We held a consultation on parish share for people across the Diocese this morning.  Parish share is the financial contribution each parish makes to the Diocese to finance ministry costs and central expenses.  We’re in the middle of a review here and the main work of the morning was for those who came to explore three different options.  More details of these will be appearing on our diocesan website in the next few days: Diocese of Sheffield

We have heavy snow in Sheffield at the moment so my expectations were low.  175 people came which was brilliant for such a day representing around 70 parishes and every deanery.  Well done to the whole team.

My task was to give a keynote address to introduce the more practical stuff and what I said is here.

The snow bishop is nothing to do with this morning.  I’ve been away on a conference with our curates for part of this week and the snow bishop was their creation.  Enjoy! Grace and Generosity

Thank you very much for being here this morning and for giving this time to help us discern together how best to move forward in Parish Share.  Thank you for all that you give personally and thank you for all that your parishes are able to give particularly in the present challenging financial climate.

The Letter to the Ephesians calls the Church of Jesus Christ the household of God (1.19).  Every household has to have conversations at key moments about housekeeping and the budget.

My task is to set this important conversation about our diocesan housekeeping in the broader concept of what the Scriptures teaches about money and giving. To set that context I just want to say two things.

What the Bible has to say about money and giving and church finances is focussed for me in two words.  The first is grace.  The second is responsibility.  Grace and Responsibility.

We begin of course with grace.  All of our conversation this morning needs to be set in the context of God’s gracious, generous love.  We see God’s grace in creation: the universe itself is the overflow of God’s nature. God had no need to make the world and all that is in it.  The beauty and variety of the natural world, the abundance of creation, all witnesses to God’s generosity and love.

We see God’s grace in the story of salvation: in God’s call of Abraham to leave his land and giving him an inheritance to make him a blessing to all nations.  We see God’s grace in the call of Moses to bring the Israelites out of poverty and slavery to a land flowing with milk and honey.  We see God’s grace in the giving of the law.  Throughout there is a concern for the proper ordering of society, for mutual responsibility, for care of the weak and vulnerable.  We see God’s grace in the ministry of the prophets who again and again remind God’s people of his great love and mercy and the need for the rich to share what they have and give to the poor.

We see God’s grace most of all of course in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ.  “God so loved the world, says St. John, that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but may have eternal life” (3.16)

“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ”, writes Paul.  “That though he was rich yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8.9).  Paul writes these words in the context of a long passage on Christian giving and mutual support.

The grace of God in salvation is shown not only in Christ’s incarnation but also in his death: in his offering of his life, all he has and all he is, on the cross for our sakes.  The sacrifice of Christ is what achieves and wins so great a salvation for us. Because of his death we are restored to communion with God and to eternal life.  But the sacrifice of Christ on the cross becomes also the pattern for the offering not only of our money but of our who lives in dedication, grace and love:

“I appeal to you therefore brothers and sisters by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual sacrifice” (Romans 12.1).

Isaac Watts great hymn on the passion has as its final verse:

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far to small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

God’s grace continues to be shown in the offering of forgiveness and resurrection life to those who do not deserve it and have not earned it and that includes each one of us.  It is demonstrated in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, in gifts for ministry, in sustaining the Christian community from generation to generation.

Before ever we sit down to do our housekeeping this morning, before ever we begin to talk about parish share and its collection, we need to fill our minds full again of the grace and love of God and the wonder of our salvation. Before we are tempted to speak to one another of how poor we are, we need to remember how rich we are in Christ. Before we say to each other how little we have, we need to remind ourselves how much we have been given. Before we speak of how difficult it is to give, we need to remember how much we have received.  Let this conversation and all the conversations which flow from it be filled with grace, grace, grace and more grace.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1.1).  Amen?

That is why our first response to God’s love and grace should never be complaint but disciplined and careful thanksgiving.  Paul has to write some very difficult letters to correct the Church in the New Testament.  Each one begins with thanksgiving and appreciation for the people he is writing to because they are the saints of God and because God’s love and mercy is shown in them:

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1.15).  We have much to give thanks for.  When I was a parish priest, our parish finances were an annual miracle.  I never knew where the money was going to come from in what was a very poor community.  Every year it came and I gave thanks.  Now I am a bishop, our diocesan finances are an annual miracle.  We serve what is by and large one of the poorest areas of England.  Our diocese is 40th out of 43 dioceses in the league table of the wealth of the region.  Yet the people of this diocese give generously and many give sacrificially to sustain the ministry of God’s church and continue to give in that way even in the midst of an extremely challenging economic downturn.  Thanks be to God for all that means.

So we need to give thanks.  But the Bible also teaches us gently and firmly about the need to take responsibility for our giving, for our generosity to one another, for our responsibility to one another and especially about the responsibility of the rich to help the poor and the strong to help the weak.

That responsibility is underlined in the law and the prophets and in the teaching of Jesus Christ.  It is Jesus who teaches us in the parable of the widows mite that it is the proportion of what we give which is measured by God and not the amount.  The gospels teach us in the stories of Zaccheus and the rich young ruler just how much following Christ frees us from slavery to money.

We are to take a responsible attitude to our individual giving.  We are to aim high.  The Church of England benchmark for giving to and through the Church is 5% of our income.  As a Diocese we average 4.4% at the moment.  We need to aim higher.  Let’s be the first diocese to reach that target.  That will mean many of us hearing the call to give more than 5% for the sake of ministry and mission in our generation.  I hope I don’t need to say this but the call to give financially applies to clergy households as well as to lay households.  It is a call we all share.   There needs to be in every parish, every year, some kind of focus and challenge on money and giving and the opportunity for people to review what they give.

We are to take a responsible attitude together to our giving for the support of stipendiary ministry.  Stipendiary ministry is a precious resource.  It is a vital resource.  It is also a demanding resource to finance.  We are doing all we can as a diocese to distribute our resource of stipendiary ministry wisely and fairly across the diocese and to use our stipendiary ministers in a different way which will lead and is beginning to lead to the growth of the church in this region.  But to do that we need every parish to be responsible in its own gift of parish share: to make the payment of parish share a first priority on your budget, to meet commitments already made, to give regularly.

