Author Archives: Linda Fone

Bishop of Europe’s 2019 Advent Appeal

“My appeal focuses on the ACF’s work with empowerment of women, because we know that women often both bear the heaviest costs of poverty or conflict and are also those whose empowerment can do the most to bring development that reaches grass roots and bring hope for the future. The appeal covers the first two levels of ACF’s interests.   

  1. Tanzania Strategic Partnership

The Anglican Church of Tanzania has a vision for spiritual and socio-economic transformation across the country and, with the help of ACF funds, they are rolling out a Church and Community Mobilisation Programme (CCMP) in over 20 dioceses. CCMP uses Mothers Union Bible Study groups to help people bring positive change to their families and communities.

Village and Community Banks enable group members to contribute towards and receive micro-loans to help them create businesses.

  1. Women on the Frontline

Women on the Frontline’ is a programme designed for senior Christian women, usually wives of bishops, in areas affected by violence, conflict and poverty, bringing them together on retreat and giving practical training in reconciliation. The programme is led by Mrs. Caroline Welby, wife to Archbishop Justin Welby, and by Mrs. Sarah Snyder, the Archbishop’s Advisor on Reconciliation.

In many parts of the Communion, bishops’ wives are thrust into an important role as the ‘Mother’ of the diocese and are expected to provide leadership to women in the church. Unlike their husbands, who will have had some training for their roles, these women are very often unskilled and undereducated for the role they find themselves in. They need encouragement and equipping to carry out their role with confidence.

The Lambeth Conference in July 2020 will bring together 500 or so bishops plus spouses from across the Anglican Communion. This is our diocese’s opportunity to strengthen mission work across the Communion and to make the Communion real for people (especially women) in other continents. We can make a difference both to senior Anglican women in conflict-stricken areas and to community groups in Tanzania. Advent is the season of hope, and we can share some of this delightful virtue with others.

Please do support my appeal.

With every blessing,

+Robert Gibraltar in Europe

Zwolle Talks

The next Zwolle TALKS will be on the Book of Esther by Staci Pastor-King (a lady, who is currently doing her doctorate on the Book of Esther).
Held in the Lutheran Church Koestraat 2, 8011 NK Zwolle.
Format. 4pm start. 45 minute talk. Then up to 30 minutes discussion and questions over coffee and refreshments

Easter Sunday Sermon, Zwolle, April 2019

Easter Day, Alleluia. Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

He is celebrated across this world, by over 1.3 billion Christians. Publicly, and in secret, in ones and twos,  in large gatherings, in all continents, across time zones, the shout Alleluia! Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed Alleluia!

Why is this so important. Five reasons why we celebrate and have concrete hope, and then Peter.

Reason 1 
His words trusted – because of the empty tomb

The angel said it:

”Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners , be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” (Luke 24: vv6-7)

Jesus said it would happen. He was dead when he entered the tomb. 

He did not swoon or faint, and the solders did not get it wrong as they checked his body.  The women did not go to the wrong tomb – else why wasn’t the body brought out by the authorities. No grave robbers robbed – they left the most valuable part, the linens behind . No if the body disappeared, the tomb was empty, it was because it had been resurrected , that is simultaneously raised and changed. He was killed and he was raised as he said he would.

Those words of prophecy were proven. We can trust his other words. The words he said about himself. To ‘have seen me is to have seen the Father’, (John 14:vv8-10), that he was the Son of God (Mark 14:vv60-62), that he was God the Son, as he told the religious, ”before Abraham was born, I AM”, (John 8:58). We trust his words about himself.

His words trusted – because of the empty tomb

Reason 2 –
His promises trusted – because of the empty tomb

the resurrection means we not only trust his words about who he said he was but also trust his promises. His promise of those who believe in him will receive eternal life, (John 3:16). That when he is lifted up on the cross the promise that he will draw all people to himself – his invitation is truly for all, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, class, gender, or age, (John 12:vv32-34). The promise that the Spirit would be given to all who believe – he would come and live within us, (see references in John 14 & 16). The promise that he would return, (eg Mark 13:vv24-36)..

His promises trusted – because of the empty tomb

Reason 3 –
Our sins forgiven – shown by the empty tomb

The tomb is empty and so is the cross. He overcame death and it shows he overcame sin. Jesus on the cross, as we listened to the readings on Good Friday, he died for our sin. ”The righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18) as Peter later wrote. The innocent for the guilty. His death was substitutionary.

