Bishop Alastair’s address to Derby Diocese November Synod. Remembrance (8th November 2014)
I want to offer a reflection to us about our call & task at this time of remembrance & I want to take a text from one of the Gospel readings for today from Matthew, ‘The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.’ That, of course, is a snapshot is what Advent & Christmas are about, going through the darkness & arriving at the light of Creation. It is what the Gospel is about when we go through the darkness of Lent & Good Friday & find the light of Easter Day, the salvation of the world. So I want us to think at this time of remembrance about the way the Gospel works, about sitting in darkness & seeing the great light. What does that mean for us as a Diocese, not just this weekend, but as we go through this time of remembrance for the anniversary of the First World War?
Let me just remind you of some of the darkness in which we & many of our brothers & sisters seem to be sitting. There is the remembrance of the First World War which is very poignant this weekend so we, & many people much more directly than us, sit in the darkness of war & conflict & that is the darkness that we see on our television screens, it is destructive & evil. We sit in the darkness of war & conflict.
And then if we think of the world in which we are set, recently Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, used the graphic illustration that the richest 88 people in the world who you could just about cram onto a double-decker bus, own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. 3.5 billion people have between them the same wealth as the richest 88 people. We know that the gap between the rich & the poor in our society & across the globe gets larger & larger as we paradoxically speak more & more about equality, freedom & democracy, & so besides the darkness of war, many people in increasing numbers sit in the darkness of poverty.
Just to share with you because it is topical, I have been privileged to spend the last week in Rome on another consultation working on this issue of Human Trafficking. Probably 36 million people at least across the globe are trafficked. Of those 36 million last year there were only 5,000 successful prosecutions, so millions of people sit in the darkness of slavery. Of course, it is not just technical legal slavery, in our own society more & more people sit in the darkness of zero-hour contracts, for instance, which can come quite close to slavery.
So we are in a society where people sit in the darkness of war & conflict, the darkness of poverty & the darkness of slavery. How are we going to be agents of helping those sitting in these darknesses to see the great light that we use Advent to prepare for, to see the light of Christ at Christmas?
First of all we know, & something we have got to show & teach the world, that light grows from inside us & is nourished through prayer, reflection & engagement with the living word of scripture. There is a hopefulness in human beings that prayer focusses. There was a remarkable hopefulness amongst people in the trenches & a testament of that is being raised at this time of remembrance. There is a remarkable hopefulness of people in poverty, & those who have been privileged to visit through our link with the Church of North India, who work with people in the slums of Delhi & Calcutta, know of the optimism & hopefulness of people sat in the darkness of poverty. And I have just been meeting victims of slavery in whom hope has survived & brought them through. And so one of the things we have got to do through our work in communities & our own discipleship is help people focus on the hope that God puts in our hearts for salvation, the grace, the goodness, the light in the darkness that brings the best for us. We have got to pray ourselves, & our communities have got to show, that we gather to enable God’s light to grow in us & as it grows in us it shines through us & into society. So that is our call to arms & I hope that we remember at this time & then through Advent to pray deeply & carefully so that God’s light can shine in us more strongly & then through us more powerfully.
I just want to end by reminding us of three ways in which as a Diocese we can be trying to make this witness of letting the light that God gives us shine in the darkness & through us into the darkness of the world.
First I want to invite us to think about people sat in the darkness of war. On your chairs you have been given an invitation to a book launch of this remarkable book ‘Sacrifice Remembered’. People win wars but you never win peace – that is the tragedy of the human situation. You can think we have won a war but it is almost impossible to win the peace, the darkness keeps coming back. We are at war at the moment as a country. We see our planes involved in military missions on the television. War keeps coming & people are sat & trapped in the darkness of war. This remarkable book, which we are launching on 29th November, is an amazing collection of the experiences & hopes of people from the First World War right up to the present day, including current primary school children. A whole range of people have been invited to share reflections, their stories & experiences. One of the privileges of the Church is that we hold the memory for communities in our buildings, in our war memorials, in our stained glass, in a story we tell about Jesus dying & rising from the dead. We hold the stories that people can gather round & try & make sense of the darkness & seek life. I want to pay tribute to Jack Cooper, who has really been the energy & the wisdom to allow this project to happen. Jack, in a previous life, was a professional publisher & has very generously & graciously helped us who are more amateurs gather this material. It is a coffee table book because war is not something you can just remember the darkness of, read all about it & put it on the shelf & you have done it. I think that this is a kind of book like other coffee table books which people will leave out & dip into & be inspired by & remember & let light be nourished & grow in them through the memory.
