Lonely planet. 149 million kilometres from small star, on edge of galaxy, rich and full of potential.  Afraid (sometimes).  GSOH (sometimes).  Looking for long term relationship.  WLTM saviour.

There are three great truths at the heart of the Christmas story.  The first is that humankind needs help.  On our own we mess things up very badly indeed.

At the end of 2015, that’s not hard to understand.  Look around you.  The news has been dominated this year by the migrant and refugee crisis in Syria.  Millions of people are on the move.  There have been acts of terrorism around the world and on our doorstep: all of them man made.  We have polluted the world we live in.  Humanity’s greed and selfishness is now affecting the climate and the weather in ways which will affect our children and grandchildren.  Yorkshire’s industrial base has declined further this year with the end of deep coal mining and the redundancies in steel.  We have terrible examples in our own communities of the way in which people hurt the innocent for their own gratification.  The gap between rich and poor in our own country grows ever wider.  Many families are fractured.  Many are lonely.  Many lives lack direction.  Who can say we do not need help?

It takes real courage to face these issues.  Christmas should be a time when we open our eyes and ears and see the suffering and the pain in the world.  Instead it’s become a time when we distract ourselves with food and drink and gifts and pretend everything is fine.  Consumption becomes a kind of anaesthetic to deaden the pain we see around us.   We cover up our problems for a while and hope they will go away.  But that will not happen.

The second great truth is that God really has come to help us.  The name Jesus has a special meaning.  It means “God saves”.  The angel says to Joseph, “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”.

The world of Jesus day was expecting a different kind of saviour.  They were looking for a powerful king, a mighty general, a wise politician who would establish a new government.  This is the kind of saviour people still seek today.

Instead God came as a human child, born into an ordinary family.  God came in humility and love in a way that everyone could understand.  God did not come to the rich and powerful but to the poorest shepherds, to the refugees, to the children.  God did not come to establish a new government in a single place and a single time but to offer change and new life to every person in every place in every generation to come.

God became a person to demonstrate his love for the world.  God became a person to show us the immense worth and potential of every human life.  God became a person to show everyone on earth how to live well: to live with kindness and purpose and grace, to live for others.

Jesus was a real figure in history.  He is not made up.  He is not a myth.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem, an actual place.  We set our calendars, still, by his birth.  Christians believe Jesus lived a perfect life.  But the world cannot tolerate this much goodness and light.  He was crucified in his early thirties.  Christians believe his death has an immense meaning: through his death on the cross, humankind is set free from all that we do wrong, through his death we can be forgiven.  Christians believe that God raised Jesus from death on the third day.  In his new life there is new life for everyone.

This brings us to the third great truth of Christmas.  This story we tell has the potential to affect every human life, every family, every village, town and city and every nation on earth.  This is history which changes us and history which can change the world.

Earlier this year my first grandchild was born.  His name is Josiah.  When I held him for the first time, something inside me changed.  My heart softened.  My perspective on time changed.  I became determined to be there for him if I could and to be the best grandfather I could be.

That’s a small example compared to what happens when a person becomes a Christian.  Christians believe that the living Christ enters into their heart and life.  Change begins to happen from the inside out.  There is new purpose and a new beginning.  Christians don’t become perfect overnight (or ever, this side of heaven).  But there is real change and the change inside begins to make a difference outside.  We start to join in God’s great change agenda for the world: to work for peace, for justice, to break down isolation, to care for God’s world.

At the end of one year and the beginning of another, remember these three great truths:  humankind needs help.  God really has come to help us.  The story of Jesus has the potential to change every human life and to change this world.

A very happy Christmas to you and to your family

+ Steven Sheffield

This is a key week for the future of the earth.  The Climate Change talks in Paris are seeking a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions and prevent global warming above 2 degrees.  Many experts believe our target should be more ambitious still: to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees only.

The weather, rather than the climate, was making the news last weekend with the dreadful floods in North West England and South West Scotland.  Extreme weather events are just one symptom of global climate change.

Most years in this season I try and write a new hymn or song as the verse for my Christmas card.  Writing the verse helps me to begin thinking about the great themes of the Christmas season.  This year I have tried to focus on the gift of creation and the earth, our fragile common home.

