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Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Bishop gives up official residence 'to live among his people'
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¬†The Bishop of Lancaster, Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue, has announced that he is giving up his official residence (sale value around £900,000). Instead he will have a few rooms in the Cathedral House and spend the rest of his time "strengthening and sustaining the clergy and people of the diocese by living among them." Bishop Patrick plans to live for up to a month at a time in the different deaneries of the diocese. In a letter sent to parishes yesterday, Pentecost Sunday he wrote: Dear Friends, A priest was agonising with me about his Sunday Masses: he was the only priest in his parish and he was saying five - and what is more, the church was barely a quarter-full for most of them. He needed to cut the number to three, but he was worried that, if he did so, many parishioners would not switch to the remaining Masses, but would stop coming to Mass at all. He was shaken rigid, or so he tells me now, when I told him: "If that's all the Church means to them, if their faith means so little that, when their choice of Mass times drops from five to three, they abandon the sacrament, then let them go!" Surely that has to be wrong! Surely we are trying to reverse the decline in numbers! Surely as a shepherd you must be concerned when people drop away from the Church! Well, of course, I'm concerned. But you cannot - must not - try to pressure people into professing a faith they do not believe. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, etc; resentment and sullen obedience figure nowhere in the list! We are called Christians because we are followers of Christ and we must follow him in this as in all else. Remember his instructions to his disciples when he sent them out to preach. If people listen and respond, that's wonderful; stay with them and share in what they have. But, if they refuse to listen, leave that village and go on to find others who do want to hear - and not only can you not take from the mockers any food or accommodation, you cannot even take from them the dust from their streets. There is a threefold process in being a Christian - recognition, imitation and evangelisation. We recognise who Jesus is, saying with St Peter: You are the Holy One of God, and coming to accept the consequences of that belief. One of those consequences is that we want to model our lives in imitation of him, saying in everything we think, say and do: What would he do? Let me do the same. As that imitation takes root in us, so others will be able to see Christ shining through us - and it is that, before anything else, that disposes them to listen to what we have to say. Indeed, if they do not see Christ in you and me, there is no reason why they should take any notice of us. It was, I think, Mother Teresa who said, "God has not called me to be successful, but to be faithful. That does not mean being complacent about how many are brought to knowledge and love of Christ, but it does mean having the confidence to do it in God's way and in God's time rather than in our own. It is this confidence above all else that I believe we must recapture; not confidence in ourselves, but confidence that God knows what He is doing, confidence in the power of His Word, confidence in the action of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, confidence to follow Him even when He leads us into unfamiliar paths. I have been a priest for thirty-five years and a bishop for nine and I believe passionately that our world is crammed with people who have a desperate longing for God. They may not be in our pews, they may dislike being preached at (who doesn't!), but there is a hunger to hear about God and talk about Him. It is our job - not just the bishop, not just the priests, not just the religious, but every one of us - to seek them out and engage in that conversation, if need be just one person at a time. The Church has always been an evangelical Church. Our mission is not to pine regretfully for past glories, but to strip ourselves of all the dross that weighs us down and set out joyfully to share with those who want to receive the treasures entrusted to us. It would be wrong for me to ask you to pull out into the deep, in this way, if I were not prepared to set the example, and I have been asking myself how I could start. That is why I have proposed that we sell Bishop's House; the grandeur is not appropriate for a shepherd and my needs can be met by a few rooms at the Cathedral. Bishops always tend to be enfolded by the mighty; even within the family of the Church, they are hedged in by officials and advisors. I want to break free from that. My job is not that of Managing Director of The Church plc, but Servant of the Word of God and Shepherd of the Flock. It is ridiculous, in an age when a man at the summit of Everest can chat on the phone with someone in Carlisle, that the bishop should be unable to leave his office for more than a few hours. I want to become a bishop on the move, living for maybe a month at a time in the different deaneries of the diocese. I want us to get to know each other. I want to hear what is troubling you. I want you to feel that you have access to me when you need it and that, when we meet, you are not talking to a stranger. It is not going to be easy to achieve this; the customs, traditions and working practices that chain me to a desk in Lancaster exert a powerful influence. But we are making a start with some two-week visitations. Before the Harvest must come the Spring. I believe we are poised on the threshold of a new Spring, if we but have the faith to move forward in the Spirit. Where is the Lord taking us? To a return to traditional parishes with packed churches? In totally different directions such as, perhaps, on-line Chat Rooms devoted to prayer or problems of faith? I do not know. What I do know is that I am content to place myself in His hands and go where He leads me - and I want you to come too! May God bless you always. + Patrick O'Donoghue, Bishop of Lancaster
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