Dear Sisters and Brothers
Greetings at the beginning of this Advent season when the Church focusses her life on hope in God, that most slender and vital Christian virtue.
In Advent we read together the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah is called the fifth gospel by the early Church. The book is written against a background of immense suffering and difficulty. In almost every chapter there are flashes of hope and promises of joy. The world will not always be as it is. There is a better vision. The servant of God, the saviour, will come.
There is a pressing need to proclaim this Advent hope as 2016 draws to a close. The world has been shaken this year. Britain, Europe and America face a more uncertain future. As a Church we need to set out clearly the Christian hope, God’s vision for the world and for human flourishing.
The Church of England published the 2015 statistics for mission last month. There was much food for sober reflection and prayer (and more on that story later). However, my eye was caught by two significant and encouraging statistics for the Diocese of Oxford.
Over 157,000 people attended services in the Diocese of Oxford on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day last year, more than in any other diocese. 219,000 people attended services in Advent in church and community and schools. Thank you for all you did to make that possible and for all the energy and imagination and love you will invest in Advent and Christmas services in the coming weeks. Together we are in direct contact with significant numbers of people in this season.
Second, almost 1,000 people were confirmed across the Diocese of Oxford in 2015. Every confirmation is a story of faith in a young person or an adult. There will be a connection in many people’s stories between a first visit to Church in Advent or Christmas and a stirring of faith and hope and love in a journey which leads up to and beyond confirmation.
The list of confirmations for 2017 is attached to this letter. It’s not too late to add more. Nor is it too late to prepare and plan for teaching the Christian faith to enquirers and new Christians in the coming year.
Thank you for all your prayers for me over the last few months and for your warm welcome. This week I will complete my visits to incumbents in the Oxford and Cowley deaneries and begin the programme of Deanery Days in Abingdon and Newport Deaneries. I look forward to meeting you on journey which will take me through to July.
But in the meantime, I pray that God will deepen in all of us through the Advent season, a sense of hope and mercy and joy in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.