In this month’s parish magazine, Rector Alan reflects on the recent Pastoral Letter about the forthcoming letter authored by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York
We have a collective emergency all of our own making. We have an election on our hands. What are we to do? Where are we to turn? Left, right, centre – what do they mean anymore? Help is at hand in the form of a pastoral letter issued in May by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. It acquired some exposure at the time but less now. Thursday, 7th June will soon be upon us. The archbishop’s guidance may help.
After commending us to pray for those standing for office, the letter bids us to ‘set aside apathy and cynicism and to participate, and encourage others to do the same,’ our guide in such engagement being the ‘Christian virtues of love, trust and hope.’ As a country, they feel, facing ‘deep and profound questions of identity,’ the election provides us with an once-in-a-generation opportunity ‘to renew and reimagine our shared values as a country.’
They point to three key characteristics: cohesion, courage and stability. ‘Cohesion is what holds us together. The United Kingdom, when at its best, has been represented by a sense not only of living for ourselves, but by a deeper concern for the weak, poor and marginalised, and for the common good;’ which here translates into education for all, housing reform, creating communities as well as buildings, and a confident and flourishing health service and, abroad, into sustaining the 0.7% commitment to overseas aid, standing up for those suffering persecution on grounds of faith, and supporting campaigns against slavery, trafficking, and sexual violence.
Courage will lead to ‘trading agreements that can reduce the drivers for mass movements of peoples.’ We are to be ‘an outward looking and generous country [making] distinctive contributions to peace-building, development, the environment and welcoming the stranger in need.’ ‘Courage also demands a radical approach to education, so that the historic failures of technical training and the over-emphasis on purely academic subjects are rebalanced.’
Finally, ‘stability, an ancient and Benedictine virtue, is about living well with change. Stable communities will be skilled in reconciliation, resilient in setbacks and diligent in sustainability, particularly in relation to the environment.’
A re-evaluation of the importance of religious belief also needs to take place. ‘The new Parliament, if it is to take religious freedom seriously, must treat as an essential task the improvement of religious literacy.’ ‘We look forward,’ they write, ‘to a media and political climate where all candidates can feel confident that they can be open about the impact of their faith on their vocation to public service.’ This is because religious belief is the well-spring for the virtues and practices that make for good individuals, strong relationships and flourishing communities, virtues which are not unique to Christians, but which do have their roots in the Christian history of our four nations. If treated as partners in the project of serving the country, the churches – and other faiths – have much to contribute to a deep understanding and outworking of the common good.
‘Cohesion, courage and stability,’ they conclude, ‘are all needed in our response to the continuing national conversation about migration and refugees. Offering a generous and hospitable welcome to refugees and migrants is a vital expression of our common humanity, but it is not without cost . . . The pressures of integration must be shared more equitably. These deep virtues and practices – love, trust and hope, cohesion, courage and stability – are not the preserve of any one political party or worldview, but go to the heart of who we are as a country in all of its diversity. An election campaign, a Parliament and a Government that hold to these virtues give us a firm foundation on which to live well together, for the common good.’