“Do not worry”, says Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. Why do we worry? We worry for things out of our control, the future, when we are dependent on others, what people think of us.
Anxiety is one of the major causes to ill health, mental, emotional, spiritual and physical. Does worry change anything? Planning, being aware of possibilities, that changes things, worry does not. When we focus on worry we miss opportunities, opportunities to change things, to alleviate our fears. Worry does not add a single second to our lives.
Now you know all this, we know it is pointless worrying but we do. Worry focuses on ourselves, the Gospel turns the attention away from ourselves , which is good mental health which proves that doing something for others is great therapy.
I’ve been at General Synod all week where once more the realism of life was sought desperately and failed often. One more a lot of time was spent on procedures, the Cathedrals measure, the channel Islands measure which though legalistic was important to bring about the process of healing and reconciliation through listening and understanding. The DBE measure and how many people serve on General Synod and where do they come from and representation rules across all Church life. (At least that is what it felt like) . With the agenda of the Anglican communion this year being “God’s Church for God’s World” “listening, walking and witnessing together”.
Together, relationships, and we as a Church need to learn to live as strangers in the world. Because we as Christians need to realise it isn’t our world and we need to consider the well being of all, for we are not a congregational Church. Therefore the relationship between clergy and laiety becomes increasingly important. The vocation we have is a response to God’s love and there are professional standards to be adhered to and these standards are summarised thus, love in action. But never far away are the dangers of traditionalism where traditions are used as weapons, the use of Holy for power, weaponising God in our own cause, creating God in our own image. We frequently run the risk of weaponising our traditions into traditionalism which stifles imagination, stifles fresh expression of the Gospel in each new age and stifles adaptability, change and growth.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, alluding to a specific, but it fits generally, that because we worry when we shouldn’t , in our haste to make statements in our desire to do right we lose sight of the human being. In other words, and I quote him “Sometimes Anglicans shoot ourselves in foot invariably whilst the foot is firmly in the mouth.”
The most powerful expression of the Church of living in relationship is the Living love and faith project which seeks to empower discussion on all issues of identity, sexuality and faith. Learning to communicate with others who disagree without causing schism. Wrestling with biblical and theological traditions. It is a call to engage with relationships, vulnerabilities, difference,. Call to approach with confession and repentance. Whole Church learning is a process of discernment. What does it mean to be human?To be loved? To be sexual? Conversations that complexify not simplify, conversations that take us closer to Christ, by our worship, by our wrestling, by our prayer, bring us closer to the one who created all things. At the heart of this discernment is to listen to stories, stories across a multitude of options where we seek to see Christ.
The Windrush legacy is a shame on our history and a continuing shame on our present for in relationships racism still remains, institutional, unconscious bias perhaps, but nevertheless real. In our relationships anything that does not see the individual human Christ story is shameful and unfaithful. We worry about so many inconsequentials, but we don’t seem to worry about real bias, of racism, sexism, homphobia etc. What do we do? Very often nothing and there is nothing worse than turning a blinding eye because it doesn’t affect us. Remember Niomeller’s statement of contrition:- First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.
We as individuals and we as a Church have to recognise that all we hold unconscious bias. It is shameless to reflect that we need to remind ourselves that all are welcome in Christ’s Church. All- regardless of difference, any difference, for we are all unique. There maybe a lot to worry about because pf the shameful acceptance of non-acceptance being the norm. Worry does not help. Saying sorry can often be empty words. A culture of humility is meaningful as we recognise that empty words of apology are not enough. But a culture of humility is a sea change that builds the future with action, the best form of apology is changed behavour. Worry does not change culture, worry does not see universality, does not see beyond difference, worry is all about us, change is all but everybody else.
1 Peter 3 demonstrates that though there are things to be fearful of, we need not worry because God knows that which assails us and is the beginning and the ending of our story. Not to worry is of course not a call to inaction. Rather the reverse, the shameful safeguarding atrocities committed and covered up by those who stood in the name of the Church. Words of apology are to be followed by concrete action and crucially change.
With reference to safeguarding the Church is calling for a more survival centred stance to safeguarding, listening to the voices of those affected and letting those voices and stories shape our future. We can get so worried about doing the right thing we frequently don’t do things right. There is much to learn, a longer journey still to travel, a valley of the shadow of death which has been trod by the survivors and the victims and must also be trod by the Church.
Safeguarding may be the issue created by the Churches own blindness but Climate change, is being illuminated by those outside of the Church. General Synod voted this week to be harder line. To be carbon neutral by 2030, a tall order, a massive and some would say impossible target but the consequences of ignoring it are catastrophic for climate change moves on devastatingly and inexorably throughout the world taking our planet into oblivion. So we have to change for love in action requires change.
Worry or perhaps we need to define worry as empty words reflect more on a person with the voice eloquently raising the worry, rather than actually getting on with what needs to be done which is the change that takes the issue seriously. Climate change unites us all, though Synod was split on the target. Disparity through economic wealth at funerals, and tackling funeral poverty united us all. And was the debate at which I gave my maiden speech, warning of the two tier system that the Church unconsciously colludes in maintaining when there has been a 70% increase in so called Pauper funerals over the last few years. The call of the debate was to challenge the government to rectify this wrong. We have to stand up for the poorest, that is our calling, our mission, our commission give to his Church. And yet, despite that it seems that we are paying lip service to our Church commission, for their is distinct evidence that the Church is not understanding the poorest communities, those communities no longer align themselves with the the social justice proclamation we have. We are an irrelevancy, rather we really are the Conservative party at prayer and this is wrong. So there was a call at Synod to find out what is going on, to replicate good practice in reaching out to the poorest communities and also a call to end Justice Poverty which has increased with the austerity measures.
Worry achieves nothing, but let us rather really love in action, listening to the voices in our communities, rising with them against injustice, apologising for our part in silent acceptance and unconscious bias, and proclaiming good news to the poor. If we do all that, we won’t have time to worry.
In the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr,"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."