Liverpool Cathedral hosts an Urban Lecture each year for clergy working in inner city or outer estate areas.  I was the guest lecturer in June and chose to speak on developing disciples in the city.  The lecture incorporates some recent reading and reflection on the theme of catechesis and how best to scope new work on the catechism, part of the national Reform and Renewal programme of the Church of England. 

1.  Faith in the City: the missing chapter

It is an honour to be invited to give this third Liverpool Cathedral Urban Lecture.  I come with some credentials and experience in urban and outer estate ministry.  From 1987 until 1996, I was Vicar of Ovenden in Halifax, a parish which consisted of large council estates built between the wars.  The parish was in the 20 most deprived in the then Diocese of Wakefield and was classified as an urban priority area.  It was then a white working class community.  The health of the population was poor.  I went from taking the funerals of people in their eighties in my curacy parish to taking funerals of people in their fifties and sixties in my first years as Vicar.  The two largest employers in Ovenden were Crossley’s Carpets at the bottom of the parish in the Dean Clough Estates and United Biscuits at the top in their Illingworth factory.  Dean Clough had closed a few years before I arrived and United Biscuits closed in 1988.  Patterns of family life were chaotic.  Depression and suicide were relatively common.  Educational achievement was low.  Just as we left the parish in 1996, the Ridings School achieved national notoriety and was closed because of violence breaking out in the classroom.

I arrived in Ovenden two years after Faith in the City had been published, to considerable acclaim within the Church and opprobrium beyond it[1].  David Sheppard, then Bishop of this Diocese was vice-chair of the commission which produced the report.  Several people now in Sheffield were very connected with the report.  I recently read a fresh account of its genesis and reception in Eliza Filby’s excellent book, God and Mrs Thatcher, which I commend[2].

By 1987, Faith in the City had begun to shape urban and outer estate ministry, and rightly so.  Every parish was encouraged to undertake a mission audit, to engage with the needs of its community, to serve the whole parish and especially the poor.  The Church Urban Fund was established to provide resources, on which we drew over the coming nine years.  In Ovenden, as in many parishes, we developed initiatives with the elderly, with the unemployed and for young families.  We grew a network of playgroups and toddler groups.  I was a governor of the two local schools, networked regularly with social workers and police working on the estates, developed after school and school holiday care and so on.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Faith in the City, an event which does not seem to have been marked.  It remains in my view, one of the most impressive and far reaching Church of England reports in my lifetime and I think will continue to be visible in history a hundred years after its publication.  As someone who has been involved in producing some more modest national Church of England reports, I pay tribute to all those involved.  Their work has stood the test of time.  I wouldn’t take a single chapter out of Faith in the City today.  I would also pay tribute to the Church Urban Fund, past and present and all the initiatives developed under its aegis.

However, I do believe now, with hindsight, that Faith in the City has a missing chapter.  I would call that chapter something like: “Developing Disciples in the City”.  It would cover the intentional building up of the Christian community at the heart of the church and the parish: prayer, evangelism, apologetics, catechesis; the making and sustaining of disciples; intentionally developing the faith of children and young people; growing the community of the church so that, in the words of Bishop Paul Bayes, a bigger church can make a greater difference to the communities we serve.  All Christian communities decline naturally unless there is intentional engagement with teaching the faith to enquirers and to the young.  As our communities decline so the impact of those communities in all kinds of ways grows less.

Faith in the City was developed in a season when there was something of a dichotomy between evangelism on the one hand and social action on the other.  It played its part in helping younger evangelicals, including me, to embrace fully an agenda of serving the whole of society and seeking its transformation.  But the report does nothing to highlight the critical tasks of evangelism and catechesis to draw children and young people, women and men to Christ and to be Christian disciples as of equal importance in the building of the church and the blessing of the city.

There are those who see that dichotomy and tension as continuing in the life of the Church of England.  Some read the story of the last thirty years in this way.  Faith in the City and the 1980’s represented a high point of a certain kind of Anglican witness and public engagement.  From the 1990’s onwards, the pendulum has swung back towards what is sometimes described as the growth agenda with the Decade of Evangelism, Mission Shaped Church and other, later initiatives.  This focus on numerical growth has moved attention away from social and political engagement, the service of the poor and the transformation of society.

I want to resist that reading both of the historical narrative and the present priorities of the Church of England. My alternative narrative is that Faith in the City was developed in a short period when there was a dichotomy between evangelism and social action in the Church of England.  That dichotomy was not evident in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  It is not evident from 2000 onwards.  But in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s there is a short window of division in the models of Anglican mission which did affect this otherwise great report and its reception.

