Thought for the Day - Canon Dr Alan Billings
Many Christians will be pleased and surprised that references to their faith in the media over this Easter weekend were generally positive. Pleased and surprised because in recent years it has occasionally felt as if they were in the middle of some mini culture war in which faith has been attacked and derided, sometimes in vitriolic terms. This has puzzled some. It has puzzled those gentle Quakers meeting after silent worship to consider how best to help prisoners of conscience in some faraway, forgotten gaol. It has puzzled those members of the Salvation Army setting up their mobile soup kitchen at the site of a major disaster. It has puzzled those Anglicans working with their community to relocate in the church building a village post office that would otherwise close.
The attacks on Christians have sometimes led them to speak, perhaps unwisely, about being persecuted. Unwisely since a moment’s thought about who they pray for Sunday by Sunday would have reminded them that Christians who are really persecuted are elsewhere in the world - parts of India and Africa, across the Middle East. Nevertheless, British Christians have sometimes felt under siege.
But Easter services yesterday should have lifted spirits immeasurably, because one of the features of these times is that while Sunday attendances have been dipping, attendances at major festivals, like Easter, have soared. If four million people attend on a normal Sunday, some churches will have seen their congregation double in size yesterday. These are substantial numbers.
And this should be good news, not just for Christians but for the country as a whole because the Christian churches contribute significantly to society’s general well-being, especially around two areas of current anxiety – social cohesion and community resilience.
Christians have been playing an important role in ensuring that as communities become more diverse, they remain cohesive. Of course, they are not the only groups that reach out across religious and ethnic divides to build networks of friendships. But in my experience of the inner city, they are often uniquely placed to do this precisely because as a faith group they take faith – all faith – seriously.
And for the future, Christians will have a critical part to play in building the resilience of poorer neighbourhoods if the fabric of community life fragments under the impact of cuts to local services. Again, they are not the only groups, but Christian congregations are present in all parts of the country, urban and rural, north and south, including the most deprived. Many of these communities will need both people willing to get involved in their localities and buildings where activities can be held - and the churches have both.
Millions of Britons went to church yesterday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and to commit themselves again to work for the common good. Good news, you could say, on every count.
Available since: Tue 26 Apr 2011
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