100% Grace. This simple phrase that I encountered on almost the last day of my sabbatical while visiting Grace Cathedral in San Francisco struck deep, summing up with great clarity my experience of these last three months.
Sabbatical has been a blessing: the grace of living at a different pace; the grace of time to connect with friends and family; the grace of having more time to reflect and read; the grace of rest and renewal of faith and calling. I am deeply grateful for the gift of this time and want to express my thanks to you, to Bishop Rachel and colleagues on the Bishops’ Staff Team and all who have made it possible.
What has struck me as most remarkable, inspired, is the way in which what I have read in this time has connected. Beginning with Sabbath and then, that word again, ‘Grace’ in Christopher Jamison’s book of the same name, to reflections on ministry in a secular age that is marked by so much anxiety. I have been powerfully reminded in this time of the need to remember God is God and in God’s grace we do not need to be anxious or afraid (Matthew 6, Philippians 4). God knows our needs, transcending our immediate framework and understanding our life and being.
As I return to ministry, with a deep sense of thanksgiving for this time, there are two particular ways in which I want to focus these thoughts and reflections.
Firstly, there is a call to attend to our conversation. This is most marked in so much of our social media, but it is present elsewhere. I am increasingly challenged by the easy way in which we dismiss or degrade others, the ease not that we suggest they are mistaken or hold other perspectives but that they are wrong. We assume those who disagree with us are thus bad or even evil, using names I would most certainly not repeat here, that lead to deep hate and alienation. I return wanting to challenge myself and others in each encounter to ask, ‘Where is grace?’, for if there is no grace, I am convicted God is not present.
That does not mean we may not disagree, but it does mean we must listen and seek to understand the other, for the truth of ‘God who is God’ is of a greater love than any one of us can imagine. Our response then will be marked by both respect and by grace.
Secondly, in an anxious Church I want to be less so. There are challenges and we can name them, but this is God’s Church. God, whose love is made visible on the cross and in the resurrection. The God whose mystery we encounter in the breaking of the bread as it breaks through into our present reality. This is such a powerful reminder that the future does not depend on what I do, or you do, but is God’s. My task as a leader in God’s Church, indeed our task together, as members of God’s Church, is to wait, to be attentive to the signs of God’s working, and as Archbishop Rowan used to remind us, then to join in. This is not an abdication of the responsibility to act but it is knowing which responsibility is mine, which is ours, as we answer the call to share in God’s work, trusting in God and not in human strength.
Thank you indeed for the gift of this time. I return refreshed, renewed, rejoicing in our sharing together in the life that is in Jesus Christ.