The distinguished Radio 4 presenter, John Humphrys, kick-started an interesting debate in October when he suggested the Today programme’s ‘Thought for the Day’ slot was often “deeply, deeply boring”. He felt it inappropriate that the programme, which enjoys a huge audience, should broadcast nearly three minutes of “uninterrupted religion”, given that rather more than half the population had no religion at all, and very few were practising Christians.
Now, that’s what I call a ‘double-whammy’ for bishops.
Still, we can all do with a reality check. And what better time than the New Year period? You’ll win no prizes for pointing out that the churches’ influence is on the wane. Some people will say that’s no bad thing, but I disagree.
As well as being a bishop, I’m a husband, a father and grandfather. I’m a part of this community. I’m a citizen of this world. I care what happens to my family, my friends, my neighbours, my community, my Church, my world. And there’s no disguising the fact that the world, just now, is a scary place for many.
Back in the late fifties or early sixties, a piece of graffiti scribbled on a wall struck a chord with people and even inspired a West End hit musical. It said, “Stop the world, I want to get off”.
I dare say that over the last 12 months lots of people have thought, “Stop the world, I want to get off”. Many have been struggling to make ends meet or to find well-paid work; we’ve had families in our Diocese displaced from their homes after the August flooding; pressure has continued to bear down on our creaking health and social care service; and, sadly, the suicide epidemic north and south has shown no sign of abating.
We’ve seen the collapse of the political institutions at Stormont; our society has felt more divided than for a generation; the full implications of Brexit have only begun dawning on us (with nobody really sure how well or how badly that will end); and there are people in our world – in the year 2017 – dying of starvation and dying from preventable diseases.
Optimists assure us, rightly, that in many ways the world has been getting better; but many people will take some convincing. And with good reason. The sceptics are all around us: they’re depending on food banks for their next meal; they’re terrified of the roll-out of Universal Credit; they’re homeless; they’re growing old; they’re feeling alone; they’re coping with illness; they’re caring for loved ones; they’re battling depression; they’re at risk of suicide; they’re our neighbours; they’re our friends; they’re part of us.
And this is where we can help. Eleanor Roosevelt said It was better to light a candle than curse the darkness, and, God knows, there’s plenty of darkness around. But nothing – nothing – shines as brightly as the love of Christ.
So, as we look forward to 2018, let us resolve to be more Christ-like in our actions and in our behaviour towards others. We in the churches can make a difference. Let us resolve not only to make a difference but to BE the difference. Jesus challenged us to love one another as he loved us. Christ is the real light in the world. Let us do as he commands. Let us radiate Christ in everything we say and everything we do. Let us make this world brighter and make our future better.