A Let it Grow sign in a patch of tall grass

The Book of Revelation tells of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first rider clothed in white comes out to conquer. The second in red represents civil war and slaughter. The third in black is famine. The fourth rider is on a pale green horse:

“Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine and pestilence and by the wild animals of the earth.”

As Christians in the 21st century, we know and understand these four terrible riders and all they symbolise. We see the war of intended conquest in Ukraine and witness the suffering which flows from that. We see civil war in South Sudan and Yemen and the terrible toll on entire populations. We understand famine and want and the rising numbers of the world’s population who live below subsistence level. And we know that Death and Hades have come closer to home through a global pandemic which has claimed so many lives.

But in the 21st century there are two new riders, and they are the subject of much of our Synod meeting this March.

The fifth horseman is invisible. This rider represents the unseen blanket of greenhouse gas which silently envelopes the earth, year by year trapping more of the sun’s energy inside the atmosphere and raising global temperatures to critical levels. This horseman has the power to disrupt weather, to extend deserts, to set fire to the forests, to cause floods and storms, to melt the ice caps and raise sea levels to disastrous levels.

This rider can be stopped. The world has a small window in which to act. But only if every nation, every institution, every faith, every family act together to reach net zero and do so without delay.

The sixth rider is astride a grey horse, made of gunmetal; a machine, not a living creature, spewing an invisible poison from its mouth. This rider is hard to see against the landscape. Its work is gradual, not sudden, a silent undermining of the vital web of life.

Earth is the only planet, the only corner of this vast universe, where we are certain there is abundant life. Yet the once rich tapestry of life on earth is now being degraded year by year because of the expansion and greed of a single species, ourselves.

The sixth rider represents the systemic destruction of nature, the second great environmental challenge of our time. This rider works destruction by stealth and in secret. The birds fall silent. The insects disappear. The soil is less rich in micro-organisms. The fish die in the rivers. Humanity is putting at risk the very eco system on which our life depends.

There are signs that the world is waking up to the environmental disaster we face. Wildlife populations worldwide declined by an average of 69% between 1970 and 2018. Latin America and the Caribbean experienced a 94% drop in the wildlife population. Wild animals now account for just 4% of mammal biomass globally: humans and our livestock account for the other 96%. 60% of the UK’s flying insects have vanished in the last 20 years. They are vital for pollination and for the food chain. Britain is currently one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Over 1 million species are currently threatened with extinction.

These two new horsemen of the apocalypse work closely together in a spiral of destruction. Biodiversity loss is one of the accelerators of climate change. Global heating leads to more diversity loss. Both need to be addressed together. Both need to be addressed locally as well as globally.

Why should Christians care?

This is a critical moment. In December the world agreed a new set of global targets for restoring nature at the COP15 conference in Montreal. The principal goal of the Kinming-Montreal agreement is to protect 30% of the earth’s land, oceans, coastal areas and inland waters by 2030.

Just six days ago, the news led with agreement of the UN High Seas Treaty setting 30% of the world’s oceans into protected areas. 30% is not a random number. It represents the scientific consensus on the minimum protected area which will allow the regeneration of the whole. Tomorrow, David Attenborough begins a major new television series, Wild Isles, focussing on the decline in biodiversity in Britain and Ireland and how that can be addressed.

But why should Christians care? Why should the diocese or the local church invest resources in restoring nature alongside working towards net zero? Why do we need to work at the ecological conversion of every disciple, in the words of Pope Francis? Why should we be giving our time today to this aspect of God’s mission?

There are a million reasons why. The most immediate is, of course, the whole future of life on earth; the love we bear our neighbours, our children and grandchildren and those who will come after us. Our life is inextricably linked to and dependent on the biodiversity of the earth. Yet scientists have named these decades as the Age of Extinction.

If we sleepwalk through the next ten years, the tragedy will be indescribable and irreversible for the whole future of life on earth.

From Genesis to Revelation

The Bible teaches us from Genesis to Revelation that humanity is part of God’s creation with a particular relationship with the natural world. If you doubt that you might want to explore Psalm 104 or the final chapters of Job or Proverbs 8 or the Sermon on the Mount or Colossians 1. Read each text through the lens of these two terrible Riders.

