Church numbers

On publication of the annual Statistics for Mission, Bishop Steven reflects that there remains a huge appetite to learn and explore the Christian faith. The sheer number of courses run by churches is a sign of how much people want to explore the big questions about the meaning and purpose of life. 

According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 52% of people in Britain now declare they are of no religion. That proportion is growing. With every decade that goes by, people understand less and less about the Christian faith.

The hunger for purpose and meaning and love remains. Questions about life and faith are as deep as ever. Many people still pray, especially at great crises in their lives. But most people need more help to explore Christian faith in a way which welcomes you in and makes no assumptions about what you already know.

How are churches responding in love to a population which understands less and less about the Christian faith? It’s important to meet people where they are, without judgement. It’s important to offer loving service and friendship without qualification.

Churches are also learning (slowly) that it’s important to offer simple, accessible ways to explore what it means to be a Christian from the very beginning. More than a third of churches now offer some way of doing this every year. For me, it’s right at the top of the list of what you should be able to find in every local church.

Pilgrim was developed by bishops and teachers of the Church of England to support every local church in learning and teaching the faith year by year as a normal part of parish life. There are eight short courses of six weeks each: four for absolute beginners and four which build on this foundation. The courses explore the four simple texts which have always been wonderful ways into the Christian faith: the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, the Commandments and the Apostle’s Creed.

Every session begins with listening to God in the Scriptures. The whole Pilgrim course is also a guide to reading the Bible: the Old Testament and the New. The original booklets were launched in 2013 and more than a quarter of a million books have been sold. In 2017 the authors published The Pilgrim Way, a simple question and answer summary of Christian faith which is now at the centre of the faith section of the Church of England website.

For many people, it’s good to learn in a group. Others prefer one to one conversations with some daily readings in between. Earlier this year, we published the first two booklets to support this: Pilgrim Journeys on the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes. The booklets were linked to the Church of England’s digital campaigns for Lent and Easter. More than 40,000 booklets were sold, and the same number of people again engaged through smart speakers, the app and daily emails.

There is a huge appetite to learn and explore. We may not be called to be a bigger church in this generation. But we are called to be a deeper church: helping beginners come to know Christ and be formed as Christian disciples for a life of faith and adventure.

At the very heart of Pilgrim is a desire to see the character of Christ formed and shaped in the life of every Christian so that we, in turn, can help reshape the world.

 

+Steven
17 October 2019

  • Steven Croft is the Bishop of Oxford and one of the four lead authors of Pilgrim (with Robert Atwell, Stephen Cottrell and Paula Gooder)
  • It has long been +Steven’s conviction that the renewal and reform most needed in the life of the Church of England and the Church in the United Kingdom is the renewal of catechesis: laying the good foundations of faith in the lives of enquirers and new Christians.  Read more.

We may be about to exit the European Union and begin a new relationship with our European neighbours and with the world. +Steven, +Alan, +Colin and Bishop-elect Olivia have written a joint letter to every church, school and chaplaincy in the Diocese of Oxford reminding us all of the important roles that our churches and schools hold at this time. The bishops are encouraging parishioners across the diocese to read the letter too: “Don’t underestimate what we can achieve if every church, chaplaincy and school does something and if every Christian disciple takes some action, however small”.

Dear friends,

Love your neighbour as yourself: a Christian response to Brexit
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you… and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29.7)

We are writing as bishops to every church, school and chaplaincy in the Diocese of Oxford and to every disciple at this critical moment in our national life.

As a nation we may be about to exit the European Union and begin a new relationship with our European neighbours and with the world. At the time of writing, the course of events is uncertain – and the prolonged uncertainty is itself challenging. How are we to respond in the coming months as the Church of England across Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes?

Six hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Jeremiah wrote to those sent into exile in Babylon. His words resonate powerfully today. We are to seek the welfare of our cities, towns and villages in these difficult months. The word translated welfare here is shalom: peace, well-being and prosperity. These must be our goal.

There are over a thousand churches, schools and chaplaincies in the Diocese of Oxford and over 50,000 regular worshippers. We are calling on everyone to remember the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves, especially in the coming weeks. Together we can make a significant difference.

