Looking back, looking forward to new start

December 11, 2017
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A reflection from The Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, the Bishop of Waikato

The season of Advent is my favourite time of the Church’s year: a time of new beginnings as we anticipate Christmas, a time of watching and waiting.

Of course it is also the time of year when the weather is getting warmer (we hope) and the pop and sizzle of sausages on the BBQ once again becomes a sign that the outdoors is where you’ll find most people if they get the chance!

For me this year, this is a time of transition. After nearly six years here in Aotearoa New Zealand I will leave these islands after Christmas, and return home to take up my new role as Bishop of Ripon in the Diocese of Leeds in the north of England. While we came initially to Auckland, it is the Waikato, and this wonderful Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki that has formed and shaped me in a unique way.

The path of discipleship can take us into new and challenging territory, and I have certainly felt the sharp edge of that at times. Yet even those experiences of pain and struggle have been opportunities for growth.

That is how the Kingdom of God takes hold. I can say that being a Bishop brings with it a tapestry of praise and lament (as we described in our Charge to Synod this year). We are human beings, so if you can, try to be gentle or at least pause a moment before you engage!

Certainly there has been joy and laughter too, and a real highlight has been the creation and journey of LiFT. That so many people from the Diocese joined in this vision of learning and community was a real affirmation of the desire to learn more about our faith; to engage in weekly conversation and debate; and to grow alongside others in understanding, sometimes with vulnerability and courage.

LiFT has been wrapped in prayer from beginning to end, and I have been humbled by the stories of transformation that some of you have shared with me. My hope is that LiFT will continue next year, and will grow and touch the lives of others who commit to this pilgrim way.

For those of you who have completed LiFT this year, tell your friends to do it! My prayer is that you will keep exploring your faith, and expand your horizons. If you are ever unsure, know that God always goes before you, and God’s love will guide, hold and sustain you.

Thank you for this deep privilege of leadership; I ask forgiveness for the times you may feel I have let you down; I ask your prayers for this new season. As we prepare to greet the infant Jesus again, let us rejoice in our calling to be a people of the resurrection with Alleluia always our song!

Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley became Bishop of Waikato in February 2014; in 2018, she is to become Bishop of Ripon.

She is the first woman who has trained and served as a priest in the Church of England to become a bishop. At the time of her election, women could not join the episcopate of the Church of England.

She is the third woman to become a bishop of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Prior to being Bishop of Waikato she was Dean of Tikanga Pakeha at St John's College in Auckland for two years.

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