A pastoral letter to the Clergy, Readers and Local Missional Leaders of the Diocese of Liverpool. January 2021.
I wanted to write to assure you of ongoing prayers from here and from all my Diocesan colleagues, and to encourage you all in your mutual support as the third lockdown unfolds.
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.1 John 3:18-20
Short times of acute exhaustion are nothing new for any of us in ministry of all kinds. This is so whatever the external circumstances. Pastoral and justice work is limitless and often unboundaried; there is always more to do. Sometimes, therefore, things pile up and pile on; each demand is perfectly proper, but taken together they can from time to time be very tiring indeed. The remedy for this is as it has always been; sensible priorities, seasons of rest, and a proper understanding that we can’t do everything. None of us is indispensable and God wants us to flourish, even as we serve.
But the present situation is different. After almost a year of living with the virus, a chronic tiredness has seeped into the bones of the Church and its ministers, especially those whose pastoral ministry is full-time. This is entirely natural and understandable, but it is also unprecedented for us in our generation.
Some examples: for those of you with school-age children, the demands of home schooling alongside work have faced you with repeated and often relentless pressures of time and priority. For those who are single, extended isolation and absence of human contact and human touch has shadowed your life. For those who are shielding and/or who are older, decisions around public worship and pastoral contact are personal as well as corporate; you know that your own health is at serious risk, as well as the health of your people.
In the light of these realities we need to find ways of coping, as a matter of urgency. To be specific, we need to pay careful attention to ourselves and our colleagues so as to recognise the symptoms of chronic exhaustion when we see them, and to respond well.
The attached illustration, drawn from work done for firefighters and emergency personnel, is one very simple way to diagnose where we are at any point, and might help you in the search for strength and resource. I myself found it very helpful when, as the grid says, I was “struggling” a few days ago. We will only seek help if we recognise the need.
Members of the Beloved Community
In all this the deepest resources are our relationship with God and our care for one another. God is greater than our hearts, and Jesus is with us always, to the end of time.
I know that most of you have good resources for your support. These take many forms; perhaps a wise spiritual director, or a spouse/partner, or a parent, or a reflective-practice group, or a prayer-partner or partners, or a counsellor, or a group of good and trusted friends. Alongside these there is, or should be, the strength that comes from knowing that you are a member of a college of ministers in this Diocese – a college of people, lay and ordained, who are called to support one another as well as to serve the Church and the world.
The world-situation is new for us all, and so we must work all the harder to treasure one another. As they often say in the Episcopal Church, we are “members of the Beloved Community”; beloved of God, and equipped by Love to share love and support one with another.
I want you to know how deep is my pride in who you are and in what you are doing; in your patience, in your forbearance, in your digging deep, in your reserves of joy and wonder in the midst of darkness. It is the honour of my own life to serve alongside you at this time of such need in the world.
Bishop Bev, the Archdeacons and I are ready to offer whatever help we can – in practical advice and in constant intercession. Alongside this I strongly encourage you to ensure that you are sharing your situation and getting the help you need, in whatever ways are best for you. We are not alone, nor should we be. Most of all I ask you to commit yourselves with the utmost seriousness, each day, to pray for one another, as members and ministers together in our Diocese. Thank you.
Lent, Holy Week, Easter
As we prepare to journey with our Lord through darkness into light, just a handful of practical matters.
- In time for Ash Wednesday (February 17), the Cathedral will produce a brief recorded penitential liturgy including a sermon from Archdeacon Simon. We’ll let you have fuller details as and when received. I’m grateful to Dean Sue and her colleagues, and to Archdeacon Simon, for animating this.
- In a normal year we would gather for the Chrism Eucharist on the Monday morning in Holy Week (March 29). Please keep this date in your diary; we will do something to worship God together and to renew the promises of our faith and our ministry – though what that will look like is not yet clear. Again, details will follow.
- For the two Sundays after Easter (April 11 and April 18), Bishop Bev and I will make online sermons available so that colleagues might be able to take a post-Easter break more easily.
- Lastly, for those whose churches are open for public worship the national Church coronavirus page has been updated with some liturgical suggestions for Lent, Holy Week and Easter. You can find this document here: https://bit.ly/3iwdi5g. Let me repeat that I expect all whose churches are open to ensure that their risk assessments are robust and up-todate, and especially to make very sure that no households are mingling before or after worship. As usual I advise you to consult the national website regularly: www.churchofengland.org/coronavirus.
Thank you again for your ministry, your resilience and your constant readiness to offer yourself in Christ’s service. God bless you and yours. Stay safe.
This comes with my love, as ever.
The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool.
Bishop’s Lodge, Woolton Park, Liverpool L25 6DT. 0151 421 0831.