Message from Bishop Rachel, 2 May 2023

Published: Tuesday May 2, 2023

Bishop Rachel‘If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus …’ (Philippians 2:1-5)

Last week, Bishop Robert shared some reflections on the Coronation and the truth that ‘the formation of our society needs the participation of us all’. Now that the details of the Coronation have been made public, we can see that this is fully reflected in the liturgy and events of this weekend.

The importance of inclusion and diversity have been strongly woven into the historic ceremony, and for the first time the new monarch will publicly pray a personal prayer as he commits himself to the service of all people asking that he may ‘be a blessing to all thy children of every faith and conviction, that together we may discover the ways of gentleness and be led into the paths of peace …’. Then, towards the end of the service, there will be the opportunity for people to declare their personal allegiance to the King. I hope those who do so will also be expressing a commitment to belong to one another.

Large numbers will watch the Coronation on screens alongside other people, and whilst for many this will be about gathering with friends and family, I am delighted that so many churches are involved with community screenings and activities. I am personally looking forward to being with people in Minchinhampton.

On Sunday, there will be church services, street parties and picnics (and I am delighted to be joining in with events in Cinderford), and on the Monday the emphasis is on volunteering under the heading ‘The Big Help Out’. This will be the focus of our cathedral service at which HRH the Princess Royal will be present, and at which we intend to both celebrate and inspire volunteering across a vast range of activities and among people of all ages.

As I look ahead to all of this and all that next weekend will hold, the word which stands out for me is a word I value highly: ‘community’. It is a word we can use too freely and which can spark images of comfortable togetherness or gatherings of like-minded people, but as we approach next weekend in this season of Eastertide, already pointing us towards Pentecost, it is good to be reminded of the radical nature of community formed and lived by Christ’s first followers and the early Church.

The readings which will be used at the Coronation service reflect a theme of belonging and community, and they are passages of Scripture which I hold dear: Colossians 1: 9-17  speaks of all things being held together in Christ and reflects that big narrative of belonging and connectedness. Then Luke 4:16-21 gives the account of Jesus in the synagogue at the start of his ministry (quoting Isaiah ch.61) proclaiming his call to bring healing, justice, love and freedom. They are words about personal transformation and the transformation of relationship with God, neighbour and creation. They are words of community and the Kingdom of God.

At a confirmation service on Sunday evening, one of the candidates shared her testimony of finding ‘home’ in her local church at a time when she felt lost and broken, and she spoke of how she had found community which for her is about connection and the opportunity to both give and receive. This resonated with voices a few days earlier when members of Grace Network in Stroud came to a meeting of the Bishop’s Council to share their experiences of developing social enterprise and creating Christ-like community. It was inspiring to hear children and adults with different life experiences comment on the signs of transformation in their own lives as they live the adventure of community committed to the well-being of individuals, neighbourhood and environment.

All of this reminds me of the challenging words of Henri Nouwen regarding community:

‘Community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own (Philippians 2:4). The question, therefore, is not “How can we make community?” but “How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?”’

My prayer for this Coronation weekend is that it will be one of community and that it will inspire us to think ever more deeply of who we are and want to be as God’s people. I hope this weekend will not be about living a pale example of community such that people only enjoy the company of those who are like them, or spend time with those with whom they feel comfortable, but that even now we will be seeking to draw in those who might not readily be at the table – those who are feeling isolated, unworthy, or forgotten? This takes me back to Bishop Robert’s challenge last week about the Coronation not simply being ‘a spectacle to watch but a deep challenge … to shape society, and the Church, with the values of God’s Kingdom, which call us all to participate’.

How might Christ’s call to serve be echoed not simply in the grand Coronation ceremony and the words of the King, but also in how we live community ever more deeply this coming weekend and beyond?

With my thanks and prayers as ever,

+ Rachel



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