In his final sermon as Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Rev Jonathan Clark last night encouraged members of his soon-to-be former flock to exercise the power that they have “in your life, in your community, in your networks”.
Bishop Clark is retiring from Croydon after 10 years in post, as his wife takes up academic work in the Orkneys and he is due to take up a church position in the Falklands.
He was speaking at his valedictory service at Croydon Minster last night, where he took as his text for his sermon a passage from the Book of Micah.
He said that he wanted to celebrate “some of the many encouragements of my time in Croydon – and particularly some of the ways in which I have seen the words of the prophet Micah worked out in practice, in our communities”.
The Bishop recalled that when he was appointed to Croydon in 2012, “the town was still coming to terms with the damage inflicted during the previous year’s riots. That rift in community was the most extreme, but it is not an isolated event”.
At his welcome service in 2021, Bishop Clark recalled, “I said this: ‘The church can live in hope because, and insofar as it is durable, it is rooted, it is hospitable. If we can be those things, we need have no fear’.
“And I would add, 10 years on, that these are qualities of healthy community, whether or not God is named as the source.”
Bishop Clark said that he had witnessed the powerful work of communities many times during his time working in his episcopal area in south London and Surrey, including foodbank in places such as Redhill and Purley. “That is hospitality in action,” he said.
“Healthy communities are places of hospitality. I have heard so many who offer their help to those in need repeating the words of St Francis, whether they knew it or not – it is in giving that we receive.”
And he had this to say to encourage community groups, “To any of you here who believe yourselves to be powerless – know that you are not.
“In your life, in your community, in your networks, you have power. Communities are built, rebuilt and sustained from the ground up, by people who decide to use the power they have. No amount of well-intentioned top-down activity can make a difference, unless it meets with the desire to build community at the place where community happens – in ordinary lives, in everyday life.
“To return to Micah’s prophecy – that is what the Lord God requires of us all: in our own lives, and in our communities, to do justice and to love kindness. What it looks like to put that into practice is what I’ve wanted to highlight and celebrate tonight.
“Healthy communities are strong, and resilient. Communities which are both properly proud of who they are, and generously open to others, are communities which can flourish and grow.
“A place which does not welcome new people, new ideas, new cultures, will become rigid, and brittle – and when the pressure becomes great enough it will splinter into a thousand fragments. It is by welcoming the new into the old that resilience is built, the capacity to look forward, to adapt, to face the future with hope.”
Bishop Clark referenced the past two, covid-blighted years and the growing dependence of many community groups on digital meetings. “I’m not sure how we would have kept going without digital meeting – and digital shopping – over the last couple of years,” he said.
But he added, “The downside though is that all these conveniences also diminish the long-term relationships and the daily local interactions which build community.
“Community needs continually and consciously to be built up, to counter the erosion that contemporary society is continually inflicting on it.
“The one feature which I think is common to all the amazing projects and networks I’ve encountered is that they were sustained by people who believed that they could make a difference.
“I could come in as a bishop and praise, and encourage. Sometimes I could make connections or open doors. Sometimes I could help organisations see a wider vision, look further into the future. But all of that was to help, sustain and resource people who didn’t think of themselves as ‘powerful’ – but who were making amazing things happen.
“And if that isn’t power I don’t know what is.
“So to those of you who know you have power here today – whether it’s in the church, or in statutory or voluntary sector – I want to remind you that power is given to you in order to give it away.
“The only good use of power is to empower others, in a virtuous circle of giving.
“It’s certainly not given to enable you to dominate or humiliate; it’s not given to build-up your institution against the other lot; it’s not given either in order to do things to others, however well-intentioned. It’s given to be shared, to create the conditions and to encourage the situations in which people can make their own choices in freedom and equity – to enable everyone to own their own power for good.”
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