Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
I hope you survived blue Monday earlier this week, often thought to be the most depressing day of the year. This Christmas was possibly more joyous than for some time as we were able to meet together with much lower COVID risk, amplifying the contrast with a cold and wet January. It was the first time I’ve seen my parents over the Christmas New Year period for some time which was lovely.
Counsellors are often busy in January as people seek to process disappointing family get togethers. We put a lot of weight on them, but for some people the brief coming together at Christmas reminds them why they only do it once a year! However, whether you get on or not the fact is a family is a family, united by blood and shared experience. These bonds are deeper than mere friendship; they are a given.
The first phrase in the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father,” is deceptively simple, but sets up a similar expectation between Christians. It is a prayer that Jesus taught his disciples as a contrast to the rote prayers of the Pharisees and Jewish leaders. It is ironic that it has become a prayer more said by rote than almost any other. But the Our Father is an extraordinary and unique insight into God and ourselves.
The word father is a remarkable new development in Jewish thought as a way to address God. Fear of violating the 1st Commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain led to them using words without consonants or changing a proper name to a role – Lord. When Jesus invites his followers to address God as Abba Father (a term similar, but not entirely equivalent to daddy). This is extraordinary. Many today understandably struggle with the idea of God as father because of poor role models, negative experiences and a commitment to equality in relationships. But within the world of Jewish thought this is more about the office of father rather than individual role models. A father constituted a family in that world. It was Jesus’ intention in this foundational prayer that we recognise in him a new family was constituted. It was to a be a family broad enough to include all the categories of people who in Jesus’s day would have been excluded.
Paul also uses the metaphor in Ephesians 3: 14, “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and earth derives its name.”
So when, as Christians, we pray, “Our Father.” We are committing ourselves to a particular and personal view of God – the God revealed to us in the person of Jesus. We also recognise that we are part of a wider family. We say, “our father,” not “my father.”
Disagreements in families put them under strain, but they don’t stop them being a family. On Friday, 20th January the full set of materials that the House of Bishops have been working on in the light of the Living in Love and Faith process are going to be released. For some it will appear to go to far. For others not nearly far enough, in terms of our change of practice. The materials are honest. We recognise that in our family united by the ‘our Father’, we interpret the Bible differently and have come to different conclusions about same-sex relationships and marriage. We do not have a consensus that the Church’s understanding of marriage can be extended to same sex couples. We do have a consensus that LGBTQi+ people have experienced rejection, exclusion and hostility in churches and the Bishops are apologising unreservedly for that. We also encourage congregations to welcome same-sex couples unreservedly and joyfully. The offering of prayers of thanksgiving, dedication and blessing is a way of expressing that in public worship. This is a significant change. What the Bishops are commending is an attempt to find a way that fosters the greatest possibly unity in our diverse family. We believe that the unity of the church is a gift from God which we are particularly charged to preserve. These resources will go on to be discussed at General Synod in early February. There is still much work to do in order to flesh out the implications, which will be set out in some new pastoral guidelines to be published in the next few months.
This is a key moment for the national church and its witness to the nation. Please pray for all who will take part in the debates, particularly our Synod representatives. The goal of the process was that we could live together in Love and Faith. I pray that we will continue to do so.