Lovely First Pastoral Letter from Bishop Alan Williams
Today in Brentwood Diocese, we received our first Pastoral Letter from our new Bishop, Alan Williams SM.
Louise and I have had a rather busy and joyous weekend attending the Priestly Ordination of Stefan Kaminski, the son of some dear friends of ours, Marie-Claire & Daniel. Marie-Claire and I studied together for five years at Maryvale. Subsequently, we have followed Stefan's progress through the English College in Rome with prayer and joy. We were very privileged to be invited and really did enjoy it—I'll write on it separately when I get a second—I have several posts in draft now and haven't finished any of them! The Ordination was such a joy, it needs to be shared, also in order that you might pray for Stefan and his family, as he begins his priestly ministry.
I was also fortunate enough to meet Bishop Alan properly for the first time on Wednesday, when he visited St. Peter's Parish in Eastwood in order to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation. Again, I have a post in draft for that which I will get to in short order (small people permitting).
First of all I want to share what I thought was a really beautiful little reflection from Bishop Alan with everyone:
This is my first pastoral letter to you as the new Bishop of Brentwood and I immediately want to thank the whole diocese for the unfailing welcome and support I have received. The diocese is an exciting mix of Essex and East London, full of challenges and opportunities. I look forward to working with you and for you.
When I worked as a university chaplain some years ago, one of my tasks was to welcome students, of all faiths and none, to their new life and the work of the chaplaincy. Odd though it may sound, I spoke first not of God, but of sin and human imperfection. People may or may not believe in God; sadly all human beings are confronted with the effects of human sin.
In today’s Gospel parable Jesus talks of the wheat and the weeds that are always with us - we do not live in a perfect world yet the kingdom of heaven is being established despite our weaknesses. By faith we know that it is God who truly defines our world rather than human inadequacy.
At the ordination ceremony in the Cathedral - still very fresh in my mind- Cardinal Vincent Nichols quoted Pope Francis: “From the lips of the church comes the cry: 'Give us a bishop, one who will lift us up, who will watch over us with the fullness of the heart of God. Don’t send a manager, an administrator, a delegate from the agency… We need someone who knows how to reach up towards the gaze of God and who can guide us towards Him for only in His gaze is our future to be found.'”
Today’s reading from the Old Testament speaks with authority of the ‘fullness of the heart of God’. There is infinite strength but also a depth of compassion in God - our God is ‘mild in judgement’, he governs us ‘with great lenience’.
Because of this we can be supremely confident in God despite our sin and weakness which pull us downwards to despair.
Cardinal Vincent also reminded us that Pope Francis has given bishops clear guidelines for ministry. My first work is to be prayer; I am mandated to stay close to the people and to be the servant of the Word of God and of His people.
When I hear these challenges, like Saint Paul, I know that the Holy Spirit helps me in my weakness. I also believe that the Holy Father’s words are not directed to me alone. I ask that all the people of the diocese will respond to the Holy Father’s invitation to prayer, communion and service.
Life in Christ will transform our parishes, schools and diocesan communities. By the grace of God, the closer we are to Christ, the more Christ-like we become.
Please pray for me in the weeks and months ahead as I will certainly pray for you.
In Christ and Mary,
+ Alan Williams, SM.
This letter goes to the heart of my first impressions of our new Apostle. He is succinct and when he speaks, what he says has great value. He begins by introducing himself as a servant of the diocese, which resonates greatly with me as what a bishop is and should be: a servant of the servants of God. He shows that he knows how to explain God to people, even if they have no faith, by addressing the consequences of sin. He tells us that it is his intention to stay close to his sheep, he will know our smell (as the Holy Father puts it). He acknowledges that he does not fear the challenges ahead, because he knows that the Holy Spirit will provide him with the strength that is needed to do what he must. He asks us to keep him in prayer and assures us that he will pray for us!
I think this is a wonderful letter, full of great promise, and redolent of pray. We can be sure that Pope Francis has appointed a man of God to our diocese, and I look forward to working with and for our new bishop in the months and years to come.
God bless you Bishop Alan!