But for today let me take you to just a handful of verses in the Book of Genesis. Genesis 1, as you will know, describes the creation of the heavens and the earth with humankind created on the sixth day. There God gives to humanity responsibility for the earth:

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth”.

Those words fill and subdue and ‘have dominion’ are sometimes misunderstood as giving authority to exploit creation and misuse nature. But properly interpreted they give dignity and agency and responsibility – a sacred trust – to every human person, male and female. This is the stewardship of a good shepherd with responsibility to care for the flock, not the authority to plunder or destroy.

That responsibility is made very clear in the second creation story in Genesis 2. Here we read:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

The word translated ’till’ here is found again in Genesis 3.23:

“… the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken”. We have the command to till before and after the fall.

To serve and steward

So what is the core meaning of that word ’till’? The Hebrew word is not the normal word for ploughing or gardening. The Hebrew word is ‘ebed. The root meaning of the word is ‘to serve’. ‘Ebed can also mean to worship and to work. It is the word used of the service of God and of the servant of the Lord in other Old Testament texts. It is a key word for Jesus understanding of his ministry and our understanding of who Jesus is. The word keep means to watch over, to guard.

Humanity is here given a sacred responsibility to serve and steward and watch over the earth: the land and the water and all that lives in them. Hebrew scholars note that ‘ebed can also be translated as observe, preserve and conserve, all variations of the English verb to serve. Tilling and keeping the earth are foundational to the exploration of human identity and vocation.

Pope Francis’ great encyclical, Laudato’ Si explores these texts in Genesis. They “suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin.”

Restoring our relationship with the earth is therefore core to our own salvation, won by Christ on the cross. In Romans 8, Paul explores the relationship between our own salvation as women and men and the salvation and healing of the earth:

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope, that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God, We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now;” (Romans 8.19-22).

Conservation is not enough

So what are the ways in which we can, with others, repair and restore creation in the places where we live? Conservation is not enough. We have a tremendous opportunity as a diocese to shape and influence the ecology of the Thames Valley in the coming years.

We are able as we know to help and support the pathway to net zero through the actions we take in schools and churches and vicarages across the three counties. Every single place has a church and congregation who are able to work together with their community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and work to restore and rebuild the natural world. We have green spaces and churchyards. Individually we own farms and gardens.

Churches across the diocese are rewilding their churchyards to encourage biodiversity and provide a rich habitat for flora and fauna to flourish within the framework of EcoChurch. St Mary’s Church in Wargrave introduced a Let it Grow zone in part of their churchyard by halting regular mowing and strimming of the grass. This has promoted wildflower growth and provides habitat for animals and invertebrate species helping to increase the biodiversity of the churchyard. The church has also installed bat boxes and bird boxes and created a large compost area that provides shelter for hedgehogs. Imagine if Wargrave’s story was repeated over 800 times in every churchyard in the diocese?

As Christians we can work in partnership with others. I’m delighted that the diocese has an active partnership with the Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. The trust will be running two training courses in our churchyards in April and May – one about managing green spaces and the other on doing a basic site survey (species identification, vegetation types etc). There is an inspiring webpage called Wilder Churches, which features examples of churches in the Diocese of Oxford taking action and steps others can take.

Engaging with green issues

Local Christians and churches can stimulate wider initiatives for nature. Hungerford has a great story about tree planting – 6,440 trees supplied by ⁦the Woodland Trust to date! Churches in Greenham and Wendover and elsewhere are also planting trees, though not at such scale. Engaging with gardening and green issues and biodiversity is becoming a normal part of church life across the diocese.

There will be a particular opportunity in the next few years for local government to play a key role – and therefore for Christians to be involved in shaping nature recovery. Last year the UK government launched the Nature Recovery Network through Natural England, which draws together partners across the community. A key part of the Nature Recovery Network will be for every county and local authority to draw up its own Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LRNS). These will be a key building block for the recovery of nature nationally. They are a key outcome of the Environment Act 2021.