The first chapter of John’s gospel is always read in Church at Christmas.  John 1 speaks of the creation of the world through God’s Word (or reason) and of God’s Word taking flesh to live among us in Jesus Christ.  John 1 echoes the beautiful words of Genesis 1 where God creates the heavens and the earth, separating sky from land and sea (“In the beginning….”).

The new carol in turn echoes both of these Bible passages.  I’ve also used a couple of phrases taken from the recent letter of Pope Francis on climate change, Laudato Si, which is subtitled: “On care for our common home”.  The letter speaks powerfully about discipleship and care for the created world.

Finally, I’ve set the hymn to the well known tune: “The King of Love my shepherd is” – music many people link with God’s love and care for all the world.

You’re very welcome to use the words as a prayer, as a song you sing by yourself or one you use in Church.   As you pray, remember those caught up in the dreadful floods this past weekend and those working hard in Paris to prevent the warming of our world.

Creator of our common home
And maker of such wonder
You crafted fire and sky and stone
Dividing seas asunder
In love you set the earth in space
In joy ordained its pathway
Filled earth and sea and sky with grace
That we might praise you always
We turned away your gift of life
Polluted all you gave us
The land was spoiled, we favoured strife
Lives turned away from goodness
In Bethlehem you gave your Son
Creator in creation
To win us back and call us home
Revealing your salvation
The Word of God took human form
Eternity in person
Reason and love came to transform
God’s gift for our conversion
Creator of our common home
Redeemer of such mercy
Sustainer of all life on earth
To you always be glory.

+Steven

Britain woke up this morning to the news that the Lord’s Prayer has been banned from cinemas.

The Church of England has produced a sixty second commercial.  The only words are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, said by children, the bereaved, people at work and so on.  It’s a beautiful film, Certificate U. The ad is to promote a new website, Just Pray.uk.  The plan was (and is) to show the film before Christmas at screenings of the new Star Wars film to help everyone think about prayer and to pray.  What could be more simple?

The distributors have declared the Lord’s Prayer unsuitable for screening.  They believe it carries the risk of upsetting or offending audiences.

Cue indignation from the press, fury from the Archbishop (according to the Mail anyway) debates about free speech, a possible challenge in the courts and a storm on social media.

But wait just a moment.  Suppose the cinema chains got this one right?

I disagree with their decision and I disagree with the reasons they have given.  I hope it’s reversed.  I don’t believe the film will offend or upset audiences, in the way they mean, and I don’t believe it creates a new precedent.

But from the point of view of global corporations and consumer culture, from the perspective of the gods and spirits of the age, there are very good reasons indeed to ban the Lord’s Prayer from cinemas and from culture and from public life.

This is a prayer said by billions of people every day in every language on the planet.  In every single moment in time, someone is praying these words.  They are the first words of prayer we learn as children and the last words we say at the moment of death.

The Lord’s Prayer is powerful for a reason.  These words shape lives and families and communities and whole societies.

There are real reasons why the Lord’s Prayer has been banned by the demigods of consumer culture, in the boardrooms of the cinema chains.  Here are seven, one for every line.

First, this prayer gives to those who pray it an identity and a place in the world and a countercultural community.  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”.  It opposes the myth that we are random specks of matter floating through space and time.  It opposes the myth that our lives do not matter.  It opposes the myth of fragmented humanity.

We are created and loved and called into friendship with God who is our father and into community with our fellow human beings who are therefore our sisters and brothers.  Only someone who has found this new identity can stand against the advertising culture which night and day seduces us to define who we are by what we spend.

Second this prayer gives us the courage to live in an imperfect world.  “Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. 

The world is not as it was meant to be.  It is distorted from its true purpose.  But God is at work to redeem and transform this world, to establish his kingdom.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us not to retreat from the world in fear and pain, to anaesthetise or indulge ourselves.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us to join the struggle to see justice and peace prevail.

Third, and most powerfully, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to live with just enough.  This is the most dangerous reason why it cannot be shown with the adverts at the cinema.  It teaches us not to want more.  It teaches contentment, the most subversive virtue of them all.

“Give us this day our daily bread”.  This is not a prayer for more.  This is a prayer only for what we need.  Every other advert in the cinema is there to encourage us to spend money in pursuit of happiness.  This one restrains our greed.

Fourth, the Lord’s Prayer teaches me to live with my imperfections and the imperfections of others.  There is a way to deal with the rubbish in our lives.  “Forgive us our sins”.

