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

Some of the hardest conversations we will ever have are about death.  How do you begin even to raise the subject with those you love?  How do you talk about your deepest hopes and fears, your dreams for your life, your pain and anxiety, your concern for those around you?

Talking about death isn’t easy for anyone these days.  Earlier generations didn’t share our hesitation.  There is a line in the old Prayer Book which says: “In the midst of life we are in death”.  For my grandparents generation that was true.  Life expectancy was shorter.  Most people would experience death in their family more often.  The dead were buried in the centre of the village.  Talking about the end of life was natural and normal.

Nowadays, no-one would dream of building a crematorium in the town centre.  We build them on the edge of town, hidden behind trees. They are often disguised to look like libraries.

But whatever your religious beliefs, death is part of life.  All of us will die.  And all of us will come face to face with the death of those we love.  Most people care very deeply about our life enduring in some way.  Most can identify with a verse from the Bible which says that God has put eternity into our minds[1].  We yearn for something more, but we can’t always articulate what that something is.

The NHS now encourages patients who may be near the end of life to have an honest conversation with their GP about dying.  That has to be a good thing.

Last week the Church of England launched a new initiative called Grave Talk.  Grave Talk is an invitation to anyone in the wider community to come and have a conversation with others about bereavement, death and dying.  Grave Talk is offered in a café style environment, over tea and cake.  There are question cards on the tables to help people begin the discussion about death and dying, about funerals, about the journey of bereavement.

Grave Talk sits alongside the normal, regular ministry of Church of England clergy and lay ministers taking funerals in every community in the land.  Many people still opt for a Church of England minister to take their funeral even though they may not be regular churchgoers.  A funeral taken by a Church of England minister will always have a theme of hope, based on the Christian belief in resurrection from the dead.  The Church and its ministers offer care both before and after the service from within the local community.  Every funeral service is different, unique to the person who has died but bringing the great resources of Christian faith.

Grave Talk offers a way that people can think about these things in conversation with others long before they become a personal issue.  I hope that many churches and many people in this Diocese will take up the idea from time to time.

As we are honest about the end of our lives, so many other things begin to fall into perspective.  As we face the possibility of our own ending, so there is often a new beginning, a question, an enquiry about faith and life and meaning.  A search begins which will often lead us back to God.

The Church has been helping people in our communities to reflect on questions of life and death for countless generations.  Through all of that reflection the faith of the Church remains the same.

In the words of St Paul, used at every funeral service

“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8.38-39).

In Christ, there is no need to be afraid.


[1] Ecclesiastes 3.11, RSV translation.


People in Britain spend more time online than they do sleeping: 8 hours 41 minutes a day according to an Ofcom survey in 2014.  That’s twice as much time as the average person spends watching television.  The same “average” person checks their phone 113 times a day.

Last Sunday, I was asked to preach on the theme of being a disciple online at All Saints Church,

Woodlands, near Doncaster.  What does the Bible have to say about how to be a Christian on Twitter or Facebook, in emails or texts?  How are we salt and light in that part of God’s world?

I turned to the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament.  Proverbs is made up of over 400 short, pithy

sayings, most under 140 characters.  They are thought provoking, memorable and full of wit, just like a good tweet.


So here are my top ten Proverbs from the Old Testament for users of Facebook and Twitter and other online media.  The words in italics are my own, very short, application of each verse.

  • A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches
    Proverbs 22.1
    Take care of your reputation online and offline
  • Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than a brother
    Proverbs 18.24
    Friend is a big word not a small word; friendship is a gift and a blessing
  • Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another
    Proverbs 27.17
    We grow as people through wit, humour and interaction online and offline
  • Better is a little with righteousness than a large income with injustice
    Proverbs 16.8
    We spend much of our time online buying and selling and banking. Financial honesty and transparency is key; pay your taxes
  • Like a city breached, without walls is one who lacks self control
    Proverbs 25.28
    Self control is needed in normal life and even more in the private world of online interaction. When it goes, we are soon overwhelmed.   
  • A gossip goes about telling secrets but one who is trustworthy keeps a confidence
    Proverbs 11.13
    Holding confidences is as important in texts, emails, facebook and twitter as in real life
  • A gentle tongue is a tree of life but perverseness in it breaks the spirit
    Proverbs 15.4
    Words have real power to build up and to pull down.  Use them well. 
  • The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels, they go down to the inner parts of the body
    Proverbs 18.8
    So do rumours circulating on the internet.  Beware.
  • Like vinegar on a wound is one who sings songs to a heavy heart
    Proverbs 25.20
    It’s well worth taking the trouble over what you say. Engage brain and heart before posting. 
  • A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver
    Proverbs 25.11
    And its worth taking trouble over the way you say it….

