Bishop Michael’s pastoral letter – shorter version

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to be read in the churches and chapels of the Diocese of Gloucester on 8 January 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

At this New Year I greet you and wish you and all within our diocesan family a year in which, with all the challenges that face our society, we shall richly experience God’s blessing on our world and on our lives. Today, on this First Sunday of Epiphany, Christians celebrate the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.

I want to take the opportunity to invite each one of us to reflect on our own Baptism. Whether or not you can recall the day of your Baptism, it was a unique moment in your Christian journey.

Christian Baptism is rich in many-layered meaning. In the water of Baptism there is the invitation into a relationship with Jesus Christ, there is talk of new birth as well as of dying to the old and rising with Christ, there is the calling down of the Holy Spirit to abide within you and there is incorporation into a new family, the Church.

I want to ask you to reflect on what your Baptism means, or might mean, for you, and to do so not just today but as a theme running through 2012. There is a world of difference between saying “I was baptised once upon a time” and saying “I am baptised  –  it is something I am living and exploring.”

I also want to ask your church community over the next few months to explore the place of Baptism in your life together as you meet in church councils or house groups or in conversation with the members of your own church. You might shape that exploration around questions such as these.

Are we doing everything we can to encourage people of every age to come to Baptism? Are we offering teaching for those exploring the Christian faith and preparation for those seeking Baptism? Are we inviting those who have been baptised but not confirmed to renew their commitment through Confirmation? Are we providing opportunities for those who have experienced a leap forward in their discipleship to renew their baptismal commitment? Are we celebrating Baptism services in such a way that people have every opportunity to meet Jesus Christ?

If we all take these questions seriously, I believe we will see Baptism becoming more significant for us as individuals and communities and faith, and discipleship deepened.

To any who hear this and who have not themselves been baptised, I ask: Is this the moment when you should explore this step? If it is, please grasp the moment. And, if you are one of those baptised long ago, but who would like to renew your commitment, please seize the opportunity and begin a conversation today about how and when that might happen.

It’s a wonderful truth that we are the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ of whom his Father said on this day at theJordan, “You are my beloved Son”. God says to us in our baptism and then goes on saying to us as we live out our faith, “You also are among my beloved sons and daughters.” What a privilege, worth taking very seriously, worth celebrating!

+Michael, Gloucester