The Church of England and Brexit
Our nation is divided about our future relationship in Europe. Our calling as the Church in these times is not to take sides in this debate but to continue to be the Church for everyone. There are leavers and remainers in every congregation, but this can never be our primary identity as Christians.

We have a particular responsibility at this time to speak out for the poorest in our communities and to act to help them (as the church has always done). We have a responsibility to work for the peace and the common good. We are called to offer in public and in private a voice of truth and a voice for hope in the future. The Bishops of the Church of England made a public statement recently calling for listening, respect and renewal in political life.

As the Church we bring a long perspective on the present debates. We know from our own history that the United Kingdom has re-imagined its relationship with Europe many times in the past. The Church of England came into existence as part of one of these eras of change. In a few weeks, we will all remember again those who gave their lives in the great wars of the twentieth century which were focussed around conflict across Europe.

As the Church, our friendships with Europe and with the Church across Europe will continue and deepen whatever the political and economic settlement.

What can we do?

National and local government have done a great deal to plan for a smooth and orderly Brexit (with or without a deal). However, there is an important role at this time for practical expressions of love and hope by communities and individuals. The exact needs will vary from one parish or benefice to another. These are some of the things you may need to consider and think about as Church Councils, school governing bodies, small groups and families.

Twelve ways to love your neighbour as yourself, a Brexit checklist:

  1. Give extra support to the food banks in your area. There may be temporary shortages of some foods. Prices may rise. Foodbank usage may also rise. Signpost your local foodbank. Make sure stocks are high, and there are enough volunteers.
  2. Watch out for the lonely, the anxious and the vulnerable. Levels of fear are rising and may rise further. Knock on your neighbours doors and check if they are OK. Speak to people on the bus and at work. Build networks and friendships.
  3. Reach out to EU nationals in your neighbourhood and workplace. This is a moment for friendship and hospitality and love for the stranger. As we leave the European Union, or as the uncertainty continues, people are likely to feel less welcome.
  4. Make sure people have access to good advice on migration and travel, and qualified advice on debt and financial support. It may be possible to set up a temporary drop-in centre in Church for EU citizens or for UK citizens anxious about relatives abroad. Point people to relevant websites.
  5. Remember the needs of children and young people. Our schools and churches can be a place of balance and sanctuary for our children, who may be feeling upset and anxious. The Mental Health Foundation has excellent advice on talking to children about scary world news. Parents and teachers might want to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate how different media cover the same story.
  6. Support the statutory services. A lot of good, solid planning has been done by local authorities. Familiarise yourself with your local authority plans and point people to them. Meet with your local councillors and neighbourhood police officers.
  7. Think about the needs of particular groups in your area. Some parts of the diocese have large communities of migrant workers from a particular region. Other parts will want to focus on the farming industry and its need for seasonal workers. What are the local challenges where you live?
  8. Work together with other churches, faith communities and charities. There are some excellent examples of collaboration across the Diocese in foodbanks, debt counselling and night shelters. How else could we work in partnership?
  9. Invite the community together. Encouraging discussion about the rights and wrongs of Brexit is unlikely to be helpful. Gather people to listen to each other about what concerns them looking forward and how communities can be brought together despite acknowledged differences. Gatherings over a meal can be helpful as can skilled facilitation.
  10. Watch over other faith and minority ethnic communities. Hate crimes and crimes against other faiths increased after the 2016 referendum. Reconnect with the mosques, synagogues and gudwaras in your area.
  11. Encourage truthful and honest debate. The renewal of our politics will need to be local as well as national. Plan now to host hustings during the General Election campaign. Don’t be afraid of the political space but step into it with a message of faith, hope and love.
  12. Pray in public worship and private prayer for the healing of our political life, for wisdom for those who lead us, for reconciliation between communities and for stability in our government.

Don’t underestimate what we can achieve if every church, chaplaincy and school does something and if every Christian disciple takes some action, however small.

Don’t take on too much either: loving our neighbour through the Brexit process needs to be woven into everything we do anyway, not simply added into busy lives. Don’t be limited by this checklist – you might have even better ideas. If you do, spread them around.

There are more details and resources in a special section on the Diocesan website, where you can download “Twelve ways to love your neighbour” as a poster.

