I hope everybody forgives me for not sending my usual Christmas cards this year.
It is the first time that I have missed the chance to offer the season’s greetings in the 23 years that I have been Bishop of Portsmouth.
My second period of convalescence is proving much more demanding than I had expected and I simply do not have the energy to sit down and write 400 or so Christmas cards, each with some sort of individual message.
This Advent is proving to be very much a time of waiting – and expectancy. I wait and long for a return to full health.
We, as a diocese, are waiting on the Holy Father and those who advise him to appoint a new bishop, who ‘will lead and inspire you in the years to come and be an ardent and gentle shepherd for you all’. We await this appointment with hope and with expectancy.
My life has totally changed since the time when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer and whereas ‘when I was young, I put on my own belt and walked where I liked...’ now, as I grow older and somewhat infirm... ‘I have to stretch out my hands...and be taken where I would rather not go.’
But, always at the heart of the new journey that is now mine, the overriding word from the Lord is ‘Follow me’.
For you, for the diocese, for the Church and for myself, that is what I pledge myself to do.
Your part in helping me take up this journey has been immense, and no bishop could have hoped for a greater outpouring of generous love and prayer than I have received. Thank you.
My response to your love is growing stronger by the day and forms the core of my Christmas greetings to you.
My gratitude to you knows no bounds because you have helped me to learn so much about the Lord’s loving providence and how I need to trust in that benevolence and love, as I prepare now for whatever may lie ahead.
Thank you all from the depths of my heart. You will always have pride of place in my love and my prayers.
It’s been a privilege and a joy to serve the Lord with you in this part of His Vineyard.
As we come to the Christmas feast and celebrations, I wish you all every joy and happiness and every blessing in the years to come.