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The Referendum Result: a Reflection

“God is our refuge and strength
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we should not fear, though the earth should change
Though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea”

Psalm 46 has a special resonance today…  The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union.  This will be good news for some people but a genuine disappointment to others.  The coming years will be marked by uncertainty and change.  What does it mean and how should we respond?

A clear outcome

The outcome of the Referendum is clear.  52% of the electorate has voted to leave, 48% to remain.  Every English region outside London had a majority to leave.

The vote in the city of Sheffield was close but still 51% in favour.  The vote across the rest of the Diocese of Sheffield was even clearer (Doncaster 69% leave; Rotherham 67%; Barnsley 68%; East Riding 60%).

It is a more mixed picture in the Diocese of Oxford (where I become the bishop in a few weeks time).  Some local authority areas have clearly voted to remain, others to leave but the balance in the region is still for leaving.

How should we interpret the result?

I watched the television coverage up until 1.30 am and again from 5.30. The politicians were interpreting the outcome in different ways: as a protest against particular parties or politicians, as a comment on the state of the NHS or immigration.

I’m cautious about all of these interpretations. I may be wrong but I believe that such a large number of people voted Leave for two reasons.  First they genuinely want Britain to leave the European Union and to assert the right to self determination.  52% of the population in effect set the right to self governance above short and medium term economic prosperity.

Second 52% of the population voted for fundamental change in our country going forward even if that change brings some instability.  Those left behind by current economic policies and politics clearly believe they have most to gain from new beginnings. That should tell us something very important.

The ongoing debate

Three vital questions came into focus during the long campaign.  The result did not resolve them.  We need more reflection and public debate on each.

The first is global migration.  We heard again and again that “immigration” was an issue.  But for the most part, the campaign was framed in the language the 1970’s and 1980’s.  The issue for 2016 is not simply immigration but global migration.  We are living through and will live through the greatest migration of people in human history.  This movement of peoples is likely to increase through the effects of climate change, population growth, global inequality and armed conflict.  We need a comprehensive, deep conversation about how Britain and the world will respond.

The second is identity.  What does it mean to be British in 2016? We need leaders of vision able to articulate an inspiring vision for Britain and its future.  That positive vision did not emerge in the campaign from either side.

The third is a new kind of politics.  The murder of Jo Cox MP was an immense tragedy.  The response of politicians on all sides helped us see again how many good, honest people represent us in Parliament.  We need a style of public discourse which is more honest, more humble, more gentle and more kind.  This will take more than self-discipline on the part of those in public life.  We need some new symbolism.  Over the next ten years, the House of Parliament are to be refurbished.  Will we have the courage, I wonder, to reshape the chamber of the House of Commons to be less adversarial, less binary, more collaborative, seeking wisdom from every part of the community?

How should the Church respond?

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a statement this morning calling for humility and courage.  They say “Unity, hope and gentleness will enable us to overcome the period of transition that will now happen and emerge confident and successful”.

http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5743/eu-referendum-statement-by-archbishops-of-canterbury-and-york

The Church will respond with prayer for our government and Parliament and for all sections of our society.  We will respond by entering into hopeful dialogue with people on all sides of the debate with courtesy and kindness.  We will respond by cherishing the poor and the vulnerable and renewing our efforts to build a safe, just and peaceful world.  We will continue to welcome the stranger and show mercy to the needy here and around the world.  We will continue to build bridges and bonds of friendship across Europe and across the whole world.

In the words of Psalm 46, we will not be afraid though our world may be shaken.  We will take time today to pray, to think, to love and to speak gently in God’s name.

+Steven

 

The darkest valley: a reflection on this week in Parliament

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me”

These words from Psalm 23 have been in my mind this week following the atrocities in Orlando and the terrible murder of Jo Cox yesterday.

I’ve been in Parliament for my final week of duty there as the Bishop of Sheffield.  It’s been a sombre week.  The House of Lords kept a minute’s silence on Monday afternoon before prayers for the victims of the Orlando shootings.  On Monday evening I walked through Soho on the way to meet my son.  I was moved by the powerful display of solidarity by the LGBTI community there and across the world.

On Tuesday morning I attended the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in Westminster Hall with around 750 guests including 150 members of both Houses of Parliament.  Again we kept silence and prayed for the victims of Orlando.  The address by Bishop Angelaos of the Coptic Church was on the suffering of Christians throughout the Middle East.

On Wednesday I took part in a debate in the House of Lords on the European Union’s response to the global migration crisis and particularly, the role of Operation Sophia, the mission to disrupt people smuggling from North Africa to the coast of Italy.  There were powerful and compassionate speeches but, of course, no easy answers.