Together we are called to be a contemplative, compassionate and courageous church, to love our neighbours as ourselves in the months ahead and to pray and work for the wellbeing of our communities.

+Steven Oxford
+Colin Dorchester
+Alan Buckingham
Olivia, Bishop of Reading elect

7 October 2019

Bishop Boat Pilgrimage

Warm thanks to everyone who shared in my Berkshire Pilgrimage in some way. It was a very good six days.

Together we visited 38 churches and the chaplaincy of Reading University. I travelled 17 miles by boat on 1 September across Maidenhead and Windsor Deaneries. We walked around 50 miles from Monday to Thursday across the Deaneries of Bracknell, Sonning, Reading and Bradfield. On Sunday 8th, the team cycled 16 miles or so across the Newbury Deanery from Hungerford to Thatcham and completed the final couple of visits by car.

Font PosterWe prayed in every place for our government and parliament, for the communities and churches and for Olivia as she prepares for her consecration as Bishop of Reading. I took a picture of the font in every church, and we prayed for the renewal of all the ministry which flows into and out of the font:

  • Our welcome to the youngest members of the community whose parents have just enough faith to bring them to baptism
  • Our nurture and care for children and young people in parishes and schools
  • Walking with adult enquirers as they come to faith as disciples of Jesus and come to baptism and confirmation
  • The ongoing formation of every Christian as we live out our baptism every day of our lives and seek to be a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world.

I was moved by the welcome and those who came to pray in every place. Sometimes there were a handful of people, often a group of 20 or more. I met hundreds of people across the week and heard some wonderful stories of hope and grace in the life of the local church as well as stories of difficulty. It was very good to spend time in our churches: these beautiful places of prayer and stillness often hallowed by hundreds of years of prayer.

The journey transformed my view of Berkshire. I normally travel across Berkshire in the car keeping to the motorway and the major roads. Often my journey is to the large, urban centres and back again. I was able to see the beauty of the county in new ways by boat and on foot and cycling and to build a clearer picture of ordinary church life.

It was so good to meet so many people: thanks to all who came and prayed and served tea (and cake!). Thanks especially to Captain Ainsley Swift for the boat ride, to the walk leaders each day and particular to Paul Cowan, my chaplain who organised the whole thing.

I ended the week with sore feet, aching legs, hardly able to sit down from the bike ride but with a very full and glad heart.

Thanks be to God.

I’m beginning my fourth year as Bishop of Oxford by walking and praying across Berkshire. Please do join me if you can, in spirit or in person. The pilgrimage sets off on Sunday 1st September in Old Windsor in and ends on Sunday 8th September in Thatcham.

I’m spending a day in each deanery praying in each of the 38 churches I visit with those who can gather and mostly walking between them (with a bit of travel by boat and by bike). I will be praying in every church we visit for the renewal of our life and ministry and especially for the renewal of the ministry of teaching the faith to new Christians. I will be praying for the renewal of the life of our nation in these turbulent times. I will be listening to God as I walk and to ordinary (but extraordinary) church life across the six deaneries of Berkshire. I will be praying as we prepare to welcome Olivia as Bishop of Reading in November.

This time last year, I made a similar pilgrimage across the city of Oxford and it was immensely helpful to me in getting to know the place and its people. The most memorable part of the week was the sense of welcome and hope.

Full details of the trip and a chance to say if you’ll be joining me for part of the walk are online here, and the schedule of deaneries is below:

Sunday 1 September – Maidenhead & Windsor

Monday 2 September – Bracknell

Tuesday 3 September – Sonning

Wednesday 4 September – Reading

6 & 7 September – rest days

Sunday 8 September – Newbury

An invitation to dwell in the Word

Paul writes in Colossians: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (3.16). One of the habits we are learning to share across the Diocese is dwelling in the word together: reflecting in all of our leadership gatherings and in many parishes and deaneries on the same biblical passages across a whole year. As we do this, we learn to listen to God and to one another for the kind of Church we are called to be: more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous.

Two years ago, we took the beatitudes as our passage: Matthew 5.1-12. For the last year, we have been dwelling in two passages from Colossians: 1.15-20 and 3.12-17.

