During the pain, loss, and challenge of these past 16 months I have deeply appreciated green spaces, whether the gift of our garden, the small parks in Gloucester, or the expanse of fields, forest, and hills across the diocese. In the downpours of recent days I have tried to remind myself that we wouldn’t have all the green without that combination of sun and rain (although I’d quite like to change the ratio sometimes).
Last Friday as I left Parliament where I had been all week, I deliberately chose to take a lengthy walk to Paddington Station through the beautiful Royal Parks of London (something I treasured throughout my years in London). As I walked, I was able to reflect on the week, let things surface within me, offer things to God in prayer, and breathe deeply.
Yet again I was reminded of Psalm 23 which I have kept very much in sight over the past 16 months.
I am quite sure that Psalm 23 is being read, sung, and heard on a frequent basis across the diocese as numerous weddings, many delayed, now take place; and as funeral services continue, and memorial events are planned. There is the risk that the famous psalm becomes too familiar and comfortable rather than letting the words seep deep into our souls to challenge and transform us.
Psalm 23 affirms God’s unending presence, goodness, and mercy in places of delight and places of darkness and fear, always holding before us the hope of the spread table and the promise of eternal dwelling with God.
In my electronic diary the colour-coding for my rest time, holidays and retreats is green. The green of ‘go’ is not always about activity – it can also be the ‘go’ of ‘letting go’ and metaphorically lying down in green pastures and playing by streams; being still in prayer and transformed through scripture. Our rest and play, in right balance with our work, will be restorative and lead to new discovery, not least of Self and God; and there will be space for healing and growth.
Sometimes bishops and archdeacons struggle to make clergy and lay leaders lie down in rest – indeed, we sometimes struggle to do the same ourselves. However, Psalm 23 reminds us that when we keep our eyes and hearts on God, it is God who makes us lie down. And if we refuse to do so we are in danger of a displaced arrogance implying that we are somehow above God and know best.
The croziers Bishop Robert and I carry remind us that whilst we are still sheep of the Good Shepherd, we are also called to be shepherds of Christ’s flock. So, this summer we want to encourage the entire diocesan flock to live a restorative rhythm which holds play, rest and work in good balance (noting that we all engage in work in its broadest sense).
If we are to do this, we need to recognise our interdependence as the Body of Christ and fellow human beings, and the need to support one another. We particularly want to ensure that clergy and lay leaders take plenty of rest time over the summer including ensuring that everyone has a significant stretch of holiday on the horizon and plenty of additional time to rest and play over the next two months, so that people can be refreshed for a new chapter in the autumn. Yet it is not just about clergy and lay leaders, it is about everyone from the youngest to the oldest. Furthermore, living a summer of restoration will only work if we all support, encourage and challenge one another. For example, every worshipping community needs to look with grace and mercy at what does not need to happen over the coming weeks. Of course, we need to ensure that giving glory to God is at the heart of all we live but that does not mean for example that service patterns cannot be changed, meetings curtailed, tasks minimalized and emails reduced. Across parishes, chaplaincies and all our worshipping communities, please do look at what can be done to support one another in order for everyone to have a proper rest and live a different rhythm, even amid the unceasing activity of life.
The collect this week asks that all God’s faithful people, each in their vocation and ministry, may serve God in holiness and truth, to the glory of God’s name. That can only be done if we inhabit rest, work and play in healthy ways.
Bishop Robert and I continue to hold you in our prayers with gratitude,