December Magazine leader

From the Vicar

I have just been to a sequence of synodical meetings, Deanery, then Diocesan, and then General Synods. All of them seem to have had a focus on the suffering of the world. Here, at the deanery level, we have a particular heart for the church in Sudan, with our special link to the Diocese of Wau. The suffering of people in Sudan is huge and something like 4,000,000 people there are now on the verge of starvation.  In the presidential address to Diocesan Synod, Bishop Nicholas quoted Pope Francis, who has warned that with 400 areas of conflict in our world and some 200 wars, we may already be at the start of a Third World War. At General Synod we faced similar warnings. In a remarkable presentation about the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, we were addressed by a Coptic Bishop and also by a leading Muslim from our own country, Shaykh Fuad Nahdi. We heard accounts of the ferocity of the violence and killing that is taking place, of Christian girls being sold in the slave market for $25, of whole communities being wiped out and religious shrines and buildings being destroyed. Over many centuries there has been a magnificent co-existence between Christians and Muslims, but now all trust has broken down. As one woman put it, displaying both utter suffering and a continuing hope: ‘The world has been broken, but it will be healed in the end.’ Dr. Nahdi spoke of the Muslim community here in the UK. He said they are paralysed by what is an incomprehensible situation. They continue to pray, but they no longer know what to pray for. Younger members of the community are confused and are making foolish decisions about going off to fight, decisions they later regret. Over the years there have always been atrocities, which a ferocious carnage of killing, which is accompanied by a complete loss of humanity. Perhaps what makes this all the worse is the immediacy of the situation, which is being fuelled and proclaimed over the internet and through social media. This is not really about religion, but a darker side of humanity is unleashed with all the enhanced power that is possible through modern communication.

At the same time we see the devastating effects of the Ebola virus, which, if unchecked, could easily have infected millions by the end of this year. It spreads all the more easily in conditions of extreme poverty and it has been suggested that, had there been a financial return available, suitable vaccines against this disease might have been developed several decades ago.

At General Synod we also discussed the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and passed a resolution calling for better housing provision for the most vulnerable in our society. Reducing benefits (which we cannot afford), because people have spare rooms, is leading to rent arrears, mounting debt, a steep increase in evictions and the break-up of communities. In many areas there is no other smaller accommodation available. All the time the queues at food banks (many of them run by churches) grow ever longer.

The world seems a very dark place at the moment. Every night some 900, 000,000 go to bed hungry. There are 50,000,000 displaced people in the world, of whom half of these are children. Perhaps the world also seemed dark for a young couple, some 2,000 years ago, looking for a place to sleep, but without success. It was a bleak situation with life lived under an occupying power. Those who stepped out of line were simply nailed to trees and left to die in the appalling gruesome practice of crucifixion. Yet into this dark world the Word became flesh and came to live among us. At the Eucharist we say, ‘We are the Body of Christ’ and we exchange the Peace with one another. In the darkest of situations, Christ comes to us. He was born in a stable some 2,000 years ago, but he still comes and seeks to be born again in our hearts. We are his body now. He calls us to live for what is good, to love God and to love every neighbour we find. Yet to really live that love will so often place us in a situation of conflict. But where Christ takes roots in human living, there something of the light of God will be found. As we celebrate another Christmas together we need to focus on the greatest gift of all, which is welcoming Christ into our hearts. At the moment, the problems of our world seem immense - paralysing even. Yet where Christ is to be found, and where Christ leads us to want to change the world, there  new hope is born and, even in suffering, a new world begins to dawn.

I wish you all the deep joy of knowing Christ this Christmas


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