Dear Friends …
With the sudden retirement of Bishop Richard at the end of April, we as a diocese now face a turning point. To be perfectly truthful, I’m not entirely sure what we’re turning towards, nor — given the bishop’s long and largely unexplained absence since last July — I can’t even say I’m a hundred percent sure what we’re turning from. That said, once we have collectively had some time to grapple with our latest change of status, the processes for selecting a new bishop will be underway. At least, therefore, we do know we’re going somewhere. I say that without a trace of facetiousness; this is not something we were confident about a month ago.
Throughout these last few months I have urged us all to prayer: for Bishop Richard; for the senior staff, both lay and ordained; for the local clergy and those across the diocese; and for our parishes. I freely confess that, at some points, my public and private prayer on these points have felt very much like the cry of the powerless, and God’s response is not one I yet understand fully. Yet, because I truly believe that the offering of ourselves and our lives to God gives room for God to do in our lives, individually and collectively, what we cannot, therefore now I continue to urge the same. Prayer is not a passive thing; it is a choice and it is an action, and one that we can all take not only to support but actively to promote the well-being of our common life in the Diocese.
The purpose for my urging is four-fold:
First, the inherent nature of prayer is a seeking after God’s peace. Whatever may or may not have happened to us in the last few months — and I’m in no way able to verify anything you might have seen in the Argus — Monmouth Diocese, its staff, its ministers, and its people, need time and space to recover. Throughout this unfolding situation, I have refused to engage in speculation and gossip, but I have observed that all who have played a role, and those of us who have merely witnessed are tired. God calls us to rest in him, and I genuinely hope that our prayers will play a part in building good will and grace.
Second, there are thanks to be given. Bishop Richard has been a blessing to Monmouth Diocese since his ordination as a deacon in (I believe) 1984. There should indeed be a period of thanksgiving and there should be hope for his future at what, by all we can discern through a mirror darkly, appears to be a very low moment. I pray, asking you to join me, that the Lord will be his strength as he adjusts to a new and different phase of ministry, and that — once he recovers — God will continue to use +Richard’s grace, compassion, and wisdom to powerful effect.
Third, although no-one yet knows the name or identity of our next bishop, that person is nonetheless exercising an ordained ministry somewhere in the world right now, and it is never too early for us to offer him or her our love and support, even if only at a distance. He or she will need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the days, months, and years to come, and I trust that we should be about the business of opening ourselves up as conduits or vessels. My prayer is that a bishop will come who can bring about healing first, vision for rebuilding second, and a passion for God’s Kingdom in this place third.
Fourth, and finally, prayer changes us. Opening our hearts and lives — our joys and our cares — to the Divine allows him the space to mould us into the thriving creatures he created us to be, and in ways far beyond our expectation. Yes, it can feel vulnerable; but it is in our vulnerability that God works his healing and his grace, so that we may shine his light around us. It is in God’s love that we know we are not alone. It is in God’s power that Christ brings new life out of an old weariness. If the Diocese is to find renewal, it may as well start with us.
I have preached several times recently about how proud I am of this church and these churches in our parish group. For all the strange goings-on in recent days up the chain, and all the loss of morale they have engendered in this Diocese, what has consistently kept me going has been my observation of God’s work being done and his love being shared faithfully, lovingly, and usually very plainly and simply, in the course of our daily and common life. God’s work has not stopped here; we have kept the faith, and we can keep it a little longer while we wait for the next stage. So know, my friends, how thankful I am for you and for my ministry amongst you. Pray for me, as I pray for you, and let us all pray for our church, our Diocese, and our Right Reverend Father in God — the one past, and the one to come.