8 September 2023
May the Peace of our Risen and Ascended Lord be with you!
This day and date is important for three reasons at least, but probably many more.
First, this letter comes to you as we celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the one so filled with grace that she was able to be the God-Bearer and so participate in the redemption of mankind. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord!” “Be it unto me according to thy word.”
May that grace that filled her life, be present in you and me today.
Second, because it is the anniversary of the death of our late Queen, Elizabeth II. I suspect that most of us will remember where we were when we heard the news while the nation held its breath and slipped into silent mourning. When we remember her, we give thanks to God for her Christian faith and His grace that was so evident in her life. Today, while we remember her, we pray too for her son, King Charles III, that he may daily be renewed by the Holy Spirit and that his reign may be one of grace-filled service to this nation and the Commonwealth of Nations.
The third reason is more personal, for it is on this date a year ago that I learned that HM the Queen had approved my nomination as the next Bishop of Beverley. The email arrived in my Inbox just a few hours before her death. Please pray for me as I continue in this ministry. I will pray for you too as you continue to serve God in your varying contexts.
There will be a number of other reasons why this date is special to the Church, to nations and individuals. During every 24 hour period so much happens that there are countless anniversaries observed in countless ways across the world. But all those anniversaries, whether they be celebrations or laments, have their origin and source in the One who came amongst us as God-made-Man, Jesus Christ.
Not all people may subscribe to the Christian Faith, or indeed to any faith or creed, but that does not mean that God fails to love and care for us all. Time and time again we read in Holy Scripture that God is the first-mover in all relationships: “We love because he first loved us” is how St John summarizes this reality (1 John 4 v 19). It is that love which is at the very centre of today’s celebration of the Virgin’s birth.
Because of God’s love, He came amongst us as Jesus the Son. That same love prepared Mary to be the His Mother, the God-Bearer. That same loved prepared her parents, St Joachim and St Anna, enabling them to nurture her. And so it is that we too may look back on our lives to discover people and situations where grace had gone before us and prepared that way for us to receive the knowledge of Jesus and the salvation that comes with it. A sobering thought is that we may be being used as the preparatory vessel of grace who enables someone else to encounter Jesus.
I continue to be inspired and encouraged by the many parishes and people I visit. Amongst those who look to the See of Beverley for sacramental and pastoral care, there is a tangible faith expressed and strengthen through worship, pilgrimage and public service. I give thanks to God for you all.
Slightly later than planned, you will shortly be receiving a request for Episcopal visits next year: I hope to meet and visit new people and places, as well as those whom I have had the pleasure of seeing already. Please plan ahead for Confirmation dates, but don’t set anything in stone until you have heard back from me. Don’t worry about the “three-month rule” I proposed last time I wrote to you: I’ve listened!
At the end of June I had a very productive meeting with my Representatives in the Dioceses of the Northern Province. There are embryonic plans for a Northern Festival to be held in York Minster in the Summer of 2024, as well as quiet days for clergy and vocations days for those discerning some form of authorised public ministry. I hope to publish these plans before too long.
There is a Vocations Conference for men considering ordained priestly ministry in London on 20 – 22 October 2023: please look at the Additional Curates Society website (Vocations Conference 2023 – Additional Curates Society) or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
One theme emerges in almost every parish visit or discussion I have – and that is mission and its relationship to our finances. There is no easy answer to the many complexities that face us at the moment, but one book that may be inspirational is Fr James Mallon’s “Thriving Faith: Discipleship in uncertain times” published in 2022 addressing the post-Covid church. Although his context is the Catholic Church in Canada there is much that resonates with us and so I commend it to you. It’s not just a book for clergy, but for all who wish to see the church flourish.
If you want something else to make you think about faith and the human condition, I re-read Ernest Hemingway’s “For whom the Bell Tolls” while on my summer holiday. It’s heavy going in places, but the conversation around faith in adverse situations weaves through almost every page. Something more light-hearted, but equally informative about the universal human condition is a delightful little book by Alex Bescoby: “The Last Overland: 21,000 km, 23 countries and One Very Old Land Rover” tells the story of the 2019 adventure of driving from Singapore to London in a Land Rover, in the same vehicle that drove the First Overland from London to Singapore in 1955. Apart from anything else, it reminds readers in a fun way how the world has changed. It made me pray for the church and people in countries I will probably never visit. Above all, it reminded me to lift my eyes to see a different horizon. (If I’m honest, it also sated my love for old Land Rovers. I remain convinced Jesus would have asked for one if a donkey hadn’t been available!)
What ever we do and wherever we find ourselves may we at all times and in all places find ourselves fixed to the Cross of Christ, carrying it as Our Lord asks, not as a burden, but liberated and strengthened by the Holy Spirit so that through our witness others may come to know God as Father.
May the grace of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit go before you.
+ Stephen Beverley