First an anxious huddle
The Bishop of Lichfield’s pastoral letter for May 2018
We studied the Bible together. We heard inspiring speakers. We enjoyed a Ceilidh (at least, those of us who can dance enjoyed it). We joined in regular times of prayer and worship. We ate copiously and drank socially. We were entertained by a Muslim comedian. We did all these things in East Derbyshire, at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick.
In case you wondered what they were up to, that is – broadly speaking – what happened when more than three hundred clergy of this diocese joined in our Clergy Conference from 23rd to 26th April. I write these words in faith, ahead of the event, but confident that this will prove to be an encouraging, refreshing and renewing experience for our deacons, priests and bishops. Practical considerations mean that this event has to be designed specifically for those who are ordained, and there are similar events for lay people such as the recent Readers’ gathering, June’s ‘Food for the Journey’ event and July’s Encourage Festival. We are all engaged in ministry, and one of our commitments as a diocese this year is to engage with the business of ‘Setting God’s People Free’, releasing laity and clergy together to be agents of mission and transformation in our world.
Running through our conference this year was the great biblical and Christian theme of hope: hope for our world, hope for our communities, hope for our society, hope which is anchored in the one unshakeable ground of our hope, the new life that God has won for us in Jesus Christ. We live in a world which often seems to have given up on the idea of hope, to find it easier to live with anxiety or despair than to believe that there is the real prospect of change. And sometimes that mentality creeps into our churches today; if we do not really expect numerical and spiritual growth, new opportunities for mission and fresh opportunities to commend the faith, then almost certainly we will not encounter them – except …
Except that it was to a hopeless, despairing and anxious huddle of dispirited men and women that Jesus showed himself at the first Easter. He breathed on them his Holy Spirit and renewed the wellsprings of hope within them. At the end of our time in Swanwick, our clergy were all anointed with the oil of chrism and sent back to our cities, towns and villages; to our parishes, chaplaincies, Fresh Expressions, and schools, and to our Cathedral, to be messengers of hope. We do that as priests and people together, as in that first Easter season, so now; as in Jerusalem, so in Staffordshire, Shropshire, and the Black Country. Our hope is for real.
Anecdotal reports from clergy enthuse about this year's speakers: judge for yourself with the audio recordings found here.