All the way through the Acts of the Apostles the disciples are living out Luke 5. They continually put out into deep water, let down the nets and see what happens even in the most unlikely circumstances. +Steven traces part of that story over the course of four talks looking in turn at God’s mission in Macedonia, in Greece and in the great city of Ephesus. What lessons can we seek to learn as we turn our boats away from the shore to deep waters and let down the nets for a catch?

This page includes images and text by the Revd Janet Minkkinen of St Andrew’s Church Cippenham who is on pilgrimage. If you would prefer to watch +Steven teach this session, scroll to the bottom of this page for the video. 

Session 1: Macedonia

The story of the spread of the Christian faith across the Roman world is a story full of surprises. It is a story of both suffering and joy. It is a story of human endeavour and God’s agency. It is a story to which the Church has returned again and again through two thousand years as we seek fresh inspiration in God’s mission. It is the story told by St. Luke both in the gospel and in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles.

In every era of the Church, Christians have turned to Luke’s great narrative to find renewal and to return to first principles. In the eighth century AD, the great English historian Bede bases his Ecclesiastical History on the Book of Acts. In the early twentieth century, the Anglo-Catholic theologian, Roland Allen reflects on the story of Christian mission in China in his seminal book: Missionary Methods, St. Paul’s our ours?. In the late twentieth century, the American Episcopalian priest Dennis Bennet turns to Acts to describe his experiences of God which were the beginnings of charismatic renewal in his book Nine O’clock in the Morning.

In these talks, I want to continue this tradition of reflection on the principles of Christian mission in Luke and Acts. We are reflecting together as a Diocese on what it means to be a Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world: contemplative, compassionate and courageous. We have listened carefully to the kind of church we are called to be in the Beatitudes, in the story of the raising of Lazarus and in the Letter to the Colossians [you can find the common vision study guides on our online store].

We are now at the point where we are beginning to move forward in God’s mission together: to attempt new things in new ways for the sake of the kingdom of God. We are doing this as a single Diocese and also in our parishes, benefices and deaneries and in our schools and chaplaincies.

As we begin to act and to do new things, so this is a good moment to listen to the Book of Acts, as framed by Luke, and to find fresh inspiration for mission in our own day.

The Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke is not simply Part One of a two-part work. The Gospel is the most important of the two volumes. The Gospel frames the story of the Church which follows. In particular, Luke sets the horizon for Christian mission in his gospel through two key passages set near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The first is in Luke 4, the second in Luke 5.

In Luke 4, Jesus comes to the synagogue in Nazareth and reads from the Book of Isaiah. You will know the passage:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4.18).

Jesus rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant and sits down. “Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The horizon of Christian mission is set wide. The mission of Jesus is about the transformation of the whole world and the bringing in of the kingdom of God.

Luke 5 then sets a frame for one central part of Christian mission: the calling of disciples to follow Christ and to be agents of God’s kingdom. Jesus is teaching by the lakeside. He gets into the boat of Simon Peter. After he has finished teaching, he said to Simon: “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

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

This is the moment we have reached in the story of our own Diocese and of our common vision. At the end of this conference, I hope every person here will be willing to say to the parishes and deaneries: “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

I expect that some people at least will respond in a similar way to the disciples: “Look, we have worked all night and caught nothing”. Ministry has not been too fruitful of late. The things we have done are not really making a difference. But I hope they will go on to say: “Because that is the call of Jesus we will let down the nets.”

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

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

This process is not about the rolling out of a strategy; it is not about fixing a problem. This process is about being a contemplative, compassionate and courageous church: about putting out into deep water and letting down the nets and seeing what God will do.

(scroll down to continue)

Janet writes: “The journey in St Paul’s steps begins in Neapolis, modern day Kavala. The place where St Paul steps ashore from Troas is St Nicholas Church. The beautiful mosaic shows the man of Macedonia calling Paul: ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’  Those words spoke to me deeply. Who is calling me! Who is calling you, are you willing to go out into deep waters as Bishop Steven shared with us? Paul was so brave crossing into new lands, into Europe, bringing good news to our land. The last picture is the view from my hotel balcony, the harbour full of fishing boats all is calm and at peace.” – 12 May 2019

Principles for deep water fishing

All the way through the Acts of the Apostles we see the disciples living out Luke 5. They continually put out into deep water, let down the nets and see what happens even in the most unlikely circumstances. They are continually amazed in different ways at what is happening which is beyond their expectations.

