A communication from the Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham
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Bishops' Pastoral Letter - Lent 2021
‘The Creator …does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable … they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint.’
(Isaiah 40.27-31 NRSV)
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
 
As we enter the season of Lent 2021 we are very conscious that the pilgrimage we have all been making to this particular Ash Wednesday has been a hard one and unlike any other we have known.  The first lockdown, which came during Lent last year, was a shock and impelled us all to rapidly operate and think very differently. It was a time of great trepidation and uncertainty and yet also a time of so much creativity and courage as each person sought to respond to the unfolding crisis. We remain deeply thankful for the wide variety of ways in which all across the Diocese, in every kind of parish, people have ‘stepped up’, so ably led by you and your lay leaders. Worship happened; prayer took place; the neediest were cared for; pastoral care continued and hope was experienced in the midst of isolation. Recognising what has been borne and also what has been achieved in such hard times, giving thanks for each grace, no matter how small, is so important.

This has clearly been such a costly pilgrimage. All of us have known people, including those we love, whose lives have been taken, or dramatically changed, by Covid 19.  Many of you have also had the challenge of handling ‘home school’ and ‘home university and college’. We have endured periods of deep isolation from loved ones.  Given the toughness of these long months, it is not a surprise to hear that for many this current lockdown has been the hardest period to handle. We entered it tired and ‘fed up’ and the days have been short and dark and the weather foul. Being simply human we do grow faint and weary, lose energy for the journey, struggle to see the way ahead or imagine what dawn will look like and believe it will come.

So, as we enter Lent this year don’t worry if you are already tired. Instead, pray for eyes to see and hearts to be open to the new life the Lord Jesus will bring to us and our communities. Let the word Lent, the old English word for the spring season, help us each be open to the new life God would bring to us in our weariness.  Let us remember again that ‘The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint …’ (Isaiah 40.28f). We enter this Lent with hope founded in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
LENT, HOLY WEEK & EASTER RESOURCES & SERVICES
As we enter this season of Lent we know many of you will have planned your own online Lent series. We are really grateful for the large number who are planning to take up the Racial Justice series designed by Remi Omole, Alan Bartlett and their small team. You can see the launch event online at https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/DfQnco7hPXF2EnJef-qBe5OGv3TlcPTdr4W8p4taNjRjEEisUHUFzybc36uHNSzo.4QKRB6EkWMWZuMZa Passcode: Z4UR@!z.

The Religious Resource Centre has also put together an engaging series of webinars to complement the group studies. Details for booking on to the webinars can be found here: https://durhamdiocese.org/join-us-on-our-racial-justice-lent-course-in-2021/ It might feel a challenging theme for a time such as this yet when so much has been disrupted in our nation and our lives the voices of those who have lived as communities with injustice for generations might just be more accessible when so much we took for granted has been overturned. Let us all be open to how God might change us together through this. We hope that any who feel their voice has not been heard will speak afresh during these opportunities.

We are very grateful to the Dean and Chapter for providing an online Ash Wednesday service, and a series of reflections for Holy Week led by the Archdeacons as an offering for the whole Diocese to use. There will also be a weekly reflection each Sunday to help us all on this Lenten journey (these will be on the website: https://durhamdiocese.org.

Whilst sadly we will not all be able to gather in the Cathedral for the Chrism Eucharist and Renewal of Ordination vows on Maundy Thursday it is pleasing that we expect to be able to live stream from the Cathedral. We have invited the Area Deans and Lay Chairs to be present as representatives of the whole Diocese. They will also take the oils away from the Cathedral so that each benefice can then collect some from them for use as the year unfolds. We believe that the ministry of anointing might be a very significant one in the months ahead as we help people face their grief and seek healing from their pain and sadness. The Easter Vigil (sadly no congregants) will be live-streamed and a Eucharist later on Easter Sunday morning.
 
LIVING IN LOVE & FAITH
You will recall a promise of a copy of the Living in Love and Faith book for all incumbent status clergy and curates. Production issues meant that the delivery due by early December arrived last Friday. We will now work on delivery. David Rushton, our LLF Advocate, will be working with us and a small group in the coming weeks to put together proposals for how we can explore this material together from May onwards. In the meantime we encourage you to study the Pastoral Principles carefully here
www.churchofengland.org/about/leadership-and-governance/general-synod/bishops/pastoral-advisory-group/pastoral-principles

Finally, we are still hoping to be able to do a gentle launch of the Pilgrimage Routes on Palm Sunday. +Paul and Rosemary plan to walk The Way of Life over the first 2 days of Holy Week and the other three routes are planned for May. The thought of walking the Pilgrimage routes reminds us how important simply walking step by step is. In Isaiah 40, God promises to renew our strength. Sometimes this renewal does mean soaring like an eagle; at other times it does mean running and not growing weary but perhaps Isaiah ends with ‘walk and not faint’ because that is the normal way of God’s work with us.

Right now, we need God’s renewing strength to just help us keep on walking; taking each step of our pilgrimage one at a time; at a steady pace; alongside one another. We are sure there will be new times for running and soaring but now through this Lent let us be content to simply walk together side by side discovering the renewing presence of our living, loving God together.
 

+Paul
+Sarah
 

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