So it had already been a week of difficult news by Thursday when I heard first that Jo Cox MP had been attacked in Birstall and then, when I arrived home, that she had died from her injuries.  There has been a public outpouring of  prayers and vigils for Jo and for her family and friends.

The tributes  have been very moving and Jo will clearly be greatly missed. We do not yet know or understand the reason for the murder.  It is hardest to bear for her family of course, but hard as well for all Members of Parliament on every side of the House of Commons.  As has been said, the ordinary work of MP’s in meeting their constituents every week is seldom newsworthy but it is the very core of our democracy and a vital part of British life.  I join with those who have called for appreciation and thanks to be extended to those who represent us.

This has been a week for reflection on a series of tragedies.  In each of these, and all the others, I draw comfort from the words of Psalm 23:

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me”.

God is with us even in the depths and the darkest places and God is with those who suffer, in part through all of us extending our love and care and support to those who are hurting most.

We remember God’s love and we pray for those who mourn, for the injured, for the persecuted, for those in danger on land and sea.

But we must also be stirred by these events to engage afresh with the great challenges of our age: to work towards a world which is safe, secure and just for all peoples irrespective of sexual orientation or faith or ethnicity or the place in the world where you are born.

I am struck again at the end of this week by one of the prayers from the funeral service. In the face of such suffering it is vital for all of us to live our lives with purpose and with meaning:

Grant us Lord, the wisdom and the grace to use aright the time that is left to us here on earth.  Lead us to repent of our sins, the evil we have done and the good we have not done; and strengthen us to follow the steps of your Son in the way that leads to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Thank you!

I spent an hour or so yesterday signing around 200 certificates to be sent to churches across the Diocese of Sheffield to say thank you for the contributions to Common Fund, our shared Diocesan budget.  This is something I do every year.  I find it a very moving exercise. common-fund

The certificates are normally displayed in the Church porch or elsewhere on a noticeboard.  I also write a letter to the Vicar and the PCC.  Each one says thank you on behalf of the Diocese, but also on behalf of other churches across the Diocese for generous sacrificial giving.

The Diocese of Sheffield serves an area which is one of the poorest in the country in economic terms.  However, for many years, the Diocese of Sheffield has been one of the most generous in the country in terms of the proportion of people’s income which is given away to and through the local church.

Last year the churches of the Diocese gave £4.5 million to the Common Fund, our Diocesan budget.  Each certificate I signed yesterday represents a double act of generosity and adventurous giving.

First it represents thousands and thousands of individual decisions by individuals and families to give generously and sacrificially to the life of the local church to sustain ministry in that place.

Second it represents hundreds of decisions by Church Councils to prioritise generous, adventurous giving to the Diocese in their own budgets.  For that reason, I try and sign the certificates slowly, giving thanks for all that they represent.

If you are part of this adventurous, generous giving in any way then thank you.  Common Fund is the cornerstone of our Diocesan budget.  It enables us to support Christian ministry and mission in every part of this Diocese, especially in communities which would find it difficult, if not impossible, to support a priest.  Generous giving to the Common Fund enables us to grow ministry in all kinds of ways and that enables us, by the grace of God, to grow the life of the Church and to make a bigger difference in the communities we serve.

Long ago, St. Paul reflected on the generosity of the churches of Macedonia.  You can read his words in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.  Paul is moved by their gracious giving:

“For I can testify that they voluntarily gave according to their means and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints – and this not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us” (8.3-5).

According to Paul, this generous act of giving flows directly from our faith and from the example of Jesus Christ:

“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (8.9).

Paul urges many others, including the Church in Corinth, to follow the example of the Macedonian Christians and of Christ himself and give themselves to the Lord:

“One who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (9.6-8)

It is an extraordinary miracle of faith and generosity that God’s people in this place give in this adventurous way.  Together through our giving we have a share in all of the ministry and mission which is taking place across this Diocese.  Together we make that ministry and mission possible.

Thank you for your part in that and please persevere.  The challenge continues from year to year and there is always more that we can do.  If you are not yourself involved in this adventure of grace then there is plenty of room for more people to join in.

Together God has called us to grow a sustainable network of Christ like, lively and diverse Christian communities across this Diocese, effective in making disciples and in transforming our society and God’s world.

Week by week, month by month, year by year, we see that vision becoming more of a reality.  Thanks be to God and to all God’s generous people.

+Steven

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Commissioning Service for Mothers’ Union President 2016

muservcieThis morning I commissioned the new President of the Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Sheffield, Pauline Reynolds (on my left in this photo with the rest of her team). This is the sermon I preached at the service. I focussed on the second of the Mothers’ Union’s five objectives and asked every branch and every member to reflect on what I said in the coming months. The Bible readings were the story of Samuel’s call from 1 Samuel 3 and Jesus’ meeting with Mary and Martha in Luke 10.

