In many ways we are living in very anxious and uncertain times at every level of our lives. On a global level, we are still firmly in the grip of the Covid pandemic with its huge impact on all our lives. Many of our vital systems from healthcare to economics are looking very fragile. The pandemic has had major implications for our church life and raised many questions about how this will continue to flourish into the future. In addition, the even greater challenges of climate change and the environment are very much in our minds and especially with the major international COP26 conference in Glasgow in the first half of November. Whether or not that will produce the level of political and economic agreement which will seriously impact on the tremendous challenges of climate change remains to be seen.

If we add into these global issues all the stresses and strains of our own individual lives, whether those are to do with our relationships, our livelihoods, or our spiritual, mental and physical well-being, then we have a major challenge in getting the right mind-set and approach to living our lives as Christians at this stage of the 21st century. Having had in recent weeks the personal challenge of complications following ankle surgery in August (thankfully now resolving), which resulted in some time off, I have been able to reflect a little on these matters.

It seems to me very important that we are clear about our theological understanding of the events of our lives, and indeed all the goes on not only on planet Earth, but across the universe. This means, of course, seeing everything in the light of the God, who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, our beginning and our end, in whom we live and move and have our being. The month of November gives us plenty of opportunity to reflect on this, both personally and in our regular worship. At the beginning of the month we celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, which remind us of the importance of seeing our life on Earth in the light of our mortality and the whole company of Earth and Heaven. At the end of November, we remember Christ the King and Advent Sunday, which emphasise the saving work of God in Christ through all time. In particular, the belief that God was in Christ, reconciling all things and that this saving love of God will triumph in the end.

In our worship and prayer we seek to let this faith in God’s saving work shape the way we think and live. In a time of so much fear and anxiety this is more important than ever. It is very easy to respond to the challenges of our times with either despair or crippling fear. We certainly do not want a facile optimism which trivialises the scale of the problems we face, but we do need a profound theological and spiritual hope for the future. This involves careful balance between diligence (doing all that is within our powers to shape our own lives and our world for good), and detachment, in the sense of the great spiritual writers, that is a deep sense that God is at work in all things, no matter how difficult our situation may seem.

As we live and pray for our world in these challenging times, I hope and pray that we will all have time to reflect on the deep themes that All Saints, All Souls, Christ the King and Advent Sunday remind us of this month, and that we will find an approach to life in which we are not overwhelmed by fear and despair, but have a genuine realistic hope, which is grounded in the saving love of God in Christ.

Bishop Richard