The authentic Anglican understanding of mission embraces both evangelism and the growth of the church in numbers and depth of discipleship and community service and social action.  That is our DNA caught so beautifully in the marks of mission and in the ministry of figures such as William Temple.  The embracing of evangelism and catechesis does not mean the forsaking of community service and transformation and investment in the growth of the church does not mean and should not mean the abandonment of community service and social action.  We witness in the pattern of the incarnation.  Jesus says to the disciples on Easter Day: “As the Father has sent me so I send you”[3].  The pattern of Christ’s mission is the pattern for our own.  It will involve loving service, generous self giving, seeking the well being of the city.

The best vision statements in the life of the Church of England at the present time seek to capture that comprehensive vision for mission.  The goals we have worked with in the present quinquennium nationally are about spiritual and numerical growth; serving the common good and re-imagining ministry.  The vision statement for the Diocese of Sheffield is intentionally framed to capture this comprehensive vision for mission:

“The Diocese of Sheffield is called to grow a sustainable network of Christ-like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place which are effective in making disciples and in seeking to transform our society and God’s world.”[4]

We need a both-and mission.  But that both and will include evangelism and catechesis and all the other disciplines of evangelization as a key part of urban ministry.  We need to develop disciples in the city.

2.  Lessons from the past

I made many mistakes as Vicar of Ovenden and I continue to make them now as Bishop of Sheffield.  But with a perspective of more than 25 years, some things stand out as good decisions.  One of the best was the decision to set aside an evening a week every week to teach the faith to enquirers and new Christians.  I didn’t have a vocabulary to describe what I was doing but I would now say I was beginning to rediscover catechesis.  Over nine years, hardly a week went by when I was not involved in teaching the faith in that way.  When one group ended, another began.  The smallest group was half a dozen people. The largest was around thirty.

That medium sized urban congregation grew steadily largely through adults and children and young people coming to faith and becoming established in faith and continuing in their discipleship.  Most had very little or no church background.  The material we developed in those groups eventually became part of a set of materials published as Emmaus[5].  I wrote about what we were doing in a couple of small handbooks[6].  The growth of the church meant that we were able to grow and expand the good work we were doing on the estates of Ovenden.  The good work we were doing meant a steady stream of new contacts, some of whom wanted to discover more about Christian faith.  Catechesis, teaching the faith well, was the missing key to developing disciples in urban ministry.

Part of my inspiration in rediscovering catechesis came from an earlier and deeper tradition in Anglican life.  On my retreat prior to my ordination as deacon, someone encouraged me to read Richard Baxter’s book, The Reformed Pastor[7].  I’ve read it many times since.  Baxter was Curate in Kidderminster from 1641 to 1660.  He focussed his ministry on catechesis and in particular teaching the faith from house to house, with remarkable effect.  His work inspired many subsequent generations of Anglican clergy in all kinds of situations.  The Church of England commemorates Richard Baxter in our calendar on 14th June, yesterday.

I have since discovered that Baxter’s work forms part of a long tradition of the practice and reflection on catechesis in England in the first two hundred years in the Church of England following the Reformation.  Last year I was invited to write a paper for the General Synod on the subject of Developing Discipleship.  One of the recommendations of that paper was that the House of Bishops commission work on a revised catechism.  I am currently involved with others in scoping that work and as part of that, I am exploring the history of the present catechism, a revised version of the form found in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.

The key text is a weighty book of Church history called The Christians ABC: Catechisms and Catechizing in England c.1530-1740 by Ian Green[8].  It was published in 1996 and is sadly now quite rare.  It is fascinating in all kinds of ways.  The ordinary parish clergy of the Church of England invested a huge amount of time and energy in catechesis in the first two hundred years after the Reformation.  They were after all seeking to teach the Christian faith with a renewed and Protestant interpretation in the English language for the first time in the history of these islands.  They took seriously the call to make disciples.

Between 1530 and 1740, how many published catechisms, aids to teaching the faith, do you think might have been printed in England?  Bear in mind that printing was in its infancy and publishing was closely regulated.  The answer, according to Ian Green, is over 1,000.  We still have all or part of over 600 of them.  Many were bestsellers.  Some were so successful that they were pirated.

Catechesis was a new discipline in 1530. It took two generations to become widespread and universal but by 1600, according to the returns from the Dioceses of Lincoln and Newcastle, 80% of parish clergy were practicing what was prescribed in the canons and prayer book – they were setting aside time each Sunday for the catechesis of children.

