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Ad Clerum

6 January 2021

Dear friends and colleagues,

We write on this Feast of the Epiphany, and at the beginning of a New Year.

We hope that you have found some opportunity for rest over the holiday period, though we know that for most of us any relaxation will have been set within the effort that is necessary to live and to minister during these Covid-shadowed times.

As 2021 begins, we want to reach out to you, our partners in ministry, service, discipleship and evangelism. We do this as, together, we seek to respond to the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of a third period of lockdown for England.

We have celebrated the feast of the Incarnation, reading together the story of God’s love for the world as manifested in his Son, Jesus Christ: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people’. (John 1.1-4).

We may have read the Prologue to St John’s Gospel in a church building filled with yellow tape, the smell of hand-sanitiser and far fewer of God’s people than would normally be gathered on Christmas morning. We may have read the story of God’s creating journey of light in our own home, unable to join others in worship, except in heart, mind and perhaps over the internet or radio. We may have read John’s words in a hospital ward, or in our memory while stacking supermarket shelves, or as we struggled through whatever restrictions applied to greet our family and neighbours. In whatever circumstances we heard the words, we pray that we were all able to find hope in the Word made flesh and in the fact that: ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1.5). On this Feast of the Epiphany we now remember that the light of Christ is a light for the whole world.

This is going to be a tough year. Even with vaccines, it is likely to be months before the pandemic begins to pass, and it will certainly be many months before we have fully come to terms with its consequences, spiritual, personal, societal, financial. There will be work to be done with the bereaved, with the depressed and anxious, with those who have lost their businesses and livelihoods. We ourselves may be in these categories. We will have to find the energy to continue to care creatively, to persist in prayer, to offer worship online and in person. We have much to rebuild, and we will have to face the reality that in order to rebuild we will probably also have to allow some things to lie fallow, or even to die. We will have to look hard at our expectations, our behaviour, our relationships. To whom should we now reach out? From whom do we need to seek forgiveness? What are the bridges that should be built, the mutuality discovered, the differences named in courageous love? The beginning of a new period of lockdown, while returning us to a pattern to which we have become partly accustomed during 2020, doesn’t remove from us the challenge to rebuild, nor the expectations that our fellow worshippers and community members rightly have of us if we have been elected to office or hold a publicly recognised or licensed ministry.

These are big things to grapple with at the best of times, but we are doing so now knowing that many of our resources have been sorely depleted by the pandemic. In Lincolnshire there is also the cumulative impact of often hidden poverty, rural and urban, of stretched public services, of ageing communities and congregations, and of sharp divisions between those who ‘have’ or who are perceived to ‘have’, and those who ‘have not’ or who are perceived to ‘have not’. This is a diocese whose people bear scars, of different sorts, as it is also a diocese whose people know what it is to love God and to love their neighbour as themselves.

And it is into this land, as into all lands, that the news of ‘God with us’ comes at Christmas and throughout the seasons of the incarnation.

And this is why we are writing to you now, as the year begins, and as we digest the implications of a lockdown that may last many months, to invite us, if at all possible, to recognise that the way through this difficult time is to be found by working together. The wise men brought their gifts to Jesus and presented them to him, as the shepherds had done before, therefore finding a shared purpose that would transform their lives and expectations.

As Christmas turns to Epiphany and then to Lent and to Eastertide, we become drawn into the story of God’s love for the world. These seasons give us opportunity to worship, to study, to talk, to listen, and to decide: even if in 2021, as in 2020, we will be doing so under restrictions and in ways that will require us to gather, communicate and collaborate differently. We have already demonstrated that we can do this, and we are confident that we will continue to respond lovingly and sacrificially, however tired we each may individually be, buoyed by our shared confidence in God. We will be creative about what we do and about how we do these things, and especially about how we are able to do them as one body, despite the restrictions on movement and gathering. We already have multiple layers and means of belonging, each of them able to offer different things, and we will draw on these layers as we strengthen our togetherness as parishes and benefices, and as a diocese, for it is only as we act collectively that we will find our way through.

Our world, our church, our diocese, are faced by questions: What is the value of human life? How do we understand the pandemic? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus today? To what is God calling us, through his Spirit? How do we plant and nurture seeds that will lead to future growth in confidence, in character, in numbers? How do we best deploy the resources that we have? How do we best gather and steward the gifts that we have been given? How do we relate properly to each other as people of different ethnicities, cultures, histories, classes, economic and educational opportunities, who share the same space? What should the Church of England’s position be on marriage, gender, human sexuality and relationships? What should our response be to climate change? - These are some of the questions that face us, as human beings, as Christians, and in our ministerial roles.

We will be exploring and answering these questions as we prepare for our Diocesan Synod in April, and as we set budgets and programmes for the future of the Diocese of Lincoln. We will be exploring and answering them as part of the national Church during 2021 and 2022, and in which the voice and opinions of the people of Greater Lincolnshire matter, just as much as those of any other part of the country. It isn’t easy to be faced by questions, and certainly not by so many questions at the same time, and it is only natural if on occasion we wish to look away, or feel overwhelmed, but we believe that it is in facing these questions that we will find hope, whereas to look away only defers reality.

It is our profound belief that there is benefit in doing our exploring and answering, planning and implementing, together - as one - united in our Christian identity, respectful of and able to rejoice in our differences - all part of the same Body of Christ - all participants in the awesome, mysterious, joyful life of the Holy Trinity.

May this be a year in which the strength and quality and courage and compassion of the people of the Diocese of Lincoln is a beacon not only to the region but also to the nation!

It is a profound privilege to serve you as bishops. We do this mindful of our own anxieties and weaknesses, as also of our strengths and our responsibilities. The Word made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us, is our hope and our rock, as we pray he is yours too.

A medieval meditation on the Prologue of John eventually settled into the words of a traditional carol. They are now more usually sung by a choir than by a congregation, and even then, only in part. Nevertheless, they speak to us this January 2021. Here is the Son of God singing as he journeys to Bethlehem for his birth. His is a dance and a song that he longs us to join:

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

May we all accept the Lord’s loving invitation this year, to join him in his dance.

With every blessing for 2021,

 

The Rt Revd Dr David Court
Bishop of Grimsby
Acting Bishop of Lincoln

And

The Rt Revd Dr Nicholas Chamberlain
Bishop of Grantham