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It’s a long while since I’ve managed to get to the Durham Miners’ Gala, as I’m usually getting ready for Sunday, but Sheridan went down yesterday.  It’s not what it was, of course.  He phoned to tell me and was talking about the bands and the banners from the pits and the symbols and images on the banners.  And one of them had a picture of the Good Samaritan, today’s reading from the Gospel.  And that made sense, because in the old mining villages, communities stuck together and the Unions were there to help you.

 

Who is my neighbour? 

My neighbour is my compatriot doing a hard job and the community that sticks together to protect the workers.

 

In General Synod last weekend, we were dealing with all sorts of issues.  There was a tough debate on clerical sexual abuse and the way the Diocese of Chichester had failed to deal properly with clergy who abused children and young people.  There was a statement from the victims support group and it was hard to listen to.  They had been let down by the abuser whom they trusted and then let down by the church who hadn’t listened and hadn’t protected them.  We need to change the culture so that the church is a safe place for children and vulnerable adults. The Church of England is introducing tougher rules, including employment and working practices, and all clergy will have to undergo regular training. 

 

This is something we know about in this parish because of the history, though the sexual abuse was identified and dealt with and the priest went to prison.  But there is still pain about that whole incident.

 

Who is my neighbour?

My neighbour is the person who hears my pain.  My neighbour is the person who cares enough to make the environment safe for me and for anyone who is vulnerable.

 

Of course, there was the debate on women bishops and how we take the matter forward after the dreadful and embarrassing debacle of last November.  On the Saturday, we worked in facilitated groups, listening to each other and beginning the journey to trust one another.  Then on Monday we had the debate about which of the options to take us forward.  What I really liked about the proposals was the five key principles which make it very clear that the Church of England is committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to men and women and that the church is also committed to enabling those who are unable to receive the ministry of women as bishops and priests to flourish within the church.

 

Who is my neighbour?

My neighbour is someone who believes quite differently from me, but we want to remain together within the same church and make respectful space for each other.

 

There was a debate about the government’s welfare reforms which arise from trying to solve the economic crisis by cutting benefits, so that the poorest people in our society are taking the biggest hit.  People spoke from experience about the way the changes in benefits are affecting people with disabilities and people with long-term mental illness.  We like to make a distinction between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor.  But we mustn’t stigmatise people because of their poverty.  The church must speak up for the poor.  Building God’s Kingdom in our world means caring for those who are most vulnerable. 

 

Who is my neighbour?

My neighbour is the one who will pay a little more tax so that those who are really struggling can have enough to manage on.

 

I came back early from General Synod in order to attend the launch of the new RE syllabus for church primary schools in this diocese. I was there with LS, CL and KP from St Aidan’s School.  It was great.  I was really impressed with the plans for teaching Religious Education. There was a great confidence about the faith, enabling children to explore for themselves and ask questions and learn. 

 

Who is my neighbour?

My neighbour is the child or adult who wants to learn about Jesus.  My neighbour is the person who opens my eyes to see Jesus more clearly. 

 

The next day, I attended the Clergy Summer Gathering at one of the colleges in Durham.  You would have been hard pressed to find a priest on Wednesday to Friday last week, because most clergy were there.  The programme was about apologetics and communications. In other words, it was about how we put our faith into words and help people ask questions and find answers.  We had some excellent speakers.  Andrew Brown, the religious correspondent for the Guardian talked about why he is an atheist but.  Francis Spufford, who wrote an inspiring book called Unapologetic, talked about why faith does make some kind of sense, even in our secular world. 

 

Who is my neighbour?

My neighbour is the person who has doubts and questions but doesn’t like to ask because they are afraid to look ignorant. My neighbour is the person who gives me a glimpse of heaven.

 

And last night, there was the Deanery Confirmation service at St Helen’s.  It was a joy to be there to support CB and CL who were confirmed from our church.  We pray that they will continue to grow in faith and hope and love, that they can be good neighbours to the people around them and receive love and support from sometimes surprising places. 

 

Who is my neighbour?

My neighbour is the person who needs my help.  My neighbour is the person who reaches out and gives something of themselves to strangers.

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