There are spiritual consequences to our giving because that giving is a measure of our priorities, of our own generosity, of the ordering of our lives. Churches can be generous or selfish just as individuals can.  That selfishness needs to be addressed as the spiritual problem it is.

“Remember this”, writes Paul.  “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9.6).

And we need to be responsible in the household of God for the way in which we invest the money of God’s people.  Last year we reviewed our future plans for parochial ministry and stipendiary ministry in order to ensure the diocese is sustainable and is able by the grace of God to grow in every place.  We have a clear vision and strategy.  This year we are reviewing our central support services and our spending there to ensure it serves the vision and that nothing is wasted.  We need both to invest and to give responsibly.  That is a challenge for the Church in this financial climate as it is a challenge for every other organization.

But as we exercise that responsibility this morning and in conversations across the Diocese this year, we need to be sure that our hearts and minds are filled, first and foremost, with the grace and love and generosity of the God who calls us together.  Only by focusing on God’s grace and love will we see our hearts and lives converted more deeply, our parishes converted more deeply and our region converted more deeply to follow Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, who gave everything for us. Amen.

It’s been a strange season for the Church of England as most people reading this will know.  I think I have to go back around 20 years or so to find a similar time.  We’ve been rocked by the women bishops debate, unable to respond effectively to the government proposals on marriage and reflecting quietly, I guess, on the first census results.

For many people, all of this is very disorientating.  Here are some reflections as we find try and re-orientate ourselves in Advent and prepare for Christmas.  I am writing to myself as much as to anyone else.

Lift up your hearts!

In the midst of all of these storms, the line from the liturgy which has meant most to me over the last few weeks is the call at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer to the whole people of God:  Lift up your hearts.

The call is present in the earliest prayers of the Church.  It has deep biblical roots in Psalm 25.1 (“To you O Lord, I lift up my soul”).  It has roots as well in the final verses of Psalm 24 which we read in Advent: “Lift up your heads, O gates and be lifted up O ancient doors”.

It is a call for narrow hearts to be made wider and deeper as we receive God’s love. It’s a call for bruised and broken hearts to be lifted up to God’s tender mercy.  It’s a call for hearts which are too fixed and mired in earthly things to be raised to heaven.

It is a call to me and I think to all of us in one of the most demanding Advent seasons I can remember, whatever our views on the issues of the day, to lift up our hearts to God’s greatness, to God’s mercy, to God’s glory revealed in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ.  It is only as we make Psalm 25.1 our own (“To you O Lord, I lift up my soul”) that we ourselves are prepared to say to God’s own people and to the world around us: “Lift up your hearts!”

The failure narrative and the change narrative

The census results continue to show a significant shift taking place in society, though not as rapidly as some predicted.  The proportion of people identifying themselves as Christian is now around six in ten, down from seven in ten in 2001.  The number claiming no religion has doubled.

The figures reveal a deep shift which has been unfolding for a century or more.  A few years ago I tried to describe the two most common responses to that shift in the life of the church as the failure narrative and the change narrative[1].

The failure narrative argues that this fundamental shift is primarily caused by our own failures as a church.  If only we believed more deeply, prayed with more faith, changed in this way or that (depending on who is speaking) then we wouldn’t be seeing this fundamental shift in Christian allegiance.

There has been evidence of the failure narrative all around us in the press over the last few weeks as the story is framed as “Church of England loses touch with the nation”.

The failure narrative is an artificial construct often used to argue for particular changes in the life of the Church.  I’ve heard it used to argue for greater use of the Prayer Book, changes to our understanding of marriage or more (or less) emphasis on fresh expressions of church.  It produces poor fruit in the life of God’s people: a sense of depression rather than hope; a blaming of others or ourselves; division; and a debilitating loss of morale. It’s a seductive argument in difficult times but it is medicine which makes the patient more poorly still.

The failure narrative only deepens cynicism and despair.  It blinds us to the many good things happening in the life of local churches and the church nationally.  It is dependent on the idea of a mythical golden age when Britain was a Christian country and church life was straightforward. If you read the accounts of the time it was no easier to be a Christian in 1840, 1912 or 1950.

But the failure narrative fails most of all because it is simply too church-centred. It ignores the reality that the Church exists within a larger global and national culture which is changing in fundamental ways.  It is those larger changes, beyond the control of any single church, which set the climate in which we operate as Christians.  As we look back over the last century those changes have been enormous – the deep shifting of the tectonic plates of our society.  It is not surprising that the relationship between our culture and Christian faith is changing in very significant ways.  But we are simply starting in the wrong place if we begin from the belief that it is all our fault.

Our world is changing rapidly.  Yes, we need to debate how to respond to those changes.  Sometimes individual churches get that right and sometimes wrong and sometimes we just don’t know.  But the fundamental changes are much bigger than any single church.

The biggest piece of learning for me from the Synod of Bishops in Rome was that the Church all over the world is having the same conversation.  The context for that conversation is the difficulty of passing on the Christian faith in the present global, secularizing culture.  We do need to learn new skills, focus our energies in different ways and constantly make decisions about the gospel’s relationship to new and evolving realities. But we need to begin from the common starting place that the whole Church, all across the world, is facing similar challenges and they are caused primarily by fundamental changes beyond our control.

Hope is a virtue   Advent is the season to remember that the most vital virtue to cultivate as the foundation for that ongoing conversation is hope.  Every Christian should repeat to themselves every morning for a year that hope is not a mood but a virtue.  It is not something we feel but something we practise.

In our wider culture, hope has lost all currency as a virtue.  Hope has become a mood: a vaguely positive feeling which fluctuates with the evidence around us, with the weather, with our temperament.

In the Christian tradition, hope is not a mood at all.  “Meanwhile these three remain” writes St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, “Faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love”.