+Steven Sheffield

The Cathedral held a dawn service on Easter Day this year.  I set the alarm for 4.30 in the morning for a 5.30 start.

The service began in darkness: readings and prayers from the Old Testament looking back to creation, to the Exodus, to the prophets longing for God’s kingdom.  As dawn broke, we moved outside to the great entrance.  New fire was kindled in a brazier. We lit the new Easter candle.

Together the congregation moved into the Church proclaiming with wonder once again this profound and life changing news that Jesus Christ rose from death on Easter Day.

The Christian faith is not based on a dream or a projection or a myth but an event in history.  This event was witnessed by those who were not expecting it, unexplained by those who opposed it, written down by those who gave their lives in testimony, and attested by countless generations of Christians who have themselves encountered the risen Christ in scripture and sacrament, in prayer and fellowship.

This is the life changing, death disarming, fear destroying, mind transforming, joy bringing, grief shattering, kingdom proclaiming, history making, culture shaping truth that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day.  God offers to everyone forgiveness and new life.

But how can anyone believe in the resurrection of the dead?  Death seems so final.

St Paul uses this very simple picture in 1 Corinthians 15.  He asks us to imagine seed: the kind you plant in the ground.  Think of the pip in the apple, or a sunflower seed, or the stone in the heart of a peach.

No matter how long you look at a dried peach stone, no-one could possibly imagine that this hard, dry object could possibly change and not only change but grow and not only grow but become a whole tree, bearing leaves and flowers and fruit for years and years.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead, says Paul.  Death seems so final.  But we only see part of the picture.  A person’s life and soul and personality rests with God after death, like the DNA hidden deep in the stone of a peach.  God in his love and grace and power is able to raise them to a new and deeper and richer kind of life, life without end.

How can we know this to be true?  Because of what Christians celebrate in the fifty days of Easter.

Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.


On Thursday of this week, I will be taking part in two profound symbolic actions in the Cathedral which have humility at their very heart.

The first is the Royal Maundy.  Her Majesty the Queen will distribute gifts to eighty-nine men and eighty-nine women, honoured for their service to church and community.  The tradition goes back hundreds of years and looks back to the moment at the last supper when Jesus knelt and washed the feet of his disciples.

It was at that moment when Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: love one another. We take the name Maundy from the Latin for new commandment (novum mandatum).  The gift of money is a symbolic and practical expression of love for others and, especially, love for the poor.

The recipients gathered in the Cathedral a couple of weeks ago for the Maundy Lecture. The Lord High Almoner told us that the Maundy is the only honour in our national life where the Queen comes to the recipient: she not only travels to Sheffield but also moves within the service to each person to make her gift – a moment we will never forget.

Later that same day, after the royal party have left the city and the crowds have gone, the Cathedral community will gather, like many others all across the Diocese to remember the events of the Last Supper.  In that service, I will take a towel and a basin of water, as Jesus did, and wash the feet of twelve of the congregation.  The service is a powerful reminder to follow the example of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.

The theme of humility runs through Holy Week.  Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday riding on a donkey.  He is arrested whilst praying in a quiet garden.  He is silent for much of his trial.  He responds to mockery, to violence, to danger with gentleness.  In his own agony and passion, he tenderly cares for his friends.

I offer two reflections on these two actions.  The first is that humility remains an essential part of all leadership: in the family, in the church, in the wider community.  The Christian tradition of reflection on leadership in communities goes back over three thousand years: it is the oldest and richest seam of reflection on leadership the world has ever known.  At its very heart, all the way through, however you slice it, is this profound and wonderful quality of humility as essential for wise and good leadership in communities.

Our nation will be thinking a great deal about leadership over the coming weeks in the General Election campaign.  Humility is essential as part of that debate in the qualities of the candidates, in the promises which are made, in their vision for this city and region and for the life of our nation.

But, second, humility is not just for leaders.  The foot washing can be misunderstood.  The lesson Jesus draws is very clear.  He does not say: “So if I have washed your feet so your leaders should wash the feet of those they serve”.  Jesus goes much, much further: “You ought also to wash one another’s feet”.