At All Saints Amersfoort, we have many football fans, and many happy Ajax fans at the moment! We all understand substitutes. To take a person’s place. He was our substitute. Jesus died in our place. We deserved to die – to be separated from God – but he died instead. ”He took our place, bore our sin, died our death, so we would be freely forgiven,” (quotes from John Stott, Through the Bible, p.266). And how do we know this has been done totally wonderfully? As Paul says, if he is not raised, we are still in our sins, but he has been raised. The price has been paid, death is overcome, separation from God ended, we, through Christ, are forgiven people.

Our sins forgiven – shown by the empty tomb

Reason 4 – Evil overcome

On Holy Saturday, we think of what human evil did. That struck me again as I heard the readings on Good Friday. Human evil. And human evil inspired by Satan. Our Maundy Thursday reading said that the devil entered Judas, Satan the one who provoked and brought these events to finally happen. The devil sought to destroy Jesus and defeat what he thought was God’s plans. Yet Jesus is alive he is risen. Evil, its most pure form, Satan, defeated. Christ was raised. Human evil, satanic evil was overcome. And that gives us hope in life and on days such as this, when evil has shown his head again with the bombings and the hundreds injured and killed in Sri Lanka this morning. In the writings of Paul – in Romans 8:28 – for we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him – even in the most evil of events and human actions, God can work and bring good. The resurrection shows us this.

Evil overcome

Reason 5 –
Hope of the resurrection – shown by the empty tomb

The women do not meet Jesus. But after Peter goes to the tomb, we know Mary meets Jesus thinking he is the gardener, (John 20). Also, when two disciples come back from the Emmaus Road discovery, (Luke 24vv13-33), they are told ”It is true the Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon, (v34).” He was bodily raised from the dead. Changed – he would appear and leave, but physical, real, as Mary grabbed his feet, and as Jesus ate fish in their presence saying ”a ghost does not have flesh and bones, (24:vv38-42).”  As he was raised. So we will be raised when he returns. In parts of France, French Christians would go to the cemeteries on Resurrection Sunday, like today, as a statement, that fellow believers, who have fallen asleep in Christ, will be raised, because Christ was raised. And like he was raised, they will have physical bodies, and not be ghosts.

Hope of the resurrection – shown by the empty tomb

Alleluia. Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia.

Finally. Peter.

Peter who had not gone away, back to Galilee. Why had he stayed around in Jerusalem? Fear? Or to be close to a dear friend? Did he want to be able to go the tomb and pour out his guilt, to say he was sorry he denied him three times, that it only took the questions of people he didn’t know to make him deny the One he had spent the last three years with.

After Mary, Joanna and the others tell them their story. Peter runs to the tomb.

He sees the linen and it says he went away wondering what happened. He too didn’t remember what Jesus had said about his resurrection, what the angel had reminded the women.

But as we heard – on that day somewhere, somehow, Jesus met Peter. We do not know what happened. The end of John’s Gospel is a different event weeks later, which was a public restoration. What happened on that Easter Day, was private and personal. Between Jesus and one of his closest disciples. Peter may have thought his failure was total. His failure was final towards his Lord.

But the risen Lord met him. Jesus had died for all sin and his sins. And in this meeting, Peter is told and realises that he can be a disciple. 

Maybe we are like Peter, that we have denied God, made a mess of our relationship with Him. Jesus paid for that sin as well on the cross, as well as all the others.  And now Jesus lives – as the resurrection proves – to forgive all who will trust him.

Peter experienced his own personal resurrection. He was in a place of death. John’s Gospel says he actually went into the tomb. He was personally in a dark place, as he entered that tomb. Out of a place of death, came life for him. We can be in places like Peter, where spiritually it has all gone wrong, maybe our deliberate choices, or maybe by things beyond our control. What happened to Peter, says there is hope. The tomb says there is hope. Jesus met him. This day can be one of resurrection for you, whatever place you find yourself in. We have no idea what Peter did when he went away. But he found Jesus. And Jesus met him. If you are in a place like Peter, you don’t need to wander away wondering to yourself. You can come to Jesus, he will welcome you. The cross is empty. The tomb is empty. Jesus restored Peter. He will welcome you back.

Hope is really what the empty tomb gives us.

A final true story. An Anglican minister called Rico Tice shared this story:

”The first funeral of a young person I ever took was of a professional musician called Stewart Spencer, who died of cancer in his 30s.

He was a deeply committed Christian, and we became close friends, particularly after he asked me to preach at his funeral, which was personally very touching. I always remember my last visit to him.

