DIOCESAN CHAMPION FOR ORDAINED VOCATIONS: Diocese of Southwark

Many thanks to Deacon Alison Handcock for flagging this up!  Two cheers for Southwark and their championing of Distinctive Deacon vocations as well as priesthood.  Only two cheers because they are still wanting ‘a priest’ champion.  Bold type is my addition.

Diocesan Champion for Ordained Vocations

Job Description

The Diocese of Southwark encompasses urban South London, which includes almost every ethnicity, with parishes stretching into the more rural parts of East Surrey. It is one of the most multicultural and diverse dioceses in England.

One of the principles at the heart of the Bishop of Southwark’s vision for the Diocese is that of vocational renewal. The role of Diocesan Champion for Ordained Vocations is key in promoting the ministries of priest and distinctive deacon across this diverse Diocese, and to encourage vocational discernment to these ministries; to be the first port of call for those considering a vocation to priesthood or the distinctive diaconate; and to provide and support creative and imaginative resources for incumbents and deaneries that will enable them to identify and discern vocations to ordained ministry.

We are seeking a priest who:

  • has a demonstrable interest in, and some experience of, encouraging and discerning vocation;
  • is able to provide imaginative resourcing for adults across a spectrum of spiritual traditions and educational backgrounds;
  • is a gifted communicator, with an ability to think strategically and creatively;
  • has a sound theological and educational knowledge with a willingness to develop further;
  • is experienced in working successfully with a wide range of church traditions and styles of ministry;
  • is an effective team player, able to relate to and consult with people at all levels.

For informal enquiries please contact the Revd Canon Leanne Roberts, the Director of Vocations & DDO, on leanne.roberts@southwark.anglican.org

To apply, and for further information, please apply through the Church of England Pathways careers website https://pathways.churchofengland.org/search/category-southwark

Closing date: 2nd February 2020

There is an occupational requirement that the job holder be an ordained priest of the Church of England, or a church in communion with it.

YOUR VOCATION IS NOT ABOUT YOU

An honest, thought-provoking article by Benjamin Mann for the Catholic Exchange.

It’s primarily for those who are exploring a call to Catholic priesthood but is relevant to everyone discerning a vocation.

It is quite traditional and correct to speak of “discerning a vocation” – particularly to consecrated life or the priesthood, though also in regard to marriage, careers, and other major commitments. In modern Western culture, however, the idea of vocational discernment has become problematic, producing unnecessary indecision and anxiety.

The problem is not with the traditional concepts and language, but with us and our mindset. Shaped by the modern sensibility of intense self-consciousness, and by the consumer culture’s obsession with options and the “pursuit of happiness,” we think too much about ourselves and our preferences. Often, we are looking for the wrong things in a vocation. And we approach the discernment of our calling in a correspondingly wrong way.

This is true across the board: with regard to choices like marriage and work, just as for consecrated religious vocations and the priesthood. In all these areas, we invest the idea of a vocation with expectations our forebears did not have. We think that discernment consists in figuring out whether those expectations will be met. Then we become frustrated when no option seems to fit the bill.

Our expectations are wrong. Consciously or not, we sometimes expect a vocation to solve all of our problems, answer all of our questions, and satisfy all of our desires. But these are not the purposes of a vocation. Discernment, likewise, does not consist in finding the choice that will meet those expectations.

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Your vocation will not live up to these unrealistic hopes. Nothing in this world will answer all your questions, solve all your problems, or satisfy all your desires. These are impossible, immature ambitions, and the spiritual life consists largely in realizing that they are impossible and immature.

 

The purpose of life is the unitive devotional service of God, which includes the love of our neighbor (in whom God dwells). This is the real purpose of any vocation. Some forms of life, such as monasticism, are ordered directly to this end; other states of life are oriented toward it indirectly. But these are only different versions of the one human vocation: to love and serve God, and become one with him in Christ.

