Vicar's Monthly Letter
Vicar's letter - November'19
Below is a heavily edited/ shortened version of a letter forwarded to Diocesan Clergy by Bishop Richard originally from the Bishops of the Diocese of Oxford. I thought that given our national circumstances it offers us food for thought whatever the outcome of the Brexit process. Blessings
Love your neighbour as yourself: a Christian response to Brexit
As a nation we may be about to exit the European Union and begin a new relationship with our European neighbours and with the world. At the time of writing, the course of events is still uncertain – and the prolonged uncertainty is itself challenging. How are we to respond in the coming months as the Church in this place?
We all need to remember the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves, especially in the coming weeks. Together we can make a significant difference.
Our nation is divided about our future relationship in Europe. Our calling as the Church in these times is not to take sides in this debate but to continue to be the Church for everyone. There are leavers and remainers in every congregation, but this can never be our primary identity as Christians.
We have a particular responsibility at this time to speak out for the poorest in our communities and to act to help them (as the church has always done). We have a responsibility to work for the peace and the common good. We are called to offer in public and in private a voice of truth and a voice for hope in the future. The Bishops of the Church of England made a public statement recently calling for listening, respect and renewal in political life.
As the Church we bring a long perspective on the present debates. We know from our own history that the United Kingdom has re-imagined its relationship with Europe many times in the past. The Church of England came into existence as part of one of these eras of change.
What can we do?
National and local government have done a great deal to plan for a smooth and orderly Brexit (with or without a deal). However, there is an important role at this time for practical expressions of love and hope by communities and individuals.
Twelve ways to love your neighbour as yourself, a Brexit checklist:
1. Give extra support to the food banks in our area. There may be temporary shortages of some foods. Prices may rise. Foodbank usage may also rise.
2. Watch out for the lonely, the anxious and the vulnerable. Levels of fear are rising and may rise further. Knock on your neighbours doors and check if they are OK. Speak to people on the bus and at work. Build networks and friendships.
3. Reach out to EU nationals in your neighbourhood and workplace. This is a moment for friendship and hospitality and love for the stranger. As we leave the European Union, or as the uncertainty continues, people are likely to feel less welcome.
4. Make sure people have access to good advice on migration and travel, and qualified advice on debt and financial support. Point people to relevant websites.
5. Remember the needs of children and young people. Our schools and churches can be a place of balance and sanctuary for our children, who may be feeling upset and anxious. The Mental Health Foundation has excellent advice on talking to children about scary world news. Parents and teachers might want to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate how different media cover the same story.
6. Support the statutory services. A lot of good, solid planning has been done by local authorities. Familiarise yourself with your local authority plans and point people to them.
7. Think about the needs of particular groups in your area. Some parts of the diocese have large communities of migrant workers from a particular region. Other parts will want to focus on the farming industry and its need for seasonal workers. What are the local challenges where you live?
8. Work together with other churches, faith communities and charities. There are some excellent examples of collaboration across the Diocese in foodbanks, debt counselling and night shelters. How else could we work in partnership?
9. Invite the community together. Encouraging discussion about the rights and wrongs of Brexit is unlikely to be helpful. Gather people to listen to each other about what concerns them looking forward and how communities can be brought together despite acknowledged differences.
10. Watch over other faith and minority ethnic communities. Hate crimes and crimes against other faiths increased after the 2016 referendum.
11. Encourage truthful and honest debate. The renewal of our politics will need to be local as well as national. Don’t be afraid of the political space but step into it with a message of faith, hope and love.
12. Pray in public worship and private prayer for the healing of our political life, for wisdom for those who lead us, for reconciliation between communities and for stability in our government.
Don’t underestimate what we can achieve if every church, chaplaincy and school does something and if every Christian disciple takes some action, however small.
Don’t take on too much either: loving our neighbour through the Brexit process needs to be woven into everything we do anyway, not simply added into busy lives. Don’t be limited by this checklist – you might have even better ideas. If you do, spread them around.
Together we are called to be a contemplative, compassionate and courageous church, to love our neighbours as ourselves in the months ahead and to pray and work for the wellbeing of our communities.