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Bishop addresses Diocesan Synod
18/11/19

On the 16th November, Bishop Christopher presented the Diocesan Synod with his presidential address:

Introduction

79 years and 2 days ago, on the 14th November, our Cathedral was devastatingly bombed and brought to the ground – a night of destruction across the city of Coventry when buildings, lives and spirits were torn down by the forces of hate, violence and fear.

That, as we know and rejoice, is only half the Cathedral’s story, and only half of our story as a Diocese and the whole Church of God. The following morning, among the rubble, the seeds of rebuilding and resurrection were sown: Ruined and Rebuilt as the newly republished book by Provost Howard puts it.

We live at a moment of history when many things seem under great stress and at risk of being torn down. That’s only half the story but let’s begin there.

Falling Down

There’s the international stage. The devastating effects of climate change seen throughout the world: California, Australia, Pacific Islands, Europe – did you see those pictures of Venice under water? – and our own land. How they are coping in Fishlake, I don’t know. Our hearts go out them.

Geo-politically international tensions and threats to the world order abound and the world seems to have returned to the era of strong men with ambitious plans backed by popular appeal: Russia, China, North Korea, Turkey, US. The plates of power are shifting.

War continues in Syria. Rockets fly from Gaza to Israel and back. Conflict erupts in Hong Kong and violence again triumphs over peaceful protest and, once unleashed, will defeat people’s legitimate concerns at threats to their freedom.

Nationally, we face deep divisions exposed and deepened since the referendum. Visions over the identity of the UK and our place in the world are disputed, even the continuing existence of the UK is questioned.

There are risks that a General Election will only extend those divisions, with police providing safety advice to candidates. They need our prayers.

Regionally and locally we know that poverty is a reality for many families, youth violence is rising, homelessness is a crisis, the mental health of young and old seems under increasing stress. Time will tell whether the promises made by all the main political parties to pour billions of pounds into improved public services will be honoured, or whether their best intentions will be thwarted by downturns in the economy. Even if the money comes, it is not clear that it will solve issues with which people struggle, and it will certainly not meet their underlying spiritual needs.

Advent Hope

In the face of some of the uncertainties that confront our world and nation, and the pressures that press in on our communities, our families, ourselves whether compounded by those conditions or not, it is easy to despair. But Provost Howard did not despair even amidst the ruins of the Cathedral. For him like us today, Advent was near. As always we have a confirmation service on the Feast of Christ the King, a week before Advent Sunday.

During my first year as bishop I remember reading a moving testimony by Sarah Oliver, a foreign correspondent with the Daily Mail. ‘Last summer’, she said, ‘I sought confirmation into the Church of England. I chose to kneel before a bishop, put my head in his hands and remake my baptismal promises, renouncing evil and turning to Christ. If you were to ask me why, then in theological terms I can’t give you much of an answer: I simply surrendered to hope’.

That’s a very good definition of a Christian – someone who has surrendered to hope. And it’s a good definition of the Church – a community surrendered to hope.

Provost Howard surrendered himself to hope as he stood in the ruins. ‘We build again and it will be a Cathedral of hope’, he said. Basil Spence, the architect of the new Cathedral, described it as the Cathedral of the Resurrection rising from the Cathedral of the Crucifixion. When asked whether he was an optimist or a pessimist a Rabbi once once replied, ‘I am not an optimist, like [Gottfried] Leibniz, who believes this is the best of all possible worlds and I am not a pessimist, like the Gnostics, who say this is the worst of all possible worlds. I believe this is the worst of all possible worlds, in which there is still hope.’

The cross of Jesus Christ tells us that this world can be a dark and terrible place expert in death. The resurrection Christ tells of that God has brought light and joy into the world and defeated death by life.

Amidst all the uncertainties of life – environmental, geo-political, national, local and personal, our word to every person is a word of hope: Immanuel: God is with us. Jesus is the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the life, the Saviour of the soul, the Redeemer of the world. God has acted in human history. God is with us to act to act in your history.

Building Up

Our message to Coventry and to all the towns and villages of Warwickshire and Solihull is the same: Christ is our hope and has the power to bring our communities to life. Our calling is not only to speak hope into our communities but to bring hope through our actions.

The Bronze Eco-Diocese award to the Diocese is one sign of our commitment to healing the damage we do to our environment, and that in our centenary year we planted trees in church yards across the Diocese.

The Saints’ Project in Nuneaton where we’re working with many of the town’s churches will be a hope-bringer to the young people of Nuneaton. Look at the video on the Together for Change website to be inspired; and as you pray for resources to support it, pray also for the bid to found a new Church of England school among new housing in Nuneaton to be a school of hope for its young people.

The opening and dedication of St Catherine’s in Stoke Aldermoor, our newest church building, is a wonderful story of life out of what looked like death when we had to close the original building and sell the land on which it stood.

On Thursday I’ll be with a number of colleagues at a workshop in London to take forward our plans to develop an ambitious church planting strategy to bring the hope of Christ into communities yet to be built and to reach out to people in established parts of the diocese who are distanced from the church for all sorts of reasons.

Our witness to the nation during the election and beyond is to be one of hope. Whatever the differences between driving us apart, there are stronger ties that bind us together. To the politicians we say, make Jesus’ prayer your own: ‘God’s will be done on earth as in heaven’. And follow the advice of the ancient prophet; ‘Love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with your God’. And God will bless our nation.

To the people we say vote and hold your MPs to the righteous standards of God’s kingdom. And vote also with your lives. Work with us and we will work with you to create colonies of hope in all our communities which will turn the national tide by local activity for the common good by becoming beacons of hope guiding our leaders to do what is right and act in the interests of all.

In these days, let’s take inspiration from the churches that have opened wide their doors to become arks against the flooding, bringing people together, showing that even in the worst of adversity, compassion can heal, community can be built up, and hope can come through common action. ‘Many waters cannon quench love, neither can the floods drown it’ (Song of Songs 8.7), says the front page of St Cuthbert’s website in Fishlake.

Our word to the world remains as ever, Jesus Christ is the hope of the nations. Christ’s way makes for peace. Christ’s truth gives freedom. Christ’s life brings justice.

Albert Camus, the French atheist philosopher said, ‘Let us think clearly and not hope any more’. Graffiti on a wall pronounced, ‘Tomorrow will be cancelled due to lack of interest.’

But the Book of Hebrews proclaims, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow’. And Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. Søren Kirkegaard, the Christian philosopher, said ‘Hope is a passion for the possible’. But I think someone who completed our church school leadership course some time ago and who now works for the national Church of England Board of Education, put it better and more simply – his name is Andy Woolfe. ‘Hope is grounded in reality’. That reality is God. The God who raised Jesus from the dead. The God who is with us and for us in the living Christ, the Lord of history who will come to judge the living and the dead. The God who empowers us by is Spirit now to live, act and pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, 
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.  

Amen.

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