Each of us is called to humility.  Each of us is called to love and to serve.  This calling is rooted in Christ’s love for us, Christ’s offering of himself for us.  Humility is to be at the heart of all we are.

+Steven Sheffield

crossroadsTwenty-one bishops from across the north of England are visiting the Diocese of Sheffield in September for four days of mission together, led by the Archbishop of York.  We’ve called the mission “Crossroads”.

As far as I know, it’s the first time so many bishops have worked together in mission in this way in a single Diocese in the long history of the Church of England.  Many are bringing teams of young adults to work with them.  The Bishops are from every Diocese in the Province of York and from every tradition.  They include the most recent Bishops to be consecrated for the north: Bishop Libby Lane of Stockport and Bishop Philip North of Burnley.

After an initial service of commissioning in the Cathedral on Thursday 10th September, the Bishops will be assigned to different deaneries.  They and their teams will stay with clergy and parishioners.  The Bishops and their teams will lead hundreds of different community visits and events on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  They will join in services in local parishes on Sunday morning (13th).  We will end the Crossroads mission with a single, large scale event on Sunday afternoon (details to be announced).

Born in prayer and carried forward in prayer

This four day mission to the Diocese of Sheffield was born in prayer.  In May 2014, the Archbishop of York invited all the bishops of the north to join him for 36 hours of prayer on Holy Island, one of the cradles of Christian faith in northern Britain.

One of the convictions born in the bishops as we prayed together was that God was calling us to engage in evangelism together to the North of England.  The idea was born of bishop’s visiting one Diocese each year in sequence, if possible with teams of young adults.  The dates are already booked for similar missions to Blackburn next year and Durham in 2017.

This means that Bishops across the Province will be praying for us and later this week, Bishops will be linked with the Deaneries they will be visiting in September.

However the four days of mission also needs to be rooted in prayer in this Diocese and I would ask that it is the focus of regular prayers and that we pray together for many people to hear the good news of Jesus through that four days in September.

What’s the aim of the mission?

Our aim is to sow the good seed of the gospel in many different places in September.   We want to go to people who are currently outside or on the edge of the Church.  Our hope is that through Crossroads, many people will join enquirers courses in the autumn and come to a living and lifelong faith.

We work together and in partnership with God’s grace in an annual cycle of sowing the seed of the gospel in the summer and early autumn; offering groups for enquirers and new believers from October to Easter and deepening the discipleship of every Christian from Easter to the summer.  The Crossroads mission exactly fits this pattern.

What can we do now?

Area Deans will begin to plan what will happen in your deanery from Easter onwards.  Please begin to think how your own parish could engage with Crossroads.  We’ll be producing some special materials to help with this in due course.

In the meantime please pray for the whole mission for God’s grace and blessing on all that we do.

Here is a bible verse and a prayer to help you begin your preparation:

“Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls”
Jeremiah 6.16

Loving God,
This world you love
stands at the crossroads.
Help us help others
to discover your Way
to know your Truth
and to share your Life
in your dear Son, Jesus Christ.
Inspire us by your Spirit
to sow the good seed of the gospel
throughout this Diocese
with imagination and compassion,
that many will come to know you
and many will be strengthened in their faith,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord

whoismyneighbour-pages-1Less than two thirds of the population cast their vote in the last General Election in 2010.  Less than half of under 25’s turned out to vote.  People feel detached from politics.

Our society needs fresh vision.  We face different threats and problems at home and across the world.  An election campaign is an opportunity for us to think hard, to debate and to have a conversation about what kind of world we want to build, about what kind of society we want to see.

On Shrove Tuesday, the House of Bishops issued a Letter to the People and Parishes of England for the General Election 2015.  The full text is available online here: Who is my neighbour? Alternatively, click on the image to the right.  I want to commend it for careful study and reflection in every parish.

The purpose of the letter is not to tell people how to vote.  The purpose is to encourage all Christian people to engage with the election and to use our votes thoughtfully, prayerfully and with the good of others in mind.

The letter is also an appeal to politicians of all parties to raise the quality of the debate.  We need our politicians to be people of integrity and to offer real leadership in uncertain times.  Politics needs to rise above a series of promises to one or other part of the electorate to deliver a slightly better deal to some in terms of wealth creation, welfare or tax relief.

