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New Bishop Calls for Celebration of Diversity

by Jonathan Ball last modified 23 Apr, 2012 09:54 AM

In his enthronement sermon in Salisbury Cathedral, the new Bishop Nicholas Holtam called for a happier and more confident Church if Christians can accept and enjoy difference.

New Bishop Calls for Celebration of Diversity

Bishop Nicholas Holtam

Using the example of a mosaic from the floor of a Roman villa at Hinton St Mary in Dorset - possibly the earliest representation of Christ in existence - Bishop Holtam argued that diversity is built into Christian faith. The mosaic shows Jesus as looking like a Roman Emperor, because that’s how he was seen in the context Christians lived in at the time. ‘Together we see God in one Jesus, through four Gospels, with twelve disciples, and sixty-six books of the Bible: pluralism is built into the script. ‘

Pointing to the change brought to the Church when the first non-Jews were converted, he added that this is a warning to us in our day about the ways in which the outsider and the social outcast can make God known to us: ‘We are the guardians of the truth but we are not its sole possessor.’ 

Bishop Holtam went on to encourage Christians not to fear the survival of the Church, because people respond and care passionately to the love of God shown ‘…when we are true and deep, speaking and acting about things that really matter - about life and death, love and forgiveness, the care of the environment and justice, about suffering and what lasts forever.’

The Bishop called on the Church to show the meaning of good religion and to help society gain confidence in religious belief and practice in the face of the lethal effects of bad religion. This must be done in the context of a western society where we like to have values without beliefs, ‘...but actually, God matters and so does the ‘common good’. 

‘Our politicians’ condemnation of the summer’s rioters was less than convincing after the Parliamentary expenses scandals. Greed and conceit undermined banking as a public good. We find it difficult to sustain loving faithful relationships, to reverence life and care for creation in ways that cherish and sustain God’s gift. It’s easy to blame others but in this crisis of values we really are in it together ,

The key to tackling this crisis, he argued, is to see it as an opportunity to challenge individualism:  ‘In the West we have been misled to think that we exist primarily as individuals: “I think therefore I am”. It has led us to ask, “What’s in it for me?”  In Africa, “I belong therefore I am”: we exist as members one with another and I am well if you are well…In this fragile world we must learn what it means to belong together by loving God our neighbours and the wide earth. ‘

Bishop Holtam thanked those who had cared for the Diocese of Salisbury in the past and in the year since the retirement of the last Bishop, Dr David Stancliffe, and added  that he and his wife Helen are already beginning to feel at home in a situation very different from his last post as Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square.

For the full text, please click here. To see and hear the sermon , please click here.

For a Gallery of the day, click here.

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