Serpents and Doves: A New Year Message from the Bishop of Stepney

PUBLISHED: 18:00 31 December 2015

Bishop of Stepney, The Rt Rev Adrian Newman

Bishop of Stepney, The Rt Rev Adrian Newman


The Bishop of Stepney in his New Year message to the people of east London reveals a crack in the British reserve from a personal loss in his life—the sad passing of his Labrador companion.

Puppies and babies have an innocence that bring people together, like the New Year, the Rt Rev Adrian Newman believes. He writes:

At home in east London... Bishop of Stepney Adrian NewmanAt home in east London... Bishop of Stepney Adrian Newman

Our beautiful old dog has just died. When he was a puppy, this gorgeous black Labrador opened my eyes to a strange phenomenon about British society. Everywhere I went with him, people stopped to talk to me.

“Oh isn’t he lovely—how long have you had him?” a stranger says who I’ve never met. In no time at all we’re chatting away like old friends.

When our children were babies, pushing them out in the pram along the streets of London and Sheffield, passers-by would stop without warning, lean over, coodgy a few coos, and before you knew where you were you would be exchanging life-histories.

What is it about puppies and babies that causes cracks to appear in the Great British ‘reserve’ about talking to strangers?

Casper on beach, 2012Casper on beach, 2012

I think it’s to do with purity and innocence. New lives, canine or human, are an open book, an unwritten story, virgin territory. They represent a new beginning, something unsullied, before the time of innocence is lost. They are a blank page, waiting for a new story to be written.

And so to a New Year. These coming 12 months are a new page, untouched, unsullied, virgin territory.

We should not despise the hope which springs eternal in that. It reminds me of a piece of wise advice from the lips of Jesus Christ about how to live in a complex world—be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

In the shadow of the Paris attacks in January and October just gone, wrestling with how different communities can live peaceably together, London could easily err on the side of the serpent.

We must prepare sensibly for something we pray will never come—but if those wise preparations are motivated by fear, then we will too quickly destroy an innocence which is at the heart of being human.

We cannot afford to look at one another in a spirit of mistrust born of fear. If we do, then the terrorists would have won.

In every New Year, there is the faint and forgotten pattern of the first sunrise, the distant echo of the first birdsong, the innocence of a dove.

The creator of black labs and babies, God is creating still. Each new day is virgin territory.

I, for one, will carry this hope of a new beginning into the highways and byways of 2016.

Happy New Year!

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