The government is taking further initiatives on local planning, on land use, sustainable farming, care of the soil and rivers which all offer opportunities for partnership and for the voices of local people to be heard. We must not be silent for the sake of the earth. As many will know, I’m part of the House of Lords Environment and Climate Select Committee. We have just begun our third major enquiry on protected areas to scrutinise the government’s plans to protect 30% of our land and coastal areas by 2030.

The earth needs humankind to till it and keep it. Humanity needs the earth for our survival, for our health, for human flourishing. We need clean air, clean water, abundant biodiversity. We need not just to conserve but to restore the natural world carefully and intentionally in the coming decade.

The Church of England is not able to do this by ourselves but we can and we should offer leadership wherever we can for the sake of the Earth.

The two new Horsemen of the Apocalypse are truly terrifying. We have time, just, to respond to the challenges they bring. May God give us grace and strength to work together in this generation for the renewal of the earth.

Watch Bishop Steven’s address to Diocesan Synod

The once rich tapestry of life on earth is now being degraded year by year because of the expansion and greed of a single species: our selves. Our life is inextricably linked to and dependent on the biodiversity of the Earth. While there are signs that the world is waking up to the environmental disaster we face, Britain is currently one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

Watch a recording of the Presidential Address to Oxford Diocesan Synod, given by the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, on 11 March 2023.

Bishop Steven addressing Area Deans and Lay Chairs. January 2023

This article offers some biblical and theological reflection on where we are and where we are going, based around the Beatitudes. But my way into that reflection are two sets of statistics.

The first are the Census results published 30 November. The banner headline in the i newspaper: ‘UK Christians in minority for first time since the Dark Ages’. According to the Census, less that half the UK population identify as Christian for the first time in 1,500 years. The Express led with the same story: less than half of population is Christian. We were expecting the outcome of the Census. We know that we are becoming more diverse as a society. We know that those of no religion are the fastest growing group. But the figure is significant, a timely reminder of the challenges we face and something of a call to action.

The second statistics are the first analysis of church attendance across the diocese from October 2022. These are not yet complete. The full report will be published in the next few weeks and the full statistics for mission later in the year. But thanks to Dr Bev Botting’s analysis we have a first take on what is happening as a whole across the diocese in terms of church attendance at this point in the journey through and beyond COVID.

The statistics confirm what you will know from your own deanery. Thanks to the prayers and love and sheer hard work of clergy and lay ministers and volunteers we are 80% there in terms of this long regathering. That’s an amazing achievement after the disruption of COVID and all of the ongoing demands.

We know the overall picture is still quite fragile. Recovery is taking longer than anticipated. I was in Slough in mid-December listening to the clergy chapter. Once again I found their commitment and dedication hugely impressive. They were experiencing increased pastoral demands higher needs and lower resources. Energy is slow to return to the body of Christ. But there were also here, as elsewhere, many signs of life and hope.

The trend is still upward in terms of attendance: if we take October 19 as our baseline then we were back to 73% of attendance in October 21; a dip again to 67% at Easter 22 (during another COVID wave); and then up to 81% by October.

Those figures increase where churches are still streaming to more than 100% of the October 2019 figure. Fewer churches were streaming in October than at Easter for understandable reasons, but streaming is still worthwhile for those who cannot come to church.

The biggest learning from the October count seems to be that many individual congregations generally are back to their pre-COVID size, but benefices for various reasons have reduced the number of services in the week either on Sundays or midweek – often for understandable reasons of low resources and low energy. Where this happens, by and large, people have not transferred to other worship services.

As God’s life flows back into the vine from this long winter, we need to be putting creativity and resources into re-opening when we can those midweek and Sunday services and beginning new congregations – especially those focussed on children, young people and families. Where that happens – and we see it happening – there are signs of hope and life.

The two sets of statistics give us an indication of what is happening in our wider society and also what is happening in the life of the Church in this season. Both of these snapshots lead us back to our central calling to witness to the love of God in word and in action: to be a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world.

They lead us, I hope into a deeper encounter with God in Christ and they encourage us to place a greater emphasis on sharing our faith in different ways in the coming years with love and with confidence. All too often in my experience, a focus on statistics tips the Church into endless conversations about scarcity and spirals of decline instead of leading to a focus on Christ and on the good news.

