Bishop Guli’s Ad Clerum, Summer 2021
6th Jul 2021
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani has written to church leaders across Essex and East London. The full text of the Ad Clerum can be read below.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Before the summer holidays begin and as I prepare to move physically to Bishopscourt with my family on the 10th of July, I wanted to be in touch once more to send you my greetings and to say how much I’m looking forward to being alongside you and to starting my public ministry following my Welcome Service on 4th September.
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday evening, we are moving into another period of uncertainty and, with the relaxation of Covid regulations likely very soon, I recognise this will bring its own pressure on our churches, chaplaincies and schools. So this continues to be a time of transition for the nation, for me personally and for us as a Diocese. We have a new Diocesan Secretary, Mrs Michaela Southworth, and just a few days ago we said farewell to +Peter during a service at the Cathedral. It was a wonderful occasion and provided the opportunity for us to thank Peter for his ministry and leadership as Bishop of Barking and more recently as Acting Diocesan Bishop. +Peter has served graciously and selflessly and he and Ellen go with our prayers and good wishes and our deep gratitude. As we look to the future, I pray that God’s grace will continue to guide us as we seek to follow Christ ever more faithfully.
There are many important matters that we are seeking to address as a Diocese and work continues in a number of areas, in particular in relation to racial justice, the environment, LLF and developing generosity. These and other matters are not so much initiatives but relate more to how we live well together in a spirit of thankfulness, and how we care for one another and for the world we live in. Meanwhile, of course, we are still called to faithful worship, to deepening discipleship, to loving service of our communities, and we continue to address our financial challenges.
So, in many ways, business carries on as usual. And yet, I hope too, that we can attend carefully in the coming phase, to our individual and collective wellbeing. That we can give time to acknowledge the impact of the past 18 months, recognise the exhaustion, grieve what has been lost, take stock of where the opportunities might be and begin to move forward with renewed purpose and energy. I encourage each of you to be gentle and patient with yourself and those around you – to not feel pressured into endless activity or try to ease anxiety by relentless busyness. I hope you will take time for a proper break over the summer (I have two weeks booked as holiday in August), giving yourselves time for rest and refreshment.
My hope is that in the autumn we will be able to gather as a diocese, to pause collectively, mark some of the changes we have experienced and then set our faces towards the future, leaning into what God is drawing us towards. I hope too that into the New Year, during Lent, we might together take a Holy Sabbatical and agree to desist from some of our activity in order to be still and hear more clearly what God might be saying to us as a Diocese. Thinking is still in early stages but at this point can I invite you to avoid as many meetings as possible (including PCCs) in the period between the 1st Sunday in Lent and Easter Day. We are looking to do the same with Diocesan meetings. Again, this is not an initiative but an invitation to find creative ways in which you as individuals, and your communities, might rest a while in the Lord Jesus – that we might enter the wilderness of Lent with lighter loads, prepared for reflection, refreshment and renewal. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11. 28) Work is also going on to introduce a pared back MDR (Ministerial Development Review) scheme for clergy so that for the next couple of years we have a process that is simpler, less paper heavy and concentrates more on wellbeing and recovery. You will hear more about all these in due course and as plans begin to take shape.
Meanwhile, can I urge each of you to take responsibility for your own wellbeing as much as possible. This is nothing to do with not working hard or failing properly to fulfil our responsibilities but about having in place patterns that are wholesome and sustainable, not necessarily perfectly balanced each day but healthy rhythms over a period of time, with sufficient time for leisure, recreation and prayer. The Bible teaches us about the importance of Sabbath rest and, given the increasing demands and pressures of ministry, I’m eager that all full time clergy should take two consecutive days off once a month and for you to know that this is my intention also. In addition, I will be continuing with my pattern of quarterly retreat days and a longer retreat once a year and hope you will consider doing something similar. At the first meeting of Diocesan Synod in the New Year we will consider and discuss the Clergy Wellbeing Covenant which I trust will help us further in seeking to establish flourishing communities.
I am confident that if we are faithful God will lead us well into the future. In Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God gives every generation, including ours, all that is needed to be the Church in that time and place. Let us now encourage one another to see the abundance of the gifts we have and discern together the direction of travel. As we are reminded by St. Paul: Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3. 20).
This comes with my thankfulness for our shared ministry and my gratitude for all that you do to contribute to the life of our diocese. Please be assured of my ongoing prayers and my best wishes for the summer months.