Following the very joyful celebration of Corpus Christi at St Mary’s Eastbourne earlier this month, I want to write to you to outline plans for the coming year. I hope that these plans will indicate that there is a very positive year ahead, and that we already have at our disposal significant resources that are God’s gift to us for the service of his Mission of love and salvation.
First, however, I wish to pay tribute to the contribution that Bishop Mark has made to the life and work of catholics in this diocese. We remain united with him in our commitment to know, love, follow Jesus, and in our openness to the unity in Christ of all who seek to live the apostolic life in its catholic fullness. We respect theological conscience, and so we respect his decision. Let there be no lack of charity or courtesy in our recognition of the ministry of bishop that he continues to exercise.
Members of The Society, and those who identify with its discipline, will retain access to the diocesan bishop for pastoral and sacramental ministry, where necessary. This provision will cover ordinations to the diaconate and the priesthood, all of which will, in future, take place in the Cathedral.
What, then, of the future life of The Society?
I am sure that we are all grateful to Fr Mark Gilbert for his leadership of The Society in this diocese, for his provision of unfailing encouragement and his trust in God’s guidance of us through the Holy Spirit.
During the course of the coming year there will be three gatherings that will draw together those who are already members of The Society and those who wish to identify the disciplines that The Society represents.
First, on Tuesday 13 October, from 10.00 am – 4.00 pm there will be a gathering for licensed clergy, at The Palace, Chichester, in order to review the ways in which we serve the people of our congregations and parishes. Our focus will be on renewal in the ways of holiness, releasing the gifts and capacities of lay people, and serving Christ in the poor. In short, we shall be looking at how to know, love, follow Jesus in ways that enable the Holy Spirit to expand our growth in holiness and in numbers.
The future of The Society in the diocese of Chichester lies in our commitment to being fully integrated into this diocese and household of faith, and taking a lead in its strategy for growth. That means contributing distinctively to our common life, respecting others, and being recognised and valued for the contribution that our distinctive discipline makes to the life of the diocese as a whole.
In order to assist us in growth and confidence, as lay and ordained Christians alike, four of our Honorary Assistant Bishops, who are also members of The Society, have agreed to oversee the development of certain aspects of our apostolic life. Each bishop will organise this separately but in liaison with each other and with the clergy and parishes of The Society.
Bishop Geoffrey Rowell will work with us on expanding our confidence as apologists for the Christian faith. This means that in order to help us tell others what we believe and experience, as catholic Christians in the Church of England, we need to be familiar with the study of the Bible, of Church history and teaching, and deepening our understanding of how the language and symbols of the Church can communicate our experience of God.
Bishop Michael Langrish has agreed to promote the life of personal prayer and the development of our skills in pastoral care. This will involve looking at our daily disciplines (prayer, making your confession, giving, service to others, etc) as well as our collective spiritual life expressed in the quality of worship, and the extent to which we represent the mercy of God in the ways that Pope Francis has recently described.
Bishop Nicholas Reade will encourage us to use the disciplines of pilgrimage and retreat to expand our apostolic life as lay and ordained Christians. This will build on much that is familiar – Walsingham, Lourdes, the Holy Land – in our experience, but also open up ways that these experiences can equip us for the new challenges that growth demands of us.
Bishop Peter Wheatley will prompt us to review how we use our gifts and resources strategically. This will focus on precisely what the strategy asks: that we do an audit of our needs and priorities, put our energies into one major task, that we cost and time it, and when it is accomplished that we realise the potential of what has been accomplished by starting on a new task. Reviewing our material resources is essential to our spiritual health. And let’s remember, Bishop Peter used to be an archdeacon!
The co-ordination of The Society in the diocese will lead to the establishment of local hubs, giving lay people who are isolated a sense of where their nearest parish support will be, and also ensuring that retired Priests and Deacons with PTO are recognised, supported and encouraged and as they provide the invaluable ministry of sacramental and pastoral support to others.
Second, On Saturday 23 January, 2016, from 10.00 am – 1.00 pm at St Paul’s, Brighton, there will be the Society Exchange: a morning of information, comment, and questions, with input from diocesan and national contributors, ending with Mass. Book the date now.
Third, On Sunday 5 June, 2016, at 4.00 pm there will be a Diocesan Society Eucharistic Festival at St Saviour’s, Eastbourne. It will be Sermon, Procession of the Blessed Sacrament, Blessing of the Sick, and Benediction, followed by a Reception, as only Eastbourne knows how. The band has been booked already; you should book the date now!
Finally, brothers and sisters, I urge you to pray for an increase of vocations to the priesthood of those who will exercise this ministry under the disciplines that we seek to maintain in the form that we share them with the Church Catholic, East and West, and in the form that we have received them. Pray for these vocations among the young, and in those who will be gifted leaders and pastors.
So let us entrust ourselves and all our apostolic life to God, the Holy and Indivisible Trinity, rejoicing in the unfailing intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of St Wilfrid, St Hilda, and St Richard of Chichester, confident that we should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our life and our resurrection.
The Society under the patronage of Saint Wilfrid & Saint Hilda
The Society Bishop Rt Revd Martin Warner
The Society Bishop’s Representative for Chichester.
Fr Mark Gilbert SSC
Vicar of St Wilfrid's Church, Chichester.
St Wilfrid's Vicarage, 7 Durnford Close, Chichester, West Sussex. PO19 3AG
01243 783853 Mb 07810004062