There are big issues at stake in this election: Britain’s role in Europe and in the rest of the world; the fairness of our society; the protection of the vulnerable; the size of the state, our care of the environment and the role of public services.

There are 16 Parliamentary constituencies within the Diocese of Sheffield including the seats of two of the current party leaders.  The churches and other faith communities form a significant part of the electorate.  We are present in every single community, we are engaged with urban and rural issues, with rich and poor, together we are making a vital contribution to the common good.

I will be writing to all the candidates in every constituency in the Diocese with a copy of the Bishop’s Letter and encouraging them to engage with the churches and faith communities and the issues they bring.

Please pray for the candidates and for the General Election.  Please engage with the debate and conversation which the Bishop’s Letter has begun before and after 7th May.  Please vote and encourage everyone you know to vote as well.

The Bishops’ Letter asks the question: “Who is my neighbour?” and holds out a vision that we will not build a society of strangers but a community of communities. That vision for our world is at the heart of the scriptures.  Jesus himself teaches us to pray: “Your kingdom come”.  Let us not neglect our responsibility as citizens and as Christians to engage with the debate around us.

+Steven Sheffield

blog-steven-croft-1How should a Christian think and speak about climate change?

Climate change is a present reality not a future threat.  It’s a present reality for millions of the poorest people in the world who are affected today by rising sea levels, by changing weather patterns, by water shortages and violent storms.

On Saturday, Hope for the Future offered a training day in Sheffield for Climate Change ambassadors.  It was a privilege to be there.  Hope for the Future is an ecumenical, nationwide campaign to encourage and equip individuals, churches and groups to lobby their MP on climate change.  Further details are here:  http://www.hftf.org.uk

2015 is a key year for Climate Change campaigners.  Action to prevent climate change has to be global to make a difference.  This year, there are a series of key international conferences and meetings.  The UK has the potential to play a leading role in all of these, whatever government is in power.  Now is the time for the churches to speak out.

The different aid agencies and charities have formed the Climate Coalition (http://www.theclimatecoalition.org).  Big things are planned for Valentine’s Day in a couple of weeks time.  Pope Francis is to issue a major encyclical later in the year.  Christian Aid, Tear Fund, CAFOD and others are all mobilizing their supporters.

But what will move us to take action?  One of the most helpful stories to reflect on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10).  Almost everyone knows it.  A man is travelling down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  He is set upon by robbers and left for dead.  Over 66% of the people who travel down the Jericho Road that day see the problem but they do nothing about it.  They pass by on the other side.

meetingThe Samaritan is different.  He sees and is moved with compassion.  Compassion moves him to action.  That is exactly the journey many of us need to take in respect of climate change.  We need to see what is happening and its consequences.  We need to be moved with compassion.  We need to take action: in campaigning for change, in changing our habits and in encouraging others to do the same.

What helps people to make that change?  Jesus tells the parable to answer a lawyer’s question: who is my neighbour?

Think about it.  People in the Philippines, in Bangladesh, in Bolivia, in Malawi, affected by climate change today are my neighbours.  The generation now being born, who will live through enormous climate trauma if we do nothing are my neighbours.  To love them means to take action, to do something.

My full reflection on the Good Samaritan is available here.

For ideas on what action to take please go to one of the websites above.

Hope for the Future have partnered with Operation Noah to deliver a second training day in London on March 14th exploring our Christian call to climate action. This will include contributions from Bishop Richard Cheetham, Our Voices and CAFOD.  More details on the website.


We begin a new course in the Diocese of Sheffield tomorrow called Leading Well.  It’s a new three year rolling programme for incumbents across the Diocese.  The first cohort of around twenty are mainly in their first three years of their first incumbency.  We also invited everyone who has moved into a new post in the last year.

What will happen?

There are number of different elements to Leading Well.

  • A 36 hour residential for each cohort as they begin
  • Six study days through the year
  • An annual three day retreat for the whole group
  • Mentoring support for everyone and
  • Small group learning and support (mainly through the study days)

We hope to start a new cohort each January for 15-20 people.  We will give priority to those beginning their first incumbency or beginning new incumbent roles (and the course will be a condition of appointment under common tenure).  We have over 100 people in incumbent level roles across the Diocese so over five years, most people will have the chance to be part of the programme.

