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Christmas message to the Diocese
Bishop of London
In his annual Christmas message to the Diocese, Bishop Richard reminds clergy and churchgoers across London of the importance of the Church’s work with the community.
On Friday of last week Sister Theresa Capel died peacefully and at a great age. She was one of the last members of the Church Army to have known its founder, Prebendary Wilson Carlile, a priest of the Diocese of London who had stepped outside the walls of the church where he was a curate to fan the rumour of God on the streets, and who had then returned to breathe new life into a City church as Rector of St Mary-at-Hill.
Theresa Capel embodied the spirit of the Church Army at its best. She had been a Chaplain at Strangeways Gaol and served at the Training College where Terry Waite told me she was regarded with awe and even a little fear. She was strenuous and unsentimental, and I knew her where she worked for most of her life, in a hostel for homeless women. She had no blood relatives but she had an enormous family of women, together with whom she made a home. It is a philosophy which gave way to a more developmental concept of hostel care, but there will always be a need for some people of a secure and loving shelter from the buffets of the world and this Theresa Capel built.
She was very clear-sighted about the perils which lie around us. I remember meeting her in a supermarket where, after a few words, she darted over to the checkout with a cry of “Oh no you don’t!” and extracted a bottle of gin from the basket of an alcoholic resident.
She was very sceptical about the doctrine of male headship, and found clergymen especially implausible; still we were privileged as a family to count her as one of our own family, and we have stayed in touch with her over the twenty years since we left the parish where she worked.
I look back on the events of last week through the prism of her Christian life. On Monday and Tuesday the House of Bishops struggled to find the thread which would lead us through the Synodical Labyrinth. A committee of sixty, seated “cabaret-style” around tables, able — as one bishop remarked — to speak about once in every hour and a half is perhaps not the ideal forum in which to make decisions. The synodical work has to be done efficiently, but there was a reiterated sense that the Church at the national level needs a profound culture change.
I am proud to be a part of a church which I believe to be massively credible locally in our Diocese, through the work of saints like Sister Capel and those who have been recognised by Stuart Lipton’s report on Tottenham for their contribution to creating community in the borough. There are so many examples and, at a national level, it seems to me that the story this Christmas should be that the Church has recognised the plight of the thousands of children who need foster care, and is moving heaven and earth to meet their need. This is not an idea plucked out of thin air. A host of Christians are already involved, and I am aware of three clergy families who have recently volunteered themselves for this kind of front-line service. Kris Kandia of the Evangelical Alliance is also working on a wider initiative. The pressures of fostering are very great, so the potential of Christian communities in supporting families who decide to foster could be significant.
What would it take for this to be the story of our Church this Christmas? We should have to look and act more like a campaigning charity like Save the Children and less like a department of State. We should have to meet less as a Synodical House of Bishops and more frequently as Bishops on a mission, looking for allies in the most unexpected places.
This Christmas letter gives me the opportunity once again to thank you for a partnership in the gospel which, whatever the slings and arrows, is always life-giving.
Some of you may have heard that Caroline has recently undergone major surgery at Barts, and that we are waiting for the results of the associated biopsy at the end of this week. The messages and the prayers of so many people have kept us afloat, and we have been touched and humbled by so much kindness — and by the reminder that Christmas is actually about learning to receive.
May you all have a blessed Christmas.