Renewal in mission is not really about business as usual. It is not about a bit more of the same. The renewal in mission we need is about deep waters, about adventure and risk and joining in the new thing God is doing.

Over this series of talks, I want to trace part of that story as told in Acts 16 to 20. We will look in turn at God’s mission in Macedonia, in Greece and in the great city of Ephesus and seek to learn lessons as we turn our boats away from the shore to deep waters and let down the nets for a catch.

The story begins in Macedonia. Paul and his team are stuck. They do not know where to travel next. They try one way and then another.

“They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatian, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go to Bithynia but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so passing by Mysia they went down to Troas. During the night, Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to help us”. Only then do they set sail.

Principle number 1: the Holy Spirit is guide and director.

At every point in the Acts of the Apostles where new things happen in mission, the Spirit does something new. This is not human endeavour. This is the work of God. God is already at work. The work is rooted in listening: in contemplation which is itself guided by compassion and shaped by courage.

Paul and his companions sail to Philippi, a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. Philippi is very deep water. The gospel has now crossed into Europe – a whole new continent and culture. We are beyond the edge of the Jewish diaspora now: the places where the Jewish community has spread. This makes Philippi different. It is a completely new town. Think of the many new towns which will be built in our diocese over the coming 12 years. The population here is mainly former soldiers.

There is no synagogue. This may not seem significant to us but it is very significant to Paul and his companions. They have a method for proclaiming the gospel up until this point. Find the synagogue. Preach there until thrown out. Form a church.

There is no starting place in Philippi. It looks at first as though Philippi is very unpromising territory. The kind of place where you might fish all night and catch nothing. So where to begin? By praying and looking and listening. By the time the Sabbath comes round, the disciples have discovered that there is a place of prayer by the river and a number of women who are worshippers of God gather there. God is already at work. This is the place to begin.

Principle number 2: God works in unexpected ways and unexpected people.

Everyone’s story is different. Paul may be looking for converts just like himself: promising rabbis in the making. But one of the signs of authentic mission is unexpected conversions. The three most prominent converts in Philippi are a migrant businesswoman and dealer in purple cloth; a young mentally fragile slave girl and the town jailer and his family. Not the most promising and obvious raw material for a new church, we might think. But these are the ones in whom God is working and working powerfully and working differently.

Luke is a profound student of Christian formation. Acts takes great care here in describing the ways in which each of the three Philippian converts comes to Christ. The language in each case is unique as each person’s story is unique.

With Lydia, Paul uses the metaphor of hospitality. There is first hospitality of the heart, language of an opening door: “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul”. God has been at work already, preparing Lydia. At the right moment, God brings Paul to speak by the river. The Lord opened her heart. Lydia and her household are baptised: this is the first of two mentions of baptism in Philippi.

Then the hospitality of the heart is mirrored in the hospitality of Lydia’s home. The new Church is given a base and a meeting place. “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home”. And she prevailed upon us.

Paul and his companions are making things up as they go along. That’s what it is like to put out into deep water.

The second convert is a slave girl. She follows Paul and his companions crying out after them. Eventually, the slave girl is set free. But Paul and Silas are imprisoned by her owners. There is a public beating. Paul and Silas are put in prison.

Even in prison there is rejoicing. In the midst of the rejoicing there is an earthquake. The jailer believes the prisoners have escaped and rushes in to end his life. But the prisoners are still there. The jailer himself is set free.

Then there is another beautiful symmetry. The jailer washes the wounds of Paul and Silas. Then he and all his family are baptised without delay. There is a double washing, a twofold liberation.

God works in unexpected people in unexpected ways. The beginnings of the Philippian church remind us that this work sometimes begins with just one individual or family. If we are to see this renewal in mission across our Diocese, we will always need to begin with just one household, just one person, to see new life come to birth. A new congregations is planted. Paul and his companions eventually move on.

Our first two principles for putting out into the deep:

[1] The Holy Spirit is guide and director.

[2] God works in unexpected ways in the most unlikely people. Christian mission is neither neat nor tidy.