We hold onto a sense that love is not a feeling but a virtue.  We just about hold onto a sense that faith can be a virtue – something to be nurtured and exercised as trust and confidence.  But we are losing hope (literally) as a virtue, a strength of character, to inhabit and live in as a quality in the leadership we exercise and the example we set.  Christians are called to be people of hope not because of the evidence but because of the truth revealed in Christ which is deeper and stronger than the evidence around us.

Finding the compass

I also argued in Jesus People that in a time of uncertainty we often find ourselves as a Church lost and without a map in strange territory. In those moments, we need a compass.   The compass for the church in navigating through questions of great uncertainty must be striving to reflect the character of Christ, as individuals and as a Church.  And, yes, of course, we will fail to do that over and over again.  That’s why we need to hold onto hope, not only for the world but for ourselves.

The character of Christ is reflected in many places in the scriptures but most clearly and concisely for me in the beatitudes of Matthew’s gospel.  We are called as a church, local and national, to be poor in spirit, mourning for the suffering in the world, meek, hungry and thirsty for justice, merciful, pure in heart, peace makers, and willing to suffer for what is right.  That is what it means to be a Christ-like church.  Just to write that list (or to read it) is to recognize how far we are from where we are meant to be – but that is the kind of wholesome repentance which can lead to renewal and to real change together.

Moving to the front foot

But the conversations in Rome revealed and confirmed that there is another primary reponse the Church needs to make to the changing global situation.  That is to steadily shift our resources to the process of forming and shaping disciples.  The churches which are learning how to make headway and to thrive in the present climate are the churches which are making this shift. Again this is true of local churches, of dioceses and provinces and of denominations.

This means recovering, encouraging and in some case discovering afresh the great classical intellectual disciplines and pastoral practices which the Church has always needed in such moments of cultural change.

These include:

  • Apologetics: defending and commending the faith through philosophy, the sciences, the arts and popular culture
  • Contextual mission: the ability to go beyond the church in loving service and careful listening, to pioneer new ecclesial communities as part of the wider church
  • Initial proclamation: the loving and careful communication of the gospel to those who have not heard it before
  • Catechetics: the intentional nurture and formation of disciples who are well grounded in faith and able to live counterculturally

These disciplines will be the engine room of the Church in the next generation.  Any church which wants to move forwards (and by church I mean local church or diocese or denomination) must steadily shift resources and creativity and energy towards these four great disciplines. They need to be at the heart of ministerial training and ministerial practice and at the core of our theological endeavour.  After striving to form the character of Christ, this is the fundamental direction of change we need and which we have been engaging in for a generation.

And finally

So I say to every Christian reading this and to myself: Lift up your hearts! Remember we are living through a time of massive change.  Our vocation is to be a people of hope, whatever is happening around us; a people in whom the character of Christ is being formed, be it ever so slowly; a people shifting our resources steadily to the engine room of mission.

Thanks for reading and I pray you discover the reality of Christ afresh in the Advent and Christmas season.

[1] See Jesus People: what next for the church? CHP, 2004

What happened?

Today was not a good or easy day.  After seven hours of debate and well over a hundred speeches the General Synod did not approve the Measure to enable women to be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England.

The Bishops voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Measure (44 to 3 with 2 abstentions).  The Clergy voted substantially in favour (148 to 45 with no abstentions).  The House of Laity voted in favour but by 64% not the required 66% (132 to 74 with no abstentions).

I spent much of the day attempting to speak in favour, rising to my feet every three minutes or so, but not being called.  Once the speech limit was cut to one minute, I gave up.  The speech was going to be about the biblical basis for the Measure.  I wasn’t sure from the debate whether any of the Synod members changed their minds.  The debate was well chaired – it was just that so many people wanted to speak.

My Statement

My statement to the Diocese and the media is below:

I am deeply saddened that the Measure to
enable women to become bishops was not passed by the General Synod today by a
very narrow margin in the House of Laity.
I give heartfelt thanks to God this evening
for the ministries of the women who are priests and deacons in the Diocese of
Sheffield.  I deeply value and cherish
their ministries as do the parishes where they serve.
I want to affirm my Christian understanding
of the equality of women and men before God, in society and the life of the
I want to affirm my commitment to seeing
women become bishops in the Church of England as soon as is humanly
possible.  This is the view of the
overwhelming majority of bishops in the Church of England.
I will be making a longer statement as the
Diocese of Sheffield gathers for our own Synod this coming Saturday.  The Bishop of Doncaster and I will be meeting
with the women clergy of the Diocese next week to consider ways forward.

I’m holding in my thoughts and prayers this evening not only the women priests and deacons from the Diocese of Sheffield but the scores of women ordinands who passed through Cranmer Hall in my time as Warden and who had looked forward to this day (several of whom are now on Synod); all the women who have been ordained as pioneers and the many, many ordained women I’ve worked with through the years who are doing such brilliant work.  I hope that every congregation with a woman vicar or curate will find some way to show their love and appreciation in the next few days.

I know, of course, that lots of male clergy and many, many lay people will also be deeply saddened tonight as will the people who worked so hard on the Measure for so long.

For those who opposed the Measure, I can’t see that many gains at the moment.  I think there is likely to be a reaction against the decision today in the Church of England as a whole which will make it more not less difficult to secure robust provision in the future.  The Church of England intends to make it possible for women to become bishops so the uncertainties remain for traditional catholics and conservative evangelicals (and if anything those uncertainties are amplified).

What next?

Hard to say exactly.  I think there will be lots of frustration and sadness expressed over the coming weeks and months and lots of questions to God and to the Church.  I would imagine that in time that this will crystallise into a determination across the Church to see this business through sooner rather than later, to keep on listening to those who see things differently, to go on loving and forgiving and getting on with the business of the kingdom and to find new ways forward.  I would imagine that there will be a more robust theological critique of the traditional catholic and the conservative evangelical positions on this issue.  I don’t think for a moment that we will be distracted from our God-given priorities of serving the common good, making disciples and re-imagining ministry for mission.

