In his final Easter Message as the Bishop of Dover, the Right Reverend Trevor Willmott has spoken of the Church’s call to be a ‘beacon of hope’ in the parishes and communities of Canterbury Diocese. Speaking of the challenges facing our society today, he said:
The true story of Easter – for it is no fairy tale – is a story of
hope. The story of hope from which all others take their meaning. Hope can
often be considered to be something of a wishy-washy phenomenon – a positive
state of mind, an optimistic glass half-full perspective, which may bear no
resemblance to reality – but at least it makes us feel better.
Such hope is a pale resemblance of what we encounter in the risen Christ on Easter morning. Christ does not give us cause for optimism, but rather the concrete assurance of a victory already won. It is this truth, this hope grounded in reality that every one of us and our increasingly divided society so desperately needs right now. Vain optimism will not solve the divisions of our age. Neither will the temptation to give in to despair – though, for many, the challenges of life seem so overwhelming.
Signs of inequality, injustice and exclusion obscure the possibility of hope for many. Many in our own communities feel increasingly excluded from a sense of common purpose, politically, economically and socially. Hope can feel like a pipe dream, an impossible and pointless exercise.
As St Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is the gift of God to his people and the Church is called to live in and embody the kind of hope made real by faith – life-changing, concrete hope. The call to be a beacon of hope in our parishes and communities is not a call to ignore the signs of suffering and discontent around us. We must pay attention to these signs, lest they cause greater division and despair. Hope is hard. It is always costly for those who seek a different way; the way of reconciliation, justice and truth. For we cannot arrive at the joy and triumph of Easter morning without first travelling the path that leads to the cross, the way of Christ.
To walk this path we must intentionally place the poor, the marginalised, the disenfranchised and the voiceless at the heart of our work together. And in many, many different ways, we are already doing this. Every week I meet and hear the stories of those engaged in church-run food banks, night shelters, debt advice centres. I hear of people coming to faith through simple and honest human contact and compassion. Though we may be small in number and financially challenged, we will not give in to despair. We are a people of hope – hope for ourselves and for those we have yet to meet. Christ has declared hope for all of humanity and we are called to enact that hope in the hardest and most hopeless corners of our county. We will not walk away from being a living and serving presence on urban estates, in our seaside towns, in rural communities.
You bring hope to broken dreams
and show us new possibilities.
Renew us with open hearts, open minds and open wills,
ready to follow wherever you lead.