Bishop Eleanor began her inaugural charge to Synod by recalling the image of the Exodus from Bishop Justin’s charge last year, during which Joshua came back from the Promised Land and held out a foretaste of the land’s fruits, of which the people of God would soon eat. She used the image of a banquet table to remind us of the calling God has on the life of this church – the banquet experienced by the people of God as they experienced the Promised Land, the banquet of the Last Supper reminding us of Christ’s sacrifice before He experienced His own exodus of sorts, and the banquet of Revelation of which he have yet to taste – the wedding banquet of Christ and His bride, the church.
Yet as we respond to the call to be family, to be disciples, and to care for the last, the lost, and the least; it can be easy to feel burdened by the injustice of the world, and become weary as a result. Bishop Eleanor showed us a video in which the presenter offered a new approach – to remember the Good News we each discovered when we came to faith in Christ, the small capacity we were granted to love others at the time, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to grow that capacity, as we draw nearer to Him.
Watch the video here (3mins 14secs)
In 2005, Ellie was completing her doctoral research looking at how spirituality influences community groups such as the Church, as they engage in community development. Her research saw her spend considerable time in Tanzania with groups of Christian women and their families. At the time, her study into spirituality was considered almost un-academic – and Ellie received criticism as a result. Yet she went to Chicago to the largest geography conference in the world to present a paper – a conference at which the superstars of the geography world would be present, people of comparative power and privilege. Feeling the tiredness of breaking new ground in her chosen field, Ellie was battle-weary.
As she took a lunchtime walk during the conference, she happened upon a homeless man sitting outside a church. She felt God instruct her to go into the church, and then come outside and take the man to lunch. As a younger Christian in the UK, Ellie had become accustomed to homelessness in and near her university campus, and would often take the homeless to lunch. On this occasion, she felt it would be rude to walk past him and into the church – yet she responded to God’s call. Inside, the lunchtime Eucharist was packed – and the Gospel of Matthew was being read: “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me… inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Ellie was reminded of her Tanzanian brothers and sisters. For them, spirituality and life were so intertwined as to be inseparable. To be open to others, they necessarily needed to be open to the Spirit of God. After receiving Communion, Ellie passed a statue of Mary holding her dead son. To be widowed and to lose children in Tanzania is so common as to be part of their identity. Ellie’s heart which had been broken afresh, felt the grace of God’s solidarity and she was reminded again of how are brokenness is restored in the perfect love of the crucified Christ.
Over lunch, her new friend Ronnie – a Bible believer – preached to her almost non-stop. “People don’t know what true riches are,” he would say to her again and again, reflecting on how people chase after being first in this world. “Anybody could be on the street – life is fragile.”
The gift of the church service and the companionship of Ronnie was a shared ministry of healing. They were banquet tables where brokenness was acknowledged and transformed through love. Ellie returned to the conference, confident of God’s grace to speak of, and with, the voices of those without a voice in that environment – her Tanzanian brothers and sisters.
Our hearts must be enlarged by the Holy Spirit, to give us capacity to care for the last, the lost and the least. In a recent school visit, Bishop Eleanor asked different classes if they loved themselves. The older the students, the less likely they were to love themselves and the more likely they were to struggle with self-esteem. Yet Jesus commands us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Bishop Eleanor reminded us that if we are to respond to God’s call, then we must minister to our own hearts, and to their capacity to love. As God so loved the world, and gave his only begotten Son, so too did He give each and every mission unit, each Christian and the Church as a whole to be “ministers of healing and reconciliation, to usher in the new creation.”
“Anything less than that is not what God has loved the world for.”
You can watch the full video of Bishop Eleanor’s charge on our YouTube channel here (45 mins)