But basically for all of us it will be business as usual tomorrow.  The Synod debates the Living Wage.  On Friday I’ll be attending the final meeting of the Sheffield Fairness Commission and then the rededication of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Sheffield.  We have our Diocesan Synod on Saturday (largely about budgets) and on Sunday I’m looking forward to being in the parish of Warmsworth and in Chapeltown for confirmations.

The call to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength remains as does the call to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Thanks be to God for all his goodness, for faith, hope and love among his people, for the Church and for the Church of England and for inestimable, wonderful treasure which is the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Today is St. Hilda’s day and I’m on a train this morning travelling to London to the General Synod.  The Synod is due to debate and vote tomorrow on the Measure to enable women to be made Bishops in the Church of England.

The vote has been a long time coming.  It will be very close.  I found it strangely comforting when I was praying this morning that the Synod’s day of preparation is dedicated to Hilda.

Hilda is one of the great Saints of the north of England.  Her life is recorded in Bede’s history (mainly in IV.23 but with references elsewhere.  She died in 680 AD at the age of 66.  Bede tells us that her life was divided into two parts: she lived for 33 years “most nobly in secular occupations” and another 33 “even more nobly in the monastic life”.

Hilda founded a monastery at Monkwearmouth then a year later moved to the new community at Hartlepool.  Some years after that Hilda moved to Whitby to “found or organise” the monastery there:

“She established the same regular life as in her former monastery and taught the observance of righteousness, mercy, purity and other virtues, but especially of peace and charity.  After the example of the primitive Church, no-one there was rich, no-one was needy, for everything was held in common and nothing was considered to be anyone’s personal property.  So great was her prudence that not only ordinary folk but kings and princes used to come and ask her advice in their difficulties and take it.  Those under her direction were required to make a thorough study of the Scriptures and occupy themselves in good works to such good effect that many were found fitted for Holy Orders and the service of God’s altar”

The monastery at Whitby was a mixed community.  Hilda had authority over women and men.  She taught from Scripture, exercised oversight, counselled individuals and established institutions.  Bede goes on to tell us that no less than five men from this monastery later became bishops “all of them men of outstanding merit and holiness”.

Hilda’s reputation spread far and wide:  “she brought about the amendment and salvation of many at a distance who heard the inspiring story of her industry and goodness”.  For the last six years of her life her body was racked with a fever, “but during all this time she never ceased to give thanks to her Maker or to instruct the flock committed to her both privately and publicly”.

Hilda lived in a moment of great cultural change and great missionary opportunity.  Monasteries were alternative communities striving to set a model of radical discipleship.  They were lively centres of prayer and scholarship and mission and points of stability around which a civilisation was able to grow.  Hilda was not the only woman with the responsibility of leading such a community.  The names of other women in similar positions are scattered through Bede’s narrative.

1,400 years ago, at the beginning of the Church in these islands, the English church found a way to use the gifts of women in teaching from scripture, in leadership and oversight, in mission and pastoral counsel.

We live today in a moment of similar cultural change and great missionary opportunity.  We see the beginnings of alternative communities of mission.  The Church of England in our generation must not miss the opportunity to make the very best use of the women God has given to us in teaching, in leadership and oversight, in mission and pastoral counsel.  In our generation this means saying yes, tomorrow, to the Measure to enable women to become bishops.

Earlier this year, I was invited to lead a seminar at Soul Survivor, a Christian festival for young people, on women in leadership.  I shared the seminar with Jude Davis, a colleague from the Diocese of Sheffield and one of the youngest ordained women in the Church of England.  Soul Survivor positively encourages women in leadership and ordained ministry but many of those who come are from churches which are much more cautious (often on scriptural grounds).

Hundreds of young people, mainly women, came to the seminar.  Many of them were keen to serve God with the whole of their lives within the Church and in wider society in leadership roles.  Many of them were being held back by the hesitation they sensed in the Church towards women in leadership and, in particular, the Church’s hesitation about women as bishops.  How many of them, I wonder, were the Hildas of our generation with the capacity to lead many to Christ, to bless God’s church, to be leaders in God’s mission?

Of course we must respect those who cannot accept this move on grounds of their reading of scripture or tradition.  Of course we must make provision for them.  Of course we must build trust and behave in such a way as to deepen that trust within the body of Christ.

But there has been enough delay.  It’s time to move forward. 2014 will be the 1,400th anniversary of the birth of St. Hilda.  It will be a fitting year for the consecration of the first women as Bishops in the Church in her native land.

Eternal God
who made the abbess Hilda to shine like a jewel in our land,
and through her holiness and leadership blessed your church
with new life and unity:
help us, like her, to yearn for the gospel of Christ
and to reconcile those who are divided

Highlights of the week included a visit to the primary school in the village of Laughton on Tuesday.  The school is the oldest school still in existence in South Yorkshire and celebrated its 400 birthday this year.  It doesn’t surprise me in the least that the oldest school in the County has a strong Church connection.  It takes the commitment of Christians to cherish and guard institutions from one generation to the next.  The school is small, warm and friendly with a really high proportion of special needs children (though I wouldn’t have known unless someone told me).  As well as celebrating a 400th birthday, I was also there to dedicate and open a new quiet space in the playground for children who want to sit and talk rather than run around.

On Wednesday, I led our final Deanery evening on Re-imagining Ministry for Mission in the Ecclesall Deanery in the city of Sheffield.  Lots of good people and lots of good questions.  More than a thousand people have come to this series of 12 evenings to reflect with the Bishops and Archdeacons on God’s grace and future patterns of ministry in the Diocese.  If you would like to know what happened and where we are going there is a PDF of the special booklet on our website here:  http://www.sheffield.anglican.org/index.php/follow-the-tour-2012

But the main reason for the post today is my visit to Rotherham this morning for the Remembrance Sunday.  There were around 500 people in the Minster for the special service and at least as many again at the Cenotaph afterwards for the Act of Remembrance.  There was a sense of reverence and occasion in the town as many different generations gathered.  These have been difficult weeks for Rotherham with some tough stories in the national press.  In those moments its important to record the good days and the normal days and the annual rhythm of the year.

