Headlines of atrocities seem to assail us at the moment on a daily basis, in France, the US, Germany and Japan, not forgetting the Middle East and Africa. I’m sure many people wonder just what is happening to our world, we seem to be turning upside down. Yet, history tells us that there have been many similar periods of violence and upheaval. So why does this feel so different? Perhaps our ability to communicate so effectively and instantly is part of the problem. Modern communication is available to everybody. Any individual with an axe to grind has an immediate international platform for their views. Communication is now instant, so an atrocity on the other side of the world can be instantly uploaded and shared, we have never been so well informed, the world is at our finger tips. Perhaps this is a classic example of the disconnect between rapid technological change and our ability to adjust. Yet, as communication improves and the world population grows we seem to become evermore isolated. Perhaps this is the logical conclusion of post-modernism, the individual and their rights becomes king, society and community become a distant memory. Post-modern individualism, ease of communication, isolation and the ability to access all sorts of lethal weaponry, the perfect toxic mix for hideous acts of violence and destruction.
Yet, perhaps this is too pessimistic a view. There are examples of some amazing groups growing, and forming. Young people using the internet to adapt, and group together, to share ideas and to push for social change.
I was reading an article in the Guardian on Monday by Thomas Dixon entitled ‘Forget cut-throat competition: to survive, try a little selflessness’. According to scientists at Prinston University “It is altruism, not selfishness, that will ultimately enable human beings to flourish and Charles Darwin always knew it”. Cooperative groups it suggests “will flourish at the expense of more selfish ones”. Why? “because we are not mere yeast cells but have morals and minds, we have a tendency to form into social groups which enable us to determine our values. It is through these moral and social means that we decide whether, and in what respects, to follow or to resist nature”.
In baptism God might have called us individually by name, but at the same time through baptism, he forms us into an outward and life affirming group, the Church. This group is not defined by is selfishness but by the selfless act and self-giving life of Jesus. “But we proclaim Christ Crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles… For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians1:23 ff The Church is that place where we can find ourselves and establish our values, it is that place where humans can flourish, discovering who and what they are in the context of a community of love and given strength to change the world. So despite its past failure and indeed its continued failure, the Church in Christ offers hope, for it is formed by Him who created us and understands us better than we understand ourselves.
Last week we received official confirmation that the Right Rev’d and Right Hon. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, will be retiring next year. His last public engagement as Bishop of London, a post he has held for nearly twenty years, being Candlemas at St Paul’s Cathedral on 2 February 2017.
Some background information about Richard Chartres: he became the 132nd Bishop of London in November 1995. He was educated at Hertford Grammar School and studied history at Trinity College Cambridge. Before ordination he taught Ancient History at the International School in Seville. Richard Chartres was ordained in 1973 and served as a curate in St Andrew’s Bedford. In 1975 he was appointed Chaplain to Robert Runcie, then Bishop of St Albans, and from 1980-84 he served as the Archbishop’s Chaplain at Lambeth and Canterbury. He moved to St Stephen’s Rochester Row in the Diocese of London in 1984. During eight years in the parish he also served as Director of Ordinands for the Central Area and as Gresham Professor of Divinity. Rev’d Richard Chartres was consecrated Bishop of Stepney on 22 May 1992. After his move to the see of London in 1995, he was appointed Dean of HM Chapels Royal in 1996 and a Privy Counsellor. This accounts for the curious fact that the Bishop of London is the only bishop who bears the title ‘Right Honourable’ in addition to the usual ‘Right Reverend’. He is an ex officio member of the House of Lords. Bishop Richard is President of Bible Society, an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple, Chairman of the Ecumenical ‘London Church Leaders’, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a WWF-UK Ambassador and is associated with numerous other London organisations. He deputises for the Archbishop of Canterbury as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Church Commissioners. He is also responsible on behalf of the Archbishop for relations with the Orthodox Churches.
With such distinguished service behind him, Bishop Richard will be a hard act to follow. The group of individuals involved in identifying his successor is already in place. We pray that they may be guided by the power of the Holy Spirit and be granted wisdom in their deliberations.