Libby Lane: Opening doors to reveal presence of God

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WHERE do we find God? How do we learn of his love – and put that love into action?

In the Bible, St James wrote: “What good is it, my friends, for someone to say they have faith when their actions do nothing to show it?”. Pope Francis has reminded us that “you pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works”.

This weekend, more than 20 Bishops from the North of England have been putting our faith into action. We are joining the people of the Diocese of Sheffield in their “Crossroads Mission”. From Goole to Doncaster, from Rotherham to Ecclesall, across the whole region, we are sharing something of the good news of Jesus.

We are coming together to draw alongside people in the communities where they live, in their places of work and leisure, on the streets as well as in our churches. We are listening to their stories and sharing our own, discovering together where Jesus is present and at work in people’s lives. This is the first time so many Bishops have worked together for such a project in one Diocese.

This weekend we are recognising that Jesus is present wherever we are, and that God is at work in our everyday lives – not just in churches on a Sunday.

We are joining in many activities: throughout the weekend, in Sheffield, we are meeting people, and praying with them if they ask, as they pass through the city centre, and a new venture “Oasis Space” for workers in the city was launched. In Doncaster’s Frenchgate centre, Bishops offered shoe shining as an act of service to passers-by; we joined the valued work of Street Pastors supporting the night-time economy, especially the vulnerable on the streets.

We will be joining people in schools and offices, in hospitals and factories, in sports centres and concert venues, in their homes. God is present in all 
those places, and often we discover that through the people around us.

Yesterday, I spent a remarkable morning in Sheffield Children’s Hospital meeting patients and their families, staff and wider community. We heard stories of courage and care, of loss and fear, of hope and triumph. It was in the usually unobserved encounters – a nurse’s hand on the shoulder of a struggling mother, a child sharing a smile with the patient in the next bed, a member of the chaplaincy team quietly making tea for patients’ families – that it seemed perhaps that Jesus was most present.

Small acts of kindness can have a transforming effect. Often it is in these personal encounters that we can best pass on the love that we have received, and demonstrate God’s love made real in Jesus.

One of my favourite people in the Bible is found in the book of Acts, in the New Testament. A man called Joseph, one of the Christians in the earliest church in Jerusalem, though originally from Cyprus, is given the nickname “Barnabas” which means “son of encouragement”. What a wonderful thing to be known as! Barnabas got his nickname because, wanting to share the love he had discovered from following Jesus, he chose to sell a field and give the money to support those most in need in his community. But there are lots of ways we can be encouragers, supporting those in all kinds of need, sharing with others the generosity God has shown to us.

This weekend the Bishops have also been joining church communities as they host all kinds of events such as breakfast clubs, youth orchestras, sports events, concerts, “pints of view” in the local pub and an event called Messy Church. As well as participating for good in neighbourhood projects so people see God’s love in action, churches are finding ways for people to join in with them and have opportunities to hear about God’s love. This may mean exploring faith for the first time, or may re-ignite a faith long forgotten. This weekend may be the chance someone was longing for to return to church or may provide space for a surprise encounter with God.

Sheffield Cathedral is today hosting Traditional Sheffield Past and Present, their biggest family-friendly event of the year. With living history displays, re-enactments and characters from the Medieval and Tudor past, they will welcome hundreds of people, of all ages.

For some it will be their first time in the Cathedral. Like other churches all over the region, the Cathedral is exploring ways of opening their doors so people can catch a glimpse of God’s love in new as well as familiar ways.

Tomorrow I will be preaching in the Cathedral, the first time they have had a women Bishop do so. Other Bishops will be joining services across the Diocese. And we will all be coming together for a final event in Saints Square outside Rotherham Minster.

Worship can open a door to the divine and enable us to come face to face with God through music, prayer, teaching, hearing the Bible read, fellowship and communion. Such worship comes in all sorts of styles and contexts, glorifying God and opening our eyes to his presence with us and his invitation to us.

The Crossroads Mission wants to provide opportunity for people to see and respond to God. Perhaps you will be able to join us in one of the events over the weekend. Or perhaps you will discover something of his love in your own life – at work, at play, at home, at church.

Libby Lane is the Bishop of Stockport. She became Britian’s first female bishop during an inauguration ceremony at York Minster earlier this year.