Our passage for this year will be Acts 20.17-38: Paul’s speech to the presbyters at Miletus. It is one of the key passages in Acts as Paul roots his ministry in the call to be like Christ and gives to the whole church timeless principles for Christian mission.

I’ve spoken twice on the passage recently: once as part of the series on Principles of Deep Water Fishing at our recent common vision conference and once as the basis of my charge to those being ordained deacon and priest. Principles of Deep Water Fishing is the fourth in our series of study guides and is available to order for delivery in early September.

The passage and the simple instructions for Dwelling in the Word are available to download and copy. Please do pick up this lifegiving practice in your churches if you haven’t already.

Common Vision

We continue this year our call to be a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world. That will mean different things in different parishes, chaplaincies and schools. This term we have launched the Development Fund, and we are launching our new Parish Planning Tool on 14 September. We’ll be introducing the Fund and the Parish Planning Tool at each of the four Area Days, full details here.

And finally…

A key part of the ordinary common life of our churches is to pray for Her Majesty the Queen, for our government and parliament. That call is honoured in many places, neglected in some.

May I ask that during the coming months, we all remember to pray daily and whenever the Church gathers for the life of our nation: for wise decisions and good government; for care for the poor and for the earth; for all those entrusted with the burdens of leadership; for fresh vision and the return of kindness to our politics. This regular intercession is a key part of our discipleship.

May God bless you and your family, your parish, chaplaincy, school and deanery in the coming months.

+Steven Oxford
August 2019

 

 

The ethical questions surrounding the use of AI and data are manifold and large. Sooner or later they all lead back to the question “what does it mean to be a fully human person in a flourishing society in the 21st Century…”

Fifteen years ago, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube didn’t exist. Today, 67% of people in the UK are active users of at least one of them, and we now spend almost two hours each day on social media. Yet society is increasingly fearful of the risks of fake news and harmful content and distrustful of the very platforms that consume so much of our time.

Our lives are irreversibly online, lived with ever decreasing levels of privacy and hyperstimulated to a relentless place. Few of us have stopped to properly consider what it means to live well in this age, but as Christians, we have an essential part to play in the shape of online society.

This week the national Church launched a Digital Charter, which includes guidelines and a pledge that anyone can add their name to as part of a personal commitment to making social media a more positive place. I’ve signed up to the Charter, and I hope you will too.

As a Diocese, we’ve been spending time exploring what it means to be a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world. It’s a journey that started three years ago as we studied the Beatitudes together. Recently I’ve begun to ponder what those eight beautiful qualities might mean for social media and our online lives.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I will remember that my identity comes from being made and loved by God, not from my online profile.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted This world is full of grief and suffering.
I will tread softly and post with gentleness and compassion.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
I will not boast or brag online, nor will I pull others down.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
There are many wrongs to be righted. I will not be afraid to name them and look for justice in the world.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
I will not judge others but be generous online. I will be conscious of my own failings.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
I will be truthful and honest, and I will not pretend to be what I am not.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God
I will seek to reconcile those of different views with imagination and good humour.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I will not add to the store of hate in the world, but I will try to be courageous in standing up for what is right and true.

You can download a card (colour version | black and white version) to keep near your phone and tablet and share this social media graphic online.

Advances in technology have brought sharp ethical dilemmas and deeper questions of human identity. There are important debates to be had about the exploitation of our personal data, along with the threats (and benefits) of AI. These will take time and will require legislation, but we can also do something right now: let us each play our part in making social media kinder.

 

+Steven
June 2019

Further reading:

#CofECharter

Protestors with banners at a Youth strike for climate march in central London

I was in Westminster on 26 June with over 16,000 people. Thousands more were with us in spirit. We were meeting and marching and lobbying because the time is now to arrest the emission of greenhouse gases which are causing such lasting damage to the Earth.

“When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have ordained…”

From earliest times, people of faith have looked to the heavens and creation. The view of the night sky even seen with the naked eye evokes awe and wonder and a sense of God’s majesty. We are drawn to worship and also to the psalmist’s ancient question. Beneath the great canopy of the heavens and the vastness and beauty of the skies, what are human beings? Who are we, and where do we find our place?