A vocation – any vocation – is a school of charity and a means of crucifixion. Your vocation is the means by which your self-serving ego will die in order to be resurrected as the servant and lover of God. This is all that we can expect; but this is everything – the meaning of life, all there really is.

My vocation is where I will learn to let go of my questions, carry the cross of my problems, and be mysteriously fulfilled even when I am not happy. We have some choice as to how we will undergo that process; we do not – so long as we abide in the grace of God – get to choose whether we will undergo it.

This, it seems to me, is the attitude we should bring to discernment. I am not choosing between makes and models in a store, looking for the perfect fit or the best value. One is faced, rather, with the question: How I should lose my life, in order to save it? (Luke 9:24)

Of all the wrong expectations that we bring to vocational discernment, perhaps the most pernicious is the expectation that “everything will finally make sense.” We imagine that our true calling, when we find it, will bring a kind of total coherence and resolution to our fragmentary, broken, unresolved lives.

Modern life – with its combination of extreme intensity and instability – promotes both the inner fragmentation of the psyche, and the intense self-focus that makes such fragmentation especially painful. Naturally, we want the pieces to be put back together, the loose ends tied up. But we cannot expect this in the course of our present, earthly lives.

To be sure, a true vocation will have a certain coherence about it: one will understand his task, his direction, in a new way. He will have a degree of clarity, at least regarding which route he is to take on the pilgrimage toward his ultimate destination.

But it is a trap – and perhaps a very common one – to think that my vocation will sort out and join together all the scattered puzzle-pieces of my life, healing all the inner disintegration and painful incoherence of my past, present, and future. Your vocation will not cause life to make sense in that way.

Discernment is not about finding the hidden, magic key that will unlock your life and solve the riddle of your being. When you figure out what you ought to do with your life, and begin to do it, you will be just as much a mystery to yourself as you are now. Your daily confusions, recurring frustrations, and deep puzzlements will remain. Life, even life illumined by faith, will be an enigma – at least as much as before.

This is how things must be for us on earth. Things will be different only in the world to come: where we will see clearly what we now see only “through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12), where my secret and eternal name – which I do not even know yet – will be given to me (Rev. 2:17). Your vocation is not the answer to the question of your being; it is only a part of God’s pledge that the answer will be given in the end.

Nor will your vocation heal the deep sense of incompleteness and longing that you feel. This is critical to realize. Many people fail in their vocation – perhaps especially in the vocation of marriage – because they expect their life’s calling to satisfy, or at least take away, the impossible and inexpressible longing that lies within them: that strange mix of awe and desire and sadness before the mystery of existence.

But your vocation, whatever it may be, cannot do that either. That longing is ours as long as we are in this world. We must bear it, and let it become a “vacancy for God.”

All of this – the sadness and perplexity of life – will accompany you in your vocation. It will exist, with no contradiction, alongside the joy and truth of the Gospel. It is what we must suffer until we are fully united with God in eternity.

But that union must begin here and now, if it is to occur at all. Your vocation, in the end, is simply the means by which you will allow it to occur.

“There’s no escaping yourself,” conventional wisdom says. That is perhaps half-true, at least in the order of nature. But it is not true in the order of grace. There, God provides an escape, or something better than an escape: a transcendence that preserves all our natural gifts, while taking our focus off of ourselves. We remain ourselves; but our focus simply rests on the Lord – “everywhere present and filling all things.”

Then we have escaped: we no longer look at ourselves, anxiously or pridefully or in any other way, beyond the bare and necessary minimum. We simply look upon Christ, and on our neighbor with whom he identifies himself. (Paradoxically, it is only then – when we have almost completely forgotten ourselves – that we see ourselves rightly, and know who we really are.)

But that is the only escape there is. You cannot take a shortcut simply by getting married, or becoming a missionary, or changing careers, or joining a monastery. Such choices must be made, and such responsibilities embraced; but they will not, in themselves, provide any escape from ourselves. These external situations are only necessary means, the circumstances in which our liberation becomes possible.

