Presidential Address 2013

TheRight Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow

Bishop Mark
The Right Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow used the Durham Diocese Diocesan Synod on Saturday 18th May 2013 to speak about the need to be neighbour, community and locally focused – putting ourselves in each other’s shoes. In his address given at the Diocesan Synod at Durham Johnson School, he talked about reflecting our own understanding, sensitive, reflective and responsive to the needs and plight of others who might be on our doorstep. A video transcript of the Presidential Address follows:         Transcript of the address: [expand-contract expand-title=”Read-More” swaptitle=”Close” trigclass=”expand-highlight” trigpos=”below” tag=”readon”] “ I recently found myself reading a book on the theology of homelessness. To be honest it is a rather unhelpfully academic book and not the easiest of reads until it came to the place where the author started telling the stories of some of the homeless people he had met at a hostel in the southwest. “The author talks about somebody called Caroline and he says “Caroline begins her story at the age of 7, recalling a dysfunctional family, divorced parents, her mother always out at the pub and sexual abuse”. “Caroline herself says in interview “I didn’t get on with my mum very well. When I was younger I was sexually abused……..I think maybe from then, from the age of 7 years old……my head must have been messed up, then mum used to go out drinking, she started going out drinking all the time, she always used to come back and start on me, say it was my fault and things were my fault and my dad’s divorce was my fault, she wished she’d had an abortion on me and things like that which didn’t make me very happy”. “The author goes on, at the age of 13 Caroline was shop-lifting to buy food and at 15 she left home and moved in with a friend. She admits that she was “hanging around with the wrong people” drinking, smoking, missing school and feeling suicidal. After a number of unsuccessful relationships she was married at 18. Her husband assaulted her badly.  “And Caroline says “He beat me up, he broke my nose and black eyes and bruises everywhere.  “Although she and her husband tried reconciliation this too failed. She became addicted to Valium and attempted to kill herself. She was made homeless, she was evicted for non-payment of rent on the flat she was sharing with her another boyfriend and so it goes on. “Then the author tells a number of similar stories of homeless people whom he has met. “My initial reaction on reading this was to say that in a way that this sort of life was something right outside my experience. I simply do not know people whose experience of life is like that. Yes, I’ve met people like that as part of the work I do but there somehow seems a really very big gap between that woman’s experience of life and mine. “And yet my Christian understanding of the world tells me that this woman is my sister in Christ, somebody for whom Christ died, a member like me of the human family. “Tomorrow in church we celebrate Pentecost and it seems to me that one of the things that the Pentecost story is about is about the way in which the Spirit brings people together in community so that the Cretans and Medes and Parthians and dwellers in Mesopotania are all brought by the Spirit into a single community from which nobody is excluded. “And that leads me to wonder what might need to happen for me to be able to say with some degree of integrity that Caroline, the homeless woman, is indeed part of my community and my family. “Historically, many many churches and Christians have given generously and often sacrificially to show their concern for their brothers and sisters overseas. In Christian Aid week we shall see again an immense outpouring of generosity and good will to people whose life experience is something which most of us cannot even begin to imagine. But I’m left wondering why it is that we perhaps find it harder to engage with issues of poverty and social exclusion nearer at hand than with those overseas – they are after all closer at hand. “(Let me just be clear that I’m not wanting to go for the slogan “Charity begins at Home” (whatever that means) but simply to note the ease with which we show a real concern for those overseas and find it more difficult for those who are close at hand). “The fact is that within our own diocese in many deaneries people whose life experiences are unbelievably different are living cheek by jowl with each other. “In one deanery, two parishes who have for a number of years shared the same vicar contain people with enormously different life experiences. “One is a parish where 15% of children are living in poverty and 12% of pensioners are living in poverty. The next door parish has 36% of children living in poverty and over double the number of pensioners living in poverty. Out of the 232 parishes one is 41 on the scale of deprivation and the other one 191. “In another deanery there is any even sharper contrast, 2 parishes next door to each other; one has 5% of its children living in poverty, the next door parish 33%. “In other words it seems to me that the opportunities are there for our imagination and understanding to be enlarged. That seems to me to be something of a Christian Duty. “And we have also to admit that it’s not just the parishes which are different from each other, we need to acknowledge that often our congregations have a very very different life experience from the bulk of those who live in the parish which they are called by God to serve. “God’s call on us in this situation I believe is to put ourselves into each other’s shoes. The reason for doing this as some of you will have heard me say recently is simply that God, in the person of Jesus, has come to earth and put Himself into our shoes. He has shared human life and He has shown us that God is a God who puts Himself into the shoes of other people. “Already perhaps there is a small step in this direction in the way, as a diocese, we do Parish Share. We know that there are thirty or so parishes who by their contribution to the Parish Share enable there to be priests