Telescopes and space exploration and the sciences only add to that sense of mystery. We are in a vast universe. As far as we know, this is the only planet able to support the evolution of life in the form we know it here.

Christians see God’s hand in this as creator and see humanity as the pinnacle of creation, able to appreciate the glory and splendour of the galaxies. Christians and atheists alike acknowledge the slender balance by which life has been able to evolve on planet earth and the delicate forces which enable life to flourish over tens of millions of years.

But in the last century and a half, this balance has tipped. There is now a different answer to the question: “What are human beings?” We have entered the Anthropocene era. The world’s population and our technology is altering the delicate balance of life on Earth.

As we look to the other planets in the solar system and beyond it is terrible but not difficult to imagine what could happen to us. We are complicit in the creation of an environmental catastrophe which is already changing the climate. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Global heating continues and is likely to accelerate as a variety of feedback loops are engaged. Life on Earth is about to change in apocalyptic ways during the remainder of this century if we continue to do next to nothing.

The Bible is rich in images of hell. One such image is that of the flood waters rising bringing chaos, which will be the reality for coastal towns and cities across the world. One is a place too hot to live. This week much of Europe is preparing for a heat wave and temperatures high enough to endanger life on a massive scale. Another is of a rubbish dump. As I write this, the Guardian reports the news that the UN Special Rapporteur says our world is increasingly at risk of “climate apartheid”, where the rich pay to escape heat and hunger caused by the escalating climate crisis while the rest of the world suffers. These are the futures we are bequeathing to our children.

I have been gripped over recent weeks by the BBC drama, Years and Years. I cannot say I enjoyed watching it. Russell Davies attempts to chart the future across the next decade. In the final episode, Muriel (played by Anne Reid) looks back across 10,000 days and declares to her whole family (and to us):

“It’s our fault. This is the world we built.”


What kind of world is each of us helping to build? That is the question today for politicians, for churches, for citizens, for discipleship. Setting the care for the earth again at the front and centre of our politics and our lives must be the priority if there is a fair and rich future for life on earth.

 

+Steven Oxford

#TheTimeisNow

We stand at a key moment in the life of our Diocese. For two years, we have been exploring God’s call to us and our common vision. What kind of Church are we called to be? A more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world: more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous. We want to set that vision of Christ at the heart of who we are. This remains our central vision.

(If you would prefer to watch +Steven deliver this address, scroll to the bottom of this page for the video.)

What are we therefore called to do together next? We have listened with God to the big questions facing our world: the environment; questions of poverty and equality; mental health; the challenges and opportunities we have as a Diocese. We have begun to respond to those questions in seven different areas of focus.

The first two parts of our common vision process continue. But a third question has come into focus over the last few months and will be our focus for the remainder of this year. How do we all share in this common vision? How do we enable every local church, every deanery, every benefice, every parish, every Christian to share in this process and find our place?

That question was our focus as the Bishop’s Council gathered at High Leigh a few weeks ago with over a hundred representatives nominated by each Deanery. It is my focus this morning. It will be our focus at four Area Days in the autumn. We hope every parish will share in those.

The challenge is significant and vital. How do we help one another move forward together in good and appropriate ways? We are, as we know, a living growing network of more than a thousand churches, chaplaincies and schools across three counties, serving vastly different communities. Each local place has its own texture and story, and so does each church. We are large churches and small churches. We are churches of every different tradition. We are chaplaincies and schools as well as parishes. How do we all find our place and discern what we are called to do as we work together?

There is a powerful moment in the story of the call of the first disciples told in Luke 5. Jesus is teaching by the lakeside. He gets into the boat of Simon Peter. After he has finished teaching, he says to Simon: “Put into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch”.

Simon answered, “Master we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets”.

They put into deep water. They find a miraculous catch. Simon falls to his knees, saying: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”. Jesus says to him: “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching people”.

I hope that this is the moment when we want to say to each other as parishes and benefices and deaneries:

“Put into deep water and let down your nets for a catch”.

I expect that some people at least will respond in a similar way to the disciples: “Look, we have worked all night and caught nothing”. Ministry has not been too fruitful of late. The things we have done are not really making a difference.

