting to be transformed) but we are also making a statement of purpose, which is to be open, to listen, and to seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Members of the Bishop’s leadership team and I will be reading a book together called The mystical way of evangelization and we will spend time with each other each week during Lent – some business, yes, but also time for shared silence, prayer and reflection and we will move to the different episcopal areas as we do so.
And as more of you find ways to engage, I mean we also need to honor that there are different ways to experience God and that different church traditions and spiritualities should feel free to explore different approaches. There is no right or wrong. I have also asked the cathedral to lead the sharing of resources and they will provide opportunities for those who wish to come together and experience different forms of prayer – so keep an eye on their website. Tom Geldard, our Director of Communications, will also be ensuring that resources, stories and prayers are shared on The View and on social media and my chaplain, Rosie Woodall, has written a Collect which we will share and which I encourage you to be widely used. and frequently.
We will therefore have plenty of words to help us through this period. But beyond that, and far more importantly, I hope that during these 40 days we will enter together into a period of sustained stillness and silence, of resting in the Lord and awaiting the Holy Spirit. John of the Cross spoke of silence as God’s first language – a language which many of us find difficult but which we are invited to learn more. And since ancient times, the emphasis has been on Lent as a time of reflection and healing; a time when study and learning give way to prayer and contemplation. I’m not sure where this will take us, but I have a deep belief that it will be time well spent and that we will emerge better prepared for whatever the future will demand of us.
We will enter the Holy Sabbatical with a gathering for clergy and lay ministers on Shrove Tuesday, here at the Cathedral – I am not a fan of three line whips but I want to strongly encourage our clergy and lay ministers to be there so that we can demonstrate our intent by supporting each other. I have said it since my beginnings, and I repeat it again, the tasks which await us in this diocese are not mine alone. I cannot do them myself, I must do them with clergy and lay ministers by my side – colleagues, friends, disciples together. If you are a clergy or LLM who has not yet registered, please do so today.
And on that note, let me say a quick word about wellness. I am aware that there has been a delay in presenting the Alliance for Clergy Care and Welfare to this Synod. I expressed my intention for this to happen from the start and can only apologize that it was not possible to do so. Events have conspired and meant that important and pressing matters have required the attention of those who will lead in this field. Rightly or wrongly, I made the decision that it was best to wait until we meet in November, rather than approach the issues halfway. It should also be remembered that the Compact will not be the answer to all of our well-being challenges. It will give us tools and allow us to talk about this important area of our lives, something I hope we have already started to do, but it is unlikely to be the panacea that some are hoping for; and Covenant or no Covenant, I hope we all continue to reflect on how to care for ourselves and others in a way that expresses our collective life in Jesus Christ.
So, my friends, thank you for being here today and thank you, as always, for your contribution to the life of our diocese. A reminder that later this afternoon we will officially welcome +Lynne as +Barking and, along with others, I look forward to the start of her public ministry, which begins on the 21stst March. Please join me in praying for her and the Barking Zone during this time of transition.
February 26, 2022
The Sabbatical of Lent
In the video below, Bishop Guli talks about the upcoming Lenten sabbatical during his presidential address