This was a period of slowly rising literacy.  The catechism was most commonly printed with a short primer setting out the alphabet, used to teach people to read.  Once you had learned your letters, you then went on to learn the catechism, based around the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.

Catechisms were produced at three different levels according to Green: beginners, for children and the unlearned; intermediate for slightly older children and those who wanted to go deeper; and advanced, full theological texts and expositions of the catechisms.  The focus on catechesis (normally in the half hour before Evening Prayer on Sundays) encouraged the development of catechetical preaching: expository series of sermons on the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the sacraments.  These were part of the essential task of all of the ordained.  Leading theologians of the day would publish their catechetical sermons as a means of teaching the faith.

Most catechisms followed the fourfold shape of teaching though the order varies.  Doctrine is taught through the Apostles Creed; prayer is taught through the Lord’s Prayer; conduct and behavior are taught through the Commandments and worship and participation in the life of the church taught through the sacraments.  The 1549 catechism lacks a section on the sacraments. This was added in 1604.  But apart from that alteration, the 1549 catechism was the common factor through these 200 years.  The Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments were the heart of the new English Christianity which people learned as children and inhabited for the rest of their lives.  These lessons were often reinforced through these key texts being reproduced in the fabric of the churches built in this period.  A key part, perhaps the key part, of the role of the minister was to teach this faith, publicly and privately, in every parish in the land.

There was agreement between Anglican and dissenting churches on the benefits of catechesis and broad agreement on doctrine.  The key catechism for the Church of England remained the 1549 catechism.  The key catechism for the dissenters became the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1648.

Catechism took place in church, in the home and in the schools across the land.  Catechizing was required of the clergy in the canons and there is evidence of complaints being brought by church wardens when this duty of teaching the faith was not fulfilled.

3.  The benefits of catechesis

Ian Green draws out from all of these 1,000 printed catechisms, the benefits of catechesis.  These are described often in the preface to the published works as the bishops and clergy encourage one another to teach the faith.  I believe each of them is relevant today[9].

  1. Catechesis laid the necessary basis of religious knowledge without which an individual could not hope for salvation.  Clearly this is the most fundamental of reasons.  If the Church desires to see children, men and women brought to a saving faith in Christ then we must teach that faith courageously, persistently, skillfully, in ways which people can understand and ways which are comprehensive.
  1. Catechesis enabled members of the church to achieve a deeper understanding of the scriptures and of what took place during church services.   To grow in discipleship, to participate meaningfully in worship, to understand and follow preaching, all these presume an understanding of the fundamentals of Christianity.  These must be laid down through patient, careful introductory teaching.
  1. Third, catechesis prepared people for a fuller part in church life by helping them to frame a profession of faith and to participate in the Lord’s Supper.  Catechesis becomes linked at an early stage in the English tradition with preparation for the rite of confirmation, which fulfills both functions: making your own profession of faith and admission to Holy Communion.  It was vital of course in post Reformation England that this admission was on the basis of an understanding of what was happening in the rite.  This needed to be clearly taught.
  1. Fourth, catechesis helped those being instructed to distinguish true doctrine from false.  England in this period was a pluralistic society in the sense of competing understandings of the Christian faith.  It was vital that church members were equipped to navigate through this with discernment.
  1. And finally, catechesis promoted Christian virtue and dissuaded from vice, particularly through learning by heart and understanding the Ten Commandments and all which flows from them.

It seems to me that each of these benefits of catechesis is as relevant today as we teach the faith as it was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The Church is faced today with the challenge of teaching and communicating faith to a population of adults, children and young people which understands very little of Christianity.  We need once again to make a massive investment and to master these basic skills of disciple making.  There is a need to teach people the way of salvation; to help them understand and navigate the scriptures; to induct people into the life of the Church and the sacraments; to distinguish true doctrine from false and to promote virtue and dissuade from vice.

If we were reframing these purposes of catechesis today, I would want to add a sixth.  The Protestant Reformation, as we understand it now, was not strong on mission to and within our own communities.  The Christendom mentality carried over from the Catholic to the Protestant countries for the whole of this period.  I would want to add therefore a missional dimension to catechesis and frame that in this way.

  1. The purpose of catechesis is to equip God’s people in mission and ministry; to enable every disciple to discern their vocation and play their part in God’s mission in family, workplace and society.

Our calling is to induct people into the Christian way of life not only in the Church but in the world.

In addition to these benefits for those who are catechized, there are clear benefits for the Church which invests in and reflects on how it teaches the Christian faith from generation to generation.  These are some of the reasons behind my hope that the Church of England is about to blow the dust off its catechism, currently stored near the back of the cupboard in the vestry, hidden behind the old hymn books and sadly neglected.