This is what I was able to say in the Minster this morning:

“No-one has
greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13). The words of Jesus
Christ, spoken two thousand years ago on the night before he was crucified, the
night before he lay down his life for his friends.


The words have
echoed down the years and they continue to have a special meaning for those
caught up in armed conflict and for all of us today as we remember.  Today is the one
day in the year when we call to mind those who have given their lives in war,
those who have born terrible cost through injury or bereavement or through some
other great sacrifice.  It is one
day.  But that one day is a symbol for
all of the quiet, private acts of remembrance which happen in homes and hearts
throughout the year.  We owe a great
debt to the men and women of our armed services.  That debt is both past and present.


The first world
war is real to me because, when I was fifteen years old, I sat and listened to
my grandfather tell the story of life in the trenches, of how he was shot and
left for dead in no man’s land in the Battle of the Somme, kept alive by a
trickle of rainwater.  He was found and
rescued after three days.  He told me how
one of the stretcher bearers was blown up and killed on the way back to the
front line.  How he carried shrapnel in
his leg and head for the rest of his life and was never able to work normally
again.  Every family here
will have that kind of story and worse.
It wasn’t that my granddad was always talking of his war
experiences.  He told me once and that
was all that was needed.


And for many, of
course, the memories are much more recent and raw, more acute and vivid:
memories of friends and family who have been killed; of units facing action; of
loved ones in danger; of the uncertainty and risk, of courage and heroism in
Iraq, in Afghanistan or some other theatre of war. We make our solemn
act of remembrance today.  A symbol for
all the quiet, private acts of remembrance which happen in hearts and homes
throughout the years.


We live in an age
which does not find it easy to speak of death or suffering.  Most of the time much of our society is in
denial of the reality of death for all of us, not just those who die in
conflict.  We do not want to face it but
all of us will meet our death one day and we are afraid.  We cover up our
fear.  We pursue pleasure and prosperity,
we occupy ourselves with trivia, we worship fame and celebrity. But it is no
surprise that with every year that passes people have fewer resources within
themselves to cope with tragedy and sudden death.


Our society seems
gripped by mood swings.  For much of the
time, people give the impression that life is one long party.  Then a tragedy strikes and we see a vast public
outpouring of grief and questions but questions which find no easy
answers.  We must do better
for our children, for our young people, for the generations still to come.


I stand here to
remind you today that the Christian faith is the ancient birthright and
treasure house of this country.  It is
the faith which shaped our nation, our traditions, our heritage, our values,
our institutions.  The Christian
faith is the place where the deepest questions about life and death, suffering
and pain, meaning and purpose find answers which satisfy.  The Christian faith proclaims the love of God
for each person in creation, the equality and worth of every individual, the
value of sacrifice, the possibility of forgiveness, the offer of eternal life,
the wisdom to live well in good times and in bad, the strength to build
marriages and families and communities which endure.

“No-one has
greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13). In this Act of
Remembrance today we honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for
their country.  But in this Act of
Remembrance we dare to look further at our questions and our fears and our
hopes for the future.  And as you speak
aloud those questions and hopes, I appeal to you to begin the renewal and
rebuilding of your family and your community and your nation by turning again
in a deep and personal way to the ancient and ever new Christian faith, to
Jesus Christ, the one who laid down his life for his friends, to the only one
in history who has overcome death and who offers to each one of us eternal

O God our help in
ages past, our hope for years to come,  Be thou our guard
while troubles past and our eternal home.


Every once in a while I come across a prayer which helps me pray.   I normally stay with it for a while, trying to use it every day.  Sometimes I paste it into the prayers I say each week.

A few weeks ago, I found a prayer of St. Augustine in a copy of a sermon someone handed me to read (for a different reason) and it spoke to me very powerfully.  I don’t remember seeing the prayer before but when I looked it up, clearly it is known and used, particularly in Roman Catholic circles.  However I think it deserves to be better known in the Church of England.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was a Bishop in North Africa and is one of the most influential of the Latin Fathers of the Church.  The prayer isn’t from one of his major works but is thought to date from early in his time as a bishop as he wrestled with a number of complex issues and his own sense of inadequacy before them.

It’s a beautiful prayer of dedication to God.  I think I would rank it alongside the Methodist Covenant Prayer for the power of the words and the honest dedication to God’s cause.  Perhaps Augustine’s prayer influenced John Wesley.

The English translation I was given didn’t really flow so this is my attempt at a revision:

Jesus, Master,
May I know myself and know you.
May I desire nothing if not you.
May I forget myself and love you.
May I do everything because of you.
May I humble myself and exalt you.
May I think of nothing if not you.
May I die to myself and live in you.
Whatever happens may I accept from you.
May I renounce myself and follow you
and always long to follow you.
May I flee myself and fly to you.
May I be worthy to be defended by you.
May I fear myself and fear you,
that I may be among those chosen by you.
May I mistrust myself and trust you.
May I be willing to obey because of you.
May I cling to nothing if not to you
And may I be poor because of you.
Look upon me that I may love you,
Call me that I may see you
And in eternity may I delight in you.

I’ve reproduced the Latin text at the end, together with the reference.

There are several things I love about the prayer.  It is Christ-centred with every line ending with “you”. It is self-aware.  There are two lines in particular where the same word is used for myself and for God:  “May I know myself and know you”; “May I fear myself and fear you”.  There are three lines where the phrase “if not” is used:  “May I desire nothing if not you”; May I think of nothing if not you”; “May I cling to nothing if not to you”.  There are four or more lines (depending on what you include) where the opposite words are used.  I softened the word “hate” in line 4 to “forget” following the traditional English translation but that disguises the opposition to love.  The others are humble and exalt, die and live, mistrust and trust.

Like much of Augustine’s writing, the prayer is deeply scriptural and faithful to scripture but draws the ideas and lines together in a way which distills biblical truth and addresses it back to God and to myself.