Our common vision

As a Diocese, we are reflecting on how we encourage one another in this renewal in mission in ways which are contemplative, compassionate and courageous. It would be all too easy at this moment in time for the common vision process to become a programme with measurable, predetermined outcomes, something tame and domesticated, geared to helping the Church be a slightly bigger church, a slightly better church, a slightly more efficient church.

This is not our calling. We are looking for our common vision to be a wider and wilder process, following the Spirit’s call. We are encouraging one another to put out into deep water, to be open and obedient to the Spirit, to open up the spaces for God to be at work, to look for God’s work in the most unlikely places and people, to see what God will do.

The deep water is an uncomfortable place. When we set sail, we entrust ourselves to God.

Let us pray.

God of love
The sea is so great and our boat is so small.
Inspire your church as we put out into deep water
Help us to be contemplative, compassionate and courageous in your mission.
Guide us by your Spirit to discover where you are working
Help us to join in the building of your kingdom
And anoint us afresh to make disciples in your name
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ who calls us and sends us
With you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.

 

+Steven
Common Vision Conference
High Leigh, 8 May 2019

Watch Bishop Steven deliver this talk

This session was first given at the Common Vision Conference in May 2019. The session had started with a power outage…

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

It was good to welcome over 450 clergy and LLM’s to five different Bishop’s Study Days across the Diocese of Oxford in November. We welcomed a guest theologian at each of the study days who gave us a deep dive into the Christian tradition. Their addresses will be published later this year in a new book called Rooted and Grounded: Faith formation and the Christian tradition. This is the text of my opening address to those days. Read more



A year ago I invited the Diocese of Oxford to listen to God through a particular passage of Scripture: the beatitudes of Matthew 5.1-10.

We are exploring our call to be a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world: more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous.

I know from different conversations, gatherings and written feedback that this has been very fruitful. Many groups listened to God through the beatitudes through dwelling in the word during meetings.

More than 6,000 people engaged with the study booklets we produced on the beatitudes and on Lazarus. Many churches developed sermon series or other good ways of study.

One of the main conclusions of our year of listening is that we need to do this more and continue to focus on what it means to be a more Christ-like Church. Lots of good practical strategies have emerged for local churches and for the diocese and these are moving forward.

However this listening is more important than anything we may decide to do, individually and together. I am therefore inviting the whole Diocese to a second year of listening, this time through the Letter to the Colossians and especially Colossians 1.15-20 and Colossians 3.12-17.

Again the focus will be on exploring more of what it means to be a Christ-like Church. The first short passage focusses on Christ, the second on the life of the Church. Again, there will be many different ways to listen through the text. Here are two resources to begin the process:

The Diocese will be producing a short study booklet similar to the Beatitudes booklet in time for use in Advent 2018 or Lent 2019 based on these addresses. More details later.

I hope that listening to God in this way through scripture will resource our personal lives and also the life of every local church. Over the course of the next year, the Diocese is planning to develop a very simple resource to support renewal and mission locally which builds on all we have been learning through this process of developing fresh vision.

A year ago we established six working groups to look at what we might attempt to do together. These groups have listened deeply to Scripture and to the Diocese. They have developed plans which flow from this call to be a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world. I gave a recent update on these at the Diocesan Synod in June. There will be further updates in the coming months.

But we want to begin a new academic year not with a whole list of things to do and not with a range of goals and targets or a fifteen point comprehensive strategy.

Jesus said to Mary and Martha: one thing is needed. In a time of great challenge for the world and for the Church, we are called to listen and ponder and reflect on what it means to become a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world: more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous.

Grace be with you

 

+Steven
September 2018

Address to General Synod

2017 was BP’s biggest year of exploration since 2004. Shell boasts on its website: “We have no immediate plans to move to a net zero emissions portfolio over our investment horizon of 10-20 years”

At Shell’s annual meeting in May this year, only 5.5% of investors supported a resolution calling on the company to set emission-reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement.

According to a 2017 report from ShareAction, Shell and BP’s ‘base case’ scenarios for business planning were both found to be ‘consistent with 3-5°C+ of global warming (source)

The world is on a trajectory to catastrophic climate change if nothing more is done. We need a much greater urgency in this debate grounded in a hope that things can change.

