On the 20th June, Pope Francis declared that three new titles of Our Lady should be added to the Litany of Loreto, which is often recited at the end of the Rosary. The three new titles are: ‘Mother of mercy’, Mother of hope’, and ‘Comfort of migrants’. These titles not only deepen our understanding of the role and place of Mary in the church, they offer us guidance on which direction the church should be travelling in as we move to the next stage of the Coronavirus pandemic. The ideals of hope, mercy and comfort to all people should be at the centre of the life of the church as we continue in our work of building up the Kingdom of God. What is clear is that in many areas of its life the church has not reflected these ideals. Reports and accounts of racism and discrimination within the structures of the church have come as a shock to many, although it is clear not to those against whom such prejudice has been directed. As a result of these revelations it will be no good `to simply issue another report or set of guidance. There needs to be clear action taken to ensure the equal treatment of all and particularly for BAME people in the life and ministry of the church. To mark the 72nd anniversary of arrival of the Windrush, and to mark Windrush Day, the Diocese of Southwark issued the following prayer which speaks about hope for the future:
God of all, who loves each of us for who we are, to whom each life matters, who counts the hairs on our head, who knows when a sparrow falls; teach us to love as you love to respect, to honour, to care and to protect each of our sisters and brothers, that your embracing, including kingdom may come now and your love be known. Amen
This might be a good prayer as we begin to worship publicly in our churches once more, as we seek to welcome all in community into the fellowship of the church. The church is truly universal and we should celebrate that universality and diversity. The church in the coming months and years needs to be characterised by mercy and hope, as well as welcome and comfort to those who are weary on their journey, wherever they have journey to or from. In order to do this the church needs to be increasing and not decreasing its presence in every part of the country. Whilst we can appreciate difficult financial decisions will have to be taken, was were announced by the Diocese of Chelmsford, that may result in a reduction of in clergy numbers, this cannot accepted simply as a ‘good and necessary’ event in the life of the church, furthermore it must be challenged. If history has shown us anything it is that when these cuts come it is the poorest parishes, often in places that most need the church community, that are the first to lose their priest; and very often they are the first to close their doors. Whilst some will try to argue that a reduction in clergy posts will not result in the closing of churches but rather a re-imagining of their leadership, we must be clear that without priests to administer the sacraments the life of the church disintegrates. We cannot allow the Church of England to abandon the centrality of the sacraments in her life, the church needs the sacraments as signs of Gods love and it is the sacraments that are the bedrock of the Christian life. The sacraments are also the channel by which we can experience the mercy and comfort from God which in our trials offers us hope. Hope is a Christian virtue, it is in hope that many of the Windrush generation came to Britain, and it was in hope that they persevered in the face of racism and prejudice. As a church we must ensure that hope is at the centre of all we do and say. As we acknowledge the mistakes and sins of the past we look forward in the hope of the Gospel asking for mercy and comfort from God. The church does this best when she is open and available to all, when she can administer the sacraments. Let us hope that as we move into the next stage of the Coronavirus pandemic we can keep our churches open and available to all, and in time the full administration of the sacraments can return for all people.