“One of my favourite television programmes as a child was Mission Impossible. I continued to like the more recent series of films. I love especially the part at the beginning where the team are given their clear but difficult task. The message always contains the words: “Your mission if you choose to accept it”. It always ends with “This tape will self destruct in five seconds”.

It is very good to be here with you in the Cathedral today for this special service. I would offer my sincere thanks to Sheila Wood for her leadership of the Mothers’ Union in this Diocese over the last three years. I am thankful for the gifts Pauline Reynolds will bring to this role and assure her of my prayers and support as she takes up this office today. My thanks also to the outgoing team and to the new team who will be commissioned later in this service.

And my thanks and appreciation to the Mothers’ Union for all that you do across the Diocese to serve others and to fulfill your objectives.

In the light of the readings you have chosen, I want to say two things to Pauline and to all of you as you look ahead over the next three years.

The first one can be said quite briefly, but I think it’s important. Don’t worry about your membership numbers and recruitment to the Mothers’ Union.

I say that not because Pauline is particularly concerned about this but because the Mothers’ Union generally, in my experience, can be more concerned about numbers and recruitment than about fulfilling its objectives. This is understandable. But I believe it is mistaken.

A smaller, active Mothers’ Union working towards the five objectives is worth more in a parish or in a deanery or in a diocese than a large Mothers’ Union which has a lot of people at meetings but does very little. A Mothers’ Union which is outwardly focussed and working on these five objectives together will attract far more of the right kind of members than a Mothers’ Union which exists simply to hold monthly meetings. A Mothers’ Union which is outwardly focussed and working on these five objectives together may not need to hold many meetings at all. The meetings they did hold would be focussed very tightly on these aims. But they may do a power of good in all kinds of ways.

So what are your objectives? What is your reason for existing? In different language what is your mission?

Your five objectives are listed on the inside back page of the service booklet. They are clear and vitally important for Church and society and for many individuals within it. They should be the reason people join the Mothers’ Union and the reason people hold office within it. Perhaps I should have arranged for the Mission Impossible theme tune to play at this point in the sermon.

You are committing yourselves today:

• To promote and support married life
• To encourage parents in their role to develop the faith of their children
• To maintain a worldwide fellowship of Christians united in prayer, worship and service
• To promote conditions in society favourable to a stable family life and the protection of children and
• To help those whose family life has met with adversity.

This is your mission if you choose to accept it.

I hope these five objectives are read regularly at Branch meetings and Committee Meetings and special events. I hope they shape your work. If it would be helpful, I would gladly spend some time working through all of these objectives with you as part of my own support for what you do.

Don’t worry about how many members you have. Read the story of Gideon’s army. A small committed group will always accomplish more than a large group that does not know what it is for. Focus instead on your unique mission – as you do that I believe the right people will want to join you.

Second let me say something to you at the beginning of this triennium and to your new President about the vital importance of the second of your objectives: your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to encourage parents in their role to develop the faith of their children.

There is no greater gift that we can give the children in our families, in our churches, in our schools, in our wider society than the gift of faith. The whole course of a child’s life will be affected by developing faith in childhood. What an immense gift it is to know that you are loved by God, the maker of the universe; to know that you are called to a lifelong friendship with your creator; to know that you are part of a worldwide family; to understand the great gift of prayer; to receive God’s guidance at life’s great crossroads; to develop Christian character; to become all that you are meant to be. All of these gifts and more are given through the development of faith in children. Lives are saved, deepened and enriched, families are transformed and the world is changed.

Samuel is nurtured in faith as a child through his mother Hannah who prays for him and prays with him. He is nurtured in faith as a child through Eli who instructs him in prayer and in listening to God’s voice. Samuel will go on to lead Israel and change his nation. But the foundations of his life and his friendship with God are laid in childhood.

Mary and Martha grow up in a home where they learn both to work and to pray. They are sisters. The foundations of their love for God have been laid in childhood and laid in the home. It is true that for one, Mary, prayer becomes her focus and for another, Martha, action takes priority. We know from the story that Mary has chosen the better part. But prayer and action both are needed. Our strength is born in God. Our faith is lived out through what we do.

Why do I focus on this objective today? Sadly, because your work here is urgently needed. The evidence is that Christian parents today are not developing the faith of their children.

These statistics were in research published last year . Anglican parents who say that religion is very important in their lives were asked these questions.

Is it important that children learn good manners at home?
94% said yes.

Is it important that children learn tolerance and respect at home?
83% said yes.

Is it important that children learn religious faith at home?
How many do you think said yes?
36%.

Let that sink in a little. Only one in three committed Anglicans believes that Christian parents should develop the faith of their children. As a Mothers’ Union that should disturb you as it disturbs me. I wonder what we might do about it?

Let me offer four things that you can do and can encourage yourself.

The first is to become more like Mary and Samuel. Set as a priority the developing of your own relationship with God, to listen, to be sustained, to draw apart often. A relationship with God is caught, not taught. It can only be taught from someone who is growing in that life of prayer themself. Set aside time each day to pray, discover how if you do not know how, go deeper into God. Weave that prayer into daily life, especially the saying of grace at meals.

The second is to teach the faith within your own family, to your children and to your grandchildren. Every Mothers’ Union member at least should be seeking to develop faith within their own children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, members of our extended families. We do that through our prayers, through conversation, through encouraging the parents, through providing gifts and resources, by inviting children into the family and fellowship of the church in different ways.

The third is to campaign together to ensure that every church which has a Mothers’ Union branch is friendly and accessible to children and families. I want you to be my allies here – God’s secret agents in support of parents and their children. I want to enlist your support in ensuring that every church which has a Mothers’ Union branch also has crèche facilities, a toddler group, a place where children learn on Sundays, family events at festivals, groups for young people, Messy Church, people who will befriend young families.

And the fourth is to campaign together to ensure that every church which has a Mothers’ Union branch is also teaching faith to the parents so that they can develop faith in their own children. The number one reason, I think, why parents do not pass on their faith to their children is very simple. The parents themselves don’t have the confidence to do so. They have not been taught. Will you work with me to ensure that in every church where you have a Mothers’ Union branch, there is an opportunity every year for adults to learn the faith from the very beginning .

Here are four things you can do to fulfill your second objective: to encourage parents in their role to develop the faith of their children.

1. Deepen your own faith
2. Develop faith within your own family
3. Ensure every church is friendly and accessible to children and young people
4. Ensure every church is teaching the faith to adults

I will provide Pauline with a copy of this sermon. I would like you to discuss it at your next branch meeting and decide what you need to do to fulfill this objective in the coming year.

The Mothers’ Union has a vital mission. Focus on what God has called you to do. May God bless you in all your service in the coming years”.

A Sheffield parable (and an inspiring true story)

Lent begins tomorrow.  It’s the time of year when Christians give something up – usually food – or else take something on for the sake of others. 

Let me tell you a true story for the beginning of Lent about kindness and practical help.

Sohail Mumtaz is a leader of the Muslim Community Association in Sheffield.  Last year, during Ramadan, he challenged one of his friends, Lee Ward, to have a one day fast. 

Lee fasted and the experience of going hungry for a day made him think of the children in his community who are hungry.  These are the people who are regularly helped by the S2 Foodbank.  The Muslim Community Association and the churches both provide food and funding for distribution.

Lee and Sohail are taxi drivers.  They wanted to do something more to help the children of their community.  They approached other taxi drivers across the city.  Together they raised the money and gave the time to take 96 parents and children to Cleethorpes for a day at the seaside in September.  Many had never been to the coast, and most had never had a holiday 

Deni Ennals, the Foodbank co-ordinator, organized the trip.  Friends and neighbours donated car seats for children, buckets and spades, sun hats, lotion, items for the picnic and cash for fish and chips.  Every family was given some spending money for donkey rides and the fairgrounds.  Everything went without a hitch.  The day was a huge success. 

Deni wrote afterwards to say thank you to the foodbank supporters: “This one day away from the drudge and poverty of their normal lives did more for many of our clients than any antidepressant many have been prescribed.  It’s a shame we could not bottle the fun and laughter and bring it home to help them through the winter months, when many will not only experience food poverty but also fuel poverty, where homes will have no heating and cooking facilities will become a luxury”.

As far as we know, there are 50-60 Food Banks across South Yorkshire and the Diocese of Sheffield.  It would be excellent if none of them were needed but all of them are.  Most of them are connected to churches and to other faith communities who supply volunteers and donations of food.  A wide range of community groups support them. 

Most clients don’t use the food banks regularly but a very wide range of people have to use them from time to time.  Recent research on provision in the Diocese can be accessed in the Feeding Britain Sheffield Diocese Report.  The findings link to the All Parliamentary Group on Hunger’s Feeding Britain Report which can be found here

foodbank2Why do people need food banks in modern Britain?  We have food in abundance – enough to waste in most of our homes.  There are many different reasons but top of the list in every survey are delays or errors in paying benefits, problems with disability benefits, or the application of benefit sanctions (where payment of a benefit is delayed or stopped because a claimant has not met certain conditions).  People may be out of work, or they may be in very low paid jobs.  Most commonly, people use food banks when there is some unforeseen crisis in their lives. 

It is important to understand that something can be done about most of these reasons.  Next week the General Synod will debate the impact of benefit sanctions.  The Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales have brought a motion to debate.  Malcolm Chamberlain, Archdeacon of Sheffield and Rotherham, will put a “friendly” amendment to the motion on behalf of this Diocese to strengthen its impact, calling on the government “to initiate a full independent review of the impact and efficacy of the sanctions and conditionality regime”.   The background papers for the Synod debate are GS 2019A Impact of Sanctions on Benefits Claimants and GS 2019B .

But back to Lent and giving something up.  How can we help, today?  All Christians at this time of year are encouraged to fast in some way and offer practical support and help to those around us. 

  • Foodbanks across the Diocese are looking for support and help: volunteers, supplies, practical aid of all kinds.  It may be that your own local church is already supporting a foodbank.  If it’s not, can you connect with one?
  • Foodbanks are even more effective when they build community, treat people with respect and help and support them in other ways.  The Sheffield taxi drivers are an example to us all.  What can you and I do to help?
  • Recent research suggests that foodbanks help more people when they make advice available within the foodbank on benefits, on money management, on debt.  This already happens in some foodbanks in Sheffield (including S2) but needs to spread to more.
  • Food waste is a massive scandal in modern Britain.  What can we do to reduce the amount of edible food we throw away?  If you’ve not seen it yet, I can recommend the excellent documentary by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, “Hugh’s War on Waste”
  • Foodbanks are needed because there are holes in the net of welfare provision.  It’s important for churches and others to lobby government to mend the nets so that no-one, and especially no child, goes hungry.  There is more on that in this report from the Church Action on Poverty http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/safetynet

Lent is a time to pause, to slow down, to reflect on our lives, to connect more deeply with God and with our neighbours.  As you give something up this year, take time to help others who do not have enough. 

+Steven

Lonely Planet

Lonely planet. 149 million kilometres from small star, on edge of galaxy, rich and full of potential.  Afraid (sometimes).  GSOH (sometimes).  Looking for long term relationship.  WLTM saviour.

There are three great truths at the heart of the Christmas story.  The first is that humankind needs help.  On our own we mess things up very badly indeed.

At the end of 2015, that’s not hard to understand.  Look around you.  The news has been dominated this year by the migrant and refugee crisis in Syria.  Millions of people are on the move.  There have been acts of terrorism around the world and on our doorstep: all of them man made.  We have polluted the world we live in.  Humanity’s greed and selfishness is now affecting the climate and the weather in ways which will affect our children and grandchildren.  Yorkshire’s industrial base has declined further this year with the end of deep coal mining and the redundancies in steel.  We have terrible examples in our own communities of the way in which people hurt the innocent for their own gratification.  The gap between rich and poor in our own country grows ever wider.  Many families are fractured.  Many are lonely.  Many lives lack direction.  Who can say we do not need help?

It takes real courage to face these issues.  Christmas should be a time when we open our eyes and ears and see the suffering and the pain in the world.  Instead it’s become a time when we distract ourselves with food and drink and gifts and pretend everything is fine.  Consumption becomes a kind of anaesthetic to deaden the pain we see around us.   We cover up our problems for a while and hope they will go away.  But that will not happen.

The second great truth is that God really has come to help us.  The name Jesus has a special meaning.  It means “God saves”.  The angel says to Joseph, “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”.

The world of Jesus day was expecting a different kind of saviour.  They were looking for a powerful king, a mighty general, a wise politician who would establish a new government.  This is the kind of saviour people still seek today.

Instead God came as a human child, born into an ordinary family.  God came in humility and love in a way that everyone could understand.  God did not come to the rich and powerful but to the poorest shepherds, to the refugees, to the children.  God did not come to establish a new government in a single place and a single time but to offer change and new life to every person in every place in every generation to come.

God became a person to demonstrate his love for the world.  God became a person to show us the immense worth and potential of every human life.  God became a person to show everyone on earth how to live well: to live with kindness and purpose and grace, to live for others.

Jesus was a real figure in history.  He is not made up.  He is not a myth.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem, an actual place.  We set our calendars, still, by his birth.  Christians believe Jesus lived a perfect life.  But the world cannot tolerate this much goodness and light.  He was crucified in his early thirties.  Christians believe his death has an immense meaning: through his death on the cross, humankind is set free from all that we do wrong, through his death we can be forgiven.  Christians believe that God raised Jesus from death on the third day.  In his new life there is new life for everyone.

This brings us to the third great truth of Christmas.  This story we tell has the potential to affect every human life, every family, every village, town and city and every nation on earth.  This is history which changes us and history which can change the world.

Earlier this year my first grandchild was born.  His name is Josiah.  When I held him for the first time, something inside me changed.  My heart softened.  My perspective on time changed.  I became determined to be there for him if I could and to be the best grandfather I could be.

That’s a small example compared to what happens when a person becomes a Christian.  Christians believe that the living Christ enters into their heart and life.  Change begins to happen from the inside out.  There is new purpose and a new beginning.  Christians don’t become perfect overnight (or ever, this side of heaven).  But there is real change and the change inside begins to make a difference outside.  We start to join in God’s great change agenda for the world: to work for peace, for justice, to break down isolation, to care for God’s world.

At the end of one year and the beginning of another, remember these three great truths:  humankind needs help.  God really has come to help us.  The story of Jesus has the potential to change every human life and to change this world.

A very happy Christmas to you and to your family

+ Steven Sheffield

To equip the saints for the work of ministry

“The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ….” Ephesians 4.11

Whenever I stand before a congregation, I try and remember two things.  The first is that it is a wonderful privilege to preach the word of God.  The second is that the people I am about to address are people of enormous influence.  Each one of them is a leader.

Often they don’t think of themselves that way, of course.  But that man over there by the pillar is a primary school teacher.  He has 25 children in his class.  Over the next ten years he will profoundly shape 250 lives and families for good.  This elderly lady has eight grandchildren.  She prays for them, she teaches them their prayers, every time she sees them she builds up their sense of worth.  That man who is giving out the books this morning is a police sergeant.  He is befriending the Muslim community in the place where he works.  The person who leads the intercessions works in a large office.  She is the person younger staff turn to whenever they need a listening ear.  The lady in the overcoat is a Macmillan nurse.  She will spend this evening with someone who is dying.  This teenager who is assisting at the altar might be in a senior role in a major company in ten years time.  In the meantime she will be the most remarkable ambassador for Christ in her own peer group: the only Christian these young people know.

These people in front of me this morning, whether it is fifty or five hundred, are not simply members of the Church.  They are people of influence in their families, in their places of work, in their communities, in the whole world.  My task, when I stand up to preach on Sunday, is to equip them for their task on Monday, whatever that may be.

Don’t just take my word for this.  Listen again to the words of Jesus.  In the Sermon on the Mount he says this: “You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world”.  You are people of influence, spread across the world to prevent decay, to establish peace and justice (salt is both a preservative and a fertilizer).  You are people of influence, showing the way and helping people to see in very dark places.

The calling of every local church is to form and build, sustain and support these men and women of influence whose task is nothing less than reshaping and transforming the world.

I don’t mean, of course, that the Church is only for important people.  The Church is here for everyone.  As in the Church in Corinth so in the Church in Hatfield and Wickersley and Millhouses: “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth”.

We are ordinary people, but called by an extraordinary God and entrusted with a unique and extraordinary message, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Through that call and through that message, in the strength which God supplies, Christians become salt and light, people of remarkable influence whose calling is to change the world.

“The Diocese of Sheffield is called to grow a sustainable network of Christ-like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place which are effective in making disciples and in seeking to transform our society and God’s world”.

You may have heard me say that on previous occasions.  We seek as a Diocese for every church to be a place where men and women of influence, ordinary yet extraordinary Christian disciples, are formed and sustained and equipped week by week, month by month, year by year.  God has not called us simply to increase the membership of the Church to make it easier to pay our bills.  God has called us to make and grow and sustain disciples who will together make a difference through the way we live our lives, through the example we set, in many thousands of places throughout this region.

We are setting before this Synod today a revised strategy for discipleship, mission and ministry for the next part of our life together.  It is called “Forming and Equipping the People of God”.  It’s not a new strategy but an important revision of one of our four key documents.

The most important change is a greater focus on discipleship and on the whole people of God.  We want to grow a culture of discipleship right across the Diocese, in every tradition and every kind of Church.

The Church is called to be a community of missionary disciples.  We are called into discipleship through grace.  In our baptism, the sign of that grace, we dedicate and consecrate the whole of our lives to God.  We are called together to be with the risen Christ in the Eucharist and as we gather around God’s Word.  As the people of God, we are sent out to live to the glory of God in every part of our lives.

In our recent Mission Action Planning exercise, 8 out of 10 churches said they needed help with making, forming and sustaining disciples.  Over the next ten years we want to offer that help and encouragement and build that culture of discipleship in everything we do.