But I hope they will go on to say: “Because that is the call of Jesus we will let down the nets”.

And I hope that in many different places, there will be the equivalent of a miraculous catch of fish: new disciples; renewed vocations in the workplace; a fresh relationship with schools; new congregations planted; childrens and youth work renewed; good news for the poor; the captives set free; signs of the Kingdom in ways we do not expect.

And I hope that in many different places we will fall down on our knees to God in wonder and amazement: “Depart from me O Lord for I am a sinful person” as we see the great harvest of the Kingdom beyond our expectations.

Two important principles

How do we help every parish and benefice and deanery engage with this big vision for mission as a more Christ-like Church? Before I talk about some very practical tools, let me first establish two important principles.

The first turns around that moment in the gospel story where Simon Peter responds to Jesus:

“If you say so I will let down the nets”.

If our common vision process is only about doing what the Bishop says or what the Diocese says then we will not bear fruit. The Church of Jesus is simply not that kind of organisation. I do not have the power or the authority to enable this vision to happen or to persuade PCC’s in distant corners of the Diocese to do any part of it. Nor do I want such authority.

The only person in the life of the Church who is able to call the Church to mission is Christ. It is when the local church hears the call of Christ that we will let down the nets: because you say so. That is why the process of renewal begins and continues and ends in encountering God in Jesus Christ and setting Christ again at the centre of our common life. As we focus on Christ then we begin to hear in different ways that call to be good news to the poor and set the captives free. We hear again the command to put out into deep water and let down the nets. We engage in mission in ways which are life-giving to the church do not drain away our energy.

Because you say so. Because Christ says so: Jesus who is fully God and fully human. Christ who shows us what God is like and Christ who shows us what it is to live an abundant life.

Many a parish vision statement flounders because God’s people do not first catch a fresh vision of Christ and all they hear is because the Vicar says, so I will let down the nets. Even more diocesan visions fail because God’s people do not first catch a fresh vision of Christ. All they hear is because the Bishop says so I will complete my mission action plan. But when we hear the call of Christ in the Scriptures and in the beauty and need of the world, then we are ready for the deep.

That is why it is vital to keep our call to be Christ-like right at the centre of everything we do in common vision. That’s why it is vital for local churches to engage with this process at the right pace. That is why tools and resources need to be full of hope and life and full of Christ’s call, not ours.

My second principle is that this common vision and call will unfold in very different ways in our very different deaneries and parishes.

We are not all the same. We are not all in the same place in our growth and development.

God’s Spirit is a Spirit of infinite variety and creativity. Right from the beginning, let’s give one another the opportunity to do things differently. That is essential because of our different contexts, but also it’s something to delight in for its own sake.

Another danger of parish and diocesan visions is that they value too much the virtues of standardisation, efficiency and control: a tendency that John Drane and others have called the McDonaldisation of the Church.

But those virtues are the opposite of the gifts the Spirit brings of creativity, diversity, new gifts and life. It is those gifts we need to cherish in our common vision process. Church is often renewed through what happens at the margins and on the edge. Church is rarely renewed from the centre and by the plans of bishops.

Our goal is not to encourage as many churches as possible to do the same thing in the same way. Our goal should be to encourage churches to engage in common vision in a thousand different ways according to local discernment and to learn from one another as we go.

New tools and resources

So what are the tools we are developing to help local churches and deaneries engage with the process? They are summarised in this leaflet.

Development fund documentationThe first is our development fund, which is formally launched today. All the documents about the fund are live on the website now. Applications are open for the first round of funding. We are making £1 million per year available for three years to support local mission. Not every response to common vision will need funding. Many will be resourced locally. But making funds available in these ways we hope will help and encourage local creativity and diversity and lead to the renewal of good local mission.

PIcture of some of the cards from the Parish Planning Tool

The second is our Parish Planning Tool, building on all we have learned through Mission Action Planning and appreciative enquiry tools and Partnership for Missional Church. We hope that parishes and deaneries will pick up and begin to engage with the tool as we move into the autumn as the time is right for you to renew your present plan.

The Parish Planning Tool is not something you have to use. It is a resource to help. It’s a tool which is designed to build hope and confidence and put the value of being a more Christ-like Church right at the heart of our planning for mission. The Parish Planning Tool is in its final stage of development. It will be published in August for use in September and can be pre-ordered here.

