Bishop Declan launched the new diocesan vision ‘A Future Full of Hope‘ on Saturday 28 October, at St Brendan’s College, Brislington, Bristol. Over three hundred people came together from all over the diocese to explore the new diocesan strategy. This document, inspired by Pope Francis, emphasises a ‘more outward focus’ and sets out a roadmap for the next three years.
From the Bishop
In the Diocesan Guidelines ‘Called to be a People of Hope’ I quoted from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah. These words are again the springboard for the next phase of our Diocesan life.
‘I know well the plans I have made for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord.’ Jeremiah 29:11-13
When Jeremiah wrote those words the people of Israel were going through a time of so much upheaval that they had lost hope. Through Jeremiah the Lord speaks a word of hope to his people. He reminds them that he is with them and that he listens to them. The Lord has a plan for them and it is ‘a future full of hope’.
An ancient symbol of hope is the anchor. In the letter to the Hebrews hope is described as an ‘anchor for the soul’ (Hebrews 6:18-19). The image of the anchor does not promise protection from the storm or free us from the battering waves but it gives us the assurance that the Lord is with us.
We live in a time of great change and that is reflected in our Diocese of Clifton. In some places the size of our congregations is in decline and in others there is growth. On the one hand we have fewer priests than we have been accustomed to but, on the other, many of our lay people are willing to take up their rightful role in pastoral leadership.
As we face the future we are called to be both bold in looking to the future and faithful to our history and our tradition. If all we are is bold we will drift off from our moorings and find ourselves hopelessly lost. If all we are is faithful to the past, and unwilling to change, we could become irrelevant. In other words, we are not called merely to remain in the safety of the harbour nor are we to set sail without the anchor.
The Letter to the Hebrews goes on to say that ‘we should take a firm grip of the hope that is held out to us’. Taking a firm grip of the hope the Lord holds out for us means to be anchored in God’s promise that he has a future plan for us.
A Future Full of Hope
This document sets out a roadmap for the next three years so that we may use the many resources the Lord has given us in order that we might build up the life and work of our parish communities.
Each of our parishes is different and so this plan does not seek to impose uniformity but offers, rather, an overall framework within which each community might be able to respond. It doesn’t seek to add a further work-load to the good things that are already happening so creatively and abundantly in our parishes. It seeks to deepen our understanding of what we already do and offers ways in which that can develop and grow.
Each of the three years ahead of us will focus on one aspect of the bishop’s threefold vision of Mission, Prayer and Communion. They will follow the cycle of the Church’s year and begin with the season of Advent.
Year of Mission Advent 2017 – Advent 2018
Year of Prayer Advent 2018 – Advent 2019
Year of Communion Advent 2019 – Advent 2020
Each will have its own document with resources and reflections in order to spur us on to more active engagement in the work of Christ. The aim of these three years is to give us the tools we need in order to be able to take a firm grip on the future that the Lord calls us to. The symbol of the anchor, which recurs through-out the document, reminds us that the anchor which holds us fast is the knowledge of God’s love for us.