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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 30.05.2024

Video for May 30th, 2024

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video from sunny Bahrain.  And it certainly is sunny, with temperature pushing 40 today, and its not even Bahraini summer yet.

I’ve been here for the last few days for Sean Semple’s consecration as Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf.  The service was last night and a very joyous occasion  where I had been invited to preach and co-consecrate by the Archbishop of Jerusalem. The occasion was of course tinged with sadness at a personal level. It is always a sadness to lose one of your clergy, especially a gifted priest like Sean, but a joy to see him moving on into the next stage of his vocation.  He and Jenny will need our prayers as he takes on this challenge.  His new diocese includes Iran and Iraq!

While here, the news came out of the general election on July 4th. This country has a very different political system to our own. The monarchy is certainly not constitutional! His Excellency Dr. Sheikh Abdulla Ahmed al Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family, was at the consecration to represent His Majesty King Hamad. Bahrain is unusual for a majority Muslim country in that values of tolerance and a welcoming environment for all faiths are baked in to the constitution. Sections of the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Declaration were read at the ceremony, which enshrine the Bahraini vision of freedom of religion and choice and of religious rights and responsibilities. However, even in such a tolerant atmosphere it is a very different feel to be in a minority place. Ironically, here are probably a greater percentage of practicing Christians in Bahrain than there are in the UK, but a committed faith majority as opposed to the benign indifference of secularism creates a very different atmosphere. There is no doubt here where the power lies. In Britain, certainly in the Church of England, there is still the sense that we have a place at the table, with a civic role and a central place in many communities. We often find ourselves offering hospitality to others from a place of relative power and security. In Bahrain, we are the recipients of hospitality from a place of weakness. I contrast St. Christopher’s Anglican ‘Cathedral’ with the enormous central mosque and neighbouring cultural centre. St. Christopher’s is smaller than most of our parish churches and had the same eccentricities of many of their sound systems. In contrast, the cultural centre, where we were hosted for a number of our meetings, no expense had been spared in providing the best and latest AV equipment.

In some ways it feels like living out the experience of the 12 and the 72, sent out by Jesus on their first mission, as recorded in Luke’s gospel. “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals: and do not greet anyone on the road,” Says Jesus. The analogy does break down a little of course. I wrote the script for this video overlooking the pool of this four star hotel after all. But in a spiritual sense, confronted with this culture where a very different faith is woven in to the very fabric of society; where it is held with deep conviction by a large number of the population, and where even the political and legal system is coming from a very different place to our own, it can be quite disorientating. I’ve always thought that the familiarity we have with our own culture stops us seeing how radically detached it has become from its Christian foundations. As a number of historians, notably Tom Holland and Andrew Wilson have noted, most of our values are rooted in the Christian faith. But we live in a country now where we like the Kingdom but have largely rejected the King. In the election campaign, I’m sure politicians of every stripe will be appealing to those fundamentally Christian values, and encouraging us that their party will be the one that will most faithfully live embed them in our society. Those claims will be ones we will want to interrogate and no doubt come to our own conclusions as we exercise our vote in July.

But what I will bring back with me from Bahrain is a reminder that even in the familiar landscape of home all is not as it seems. Sean and his team will need to be in a constant place of prayerful discernment as they seek to be faithful to the Lord in a place where the right thing isn’t immediately obvious. I renew my conviction that such prayerful dependence, the dependence the disciples learned on their first mission is something we need to cultivate even more. Familiarity causes us to continue doing the same thing safely in the same way we always have. Here is a different country. To our surprise we find Britain has become a different country too.


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