The Revd Alex Barrow, from All Saints’, East Sheen, was commissioned as the new Area Dean of Richmond and Barnes by Bishop Richard, via a Zoom service on Sunday 5th July. Please pray for Father Alex as he takes on this role. Our thanks go to Revd Peter Hart, the outgoing Area Dean, as he leaves the area soon to take up a new post in the Diocese of Worcester.
Reading: John 20, 24-29
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Reflection from Bishop Richard
The Gospel reading comes from that set for St Thomas’s day, which was last Friday, 3 July. It’s always been a favourite of mine, partly because I was ordained as a priest on St Thomas’s day in 1988 in Newcastle Cathedral, but mainly because it speaks to me of the importance of a questioning and enquiring faith. Many people identify strongly with St Thomas in this regard. I have always found that engaging with the deep and often challenging questions which arise in both life and faith leads paradoxically not to a crippling doubt, but to a deeper faith and trust in God’s love. This was certainly the experience of Thomas in these few verses from John chapter 20. He moves from a position of finding it almost impossible to believe in the resurrection to the moment when he addresses Jesus as “my Lord and my God”. Prof Christopher Evans, who taught me New Testament in my ordination training, described this as the highest Christology in the New Testament. Thomas really did see the significance and importance of Christ after asking his searching and enquiring questions.
The context of our world today is certainly challenging and complex. It is deeply secularised in our part of the world. Around half of our contemporaries in this country self-describe as having no religion. There are many different major faiths and worldviews. Most people are disconnected from the Christian faith and the life of the Church.
The pandemic has exposed many fragilities in our self-confident modern world. Many of our assumptions about how things work have been shattered and we have been forced to consider what really matters in our lives, including consideration of our deep values and beliefs.
Those who are ordained in the Church of England or move to a new ministry are reminded of the importance of proclaiming the Gospel afresh in each generation. The time we are going through now with the pandemic has shaken our world to its core, and arguably in the short space of a few months we have moved into a new generation. There is undoubtedly a renewed interest in spirituality, a deeper appreciation of our connectivity with each other and with the planet, a new urgency about working for economic, racial and environmental justice. If the church is to connect with our current emerging generation we need to find the right language and the right actions in which to proclaim the good news of God’s self-giving saving love, and the hope that it brings to every situation.
As we rethink and reimagine both our world and the Church’s part in God’s mission, I believe the role of deaneries is more important than ever. The deanery structure is playing a very important part in our response to the pandemic. The archdeacons in the Kingston Episcopal area have had regular meetings by zoom with the area deans and assistant area deans and these have been vital in not only steering us through and supporting one another, but also beginning to imagine how things might be in the future. I have been very impressed and encouraged when I have joined these conversations. As we move through the process of beginning to open up our churches I would draw your attention to the pastoral letter from the bishops of our diocese, which was read today in our churches. In particular, the part which encouraged deanery coordination as we think through how to open up in a manageable and safe way.
Looking to the future deaneries can play an even more important role across their areas in combined action such as in the many food banks which serve our communities, links to the civic authorities and major charities which operate across the deanery, relationships with other churches and faith groups, and links to major institutions such as our secondary schools, and in the Richmond and Barnes deanery the globally important work of Kew Gardens relating to the environment, biodiversity and climate change.
I am very grateful to Peter Hart for all that he has done in recent years as area Dean and as ecumenical Borough dean, and we all wish him well as he moves onto his new ministry in Worcester. I am grateful too, to Marian Mollett for all her vital work as Lay Chair. We now thank Alex for his willingness to serve as area Dean in the years to come and we pray for him in this ministry that the deanery may play its full part in the emerging patterns of God’s mission across the Richmond and Barnes deanery.