Consumer culture holds before us the image of perfection.  We cannot be happy until we look like this person, live like that one.  Each image is a lie.

The Lord’s Prayer acknowledges human imperfection and sin, daily.  The Lord’s Prayer offers a pathway to forgiveness, daily. The way of forgiveness cannot be bought.  It is a gift.  Grace.  Grace subverts the whole culture of advertising.

Fifth the Lord’s Prayer offers a way of reconciliation.  “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.  We are not meant to feud or live in hostility or rivalry.  We are meant to forgive and be forgiven, to be reconciled to each other.  That reconciliation happens without expensive presents, without going into debt, without credit.  People are not made happy by more things, another consumer lie.  The greatest happiness comes from relationships.  The key to great relationships is reconciliation and forgiveness.

Sixth, the Lord’s Prayer builds resilience in the human spirit.  When you say this prayer each day you are prepared for the bad days.  “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” 

When we say this prayer we remind ourselves that we are not living in a Disney fairy tale, a saccharine creation of film makers where every story has a happy ending.

We are living in a real world of cancer and violence and difficulty, where we are tested, where bad things happen for no clear reason.  We live in that world confident in God’s love and goodness and help even in the midst of the most challenging moments of our lives.  Faith is for the deep valleys as much as the green pastures.  We may not have the answers but we know that God dwells with us and in us.

And seventh the Lord’s Prayer tells us how the story ends, how this life is to be lived and lived well.  “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.  Amen”.

The prayer returns as it begins to the praise and glory of the living God.  Our hearts return to their origin and source, the one who created us.  Life is to be lived to God’s praise and glory, not to satisfy our own small desires.  We are beings with a higher calling and a greater purpose.

There are only 63 words in the Lord’s Prayer.  It takes less than a minute to say them.

Yet these words shape our identity, give purpose to our lives, check our greed, remind us of our imperfections, offer a way of reconciliation, build resilience in our spirits and call us to live to the glory of our creator.

No wonder they have been banned in the boardrooms of consumer culture.

+Steven

Note:

This post is based on a sermon given in Peterhouse, Cambridge on Sunday 22 November.

To view the Lord’s Prayer film go to: https://youtu.be/vlUXh4mx4gI

To view the Just Prayer website go to: justpray.uk?

For the Pilgrim Course on the Lord’s Prayer see: http://www.pilgrimcourse.org/

The new General Synod meets for the first time next week.   A central part of our agenda over the next five years will be the ongoing Reform and Renewal process.

Here is an unofficial Noddy and Big Ears Guide to Reform and Renewal.  It’s a Noddy guide because I’ve tried to make it simple.  It’s a Big Ears guide because the whole Reform and Renewal process is about listening to what’s happening across the country and developing a response.

This is also something of a personal perspective.  I’ve been closely involved in the story so far.  To use a Star Trek analogy, let me take you on a guided tour: first to the Captain’s Log to explore the deeper story; then to the Engine Room to understand what’s being proposed; and finally to the Bridge to look ahead into the future.

Captain’s Log: looking back…..

The roots of Reform and Renewal lie in the immense change taking place in the society we serve.  The Church of England has lived through a century of change.

We lived for fifty years, from 1915 to 1965, through the end of Christendom: the idea that society is uniform and that people are Christian unless they opt out, that church going is the norm.  We have had to adjust our ways of being the Church to that new reality.  We have needed to recover, especially, the central idea that God calls us to be a church in mission to our own society, the call to make disciples and the call to set God’s mission at the heart of our common life.

We then lived for fifty years and more with a mistaken understanding of secularisation.  Secularisation began in the 18th century.  It’s the process by which science, democracy, technology and economics became separate from any particular religion (and in that sense it’s closely related to the end of Christendom).  This process has brought immense benefits.

But from the 1960’s until very recently, secularisation has been linked with another powerful idea.  The notion that the more advanced a society, the less place it has for religion of any kinds.  In the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, many people predicted and believed that the role of faith in society would shrink away to nothing as our society “advanced”.

We have adjusted our ways of being the Church to this reality as well.  For many years, many in the Church have accepted our decline as inevitable.  Many have even planned for that decline to continue as if this was God’s purpose for the Church.  The loss of confidence has been profound.  We have needed to recover the central Christian virtue of hope: the sure hope that God has a purpose for his church and for this Church of England for many generations still to come.