Over the three years we will explore pastoral leadership in each of its dimensions: watching over yourself (spirituality, care of self, resilience and pacing yourself); working with individuals and teams; growing the life of the church and outward facing leadership in the community.

The course will be well grounded in Scripture and the Tradition and in a deeply Christian view of pastoral leadership.  We will also draw on the best of the human sciences and the wisdom of other traditions.  We start tomorrow with a session on how to begin well in a new parish and a bible study on Reheboam’s choices in 1 Kings 12.

Our aim is to build, year by year, a stronger, better equipped and better supported community of incumbents across the Diocese who are able themselves to lead sustainable, growing, Christ like communities.  That’s vital for the well being of the churches in this diocese and for the communities they serve.

Why this course at this time?

Many dioceses have leadership programmes for their clergy (about half the last time I counted).  We’ve been exploring something like this in Sheffield for some years but haven’t yet found the right model.

In my observation, the role of an incumbent is becoming more not less demanding for a whole variety of reasons.  The learning is steepest when a person moves from being a curate to a vicar or else moves from one parish to another.  That’s the time for maximum support.  Recent research demonstrates very clearly that courses in leadership make a significant difference to clergy and to their parishes.

Who will be leading?

We hope that everyone who comes to Leading Well will want to be collaborative, adaptable and mission minded.  The course is led by a team of three: Helen Bent, Mark Cockayne and myself.  All three of us have had significant experience of leading this kind of programme in different places.  We will be drawing in guest speakers from inside and outside the Diocese for the one day courses.

For my own part, I’m really looking forward to becoming a hands on theological educator again and working with a small group of incumbents in depth.  That’s not because I know all the answers.  I will probably learn as much if not more as anyone else on the course.  It’s because, I believe, Leading Well has the potential to help everyone who comes find new resources for their leadership and become the very best pastoral leader they can be.

What is the remit for this task group?

The way we encourage, prepare and form lay and ordained ministers is critical for the future mission of the Church of England.

This Task Group was asked to look at the resourcing of that ministerial education right across the Church.  We currently invest around £20 million per annum in initial education of ordained ministers.  That funding is pooled between dioceses.  Individual dioceses have their own budgets for lay education, for curate training, for continuing ministerial education.

Are we using those resources in the best possible way?  Are we recruiting and training the right numbers of clergy and lay ministers with the right gifts for the future?  Are we offering them the best possible formation and training to equip and support them in their ministry.

What vision informs your recommendations?

We have a vision of a growing church with a flourishing ministry.  Bishops and Dioceses have told us that they want to see all clergy equipped to work collaboratively, greater flexibility and deeper effectiveness in mission.

Dioceses have also told us that they want to hold the numbers of stipendiary clergy steady at around 8,000 over the next decade.  That’s vital to sustain ministry in parishes right across the land.

But because of the age profile of the clergy and retirements, the current predictions are that the number of stipendiary clergy will fall to around 6,500.

We need to take that gap between aspiration and reality seriously.  The whole Church needs to pray for vocations and the Church needs to take action to raise the number of candidates offering for ministry over the next ten years, we suggest by around 50%.

We need those candidates on the whole to be younger and more diverse.  We need to improve the quality of their training.  We need to give Dioceses more flexibility on the way in which they invest in candidates before and after ordination.

Increasing the number of candidates will mean increasing the total resource available and investing it in different ways.  We’ve set out twelve proposals for change and the publication of the papers for Synod marks the beginning of a process of consultation about the proposals before they are refined into formal recommendations.  We have more work still to do on developing lay ministry and on the detailed financial proposals.

How did you set about your task?

At the centre of our work was a major piece of work on the effectiveness of ministerial education.  The results of that research have already been published online and are available.

The research looks at every part of the education of the clergy: pre-ordination, initial ministerial education, the training people receive as curates and their ongoing training.

How would you hope that the Synod and the wider church will approach the recommendations?

I hope that Synod and the wider church will take this report very seriously.   We are at a moment of particular opportunity.

There will be a vigorous debate.  I hope that after that debate, the vision and direction of travel will be affirmed right across the Church.  I hope people will begin to pray now with a new urgency for vocations.  I hope that many people will help us refine and develop the proposals for action further in the coming months so that the final recommendations are as good as they can be.

+Steven Sheffield

The report on Resourcing Ministerial Education is available here.

A transcription of the video interview with the Bishop of Sheffield is available here.

The discussion forum on Simplification can be found on the Church of England website here.