The benefits of catechesis for the Church which practices it begin with two gains of inestimable value.  They are the whole ball game.  The first is the benefit that children are more likely to grow up within the family of the Christian faith for the whole of their lives.  The second is a steady stream of adults joining every parish church and Christian congregation year by year such that these communities grow.

However there are further, deeper benefits.  These include clarity about and confidence in our doctrine, the syllabus of catechesis.  This is probably the generation of Anglicans which is most careless of doctrine than any since the Reformation.  They include developing a common understanding and resources in education, though that will be very different from the sixteenth century.  They include benefits in the development and growth of clergy and lay ministers: the surest way to understanding something is of course to teach it to others, over and over again.

4.  Contemporary catechesis?

So what might contemporary catechesis look like and how might it be applied in the present day Church of England and especially in urban areas?  How do we and should we develop disciples in the city?

Here are two decisions I have made as a contemporary bishop in an urban setting which I hope will stand the test of time.

The first is to hold before the Diocese of Sheffield the importance of catechesis as the key to our renewal and growth (although I seldom use the word in public).   For six years now I have urged every parish to recover the lost disciplines of catechesis and become skilled in them.  These lost disciplines are very simple.  Learn to sow the good seed of the gospel to those outside the church.  Teach the faith to enquirers and new Christians.  Deepen the faith of every disciple.  We need to become once again a teaching church.  These disciplines should be a call on the time of every priest and deacon, modeled by the bishops, and a call on the time of many lay ministers.

It is difficult to do all of this at the same time particularly in a smaller parish with stretched resources.

For that reason, in Sheffield, we encourage all our parishes to follow a simple annual cycle.  We set aside ten days of prayer from Ascension to Pentecost to pray for the growth of the church and for the gift of new disciples.  We ask every parish and fresh expression to focus on sowing the good seed of the gospel in August, September and October.  We ask every parish and fresh expression to offer some kind of course for enquirers and new Christians between October and Easter to teach the faith simply, engagingly and well to those who want to learn more.  We ask every parish and fresh expression to deepen the faith of every Christian disciple between Easter and the summer.

wheel

We have taught the virtues of this cycle many times in deaneries and parishes and at diocesan events.

Since we first articulated this cycle we have been round it some five times. This year we moved all of our confirmations into the period from Easter to Pentecost.  My normal expectation from next year is that most parishes will bring candidates most years even if only a handful of people.  There is a sense that the cycle gets deeper year by year and we become a little better at recovering these skills.  We still have a long way to go.  There are many parishes where these disciplines were simply not being practiced and had not been for many years.  Last week at our first Diocesan conference for twelve years, I asked people to put their hands up if they had run a nurture course in the last year or were planning to put run one in the next year.  Every hand went up.  It was a moving moment.

Catechesis is unspectacular, faithful, unglamorous work but is right at the heart of what it means to be a priest or a lay minister in the Church of England.  It is also one of the most rewarding of disciplines according to every survey and the single factor most likely to make a difference to the growth of the church.  If we are serious about developing disciples then every local church, every parish, every fresh expressions needs to become a place of Christian formation, the making of disciples.  That will mean many things but the most essential is good, loving, catechesis: careful and regular teaching made available about the heart and core of the Christian faith and setting aside time in the clerical week to invest in that patient and regular teaching.

The second decision I made, with others, was this: to invest time and energy in the development of new catechetical resources for the whole Church.  The House of Bishops in this quinquenium has produced a major new resource for teaching and learning the faith: Pilgrim[10].  Pilgrim is based on clear, solid catechetical principles.  The annual cycle from the Diocese of Sheffield is part of the way we suggest parishes use the materials.  I am one of four core authors but we have drawn on the gifts of many bishops and theologians in the Church of England and beyond.

As authors we have worked with the three core texts of the 1549 catechism: the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.  We have added in the Beatitudes, the fourth key text often used in catechesis in the patristic period and commended in recent Anglican resources.[11]  There are resources in Pilgrim for initial nurture for enquirers in which nothing is assumed.  There are resources of encouraging mature discipleship.  We hope that Pilgrim will encourage other forms of catechetical preaching and teaching, taking the whole community back to these fundamental texts.

Publication was completed in February of this year.  The reception of Pilgrim has been extremely positive.  Parishes of different persuasions and traditions are using the material.  People are encountering Christ afresh.  The sales of the books have been remarkable.  There is interest already from other parts of the world.

