I was struck by some research released by the pollsters YouGov earlier this month, which showed that the majority of British adults believe that human nature is essentially sympathetic and co-operative – with 52% of the people surveyed saying that they agreed with this statement (and less than a third, 32%, disagreeing). Such optimism about human behaviour is something which is seldom reflected in the daily news cycle – when we frequently hear of political tittle-tattle, crime or international crises, and rarely about good news stories. Yet the Christian message is that, even if people aren’t always a cause for hope, hope is embodied in Jesus. He gives us hope that whatever evil, suffering or brokenness we face, he has absorbed it all in his death. In his resurrection, he shows us the new life, the joy and the peace that he offers to us all. He is our hope.
Over the course of Lent, the Diocese of Winchester has been trying to share that message of hope with the local community. We’ve developed a course called ‘iWitness’ which parishes across the Diocese have been following in recent weeks, using this as a framework to explore how they can bear witness to Jesus’s mission here in Hampshire and East Dorset.
What does living out the mission of Jesus mean in practice? As St Peter tells us, we are each called to “serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received” (1 Peter 4:11). They key question for all of us should be, how can we serve our local communities? By supporting one another in whatever way we can, we demonstrate God’s love for us.
To give an example, let me tell you about an initiative at Romsey Abbey. Seven years ago Peter, a member of the choir at the Abbey, tragically took his own life. He had been experiencing mental health difficulties and felt he had nowhere to turn to for support. Peter’s story is far too common, and his family, and those in the church were determined that his death should not be in vain. Together, they took the decision to set up Triangulate, a local charity focused on raising awareness of mental illness – and the help and support available to people.
Triangulate has three aims: to remove the taboos and stigma around mental illness in order to make it normal for people to talk about it, to work with local employers in the Romsey area in order to help them to better understand mental illness and to signpost the mental health services and support networks available to people locally.
Triangulate was established seven years ago and it now regularly runs training sessions with local employers to help them to understand mental illness and the stresses that their employees may be under in the workplace. The organisation also helps to ‘signpost’ employers and individuals to local mental health services – something that has served to make them more and more accessible to those in need.
Alongside their work with local employers, Triangulate has partnered with Southern Health, an NHS Trust, to create the ‘Tree of Life Café’. This initiative sees the organisations take over the upstairs of a Café Nero in Romsey once a week in order to create a ‘safe space’ for people experiencing mental health difficulties. Trained counsellors are on hand to talk, provide advice and signpost people to local mental health services – and the café also provides advice on employment opportunities available locally.
Initiatives like Triangulate are exactly what I hope everyone in the parishes across our Diocese will seek to be involved in, as a very real way of living out their Christian faith. At Easter, when we remember how Jesus dealt with the suffering and brokenness of this world by dying on a cross, and rose to new life to give us hope, we should look for ways in which we can join with him in very practical ways to bring new hope and life to others.
The Right Reverend Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester