The Bishop of Whitby, Paul Ferguson, writes:

A couple of months ago, when hundreds of bishops, spouses and other guests from around the world met for the Lambeth Conference, we spent a lot of time studying the First Letter of Peter.

In the letter is this verse (5.8): ‘Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.’ So, we asked, what does that picture of the roaring lion mean to us — and what are the ‘lions’ that threaten the well-being, the very existence, of the church where you are?

It was noticeable that the people who seized on this, and were most energetically engaged in the discussion, were the bishops who had spent time as youngsters looking after livestock, in places where lions and other predators were a day-to-day danger: they had sometimes had to form a group to hunt lions and fight them off. (I was reminded of the story of young David in 1 Kings 17 where he says to Saul ‘Your servant has killed both lions and bears.’)

For some of our sisters and brothers, the ‘lions’ are the forces of persecution, from forces who claim to be acting in the name of other faiths, or from governments and agencies who see the truths and hope in the Gospel as a menace to their activities based on corruption and self-interest. Those stories were unforgettable.

But what is our threatening ‘lion’ in Britain? I said that for us it might not roar. We do not experience violent persecution. Yes, there are those who would like to see faith removed, or at least marginalised, from public life: religion ridiculed, or reduced to what one commentator called a ‘private eccentricity’.

More dangerous, I believe, is the ‘lion’ that we can allow to prowl quietly: if we fall into being a church that spends too much time looking inward, and (I’m sorry) gives the impression of being joyless, fussy and squabbling. Rather, in every community, as well as at the bigger scale, we need to be a ‘good news’ church: ready to address the issues that will enable people to have ‘life in all its fullness’ for our times and for the future; eager to show (as God enables us) how a life lived with Jesus as our example doesn’t restrict us but rather frees us; generously offering the space where people can discover God’s love for them, whether that is in worship, in quiet, through conversations or community engagement. And remember — through our church schools especially, we have a wonderful opportunity to enable thousands of young people to have an informed and mature idea of what faith is all about.

I am exaggerating a little to make the point, I know, but it would be a tragedy if we were to allow the ‘quiet lions’ of self-absorption and indifference do serious harm even when there aren’t so many of the roaring kind.

And just one more story by way of a postscript. The Archbishop of Canterbury interviewed an African Archbishop who had scars from his youthful lion-hunting days. ‘Do you hunt lions in the day or night?’ he asked. The deadpan answer came: ‘In the day, because the lion can see better than you can at night.’ There was much laughter.

Perhaps Archbishop Justin has never had a cat.