Bishop of Southwark - The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun
This Easter Season is truly a season of Spring. We have come to the end of the pilgrimage of Lent, we have walked in the shade, in darkness, under a cloud, through a tunnel. It has been uphill work.
This Lent’s art installation in the Cathedral reminded us powerfully of this. Those who did not see it must visualise a very large mass of black netting, tangled together into a shapeless mass, hanging in the upper Choir space. Sitting under it, one could make of it what one needed, for the proper seriousness that befits Lent: a cloud of doubt, a cloud of unknowing, a cloud of sorrow, the dark and heavy weight of what is wrong in the world and in our lives.
Now it is gone light floods this space once again. It is as though through Lent we had walked slowly up a narrow, difficult gully, sometimes choked with stones, sometimes slippery, cold and wet. It was hard going and we trod that way with what faith and courage God gave us. Now, at last, we have reached the reviving joyfulness of the Easter Season, the straight path, along which we walk together with a song on our lips and in our hearts. Spring has come again. The tender leaves unfold at the ends of branches, but I have a sense that it goes broader than nature responding to the lengthening days. New things are coming into being. New possibilities are opening up. It is Spring, and we may reasonably have a Spring in our step.
In the Easter season many of us read and re-read the wonderful story in St Luke’s Gospel of the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24.13-35). In that account Cleopas and another disciple meet Jesus on the day of the Resurrection as they are walking to Emmaus. He walks with them, expounding the Scriptures yet they are so preoccupied with all that had happened in Jerusalem that they do not recognise the risen Jesus until they extend hospitality and he breaks bread with them. Then their eyes are opened and they recognise him, and he vanishes from their sight. They recall their journey with new understanding: “Were not our hearts burning with us while he was talking to us on the road…?” (Luke 24.32).
The Emmaus story informs our Southwark Vision and our commitment to Walking with Jesus, Welcoming all and Growing in numbers.
How good it is, as we continue to walk this joyful path, to be joined on our journey by Jay – The Revd Canon Jay Colwill to be more precise – and on behalf of the whole Diocese I welcome Jay and Jo, as well as Anna and Lewis warmly. It is very good that Jay and Jo’s parents are also with us today’
It is a great joy that you are now Canon Missioner. May the Lord watch over your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore (cf Ps. 121.8).
Jay comes to us with many years experience in Parish Ministry, firstly in Oxford, and then for the last sixteen years in Rochester, where he has been Vicar of Christ Church Orpington, so he is no stranger to South London. Since 2012 Jay has combined that role (and for a time the role of Area Dean) with the post of Assistant Missioner working across the Diocese of Rochester. Besides this, Jay is a musician, an accomplished chef, and a keen mountain biker.
Jay turned this last interest to good account in his 2006 book for the Bible Reading Fellowship, Along the Discipleship Road. The cover shows the silhouette of a mountain biker, and in the book Jay weaves his experience of cycling in the hills and forests of England into an exploration of the different journeys the disciples of Christ took as they sought to follow their Lord.
I sense that Jay has a vision of discipleship not as something we work at, build up, complete, and then place on a shelf to admire, not as something that we dip into on a Sunday morning; but as the journey of life. We are all on this journey. We do not reach the end in this life time. But we walk – or perhaps some of us cycle - together, encouraging one another. Above all we journey with Christ, our hearts on fire with love for Him. In the provisionality of this life what we have is the journey. Surely this is why so many crucial moments in the Old Testament depict God’s people as wanderers.
Our love for God’s Mission, the Missio Dei, takes us to our first love, which in our Second Lesson from Revelation we are challenged not to abandon. Love is embodied in good process as our Mission Department and Jay’s new colleagues exemplify. From our Anthem our most distinctive and defining characteristic must be to ‘See that ye love one another.’
This sense of journeying with love will serve us all well in our missionary calling. Jay, in his new ministry among us, will accompany the Parishes of this Diocese on their journey of Mission Action Planning. There is of course an element of process and management to this, and rightly so. For this must be at heart a joyful journey, a journey of hope.
As a Diocese we have been giving priority to Mission Action Planning for over four years. By the beginning of last year three quarters of our Parishes had a Mission Action Plan, and many of those had embraced the process with real enthusiasm. I doubt not that by now there has been yet more buy-in. Many Parishes are now renewing their existing Mission Action Plans, thinking through where they have come from, looking to the next horizon and seeking to pick out the best path to follow.
I think this is very good; for we are not to be part of the prevailing secular culture of anxiety. But we do need a sense of urgency. We need not be frantic or panicky in our mission, for we journey in God’s strength; but we do need to be intentional and this intentionality springs from the depth of common purpose and has the blessing and encouragement of the whole episcopal team.
Lastly, one thing we need to remember about the story of the Road to Emmaus is something very simple and obvious, which is that the disciples and the risen Lord did actually walk to Emmaus! As they listened, as Jesus unfolded the Scriptures to them, they kept walking. Our parishes are fortunate in having Jay to walk with them.
Two things will be needed: support and challenge. With support but no challenge comes complacency and stagnation. With challenge but no support comes disheartenment and retreat. Jay is possessed of the clarity, frankness and energy to encourage our Parishes to discover what they are called to be. He is also blessed with the God-given warmth and love to support and encourage and celebrate the journey we share together with our Parishes.
Now, as we are joined on this missional journey by such an able and cheerful companion – for we are all companions, as we share our bread on this journey – now at the commencement of Jay’s ministry in this place, let us commit ourselves again to this task. Let us challenge and let us support. Let us plan and let us celebrate. Let us make our journey together with serious intent, yet always with the joyful acceptance of God’s gift. Let us journey with hearts on fire. For as the Psalmist says and as our Choir from St Alphege Solihull have just sung so magnificently, God knows our path (Ps 142.3) and the Lord is our hope in the land of the living (Ps 142.6)