The sociologists now tell us what we have known for some time.  The role of faith in the modern world is not shrinking but growing and also changing.  Britain is not becoming more secular.  Religion and religious affiliation are changing all the time, but the role of faith in public life and private life is not less but more significant.

The former chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has recently published a powerful study of violence and religion, Not in God’s Name.  Lord Sacks begins with a study of secularization and the gaping hole it leaves in human understanding.

“Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence.  They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization….But they do not and cannot answer the three questions every(one) should ask at some time in his or her life: “Who am I?  Why am I here?  How then should I live?”.

Rabbi Sacks puts forward the view that the coming century will be more not less religious, less not more secular.  How should we respond?

A hundred years of change.  The end of Christendom.  The beginning and end of secularization.  How are we as the Church of England to respond to God’s call in our day?  How are we to join in God’s mission and to make that response in faith and hope and love?

Reform and Renewal is part of an answer to these vital questions.

The Engine Room: what are the proposals?

Five years ago, the General Synod of our Church agreed three core priorities.

The three goals are these: to serve the common good of our society, to grow the life of the church in the numbers and the quality of our discipleship; and to re-imagine the ministry we offer to the nation.  The first two are inextricably linked.  We see growth and life in many places but in too many the combined effects of declining and ageing congregations mean that in ten years time, we may no longer be a church in every place.  To serve the common good and the whole people of England we must pay close attention to growth in the life of the Church.

Those goals are widely and deeply owned across the Church of England.  You will find something like them in the vision statements of many dioceses and parish churches.  They have been at the heart of the work of our national Church for the last five years.

But it takes time in a Church of the size and complexity of the Church of England to listen, to reflect, to begin to shape answers to those key questions.  How should be respond to God’s mission in hope?  How do we better serve the common good, grow the life of the church and re-imagine the ministry we offer.  What can we do nationally to support dioceses and parishes?

Little by little, through a process of listening, conversation and research some answers and some initiatives began to emerge.  There are six or seven different streams of work.  They began at slightly different times and different places.  They are also in different stages of discussion or implementation.

One is looking at how we use our historic assets to support growth rather than reward decline; another is exploring ministerial education, another at simplification, another senior leadership and still another what we need to do nationally and so on.  They are all linked together in some way.  For that reason, it’s helpful to see them as one process under the single heading of Reform and Renewal: helping us to be a Church of hope, a Church engaging in God’s mission, a Church of compassion and a Church preparing for a harvest.

If you really want to spend more time with Scottie in the engine room trying to get us to warp speed, then read this summary paper for Synod.

The Bridge: scanning the horizon

That’s the big picture.  I want to zoom in now, if I may, and ask the question what difference the Reform and Renewal programme might make to the life of the Church of England over the next fifteen years, if it bears the fruit we hope it will, by the grace and power of God.  It’s not a programme designed to tackle everything.  The core ministry of the local church remains at the heart of the Church of England: worship, witness, service to the local community.

But here are some of the things which I hope will change over the next fifteen years as Reform and Renewal bears fruit in the life of the local parish church.

A culture of discipleship

First I hope and pray that every church will become better at making and sustaining and equipping disciples: that Christians will understand their faith better, share it more confidently, live it out more fully.  We need to grow again a culture of discipleship across the Church of England.

The Christian faith is not a hobby or a leisure activity.  The Christian faith is a response to the grace of God in Jesus Christ with the whole of our lives, for the whole of our lives, offering lives which have been made whole.

Every local church, every diocese needs a plan for taking forward that culture of discipleship, for growing new Christians, for sustaining established Christians.

Reform and Renewal is helping to make resources available for that task.  There are key proposals to change and increase the Church Commissioners distribution of funds to support poorer parishes and to support growth in numbers and in the depth of discipleship.  There is a major emphasis on how we teach the faith, how we encourage discipleship in every place.

Energy for mission

Second, I hope and pray that every church will focus greater energy and resources on God’s mission and worship, service and witness.  That means less time on bureaucracy, form filling, administration and the like.

A major strand in Reform and Renewal is about simplification: on how we make the task of vicars, of churchwardens, of PCC treasurers and others simpler and easier in the future.

Ministry and leadership

Third, I hope and pray that every local church will have the ministry and leadership it needs to support God’s mission.  Lay leadership and ministry is key and the next two years will see significant developments here.  The voices of lay people need to be heard more clearly in the life of our Church.  We need to invest more in training, equipping and sustaining lay ministers.