Seven disciplines of evangelism

In every generation the Church has developed ways of communicating the gospel. [Papers shared with my senior staff, area deans and lay chairs] unfold what I’ve called the seven disciplines of evangelism: seven colours of a rainbow which make up our common witness.

Our evangelism is rooted in prayer and encounter with God, in contemplation. Our evangelism flows from being a more Christ-like Church: living like Jesus and serving our communities. Our evangelism locally and as a diocese embraces apologetics – presenting a rationale for the faith we hold and seeking to remove obstacles to belief. Our evangelism is concerned with witness to our friends and neighbours and every congregation offering ways for beginners to explore faith and come to baptism as we will do this Lent through Come and See.

Our understanding of evangelism will embrace forming disciples who are mature in faith and learning to grow and regrow the Church in the image of Christ. Our evangelism will include forming and growing new congregations to meet the needs of those outside the churches.

New resources to support lay formation and discipleship

We will be launching later this year a whole suite of resources to support lay formation and discipleship in every day faith – including these disciplines. These will include a new one year foundation course for lay ministry to begin in September as a way of exploring and discovering vocation. It will be delivered partly online and partly in person. I hope to be teaching the first term’s programme each year on these seven disciplines of evangelism, so that all of our ministers are equipped and formed in these habits and disciplines.

But as we know, techniques and methods and training courses are not the whole answer. We need as a Church deep spiritual and theological renewal: to come deeper into Christ. We need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our work. We need continually a fresh vision of what it means to be human and in Christ.

As we look back in Church history we see clearly that the Church has emphasised different facets of the jewel of the gospel in different times and seasons. In one period of the Church there has been an emphasis on freedom in Christ; in another on assurance of salvation; in another on the experience of God’s Spirit. Each period, each season will take us back to Scripture and the tradition to draw out good news for our own generation. What is that message for this moment, for now, for those who are longing for new life in our own communities?

My own reflection is that this generation, this moment, now, is that this generation is hungry and thirst for significance: to know that they matter and that individual lives matter. That each is deeply precious and loved. I find myself preaching more and more at confirmation services on the words prior to the laying on of hands: Steven, God has called you by name and made you his own. We need to know that we are significant.

Why is this important?

Why is this important now? In part because of what science tells us about the size of the universe. We see more and more clearly if we dare to think about it how vast and ancient the universe is, how marginal the earth is, how tiny and insignificant we are in the physical world. In part because of what technology has done to bring the world together. The global population reached 8 billion on 15th November. Technology connects us together. We are aware of one another. We feel compassion for floods in Pakistan; drone attacks in Kiev and wildfires in California 24 hours a day. Yet many people testify to never feeling more alone. We have knowledge at our fingertips but have never been more in need of wisdom: the ability to live well. That living well begins with a sense of significance: of being someone in the vastness of creation.

This generation in particular lives with a vast and existential fear of the danger to the planet from environmental disaster and climate change which will shape our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren. In order to combat this disaster we need confidence in our own significance: to know that we can make a difference.

That longing for significance underlies much of what is happening in Church and society. For example, we are working hard on racial justice. The movement which began after the death of George Floyd was called Black Lives Matter. We see this theme of significance in many of the current debates within the Church – including around human sexuality and gender.

We need to know that we are loved, that we matter. The primary place that sense of significance can come from is our maker. The second place that significance comes from is our closest relationships. The way we know that we are loved is to listen to Jesus, to place our trust in Jesus and in the great and transformative truths of the incarnation, the cross and the resurrection.

The Sermon on the Mount is the place that Jesus addresses the question of human significance. Consider the birds of the air, the lilies of the field. Are you not worth more than these? You are so significant that the very words that come from your mouth will be accounted for. Your Father in heaven knows you and loves you. Your Father in heaven sees even and especially what you do in secret, behind closed doors. Your Father in heaven knows and understands even your secret jealousies and hatreds and desires.

Every human life is significant but the Church, the people of God, even more significant. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. There is a responsibility placed on you because of the grace you have received. In this generation above all we are bearers of meaning for the world.

