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Bishop's New Year Thoughts for 2014

by Gerry Lynch last modified 08 Jan, 2014 12:23 PM
The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, gave some thoughts to BBC Radio Wiltshire.

In 2014 I will be 60. I haven’t yet decided how to mark it but on my 50th birthday I went up Snowdon with family and friends. It’s the only time I have been up that mountain in clear weather. We could see the Lake District. Age helps us see the distance and gives perspective. So as we get older, I hope for all of us that age brings wisdom and the possibility of using our experience for good.

One of my hopes for the Church of England this year is that in July we will give final approval to the ordination of women bishops. No one can accuse us of moving too fast. The case for women priests was being made in the 1920’s. The first woman priest in the Anglican Communion was ordained 70 years ago by the Bishop of Hong Kong.  When I was ordained deacon in 1979 my mother said she wouldn’t fully believe in the Church of England until there is a female Archbishop of Canterbury.2014 will be the year when we say clearly and unequivocally that we want the ministry of women on the same basis as that of men. Hooray.

Social change takes time and we don’t all move at the same pace. 2014 will see the first same sex marriages in the UK.  They won’t be possible in church, but for those who want to be married there will be a civil celebration with family and friends. Whatever we think,  I hope we will support and sustain people in their love and commitment for each other as that is what matters most in life. 

I have sometimes thought that even if I didn’t believe in God I might still go to church. Where else do you meet such a variety of people?  Churches are centres of community.  With 452 parishes in the Diocese of Salisbury, and lots of other churches as well, there is a Christian presence in every community.  Wwe’ve got our feet on the ground and know what’s going on.

Jesus said, “Love God and love your neighbour as yourself”, and by his actions and teaching he included the marginalised and poor, those without a voice. In 2013 the Archbishop of Canterbury drew attention to the increasing gap between rich and poor and the iniquities of pay-day loans.  I joined the South Wiltshire Credit Union. Credit Unions are a good way for a community to organise so that the poorest have access to the disciplines and freedoms that go with saving and borrowing. 

Food banks help a family in a crisis, and that is great, but as a society we’ve become dependent on them for people on welfare and for people on low wages. We can do better than that.  In the UK 3.6 million children are growing up in poverty. We can do better than that.  And because of poverty mortality rates vary by as much as 12 years, depending on where you live. We can do better than that, too.   So there’s a challenge for us.

In our Christmas cards we wrote, “Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year”. The peaceful New Year doesn’t just happen.  You have to work at it, with the family and neighbours as well as in the wider world.  Lots of military families in Wiltshire will know a lot about that be glad to welcome their loved ones home from service in Afghanistan or in other parts of the world.

The Diocese of Salisbury has a link with the Sudan and South Sudan. In 2013 we marked the 40th anniversary of that partnership with a good deal of hope for the future. At the turn of the year in South Sudan there is trouble and violence and uncertainty again. We hope and pray for peace and continue to support both the peacekeepers and the peacemakers there. Love begins at home but it doesn’t stop at home.

For all of us, I hope and pray we will have a happy new year.

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