Cover image, principles for Deep Water FishingThe third is a new series of Bible Studies, Principles of Deep Water Fishing (available to pre-order), which I hope will resource this particular part of our common vision process. They are based on the talks I was able to give at the High Leigh conference on Acts 16-20, and I hope will help local churches catch the vision for what it means to put out into Deep Water.

The fourth is a series of four Area Days in the autumn. Invitations will go out to every parish in the next week or so and we will invite every place to send some people to catch the next stage of the vision and to work with the new planning tool.

Common vision in the life of the Diocese

Finally and briefly, what is happening to common vision in the life of the Diocese? There are new developments in each of the seven focus areas. These were reported at High Leigh, and the short films of those reports are on the diocesan website.

Our plans for chaplaincy in schools are moving forward well. Personal Discipleship Plans have gone well in the pilot stages and are beginning to be rolled out across the Diocese. We are preparing two major bids to the national Strategic Development Fund to support the development of new congregations, the first for the whole Diocese and the second focusing on Milton Keynes; environmental audits are being slowly taken up by parishes; our working group on children and young people is due to report in the autumn.

The Bishop’s Staff and Bishop’s Council have given very careful thought to the proposal to increase our capacity in the three large Episcopal Areas. As you know, three of our archdeaconries are twice the average size, and the archdeacons’ workload is increasing. We agreed in May to a proposal to appoint three full-time assistant archdeacons, one in each area, to build on the excellent work being done by our current assistant archdeacons. We propose funding that for the initial year from our common vision funds and then blended funding thereafter hopefully thereafter as part of our normal running budget with the proportion increasing by 20% per annum. However, we recognise that this decision needs to be fully owned and understood by this Synod and so we will bring this one back in November with a paper to give Synod a full opportunity to comment before we move ahead.

There is much more going on in the life of the Diocese than can be embraced by common vision. The 2018 Synod Reports give a fuller picture. I also want to draw Synod’s attention to the development of our voluntary chaplaincy to LGBTI people and their families that fulfils one of our commitments in the Pastoral Letter, Clothed with Love which we issued in November.

We are called together to put into deep water and let down the nets. We are called to do this not because of any human imperative or scheme. We are called to do this because of the call of Christ. May Christ continue to be at the centre of all we seek to be and do together.

Bishop of Oxford
Presidential address to Diocesan Synod
15 June 2019

Watch Bishop Steven deliver this address

Click the speaker icon in the bottom right of the video frame to switch on audio.

The Time is Now: The past, present and future of climate change

 

I’m taking time out on Wednesday 26th June to be in Westminster. On that day the Climate Coalition will draw together thousands of people from every corner of Britain. We will be there to tell our politicians that the time is now to end our contribution to climate change and protect our natural environment. There will be a march and a mass lobby of MP’s. Please come and join us. Full details are here theclimatecoalition.org/thetimeisnow

I’ll be there with many of our senior team and, I hope, hundreds of people from the Diocese of Oxford. It’s good that each of us takes responsibility for our own waste and energy. It’s great our churches are having energy audits and thinking about their investments. But to deal with the greatest crisis of the age: the growing climate catastrophe we also need to make our voice heard with many, many others.

Why now?

This summer, the Government will decide whether or not it will plan to end the UK’s contribution to climate change by committing to a net zero emissions target. The recent report of the UK Committee for Climate Change believes it is possible and necessary to do that by 2050. Earlier would be better.

This summer Government will also have the opportunity to agree to a new, strong Environment Bill. We are in the midst of political turmoil as a nation. All of our national attention is consumed by Brexit and a change of Prime Minister.

This is the moment to put climate change back on the political agenda. That can only happen as people show we care enough to be there.

The bishops of the Anglican Communion will come to Lambeth in 2020, many from areas of the world already scarred by drought and storms and deserts and rising sea levels. They are our sisters and brothers. What will we say to them? The United Kingdom is bidding to host the vital United Nations Climate Change Conference, also in 2020. These are the critical make or break years for the future of the Earth. Can we make our voice heard?