Eight qualities: the Beatitudes

And this significance is not measured as the world measures it – and here we come at last to the Beatitudes which begin the Sermon on the Mount. In the upside down kingdom of God, this significance and meaning does not belong to the wealthy or powerful, the proud or the educated, the technocrats or the pleasure seekers.

Jesus says blessed – significant – are the poor in spirit – those who know their need of God. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The significant ones are those who mourn in compassion for the needs of the world and share its griefs. They shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek – the really significant ones are the ones who are overlooked. They will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who long to change the world. They will be satisfied.

The ones to notice are the merciful, the gentle, the kind. They will receive mercy. Integrity is significant and, as we know, the rarest of qualities in public life.

Blessed are the pure in heart. Significant are the peacemakers. In fact they are so significant for they will be called children of God. Take notice of those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Our calling is to be more and more the Church of the Beatitudes: our significance does not rest in the number of people in our congregations or the cleverness of our ministers or the size of our PCC reserves or the beauty of our buildings. Our significance will rest in the way we reflect the character of Christ and witness to God’s love in all we seek to do.

As energy returns to our churches and as the process of spiritual renewal continues, it is vital that we rebalance our common life towards these seven disciplines of evangelism. We have a responsibility to our society and culture to pass on this good news.

But it is even more vital that we remain centred ourselves on these eight beautiful qualities, the best description there has ever been of what it means to be human and the most profound portrait of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Come and see.

The above text is an edited version of Bishop Steven’s address to the Area Deans and Lay Chairs of the diocese, given at St Paul’s, Slough, on Saturday 28 January 2023

Come and See takes place each Lent in the Diocese of Oxford. It’s our big, warm open invitation to everyone, for everyone for an adventure in faith and trust. It’s something for the local church and the whole community… including children and young people, families and schools. It’s completely free and all are welcome. Find out more at oxford.anglican.org/come-and-see




Still of Bishop Steven's film

Following the publication of Together in Love and Faith, Bishop Steven offers a commentary and reflections on the next stage of the Living in Love and Faith process. This includes the way in which we might approach that process together, both as a diocese, and more widely as the Church of England. This is a recorded version of the presidential address given to Diocesan Synod on 12 November 2022.



“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace”
– James 3.17-18

I want to offer some commentary and reflections on the next stage of the Living in Love and Faith process and in particular of the way in which we might approach that process together as a diocese and more widely as the Church of England.

Living in Love and Faith is the third of three processes stretching over the last decade to help the Church of England engage with questions around human sexuality. The first was the process led by Sir Jo Pilling, a member of our own diocese at the time, which produced a report in 2012. The second was the Shared Conversations which ran from 2013 to 2016. The third and most extensive has been LLF from 2017 to the present.

Extensive study resources were published in November 2020. There has been a very significant process of church wide engagement over the last two years. Many across our own diocese have taken part in small group conversations enabled by our excellent team of LLF advocates. All the feedback nationally has been collated and was published in September as Listening in Love and Faith.

LLF covers a wide range of questions from a number of perspectives but it was clear from the feedback that the most pressing and urgent is the question of how we respond as a church to same sex partnerships and same sex marriage. This autumn, LLF entered a new phase of discernment. The bishops together have been asked to discern carefully what proposals to bring to the General Synod in February, 2023. We are meeting together for two three day residentials in November and December and a one day meeting in January. One of the strong themes in the feedback was a request to the bishops to make their own views known.

As many will know, I recently published my own contribution to that debate, Together in Love and Faith. It’s not my purpose this morning to rehearse the arguments in the booklet. Together in Love and Faith is a personal reflection not a diocesan position. But I do want to offer some guidance to all of us on the way in which this next part of the debate is conducted as we seek to discern the right way forward and witness to God’s love in the world. As the four bishops we are offering three seminars over the next few days to talk together about the substance of the debate and to listen to different views across the diocese.

Holding a discussion on this most personal of issues in the public gaze is a challenge for the Church. As I’ve pondered that challenge, I’ve found myself drawn back again and again to the wisdom tradition within the scriptures: that strand of biblical teaching which is focussed on how to live well in community, how to make good decisions, how to balance different points of view and to live with paradox and tension.