Several of the lines have already challenged me deeply: “Whatever happens may I accept from you”; “And may I be poor because of you”.  Several have made me think – especially the three which end “because of you”.  There are patterns in the prayer and the language but they are very subtle.

The final three lines are especially beautiful and worth learning as a short prayer in their own right.

Like all good prayers, this one is a call to holiness.  It’s a prayer for quiet days and retreats, for moments of special dedication or seasons of pondering the way forward.


Domine Jesu/ Noverim me,
noverim Te/ Nec aliquid cupiam
nisi Te./ Oderim me et amem
Te./ Omnia agem propter
Te./ Humiliem me,
exaltem Te./ Nihil cogitam nisi
Te./ Mortificem me, et
vivam in Te./ Quaecumque
eveniant, accipiam a Te./ Persequar me,
sequar Te,/ Semperque optem
sequi Te./ Fugiam me,
confugiam ad Te./ Ut merear defendi
a Te./ Timeam mihi,
timeam Te./ Ut sim inter
electos a Te./ Diffidam mihi,
fidam in Te./ Obedire velim
propter Te./ Ad nihil afficiar,
nisi ad Te./ Et pauper sim
propter Te./ Aspice me, ut
diligam Te./ Voca me, ut vidam
Te./ Et in aeternam
fruar Te./ Amen.

Oratio Sancti Augustini qua petitur intima
Jesus Christi cognotio ac sequel
In Enchiridion Indulgentiarum, Typis
Polyglottis Vaticanis 1952 n.88


We leave Rome in a couple of hours.  The Synod concluded on Sunday morning with a Mass in St. Peter’s with the Pope presiding.  Pope Benedict spoke from the gospel reading about the healing of Bartimaeus.  According to Augustine, the fact that Mark tells us the name of Bartimaeus’ father suggests that he has fallen from prosperity into poverty.  The Synod on the New Evangelisation has been for all those who have lost a sense of richness in Christ and now need healing and spiritual sight again.

The Synod Fathers all concelebrated at the Mass which was a remarkable occasion.  Ann and I were both seated with the Fraternal Delegates, between the Orthodox and the Methodists!  Since the Synod concluded its been good to have a couple of days off in Rome visiting some of the sights and paying a return visit to the Anglican centre at lunchtime today.

I take many good things away with me.  It has been an unusual privilege to take so much time to listen to the deliberations of another part of the Church and of the global Church.  The hospitality and welcome here has been generous.  I find my ecumenical passions have been rekindled.

It’s been stretching intellectually to think about mission through a different set of words and attitudes and to see familiar questions through very different spectacles.  I will go on thinking about the themes of the Synod for many months to come.  I find my commitment to finding new ways forward in apologetics and catechesis and formation for ministry has deepened still further.

It’s been interesting and meet and listen to so many different bishops from so many parts of the world.  As I have said a number of times in this blog, there has been a sense of a group of people seeking Christ and seeking Christ’s way and fully aware of their own need for further conversion.

The biggest piece of learning though has come, I think, from returning part way through the Synod to lead an evening in the Laughton Deanery just south of Rotherham.  As I listened to the comments of the people across the deanery about the joys and questions they wrestled with, I realised very profoundly that this was the same conversation I had been listening to in Rome.  The whole Church across much of the world is asking the same questions and having a similar conversation.

The Church of England, through the grace of God, has found some creative ways forward in mission and the transmission of the faith.  However we have much still to learn from others in different churches and in different parts of the world.

So I am bringing a great deal back with me to the Diocese of Sheffield: a bigger sense of the Church, the world, the gospel and the questions we face and a deeper sense of both the past, the present and hope for the future.

Many thanks to all those who have been following the journey through this blog.  It has been good to share it with you.  The blog will continue though the subjects will be more diverse.

PS: my favourite ice cream flavour (out of many sampled) was lemon.


So when all was said and done, what was the outcome of the Synod of Bishops?

After agreeing the Message from the Synod (the Nuntius – see yesterday’s post), the Synod turned its attention on Friday evening and Saturday morning to agreeing the final list of Propositions. The Propositions go forward to a small group elected by the Synod who do further work on them before submitting them to the Pope as guidance for the future.  Normally they are not published at this stage but a copy has been made available online here:  http://www.vatican.va/news_services/press/sinodo/documents/bollettino_25_xiii-ordinaria-2012/02_inglese/b33_02.html

There are 51 Propositions.  They were read aloud (in Latin) on Friday evening and Saturday morning.  The reading took several hours.  The Fraternal Delegates were not given the text at this stage and nor, of course, did we have a vote.  The Synod Fathers voted on the Propositions both by marking and signing their own texts and by an electronic vote on each Proposition in the full Synod session.  I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets when I say that there was not a great deal of dissent on any of the votes although there were, I gather, some significant alterations made to some of the Propositions after they were examined in small groups.

Many of the Propositions simply affirm or re-affirm present practice in the light of the New Evangelisation.  However, to my Anglican eyes and ears, there was a significant and clear overall direction emerging which resonates with recent Anglican reflection on mission and the transmission of the faith.  Here are eight points worth noting in this respect.

1.  A permanent call to mission.
The Synod represents a further development in reflection on the New Evangelisation in that the Roman Catholic Church clearly perceives a permanent call to engage in God’s mission and to the transmission of the faith both in the countries which have been traditional mission fields and the countries traditionally regarded as Christian (see Propositions 6, 7, 40, 41).

It is proposed that the Church proclaim the permanent world-wide missionary dimension of her mission in order to encourage all the particular Churches to evangelize (7)

The Propositions recognise this both in theory and in suggesting various structural responses, including a permanent Council for New Evangelisation as part of every Bishop’s Conference (40), establishing the study of the New Evangelisation in Catholic Universities (30) and the New Evangelisation to be the integrating element in the formation of priests and deacons (49):

Seminaries should take as their focus the New Evangelization so that it becomes the recurring and unifying theme in programs of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation in the ars celebrandi, in homiletics and in the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation, all very important parts of the New Evangelization.The Synod recognizes and encourages the work of deacons whose ministry provides the Church great service. Ongoing formation programs within the diocese should also be available for deacons.

