Pastoral Message, Kieran Conry, 1 July 2001
One of the letters that I received in the last few weeks was from the mother of a friend of my brother Vincent, who died ten years ago. The two were at college together at Strawberry Hill and shared a great sense of humour. One of the images that will always stick in my mind is that of my brother's friend, Andrew, working on a building site. It was not really his natural habitat, and he described having to take a wheelbarrow full of wet cement across the site. Bad enough as that was, it meant crossing a plank suspended between two low walls. As he set off across the plank, the plank began to bounce slightly. As the plank bounced, the wet cement began to move backwards and forwards. As the cement moved, the plank bounced more and more. By this stage in the story the two of them were helpless with laughter and so it was left unfinished.
The image of the plank seemed appropriate, not just for this Sunday's readings, but for my own personal situation as I step into my predecessor's shoes and take over the pastoral responsibility for the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. I know that there is only one way to go, but as I step out I begin to feel the plank start to bounce. And then at times I feel that not only am I setting out across a wobbly plank, but that I have got both hands firmly anchored to a barrow of wet cement.
The gospel reading for today can come across as rather negative - "There is no going back if you have set your hand to the plough." suppose the same was literally true for a plough: it could only go forward. But the past is more familiar territory, and a place where we might feel safest. If at times it had its difficulties, at least now with hindsight and experience we are better able to deal with those difficulties.
The same isn't true for the future. We don't know what it might turn up. At this time of the year many young people are facing their own futures in a particularly stark and real way. For some, success in exams will mean that the future - in the short term, at least - seems fairly secure and predictable. For others, though, who have not done so well or have done very badly, the prospects must seem quite scary or demoralising. I don't know what it's like being a young person today, and I hope that some of them will help me to understand. But it's not only the youth who are in that situation. Many others are facing new horizons. Starting out on married life these days must take particular courage. And the same is true for other vocations and life -choices. I have met some of our seminarians training to be the priests of the future and I greatly admire their courage and commitment.
As a diocese we are also facing a new future. While the past fourteen months have been uncertain and in their own way unsettling, the end of that wait does not necessarily mean that things are any more certain. We have to decide together what our priorities are, how we are to face some of the difficulties like declining numbers of priests.
The message of the gospel is not the message, "Well, it's too late now, you've made your choice." It is rather that we are committed, and committed to something important and worthwhile. When the National Conference of Priests first met over twenty-five years ago, it met in a spirit of some turmoil and was described as a clerical trade union. At the first meeting there was great debate about what should be on the agenda. Then someone stood up and said simply, "The most important item on the agenda is the date of the next meeting." Whatever was to happen, the group committed itself to meeting again and to its own future.
We are committed to a common aim already, simply because of our baptism. Now we have to forge a clearer vision again of how we want to realise that aim in our diocese. On the weekend of my Ordination I said that I would like people to see the Church as a place where they feel welcome. This is part of a vision, but the broader vision we shall have to build together. With assurance of my prayers and good wishes, Rt. Rev. Kieran Conry Bishop of Arundel & Brighton
With Assurance of my prayers and good wishes
Rt. Rev. Kieran Conry
Bishop of Arundel and Brighton