in other parishes. And of course within the national church as you will know, we receive very generously from those parts of the Church of England where their life experience is certainly very different from the experience of many of our communities in the northeast and there is much to be thankful for that. But I sometimes wonder within our diocese how much the parishes know and understand about the life of the communities they are supporting. “But this does lead me to ask the question, what might we do to put ourselves in the shoes of others? “I wonder what would happen in some of our parishes if we said that it was the job of every PCC member at least once a year to walk observantly and prayerfully around the parish simply to get a feel of the sort of people who live in the parish and to start to imagine something of what their lives are like. As I’ve said elsewhere I am sometimes anxious that congregations do not really understand the lives of many of those who live in their parishes and whom they are committed to serve. “One of the places where often we can gain a real insight into the life of our community – much more about that later in this synod – is though our local schools and time and time again as I go into schools I am amazed by the deep understanding of and deep sympathy for the families of the local community. We need to look at how that understanding and sympathy can permeate the life of the parish church “I wonder if there might be the possibilities of parishes whose populations have very very different life experiences getting to know each other better and discovering a little more of what it means to live in those particular communities. “Certainly I was pleased to hear recently of 2 deaneries from different parts of the diocese who were occasionally meeting up in order that they might better understand each other’s concerns. “And in all this we need first of all to learn to listen and to listen in a way that is not immediately judgemental. “There is frankly more than enough judgemental speaking in our country at the moment and what is desperately needed within our communities are people who are willing to begin to simply listen and start to understand before they rush to judgement or to suggest solutions. “Some of you will recall that back in the days of Faith in the City, we undertook poverty hearings and I vividly remember being involved in an exercise in Coventry where we were asked to try to work out how we would budget and feed our families on the amounts of money which people in the communities had in their benefits. To begin with that looked comparatively easy until we realised that we didn’t have enough money to get the bus to go to the cheapest supermarkets and that we were probably paying far more for our electricity and our telephones than other people because we were not in a position to pay by direct debit. And as we wrestled with how on earth we were going to make ends meet, we began to understand, if only in a very small way, why with that level of anxiety and stress people might end up smoking a lot and with that level of boredom people might want a television to while away the hours. “I hope that following the example of Newcastle Diocese we may be able to do something at a future meeting of this Synod in that direction “Of course there is room for challenge not only about how we live our lives – including often why we are so ignorant in our churches about what is going on in wider society – but there needs first of all to be real attempt to put ourselves into the shoes of others as Jesus did. And Jesus was certainly willing to challenge – mainly of course the religious people! A society that rushes to judge and dismiss members of its communities is unlikely to be a healthy or Christ-like society. “I was struck by some words of Pope Francis when he was a Cradinal in Argentina which I discovered literraly as I was leaving this morning. He said “The poor must not be perpetually marginalised. We can not accept the underlying idea that ‘we who are doing well give something to those who are doing badly, but they should stay that way far from us’ That is not Christian. It’s indispensable that we integrate them into our community as soon as possible… “And he goes on: A poor man must not be looked at in disgust: he must be looked at in the eyes. “God’s vision is for a vision of a human family. We as churches are invited in this part of our nation to start to discover what it means to be part of that human family where so many of our lives are so radically different from so many other people. “I am very struck by something Rowan Williams wrote about discipleship a few years ago “Being where Jesus is means finding yourself in the company of the people whose company Jesus seeks and keeps. So, when Jesus goes to be in the company of the excluded, the wretched, the self-hating, the poor, the diseased, that’s where you’re going to find yourself. If you are going to be where Jesus is, if your discipleship is not intermittent but a way of being, that’s where you are going to find yourself, in the same sort of human company that he is in. This is once again an important reminder that our discipleship is not about choosing our company beyond choosing the company of Jesus. “So that is indeed why so many great disciples across the history of the Christian Church, and indeed now, find themselves in the company of people they would never have imagined being with, had they not been seeking to be where Jesus is. “I found myself yesterday in conversation with some members of our Diocesan Mothers Union and as they talked about their experience of being involved with Food Banks and Credit Unions. I could see that they were indeed starting to find themselves in the company of people they would never have imagined being with, had they not been seeking to be where Jesus is. “We do this initially not because we want to make converts but because we want to be in the company of Jesus Christ; keeping the company which He keeps. Putting ourselves into the shoes of others – as Jesus did. “I just wonder if there may be something there for us to think about?” [/expand-contract]

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