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Bishop Nigel Stock's Easter message of hope for Suffolk
The Right Reverend Nigel Stock at the Orwell Bridge
The Right Reverend Nigel Stock wishes everyone a joyful Easter

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich has sent a message of hope in his 2010 Easter address to BBC Suffolk.

The Right Reverend Nigel Stock, who was born and raised in Newcastle upon Tyne, drew inspiration from the sight of churches around Suffolk.

"In an age where community life is not necessarily strong...the one thing the churches should represent to people is hope," he said.

"The church is here for the long haul - the very long haul."

Luke Deal's Sunday Breakfast Show will be broadcasting the address, which is transcribed in full below, on Easter Sunday between 6-9am.

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich's Easter message

"One of the many joys of living in Suffolk is the way the county is blessed by beautiful landscape but also with many beautiful buildings.

"You often hear the view that scale and perspective is lent to the landscape by the many medieval church towers or church spires which come up in all sizes - there are octagons, round towers, high spires, low foursquare ones usually built in the characteristic flint of the area.

"You see these towers both in the towns and in the countryside of Suffolk.

"Now all these churches were built at the height of Suffolk's medieval prosperity. Communications between places were slower and people felt the need to give focus to their communities. Every community who could afford it, or had a benefactor, wanted their church.

"We very often attribute motives from our own time as to why these churches were built in such abundance. We say things that suggest they were merely status symbols, signs that we've got things that others haven't.

"But I don't think we should be so quick to write into the past our own point of view. To me there are so many carefully crafted signs of faith in the churches of the county.

"Moreover the faith and interpretation of that faith in different ages can be seen in them. Whether it is the determined, puritan simplification that to others is vandalism, or the Victorian revivals and improvements - that are also vandalism to others."

Churches today

"But what of today. Are these just interesting museums? Signs of a past glory.

"Sunday by Sunday I'm usually in one or another of these gems. There are some 475 open so I'm always having new experiences. There I meet today's Church.

The Right Reverend Nigel Stock with the Queen and Prince Phillip
The Right Reverend Nigel Stock met the Queen in 2009

"There's an easy caricature that congregations are likely to be elderly, which is certainly not always the case. But I'm also deeply uncomfortable with the idea and implication that somehow the elderly don't count. Perhaps because I've just qualified for my bus pass I'm feeling sensitive.

"What I find though is groups of people who, yes, care about the building but care more about its purpose.

"They are people who care too about the community in which they're set. It was all typified for me by the beginning of Holy week this year, when I went to a group of churches that join together for their Palm Sunday procession and worship.

"The parishioners gathered 10 minutes away from the church in a pub car park and set off in procession to the church behind a donkey owned by a retired priest. It was to commemorate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on a donkey but it spoke about all sorts of other things.

"The landlady of the pub came out only too happy that the car park was used to start this off. I noticed on the way the determination of some to be part of this, even though they weren't in the best of health. I noticed the care with which people stopped to help them.

"After the service the local bed and breakfast laid on free coffee so people could gather. In the church there was a very lovely memorial to a priest who had been there in the early 16th Century which the church warden took a lot of trouble to show me.

"The memorial showed the priest wearing robes which would easily be seen in today's church. And he would have commemorated Holy Week in a not too dissimilar way.

"The story of the community was enshrined in the church and is living on in the worshipping community today, which reached out to include the wider community on this procession and the wider community responded generously.

"At their best, all around our county these communities of Christians we call the church, both large and small, are there to worship God, to deepen faith, to pray and to serve those around them.

"In an age where community life is not necessarily strong all this is hard work. But the one thing the churches should represent to people is hope.

"Hope because the commemoration that we start on Palm Sunday ends in the most important day of the Christian year - Easter Day.

"Here the new life of the risen Christ is proclaimed and celebrated - an affirmation that life has purpose and meaning.

"We're very good at transmitting information very rapidly around our world, but as I frequently reflect it can seem that it is our anxieties and fears that we're best at communicating.

"The Easter story is a communication story of hope. So for me, when on a journey through Suffolk, whether it is walking or driving, when one of those church towers comes into view I see a sign of hope.

"Yes there may be all sorts of struggles and discords going on temporarily in life or in that community, but the church is here for the long haul - the very long haul. In fact, into eternity.

"And its message is one of profound hope in a loving God, who always brings life out of the darkest of situations - and even out of death itself.

"I hope you all have a very blessed, joyful and hopeful Easter."

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