King Solomon is the fountain head of that tradition in the Old Testament. In 1 Kings 3 we read of Solomon’s prayer which has been my own prayer especially in the past few weeks:

give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil, for who can govern this your great people.

Solomon’s new wisdom is tested by his being asked to judge between two women claiming to be the mother of the same child. The wisdom tradition is concerned with good governance and the provision of a civil service for Solomon’s kingdom. It is concerned with marshalling knowledge of the natural world and the accumulation of proverbs which support how to live. In time the wisdom tradition will wrestle above all with the challenges of suffering in the Book of Job and also of cynicism in Ecclesiastes. The wisdom tradition continues through the intertestamental period the apocryphal writings and informs and shapes rabbinic discussion.

Wisdom informs the teaching of Jesus in many different ways. Jesus stands in the wisdom tradition as he draws attention to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field; as he crafts riddles and parables and pithy sayings which stay in the mind and help us explore paradox and which surprise us continually. Jesus, like Solomon, is asked to give wise judgements on practical dilemmas where there are traps and pitfalls on every side: is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? How often should I forgive? As many as seven times? Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause? What good deeds must I do to inherit eternal life? Which man sinned: this man or his parents? This woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?

To answer to each of these questions, Jesus draws on the wisdom tradition and the gift of wisdom. It is this wisdom which the whole Church needs in the present moment. It will be given to the whole Church as we study and pray and talk together and discern. As the New Testament unfolds, the early Church is continually discovering dilemmas. The large central portion of the Book of Acts is given over to the debate about how Gentiles are to be included within the kingdom of God and God’s grace. Romans and Galatians grapple with the same question only with rhetoric which is sharp and raw. Again Paul reaches for the language of wisdom.

As the Church finds its way, discernment is key and part of the way of navigating that complex discernment is love. The way we talk together and treat each another is as important as the arguments we use and the conclusions we reach. It is indeed possible to hold different convictions deeply within the Body of Christ, to disagree well. I’ve been reflecting afresh in recent weeks on a particular verse in Philippians 1, a letter written to a church where there is deep division, though we never quite discover why.

“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless”
– Philippians 1.9-10

Paul is saying here that love, agape, is our primary tool of discernment. To be sure it needs to be linked with knowledge and insight but love remains primary. To cross reference 1 Corinthians 13, now we see in a mirror dimly; now I know only in part (13.12, 13). This is what it means to exercise wisdom as a Christian, in a way which is summed up in the profound words of James, the New Testament epistle which stands most clearly in the wisdom traditions:

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace”
– James 3.17-18

This deep wisdom needs to inform and guide us in our process of discernment through the Spirit’s grace. There is I think consensus among those who hold very different views on same sex relationships that it is now time for this debate to reach conclusions. There is a recognition of a risk that we may end up again in some kind of deadlock. There is an awareness that our wider society is watching our debate carefully and also cares deeply about the conclusions we reach. All parties in the debate acknowledge how difficult it is for LGBTQ+ people to be spoken about not as people but as an issue. There is also I think a sense that we will only reach good conclusions as we are each able to speak honestly and openly about our own individual discernment.

For all those reasons it seemed right to me at this point to be transparent about my views and the ways they have changed over time and the reasons for that. I am glad that others have felt able to do the same, including other bishops who take a similar view. That includes, of course, Bishops Alan, Olivia and Gavin. I need to say that there is no single diocesan view and no single view across the whole of the senior team within the diocese.

In particular I want to express my appreciation to Canon Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St. Ebbes for his careful response to my own essay and in particular for the tone and spirit in which Vaughan writes. At the beginning of his essay Vaughan quotes Bishop Richard Harries’ encouragement in all debates on these and other matters to engage with those with whom we disagree at their best. It seems to me that Vaughan has done that and I have no hesitation in commending his response and also thanking Vaughan for his willingness to enter into this conversation over several years.

How are we to find a way forward? It seems to me, and again I think there is consensus here, that there are now two deeply held convictions around same sex relationships in the Church of England (and more widely). Many hold still to the traditional view of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Others allow that in addition, it is appropriate to bless or solemnise the marriage of two men or two women. The last ten years teach me that the whole church is unlikely to change its mind all at once whatever the bishops say or one bishop says.