We need urgently to see more vocations to ordained ministry.  40% of our current clergy are approaching retirement.  On present projections half of our clergy who retire cannot be replaced.  We need as clergy to be better equipped as leaders in God’s mission.  We need our clergy to be more diverse as a group.  We need more younger clergy who are able to offer a lifetime to ordained ministry.  We need to ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers.

There will be a major national initiative to raise the number of vocations, significantly, by as much as 50% by 2020. That will involve every parish in prayer, in communication, in encouragement, in support.  We are looking carefully at the ways in which we train clergy before and after ordination and how we fund that training.  Dioceses are clear what is needed:  the Church needs ordained and lay ministers who are flexible, collaborative leaders in God’s mission.

Senior leaders

Fourth I hope and pray the senior leadership of the Church of England in 10 years time will be better equipped for their task and more representative of the church we are called to lead: male and female, black and white, from a wider range of backgrounds, well prepared and committed to ongoing learning.  Again we are investing intentionally in that process.

Communication in a digital age

Finally, I hope and pray we will be much more effective at communicating our faith in a digital age.  This is the most important investment the Church of England needs to make nationally.

We are living through the greatest time of change in the way we communicate since the invention of the printing press.  Parishes and Dioceses are moving far too slowly to keep up with those changes in the way we communicate.  We need to invest much more in our digital communications in order to keep pace and contribute to Christian engagement with the contemporary world.

So what is Reform and Renewal about?

  1. Resources for discipleship and growth
  2. Focusing energy on our core tasks
  3. Every local church having the ministry it needs
  4. Equipping senior leaders
  5. Better digital communication

These are not the whole agenda by any means.  There are other issues the Church needs to address.  The world keeps changing around us.

God has called us in our generation to be salt and light, to love our neighbours as ourselves, to have compassion on a lost and bewildered generation.  This is a time of turmoil.  But it is also a time of hope.

Pray for our Church as we move forward and most of all, as Christ commands us, pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send labourers to his harvest field.

And finally….

This post is based on a sermon preached on 15th November in St Mary’s and All Saints, Chesterfield.  I’m grateful to Father Patrick Coleman for the invitation and for the very helpful “Conversation under the Spire”.

I’m grateful to Premier Digital for an award for this blog in the category “Most Inspiring Leadership Blog”.  Like everything else I do it’s a team effort.  Warm thanks to Jane Perry and LJ Buxton for their research and ideas and to Kate Hill and Jason Smedley for managing posts and comments.

+Steven Sheffield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just over a hundred years ago, Sergeant John Raynes, from Heeley in Sheffield, was serving on the Western Front.  On 11th October, 1915, his battery was bombarded by armour piercing and gas shells.  Sergeant Raynes ran out from his own battery not once but three times – a distance of 40 yards – to assist and then bring back a wounded colleague, Sergeant Ayres.

The following day, John saw action again. The house he was in was knocked down by a heavy shell.  Eight men were trapped inside.  The first man rescued was Sergeant John Raynes.  He was wounded in the head and leg but insisted on remaining under heavy shell fire to assist in the rescue of the other men.  He then reported for duty with his Battery which was again being heavily shelled.

For his courage on those two days Sergeant Major Raynes (as he became) received Britain’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.

Last Monday, 12th October, 2015, exactly one hundred years after these actions, John Raynes was honoured in his home city of Sheffield.  Civic leaders gathered with officers from his former regiment, members of the Royal British Legion, children from local schools and the general public.  As Bishop of Sheffield, I dedicated a special memorial paving stone to his memory in Barker’s Pool.  A piper played a lament.  We kept silence.  A bugler sounded the Last Post and Reveille.  We remembered.

There will be similar ceremonies all over the country over the next few years.  The paving stone for John Raynes was one of over four hundred to be dedicated to all those who received the Victoria Cross in the Great War in each person’s place of birth all over the United Kingdom.  There will be two further ceremonies in Sheffield in 2016.

For me and for many present, the ceremony was very moving.  It was a good to reflect and remember the sacrifice and bravery of so many at the beginning of this season of remembering when we will wear poppies and look back.  It was good to pray for the safety of British forces stationed overseas, many from this Diocese.  It was good to remember the courage of a remarkable man and many like him.  It was good to pray for the peace of the world and for all caught up in the conflicts of nations.

This is the prayer I wrote for the dedication of the paving stone to Sergeant Major John Crawshaw Raynes, VC:

Almighty God,remembrance
You are our light in the darkness,
Our strength when shadows fall
We dedicate this stone today
In memory of a brave son of this city,
John Crawshaw Raynes.
May it serve always as a reminder of his courage
Of the sacrifice of the men of this city
And of the dangers faced daily by
Our armed forces.
Grant to our world we pray,
Peace and freedom and justice
And grant to each of us
The courage to defend our fellow men and women
In your holy name we pray
Amen.

 

As churches across the Diocese prepare to celebrate Harvest it’s worth pausing to think about a momentous event in world history which took place last week at the United Nations.

World leaders gathered from every continent at the United Nations in New York.  The purpose of the meeting was to agree the new Global Goals, or the sustainable development goals for the next 15 years.goals

The media didn’t give the occasion that much attention.  ITN led that night with Pope Francis’ visit to the 9/11 memorial rather than his time at the United Nations.

But it was a really significant moment.  Fifteen years ago, the United Nations agreed the Millennium Development Goals.  They were shorter, simpler and very effective. The MDG’s have had a huge impact in helping to reduce extreme poverty, improving health and education and in helping women and girls across the world.

The new Global Goals have emerged from an international three year process of listening.  The UK government, led by the Prime Minister, played a really key role.

There is huge ambition here.  According to the UN document: “Never before have world leaders pledged common action and endeavour across such a broad and universal policy agenda”.  And again, “We can be the first generation to succeed in ending poverty just as we may be the last to have a chance of saving the planet”.

The goals are more comprehensive this time.  There are 17 goals and 169 targets.  They are therefore less catchy but much more realistic.  They recognize that all kinds of things are interconnected in tackling poverty.  They are also goals for every country not simply for the developing world.  The British government has promised to implement them alongside governments in Africa and Asia.  There is a much stronger emphasis on building strong, honest, robust governments and institutions as well as on aid and generosity.  There is a strong slogan which focuses on helping the weakest so that no-one is left behind.

There is now a massive challenge ahead in bringing the new Global Goals to the attention of the whole world.  I hope parishes and schools across the Diocese will play their part in that process.

As we celebrate Harvest together as Christians, we give thanks to God for the good things of the earth.  We will focus on sharing what we have and on the care of creation.  It is a good moment to remind each other of the new Global Goals and this common vision to end poverty once and for all.

For more information see https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org

+Steven

My thanks to everyone across the Diocese who gave so much to the Crossroads Mission over the last four days.  Bishop Peter and I were out and about across the Diocese through the mission and between us came to events in almost every Deanery.  Across the Diocese we hosted and took part in well over 200 different events and services.  We spoke with tens of thousands of people in schools and shows and churches. There were some remarkable encounters and expressions of faith in different places through the mission. baloons

Thanks are due to the Archbishop of York, to the northern bishops who came and rolled up their sleeves and worked extremely hard, and to the teams who came with them.  Thanks are due as well to our local teams in every Deanery, led by the Area Deans, who put such a large and imaginative programme in place.

I want to pay particular thanks to colleagues in Church House and in the Bishop’s Staff who have worked together on this project and especially to John Hibberd, Mark Wigglesworth and LJ Buxton who held everything together.

Together we have sown the good seed of the gospel in hundreds of places and thousands of lives.  It is God who gives the growth.  The fruit of the mission will appear in due time in many different ways in the months and years to come.

crossroadsAfter the planting comes the watering.  Crossroads is over but God’s mission continues.  Many churches will have other events planned over the coming weeks as part of a season of invitation and harvest festivals.  Be bold in arranging these and inviting people to come.

It will then be vital to arrange groups and courses where people can come and learn more about their new faith or the faith which has been rekindled.  There is lots of material you can use – but Pilgrim is now working well across lots of different parishes (other courses are available….).

The Northern Bishops mission moves on now to the Diocese of Blackburn next September.  Many lessons will be carried forward.  Bishop Peter and I hope to be part of that with teams from this Diocese.  More on that story later.

But mainly today, thank you to everyone who took part.  It was an extraordinary four days. In the words we used at Morning Prayer today:

“It is good that we should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 4.3).

We have sown the good seed of the gospel.  It is God who gives the growth.

