Bishop Paul's Autumn Letter to the Diocese

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.
For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.

If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering.

Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7


Dear friends,

It’s a new season. Many of us have returned from holiday, though others are still looking forward to taking some time away in the coming weeks. But for all of us the Summer is giving way to the Autumn - an Autumn like no other, as the virus continues to shape and affect us all, personally and corporately. At this time of transition I wanted to write to you all in the parishes, schools, chaplaincies and fresh expressions that make up the family of our Diocese.

In the passage above St Paul writes of the consolation God gives “in all our affliction”. For him of course the focus was chiefly on the affliction and the persecutions that marked his life as an apostle, and marked his churches too. But with a wider vision he goes on to speak of our ability, as Christians touched by the love of Jesus, “to console those who are in any affliction...”

Famously the word “console” or “comfort” (parakleseōs) recalls the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Comforter. It is in the power of the consoling Spirit of God that Christians come face to face with affliction.

And we live today in the midst of affliction. The churches have been afflicted, as the whole world has, by the virus. Things that we hold dear cannot be done as we would wish. Habits have been broken, and new possibilities must be found, and are indeed being found, in every place. But it has not been easy, and every local church community has been stress-tested, thrown back on the grace and resources of God as it has sought the right way to live.

More widely the affliction of the virus has opened fault-lines in the world. The fabric of our common life has coarsened and become angry. So-called populist politicians across the world are encouraging fear and even violence in people, so as to profit from it. In short the stress of living with the virus has eroded patience and forbearance, within the Church as well as beyond it.

In such a world I pray that we, members of the Diocesan family, may be people who know the Spirit, the Consoler – those who are then able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.

The unchanging calling of this Diocese, especially in affliction, is to be counter-cultural. We are called to resist the temptation to go with the turbulent flow of stress and anger, the temptation to afflict one another further. Rather we are called to live a life of consolation that will extend kindness and selfless generosity, will resist anger, will turn away from spite. We are to offer ourselves as instruments of love, in gratitude for the freely-given salvation that we have received in Jesus Christ. We do this by personal lives of holiness, and by partaking in the struggle for justice and for the dignity of all humans beings, made in the image of God

The resources God gives us for this are as they have always been: the indwelling presence of Christ by His Spirit; the wisdom and love of the Christian community; the capacity to pray to learn from Scripture, to struggle for justice. All this is summed up for us in Liverpool Diocese in the words of our Rule of Life. We say that we are called and sent by God - called to pray, read and learn; sent to tell, serve and give.

In affliction we are driven more and more on these resources, because apart from God we can do nothing. This Autumn I commend our Rule of Life to each and all of you, even as I seek to live it out myself. In the chapel here at Bishop’s Lodge, sitting before the candle which burns night and day for you, I ask God to give you, each one, the strength to bring consolation to the afflicted world.

I said a moment ago that things we hold dear cannot be done as we would wish. This applies to the way we must worship at this time, as well as to our ability to “bring one friend” into the company of Jesus and to gather together as believers to enjoy one another’s company and to learn together. It is hard to do these things well. The temptation is to give up, or to deny the truth of the trouble we are in and whistle optimistically in the dark.

But this is not a time for shallow optimism, which in any case is not a Christian virtue. Instead we’re called to hope - to live “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5)

With this in mind I want to underline for you two aspects of our Rule of Life in this season.

We are called to pray, and for some time in the Diocese we’ve said that the heart of this call is to pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, the Lord’s Prayer. So as Bishop I give the Diocese a charge this Autumn - pray daily, pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, and in addition pray our Diocesan prayer daily. As you do this, pray explicitly for one another, thanking God for all your sisters and brothers in the Diocese, for this community of parishes and schools, some 60,000 people - thanking God that you are part of a bigger family.
Loving Father,
by your grace we long to see
more people knowing Jesus,
and more justice in your world.
Help us to live as your disciples in the power of the Spirit
and to work to your praise and glory.

We are called to pray, then, and we are sent to give - to give our lives to God as we follow, as disciples; and as part of that to give our share of what is needed to sustain the life of the Church. We live in hope for a future which we cannot imagine – but a future in which we will care for, and provide for, one another.

Liverpool Diocese has been remarkable for the way in which its people have responded with real financial generosity in lockdown and beyond. But for many church communities the stress of affliction includes the stress of not knowing how we will pay our way in the future, not knowing how the future will look, not knowing whether there will be a future. In this area too we are dependent on God. Whatever your own circumstances, please pray that God will show you the right way to give generously, so that all may be helped. The Bible asks us to bear one another’s burdens and so to fulfil the law of Christ.

Called to pray, sent to give. In the midst of uncertainty and worry, please lay hold especially on these things as the Autumn unfolds.

And as you do so, be sure of prayers - from me at Bishop’s Lodge and from Bishop Bev, from our Cathedral church, from all our colleagues in the Archdeaconries and at St James’ House who sustain and administer the life of the Diocese, from the other churches and schools and chaplaincies in your Deanery, from our ecumenical partners across the region, and perhaps most of all from your friends and neighbours in your own community.

And in addition to all this earthly prayer I remind you that you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, of angels and of people alive in Christ, people who through the ages have overcome affliction and given consolation in their own generations, all by the power of God who lives yesterday and today, and for ever.

In 2 Kings 6 we read of Elisha, surrounded by an enemy army, whose servant was afflicted by anxiety and terror:
The servant said, “Alas, master! What shall we do?” Elisha replied, “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.” Then Elisha prayed: “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

This is a time of affliction. It is for such a time as this that the Church was made, because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, because Jesus has died for us and we are free to live for Him, because “just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.”

May God bless you, and all your community, in your ministry as the future unfolds.

+Paul


Our Diocesan Prayer
Loving Father,
by your grace we long to see
more people knowing Jesus,
and more justice in your world.
Help us to live as your disciples in the power of the Spirit
and to work to your praise and glory.
Amen.