Happy New Year. The call I hear all around me: on Social Media, on television, from neighbours and friends: “Happy New Year!”
I certainly hope for a Happy New Year. I suspect, however, as we look forward, we will realise just how much hard work we will need to put in to making it a happy year for our society and for the disadvantaged and marginalised of the world.
I am by nature a happy person and most of my time is spent trying to share that happiness, but I am increasingly aware of how often my good humour is tested by the issues all around us.
If the “Happy New Year” greeting is to be honest and not hollow, what do I believe needs to happen? What are the issues that face us in the coming year?
As we begin to return to work after the Christmas break we are very aware of the horror of the bush fires in Australia. The news media is already alerting us to a heightening of political and international tensions. It is so easy to feel helpless, but I believe it is part of our calling to enable people of faith to be active in the life of the world. The call of Jesus is to love, care and cherish.
Therefore, our first task in 2020 should be to highlight the climate crisis. As people of faith we are taught to be custodians of Creation around us, not abusers of it. This year Glasgow will be the venue for COP26, the United Nations climate summit. I firmly believe the Scottish Episcopal Church needs to be involved in this summit along with other churches and people of faith.
The next matter facing us is the widening divide between the haves and the have-nots. We as a church cannot ignore the huge number of people who are simply struggling to get by. Rough sleepers, increasing food bank usage, families in substandard housing, children in bed and breakfast hostels, increasing levels of personal debt and all of this in a country that is among the wealthiest in the world. We are good at doing things to help at local and national levels, we need to get better at campaigning for change and, dare I say it, sharing.
This year will see the next meeting of the Lambeth Conference and all of the Bishops will be in Canterbury in July. I see this as the end of the first phase of my Primacy. In the past two years I have spent time connecting and meeting with Anglicans across the world, attempting to build relationships and foster friendships. The issues facing the world require an Anglican Communion that can see beyond its internal differences and out into the world we are called to serve. I know that risks sounding simplistic but if I do not believe that we can be a force for good then what is left?
It seems unlikely that matters of national politics are going to become any easier this year. The divisions created by the debates surrounding our membership of the European Union have shown stark political division in the UK. The political map now shows a clear difference between the voting intentions of Scotland and the rest of the UK. How this will be resolved in Scotland and across the UK is a matter for the people. What we as a church are called to do is to ensure that in those debates the voice of the marginalised, the stranger and the outcast are not forgotten. We will need to continue to be prepared to step up and speak out for those who have no voice.
One of the great joys of my ministry is the opportunity to meet with people of other faiths and to learn from them, to share my faith with them and to seek places where we can speak with one voice. I hope that we can continue to develop this, speaking firmly of what be we believe but having the heart to listen and work with others.
There is so much more and, as I look at my calendar, I see days of meetings, train journeys and conferences, but I also see days of prayer, opportunities for wonderful worship and time to meet with people and to talk with them of God’s love.
So, as I wish you all a Happy New Year, I do so because I know that together we can work to make 2020 a better year for others and for ourselves. If the world is changed for the better – no matter how small the change – how happy would that make you?
The Most Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church