You will enter into a new state of life, your chosen and God-given vocation; and yet, because you have not been radically renewed, you will experience it as largely familiar once the novelty has worn off.

Someday this will not be the case: you will be changed, if you persevere. But this change in you will not occur through the mere changing of circumstances. They will reshape you – God will reshape you, through them – over the course of years.

Slowly, you will be freed from the trap of selfishness in which you were born. In the school of your vocation, Christ will teach you to forget your wants, and even your needs, for the sake of the charity that “seeks not its own” (1 Cor. 13:5).

No matter what calling you embrace, your vocation must be your means of letting Jesus into your life completely, learning to love God more than yourself.

This does not mean fixating on a sentimental idea, or worshiping an enthroned mental abstraction. It means living in the fullness of Reality: recognizing and loving the Lord who is absolutely transcendent yet totally present, the Son of God who “plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men’s faces” (G.M. Hopkins).

That one of these faces should be your own, and that the light of your eyes should be the light of Christ living within you: this is the goal of your vocation, whatever it may be.

But you will not reach that goal by ordinary human means: not by the calculation, strategy, and careful hedging of bets that seem – but only seem – to make the world go around.

The central question in discernment is: How shall I die with Christ, to rise with him? How will I lose my life to find it? What will bring me to the point where I can say, with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”?

Such thinking is more than countercultural; it goes beyond our natural inclinations. But this is the perspective of the Gospel, the self-emptying attitude of Christ that should also be in us. And it is the only mindset by which we can revive three vocations – marriage, consecrated life, and the priesthood – that are currently in trouble.

 

 

NEW FORMATION QUALITIES FOR DISTINCTIVE DEACONS IME 1

Right everyone, here’s something really important for us DDs. Rev Ian McIntosh, head of ministry formation for Ministry Division, has sent me his first draft of formation criteria for Distinctive Deacons for IME 1 (only). (IME stands for Initial Ministerial Education, and is for the phase of training that happens on theological courses or theological colleges prior to ordination).

I’ve said that I’ll share these widely with other deacons so that the feedback I give him is as representative as possible.

He has worked closely with the formation criteria we developed in Exeter (at MinDiv’s request). Please take a look, and let me have your response. This is our chance to make a difference for the diaconate!

Let me know in comments below or email deacons@tutanota.io if at all possible by the end of this week. MinDiv is working fast on all the criteria.

Apologies for the size of print:  if you hold down CTRL and press the plus sign several times you will enlarge it.

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EPIPHANY

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Epiphany

It might have been just someone else’s story,
Some chosen people get a special king.
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A  pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In temples they found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice.

Malcolm Guite

https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/epiphany/

FEAST OF ST STEPHEN, DEACON AND MARTYR

And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven… Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his [Christ’s] name… Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven… Now, at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exults, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered a multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven. (St Fulgentius)

Gracious Father,

who gave the first martyr Stephen

grace to pray for those who took up stones against him:

grant that in all our sufferings for the truth

we may learn to love even our enemies

and to seek forgiveness for those who desire our hurt,

looking up to heaven to him who was crucified for us,

Jesus Christ, our mediator and advocate,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

(Common Worship, Collect for Stephen, Deacon and First Martyr)

(image from The Stoning of [Saint] Stephen. Artist: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld)

O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM …

Deacon Jess Foster reflects on a land and peoples she is coming to know and love.

Bethlehem skyline from Church of the Nativity

                      Image from Daniel Case 

I bet nearly everyone reading this blog has heard this Christmas staple in the past few weeks. I wonder how you responded to it?  Does it jar, inspire or are you numbed by familiarity? Does it occur to you that Bethlehem is a real place, a place in the midst of conflict, the home to thousands of people who share your dreams, your hopes and your passions.

If you have spent any time at all there, you will know it’s rarely still. Traffic is a major problem for the city’s residents as they are unable to build by-passes, tunnels or flyovers and the roads in the town are choked and congested. The Church of the Nativity often looks like a traffic jam too – as tourists stand nose to tail in hour long queues to visit the grotto. There are sounds of life too – busy markets, children in schools, coffee shop chatter and the buzz of friendships gathered round sheesha pipes in the bars and restaurants across the city.