It was three days before he died. I was feeling emotional and suddenly just blurted out what was on my mind. It was out before I knew it. I just said ”Stewart, what is it like to die?”

I will never forget his answer.

He said very calmly: ”Rico, Christ is risen from the dead. He is risen. ”  And I could see that all his hope was pinned on that past certainty. Stewart knew that the tomb was empty.”

Hope for us because the tomb is empty…

Alleluia. Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia.

A Prayer to finish. “God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.Amen.

Data Protection (GDPR)



The Archdeaconry of North-West Europe is one of six Archdeaconries in the Diocese in Europe of the Church of England. It is the body into which the local Anglican churches are united. In accordance with Netherlands law, it is registered in the Handelsregister (Company Register) with the Kamer van Koophandel (Chamber of Commerce) Midden Nederland insofar as it is geographically situated on Netherlands territory. It is also registered under the name of Anglicaanse Kerk in Nederland.
The first and supreme mission of the worldwide Christian Church is to proclaim Jesus Christ as the embodiment of God’s love. This mission is carried out through a number of activities requiring, in turn, an organisation, clergy and other ministers and lay workers, both paid and unpaid, and other volunteers. The Archdeaconry is a subdivision of the organised Church, the Church of England, an organised community of Christian people. An important function of the Church is to shape, build up and maintain community life, found largely in the local churches referred to above.
Organisation and administration of the life of the church community require the processing of personal data, including special categories of (sensitive) personal data concerning religious beliefs, of persons associated with that church community.

Introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation has caused the church to be aware of the risk of breaches of the privacy of persons associated with the church, and of the need for proper measures to be taken in order to limit such risk as much as possible.
In order for the processing of personal data to be carried out according to the requirements of the law, and to limit as much as possible the risk of breach of privacy, the following rules are deemed necessary in processing personal data of persons associated with the church:

Article 1 Definitions

Terms What they are deemed to mean for the purpose of these Rules

Article article of these present Rules

associated person natural person who has entered upon an association with the church, either through canonical membership or through personal interest

Autoriteit Persoons- gegevens Personal Data Protection Authority/Regulator chaplaincy local church, formally constituted body, including congregations and church plants

chaplaincy registers registers held by the chaplaincy, containing particulars of the administration of sacraments or other sacred acts to associated persons

church the Archdeaconry of North-West Europe, or any local church forming part of it, as the case may be, all insofar as they are situate within the borders of The Netherlands

Church Church of England

controller person or body of persons responsible for processing personal data

data protection coordinator person appointed by the controller, charged with protecting data security and oversight of records holding personal data as well as the coordination of communication between subjects and controller

data leak breach of protection of personal data, exposing such data to loss or unlawful processing

GDPR (AVG) General Data Protection Regulation (Algemene Verordening Gegevensbescherming)

holder of parental responsibility person exercising parental responsibility over a minor

personal data any data referring to an identified or identifiable natural person

processing of personal data any action or any whole of actions relative to personal data, including in any case collecting, recording, ordering, keeping, correcting, amending, claiming, consulting, using, forwarding,transmitting, distributing or any other form of making available, amalgamating, matching, as also masking, erasing or destroying of personal data

record structured body of personal data of people associated with the church, relative to the objectives as stated in Article 2

Rules these present Rules for Processing and Protection of Personal Data concerning Persons on the Electoral Roll and other administrative records

special categories of personal data personal data concerning a person’s religion or philosophical beliefs, race, political standpoints, health, sexual life, and personal information concerning the causing of nuisance and unlawful behaviour relative to any injunction resulting from such behaviour, and also personal data regarding trade union membership. These present rules serve as a basis for the processing of the special category of personal data concerning religious beliefs, exclusively

subject data subject; person whose personal data have been or are being recorded or otherwise processed by or on behalf of the church

third party person not associated or not in a canonical relation with the church, or entity outside the structures of the Church of England

UAVG Uitvoeringswet Algemene Verordening Gegevensbescherming (GDPR Implementation Act)

Article 2 Objectives of processing personal data by the church The canon law and statutes of the Church state and imply its objective of shaping the church life of the associated persons. Church life is particularly expressed in the chaplaincies. An important part of this church life is found in building and maintaining of a community of believers. Such community building and the administration and organisation of church life require the processing by the church of personal data, including the special category of data about the religious life, of associated persons.

Article 3 Applicability These rules are applicable to any form of processing of personal data of associated persons by the church, irrespective of whether this be the local churches or the body in which they are united. The Rules apply to digitally processed data and (type)written records alike.