The educational method used in Pilgrim is, of course, different from the catechetical work of the sixteenth century.  Fundamental to the Pilgrim material is the careful reading of short passages of scripture and the reflection on these passages by the whole group in the pattern known as lectio divina[12].

5.  Catechesis in the City: striving for simplicity

Are there particular themes and emphases in making disciples in the city and in urban ministry?  Cities are varied places and one of the keys to effective catechesis is that the style and manner of teaching should be adapted to the audience.  In our day we need our beginners material, our intermediate material and our advanced material.

But there is no doubt whatsoever that the place where we struggle the most is the material for beginners.  Simplicity is elusive for Anglicans when it comes to teaching the faith.

The same was true of our forebears.  From 1530-1740 there was a constant tension between simplicity to enable the faith to be taught to those who knew nothing and complexity adequate to the subject matter.  Catechisms had a tendency to grow longer which made them both hard to memorise and difficult to understand and, of course, to teach.

The model which shines out through this period is the Prayer Book catechism of 1549 which is short, simple and to the point: the Apostles Creed, the Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.  It was amended only once, in 1604, with five new questions on the sacraments.  Otherwise it stood the test of time rather well.

The production of the Revised Catechism of 1958, still authorized for teaching, succeeded in adding a great deal to this material and almost doubling the length of what was to be taught and learned.

The Pilgrim material works well in many different contexts.  Users tell us that they adapt it for use in non book cultures or non literate contexts, which is vital.  I think that if there are any future developments of Pilgrim they should be towards developing even simpler resources for use with children and young people and with those in urban areas.

There is much more to making disciples in the city than the teaching material and style.  It has to do with going to where people are, with practical expressions of love, with walking with people who have chaotic lives, with striving to build community, with prayfulness and holiness of life.  But simple, careful teaching and learning is at the heart of this task of developing disciples in the city.


[1] Faith in the City, A Call for Action by Church and Nation, Church House Publishing, 1985

[2] Eliza Filby, God and Mrs Thatcher, The Battle for Britain’s Soul, Biteback Publishing, 2015 especially pp. 172ff

[3] John 20.21.

[4] www.sheffield.anglican.org

[5] Stephen Cottrell, Steven Croft, John Finney, Felicity Lawson, Robert Warren, Emmaus the Way of Faith, eight volumes, CHP, 1996-1998.

[6] Steven Croft, Growing New Christians, CPAS, 1993, Making New Disciples, CPAS, 1994

[7] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 1656

[8] OUP, 1996.

[9] Ian Green, op cit. pp.26-44

[10] Robert Atwell, Stephen Cottrell, Steven Croft, Paula Gooder, Pilgrim: a course for the Christian journey, 9 volumes, CHP, 2013-2015

[11] On the Way, Towards an Integrated Approach to Christian Initiation, CHP, 1995, p.45 and Common Worship, Christian Initiation, 2006, pp. 40ff: “In order to give shape to their discipleship, all baptized Christians should be encouraged to explore these four texts and make them their own: the Summary of the Law, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed and the Beatitudes”.

[12] For a simple explanation see the Pilgrim leader’s guide pp. 46-48 or www.pilgrim.org

 

The Prime Minister will not be short of advice as he appoints the Cabinet and prepares the Queen’s Speech.  There is a particular bible story about accepting and weighing advice that I would suggest it might be helpful for him to read and ponder in the first days of the new government.

It’s a story about transition.  King Solomon has died.  All the tribes of Israel have gathered to make his son, Rehoboam, the new king.  But there is widespread discontent.  A delegation comes from the northern tribes, requesting an easing of their burdens.

Rehoboam has a choice to make and he asks for three days to reflect.  He consults two sets of advisors.  The first group, his father’s counsellors, advise him to listen to the people, to be their servant, to reach out to the disaffected and lead from this foundation.

The second group, his own contemporaries, give opposite advice.  Discontent should be met with harshness.  The burdens on the north should be increased still further.  The new government should start as it means to go on.

Reheboam makes his choice.  It is a fateful one.  He listens to the younger, harsher, more strident voices.  A few years later, the kingdom is divided, at war, impoverished and in chaos.

I have no doubt that David Cameron will receive both sorts of advice in the coming days.  There will be those who counsel him to reach out to the whole nation, to connect with the disaffected, to listen to the people and to be their servant.  But there will be those who see the Conservative majority as a mandate to fulfill and go beyond the manifesto commitments, blind to the risk of increasing the burdens of those who already bear the heavy load (of sickness, disability or the struggle to find sustainable employment).