Sometimes there are other noises in the night, the noises of tanks rumbling into refugee camps, shouting as an arrest is made, the heart-stopping sound of weaponry which might be followed moments later by the haunting call to prayer that wends its way over the hills and valleys of this holy place.

When I first visited the Holy Lands I felt as if I had woken up in the land of Cinderella, Snow White and Hansel and Gretel. Walking past a signpost that simply says Sion on it makes me shake my head in disbelief – the concrete reality of biblical mythology is a faith transforming phenomena for many. But I no longer visit these lands to walk in Jesus’s footsteps – I now visit to walk with people who live as Jesus lived.

Back home in Birmingham much of my work revolves around interfaith social action and it is often cited that the ‘Golden Rule’ is found in all the world’s major religions – the rule to love your neighbour as yourself.

But in the Holy Lands of Israel-Palestine so many people I meet have gone beyond this baseline and challenged themselves to love their enemy – in the midst of conflict, fear, oppression and injustice.

Christians, Muslims, Jews, Druze and people of no explicit faith have followed their calling and allowed themselves to be broken open to love the other in small ways and large ways. Some Palestinians can’t meet people who live in Israel, but they work to prevent the spread of violence and despair by empowering women, giving young people ways to articulate their pain or by investing in training and development for those trapped in poverty.

Jewish people and Palestinians together run programmes to help both peoples confront and heal trauma, bereaved parents meet across borders to seek comfort, solace and reconciliation in their loss and former soldiers join forces to wage peace.

Living in an occupied land is not easy. Water is rationed, this month there have been power cuts across the West Bank, movement is limited, violence can and does flare up; everyday there are many injustices and restrictions to navigate.

But so many people refuse to hate, they refuse to teach their children to hate and their lives speak instead of compassion, hospitality and generosity.

These people are human and sometimes I do hear a complaint – not aimed at the Israelis, or their own Government, or at Donald Trump but at us, the Church and particularly the church in the West.

Why have we forgotten the Palestinians? Why are we not in solidarity? Why do so many Christians support the Occupation and ignore the presence of Christians in the Holy Lands. One Christian leader suggested it was because we in the West have hardly any concept of Kingdom and thus of kinship. Our faith has become reduced to a ticket to the Good Place, our discipleship to a matter of personal morality and convention.

Perhaps another reason is our guilt. The Christian roots of anti-Semitism and our collusion with the holocaust is truly shameful part of our history and practice. How many people have recently  sang Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending  and in particular the words:

‘Those who set at nought and sold him, Pierced and nailed him to the tree, deeply wailing, shall their true messiah see’?

Are we really longing to bring Jewish people to a place of wailing and do we still want to perpetuate the accusation of deicide that has caused such harm over two thousand years? We cannot deny that our ill treatment of Jewish people over millennia has had deadly consequences and therefore shouldn’t we recognise and support the establishment of a Jewish state as a place of sanctuary?

But I believe this is not a zero-sum game. Being for one thing does not mean being against another. Jesus teaches us that. He loved all who crossed his path, he healed the sick child of an occupying soldier, he bantered at the well with a Samaritan woman and went to tea with a tax collector. But he was still passionate about justice, freedom and kindness.

I have friends in both Israel and Palestine – Christians, Muslims and Jews. I hope there is room for me to be passionate about equal rights for everyone in the land. I hope there is space to grieve at the pain of generations slaughtered by Nazi ideology and to hear the hurt of a Palestinian family who lost their home, livelihood and father in the Nakba of 1948.