I sit as a member of the Advisory Board of the Oxford University Environmental Change Institute, one of the most respected global institutions for interdisciplinary study on these themes. I was asked to join the board 18 months ago in recognition of the key role that faith communities need to play in the change we need to see.

Myles Allen is Professor of Geosystem Science at the ECI and closely involved in the IPCC. Myles has argued that the most important figure in the Paris Agreement is not 1.5 or 2 degrees. The most important figure is zero: we need net zero carbon emissions to stabilise global temperatures at any level: 1.5, 2 or 3 degrees.

We potentially need to reach net zero as early as 2050 if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be met. Any company making 40 year investments that does not have a plan for net zero by 2050 is either counting on Paris goals not being met or neglecting its duties to its shareholders.

The goal of the Paris Agreement is to see global peak carbon in 2020 and a reduction to net zero by around 2050.

Therefore the most important question to ask fossil fuel companies now is what are your plans for the reduction of carbon emissions to zero by 2050? What are measurable the staging posts along the way? How will you remain profitable through that transition?

I am sure that the period 2015-2020 (or thereabouts) is the right period for engagement. I am really grateful for all that NIB’s have done and for the Transition Pathway Initiative. The work has been outstanding. I think TPI will be needed for a long time into the future whatever the outcome of our debate today.

But there is a growing global community of churches, institutions and investors who are realising that engagement alone is not enough. Laboured and incremental change is nowhere near what is needed. Internal engagement needs to be combined with external pressure to make radical change.

We have a very serious ethical issue before us as a Church. Achieving the aims of the Paris Agreement requires 30% of oil and 50% of known gas reserves to remain unburned. If we continue to invest in these companies beyond 2020 we will be making money from practices which will harm the poorest people on earth and the planet itself.

The threat of imminent divestment beginning in 2020 is not an alternative to engagement but a vital part of that engagement. We will not be walking away. Engagement can and should continue by different means.

The Church of England has a responsibility to lead on this issue within the United Kingdom and internationally through the Anglican Communion. That moral leadership depends on aligning our investment practice and our lifestyle with the global vision for a net zero carbon world by 2050.

 

+Steven
8 July 2018

Further reading

Bishop Steven at General Synod

The following text, adapted for the blog, is the core of a keynote address on leadership, given by Bishop Steven to over 500 Christian leaders at the 4th Forum christlicher Führungskräfte in Fribourg, Switzerland in March 2018. The keynote address was recently referred to in the Financial Times Business Education supplement

Read more

A Presidential Address to the Oxford Diocesan Synod

“The world has woken up to the dangers of single-use plastic,” said Sir David Attenborough interviewed by the Daily Mirror a few weeks ago. He was speaking of course about the public response to Blue Planet 2, the remarkable study of the oceans broadcast here in the autumn and then across the world. Viewers were shocked by footage of albatross parents unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic and a sea turtle caught up in a plastic sack, among other gripping images.

The BBC itself has now banned single-use plastic across the corporation. Plastic-free aisles are appearing in supermarkets. Care for the environment and tending creation is back, it seems, on the national and popular agenda.

The first step in the responsible stewardship of creation in the 21st Century is to accept that the activity of humankind is shaping and changing the very ecosystem of the planet. The volume of discarded plastic in the oceans is choking marine life. The volume of greenhouse gas emissions is leading to a critical rise in global temperatures which leads in turn to dramatic shifts in climate and rising sea levels. Deforestation on a massive scale, caused by humankind, leads to soil erosion which leads to changed weather patterns, which leads to mass migration which is felt across Europe and shapes our political life. Christian Aid has reminded us this Lent that there are 40 million refugees in the world displaced within their own countries.

Humankind is no longer simply one of a number of species on the planet, our fragile and beautiful home. We are the dominant species. The global population stands at 7.6 billion and rising. Our collective need for water, energy, food and our waste are reshaping the planet we inhabit.

In the 21st Century, the Church of Jesus Christ should be at the forefront of tending creation and care for the beauty and life entrusted to us, ensuring that the world can sustain life for future generations. Such is the crisis facing our world, that in the 21st Century, the tending of creation should be at the forefront of the witness and mission of the Church.