In such a circumstance, it seems to me, a wise outcome to this process of discernment will be one which allows for diversity of practice within a single church; in which some are able to opt in to new arrangements permitting marriage and blessings; and in which clergy as well as lay people are free to order their closest relationships according to their consciences. Other clergy and local churches will need to be free not to opt in. Some for whom this seems to them to be a first order issue may need, in my view, some clear differentiation of oversight within one Church of England. As far as possible, both positions will need to be held in mutual respect across the church.

I don’t know whether we will together be able to see this outcome in the near future but I remain hopeful. The response to Together in Love and Faith has been very moving. I’ve received a very large number of personal testimonies in appreciation of what I’ve written. I’ve been unusually conscious of the interest of our wider society in the debate. I’ve received also courteous responses expressing disagreement, which I know are always harder to write as well as to receive.

At this point I don’t know the outcome of the bishops conversations or what will be brought to Synod or what the process will be from here. But I commend this debate to the prayers of the diocese. I hope we can model engaging with one another at our best, with honesty and love. I pray that we will find ways to discover and rediscover that wisdom from above which “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy”.

Thanks be to God.

+Steven Oxford
12th November, 2022


Three volumes of Psalms Through the Centuries hard back books displayed on a table tablecloth.

Bishop Steven’s speech at the launch event of the Psalms history commentary by the Revd Canon Professor Sue Gillingham.

14.09.2022 – the four bishops have written to to all licensed clergy, LLMs and church officers in the diocese to thank them for responding so well in the days following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Dear friends,

Thanks to all who have responded so well to the remarkable and moving events of the last seven days. Parish churches, chaplaincies and schools have offered comfort and consolation, practical support, spaces to grieve in, and opportunities to come together and reflect.

This has meant a great deal of additional work for headteachers, clergy, wardens, lay ministers and many volunteers. We know that this is service gladly offered to God and to communities at this key moment in the life of the nation, but we also want to express thanks and appreciation for your faithfulness in this demanding ministry.

The period of mourning will of course continue with our late Queen lying in state in Westminster Hall and the state funeral on Monday. So far there has been an extraordinary outpouring of public affection and grief. There will be major civic services in each of our three counties over the coming weekend and, of course, in many other places. Seven days are not enough to begin to take in the significances of the Queen’s death and the accession of King Charles in the life of our nation.

One thread which is emerging is the profound importance of Christian faith, both to the late Queen and also to our new King. There is a sense of the nation leaning into the resources of the Christian faith as we grieve together and learn to look forward in hope

This will awaken for some people in every community a new search for faith and meaning or a desire to return as adults to a church they may have known as children. The coming weeks and months will be a time to offer both a warm welcome to seekers and strangers in our worship and opportunities to learn and re-learn what it means to be a Christian.

There will also be many people in our communities for whom the national mourning stirs afresh their own grief for loved ones who have died and who will therefore need pastoral care and draw strength from the Church.

Please pray for us in the opportunities we have to bear witness to the love of God in Christ, and we will pray for you. In the words of 1 Peter:

“Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 4.11

May God bless you in your service in these times,

Archbishop Justin stands on a stage infront of large audience, a large photo of an oil refinery is shown on a screen.

Bishop Steven shares an overview of the key thread of Science and Faith at the Lambeth Conference held in Canterbury from 26th July to 7th August.

Bishop Steven’s address to Diocesan Synod in June 2022, calling on every household to respond to the climate crisis.

Bishop Steven’s address to Diocesan Synod in March 2022, focusing on the atrocities in Ukraine and our call to be a more Christ-like Church.

Questions of poverty and inequality are at the heart of our discipleship. Each of us will need to navigate the spiritual challenges, dangers and temptations of relative and sometimes actual wealth. As a church we have a calling to serve the poorest in our communities. As a whole church we have a responsibility to maintain and if we can to deepen the way in which our society lives out the call in the prophets and in the gospels to justice and a fairer society.

The entire future of life on the earth may be determined by what is agreed, or not agreed, in the autumn of 2021.