I write with some significant news and with a mix of emotions to the clergy and lay people of the Diocese of Sheffield.
Downing Street has announced this morning that I have been nominated as the next Bishop of Oxford. I am looking forward to the new challenge and responsibility this move will bring. At the same time I am very sorry to be leaving a Diocese and friends and a place I love dearly and where Ann and I feel very much at home.
For both Ann and myself, our seven years in the city and Diocese of Sheffield have been among the happiest and most fulfilling of our lives. I have enjoyed and appreciated almost every part of being Bishop here: the warm welcome across South Yorkshire (and the parts of East Yorkshire around Goole), the joy of working with an outstanding senior team, with dedicated and creative clergy and lay leaders and the privilege of joining in what God is doing in so many different ways and places. I have appreciated all kinds of engagement with the city and wider region served by the Diocese: with local politicians, with its economic life, with the universities, the third sector and many different local communities.
Ann has greatly enjoyed fellowship and friendship through Partners Together and the Mothers’ Union and, most of all, seeing the Parent and Toddler group grow at the Cathedral over the past five years. We have both made many friends here.
You may know that the Diocese of Oxford has been vacant since October 2014. At that time, it felt too early to consider leave Sheffield after six years. However, for various reasons the vacancy was not filled and I was invited in January this year to allow my name to be considered.
My call to this new ministry began with a sense of obedience to the wider needs of the Church and has grown from there, through the process, into a strong sense that God is indeed calling Ann and I to Oxford and calling me to a different kind of episcopal ministry.
For the first time in January, I began to realise it was no longer too early to leave Sheffield. The Diocese has grown in confidence, in unity, and in capacity for mission, particularly over the last year. We have a common vision, a strategy to carry that vision forward and a strong and united senior team. The more I pondered the question, the more this seemed a potentially good moment to hand on the ministry God has entrusted to me here to others and in time to a new Bishop.
The Diocese of Oxford is one of the largest and most complex in the Church of England. It covers the three counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and stretches from Milton Keynes in the north to Newbury in the south; from the Cotswolds in the west to Slough in the east. The Diocese has a population of 2.3 million people. There are over 800 churches, almost 400 stipendiary clergy and over 200 self-supporting clergy grouped into four archdeaconries and 29 deaneries. The Diocese has an Area system with three Area bishops supporting and working with the Bishop of Oxford. There are 12 secondary and 270 primary Church schools. There are six universities. A large number of charities, industries and other agencies have their national or international headquarters in the Diocese.
The invitation to move came at a time when I was beginning to reflect on what shape my own ministry might take over the coming years. As you know, I had been planning a sabbatical later in 2016 to do some of this thinking. I have a growing sense of call to a more outward facing ministry over the next ten years or so and a desire to engage more directly in mission and evangelism and with the wider life of the nation. I could certainly have changed gear in that way and remained in Sheffield, but Oxford, with all its resources also provides an excellent place for such a ministry.
Finally, although the move will take us further from some of our family in Halifax, it will bring us much nearer to our four children and to our grandson. Paul, Andy and Beth and Sarah are all settled in Greater London. Amy and Simon are in Bristol and Ann’s mother is also there. Ann and I first met and married in Oxford and we lived there for five years immediately before we came to Sheffield. From the perspective of our past and our future, the move makes sense.
For the next few months at least it will be business as usual. I am not quite sure of the timings yet but it looks as though we will move to Oxford over the summer. A farewell service has been provisionally booked in Sheffield Cathedral for Sunday 17 July at 4.00 pm. In the meantime I am looking forward to the regular programme of parish visits, the Deanery confirmations and continuing to plan for the launch of St Peter’s College.
After I leave, Bishop Peter will lead the senior team and the diocese during the vacancy as we continue to grow a sustainable network of Christ like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place. I will leave the Diocese in excellent hands. The process of discovering who God may be calling to the immense privilege of being the next Bishop of Sheffield is likely to begin in the autumn.
In the meantime, we continue to value your prayers. You know me well enough to know that I enjoy change but also find it very daunting. We will continue to pray for you now and for many years into the future. I have every confidence that the whole Diocese will continue to grow in faith and hope and love in the years to come.
With thanks for all that we have received through you and in you and for the grace of God in this Diocese.
With kind regards