In the story of Genesis, God places the man and the woman in the garden to till it and keep it, for the blessing of the earth, not its exploitation. Paul makes clear in Romans 8 that the mission of Christ is to the whole of creation, which groans in labour waiting for the freedom of the children of God. The best-known verse in Scripture, John 3.16 reminds us that God so loved the world, the cosmos, whole of creation that he sent his Son to save it.. The fifth mark of mission of the Anglican Communion goes beyond conservation to restoration and undoing the damage we have inflicted on God’s world. We are called “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”.

Rubbish accumulates, seas rise and people are displaced and global temperatures rise further year by year. Yet still, there is a lack of energy across the Church and society around this agenda. In 2016 Pope Francis published his great encyclical, Laudato Si’, a letter to every person on the earth pleading for a greater urgency in tending creation.

Pope Francis appeals to his namesake, Francis of Assisi. St. Francis reminds that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. He writes:

“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth itself, burdened and laid waste is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor. She “groans in travail” (Romans 8.22).

Francis quotes his predecessor, Pope Benedict: ““The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts are so vast”(LS217). Francis sets tending the earth at the front and centre of our discipleship and calls for an ecological conversion of individuals and of communities (LS216-221). It is this call to ecological conversion which I want to us to reflect on in this Synod and across our Diocese today. What would it mean?

We are exploring as a Church our call to be a more Christ-like Church: contemplative, compassionate, courageous. A sense of creation runs through the Sermon on the Mount. The meek will inherit the earth. We read of salt and light; of the earth as God’s very footstool; of sun rising and rain falling. We are asked to pray each day not for abundance but for just enough, for daily bread. Jesus calls us to open our eyes and look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. He draws lessons from pigs and pearls and wolves, from grapes and thistles, from sand and storms and wind and rocks.

Tending the earth is rooted in contemplation of Scripture and of creation. In Psalm 8 we read: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them”. Creation stirs us to awe and wonder and mystery and wise stewardship of the earth.

How are we to care for the earth unless we have taken time to contemplate its beauty and reflect the beauty and order of creation in our worship?

As we look and listen and ponder, we are drawn then to compassion, to mourning and lament for the wounds of God’s creation. Our looking needs to go beyond gazing at the night sky to the science of our climate. Our gaze needs to pass beyond what can be filmed and shown on our screens to the invisible gases which are causing the rise in global temperature. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases cannot be seen but we can measure and see their effect. Climate change caused by human intervention is a present reality. We feel it least in this temperate climate. For our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world, the effects of climate change are a daily reality. In South Africa, there is severe drought in the east of the country and extreme weather in the west. In Polynesia the oceans are rising. If the world does not take action the human suffering and environmental costs will be incalculable.

In 2015, the nations of the world made an historic agreement in Paris to work together to seek to limit the rise in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees from pre-industrial levels. The Churches and other faith communities have been at the centre of raising awareness of these issues. Our influence across the world is hugely significant, much greater than we think it is. The Church is a global community of people facing common issue of climate change from the perspective of justice and compassion.

Ten years ago, long before the historic Paris agreement, the UK’s environment agency asked 25 leading environmentalists what most needed to happen to limit climate change.

There were 50 suggestions. Second on the list, behind improving energy efficiency was that religious leaders should make the environment a priority for their followers because of the enormous potential influence for change. Imagine the impact if we were truly to do that in this diocese.

Out of a global population of 7.6 billion just 1.1 billion people are secular, non-religious, agnostic or atheist. The remainder belong in some way to one of the great world faiths. 31% of the global population is Christian. 22% belong to Islam. It is our responsibility to give a lead. Together we exert enormous influence as consumers, as shapers of opinion, in our lobbying and voting, in our investments. This is not an issue which will go away or which we can afford to leave to others.

For those reasons we need to move from the call to be contemplative and compassionate to be courageous. We need to deepen the action we are already taking to tend creation for the sake of the whole earth. The ecological conversion needs to be expressed as ecological discipleship.

What are we doing already and how might we deepen and our engagement with this dimension of God’s mission.

Roger Martin and Sally Osberg offer three ways churches, charities, businesses seek to change behaviour and culture: social service provision, social activism and social entrepreneurship. We need to be active in each of these three areas.