I don’t go to the Holy Lands to ‘do’ anything special. There are enough peace-making experts, theologians and reconcilers there already. I go to listen and learn. I take others to listen and learn. I go because the people there have become my friends and I want to be in solidarity with them as they live lives that speak of Jesus. I go too to learn how I might live here, as we become aware of the fragmented and fissured nature of our society. Who needs to be heard? Who needs to grieve? Who is living like Christ with a heart broken open with love for the ‘other’ refusing polarities, binaries and the comfort blankets of self-justification, blame and scapegoating? How do we see what God is doing through ordinary people and join in, in Birmingham, in Bethlehem  or wherever God sends us.

If anyone is interested in visiting the Holy Lands please contact me at jess@nearneighbours.com.

See Jess’s blog here:  https://distinctivedeacon.blog/

 

HOW LONG IN DISTINCTIVE DIACONATE BEFORE EXPLORING PRIESTHOOD?

As warden of the college of St Philip the Deacon in Exeter diocese, I work to a diocesan steering group who recently asked me to provide a short paper on how long people who have been ordained distinctive deacon should spend in the diaconate, before they could start candidating for priesthood.

Most deacons will be aware of the steady trickle (and it is a trickle, not a stream) of people moving from one to the other, for reasons we know well (mentioned in paper). Of course it goes without saying that if someone is being called by God into priesthood, then they should heed that call.

However, concerns are raised every so often as to the speed that some people do this:  they are only DDs for a few months before they start exploring priesthood.  My steering group wanted to think through the issues. This very short paper has been approved by them, and I thought it would be of wider interest.  Do let me have your reflections.

DIOCESE OF EXETER

HOW LONG SHOULD DISTINCTIVE DEACONS REMAIN IN THE DIACONATE BEFORE EXPLORING PRIESTHOOD?

Background

The Church of England has always subscribed to the threefold ordained ministry of bishop, priest and deacon.  Although the diaconate was originally understood as a ministry in its own right, over time it gradually lost its emphasis on caring for the needs of the poor until it was seen merely as a necessary stepping-stone to priesthood. This is how most people in the church understand the diaconate today.

Issues

Although the focus and trajectory of the distinctive diaconate is now much clearer than it used to be, the waters are still muddied by the dual aspect of this ministry, in that it is seen both as a preparation for priesthood for some, while being the goal and fulfilment for distinctive deacons. This is a particular issue for those who see the diaconate as primarily a liturgical role, in which case priesthood can be understood as a short step towards liturgical fulfilment. The outcome of this and other considerations is that some who candidate and are ordained as distinctive deacons start exploring priesthood very early in their curacy.

Vocation

Since the revival of the social aspect of the diaconate in the nineteenth century, there have always been people who believe that God’s calling to them was to diaconal ministry in its own right, the so-called ‘distinctive’ diaconate. Distinctive deacons have a strong call to an outward-looking, community-minded ministry with the hallmark of mission through service. They prefer to be out and about, making contacts, building relationships, identifying and meeting needs, creating stepping-stones between God and the world. They often have a particular concern for issues of poverty and justice.  Although the deacon’s ministry is fed by and returns to the Eucharist, the primary focus for distinctive deacons is always outward-facing, located on the margins of church and community and committed to enabling the diakonia of the whole church.  This is the ambassadorial understanding of the diaconate in the diocese of Exeter in use by the DDO and vocations advisers when meeting diaconal enquirers.

Considerations

Although a personal call to priesthood is always to be respected, diaconal vocation is not just about an individual calling but also about the ministry itself. There is a continuing need to educate the church that the diaconate is not an inferior order or a waiting room for priesthood but a robust and vigorous ministry in its own right.

This indicates that deacons who have been through several years of discernment and have been ordained with a clear diaconal call should be encouraged to take some responsibility for a decision which has been made prayerfully and communally and publicly witnessed in ordination.  Time is needed for distinctive deacon curates to explore the diaconate. The facets noted in our diocesan diaconal dispositions include relationship-building, pioneering, the meaning of servanthood, community networking, trust-building, starting new projects, teambuilding etc as well as poverty and justice issues. Beginning to inhabit the diaconate in this way cannot be rushed.