Article 4 Responsibilities of the controller The controller as the responsible person or body shall attend to the following: – that no more personal data are recorded or otherwise processed than are strictly necessary to the attainment of the objective as stated in Article 2; – that associated persons are accurately and completely informed about the object and the nature of the data processed by the church, about the identity of the controller, and about the rights which are exercisable by them concerning the processing of their data;

– that precautions are taken to improve correctness and completeness of the personal data recorded; – that sufficient precautions are taken to provide for the secure keeping and processing of personal data; during the period that these Rules will be in force the controller shall identify the risks to the privacy of associated persons through lacking or failing protection of personal data, and will take proper precautions thereto; the controller will publicise those precautions in a separate plan appended to these Rules; (Appendix 1 – reserved) – that a data leak involving considerable risk of serious and damaging consequences for the protection of the privacy of associated persons is immediately reported to the Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens, in accordance with the provisions of the GDPR; – that of the processing of personal data according to these Rules a log is kept, in accordance with the GDPR.

Article 5 Basis for processing of data and exemption from the ban on processing of data concerning religion 1. The basis for the processing of personal data by the church is found in the justifiable interest of the church in such processing. The justifiable interest in the stated and implied objective of the church to make possible and facilitate the church life of associated persons. An essential part of this is the shaping and building of a community. Conditional upon such community building is that persons associated with the church should be known. Beside this, the shaping of church life requires a certain measure of organisation and administration of the church. This, likewise, is conditional upon processing a certain amount of personal data of associated persons. 2. The controller comes to the conclusion that the justifiable interest of the church, as stated in paragraph 1, outweighs the interests of the privacy of associated persons , on the basis of the following arguments: – associated persons have made a free choice in electing to be associated with the church. Thereby they express the wish to be part of a faith community. Before making this decision they are fully informed about the processing of their data, neccessitated by their association; – the church records only such data of associated persons wich are deemed necessary for the objective as stated in Article 2; – the data of associated persons are removed immediately upon their notification of terminating their association with the church. The church makes sure that the manner of terminating their association with the church is made sufficiently known; – access to the data on record is regulated by means of authorisations, as stipulated in Article 8 of these Rules; – data recorded by the church shall not be disclosed to third parties, unless subjects have freely and on the basis of sufficient information unambiguously, clearly and distinguishably consented thereto. 3. The processing of the special category of personal data relating to religion is based on an exemption from the ban as defined in article 9 GDPR. No such special personal data shall be processed except on condition that such data shall not be disclosed to

third parties except on the basis of explicit , clear and distinguishable consent by the subject, in accordance with the provisions of Article 9 of these Rules.

Article 6 Informing subjects about the processing of their personal data 1. The controller is attentive to informing subjects of the following: content and nature of the recorded data, the objectives thereof, the rights which are exercisable by them over such data, as well as the identity of the controller. Likewise, subjects are informed that processing of their personal data will be terminated immediately upon their notification of ending their association with the church, and that their data will not be disclosed to third parties without their unambiguous, clear and distinguishable consent thereto. 2. Informing as stated in paragraph 1 is done: – prior to joining or registration as an associated person; – on the occasion of baptism; – in the case of associated persons who have been so registered by the holders of parental responsibility over them, on completion of their 16th year. 3. Informing associated persons whose data are being processed on the date of coming into force of these Rules is effected by a personal (digital) letter addressed to each associated person individually. In the case of such letters being addressed to associated persons not having attained the age of 16 years they are sent to the holders of parental responsibility over them.

Article 7 Personal data included on record No more personal data of associated persons shall be included than are required for the objectives as stated in Article 2. These data may include, at the least: – Christian and family names, address and place of residence including postal code, date and place of birth, e-mail address, telephone number, marital or civil status, name of spouse or registered civil partner (if also associated with the church), bank account number; – codes for degree of participation and for circulation of church magazine; – dates of administration of sacraments; – duties, offices and memberships within the local church or at any level within the Church, with dates of commencement and termination.

Article 8 Access to personal data on record The controller accords authorisations to officers for access to personal data on record. The following points shall be observed: – granting an authorisation to an officer is based upon a need-to-know, considering the tasking of that officer; – the controller will appoint one officer, with one deputy, to have write-access concerning all personal data on record; – access – as opposed to write-access – to the personal data on record is granted to up to three officers, with a minimum of one;

– authorised officers of a church may make data of associated persons available to members of the governing body of that church. It is for that body to decide whether data should be disclosed and, if so, to which persons within that particular church, taking into account of their tasks and duties. Under no circumstances will there be disclosure to all associated persons of all subjects en bloc, e.g. in the form of a membership guide or address list.