Social service provision is part of the life of every parish church. There are people who care passionately about the environment who are already part of our parishes and deaneries and who give freely of their expertise. Martin and Margot Hodson, who work in this area, argue that the parish church itself is an inherently green concept. The more people engage and do things in their own communities, the less energy they use, the more they encourage local skills and businesses. Our Department of Mission is working to connect those who are keen to be a resource in this area through the Earthing the Faith network and make them known to local churches.

As a Diocese together we consist of more than a thousand churches, schools and chaplaincies across our three counties. We are a major consumer of energy and a major source of influence in every community.

I am delighted that the Archdeacons are inviting every Church to switch or consider switching to green energy, to consider an energy audit and to register for the Eco-Church programme. We are putting in place a support programme to help parishes with all of this which will be made known in the next couple of months. This programme is being done in conjunction with the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment – though it will apply to the whole diocese – and through them we have already secured over £17,000, including funding from the Beatrice Laing Foundation, to subsidise these energy audits and to help churches implement their recommendations.

There are already several Eco-Church award winners in the diocese (including in Holy Trinity Headington Quarry, St John’s and St Stephen’s in Reading and St Andrew’s, Chinnor and some fantastic environmental projects in schools. St. George’s Washcommon is one of the first carbon neutral churches in the country.

Cafeplus in Haddenham is a fresh expression of Church with an environmental focus and holds clothing, book and plant swaps, bike services and MOT’s and apple pressing in the autumn. In Wargrave, the church has formed Friends of Mill Green to manage a community space in an environmentally sustainable and friendly way. In Owlswick close to Monks Risborough, the church gained grants to install a composting loo together with disabled access to the toilet and the chapel. St. James Finchampstead won a Church Times green award in 2017 for their biodiversity project. The churchyard project at St Mary and St John Cowley has had a positive impact on the local community. There are too many good stories to tell and to celebrate in one morning. Each is making a contribution. But we can do more.

Social advocacy is vital. I am the patron of a small charity, Hope for the Future, which trains and helps local people lobby their Member of Parliament and local councillors on climate change and environmental issues. We held a training day on advocacy with Hope in the diocese last year and more are planned for 2018. Christian Aid are asking people to ask their banks to disinvest in fossil fuels. We have a motion before us again this morning asking the Church Commissioners to set an example through their investment policy to phase out fossil fuels, to adopt renewable energy in line with the timetable set by the Paris climate change agreement. I’ve spoken to several people across the Diocese who have been inspired by Ruth Valerio’s campaign to give up single-use plastic for Lent. Already this is changing the way people shop and creating conversation both within and outside the church.

We are all aware of the number of new homes which will be built across the Diocese in the next decade. What are we doing to engage with the developers to ensure that they are built to the highest environmental standards for the sake of those who will live in them and for the sake of the earth?

Finally, we need in this area as in others to go beyond social service and social advocacy to social entrepreneurship: to encourage good sensible green businesses which keep jobs on the land locally and for the benefit of the local community. There are many green businesses in the Diocese also which develop green technology which is used very widely.

I shared in my first Plough Wednesday in January organised by our rural team. First stop was the Mapledurham Estate, just north of Reading: managed for a generation to create and keep jobs on the land and in the local economy.  Land which cannot be used for farming has been developed in other ways as a golf course, a centre for paintballing and other outdoor pursuits.  The impact has been significant.

We were introduced for the first time to an anaerobic digester.  Slurry from the cattle goes in, along with maize grown on the estate.  Electricity comes out along with dried residue which is ploughed back into the ground as fertiliser.  Back down the hill then to the working water mill using the energy of the Thames to generate clean electricity.  An essential part of the shift to renewable energy the world over is the move from a few large power plants to many different smaller sources.

As we will hear later in this Synod, there are many different ways in which we are called to work out what it means to be Christ-like: contemplative, compassionate and courageous. One which has emerged consistently in our listening across the Diocese is the urgency of environmental care, the call to tend creation. An essential mark of God’s mission is to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. May Almighty God give us grace and strength to give this mark of mission the priority it deserves and needs and a sense of urgency in our task as we live as disciples of Jesus Christ in this earth, our beautiful and fragile common home.

+Steven Oxford
17th March, 2018.