Godly and human encounter marked by love and grace
2 February 2016: Candlemas
As we celebrate the Presentation of Christ in the temple (Luke 2.22-38) we see human and Godly encounter lived out in Simeon and Anna as they greet the Holy family and then Jesus is proclaimed as the light for all people. There is prayer and wisdom; and there is encounter between people, and between people and God – as they see anew and listen afresh.
Whilst I reflect on recent weeks and look to the year ahead, I have found myself viewing the January meeting of the Anglican Primates through the lens of Simeon’s emphatic recognition of Jesus Christ as the light for all people. Amidst the difficult and important discussions regarding doctrine (and in this case, specifically the doctrine of marriage) I am glad that the Primates acknowledged publicly that the churches of the Anglican Communion have often caused deep hurt in the way they have acted towards others on the basis of their sexual orientation. I want to personally express my pain and sorrow when as individuals, or as a Church, now and in the past, we have acted and spoken in ways which have wounded deeply and expressed rejection. I want to wholeheartedly endorse the expression of profound sorrow and the Primates’ statement that “… God’s love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the Church should never by its actions give any other impression”. I am grateful that in the commitment to explore deep differences, the Primates have exhorted us that those differences should be held ‘in the love and grace of Christ’.
As I come towards the end of my initial visits to each of our deaneries, I am immensely grateful for the love and grace I have found within this Diocese. I pray that our own striving for encounter with God, and each other, will be the hallmark of 2016, together with a strong emphasis on prayer and mutual conversation.
May I encourage each of us to make prayer a priority this Lent – as we look upwards and seek God’s wisdom just as Simeon and Anna did. In particular, I would ask that all of us concentrate our attention on listening to God in those days between Ascension and Pentecost (5 May to 15 May). This intentional attentiveness in prayer is needed to prepare the ground for a renewed emphasis on holy conversation: Human encounter with our eyes focused on God. The period that follows – from Pentecost to mid-July – will be a time for as many people as possible across the Diocese to take part in the conversations through which we will discern and shape the key priorities for the next stage of our journey together. The plan is that these shared and focused priorities will be launched in Advent 2016.
My hope is that this commitment to prayer and conversation – Godly and human encounter – will continue to permeate our journeying together in many different ways. The July sessions of General Synod will be shaped around shared conversations concerning scripture, mission and human sexuality. By that time every region in the Church of England will have participated in a national programme of shared conversation and I am extremely grateful to those delegates who attended the gathering for the South West in April 2015. Diocesan Synod will be receiving a report from them at the February meeting. Furthermore, the group is already preparing resources and information to support us as we encourage people across the Diocese to engage in our own shared conversations regarding human sexuality following General Synod in July. Clearly, those elected to General Synod will be playing a key role with the Bishops as the Church of England discerns the way forward in the coming months and years. Please do pray for us all.
I end by reflecting that Simeon’s words to Mary and Joseph encourage the Holy Family to live their lives within a framework of love and hope – not of fear. So as we mark this coming Candlemas and turn from the crib to the cross, may love and grace be written on our hearts and in our minds as we commit ourselves to Godly and human encounter in 2016 – and in the years to follow.
By the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek