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Supporting steel

steelI made a visit to Tata Specialist Steels in Stocksbridge in October.  I met with the senior management team for an overview of the business and then I was taken on a tour of the plant and the steel rolling mill.

It’s only my second tour of a major steel works and, once again, it was an unforgettable experience.  The steel arrives as huge cylinders, newly smelted from scrap metal in the firm’s Rotherham plant, twice as tall as a man and more than twice as wide.

We walked through and over the length of the steel rolling mill.  The cylinders of steel are first heated to high temperature in furnaces, then lifted out by huge cranes and transferred one at a time to the rolling presses.  Enormous force squeezes them into new shapes, like a child working an enormous piece of plasticine.  Each time the metal goes through the press it becomes longer and thinner, up to sixty or eighty metres depending on the order.  The ends are trimmed to the right length and the new piece of steel is then transferred to the cooling racks.

At a later stage these huge pieces of steel will form the raw material for aeroplane parts, car engines, oil and gas drilling equipment, and high end stainless steel instruments.

The pressing was controlled from a hi tech area called a pulpit.  Imagine my delight at the name.  It’s a high tech control tower, high above the steel, where about ten men pass the molten steel from one machine to another with immense skill.

The prophets of the Old Testament spent time in the forges of their day, watching the furnaces and the hammering of metal.  The process of forging iron was a source of wonder then as now.  It became an image of God’s power and also of purity and holiness.

“Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces” (Jeremiah 23.29)

“For God is like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap” (Malachi 3.2).

These images are important to us and so is our modern steel industry.  Sheffield and Rotherham are known all over the world for the manufacture of steel.  Steel is a vital part of the economy and the history of the region and has shaped who we are.

I learned afresh during the visit that the steel industry faces huge challenges.  The week before I went to Stocksbridge, SSI UK announced the closure of the steelworks in Redcar with the loss of 1,700 jobs.  Just last week, Tata Steel announced major redundancies at its works in Scunthorpe.  The Stocksbridge plant is already reducing its workforce further.  These closures and job losses carry terrible consequences for individuals and communities.

I was impressed by everything I saw in my visit to the Stocksbridge plant.  The management have energy and vision.  The apprenticeship programme is exemplary.  The product is superb.  The workforce is committed and skilled.  There has been extensive investment for the future.

But the steel industry faces global challenges.  The demand for steel in China has dropped so cheaper Chinese imports are flooding the market in Europe.  Energy costs for manufacturers in Britain are significantly higher than in Germany.  This is a very critical time for the British steel industry.

I took part in a debate in the House of Lords on 3 November on energy strategy for the future.  Throught this I wanted to raise awareness that the government need to do something very rapidly now to level the playing field in terms of energy costs for the UK steel industry (the full text of my speech is available here).  Many others are raising similar concerns.

The steel industry is an immense part of our heritage and our economy in this diocese.  Churches need to understand what is happening, support those involved and help their voices to be heard in this present moment.

A Heart of Steel

steel

Rotherham has a new heart and it’s made of steel.  The 2m high sculpture was unveiled in the gardens outside the Minster on Saturday morning.  The photos look great and I look forward to seeing it for myself over the next week or so.

The Heart of Steel is by the Sheffield sculptor, Steve Mehdi.  It will form one part of the Yorkshire Man of Steel: a massive, 30m high stainless steel sculpture and Visitor Centre which will sit on the site of the former Tinsley cooling towers, just next to the M1.

The Man of Steel is a landmark project for the region which honours the past and looks to the future.  It celebrates the people and places of South Yorkshire where so much was forged from coal and steel.  It signposts the new technologies that will secure the region’s future success.  You can read more here: http://www.yorkshiremanofsteel.com

But what does it mean to set a heart in the centre of Rotherham at the present time?  It seems to me to be a very powerful symbol.

The heart is a symbol for what is going on deep inside us: our thoughts, our emotions, our will, our inner life.  Ours is a world which focuses so much on external appearances: what we look like and how things seem.  Look at any rack of magazines and see the evidence.

But when God looks at you and I, God looks past how we look.  God sees right through our clothes and our bodies and the masks we sometimes wear.  God looks at us and sees right through to the heart.

There’s a story in the Bible about the prophet Samuel.  Samuel has to choose a new king for Israel.  God tells him to travel to Bethlehem, and to anoint one of the eight sons of a man named Jesse.

Samuel comes to Bethlehem and Jesse’s sons are brought before him one at a time.  Samuel looks at the eldest, Eliab and thinks to himself, surely this is the one.  But God says this to him:

“Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart”.

The heart is a symbol for self-examination: for having the courage to look inside ourselves and to see what is really there.  The heart in the centre of Rotherham is made of stainless steel .  When you look closely, it will be like looking in a mirror.  Ask yourself what is going on inside.

The Bible gives us words and pictures to describe our inner life.  According to the Bible, the human heart is a difficult place.  Sometimes it can feel like a desert: parched, dry and starved of affection .  Sometimes it can be a place where evil festers and grows and overflows into hurtful words and actions.  Sometimes it our hearts, our inner lives, become like stones within us: we become hard-hearted, stubborn, shutting out the love and light of others.

So how is your heart today?  It takes real courage to look inside ourselves. What are men and women to do when we look at our reflection and see that our hearts have become dry or dark or stony?

The location of the Heart of Steel is a very powerful one.  It stands next to Rotherham Minster whose spire points to heaven and to God’s great mercy and love.

God is in the business of mending broken hearts, of watering deserted hearts, of bringing light to the darkest places within us, of changing hearts of stone back to hearts of flesh.

I hope that many people will make the journey to the Heart of Steel and take a few moments to look at their reflection and look within.  I hope they will then find their way into the quietness of the Minster and sit and pray and open their hearts to God once again.

I pray that we will see hearts transformed by the love of God once more.

Here is a prayer you can say, taken from Psalm 51:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me”.


The story of Samuel anointing David is in 1 Samuel 16

Developing Disciples in the City

Liverpool Cathedral hosts an Urban Lecture each year for clergy working in inner city or outer estate areas.  I was the guest lecturer in June and chose to speak on developing disciples in the city.  The lecture incorporates some recent reading and reflection on the theme of catechesis and how best to scope new work on the catechism, part of the national Reform and Renewal programme of the Church of England. 

1.  Faith in the City: the missing chapter

It is an honour to be invited to give this third Liverpool Cathedral Urban Lecture.  I come with some credentials and experience in urban and outer estate ministry.  From 1987 until 1996, I was Vicar of Ovenden in Halifax, a parish which consisted of large council estates built between the wars.  The parish was in the 20 most deprived in the then Diocese of Wakefield and was classified as an urban priority area.  It was then a white working class community.  The health of the population was poor.  I went from taking the funerals of people in their eighties in my curacy parish to taking funerals of people in their fifties and sixties in my first years as Vicar.  The two largest employers in Ovenden were Crossley’s Carpets at the bottom of the parish in the Dean Clough Estates and United Biscuits at the top in their Illingworth factory.  Dean Clough had closed a few years before I arrived and United Biscuits closed in 1988.  Patterns of family life were chaotic.  Depression and suicide were relatively common.  Educational achievement was low.  Just as we left the parish in 1996, the Ridings School achieved national notoriety and was closed because of violence breaking out in the classroom.

I arrived in Ovenden two years after Faith in the City had been published, to considerable acclaim within the Church and opprobrium beyond it[1].  David Sheppard, then Bishop of this Diocese was vice-chair of the commission which produced the report.  Several people now in Sheffield were very connected with the report.  I recently read a fresh account of its genesis and reception in Eliza Filby’s excellent book, God and Mrs Thatcher, which I commend[2].

By 1987, Faith in the City had begun to shape urban and outer estate ministry, and rightly so.  Every parish was encouraged to undertake a mission audit, to engage with the needs of its community, to serve the whole parish and especially the poor.  The Church Urban Fund was established to provide resources, on which we drew over the coming nine years.  In Ovenden, as in many parishes, we developed initiatives with the elderly, with the unemployed and for young families.  We grew a network of playgroups and toddler groups.  I was a governor of the two local schools, networked regularly with social workers and police working on the estates, developed after school and school holiday care and so on.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Faith in the City, an event which does not seem to have been marked.  It remains in my view, one of the most impressive and far reaching Church of England reports in my lifetime and I think will continue to be visible in history a hundred years after its publication.  As someone who has been involved in producing some more modest national Church of England reports, I pay tribute to all those involved.  Their work has stood the test of time.  I wouldn’t take a single chapter out of Faith in the City today.  I would also pay tribute to the Church Urban Fund, past and present and all the initiatives developed under its aegis.

However, I do believe now, with hindsight, that Faith in the City has a missing chapter.  I would call that chapter something like: “Developing Disciples in the City”.  It would cover the intentional building up of the Christian community at the heart of the church and the parish: prayer, evangelism, apologetics, catechesis; the making and sustaining of disciples; intentionally developing the faith of children and young people; growing the community of the church so that, in the words of Bishop Paul Bayes, a bigger church can make a greater difference to the communities we serve.  All Christian communities decline naturally unless there is intentional engagement with teaching the faith to enquirers and to the young.  As our communities decline so the impact of those communities in all kinds of ways grows less.

Faith in the City was developed in a season when there was something of a dichotomy between evangelism on the one hand and social action on the other.  It played its part in helping younger evangelicals, including me, to embrace fully an agenda of serving the whole of society and seeking its transformation.  But the report does nothing to highlight the critical tasks of evangelism and catechesis to draw children and young people, women and men to Christ and to be Christian disciples as of equal importance in the building of the church and the blessing of the city.

There are those who see that dichotomy and tension as continuing in the life of the Church of England.  Some read the story of the last thirty years in this way.  Faith in the City and the 1980’s represented a high point of a certain kind of Anglican witness and public engagement.  From the 1990’s onwards, the pendulum has swung back towards what is sometimes described as the growth agenda with the Decade of Evangelism, Mission Shaped Church and other, later initiatives.  This focus on numerical growth has moved attention away from social and political engagement, the service of the poor and the transformation of society.

I want to resist that reading both of the historical narrative and the present priorities of the Church of England. My alternative narrative is that Faith in the City was developed in a short period when there was a dichotomy between evangelism and social action in the Church of England.  That dichotomy was not evident in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  It is not evident from 2000 onwards.  But in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s there is a short window of division in the models of Anglican mission which did affect this otherwise great report and its reception.

The authentic Anglican understanding of mission embraces both evangelism and the growth of the church in numbers and depth of discipleship and community service and social action.  That is our DNA caught so beautifully in the marks of mission and in the ministry of figures such as William Temple.  The embracing of evangelism and catechesis does not mean the forsaking of community service and transformation and investment in the growth of the church does not mean and should not mean the abandonment of community service and social action.  We witness in the pattern of the incarnation.  Jesus says to the disciples on Easter Day: “As the Father has sent me so I send you”[3].  The pattern of Christ’s mission is the pattern for our own.  It will involve loving service, generous self giving, seeking the well being of the city.

The best vision statements in the life of the Church of England at the present time seek to capture that comprehensive vision for mission.  The goals we have worked with in the present quinquennium nationally are about spiritual and numerical growth; serving the common good and re-imagining ministry.  The vision statement for the Diocese of Sheffield is intentionally framed to capture this comprehensive vision for mission:

“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.”[4]

We need a both-and mission.  But that both and will include evangelism and catechesis and all the other disciplines of evangelization as a key part of urban ministry.  We need to develop disciples in the city.

2.  Lessons from the past

I made many mistakes as Vicar of Ovenden and I continue to make them now as Bishop of Sheffield.  But with a perspective of more than 25 years, some things stand out as good decisions.  One of the best was the decision to set aside an evening a week every week to teach the faith to enquirers and new Christians.  I didn’t have a vocabulary to describe what I was doing but I would now say I was beginning to rediscover catechesis.  Over nine years, hardly a week went by when I was not involved in teaching the faith in that way.  When one group ended, another began.  The smallest group was half a dozen people. The largest was around thirty.

That medium sized urban congregation grew steadily largely through adults and children and young people coming to faith and becoming established in faith and continuing in their discipleship.  Most had very little or no church background.  The material we developed in those groups eventually became part of a set of materials published as Emmaus[5].  I wrote about what we were doing in a couple of small handbooks[6].  The growth of the church meant that we were able to grow and expand the good work we were doing on the estates of Ovenden.  The good work we were doing meant a steady stream of new contacts, some of whom wanted to discover more about Christian faith.  Catechesis, teaching the faith well, was the missing key to developing disciples in urban ministry.

Part of my inspiration in rediscovering catechesis came from an earlier and deeper tradition in Anglican life.  On my retreat prior to my ordination as deacon, someone encouraged me to read Richard Baxter’s book, The Reformed Pastor[7].  I’ve read it many times since.  Baxter was Curate in Kidderminster from 1641 to 1660.  He focussed his ministry on catechesis and in particular teaching the faith from house to house, with remarkable effect.  His work inspired many subsequent generations of Anglican clergy in all kinds of situations.  The Church of England commemorates Richard Baxter in our calendar on 14th June, yesterday.

I have since discovered that Baxter’s work forms part of a long tradition of the practice and reflection on catechesis in England in the first two hundred years in the Church of England following the Reformation.  Last year I was invited to write a paper for the General Synod on the subject of Developing Discipleship.  One of the recommendations of that paper was that the House of Bishops commission work on a revised catechism.  I am currently involved with others in scoping that work and as part of that, I am exploring the history of the present catechism, a revised version of the form found in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.

The key text is a weighty book of Church history called The Christians ABC: Catechisms and Catechizing in England c.1530-1740 by Ian Green[8].  It was published in 1996 and is sadly now quite rare.  It is fascinating in all kinds of ways.  The ordinary parish clergy of the Church of England invested a huge amount of time and energy in catechesis in the first two hundred years after the Reformation.  They were after all seeking to teach the Christian faith with a renewed and Protestant interpretation in the English language for the first time in the history of these islands.  They took seriously the call to make disciples.

Between 1530 and 1740, how many published catechisms, aids to teaching the faith, do you think might have been printed in England?  Bear in mind that printing was in its infancy and publishing was closely regulated.  The answer, according to Ian Green, is over 1,000.  We still have all or part of over 600 of them.  Many were bestsellers.  Some were so successful that they were pirated.

Catechesis was a new discipline in 1530. It took two generations to become widespread and universal but by 1600, according to the returns from the Dioceses of Lincoln and Newcastle, 80% of parish clergy were practicing what was prescribed in the canons and prayer book – they were setting aside time each Sunday for the catechesis of children.

This was a period of slowly rising literacy.  The catechism was most commonly printed with a short primer setting out the alphabet, used to teach people to read.  Once you had learned your letters, you then went on to learn the catechism, based around the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.

Catechisms were produced at three different levels according to Green: beginners, for children and the unlearned; intermediate for slightly older children and those who wanted to go deeper; and advanced, full theological texts and expositions of the catechisms.  The focus on catechesis (normally in the half hour before Evening Prayer on Sundays) encouraged the development of catechetical preaching: expository series of sermons on the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the sacraments.  These were part of the essential task of all of the ordained.  Leading theologians of the day would publish their catechetical sermons as a means of teaching the faith.

Most catechisms followed the fourfold shape of teaching though the order varies.  Doctrine is taught through the Apostles Creed; prayer is taught through the Lord’s Prayer; conduct and behavior are taught through the Commandments and worship and participation in the life of the church taught through the sacraments.  The 1549 catechism lacks a section on the sacraments. This was added in 1604.  But apart from that alteration, the 1549 catechism was the common factor through these 200 years.  The Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments were the heart of the new English Christianity which people learned as children and inhabited for the rest of their lives.  These lessons were often reinforced through these key texts being reproduced in the fabric of the churches built in this period.  A key part, perhaps the key part, of the role of the minister was to teach this faith, publicly and privately, in every parish in the land.

There was agreement between Anglican and dissenting churches on the benefits of catechesis and broad agreement on doctrine.  The key catechism for the Church of England remained the 1549 catechism.  The key catechism for the dissenters became the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1648.

Catechism took place in church, in the home and in the schools across the land.  Catechizing was required of the clergy in the canons and there is evidence of complaints being brought by church wardens when this duty of teaching the faith was not fulfilled.

3.  The benefits of catechesis

Ian Green draws out from all of these 1,000 printed catechisms, the benefits of catechesis.  These are described often in the preface to the published works as the bishops and clergy encourage one another to teach the faith.  I believe each of them is relevant today[9].

  1. Catechesis laid the necessary basis of religious knowledge without which an individual could not hope for salvation.  Clearly this is the most fundamental of reasons.  If the Church desires to see children, men and women brought to a saving faith in Christ then we must teach that faith courageously, persistently, skillfully, in ways which people can understand and ways which are comprehensive.
  1. Catechesis enabled members of the church to achieve a deeper understanding of the scriptures and of what took place during church services.   To grow in discipleship, to participate meaningfully in worship, to understand and follow preaching, all these presume an understanding of the fundamentals of Christianity.  These must be laid down through patient, careful introductory teaching.
  1. Third, catechesis prepared people for a fuller part in church life by helping them to frame a profession of faith and to participate in the Lord’s Supper.  Catechesis becomes linked at an early stage in the English tradition with preparation for the rite of confirmation, which fulfills both functions: making your own profession of faith and admission to Holy Communion.  It was vital of course in post Reformation England that this admission was on the basis of an understanding of what was happening in the rite.  This needed to be clearly taught.
  1. Fourth, catechesis helped those being instructed to distinguish true doctrine from false.  England in this period was a pluralistic society in the sense of competing understandings of the Christian faith.  It was vital that church members were equipped to navigate through this with discernment.
  1. And finally, catechesis promoted Christian virtue and dissuaded from vice, particularly through learning by heart and understanding the Ten Commandments and all which flows from them.

It seems to me that each of these benefits of catechesis is as relevant today as we teach the faith as it was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The Church is faced today with the challenge of teaching and communicating faith to a population of adults, children and young people which understands very little of Christianity.  We need once again to make a massive investment and to master these basic skills of disciple making.  There is a need to teach people the way of salvation; to help them understand and navigate the scriptures; to induct people into the life of the Church and the sacraments; to distinguish true doctrine from false and to promote virtue and dissuade from vice.

If we were reframing these purposes of catechesis today, I would want to add a sixth.  The Protestant Reformation, as we understand it now, was not strong on mission to and within our own communities.  The Christendom mentality carried over from the Catholic to the Protestant countries for the whole of this period.  I would want to add therefore a missional dimension to catechesis and frame that in this way.

  1. The purpose of catechesis is to equip God’s people in mission and ministry; to enable every disciple to discern their vocation and play their part in God’s mission in family, workplace and society.

Our calling is to induct people into the Christian way of life not only in the Church but in the world.

In addition to these benefits for those who are catechized, there are clear benefits for the Church which invests in and reflects on how it teaches the Christian faith from generation to generation.  These are some of the reasons behind my hope that the Church of England is about to blow the dust off its catechism, currently stored near the back of the cupboard in the vestry, hidden behind the old hymn books and sadly neglected.

The benefits of catechesis for the Church which practices it begin with two gains of inestimable value.  They are the whole ball game.  The first is the benefit that children are more likely to grow up within the family of the Christian faith for the whole of their lives.  The second is a steady stream of adults joining every parish church and Christian congregation year by year such that these communities grow.

However there are further, deeper benefits.  These include clarity about and confidence in our doctrine, the syllabus of catechesis.  This is probably the generation of Anglicans which is most careless of doctrine than any since the Reformation.  They include developing a common understanding and resources in education, though that will be very different from the sixteenth century.  They include benefits in the development and growth of clergy and lay ministers: the surest way to understanding something is of course to teach it to others, over and over again.

4.  Contemporary catechesis?

So what might contemporary catechesis look like and how might it be applied in the present day Church of England and especially in urban areas?  How do we and should we develop disciples in the city?

Here are two decisions I have made as a contemporary bishop in an urban setting which I hope will stand the test of time.

The first is to hold before the Diocese of Sheffield the importance of catechesis as the key to our renewal and growth (although I seldom use the word in public).   For six years now I have urged every parish to recover the lost disciplines of catechesis and become skilled in them.  These lost disciplines are very simple.  Learn to sow the good seed of the gospel to those outside the church.  Teach the faith to enquirers and new Christians.  Deepen the faith of every disciple.  We need to become once again a teaching church.  These disciplines should be a call on the time of every priest and deacon, modeled by the bishops, and a call on the time of many lay ministers.

It is difficult to do all of this at the same time particularly in a smaller parish with stretched resources.

For that reason, in Sheffield, we encourage all our parishes to follow a simple annual cycle.  We set aside ten days of prayer from Ascension to Pentecost to pray for the growth of the church and for the gift of new disciples.  We ask every parish and fresh expression to focus on sowing the good seed of the gospel in August, September and October.  We ask every parish and fresh expression to offer some kind of course for enquirers and new Christians between October and Easter to teach the faith simply, engagingly and well to those who want to learn more.  We ask every parish and fresh expression to deepen the faith of every Christian disciple between Easter and the summer.

wheel

We have taught the virtues of this cycle many times in deaneries and parishes and at diocesan events.

Since we first articulated this cycle we have been round it some five times. This year we moved all of our confirmations into the period from Easter to Pentecost.  My normal expectation from next year is that most parishes will bring candidates most years even if only a handful of people.  There is a sense that the cycle gets deeper year by year and we become a little better at recovering these skills.  We still have a long way to go.  There are many parishes where these disciplines were simply not being practiced and had not been for many years.  Last week at our first Diocesan conference for twelve years, I asked people to put their hands up if they had run a nurture course in the last year or were planning to put run one in the next year.  Every hand went up.  It was a moving moment.

Catechesis is unspectacular, faithful, unglamorous work but is right at the heart of what it means to be a priest or a lay minister in the Church of England.  It is also one of the most rewarding of disciplines according to every survey and the single factor most likely to make a difference to the growth of the church.  If we are serious about developing disciples then every local church, every parish, every fresh expressions needs to become a place of Christian formation, the making of disciples.  That will mean many things but the most essential is good, loving, catechesis: careful and regular teaching made available about the heart and core of the Christian faith and setting aside time in the clerical week to invest in that patient and regular teaching.

The second decision I made, with others, was this: to invest time and energy in the development of new catechetical resources for the whole Church.  The House of Bishops in this quinquenium has produced a major new resource for teaching and learning the faith: Pilgrim[10].  Pilgrim is based on clear, solid catechetical principles.  The annual cycle from the Diocese of Sheffield is part of the way we suggest parishes use the materials.  I am one of four core authors but we have drawn on the gifts of many bishops and theologians in the Church of England and beyond.

As authors we have worked with the three core texts of the 1549 catechism: the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.  We have added in the Beatitudes, the fourth key text often used in catechesis in the patristic period and commended in recent Anglican resources.[11]  There are resources in Pilgrim for initial nurture for enquirers in which nothing is assumed.  There are resources of encouraging mature discipleship.  We hope that Pilgrim will encourage other forms of catechetical preaching and teaching, taking the whole community back to these fundamental texts.

Publication was completed in February of this year.  The reception of Pilgrim has been extremely positive.  Parishes of different persuasions and traditions are using the material.  People are encountering Christ afresh.  The sales of the books have been remarkable.  There is interest already from other parts of the world.

The educational method used in Pilgrim is, of course, different from the catechetical work of the sixteenth century.  Fundamental to the Pilgrim material is the careful reading of short passages of scripture and the reflection on these passages by the whole group in the pattern known as lectio divina[12].

5.  Catechesis in the City: striving for simplicity

Are there particular themes and emphases in making disciples in the city and in urban ministry?  Cities are varied places and one of the keys to effective catechesis is that the style and manner of teaching should be adapted to the audience.  In our day we need our beginners material, our intermediate material and our advanced material.

But there is no doubt whatsoever that the place where we struggle the most is the material for beginners.  Simplicity is elusive for Anglicans when it comes to teaching the faith.

The same was true of our forebears.  From 1530-1740 there was a constant tension between simplicity to enable the faith to be taught to those who knew nothing and complexity adequate to the subject matter.  Catechisms had a tendency to grow longer which made them both hard to memorise and difficult to understand and, of course, to teach.

The model which shines out through this period is the Prayer Book catechism of 1549 which is short, simple and to the point: the Apostles Creed, the Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.  It was amended only once, in 1604, with five new questions on the sacraments.  Otherwise it stood the test of time rather well.

The production of the Revised Catechism of 1958, still authorized for teaching, succeeded in adding a great deal to this material and almost doubling the length of what was to be taught and learned.

The Pilgrim material works well in many different contexts.  Users tell us that they adapt it for use in non book cultures or non literate contexts, which is vital.  I think that if there are any future developments of Pilgrim they should be towards developing even simpler resources for use with children and young people and with those in urban areas.

There is much more to making disciples in the city than the teaching material and style.  It has to do with going to where people are, with practical expressions of love, with walking with people who have chaotic lives, with striving to build community, with prayfulness and holiness of life.  But simple, careful teaching and learning is at the heart of this task of developing disciples in the city.


[1] Faith in the City, A Call for Action by Church and Nation, Church House Publishing, 1985

[2] Eliza Filby, God and Mrs Thatcher, The Battle for Britain’s Soul, Biteback Publishing, 2015 especially pp. 172ff

[3] John 20.21.

[4] www.sheffield.anglican.org

[5] Stephen Cottrell, Steven Croft, John Finney, Felicity Lawson, Robert Warren, Emmaus the Way of Faith, eight volumes, CHP, 1996-1998.

[6] Steven Croft, Growing New Christians, CPAS, 1993, Making New Disciples, CPAS, 1994

[7] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 1656

[8] OUP, 1996.

[9] Ian Green, op cit. pp.26-44

[10] Robert Atwell, Stephen Cottrell, Steven Croft, Paula Gooder, Pilgrim: a course for the Christian journey, 9 volumes, CHP, 2013-2015

[11] On the Way, Towards an Integrated Approach to Christian Initiation, CHP, 1995, p.45 and Common Worship, Christian Initiation, 2006, pp. 40ff: “In order to give shape to their discipleship, all baptized Christians should be encouraged to explore these four texts and make them their own: the Summary of the Law, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed and the Beatitudes”.

[12] For a simple explanation see the Pilgrim leader’s guide pp. 46-48 or www.pilgrim.org

 

A Christian Festival for Sheffield

I spent 3 days last week in Stuttgart in Germany as a guest of the something called the Kirchentag. It’s a great gathering of Protestant Christians from all across Germany.  There were 30,000 active participants and over 100,000 visitors to different events all across the city.  The programme is half an inch thick and includes conversations on every possible subject.

I was there to meet with German pioneers and to take part in a seminar on the English experience of forming fresh expressions of church. But the whole event got me thinking….  Why can’t we do something on this scale in Sheffield?

So how about an annual Sheffield Christian Festival?  One which tries to draw together every stream of the Christian church in the city and region and celebrates our common faith?  A blend of Greenbelt and Taizé and New Wine and Soul Survivor and Spring Harvest and Walsingham only right here in this city and region.  Can you imagine it?

Sheffield is already a city renowned for its festivals.  We have DocFest and a live music festival and a comedy festival annually. We have strong local festivals in many parts of the city.  Why not a celebration of Christian faith right here where we are?

I’ve been reflecting for some time on the absence of strong Christian festivals in the north of England, especially since the demise of New Wine North a couple of years ago.  I’ve been trying to imagine how we could start slowly and build something here: perhaps camping out on Doncaster racecourse or Beauchief Abbey.

But camping is not really that appealing.  And it would be hard to offer something for everyone in a single event or style.  So how about something stretching over a long weekend which draws people into the city and celebrates all the different churches have to offer?  Isn’t it the kind of thing a humble, confident church should be doing?

Almost 25 years ago the churches of this city and region combined in a remarkable way for Mission England.  Many still remember that as a high point of collaboration.  There was much fruit.  Over the last couple of months there has been a new beginning with church leaders from different streams coming together to pray.  Perhaps the idea of a City Festival is part of the answer.

I’m the kind of person who sometime has ten ideas before breakfast.  Not all of them are good ones.  Those who work with me sometimes bear the scars and have learned to sit on me from time to time.

But every so often, there’s one which is worth pursuing.  How about it?  An ecumenical, regional, annual Festival of Christian Faith in Sheffield to build up the churches, to strengthen faith and discipleship, to witness to our common faith, to celebrate God’s love and make an impact across our region.  First one in 2017?

Let me know what you think either by posting a comment or by email.

+Steven Sheffield

Sheffield Solidarity with Paris

Around four hundred people gathered in Barker’s Pool in Sheffield this afternoon for a service of commemoration, remembrance and solidarity for those killed in the atrocities in Parish this week.

This was nothing, of course, compared to the huge numbers marching in grief in Paris itself or across France. But in Sheffield, it felt a significant event, especially on a cold January afternoon.

People came because, like many across the world, we have been moved and disturbed by the terrorist attacks in France this week: the ruthless murder of journalists at the offices of Charlie Ebdo, the gunning down of police and bystanders and the killing of hostages in a supermarket on Friday afternoon.

Today’s event was organised by the Faith Leaders Group in Sheffield together with the City Council.  The Faith Leaders Group has worked together over many years across the city.  There are strong bonds of friendship and respect between us and a determination not to see our city divided by extremism elsewhere.

There were speeches at the event from the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, leaders from many different faith groups and from the different parties in Sheffield City Council.  Sheffield Humanist Association played a significant and welcome role alongside faith leaders, local councillors, charities and others. We kept two minutes silence together at 3.30 pm.  Many were holding “Je suis Charlie” signs.  Some held pencils in the air.

A book of condolence was opened and signed.  This will be kept in the Town Hall in Sheffield for the next two weeks.

There was also a short Act of Remembrance in Doncaster Minster at noon with a similar purpose.

There were similar themes in all the speeches: grief, compassion, a desire to protect freedom of speech, solidarity with the Muslim community and the Jewish community in Sheffield and across Europe.

My own remarks are below.  I join my own prayers with those of people everywhere for those who have been victims of these attacks and for our local and national governments at this time.

“We meet together this afternoon in deep sorrow to reflect on the cruel and evil attacks in Paris this week.   Our thoughts and prayers and our compassion are with those who mourn the violent death of those they love: with the families and friends of the journalists, the police, the bystanders killed and injured in these atrocities, people of all faiths and none. The terrorists aim is to create fear and so divide us one from another.

We are here today to proclaim that we will not be divided.  We are in Sheffield one city with many cultures and faiths within it.  As people of all faith and none we respect one another, we treasure what we have in common, we do our best to honour one another, to love one another, to support one another.

We are here today to proclaim that we together, as people of all faiths and none, honour and protect the universal right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which has been attacked this week.

We align ourselves with the universal condemnation of these attacks which has come from the Muslim community, the Jewish community, the Christian community and many others in this country and across the world.

We stand with the people of France today in their grief.  We make our appeal to all within our own country to reject violence in the name of religion and to seek that peace which is the will of God for all peoples everywhere”.

Sheffield solidarity with Paris

Around four hundred people gathered in Barker’s Pool in Sheffield this afternoon for a service of commemoration, remembrance and solidarity for those killed in the atrocities in Parish this week.

This was nothing, of course, compared to the huge numbers marching in grief in Paris itself or across France. But in Sheffield, it felt a significant event, especially on a cold January afternoon.

People came because, like many across the world, we have been moved and disturbed by the terrorist attacks in France this week: the ruthless murder of journalists at the offices of Charlie Ebdo, the gunning down of police and bystanders and the killing of hostages in a supermarket on Friday afternoon.

Today’s event was organised by the Faith Leaders Group in Sheffield together with the City Council.  The Faith Leaders Group has worked together over many years across the city.  There are strong bonds of friendship and respect between us and a determination not to see our city divided by extremism elsewhere.

There were speeches at the event from the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, leaders from many different faith groups and from the different parties in Sheffield City Council.  Sheffield Humanist Association played a significant and welcome role alongside faith leaders, local councillors, charities and others. We kept two minutes silence together at 3.30 pm.  Many were holding “Je suis Charlie” signs.  Some held pencils in the air.

A book of condolence was opened and signed.  This will be kept in the Town Hall in Sheffield for the next two weeks.

There was also a short Act of Remembrance in Doncaster Minster at noon with a similar purpose.

There were similar themes in all the speeches: grief, compassion, a desire to protect freedom of speech, solidarity with the Muslim community and the Jewish community in Sheffield and across Europe.

My own remarks are below.  I join my own prayers with those of people everywhere for those who have been victims of these attacks and for our local and national governments at this time.

“We meet together this afternoon in deep
sorrow to reflect on the cruel and evil attacks in Paris this week.
 Our thoughts and prayers and our compassion
are with those who mourn the violent death of those they love: with the
families and friends of the journalists, the police, the bystanders killed and
injured in these atrocities, people of all faiths and none.
 The terrorists aim is to create fear and so
divide us one from another.
 We are here today to proclaim that we will
not be divided.  We are in Sheffield one
city with many cultures and faiths within it. 
As people of all faith and none we respect one another, we treasure what
we have in common, we do our best to honour one another, to love one another,
to support one another.
 We are here today to proclaim that we
together, as people of all faiths and none, honour and protect the universal
right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which has been attacked
this week.
 We align ourselves with the universal
condemnation of these attacks which has come from the Muslim community, the
Jewish community, the Christian community and many others in this country and
across the world.
 We stand with the people of France today in
their grief.  We make our appeal to all
within our own country to reject violence in the name of religion and to seek
that peace which is the will of God for all peoples everywhere”. 

The Sheffield Fairness Commission

Over the last year, I’ve been a member of the 23 person Fairness Commission in Sheffield looking at inequalities across the city.  Our report was published this week.  Being part of the Commission has been a fascinating and moving experience and that continued this week.

On Tuesday, members of the Commission gathered at the Credit Union in Sheffield for a press call and launch to highlight the importance of responsible debt and credit. On Wednesday I was interviewed on Radio Sheffield in the morning and chaired a meeting of faith communities to look at the report in the evening.  On Friday, I travelled on the Number 83 bus from Ecclesfield to Millhouses with a BBC camera crew, highlighting the inequalities along the route.

At the beginning of the week, I wrote the following article for the Yorkshire Post which was published on Friday 1st February and is reproduced here with permission.  It draws together the theme of Fairness in Sheffield with that of a Fair Deal for Sheffield – a campaign to ask government to address the balance of cuts across north and south.

Full details of the Fairness Commission’s work are at: Sheffield Fairness Commission

Details of the Fair Deal for Sheffield campaign are at: A Fair Deal for Sheffield

Yorkshire Post Article

Sheffield is one of England’s great cities and a city which has made enormous strides in the last decade in reforming its economy, improving health outcomes and raising educational attainment.  It’s also a great place to live and to visit.  Many people who move here stay for the rest of their lives.  Why would you want to go anywhere else?  But Sheffield is also a city in which not everyone has the same chances in life.  We are in many ways an unequal city.  For the last year, I’ve been one of 23 members of the Sheffield Fairness Commission exploring how we can be a better and fairer city in the future.  We published our report on Wednesday.

If you take a Number 83 bus from Abbeydale in the south of Sheffield through the centre and out to Ecclesfield in the north, life expectancy changes for men and women all along the route.  In Ecclesall Ward it’s 86 for women and in Burngreave just 77.  Life expectancy is just one example of different forms of inequality we discovered.

We’re not the first city to have a Fairness Commission.  Similar work has been done in York and in Liverpool, in Islington and elsewhere.  Each Fairness Commission is based on the key insight that a fairer society is a better society for everyone. Extremes of wealth and poverty are bad news for society. The ideas are unpacked in a key book, The Spirit Level: why equality is better for everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (Penguin).

Sheffield’s Fairness Commission was set up a year ago by the city council with the support of all three political parties and commissioners drawn from across the life of the city.  Our task was to take a spirit level to every part of the life of our community: health and jobs, credit and benefits, housing, safety, transport and just about everything else.  We received evidence in writing, through people coming to see us and through satellite meetings.  Everything we received is on the Commission’s website, with the final report.

It’s been a fascinating process and I’ve learned a huge amount. The number of road traffic accidents in an area is directly linked to poverty.  Air quality is vitally important in promoting community health.  Doorstep lending is toxic.  The young people of Sheffield from all backgrounds are full of aspiration for their future but not all of them know how to make their dreams a reality. It’s vital to pay a Living Wage not just a minimum wage. We need to address questions of mental as well as physical health.  Equality is not only about poverty and wealth but often about race or gender, sexuality or disability.

The Sheffield Fairness Commission has set a bold vision for the city.  We aspire now to be the fairest city in the country. We’ve established ten principles to guide policy makers and every citizen.  We’ve made a number of key recommendations and we have proposed a process of annual audit and review for the City to measure progress towards our goal.

There has been a great deal of interest from the faith communities in the work of the Commission.  Faith communities and faith based charities submitted evidence to us.  On Wednesday evening I chaired the first public meeting to examine the report’s findings from the perspective of the Faith communities. Questions of fairness and justice and care for the poor run very deeply in the scriptures of Judaism, Islam and Christianity and in the practices of all the world faiths.

We will only become a fairer city by engaging the energies of everyone and the churches and faith communities will play a key role in encouraging debate and developing social capital locally and across the city.  Charities founded by Christians or members of other faiths are among the most active in the city in helping the poorest members of our community. The Cathedral Archer project provides daily assistance to the homeless in the very centre of Sheffield.  The number of food banks here has increased in recent years.  The majority of them are offered by the churches.

But fairness within the city, the Commission discovered, is only part of the story.  There also needs to be fairness in the way national resources are distributed by central government.  Here too we found there is a long way to go.

Two weeks ago, Liverpool hosted a key meeting for civic leaders and faith leaders at the Liverpool Arena under the title Come 2gether.  The conference was a cry from the heart of our great northern cities about the unfair effect of government spending cuts on their economies and on the poorest in the communities.  Last Friday, a coalition of MP’s and community and faith leaders launched a new campaign, A Fair Deal for Sheffield, which makes identical points.  Whatever the intention, the government’s austerity measures are not falling in a fair way across the country.  South Yorkshire Police are losing 182 front line officers between 2010 and 2015.  In Surrey the force is increasing by 276.  In 2011/12, Oxfordshire County Council increased its funding to charities by £327K, but in Sheffield in the same year there was a net reduction of such funding by £8.5 million.

The great cities of the north of England are places of enterprise, hubs of industry, thriving communities and centres of culture and learning.  All of our northern cities, including Sheffield, deserve and need a fair share of our central government resources to thrive and flourish in the future.  I am part of the campaign to urge the government to reconsider the unfair effect of the spending cuts on Sheffield as a whole and on the poorest in our communities and to take action this year to redress the balance. We need to work together to make all our cities fairer places for the good of all. Local initiative and vision are vital but so is the part played by government and Parliament.