Every local church is called to be a place where new Christians are coming to faith and prepared for a lifetime of discipleship and service.  Every local church is called to be a place where Christians are deepened and sustained in worship, fellowship, witness and service to the whole of society, through every part of our lives.

Much of this growth and development will take place in the life of the local church.  Every parish and fresh expression will need to pay attention to its worship and community, teaching and learning, mission action planning, welcome and the nurture of new believers.

But as a Diocese we believe we need to support this in four key ways:

  1. By offering frameworks of support and patterns of life which help every church grow its own culture of discipleship.
  2. By offering training and support in discipleship to complement what the local church can offer.
  3. By identifying obstacles to growth in discipleship in our life and culture and developing strategies to address them.
  4. By helping to form lay and ordained ministers who are equipped to grow the church in this way.

If we are to grow the Church across this Diocese in numbers and depth and quality of life then we need to pay careful attention to growing our lay and ordained ministers to support that growth: the ligaments and sinews of the body of Christ.

To help us to do all of those things we are proposing to draw together all of our existing learning and teaching as a Diocese into a new learning community: St Peter’s College.

The purpose of St Peter’s will be to nurture and sustain the whole variety of ministry the Diocese needs to fulfill our shared vision.

The focus will be on equipping the whole people of God and on equipping apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who will themselves equip all the saints for their work of ministry: the services offered in many different ways in many different places in the workplace, the home and wider society.

We want to go on equipping people to be pioneers to plant fresh expressions of church, children’s and youth ministers, Readers, worship leaders, spiritual accompaniers, lay evangelists and pastors.  We want to offer the whole people of God help and support in discovering their call and vocation before God and how to best use their gifts.  We want to offer some initial training for those preparing for ordination, though the majority of our ordinands will continue to do their initial training in colleges and courses as now.

We want to invest much more in the ongoing training we offer for our clergy and lay ministers so that we become truly a learning community.  For that reason our second appointment to St Peter’s in the new year will be for a continuing ministerial development officer to focus on that ongoing equipping of lay and ordained ministers which is so vital for our future.

But all of those ministers who are called and served and equipped and sustained have one central purpose: they are themselves to equip the saints, the whole people of God for the ministry and service all of us are called to offer in the whole of our lives.

The draft of our revised strategy for ministry and details of St Peter’s College will be found here.

Our present strategy for ministry and our other three strategies are here.

Remembering

Just over a hundred years ago, Sergeant John Raynes, from Heeley in Sheffield, was serving on the Western Front.  On 11th October, 1915, his battery was bombarded by armour piercing and gas shells.  Sergeant Raynes ran out from his own battery not once but three times – a distance of 40 yards – to assist and then bring back a wounded colleague, Sergeant Ayres.

The following day, John saw action again. The house he was in was knocked down by a heavy shell.  Eight men were trapped inside.  The first man rescued was Sergeant John Raynes.  He was wounded in the head and leg but insisted on remaining under heavy shell fire to assist in the rescue of the other men.  He then reported for duty with his Battery which was again being heavily shelled.

For his courage on those two days Sergeant Major Raynes (as he became) received Britain’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.

Last Monday, 12th October, 2015, exactly one hundred years after these actions, John Raynes was honoured in his home city of Sheffield.  Civic leaders gathered with officers from his former regiment, members of the Royal British Legion, children from local schools and the general public.  As Bishop of Sheffield, I dedicated a special memorial paving stone to his memory in Barker’s Pool.  A piper played a lament.  We kept silence.  A bugler sounded the Last Post and Reveille.  We remembered.

There will be similar ceremonies all over the country over the next few years.  The paving stone for John Raynes was one of over four hundred to be dedicated to all those who received the Victoria Cross in the Great War in each person’s place of birth all over the United Kingdom.  There will be two further ceremonies in Sheffield in 2016.

For me and for many present, the ceremony was very moving.  It was a good to reflect and remember the sacrifice and bravery of so many at the beginning of this season of remembering when we will wear poppies and look back.  It was good to pray for the safety of British forces stationed overseas, many from this Diocese.  It was good to remember the courage of a remarkable man and many like him.  It was good to pray for the peace of the world and for all caught up in the conflicts of nations.

This is the prayer I wrote for the dedication of the paving stone to Sergeant Major John Crawshaw Raynes, VC:

Almighty God,remembrance
You are our light in the darkness,
Our strength when shadows fall
We dedicate this stone today
In memory of a brave son of this city,
John Crawshaw Raynes.
May it serve always as a reminder of his courage
Of the sacrifice of the men of this city
And of the dangers faced daily by
Our armed forces.
Grant to our world we pray,
Peace and freedom and justice
And grant to each of us
The courage to defend our fellow men and women
In your holy name we pray
Amen.

