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A letter from our Bishops to clergy and lay leaders

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Dear Friends, Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

“This is a marathon, not a sprint” has been a phrase on many lips: it’s easy to say, especially for those of us who’ve never come anywhere close to running a marathon. But many will be feeling that 6 months into the lockdown we’re hitting the proverbial wall, and this is very hard. Hopes were rising of moving towards greater freedom and reduced anxiety, but increasing infection rates and new restrictions have halted that for now. We continue to grieve those who have died and pray for those who mourn. We are also conscious of those who are taking time to recover from being ill.

In these last months we have learnt and achieved a huge amount across this diocese, and this should give us strength to face these next months. We have seen the remarkable speed with which online services became widespread; the energy shown in reaching the isolated and helping feed the hungry, including through our ‘Filling the Gap’ school and church partnership; the renewed focus on the pastoral nature of ministry; the many acts of selflessness and generosity on the part of our key workers; and the opening up of many of our church buildings for prayer and worship. We give thanks for the tremendous innovation and courage that has shown us in practice the meaning of love for God and love for our neighbours. God’s faithfulness has been discovered afresh, and God’s strength has powered the resourcefulness and resilience shown by so many.

But all of this has been costly and as we look ahead, we recognise that more will be demanded of us in these coming months. For some, this does feel like a moment of hitting the wall, asking how we will carry on.

We will need to continue to encourage and support one another, sometimes going the extra mile, sometimes accepting the help that others offer us. As opinions become more divided, and people’s anger at the restrictions on their lives becomes more acute, we will need to be kind to one another, practising godly forbearance, treating others with the grace that we receive from God.

We will also need to be kind to ourselves, recognising our need for rest and renewal. Many have spoken of returning from summer breaks without the normal feelings of uplift and energy for the new term. All of us, clergy and lay leaders alike who are working extremely hard need to be generous with ourselves in taking proper time off. Few of us can keep up the same fierce pace through this marathon – let alone the roller-coaster run it has become.

It’s worth asking ourselves: what has been a blessing to me through these last months? What would I like there to be more of in the way of support to help face the coming months?

This may lead to productive conversations locally, but there may also be things you would like to feed back to us – please do feel free to do so.

In all of this we need to go on listening to God and drawing on the resources of our faith. St. Paul offers us compelling counsel in the letter to the Romans:

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer”. (12.12)

We are called to be a hopeful people. Hope is not the same as optimism, seemingly a natural state of mind for some fortunate people. Instead hope is something that comes to us as a gift – for Christians, it comes from the generous heart of God. God promises that he will not leave us without comfort, that he is with us even when the darkness closes in, that with God there are always new possibilities to be discovered, that God’s mercies never come to an end.

Such hope does not deny or avoid the reality of suffering – we know it to be real because we have seen it or felt it ourselves. But it is the hope we receive from God that enables us to be patient in suffering, able to wait upon the goodness and mercy of the Lord.

The ability to be patient in suffering, and to find hope even as we feel we are hitting the wall, comes in part from the soul’s engine room of prayer. Alongside that time and space we are able to give to being with God in prayer, there is the wonderful reality that within the fellowship of God’s church we can be upheld by the prayers of others. There is great comfort in the truth that when some of us struggle to persevere, others will do so for us.

We remain deeply thankful for all that you are doing in the service of God through these challenging times. Although separated once again, facing ongoing restrictions and uncertainty, we remain close to one another in the fellowship of the Gospel. Thank you for the different ways you are being signs of hope and agents of God’s love in your work and in your communities. Please be assured of our prayers for you – we are so grateful for your prayers for us.

God bless you.

+Graham, Bishop of Norwich   ~   +Alan, Bishop of Thetford   ~   +Jonathan, Bishop of Lynn