As Christians, we not only try to follow Jesus’ teaching but we are also called to share his life so that Christ lives in us and we in Christ. Our lives are to be transformed so that we become more like Christ and so ourselves share and reveal the nature of God. If God is merciful, then we too in our individual lives and in our shared life as the Church are called to be merciful. What might that mean for us in the Diocese of Chichester?
Our Diocesan Strategy which constitutes our vision for the way ahead has three key strands and the Year of Mercy has the potential to impact on each of those three areas.
- The first area is Church growth which is both spiritual and numerical. It is clear that individually and as a Church we will be judged on how much we have shown love, compassion and mercy. In order to grow in our capacity for love, compassion and mercy we need to spend time with Jesus in prayer. This is of course what he himself did – he went to a lonely place very early in the morning to pray (Mark 1. 35). In his prayer he was resourcing himself and his followers for a ministry which was an outpouring of compassion and mercy. To grow in compassion and mercy is a spiritual issue for us and a focus for our prayer as we seek to become more Christ-like. It will bear tangible fruit as we help and support those in need, as we comfort the sorrowful, as we forgive those who mistreat us, as we hold before God the needs of others in our intercessory prayer. And all of this, can have an impact upon the numerical growth of the Church. As we grow in the likeness of Christ and his life is lived out in ours so we hope and pray that people are drawn to the Church through us. They see something in our life which is good and attractive and want that to be part of their lives too.
- The second area is Re-imaging ministry. Fundamental to re-imagining ministry is the recognition that all Christians by virtue of our baptism have a share in the ministry of Christ as we are called into the life in Christ and empowered with gifts by the Holy Spirit. The question for us is how can we bring God’s compassion and mercy to bear upon the different contexts and situations that we find ourselves? Whether in the supermarket or on the railway station, at work or walking the dog, in all the different places we find ourselves over the course of the week there are abundant opportunities if we are alive to them to be conduits for God’s grace and mercy.
- The third area is Contributing to the common good. This is an area which lends itself easily and readily to our living out the mercy of God. The parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25) spells out clearly how as Christians we are called to engage in acts of mercy and compassion. For us today there are so many opportunities to feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, to visit the sick and bereaved, to visit those in prison, to send money to support migrants and those affected by natural disasters – the list is endless. But there are other less obvious ways in which a focus on mercy can contribute to the common good. Being compassionate and merciful is about breaking down the barriers of mistrust and suspicion that can exist between us. It is about emerging from our well defended opinion and views and engaging with generosity with the view- points and perspectives of others. It is about entering into dialogue with those with whom we disagree, sometimes profoundly, to see the world in a different light. It is about opening the doors of our hearts and minds.
This opening of the doors of our hearts and minds is key for our growth in recognising the mercy and compassion of God. This will be celebrated in a practical way. The start of the Year of Mercy will be marked by the opening of a door, which is not usually used, in Chichester Cathedral. This will happen on 6 December at 3.30pm in the context of Cathedral Evensong. There will be a short service at the beginning of Evensong when Bishop Martin will open the door, which will be St Richard’s door on the south side of the Cathedral. Bishop Martin will be joined by Bishop Richard Moth, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton. It is hoped that each Deanery will send a group to share in the launch of the Year of Mercy.