Article 9 Disclosure or transmission to third parties of personal data from the records 1. No personal data from a record shall be disclosed or transmitted to third parties, except where the law is binding on the controller to do so. 2. Should the controller be of the opinion that by way of exception disclosure or transmission of personal data ought to be considered, not being under any legal obligation to do so, he shall first obtain the unambiguous , clear and distinguishable consent of the subject concerned. 3. The controller shall not request consent as referred to in paragraph 2 until after he has fully informed the subject concerning nature and content of the data to be so disclosed or transmitted, the aim of the disclosure or transmission, and the identity of the recipient. The controller shall also advise the subject of his right at all times to withdraw his consent by way of notification by telephone, by electronic message or in writing. 4. The controller shall log the consent received, as well as a withdrawal thereof, on the record.

Article 10 Removal of data from the record 1. Personal data on a record shall be removed immediately upon receiving notification by a subject of termination of the association of that subject with the church. Such removal may be postponed if obligations of a financial nature or otherwise between the subject and the church so require. 2. In case of the death of associated persons their data shall be removed at the end of the year of their death. If the deceased at the time of death was married to or had entered upon a civil registered partnership with another associated member, such data shall be removed at the end of the year in which the death occurs of that surviving spouse or partner.

Article 11 Supplying data for purposes of policy and research The controller may decide to supply data from the records for purposes of policy and research to third parties charged with such policy or research, but only insofar as this policy or research is related to the objectives as defined in Article 2. The controller gives due heed to the requirement that such data have been so edited that they may no longer be used to identify individual persons.

Article 12 Rights of subjects 1. With regard to data pertaining to subjects which are being processed by the church such subjects may exercise the rights as defined in articles 15 (inspection and information), 16 (correction), 17 (erasure), 18 (restriction) and 19 (complaint). For the exercise of these rights the subject shall communicate in writing with the controller. 2. The controller shall without delay, but no later than one month after receipt of the request, advise the subject of the effect given to the request. In the case of the controller refusing to comply with the request, he shall without delay, but no later than one month after receipt of the request, advise the subject of his decision to refuse. He shall also advise the subject of the possibility to lodge a complaint with the Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens, or to appeal to the court having jurisdiction in the matter.

Article 13 The position of subjects under the age of 16 Rights exercisable by subjects based on GDPR,UAGV and these Rules are exercised by the holders of parental responsibility in the case of subjects under 16 years of age.

Article 14 Secrecy Anyone taking cognizance of personal data on the basis of this regulation is under an obligation to preserve the secrecy of such data, except where the law or these Rules require that personal data be disclosed or transmitted.

Article 15 Specific stipulations regarding church registers 1. The chaplain of the chaplaincy, or, in the absence of a chaplain, such other priest as shall hold the Bishop’s charge or permission to carry out the functions and ministrations of a chqplain, keeps record of the administration of sacraments and other recordable ministrations to persons associated with the church in the chaplaincy registers. 2. These Rules are applicable to the processing of personal data for such registers, except where the provisions of this Article allow for derogation from these Rules. 3. Access to the chaplaincy registers is the exclusive privilege of the Bishop; the person who holds the Bishop’s commission to oversee the archdeaconry; the chaplain, or, in the absence of a chaplain, such other priest as shall hold the Bishop’s charge or permission to carry out the functions and ministrations of a chaplain; any assistant-chaplain; and the secretary of the church council of the chaplaincy. 4. In view of the provisions of article 17, paragraph 3 sub d GDPR – the provisions of Article 10 regarding the removal of personal data are not applicable to personal data recorded in the chaplaincy registers. There are two main reasons for this non-applicability. The first reason is that the registers contain a record of factual actions and situations which, with the personal data recorded therein, are significant to the history of the chaplaincy, the church and the Church of England. The second reason for this non-applicability lies in the facts that have been recorded

in the said registers are sacraments or sacred actions. The sacraments and sacred actions as understood in these Rules are of an indelible and unrepeatable nature, or at the least of such importance to those whom they concern, and also the church and – indeed – the wider Church, that they need to be kept on record, notwithstanding the wish of any person to have them removed; – a request for removal of personal data from the said registers under the provisions of Article 12 shall be refused, with a view on the significance of the sacraments and actions recorded therein with the personal data for the life of the chaplaincy, the church, and the wider Church, and also for their significance for the history of the chaplaincy, the diocese or the Church, or research into such history.

