Humility and Hope for 2017
Bishop Lee reflects on why taking the risk of mending a broken relationship can be a sign of hope for the future.
A few weeks ago Archbishop Justin invited the 70 or so bishops in what we call the Southern Province to gather together at Canterbury Cathedral for 24 hours of prayer.
Now you may think that is what bishops do regularly but it is quite unusual. Given the time it takes to travel, the relatively short notice, and the rearranging of diaries, this invitation did not meet with universal appeal despite the fact that bishops could hardly object to making more time for praying together!
It took me back to my time in training for ordained ministry when the scheduled (and I should add compulsory) Quiet day or Weekend of Prayer cut right through the plans I had for getting the next essay completed. Yet it also brought back memories of how significant those unsought opportunities had been for encounters with God – and indeed with myself; for my understanding, attitudes and actions.
In Canterbury, after reflecting on a Bible story, one of the exercises we were given an opportunity to take up was writing a letter to a person with whom we needed to rebuild a relationship. Someone we had hurt, or perhaps someone who had hurt us; a person we recognised that we needed to be reconciled with.
It brought back memories of how significant those unsought opportunities had been for encounters with God.
In preparing this New Year message I had intended to major on the bigger picture we face as a country and the divisions which have become evident following the vote to remain or to leave the EU. There is now a widespread sense in the UK that our relationships with each other have become fractured in so many ways, and not simply as a result of the EU Referendum: Scotland from England, the North from the South, working men and women from those who run businesses, those who feel forgotten as others pursue their dreams. As a country we are entering 2017 feeling uncertain and apprehensive with far more unknowns than knowns.
What we do know is that such divisions will only grow unless we attend to them, make time to connect or reconnect, to understand why people think, feel, and act the way they do. Unless we are doing this in what are or should be our closest relationships, namely among our family, friends and work colleagues, there seems little hope of doing this on a wider scale. Time and again, as a Vicar and now a Bishop, I have come across family relations and friendships which were once prized so highly but have been torn by a thoughtless action or by making false assumptions. Yet I have also seen how taking courage to make the first move, to make the initial step to rebuild understanding and trust, can heal divisions which seemed irreparable.
At the start of this New Year you may feel you can do little to influence the course of national events. But every one of us can be part of changing a climate which is fed by division and irreconcilable difference. Taking the risk of trying to restore a significant relationship, one which may have been broken recently or many years in the past, will not only make a difference to you and to the other person, it creates a ripple or even a wave which spreads out and affects others. Writing a letter, making a telephone call, or even asking someone else to begin to build that bridge or relationship, requires courage. It also requires humility - reaching out with an open hand and not seeking to justify yourself or apportion blame. Embracing humility is not easy but, in Christian understanding, it is invariably a sign of hope for the future.
May I wish you a very happy, courageous and hope-full New Year.
This message was originally broadcast on BBC Radio Wiltshire.