Don’t give up on Lent - Bishop Nigel’s recent article in the Courier
Bishop Nigel's recent article in the Courier, a widely read daily Scottish newspaper published in Dundee
Don’t give up on Lent
What are you giving up for Lent – chocolate, alcohol, swearing? It’s a question lots of people ask and one you might be asking yourself as you enjoy your Shrove Tuesday pancake today because tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent which is the forty day Christian season in preparation for Easter. You may well see someone tomorrow with an ash stain smeared on their forehead, indicating that they have come from a church service marking the beginning of Lent. The traditional call to “sackcloth and ashes” is seen as a reminder of our penitence and mortality, of our faithful yet flawed humanity.
Maybe the idea of forty days of personal reflection and abstinence sits somewhat uneasily in our instant gratification culture. However the Hebdo-style radical Islamic terrorist attack in Denmark at the weekend is a shocking reminder of our capacity for intolerance. Religion shouldn’t be about aggressive posturing, but rather a humble recognition of common human values.
So Lent is best understood as a time to take on some self-improving or self-giving activity and this year I have decided to get out and about more in Courier country, trying some fresh ideas beyond the usual church services, in order to meet more people from across our communities. Advertised as Saints and Sinners – Meet the Bishop, I am particularly looking forward to two evenings planned in pubs during March! An event at The Downfield in Dundee will feature interviews, questions and answer sessions with myself and the customers, complemented by live music and food.
What football team do you support? Why are you a priest? What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you? Why do you believe in God anyway? These are just some of the questions I get asked, and in answering them I try to assure people that clergy are not any different from them! Furthermore many people do have concerns for the serious side of life and are curious about faith, God and Church. When I am out and about there are usually some challenging and moving encounters and a range of deep and often thought provoking questions.
The landlady of The Old Brew House is a member of St Mary’s Church Arbroath, and is delighted to be hosting such an evening and says, “it’s a great idea, like Jesus taking his message to where people socialise”. (Perhaps I might learn from her how to pull a decent pint!)
In a similar vein I am also anticipating a demanding and eye-opening late Saturday night out in city pubs & clubs with Dundee’s Street Pastors, an ecumenical team who convey an open-minded concern for the customers and staff of Dundee’s vibrant nightlife.
Other Lent plans include helping serve in the Rainbow Charity Shop run by St Andrew’s Church in Brechin and visiting Clepington Primary where I will be engaging with the youngsters in a classroom session about jobs and working relationships. Young people have dreams and ambitions but often face many challenges making their way through education into the world of work – they deserve our support and encouragement.
Finally, on Maundy Thursday Provost Jeremy Auld and I are hosting a special lunchtime Soup & Soul with Dundee’s rough sleepers on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral - a variation on the traditional Holy Week foot-washing ministry which in previous years has seen us cleaning shoes in the busy city square, including those of the iconic Desperate Dan statue. Compassion and respect for the most vulnerable in our midst are a hallmark of our Christ-like service.
However, compassion and respect are not just reserved for the vulnerable in our midst but are to be shared with one another - in all that we do . Although a good exercise in self discipline, the giving something up for Lent is really only doing something for ourselves. Taking something up , however, is about doing something for someone else – being of help and showing respect, compassion and care for others.
Putting others before self should be our Lenten discipline... and a basic principle for our everyday living throughout the year.
Recently I heard the heart-warming story of a selfless stranger who signed up as a potential bone marrow donor for a cancer charity. Four years ago his donation helped a mother of three children to overcome acute leukaemia. Having sought him out to say thank-you the mother and donor – an offshore operations manager from Aberdeen – met tearfully face to face, captured in a BBC One documentary ‘The Gift’ to be broadcast at 9pm tonight. The story gives a whole new dimension to giving up something for Lent and makes us realise the good each of us can do.
This article appeared in the Courier on Tuesday, 16 February 2015.