New Evangelisation therefore comes to occupy a central place within theology and practice similar to that of the mission of God in many of the Protestant Churches and the Five Marks of Mission within the Anglican Communion.

2.  Inculturation
Inculturation is a key concept in the Propositions, introduced as one of the first substantial paragraphs (5).  It’s prominence reveals the dilemma at the heart of so much of the transmission of the faith: how do we communicate an unchanging gospel in a changing world?  Answers are not supplied but there are significant clues in the rest of the document (12, 13, 19).

3. Secularisation (8)
There is an awareness of secularisation in the Propositions as throughout the documents (8).  However there has been little in depth analysis of the problem.  The Synod has rather reversed my view of traditional Roman Catholic strengths and weaknesses in theological method.  Before the Synod, I held the impression of a Church which was strong in its philosophical theology and weaker in its reflection on Scripture.  Actually the Synod has provided wonderful examples throughout of deep Scriptural reflection, many of which will stay with me for a long time.  However it has been less strong on philosophical theology.  There has been little attempt to analyse the roots and causes of secularisation which I associate with Hans Kung and other theologians of the post war generation.

4. The right to proclaim and to hear the gospel (10, 15, 16)
This is rightly a strong theme. The freedom to preach the gospel is felt to be under attack both in the secularised West and in some places from militant Islam.  The worldwide Church needs to make clear its stance not to impose faith on anyone but to assert the right of everyone to choose their religion.

5. Initial proclamation (9)
Proposition 9 calls for major pieces of work to be done on the initial proclamation of the gospel.  This work is to be both theological – describing the heart of the gospel – and pastoral – describing strategies for communicating the faith.  It calls for serious and welcome attention to the theology of evangelism.

6. Apologetics (17, 18, 19, 20, 54, 55)
A major new initiative is called for here though its shape is less precise. Theologians, universities, new media experts, artists and scientists are all called to be involved.  There have been similar calls recently within the Church of England for a major new initiative in apologetics and for more resources to be invested here.

7. Adult Catechesis (28, 29, 37, 38)
Amen to this sentence:

One cannot speak of the New Evangelization if the catechesis of adults is non-existent, fragmented, weak or neglected.

The Synod has rightly paid major attention to the development of catechesis, building on the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Attention is focussed here on the formation of catechists.  Again there have been similar calls recently for a new focus on catechesis within the Church of England and for the development of new materials.

8. New ecclesial communities (43)
Finally the Synod is extremely positive and affirming of all that the new ecclesial communities (movements such as Sant’Egidio) have brought to the life and witness of the Church since Vatican 2.  Again this has been evident through the Synod.  In Church of England language, this is about living out the mixed economy church on a macro rather than a micro level: points of relationship, connection and integration are key between new movements of mission and the established structures of the Church.

Since Vatican II, the New Evangelization has greatly benefited from the dynamism of the new ecclesial movements and new communities. Their ideal of holiness and unity has been the source of many vocations and remarkable missionary initiatives. The Synod recognizes these new realities and encourages them to utilise their charisms in close collaboration with the dioceses and the parish communities, who in turn, will benefit from their missionary spirit.

Overall then there is a significant agenda here. This has been a prayerful, biblical, united and humble Synod which has taken a further step of placing the idea of the mission of God and evangelisation at the heart of the theology and structure and purpose of the Church.  It’s been a privilege to take part.  Thanks be to God.

If you read the Propositions or the Message please bear in mind that the translations are reasonably accurate but don’t always read that well.  It’s worth persevering!

I returned to Rome on Friday morning (this time with Ann) for the final part of the Synod of Bishops here.  It’s been good to step back in to the conclusion of the process which began three weeks ago.

While I have been away the Synod has been working mainly in small groups of about fifteen people.  Each group works in the same language (there are six different languages at the Synod).  The groups have been working on the two main outputs.  The first is the Message (Nuntius) which was read in the main assembly yesterday and the second are the Propositions which form the basis for the advice to the Pope on future direction.

The groups had the opportunity to look at initial texts for the Message and then to approve a second draft.  The Message runs to some 14 pages in the official booklet.

You can find the full English text here:  http://en.radiovaticana.va/articolo.asp?c=633215

The Message is essentially a pastoral document from the Synod to the whole Church.  The Synod Fathers I spoke to were very pleased with its tone and content.  Reading it through yesterday, the Message does authentically represent the Synod I’ve been part of.   It’s a helpful summary of the main themes of the New Evangelisation.

The Bible passage chosen to frame the Message and to stand as a model for the New Evangelisation is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4:

There is no man or woman who, in one’s life, would not find oneself like the woman of Samaria beside a well with an empty bucket, with the hope of finding the fulfillment of the heart’s most profound desire, that which alone could give full meaning to existence. Today, many wells offer themselves to quench humanity’s thirst, but we must discern in order to avoid polluted waters. We must orient the search well, so as not to fall prey to disappointment, which can be disastrous.

Like Jesus at the well of Sychar, the Church also feels obliged to sit beside today’s men and women. She wants to render the Lord present in their lives so that they could encounter him because he alone is the water that gives true and eternal life.

This is a powerful story of cross cultural evangelisation in a situation of great need and, it seems to me, holds great lessons for our age.

The Message goes on then to draw out some of the principal themes of the working document for the Synod which have flowed through all of our discussions.  The new evangelisation is all about a personal encounter of faith with Jesus Christ:

The work of the new evangelization consists in presenting once more the beauty and perennial newness of the encounter with Christ to the often distracted and confused heart and mind of the men and women of our time, above all to ourselves. We invite you all to contemplate the face of the Lord Jesus Christ, to enter the mystery of his existence given for us on the cross, reconfirmed in his resurrection from the dead as the Father’s gift and imparted to us through the Spirit.

