‘The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this…’
(1 Corinthians 12: 25 – 27 The Message)
It was a joy to meet with Diocesan Synod in the Cathedral last week for the final gathering of this Triennium, very aware that we had not met in person since February 2020.
Please do read this Bulletin letter alongside my address to Synod.
As we begin to live life following the lifting of government restrictions, I am very clear that yesterday was not ‘release day’ or ‘freedom day’ or ‘going back to normal’. As one person commented on social media, 19 July is ‘responsibility day’. This next stage is only possible because of the vaccination programme – the virus has not gone away.
Just as at the start of lockdown many people immediately thought of neighbours and those who are vulnerable and sought to offer support, so too we now need to be paying great attention to all those around us with various vulnerabilities and fears, not least in our worshipping communities and local contexts. What does it mean for us to be the body of Christ as we live the weeks ahead?
As we saw at the beginning of lockdown in March 2020, people respond in different ways due to their circumstances, personalities and experiences. There will be those who are longing simply to live as before with no physical distancing or face coverings and who will delight at being in a crowd once more. There will also be those who are anxious, not least those who are still not fully vaccinated, and those with particular personal and family health situations.
Whilst it is true that going forward we need to enable one another to live with the realities of a virus which is not going to suddenly disappear, and we are not to be driven by fear, we do also need to be sensible, cautious and compassionate as we continue to live this next season one step at a time.
Over the past 15 months as government restrictions have changed, bishops and archdeacons have continued to underline the importance of decisions being taken locally and collaboratively within the guidelines at the time. In all of this there has been an emphasis on personal responsibility. We are very aware that as we now move into a landscape in which all restrictions are lifted, this poses fresh challenges, yet we want to once more endorse that emphasis on local decision and personal responsibility.
We hope that people will read and reflect on all that has been said in the Church of England guidance.
No two worshipping communities are the same, and indeed prior to a viral pandemic the detail, pattern and shape of gathered worship looked very different in different contexts and has done for many years.
In the light of all I wrote a couple of weeks ago about rest and rhythm over the summer, it is important to underline that there is no rush to make changes. Bishop Robert and I sent a letter to all licensed clergy yesterday to reiterate this (also sent to churchwardens in benefices in vacancy).
In all of this we can take comfort in the fact that worshipping communities are not in a unique situation, indeed many of you are facing similar decisions in your daily lives, including places of work and leisure. Hopefully, we can support and learn from one another as we learn more of what it means to be the body of Christ.
‘We are the body of Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life’.
The peace of the Lord be always with you…