Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
After a two-year break, the May fair came back to Hereford this week. The fair was originally founded by a charter to Richard Capella, Bishop of Hereford by King Henry 1st. It granted him the right to hold a fair for three days every May. As early as the twelfth century the Bishop allotted to the Canons a tenth part of the fair’s profits. Bishop Bennett passed the rights to the City in 1608 for the princely sum of 12 ½ bushels of wheat. As part of the opening ceremony, I made jolly sure the relevant bushels were provided. The next part of the ceremony was less traditional, involving me climbing on as many rides as possible whilst not losing my lunch. A picture of the Bishop and Dean on the big wheel is obligatory for this occasion. One submitted to the Church Times in Michael Tavinor and my predecessor’s time elicited the winning caption “Rick and Mick being sick.” Many people turned up for the opening ceremony where I was instructed to ‘ham it up’, which I was very happy to do for the sake of the gospel! After the rigours of COVID, it was simply good for people to be together in an unself-conscious way.
Despite the fact that the number of people professing Christian faith is now fewer than 50% and fewer than 2% of the population of the diocese are in an Anglican Church on any given Sunday, it is reassuring that there is still an openness to cooperation between civic authorities and the church community. In part, this is due to the huge contribution churches made to our common life during the pandemic. Every organisation, both government and voluntary, realises that on our own we cannot achieve much. However, by working together there is the possibility of real community transformation. On Monday night I was at a support meeting organised by local churches for those who have welcomed Ukrainian refugees or those like us who are just embarking on the tortuous visa process. Churches aren’t doing everything, but they are convening a movement of people who together can do amazing things. I like to think that despite our tiny church attendance there remains a spiritual hunger that modern secularism cannot satisfy. I have heard of several young people recently who when they truly understand the message of the Gospel respond by saying, “why has no one told me this before?”
Jesus left us a statement of enormous hope. He said to his disciples, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” This was delivered in the context of fields ripe to be gathered in. He was speaking to a group of people who for the first few hundred years of the Church were a far smaller minority than we are. The letter to the Romans was probably written to a group of churches with a lower attendance than our own cathedral. What he was trying to say, I think, was that there is a universal spiritual hunger that only the gospel can satisfy and the problem is not the message, but the number of people actively communicating it.
At this point some may be tempted to quote St. Francis, “preach the gospel by all means, and if you must use words.” Unfortunately, St. Francis never said it, and it’s patent nonsense anyway. I would never have become a Christian unless someone explained it to me and told me how to respond to Jesus’ invitation. But it does contain a grain of truth in that the gospel, if it’s real at all, should transform our lives and orientate us away from our own institutional preservation towards a radical outward-looking engagement. The ways in which we engage with our communities, or participate in social or environmental action or even try to bless a city fair can become bridges over which the truth of Jesus can travel.
Over the last 50 years, the church for all its difficulties has undergone a transformation that I would call the democratisation of ministry. No longer would you go to church and expect to see the vicar do everything. Lay people are actively involved in all aspects of Church life, not just passive consumers of religious services. The revolution we now need, and we don’t have 50 years I’m afraid, is the democratisation of mission. Can we renew our confidence in the truth and life-changing power of the gospel in such a way that sharing it (in whatever way is most appropriate for our personality type) becomes our consuming passion? It’s on that, that the future of our church depends. Jesus invites us to pray and send out workers into his harvest field. Lord may we have the courage for it to be us.