+ Steven

 

How are we to respond as human beings, as Christians and as a Church to the plight of refugees and migrants across Europe?

The pictures on our screens over the last few days have been heart-rending.  Many of us will have been moved to tears.  But how do we translate this outpouring of compassion into action and help others to do the same?  What should we do?

One of the deepest truths in the Bible is that God blesses people so that those people in turn can become a blessing to others.

God calls Abraham in these words: “I will bless you…so that you will be a blessing”.  God calls Jacob with this promise:  “All the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring”.

When God blesses us it is not for our benefit alone.  When God blesses us we are not to feel special.  We are not to hoard those blessings and keep them to ourselves.  We are blessed so that we might bless others – all the families of the earth.  Everyone.

As a country, we have not been blessed with peace and security and wealth and peace for our own benefit alone. Safety is given so that safety and a future can be shared.  We are called as a country to be open handed, open hearted, to give a home to those in greatest need, to carry relief and fresh vision to countries whose heart is ripped apart by war.  We are called to find room.

There has been an outpouring of compassion following the tragic deaths of Aylan and Ghalib Kurdi on 2nd September.  In response the Prime Minister announced yesterday plans to take in 20,000 refugees from the camps in and around Syria over the next five years.

This is a good beginning and a significant shift. It is in addition to the immense contribution Britain is already making to relief in Syria.  But it can only be a beginning to Britain’s response to this crisis.

David Cameron refers to the extraordinary compassion of the British people.  I don’t believe the Prime Minister has yet understood fully the extent to which people want Britain to play its full part in addressing the situation in Europe.

I met last night with Faith Leaders across the city of Sheffield and this morning with church leaders of different denominations.  Our communities are united in compassion for the plight of the refugees.  We are united in the belief that Britain can and should do more.  The faith communities stand ready to help in partnership with local and national government in welcoming those who find a home in our communities whatever their faith and country of origin.  Sheffield was the first City of Sanctuary in Britain and remains in the front line of welcoming strangers.

I have written to the Prime Minister today, urging him to offer leadership in two ways: to support Britain playing its full part in offering sanctuary to those now on the move in Europe as part of a European wide settlement and to encourage new international initiatives to resolve the conflict in Syria which is the root cause of this migration.

Many Christians and local churches have already begun to do more.  I’ve listed below some of the local charities and national agencies which are channelling help to refugees.

Please translate this outpouring of compassion into action through gifts and support for some of these initiatives.  There is no need to wait until a new wave of refugees arrive.  Charities in the region are already hard at work helping people in need here and across Europe and the Middle East.  Please encourage local and national government that, as a country, we support a bigger, more generous response still to one of the great crises of our age.


Next week a team of 19 Bishops from across the north of England will spend four days in the Diocese of Sheffield in the Crossroads mission.  The team of Bishops will be led by the Archbishop of York.  Many of the bishops are bringing small teams with them to help in the various events.

Over 200 special events are taking place across the Diocese over the four days (not including all the Sunday services at which the bishops will speaking and leading).  More than 100 parishes are involved in some direct way with the mission.  We are being held in prayer across the whole Diocese and across the world.  The Diocese of Sheffield is named tomorrow (2nd September) in the Anglican Communion’s prayer cycle.

The aim of the mission is to share the Christian faith with love and imagination in many different places.  Jesus compared sharing the good news of God’s love with sowing seed.  That’s exactly what we will be doing.

Everyone across the Diocese is warmly invited to the Cathedral for the commissioning and launch service on Thursday 10th September at 1.30 pm.

Everyone is also welcome to the final event in Minster Square in Rotherham at 4.00pm on Sunday 13th September.

There are also many other events happening near to where you live if you would like to join in.

We’ve planned a way for people who come to the events to find out more about faith by signing up for a special text messaging service.  Details will be available at all the Crossroads events.  There is a special twitter account for the mission @crossroads_info.

Many parishes in the Diocese are planning a small group or course this autumn to help people discover more about the Christian faith.

If you are already part of the Church please pray for these four days of mission, that God will bless this time in special ways.  If you are not part of the Church then please come and explore faith by coming to the Crossroads events and joining a small group to explore faith together.

Everyone should take the opportunity, once in their life, to think seriously about the Christian faith.  There is a course close to where you live.

Bishop Peter and I will be out and about at various mission events during the four days.  We look forward to seeing you

+Steven

A prayer for the mission

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?
Amen.