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Bishops' Letter

Bishop Jonathan writes...

I write this just as we are beginning the season of Lent – a time when we recognise our distance from God and renew our resolve to live lives worthy of our calling as disciples of Jesus. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ” – the words spoken at the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday are challenging, but ultimately reassuring. We turn back to God knowing that in his grace and forgiveness we can always begin again.

All of us in our individual journeys of faith are called upon to recognise our failures to follow Christ, and especially in Lent to ask God to enable and strengthen us. But our sinfulness is not only individual – we are all enmeshed in a society distorted by sinfulness, which can distort our understanding and emotions to the point where we don’t recognise the evil caused by actions which seem perfectly right and good to ourselves. That is ‘structural sin’ – the sin which we can be part of all unknowingly.

The Revd Andrew Moughtin-Mumby, Rector of St Peter, Walworth and Area Dean of Southwark & Newington, brought a motion to the recent meeting of General Synod, a motion which was passed unanimously. Among other things, it asked the Synod to “lament, on behalf of Christ’s Church, and apologise for, the conscious and unconscious racism experienced by countless Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) Anglicans in 1948 and subsequent years, when seeking to find a spiritual home in their local Church of England parish churches; … express gratitude to God for the indispensable contribution to the mission, ministry, prayer and worship of Christ’s Church in this nation made by people of BAME descent in the Church of England; … resolve to continue, with great effort and urgency, to stamp out all forms of conscious or unconscious racism, and to commit the Church of England to increase the participation and representation of lay and ordained BAME Anglicans throughout Church life; … so that we can move towards truly being a Church for all people; to the greater glory of the God in whose image every human being is made.

During the debate, the Archbishop of Canterbury took it further: “There is no doubt when we look at our own Church that we are still deeply institutionally racist” were his words. The Church as a whole, and I hope all of us as individuals, oppose all forms of racism. But that does not prevent us as individuals, or as a body, from being influenced by biases we do not perceive. As we enter this Lent, let us pray for God’s grace to open our eyes to the uncomfortable truths about ourselves and about our Church, so that we may also be ready to receive with open hearts God’s forgiveness. Then we will be renewed in our desire truly to be a Church for all, rejoicing in our diversity and witnessing in our unity to the love and power of God.