In the story of Genesis, God places the man and the woman in the garden to till it and keep it, for the blessing of the Earth, not its exploitation. John 3.16 reminds us that God so loved the world, the cosmos, whole of creation that he sent his Son to save it. But faced with a growing climate crisis, there has been insufficient energy or interest across the Church in recent years.

There are some hopeful signs and prophetic voices. David Attenborough continues to speak powerfully for the Earth through books and documentaries. Greta Thunberg has mobilised a generation to seek to lift climate change up the political agenda. We must not leave them to carry this issue alone, or to the more strident and militant voices that will grow unless governments respond with action and commitment.

Three new books are unflinching in the lessons they have to share with us. They spell out the urgent need for a global, political and economic way forward:

Learning from the past: Losing Earth

Nathaniel Rich has recently published Losing Earth: the decade we could have stopped climate change. Rich tells the story of the attempt to limit global warming in from 1979 to 1989 by restricting greenhouse gas emissions. For a short time there was a window, following the discovery of the “hole” in the ozone layer. Action was taken globally to restrict the use of gases which caused this.

But our politicians failed us when it came to global warming. More carbon has been released into the atmosphere since 1989 than in the entire history of civilisation preceding the first global climate change conference. Why have our politicians failed us? Partially, it’s because you and I, the voters in the democracies, looked away. We simply could not face the reality of what was coming towards us. We still can’t.

The New York Times recently published an interactive presentation by Nathanial Rich. It’s well worth a look. 

Learning from the future: The Uninhabitable Earth

A second journalist looks to the future. David Wallace Wells published The Uninhabitable Earth: A story of the Future earlier this year. The opening line of the book is all you need to know:

“It is worse, much worse than you think”.

The book explores the catastrophic effects of present and future climate change (future means within my lifetime and the lifetime of my children). The chapter headings are sobering enough: heat death (as temperatures rise), hunger (as we cannot grow food), drowning (as sea levels rise), wildfire (as nature burns) and unbreathable air.

Today, 5 June, is World Environment Day, and the theme is growing air pollution. A report published yesterday by the European Academies Science Advisory Council concludes that almost 30,000 early deaths a year in the UK could be prevented by ending the burning of fossil fuels.

The substance of every single chapter of Wells’ book was worse than I expected it to be. The science is irrefutable. We are on a path to three or four or more degrees of global warming. Radical change is needed now to limit that warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees. We are currently failing. Even if we are “successful”, we are still talking about damage limitation.

Half of all British Co2 emissions come from 4 sources; inefficient construction, food waste, electronics and clothing. In the US, the same 4 categories account for 66 per cent of wasted energy.

Eliminating Co2 increase now is much easier than (theoretically) trying to remove it later. Wallace Wells makes this point forcefully and highlights the gap between theoretical, technological promise and current reality.

At the present rate of change, a MIT 2018 study shows that we will take 400 to years to get to fully clean energy. And while the cost of solar energy has fallen 80% since 2009, current technology proof-of-concept plants show we would need a billion Carbon Capture and Storage plants to reduce the carbon count by just 20ppm.

The second part of the book explores the central paradox of climate change: at one level we know that change is happening, yet we do nothing year after year – in fact, together we are creating an abyss of human suffering. I will explore this further in a future article, but the question we face is stark: ‘Will we simply burn ourselves up and destroy the environment we need to survive? Will the Earth we love become as barren as Mars and Venus?’

Lessons for the present: There is No Planet B: a handbook for the Make or Break Years

Mike Berners Lee is a professor in the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University. He’s written one of the best practical handbooks on how to live in the present and on what needs to change.

There are no single, simple solutions. We all have our responsibilities. Flying less or changing our energy supplier or eating less beef are all good things to do. But to avert this catastrophe we also need to look at the larger picture…

 

The time is now

We need a global, political and economic way forward. An essential building block is a national, political and economic way forward. The only way to do that is for as many people as possible to find their voice, to contact their Member of Parliament.

You can do that at any time, but it is simply more powerful when we do it together. Come and join us on 26th June.

If you are coming from the Diocese, please let me know too. I’ll see you there.

 

+Steven
5 June 2019

An (unauthorised) background paper for the General Synod. Read more