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Viewpoint from Bishop Jonathan  Meyrick 07/12/2012

JONATHAN MEYRICKBishop Jonathan Meyrick
Bishop of Lynn
Christmas seems to be rushing upon me even faster than usual this year.  It’s all to do with having been away for four weeks from mid-October.  The Diocese of Norwich has a link which goes back to the early 1970’s with the church in Papua New Guinea.  I am the bishop with responsibility for this link, and went to visit them
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It was a great visit, and I added on to it sometime in Australia just to the South of PNG.  A friend of mine was retiring as a bishop; I went to his Farewell Service, and preached at the Cathedral the next day.  The experience of confirming three hundred teenagers in a village church surrounded by banana groves and mango trees is one I will long remember.  PNG is just south of the Equator and is a country teaming with luxuriant, tropical abundance.  They say that you can shove virtually anything in the ground and it grows
When the first Anglican missionaries arrived in the late nineteenth century they erected a simple wooden church on a promontory looking out to sea.  It had four corner posts cut down from a local rosewood tree, which they call a Modawa tree.  One of the corner posts then took root and put out new shoots so they moved the rest of the church 200 yards away and left this new tree to flourish.  It’s still there and symbolises the life of the Anglican Church in that country-every new church building, or church-sponsored hospital or college or school has a sapling planted.  I was given a Pastoral Staff made from the same wood, a very precious giftDove right
I found that the enthusiastic exuberance nature there was matched by the exuberance of hospitality and welcome offered to us visitors (I was with the Archbishop of Canterbury for some of the time), and by the exuberant joy which characterised their Christian faith.  They have not always has it easy – the last seventy years have seen war-related martyrdoms, a devastating volcanic eruption which killed thousands and displaced a number of villages permanently, and just five years ago Cyclone Guba  swept away everything in its path.  Transport and communication remain difficult in many parts of the country, the wealth of developing and exploiting their natural resources does not seem to reach down to local rural communities and finding a common identity with over eight hundred indigenous languages remains a challenge
Despite all this, the sense of real and infectious joy sweeps over you when they welcome you into their communities.  You can feel the presence of God amongst them
Returning from this extraordinary month, I find myself swept from the beginnings of autumn as I left here in October, via tropical steaming humidity (which I revel in!) and the beginnings of Australian summer, straight into the reality of our winter and preparations for Christmas: the simple joy of recognising the presence of God amongst us
It is there in every aspect of the Christmas story; in the baby lying in a manger, over and over again, people recognise, in an extraordinarily fresh way, the presence of God amongst them.  It is in that recognition that the particular difficulties, sufferings and anxieties facing us individually and collectively, can be seen in a different and more hopeful way
It is my hope and prayer that you will find this Christmas something of the love and joy I found in Papua New Guinea, and know yourself to be in the presence of God