Recommendation

There is precedent in the Nordic church as well as in the diocese of York for a minimum term in the diaconate (seven years) for those ordained as distinctive. The diocesan steering group for the College of St Philip the Deacon considers that the three years of curacy is a minimum length of time for those who have been ordained as distinctive deacons to do justice to some of these areas of diaconal ministry.   As a result, it recommends that it should be made clear to distinctive deacons that no exploration of priesthood will be considered until these three years have been satisfactorily completed as ministers with a primarily diaconal calling.  If after three years they are of a mind to consider priesthood, they would be free to raise it with their bishop in their end-of-curacy interview.  This would help to ensure that such priesthood candidates understand more fully the differences between diaconate and priesthood, and can show that they have taken this ministry seriously.  It would also help to safeguard the integrity and uniqueness of the distinctive diaconate and contribute to the clarity of the whole church on this much-misunderstood vocation.

Rev Deacon Gill Kimber

 

 

TOWARDS A RENEWED DIACONATE

Methodist deacon David Clark and Methodist presbyter Maurice Staton have produced an interesting response to the recently published Diaconate in Ecumenical Perspective, edited by Deacon Michael Jackson.

Michael says in his foreword to the paper,

I note in particular their emphasis on the diaconate’s missional role in building a ‘kingdom community’ (a favourite phrase of Deacon Clark) beyond ecclesial structures.  While the missional dimension is implicit throughout the book, David Clark and Maurice Staton challenge us to place it explicitly at the forefront of diaconal ministry.

He commends it as a ‘valuable complement and sequel’ to the book.

Read the article here:  clark and staton Towards a renewed diaconate Nov. 2019

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(image from River Methodist Church)

MESSY, UNTIDY AND GLORIOUS VOCATION: deacons talk (3)

A Whatsapp conversation recently was sparked off by a diaconal enquirer, who had been to see her DDO in a diocese which does not currently support distinctive deacon vocations (!)  She said “He is warming to the idea of me being a deacon, especially SSM but I have a lot of rough edges.”

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(image Champlain stone)

(Peter, Deacon in training)  “Don’t we all! I am in my first year of training as a DD and still marvel that God would want someone as broken as me! But his love and grace have been my guide.”

(David, Deacon curate) “I’m convinced that we are called to our diaconal vocation not despite our rough edges but because of them! It is only through our own rough edges – dependent on God’s grace – that we can hope to minister to those we meet with their own rough edges. May God bless all of those of us who have this messy, untidy, glorious vocation!”

Peter:  “I feel absolutely called as a DD. The most common question I get asked about it is ‘do you think you will go on to be fully ordained?’ My answer is always the same ‘Yes, as a Deacon!’ Everything seems to fall in to place for me as a Deacon.”

David:  “Q. “When will you become a proper minister?”

A. As opposed to an improper one, do you mean?”

Deacon Chris:  “Are you ordained?”  Err yes all clergy are deacons –  some go on to assume other posts/ hats.”

Deacon Stephanie:  “Messy, untidy and glorious! I love those adjectives, David. I was asked (by a Reader!) when I was going to be properly ordained but questions in the parish seemed to stop after our interregnum when I took on extra roles. Sometimes I joke, ‘you’d better ask the bishop who ordained me’. Sadly those occasions don’t often offer the time for intelligent conversations about the three-fold ministry. I haven’t posted before on here but am cheered by all the comments. Thank you all.”

Deacon Debbie:  “Reading all you have written today having come home from voluntary Hospital Chaplaincy, I too love those words Messy, Untidy and Glorious. I too get those questions, when are you going to be properly ordained or when will you be fully a Minister? I have never been more fully who God called me to be as a Deacon. ”

Peter:  “I have always found myself drawn to the edge of wherever I am and that is one of the things that affirms my calling to the diaconate for me.”

Debbie:  “Peter I too always find myself on the edges of places and people and longing to be alongside those in the darkness, deepest places saying I Love you, God loves you.”

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