SAINTS AND SINNERS

 

Last month we bade farewell to Peter Hancock as bishop of Basingstoke. In one way, it was a sad farewell, because he is such a kind and generous-spirited man who will be greatly missed. On another, one couldn’t help but be happy for him that he was going on to a well-deserved diocesan role as Bishop of Bath and Wells.

 

But his departure set me to thinking about what I would seek in his successor. What should I pray for?

For me, the epitome of a great bishop was Saint Aidan, the Anglo-Saxon bishop of Lindisfarne, whom we read about in the works of the Venerable Bede, who tells us this story, which gives a measure of the man:

 

The king had given a beautiful horse to Bishop Aidan, though the Bishop usually preferred to travel on foot. Some short time after, he met a beggar on the road and immediately dismounted, ordering the horse, with all his royal trappings, to be given to him.

The king heard of this and said to the Bishop, “What did you mean, my lord Bishop, by giving the poor man that royal horse, which it was fitting that you should have for your own use? Had not we many other horses of less value, or things of other sorts, which would have been good enough to give to the poor, instead of giving that horse, which I had chosen and set apart for your own use?” To Bishop answered, “What do you say, O king? Is that son of a mare more dear to you than that son of God?”

 

Selfless humility is at the heart of Christian leadership. At the Last Supper, before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus knelt and washed his disciples’ feet. He also taught them ‘whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.’ These are surely the qualities we look for, not just in a bishop, but in anyone holding public office. We might value vision, charisma, drive, eloquence, or administrative capability, but they are all worthless unless they are directed towards the care and service of others.

 

Of course there is a corresponding responsibility that falls to all of us to care for those whose task it is to lead- to make big decisions on our behalf. None of us is perfect, and yet we are very often quick to criticise those in government whom we discover to have feet of clay. There are few things as unappealing as watching a minister hounded from office by those whose failings are often no less severe.

 

I shall try to keep this in mind when Peter’s successor is announced later in the year. In our own lives, we all have an ideal picture of the person we would like to be in control, but we should be humble enough to accept that human beings like us will rarely meet all our expectations. Perhaps what stands out most about Aidan was his willingness to serve king and beggar alike. King Oswin was permanently changed by his encounter. This is the power of humility.

 

May God bless you all this May,

 

Fr Alec.