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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 07.03.2024

7th March, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

A story is told (I’m sure anecdotal) of an IBM manager who made a terrible error of judgement and lost the company £1 million. After the debacle he was called in to his bosses office anticipating the worst. Much to his surprise the conversation ranged over a number of issues but not the elephant in the room.  At the end of the meeting, he asked his boss why he wasn’t going to fire him for his mistake.  The response was, “fire you; I’ve just spent £1 million training you!”

Failure is an inevitable part of growing both in life and in faith. Some failings can be traced back to our sinful nature, but most are an inevitable result of human limitations.  Indeed, the essence of the fall story in Genesis is human beings taking to themselves decisions about moral boundaries that our limitations make us ill equipped to make.  Failures in one context can have minimal consequences there but catastrophic ones in others. Someone having a little too much to drink in a pub and saying something they later regret is one thing. Someone having too much to drink and then flying a plane or driving a car is quite another, with potentially fatal consequences.

Failure is particularly unpleasant when its played out in the public domain.  I had my own experience of this at General Synod a few weeks ago.  I have just become one of the Chairs of debates.  As I am discovering, this is an art as much as a science.  Synod proceedings are governed by a great body of Standing Orders, but the Chair has both significant discretion and power.  There is a febrile atmosphere in Synod at present, and innocuous debates can be hijacked as proxy for other issues. On a couple of occasions this happened to me.  As newbie, I didn’t handle either very well and watched the chamber get slightly out of control as a result.  It was a good learning experience! Fellow chairs and friends were very kind, but when a mistake is so obvious it can be hard to know what to say. For faith to grow, we need to truly confront failure and sin in our own lives. Community can help us with that.  James invites us to confess our sins to one another for example. There is a place for comfort as we need to know that our failures and sins don’t cut us off from one another, any more than they do from God.  The essence of the Gospel is forgiveness after all.  If God hadn’t sent Christ to die for us we would be truly lost, cut off from Him with no means of restoration.

But true community goes beyond just comforting us in the pain of revealed failure.  Many Christians have a spiritual director and part of that relationship is the safe space for the director to ask the directee difficult questions and live with the silence until the issue begins to be confronted. I know my failures are not going to be learning opportunities if I leap straight to denial or defensiveness when confronted with them. And lovely though it is to have supportive friends, I’m not going to grow either if they collude, minimise or excuse plain wrongdoing.  The prophet Nathan took his life in his hands – literally, when he confronted King David over his adultery with Bathsheba. David’s moral failure was a toxic combination of abuse of power, lust and then a disgraceful cover up. Given that all of us make mistakes, all fall short of the glory of God and all make sinful choices, the forging a community that helps us grow is fraught with difficulty. Building a place of trust where there can be both comfort and challenge is not easy. This is especially so if we have experienced spiritual abuse in the past and trust is in short supply.  Leaders have a particular role to play in modelling humility and vulnerability.  It is the alpha male leader full of stories of a faith that moves from one degree of glory to another who foster an atmosphere of unreality and dishonesty. Those of us in places of power and influence need to be attentive to feedback and make ourselves accountable more than anyone else. It is a lack of those things that has led to the depressing catalogue of moral failures and abuse in the Church that has damaged so many.

Going beyond the superficial is difficult, but the rewards in terms of growth in holiness and Christlikeness are very great indeed.


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