The Prime Minister’s speech on the steps of Downing Street on Thursday moved clearly in the first direction.  David Cameron spoke of one nation and sought to connect more deeply with those who had voted for other parties, with the people of Scotland, with the regions.  He promised to bring our country together, to help working people and give “the poorest people the chance of training, a job and hope for the future”.

Much of this rhetoric is encouraging but now it needs to be supported and backed up with action.  That action needs to be taken swiftly to begin to draw the United Kingdom back together again and begin to build for the future.  The choices made in the next few days about priorities and plans for legislation in the next year are critical.

So here are some suggestions for a big, open offer from Mr Cameron to every part of the United Kingdom, and especially to those who voted for other parties.

  • Make an early, concrete and clear commitment to safeguarding the environment and to leadership in the key climate conferences this year through the appointments you make and in the Queen’s Speech.  Action on climate change is integral to economic growth.
  • Abolish the bedroom tax.  It hasn’t worked.  It has generated more resentment than revenue.  Repealing it would demonstrate a capacity for change and to think again.
  • Promise an early review of benefits sanctions as part of the ongoing reform of welfare.  Sanctions cause massive hardship.  They are responsible for a significant number of people needing foodbanks.  They are tangential to the main welfare reforms.  In the meantime suspend sanctions for families with children and people suffering from mental ill health.
  • Encourage the Living Wage as part of growing a sustainable, strong national economy.
  • Take a long view of constitutional reform.  Acknowledge the concern revealed by the election outcome.  Entrust it to some kind of independent commission which has time and space to think.  Don’t rush the key decisions which will affect the whole future of the United Kingdom.
  • Revisit the Big Society ideas, if not the language.  Place active partnership, between national and local government and the faith and voluntary sector, front and centre again, not as a replacement of government initiative but complementary to it.  Make sure there is clear leadership for these ideas at Cabinet level.
  • Accelerate the provision of truly affordable housing and prioritise this as part of investment in the future.  Protect and strengthen social housing provision to ensure that everyone has access to a decent home at a price they can afford.
  • Reach out to the English regions as well as to Scotland in swift and tangible ways.  In particular make investment in the northern powerhouse a key priority for the first two years of the new government.

The word Minister means servant.  A Prime Minister is called to be one who serves the whole nation.  If Reheboam had listened to different advice the whole story of Israel would have been different.  I hope that David Cameron will take a moment to read and ponder his story: to listen to all the people, to lighten burdens, and to build one nation, for the benefit of all.

+Steven Sheffield

(The story of Reheboam’s choice is told in 1 Kings 12)

leading-gods-people-book-coverIt’s not often I read a book and then go straight back to the beginning and start again. I have a small number of contemporary books on leadership which (I think) should be on every minister’s shelf.  Leading God’s People has gone straight into my top ten.

Leading God’s People explores wisdom for pastoral leadership from the early church fathers and mothers.  It’s a short, accessible guide to the main themes and draws out the importance of good pastoral leadership, its essential shape and the lessons for leadership today.

The book is ideal Lent reading for clergy, readers, ordinands and anyone who wants to understand more of the distinctly Christian tradition of leadership.  It’s a book which speaks across traditions and denominations.  The author, Christopher A. Beeley, is Professor of Anglican Studies and Patristics at Yale.  The book was published in 2012.   I came across it until a few weeks ago whilst preparing for our new leadership course, Leading Well.

  • St Gregory Nazianzus (329-390):
    On the Priesthood
  • St. Ambrose (339-397):
    The Duties of Leaders
  • St. Augustine (354-430):
    Christian Teaching
  • St. John Chrysostom (347-407):
    On the Priesthood
  • The Rule of Benedict
  • St. Gregory the Great (540-604):
    Pastoral Rule

The early Church reflected deeply on leadership and that reflection is captured in a series of key texts (see box).  All of these texts are (in turn) reflections on what the Bible says about leadership in communities.

Earlier generations of ministers read and studied these texts as a normal part of their preparation for ministry.  But now they are not as well known or understood.

Beeley’s short book has five sections.  In the first he explores the leadership of the Church.  Good pastoral leadership is vital for the Church and the wider community.  It is grounded in service with authority.  It is grounded in Christ.  It is immensely difficult but immensely fulfilling.

Chapter Two explores the spirituality of leadership.  Beeley writes: “The most powerful and practical resource that church leaders have at their disposal, week in and week out, is their own knowledge and experience of God”.  Worth pondering.

Chapter Three explores the Cure of Souls, Chapter Four is on Scripture and Theology and Chapter Five is about The Ministry of the Word.

These are not the normal headings you find in contemporary books on leadership but they are faithful to Scripture and the great tradition and deeply refreshing .  Pastoral leadership in Church and community is different from every other kind of leadership.