There is a poignancy to this book & its very beautiful production. We are selling it for a minimum donation of £10 & for anybody who sees it you would spend £25 in the shop. It is so beautiful because Jack has a friend called Aleanna who he brought over from New York for a week & she listened to us very patiently about what we were trying to do with all this information we were gathering, all these stories, all these pictures. She went away & through the wonder of the internet worked with our office & hers in New York & she laid it out & immediately captured what we were trying to do in a way that we would not have known how to present. On the day the book was signed off across the web, Aleanna helped a friend move 60 miles out of New York, & driving back that night she went off the road & was killed in a car crash. It is very poignant that the book she had given us was her last piece of work. It is called Sacrifice Remembered & we will remember Aleanna for providing the generous expertise & encouragement which allows the people of Derbyshire to have this record of memory & this resource which will remind us that light keeps coming, hope keeps growing. I hope that each of us in our own way will help other access this resource & let it speak to us. So we have a resource to help us remember those who are sat in the darkness of war & conflict & to let light & hope shine through it.
And then we have, & I make no apology for this as everywhere I go I have a relentless campaign at the moment, CDs for sale for our Harvest project in India. And again I do not apologise for that because if you are privileged to go & look people in the eye in Delhi in the slums, you will use every opportunity to say to people as rich as us ‘find £10 & buy one of these spiritual resources & make a contribution.’ And why is this important? Because, as more & more of the world’s population gets poorer, the way out for many people is not going for salvation through big multi-national companies, it is going to be salvation through what people call micro-economics – little businesses set up by small numbers of people that are manageable & give them a life in their local community. We have been supplying people in Delhi with the ways to set up businesses through this Harvest Appeal for recycling. Many people sit in darkness & we can try & help light shine in their hearts by supporting this appeal & going to buy some more CDs & sell them, shamelessly. In our own communities we need to be willing to help people who are sitting in the darkness of poverty by small ways of making a contribution & having a living & interchange with others.
And then, lastly, beside those who sit in the darkness of war & the darkness of poverty I have just spent most of the week with those who sit in the darkness of slavery. I met a Ghanaian man who, when he was 6, was sold by his parents for $20 into the fishing industry. He worked from 3am to 8pm every day until he was 13. And if he made a mistake he was hit round the head by the people driving him. One of the main jobs was to dive into the water because the nets where they were fishing in lakes got caught on old trees & these little kids would have to swim down & free the nets. It didn’t matter if the children perished, they only cost $20. The nets cost $200. He couldn’t escape until he was 13. I also met a very courageous African woman at this conference who was taken into sex slavery when she was 9. The pain was so great every day that she would beg to be given drugs. When another girl escaped as a 14 year old & was rescued, she was sent home & when she arrived at home the first thing that happened to her was the policeman raped her, made her pregnant & she had a child. These are just three stories from two of the people I have been working with this week about slavery. Many of us are connected simply because many of our mobile phones are made through slavery, as are lots of electronic equipment & our clothing. There is an urgent need for us to start wising up as consumers, as purchasers. Brothers & sisters in darkness in our cities, in our market towns, even some of our villages are being enslaved. We are developing ways in the Diocese to help us learn how to spot signs of slavery, to look for potential victims & to support the work of the police as we make legislation which will make the police take this more seriously. We have a big task in our county, as a Diocese, as a network that covers every bit of the Diocese, to be at the forefront of helping people identify victims & support them & let their hope rise up in them. So people are in the darkness of war & conflict, the darkness of poverty & the darkness of slavery. A real Gospel wants the light that God gives us in Christ to shine in us & through us & into the darkness of those real people in real times in real situations. I am going to finish by reading a poem – it is the last poem in the book ‘Sacrifice Remembered’. It is written by a boy called Jack Banks, who is 11 & at Osmaston Primary School, & this is what he wrote:
I hope for hope
Hope is in all minds
Hope is in all hearts
Hope is in all people
Hope will one day sort out all wars
Hope is the torch in the darkness
Like an angel come down from the sky
Like a person raising from the dead
Hope is a miracle
Hope is a saviour
Hope is a thing you will have for life
Try & help people be blessed with this book & through the sale of it we will be helping to bring light to those who sit in darkness. Bishop Alastair Nov 2014