Lenten Letter 2018:

I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws

(Psalm 119 verse 7)

This psalm reminds us that our happiness and fulfilment comes from living good lives grounded in God. In a society which has mixed motives about discipline, it is important to remind ourselves that the Christian way is founded upon selfless behaviour that encourages us to live well in community. Part of the journey of Lent is to remind ourselves where we have failed to live well and therefore diminished our own humanity and constrained others in their journey of faith. St Benedict, in creating a model of Christian community, encouraged his followers by saying:

And so we  are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord 

(Prologue to the Benedictine Rule)

You will note that he did not say a school for personal edification but for the service of the Lord. So what is this service of the Lord? It is to love God and to love our neighbour as ourself. In this respect, the centre of our education is to live in the love of God and to share the knowledge of his salvation. The Lenten journey reminds us of our own personal schooling as we follow our heavenly Father who expressed his love by sending his Son to live amongst us, to die upon the cross and bring us to eternal life. Our schooling, or education, therefore requires an acknowledgment that love always carries a cost. The greatest cost is the giving of ourselves that we may receive His love. The fruit of that love will be to model the Father’s love and build up the values of Christian community as a sign of the Kingdom of God. The Christian way, therefore, can be seen as counter-cultural because it requires people to give more than to grasp. It requires people to place God at the centre of their lives rather than their ego. It requires us always to see Christ in the other person whom we are called to serve. I hope that you will be able to use Lent as a time to educate yourself (with others) in developing your understanding of sacrificial love. In a Christian context, this is known as formation, where we conform our character to the will of Christ. This requires both prayer and study. The Gospels provide us with a challenging overview of how we may live but also there many parts of the Epistles which give us practical guidelines on how to live the Christian life abundantly. Therefore, I hope in your personal devotions, or in group work, you will reflect upon practical ways of shaping your own personal conduct and those of your church community into a school of service for the Lord. This is an essential step in our mission.

The theme of education also relates to the Lenten appeal this year. As you are aware, we try to support our brothers and sisters in the Highveld, our twinned Diocese in South Africa, through exchange visits, our prayers and also in financial contributions. Following my visit to the Highveld two years ago and subsequent visits by other members in the Diocese, I wish to focus the Lenten appeal this year upon enhancing educational provision in one of the poorest areas of the Highveld, called Mayflower. The Mayflower School, which was opened in 2007, provides education for 120 children. However, there is not enough practical space for all the children to receive an education. On the school site, there is an incomplete hall where there are plans for another two classrooms and an office to be built. This hall therefore will be used by the pre-school in the mornings as the school has outgrown their classrooms as well as a ‘safe park’ in the afternoon. ‘Safe Parks’ provide the opportunity for those children who, because of illnesses in the family, have had to take up parental responsibilities and therefore do not always have the space or time to ‘be’ children. Training of home-based carers will also take place here during the school holidays. The hall will not only serve the school but the surrounding community. I have stood in the middle of the hall which consists of a base, upward supports and a roof. There are no walls, no windows, no doors, no furnishings and no electricity because funding ran out several years ago. The cost of realising the vision of building the hall, of completing the classrooms and office, is £12,000. I believe as a Diocese, we can raise that amount through our Lenten giving. Father Ruben, the parish priest of Mayflower, says:

“The completion of this building will be a huge boost to this area. The Anglican Church will be seen as a beacon of light and known as a centre of caring and commitment to the community in which it serves.”

To return to the Psalm:

I run in the path of your command, for you have broadened my understanding. 

(Psalm 119 verse 32)

We are reminded that by following God’s teachings, we can have a much wider perspective on life and how we are called to serve others. I hope that by reflecting on our personal formation and also contributing to the educational welfare of those children in the Highveld, we can make this Lent a time of practical praise to our heavenly Father who continually guides us and invites us to share in His mission of love.

With every blessing for a fruitful Lent,

Bishop Richard

St John's Church Maindee