Christ The King – Penny Ashton – 20th November 2022

Christ the King

It couldn’t possibly happen here – it’s what we all think, and what we all hope and believe.  I suspect that most of us would be afraid to think anything different.  But safeguarding is in danger of becoming something that the Church and diocese requires of us, and an exercise we go through when required in order to get the box ticked.  Today is the festival of Christ the King, and a day in the church’s year about which I always feel is challenging to find something fresh to say.  I think in the past I have said that it seems to be a festival of the blindingly obvious.  And yet…..?  I am almost prepared to bet that within this community today, there is abuse of a vulnerable person going on most of the time.  We know very little about what people are really like – when they are at home, safe behind closed doors.  Really – how much do you actually know about me beyond the information that I have provided? The abuse may not be the headline grabbing child sex abuse – please God, but abuse can take many forms – verbal abuse of a vulnerable adult or a child that takes away their confidence, financial abuse – where a person in a position of trust is quietly and unnoticed fiddling the change for someone they are doing shopping for – or using the card, that they have been trusted with, for the wrong purposes – the other word for this one is theft, but we don’t like to use it.  There are many types of abuse, and they mostly go unnoticed and unreported, and there is sadly nothing that we can do about those.  But when things are reported – when you hear of something in conversation that concerns you, particularly in a church context – and it could be a concern about my behaviour – or Alison’s – do you know what to say or do?  Do you know who you should discuss it with and get advice?  Do you know what to say to the person who has confided in you?

This is why we all need training in safeguarding – we all need the answers to these questions and we have to have the answers ready to hand when they are needed, because we do not know when we will need them.  We are celebrating Christ the King – but what does his kingdom look like – and how should it look.  Surely the kingdom of Christ is one where everybody is safe, loved, valued, and protected.  This is the Jesus who so often said ‘Come unto me…’ each time followed by a different promise, who welcomed and blessed the children brought to him, who gave us the commandment to love one another – and said that it would be through our love for one another that we would be recognised as his disciples.  Humankind has turned Christianity into a church – often building based religion, and we have grown used to that, but as Bishop Michael Curry, who preached so wonderfully at the wedding of Prince Harry says:

 Jesus did not establish an institution, though institutions can serve his cause. He did not organize a political party, though his teachings have a profound impact on politics. Jesus did not even found a religion. No, Jesus began a movement, fuelled by his Spirit, a movement whose purpose was and is to change the face of the earth from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. . . .[1]

The Archbishops council, in its policy document ‘Promoting a Safer Church’ said this: The Church of England affirms the ‘Whole Church’ approach to safeguarding. This approach encompasses a commitment to consistent policy and practice across all Church bodies, Church Officers and that everyone associated with the Church, who comes into contact with children, young people and adults, has a role to play…The care and protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults involved in Church activities is the responsibility of the whole Church. Everyone who participates in the life of the Church has a role to play in promoting a Safer Church for all.’[2]

Everyone – the whole church – this means you and it means me – has a role to play.  Hard words, but we cannot – must not ignore them

As the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote in 2013:

‘We cannot overestimate the importance of responding appropriately today[3]

The Church of England has recently undertaken a review of past cases – referred to as PCR2.  This was a huge exercise which in this diocese involved going through every file which might have held a safeguarding concern back as far as the 1950s – over 3000 files in this diocese.  Over 170 were found to contain safeguarding issues, and after further investigation 16 new safeguarding cases were identified, of which 6 have been referred to statutory bodies such as the police and Children’s Social Services.  It is a sad fact of life that if we are not vigilant, then it could just as easily happen here as it may have done in other parishes within this diocese.

Our readings today show two pictures.  In Jeremiah we hear how God has little patience with leaders of his people who do not properly care for them, and how God himself will step in and restore the scattered nation and will give them new leaders so that no-one need be afraid or in want.  Jeremiah then goes on to tell of God’s promise to raise up a new king for the nation – ‘and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.’

In our gospel reading we have the fulfilling of that promise in the unlikely setting of a public execution – where through the love of God to us, Jesus is brought to the cross alongside criminals of the day – and yet over his head are the words ‘The King of the Jews’.  An unlikely setting for a king, and yet even in this time of extreme torture, Jesus shows what his kingdom is like.  In John’s gospel we read of how from the cross Jesus gave the care of his mother to his much-loved disciple in order that she should be safe and provided for.  In today’s reading from Luke we heard of how he reacted with love to the thief who requested it.  His is a kingdom that is built upon love.  It is our privilege to be members of that kingdom – as we say in our communion service, ‘Though we are many, we are one body because we all share in one bread’.  And when we welcome a child or adult who joins us through baptism, we say ‘ We are children of the same heavenly Father – we welcome you’.  It seems therefore only right and proper that when we celebrate the Kingship of Christ, as we do on this Sunday every year, we should also look to what safeguarding actually means within his kingdom, and what our response should be.  As Bishop Michael Curry said, let us make it our task to ‘change the face of the earth from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. . . .[4]Amen

[1] Michael B. Curry, Following the Way of Jesus (New York: Church Publishing, 2017)

[2] Promoting a safer church –  safeguarding policy statement for children, young people and adults.

© The Archbishops’ Council 2017

[3] Safeguarding: Follow-up to the Chichester Commissaries’ Reports’, June 2013:

[4] Michael B. Curry, Following the Way of Jesus (New York: Church Publishing, 2017)

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