Article 16 Concluding provision 1. These Rules will be deemed to be in force as from 25th May, 2018 for an indefinite period. 2. The controller has authority to vary or rescind these Rules. 3. These Rules may be cited as the ‘Rules for Processing and Protection of Personal Data 2018’.

Utrecht, 6th June, 2018

Acknowledgement: These rules are largely structured and based on the ‘Privacyregeling persoonsgegevens (gast)ledenvan de Oud-Katholieke Kerk van Nederland’ of the Old-Catholic Church of The Netherland

Christmas Message 2018 from the Bishop in Europe

Bishop in Europe’s Christmas Message 2018: The Rt Reverend Dr Robert Innes.

Travelling over to London on the Eurostar in mid-November, I saw my first Christmas tree of the season. It was a giant silver variety placed prominently on the concourse of St. Pancras Station. And I was reminded that ‘the Christmas season’ starts earlier in the UK than in most of mainland Europe. And to be sure, this year, the Christmas spirit is sorely needed to boost flagging High Street revenues and give some cheer to those depressed by a seemingly endless Brexit.

Thinking about Christmas, I wondered what would happen if, instead of starting with Matthew, Luke or John we began instead with St. Paul. Paul has no nativity story like Matthew and Luke – indeed he doesn’t tell us much about Jesus life at all. However, like St. John, Paul does have his own way of portraying the incarnation. We hear St. John’s account of the incarnation at every 9 lessons and carols service, and it is the way he introduces his gospel.

St. Paul’s account of the incarnation isn’t quite so easy to pin down. But the point at which Paul makes it clearest is, it seems to me, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. This is one of Paul’s later letters, written after Paul has thought very deeply about the Christian faith he proclaims. In a key chapter of this letter, Paul tells us: ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.’ (2 Corinthians 5:19)

Like St. John, St. Paul tells us that God became flesh in Jesus Christ. Christ became human. He entered human experience from within and dealt with the barrier that sin had erected between people and God. Where St. John in his prologue talks about people becoming ‘children of God’, St. Paul describes human beings as becoming a ‘new creation’. But what Paul helps us to see particularly clearly is that the purpose of Christ’s incarnation is reconciliation. And ‘reconciliation’ is a word that Paul repeats many times in this important chapter.

So let me be so bold as to suggest that the real, inner meaning of Christmas is reconciliation. Christmastime reminds us that God became human in Jesus to reconcile us to God. And at the same time, God commissioned those who follow Jesus to continue the ministry of reconciliation. In this way, says Paul, we act as ambassadors for God. Reconciliation is God’s supreme Christmas gift to the world. And it is a gift meant for sharing.

Now we know that Christmastime does encourage a general sense of bonhomie and camaraderie amongst those of faith and those without. It may be the only time some of us get together with the neighbours or speak informally with those we don’t much care for at work. Those small gestures are valuable in themselves. But they point to something much deeper.

‘Reconciliation’ is a deep and demanding idea. It is to do with bringing people back together again who have fallen out. It is concerned with restoring friendly relationships. Christ’s incarnation first of all reminds a sinful and disobedient world that it has a problem with God, and that there is a relationship that needs to be repaired.

Then it challenges those of us who claim to follow Christ to be people of reconciliation ourselves. That is deeply uncomfortable. It means overcoming conflict, forgiving, accepting, welcoming and renewing broken relationships. Actually, this is so difficult that perhaps it is only with God’s own help and inspiration that we can do it.

We might start with our families – those with whom most of us will spend most of our time at Christmas. It is in these closest of relationships that conflict is the most painful and reconciliation sometimes the most difficult. Then we might consider our church communities. Could Christmas 2018 be the opportunity to heal and redeem a broken relationship with a Christian brother or sister? And then there are national and international relationships…

At the outset I mentioned Brexit. This is something which within Britain has divided young and old, one region from another, those with strong local allegiances from cosmopolitan folk who have learnt to feel at home anywhere. It has also threatened to divide Britain from its European neighbours. There is a major task ahead to reconcile across these differences. Christians could and should be at the heart of that task.

So this Christmas, I hope that the message of the birth of the Son of God, born to change hearts and minds, to bring people back to God and to empower people to be reconciled with each other is a message that will give us all comfort, encouragement and hope.

I wish each of you and your families a very happy Christmas.