By Bishop Todd Townshend
After the season of Advent with its poetic focus on God’s future and God’s merciful promises, and through this Christmas season of celebrating the Nativity of Jesus and all godly acts of “nativity” and “epiphany”, we come to the more secular but also significant celebrations of the New Year.
Both in our religious life and in the secular adaptations (or denials), this is a season of promises, beginnings, and newness.
It is a time for us to focus on God’s future. God’s resolve is certain, where our resolutions are fleeting! God has made a firm decision and is determined to see it through—that all things shall be reconciled in Christ and made new.
This wonderful promise and presence of God does not protect us, however, from the alarming wave of change that we are experiencing nor the worry about where this wave may be taking us. Predicting the future is not for us to do—it is Holy Spirit who makes all things new—but we are responsible for our own lives and our life together. We can, and must, do some things to faithfully shape our common life together.
We are at a point in time when we will urgently need to make an unblinking and truthful assessment of our “Anglican” past and especially our present. This present is very different from the fairly-recent past. It is a world away from the life of our diocese in the 1950’s and 60’s. We cannot live as though nothing has changed and survive as a religious presence for good and for God in southwestern Ontario.
Positively, this same reckoning with truth will sow seeds that can act as catalysts for our imagination and vision. Here is an example. I believe that God will sow an endless quantity of life-giving seed as we wrestle faithfully with the following reality: we cannot doubt that, in North America and Europe, all religious institutions are in decline. There are pockets of healthy and vibrant life, which is crucially important for our future, and immigration makes a significant impact, but there is a strong inertia in the movement that will take a long time to turn. This major change began before I was born, and it will continue for a while, but it is not the final word.
To oversimplify, the major change is “secularization” (dissociation or separation from religious and spiritual life). It is the huge social force that has driven this movement.
Secularization is poorly understood. It has taken a deep hold on our society even though it becomes intellectually indefensible when taken seriously. To look at this world and at life itself and to conclude that it is not sacred and not spiritual, reveal a poorly developed imagination. The idea itself is relatively easy to refute and yet its influence remains strong under the surface of things. Much of secularization is driven by the sense that religious life does more harm than good, and that people are better off when they move away from religion and “God”.
For Christians, the antidote to this is always the faithful revelation of God in Christ through the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit. That language is true but is has the ring of a “cliché”, a formula, a relic of an unreasonable past. Therefore, the “showing” of what kind of God we see in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus must find fresh language.
This fresh language builds on the tradition and becomes the living stones of a renewed heart of the church. When this work is done in a generous, patient way—and when it is accompanied by revelation in real lives lived as His followers—the appeal becomes strong and the world of spirit and truth opens for us all. The witness of a healthy, generous, beautiful, faithful, common religious and spiritual life has never been more important.
To thrive in the years to come, we return to the promises and presence of God, and we build out from there. Our diocese will need to more actively shape the kind of organization we need to be to serve this goal.
This is good work and 2023 will be an important year for us. Good things are coming, even though some of the work will be difficult. You are in my prayers, and I ask that I would continue in yours.
RELATED: Christmas message from Bishop Todd