Message from Bishop Rachel, 11 July 2023

Published: Tuesday July 11, 2023

Bishop RachelLast week, it was a privilege to host a reception in the House of Lords the day before the Online Safety Bill returned for debate. At the event, a number of young people from Gloucestershire addressed MPs, peers and leaders of charities and organisations regarding social media and the impact it has had on them and some of the issues they would like the Government to address in the bill.

As I have reflected on the past few weeks, I have realised how the words ‘safety’ and ‘belonging’ have arisen again and again in the different places where I have been, whether it has been in the small rural church at their midweek ‘coffee and chat’, or speaking with offenders in prison, or listening to presentations around safeguarding at General Synod, or being at The Rock awards for young people, or hearing what parents value in their toddler group at the local church, or taking part in parliamentary debates around illegal migration or online safety.

As I reflect on all this, I am acutely aware that today, 11 July 2023, is Srebrenica Memorial Day when we remember the horrific genocide which took place in Bosnia in 1995 in what had been declared as a United Nations ‘safe area’. This might seem very disconnected from what I have written above, yet the reality is that the murdering of men and boys, and the rape of many women and girls, took place within communities in which people had previously celebrated their differences across faith and culture, and where there was a sense of safety and belonging. People who share their stories from this time repeatedly talk of the horror of how things changed so quickly, and how the communities where they all belonged were suddenly shattered, with so many people no longer feeling safe.

The theme of this year’s National Memorial Day is ‘Together we are one’ and it seems to me so relevant for just about every situation and place I have found myself in over these last few weeks.

Words such as ‘together we are one’ can sound so nice and comforting, but the reality of living them is far more challenging. It means going towards one another, particularly those who are different from us and with whom we disagree vehemently. I confess that I have not always found that easy over these past few weeks, not least at General Synod and in Westminster, and I have had to ensure an intentionality around it, daily reminding myself of the truth that everyone is created in God’s image and that all of us are loved by God and in need of God’s grace and mercy.

As soon as we allow someone to become ‘other’ we are contributing to the disintegration of relationship and failing to join in with God’s work of transformation and reconciliation. On this note it seems relevant to once more mention The Difference Course, which has been named not only on the floor of General Synod but also on my recent visits to prisons and parishes. It is a great resource, do take a look.

As we walk through the coming week, I hope there will be space for each of us to reflect on what further steps we might take such that people of all ages and stories, across our different contexts and communities, find the Church a place of safety and belonging rooted in the love of God; and that those who are followers of Christ discover yet more of what it means to be the body of Christ.

+ Rachel

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