The Fathers call the Church to courage, to hope rather than despair and to a serious spiritual conflict, again using language from the interventions.  They issue a bold call for personal conversion for ourselves even as we seek to recall others to Christ:

We firmly believe that we must convert ourselves above all to the power of Christ who alone can make all things new, above all our poor existence. With humility we must recognize that the poverty and weaknesses of Jesus’ disciples, especially of his ministers, weigh on the credibility of the mission. We are certainly aware – we Bishops first of all – that we could never really be equal to the Lord’s calling and mandate to proclaim his Gospel to the nations. We know that we must humbly recognize our vulnerability to the wounds of history and we do not hesitate to recognize our personal sins.

The middle part of the document introduces different aspects of the new evangelisation which will be the theme of the Propositions (more on these tomorrow).  So there are sections dealing with the family, the parish, with schools, with catechesis, with the ordained and lay, with young people.  There is a notable section on contemplation clearly responding in part  to Archbishop Rowan’s address:

A testimony that the world would consider credible can arise only from an adoring gaze at the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, only from the deep silence that receives the unique saving Word like a womb. Only this prayerful silence can prevent the word of salvation from being lost in the many noises that overrun the world.

Being at the side of the poor also receives a special prominence, again picking up comments made during the Synod.

Finally the Fathers have a message for the Church in each different continent, mirroring the presentations given from the different Bishops Conferences at the beginning of the three weeks.  There is a paragraph for each and these were read out by someone from these continents in different languages at the assembly.

I looked with some care, as you would imagine at the message addressed to Europe and I have to confess that I was somewhat disappointed here.  The treasures and achievements of the past are mentioned alongside the twin difficulties of aggressive secularisation and hostile regimes.  The paragraph concludes with these words:

May the present difficulties not pull you down, dear Christians of Europe: may you consider them instead as a challenge to be overcome and an occasion for a more joyful and vivid proclamation of Christ and of his Gospel of life.

I think I was hoping for a bit more in terms of future direction.  Overall, though, I think the Message is an accurate summary of the themes of the Synod.  It has a pastoral heart, it is written in love for the worldwide Church, it carries something of the spirit of Vatican 2, and it is Christ centred and gospel centred as the Synod has been.  It deserves to be read widely and studied carefully by Christians of all Churches.  We are called to do as Jesus did: to sit and listen to thirsty people, to serve them and allow them to serve us, and bear witness to the one who gives the water of life.

I came back to Sheffield for nine days on Wednesday of last week to fulfil a series of essential engagements in the Diocese here.  One part of my attention and prayer has been on what is happening in Rome and I’ve continued to keep up to date with the Synod through the daily bulletins on the Vatican website.

The Synod is mainly meeting in groups through these days and developing a series of propositions which will then be voted on in the plenary Synod before going forward as the basis of a message from the Synod to Pope Benedict XVI.

My public engagements in these eight days are in one way a normal snapshot of the life of a Bishop in the Church of England at the present time.  In another they provide a good worked example of the ways in which the Church of England is engaging with the transmission of the faith in our present context.

I came back to Sheffield with a renewed appreciation of the significance of the Anglican experience in mission in the present moment.  As one person said to me in Rome, we have been working at this question of the secularisation of society and appropriate missional and pastoral responses for a long time and in an increasingly intentional way.  It is not, perhaps, surprising, that ways forward developed in an Anglican and British context would be relevant elsewhere to Churches grappling with similar challenges.  The Roman Catholic Church has already acknowledged the importance of the Alpha Course in evangelisation.  I’ve heard similar comments over the last few years from the Protestant Church in Germany and from other parts of the world about fresh expressions of church.

In my address to the Synod I talked about developing fresh expressions of the church for a new mission context.  In the Church of England we have become used to talking about the mixed economy church: traditional congregations alongside fresh expressions of church within parishes or groups of parishes.  The term mixed economy was originally coined by Archbishop Rowan Williams in his time as Bishop of Monmouth.

So what I have I been doing in this reasonably typical week?  On Wednesday evening I attended and led one of twelve Deanery evenings across the Diocese looking at re-imagining ministry for mission.  This one was in the Laughton Deanery, just south of Rotherham.  I began the evening by asking people what questions they were wrestling with at the moment.  They gave a particularly rich series of answers: how to pass the faith on to children, to young adults, to those beginning the faith.  I felt as though I was in exactly the same conversation as the one I had left behind in Rome.

On Thursday evening, I attended the opening of a new building serving a community project led by Church Army Evangelists which relates to some of the most needy people in the city.  The work is an attempt to serve and listen to and witness in a particular sector of city life through pioneer ministry.  On Saturday morning I was with a local parish for a morning teaching on the beatitudes and the importance of being a Christ-like Church.  On Saturday evening, we were at St. Thomas, Philadelphia for a gathering to celebrate the Forge Youth Ministries, which serve over 800 young people across the city in sports, in ventures of different kinds, in small missional communities, in discipleship and mentoring.  On Sunday morning I was at St. Peter’s Greenhill on the edge of Sheffield where a year ago I instituted a young pioneer minister as Vicar and he brought a team of young adults into a traditional parish.  A year on there has been significant growth both in the 9.30 traditional service and in the new 11.00 am informal worship.  There were many young families and a new ministry with children.  Finally yesterday evening I licensed new honorary canons in the Cathedral at a beautiful service of choral evensong.

As we reflect together on the transmission of faith in this part of the world, we need to begin from the point that we are increasingly a diverse society.  To reach every part of that society we need many different approaches, many different pastoral responses, many different expressions of the church bound together by a common understanding, vision and goals.  A diocese and a parish is increasingly made up of these many different communities and ministries.

But at the heart of them must be the call to go, to listen, to serve, to form community and to bear witness to the gospel in many different places as an ordinary yet extraordinary part of the life of God’s Church.  And the goal for them all must be to become Christ like communities, a sacrament of God’s presence in God’s world.