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Niche to Normal8 months ago
Bishop Jill Duff shares her passion for the work of the Holy Spirit across the church.
"The Holy Spirit doesn’t observe social distancing”, laughed a friend of mine in lockdown.
I love that since the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit is for all people. Men and women, young and old. Every background. He’s not a gift for a particular role in the church – He’s for people working in all spheres of society: arts, media, government, education, business. He’s for grandsons as much as grandmothers. For rugby players as much as nuns. He’s not a twentieth century discovery for a particular tradition in the church. We only see the outer fringes of His work (Job 26.14), but His fruit and gifts are glimpsed beautifully woven through all denominations, traditions, cultures, tribes and tongues across time.
In the last days, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. (Acts 2.17)
God’s Spirit comes where He is welcomed, where He is Lord. And He tends to choose the most unlikely people and places, off-stage, out of the limelight. Less ego, more room for fire. He comes where people long for him. As we emerge from the pandemic, as we wake up to the beautiful works of renewal and revival He is breathing across our globe, my prayer is that our stony hearts will be softened, our egos deflated so His work will move from “niche to normal”. He is always more willing to give than we are to receive.
In the Anglican Church, our ancient calling is to be “church for the people round here”. Here are two ways I see us waking up to the work of the Spirit in everyday parishes in our nation.
God’s Spirit doesn’t just transmit on one frequency. He made the universe, in all its glorious and extravagant beauty. The painter of stripes on the okapi or the voice coach of the song thrush – He’s not “one size fits all”. He knows full well that people speak and hear well on many many different frequencies. He’s the master translator. On the day of Pentecost, people were amazed because they could hear the wonders of God in their own languages.
I absolutely believe that the Holy Spirit can give people the ability to speak and understand in languages they have never been taught. But my experience in Lancashire is that the Holy Spirit has a wonderful way of unbinding tongues so that they can speak the gospel in their own language. It is beautiful to behold, particularly in some of our forgotten places and urban estates. Then, as I look nationally, I am praying for those with gifts in the arts – writing, songs, film-making – to find ways to translate the gospel into ways that “people round here” can understand. There’s too many examples to list: from Stormzy to HM The Queen.
Discernment of spirits
As a bishop, I have found this gift of the Spirit (1 Cor 12.10) becoming increasingly important. I notice other bishops think so too. We are finding about one in ten of our parishes has got stuck or “locked up”. What marks them out is repeated negative patterns, often rooted in some darkness, sin or tragedy in the past. This is exactly where we need the searchlight of the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin.
In these parishes, we are finding that confessing sin and asking for God’s forgiveness is so key (& indeed for the forgiveness of living people, actual or representative). And a way of manifesting this heavenly-heavy-lifting is quite simply by repentance of key leaders as part of a Eucharist in that place. To break the cycle of darkness. I like to call it “spiritual hoovering”. We have a team in Lancashire, from different traditions across the Church, each one deeply prayerful with the gift of discerning spirits, a type of night vision to see through to what lies behind current patterns. This is not a silver bullet. It must be part of a more prolonged season of prayer and fasting. But without this, I tend to rely on techniques and processes that don’t address the spiritual root of the problem.
I don’t fully understand this. I am just saying what I see. Like the British Transport Police catchphrase which you hear on the train: “See it. Say it. We’ll sort it”.
And finally, to move from niche to normal, I am praying daily for a visitation of the Holy Spirit on our nation. In the words of John Stott: “The desperate need of the church today is the Holy Spirit. We need individual Christians filled with the Spirit. More than that, we need revival, a mighty supernatural visitation of the Holy Spirit in the community”.