Bishop Richard's Weekly Video Message - Transcript 01/04/21

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

My former PA sent me a delightful pre WW1 article from the Ladies Realm magazine a few weeks ago. To give you a taster, the author, one Sarah Tooley, writes this of the then Bishop, Dr. Percival. “one shrinks from throwing an apple of discord amongst the thirty-two prelates who govern the Sees of the established church; still, it will I think, be generally conceded that Dr. Percival is one of the handsomest men among the Bishops. He is tall and spare in figure, and the slight inclination of the head as he walks suggests an ever-busy mind. When his attention is suddenly aroused, a benign and charming expression lights up the Bishop’s face. His snow-white hair forms an admirable setting for his distinguished features, and the light which plays over his countenance when he smiles suggests an artistic temperament.” It carries on in similar vein for some pages, at which point I suspect poor Sarah needed to be given oxygen. A style that would make even the most sycophantic Hello magazine writer blush!

It rather amuses looking back, but it does reveal serious issues about deference and power. I had to read yet another sorry report about the abuse of power from a well know clergy person only this week. It was clear that a culture of deference to clergy and Bishops was one of the reasons child abuse went unreported and unaddressed for so long. "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men...", said Lord Acton in a letter to an Anglican bishop. The dangers of the abuse of power are as real to Christian leaders as they are to everyone else.

However, leadership is a necessary function of all human organisations. We all know that without it nothing gets done. When it goes bad, it goes very bad indeed, but when it functions well, people are empowered, a clear shared sense of purpose is created, community is built and people flourish. Fortunately, the scriptures and tradition of the church give us some very clear models and instructions as to how to exercise leadership safely and well. Paul in his pastoral letters, when describing the qualities of leadership always defaults to character. It is Christlikeness that is the foundation of fruitful leadership, not the acquisition of qualifications. I have yet to come across a case of pastoral breakdown or clergy discipline that would have been made easier if the protagonists had another MA.

In Holy week the unfolding story of Jesus as he travels to the cross reveals an extraordinary model of leadership. Here is the Son of God, given the title Lord, a title used for God, shortly to be understood more completely as the one through whom the world was made. There is no question Jesus is portrayed as someone with absolute authority. But the accounts are full of paradox. He is Lord of all, and yet he calls his disciples friends. On Good Friday he appears to be the victim of others and yet appears more in control of the unfolding events than anyone. He is Lord and master, and yet he washes the disciple’s feet on maundy Thursday evening. It is this event that has always provided the foundational understanding of Christian ministry as service. Men and women are ordained deacon before they are ordained priest or Bishop. Being a deacon, the servant (or literally slave in the Greek) is the fundamental calling. Other things may be added to it, but it is never extinguished or removed.

Unless the real power inherent in leadership, be it soft or hard, is exercised with the good of the other in mind, it is not Christian leadership. This is a model of sacrifice for others culminating in the cross. Jesus invites validation, not by appealing to his own authority or office, but on the basis if his works themselves. Never was it more true, that by his fruits do we know him.

But everything about the events of Holy Week appeared to the culture of the day to be a failure. A crucified messiah was like a square circle. To be crucified was evidence not of God’s blessing and affirmation, but of being cursed. This was not a leadership model to emulate but to be avoided. But Jesus shows us that the greater authority that is wielded, the greater the humility that is required to exercise it safely. For me, one of the most compelling evidences for Jesus being God incarnate is the way he holds these things so powerfully together.

This is validation indeed that he was who he said he was. But something so extraordinary and counter-intuitive required a much greater validation. That is what is coming on Easter day, and more about that glorious triumph next week.