 

The Sustainable Development Goals

As churches across the Diocese prepare to celebrate Harvest it’s worth pausing to think about a momentous event in world history which took place last week at the United Nations.

World leaders gathered from every continent at the United Nations in New York.  The purpose of the meeting was to agree the new Global Goals, or the sustainable development goals for the next 15 years.goals

The media didn’t give the occasion that much attention.  ITN led that night with Pope Francis’ visit to the 9/11 memorial rather than his time at the United Nations.

But it was a really significant moment.  Fifteen years ago, the United Nations agreed the Millennium Development Goals.  They were shorter, simpler and very effective. The MDG’s have had a huge impact in helping to reduce extreme poverty, improving health and education and in helping women and girls across the world.

The new Global Goals have emerged from an international three year process of listening.  The UK government, led by the Prime Minister, played a really key role.

There is huge ambition here.  According to the UN document: “Never before have world leaders pledged common action and endeavour across such a broad and universal policy agenda”.  And again, “We can be the first generation to succeed in ending poverty just as we may be the last to have a chance of saving the planet”.

The goals are more comprehensive this time.  There are 17 goals and 169 targets.  They are therefore less catchy but much more realistic.  They recognize that all kinds of things are interconnected in tackling poverty.  They are also goals for every country not simply for the developing world.  The British government has promised to implement them alongside governments in Africa and Asia.  There is a much stronger emphasis on building strong, honest, robust governments and institutions as well as on aid and generosity.  There is a strong slogan which focuses on helping the weakest so that no-one is left behind.

There is now a massive challenge ahead in bringing the new Global Goals to the attention of the whole world.  I hope parishes and schools across the Diocese will play their part in that process.

As we celebrate Harvest together as Christians, we give thanks to God for the good things of the earth.  We will focus on sharing what we have and on the care of creation.  It is a good moment to remind each other of the new Global Goals and this common vision to end poverty once and for all.

For more information see https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org

+Steven

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The Living Word

Launch of the Crossroads Mission

Welcome to the Archbishop, to all of our visiting bishops and their teams on behalf of the whole Diocese of Sheffield.

We are delighted you are here.  We look forward so much to working with you and to your encouragement and friendship in God’s mission across this Diocese.

I want to invite all of the home team to express the warmth and appreciation we feel to those who have come to join us.

This Crossroads mission was born in prayer as the bishops met on Holy Island and prayed together for the north of England.  God willing it is the first of many, a symbolic new evangelization of the north.

Our hope for these four days is that we will together sow the good seed of the gospel, the word of God, in many different ways and many different places.  Through what we say, through listening, through the love we show, through being there.  In the scriptures we offer, through the text messages we will send.

We want to sow that living word with compassion, with gentleness, with courage, with imagination to many thousands of people across this Diocese.

This world God loves is indeed standing at the crossroads and so are many hundreds of thousands of people across this region.  Our task is to point them to the ancient paths, the forgotten wisdom of the Christian faith which lies deep in the rock and soil and history of this land.  Our task is to uncover the good way again and encourage people to walk in it and find rest for their souls.

We do well to remember as we go that the word of God which we sow is living and active.  God created the heavens and the earth through his word.  The promise of scripture is that God’s word moves heaven and earth still, especially when that word is proclaimed in the public square.

This seed we bear holds immense potential for life.  It will seem a small thing to hand someone a beermat, or offer them a gospel, or speak to them after an assembly or listen at the Show.  But that one text or conversation may be the turning point for the whole of their life and the life of their family.

As Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is like mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all the shrubs and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade”.  Who can know what will happen because of our work together over these next few days.

All of us, the home team and the away team, are bearers of the gospel.  Paul writes these words to the Church in Rome and to the Church down all the ages.  Let his words echo round this cathedral today as we go out in faith:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel.  It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith”.

In this mission we are saying together, Amen.  We are not ashamed of the gospel we bear.  We will carry this message to all whom we meet.  It is the message that the word of God, God’s very self, took flesh and became a man, Jesus Christ.  It is a message of his life and ministry, a message of love.  It is the message of his death on the cross for our sins.  It is the message of resurrection and new life and Easter joy.  It is the message of the gift of the Spirit, the transformation of human lives and the birth of God’s new people, the Church of Jesus Christ.

Thus says the Lord:

“Stand at the crossroads and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls”.

May God bless each of us as we go and carry this good seed, the gospel of God, to many, many different places.  May God bless these communities which we love and serve.  May God by his Spirit cause this seed to grow in many different lives in the months and years to come.

Amen.

+ Steven