If you haven’t yet decided on your own spiritual reading for this Lent (or even if you have) I encourage you to invest in a copy of Leading God’s People.  Read it slowiy and carefully over the coming weeks – and be refreshed and inspired in the leadership you offer.

Leading God’s People, wisdom from the early church fathers by Christopher A. Beeley is published by Eerdmans in 2012.

This evening between 500 and 600 Christians from across Rotherham gathered in the Minster in the heart of the town to pray together.  It was a remarkable gathering.

Nine days ago an independent report was published.  The report revealed over 1400 instances of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2003.  The town is in shock.  People feel dismayed, ashamed, perplexed and angry.  The effects will be felt for years to come.

This evening the Churches came together simply to pray and to begin a process of healing and rebuilding.  There were two separate gatherings earlier in the evening in one of the local parks and outside the offices of Rotherham Borough Council and people walked from there to the Minster.

The ancient church at the heart of the town was full with standing room only.  Every stream of the Christian church was there: Methodists; URC; Baptist; Pentecostal; Black Majority churches; Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Coptics and Community Churches.

The gathering was not a service in the normal sense.  There was no singing, no sermon, no formal readings.  Groups of priests and ministers from the different churches led prayers from the heart in a whole variety of styles.

There was a whole range of emotion in the prayers.  People expressed anger, disbelief, compassion for the victims, care for the whole community, and questions of different kinds.  We prayed for the police and the local Council.  We prayed for community cohesion and for the Muslim communities.  We prayed for the welfare of the whole of Rotherham.  We prayed (movingly) for the victims and yet also for the perpetrators.  We prayed for a change of atmosphere across the town.  We prayed for the ministers and pastors who will lead their communities forward.  We prayed for the safety and security of children and young people.  We prayed for a new beginning.  We prayed.

Those who came were young and old, women and men, from different races and cultures and backgrounds.

This was the largest prayer meeting I’ve been in the five years I’ve been Bishop of Sheffield.  It was also the most heartfelt and passionate.  There was urgency and sorrow and hope.

It’s just a beginning, of course: the beginning of a long process of rebuilding.  On Tuesday the Minster will be open all day (as it normally is) but with an invitation to all the people of Rotherham to come in and sit for a while and pray and reflect on what has happened.  We will dedicate a special prayer space as a focus for the months to come.

It’s just a beginning but after nine days of reflection on these appalling events, it was a small sign of grace and hope and a willingness to see things change.  Please pray for Rotherham.

Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience
A Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod
19th July, 2014

Dear Friends

On Monday, as we have heard, the General Synod of the Church of England gave final approval to the Measure to enable women to be consecrated as Bishops in our Church.  At the same time, the Synod approved a new package of measures to enable those unable to accept these developments to flourish into the future.

The Synod debate marked the end of a long process of discernment about both of these matters and the beginning of another long process of putting into practice what has been agreed: the welcoming of women into episcopal ministry with all this will mean for our Church and the mission of God; the continued flourishing and encouragement of those who cannot in conscience receive their ministry.

This morning I want to look ahead to this new beginning and explore what it will mean for the Church of England as a whole and for this Diocese.  Many of us celebrated recently the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests in this Diocese.  I would encourage us this morning to look ahead to the next 20 years and ask how we can build together now for the future we all want to see in this place.

A context in Colossians

It’s clear from the New Testament that conflict and disagreement were part of the life of the Church from the very beginning.  The gospels record disputes between the disciples on a number of occasions.  Acts describes and number of conflicts and disagreements among Christians, most of all the debate around whether Gentiles should be expected to keep the whole law.  The Epistles describe these and other conflicts in much sharper relief: we catch something of the passion and anger and pain involved for those who have gone before us in the faith, especially in the writings of St. Paul.  Yet we also find in those same Epistles the strongest commendation of peace, of grace, of reconciliation: urgent pleas to these early, vulnerable Christian communities to put aside their differences, to be reconciled to one another, to let their common life be filled with grace, with the fragrance of Christ, for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of their common witness.

Together we need to hear St. Paul’s appeal today and to reflect on it carefully in the coming months.  Many of us have been caught up on different sides in a debate which has endured for over thirty years in different forms.  Our Church has now come, at great length, to a decision on these matters.  Many will rejoice in that decision.  Others cannot rejoice because of their deeply held convictions.  But all will recognize, I hope, the need to move on, to change the tone of the conversation, to do our best to embrace one another again in new ways, to focus again on our common responsibility to witness to the love of God in our communities and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with fresh imagination and commitment.

There are many places where St. Paul appeals for reconciliation but no passage is more compelling or more beautiful than Colossians 3.  Paul is writing for a specific context where there is bitter disagreement but his words apply to any Church context where there has been conflict.  The Apostle makes a powerful appeal based first on the promise of resurrection:

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth for you have died and your mind is hidden with Christ in God”[1]

Our mind and our attention is directed away from ourselves and our own disputes first of all. We are directed to the risen Christ, above, and also to the future, to that moment when Christ who is our life will be revealed.  Paul urges us to take a new perspective, a fresh vision.  That’s not the work of a moment.  It  takes both time and concentration.

But a new perspective is not enough.  Paul encourages us next to be changed and transformed.  His language is radical.  Our minds must be on heaven.  But we must “put to death whatever in you is earthly”.  There are two lists, two parts to this dying.  The first list is to die to those sins which are common to all the earth:  “fornication, impurity, evil desire and greed (which is idolatry)”.  The Church is called to holiness.

The second stage is to put away, or strip off, those qualities and habits of speech which we bring with us from the world into the life of the Church and which corrupt our common life.  In times and seasons of conflict, when we are under pressure, we find that these habits and qualities remain strong within us.  None of us is free from them.  For that reason, Paul writes to all of us:

“But now you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator”.[2]

The things we must get rid of are all to do with the way in which we speak to one another and with one another. Paul appeals to us here to the Church to put down the weapons of dispute and division.  The goal of all of this is the unity of the Church, the overcoming of old divisions, the reconciliation of all things in Christ:

In that renewal “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free but Christ is all and in all”[3]

And then comes one of the most striking and beautiful list of qualities in the New Testament, one of the most powerful, compelling, challenging and elegant summaries of what it means to be the Church in a time of conflict.  I read them to you today as from St. Paul himself, to this Church, in this Diocese, at this key moment in our journey together.

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against one another, forgive each other; just as the LORD has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.”[4]

Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience are the virtues we need in this present moment, in this place.  They are the qualities of Christ.  They need to be the qualities of his Church in all parts of Christ’s body in this diocese.

The challenge facing this Diocese

We face a particular challenge to reconciliation here.  The voting figures from the different Diocesan Synod debates are very revealing.  In more than 30 dioceses, less than ten people voted against the Measure in its final form, combining the votes in the House of Clergy and the House of Laity.  In around ten dioceses, the numbers of votes against are relatively much larger.   In 1 in 4 dioceses there continues to be a significant number of clergy and lay people who are not able in conscience to accept the ministry of women as bishops.  Sheffield is one of those Dioceses, as was pointed out in the debate on Monday.

As we know, we have in Sheffield a significant number of ordained women in ministry and many, many clergy and lay people who accept and support their ministry.  We have significant numbers also of those who opposed the Measure both from a traditionalist catholic and from a conservative evangelical perspective. We are a medium sized diocese, which makes dispute and disagreement more painful and pastoral re-organisation more challenging.  We are also a diocese in a more challenging mission situation. We cannot afford not to work together in God’s mission.

The House of Bishops declaration

For all of these reasons, as a Diocese, we should welcome the principles and the provision outlined in the House of Bishops Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, issued in May, prior to the General Synod debate on Monday[5].  I want to commend this declaration for study and reflection across the Diocese.  If Colossians 3 describes the virtues and character we will need to live together well, the House of Bishops declaration provides the blueprint for that common life into the future.

The five principles need to be read together and held in tension rather than applied selectively.

  • Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
  • Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
  • Since it continues to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England acknowledges that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
  • Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures; and
  • Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.

The long debate and discernment about the reception of the ordained ministry of women has now come to an end.  As a Church, we have reached a common mind.  However we acknowledge the reality that our own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God.

For that reason, those who are unable on grounds of theological conviction to receive the ministry of women as bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching of the Anglican Communion.  The Church of England and this Diocese of Sheffield remain committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures.  We are making pastoral and sacramental provision for this minority in the Church of England without specifying a limit of time and which seeks to maintain the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing.

The ministry of ordained women in this Diocese

In the light of the House of Bishops declaration I want to comment on the future ministry of ordained women and then on our attitude to and provision for those unable to receive their ministry.

First, we acknowledge that many will rejoice this week inside and outside the Church at the decision which has been made and at the affirmation given to the ordained ministry of women across the Church of England.  This will be for many a moment of genuine celebration and affirmation of their own ministries or the affirmation of priests whom they respect and love.  This is not because these individual women aspire to become bishops themselves.  It is because the admission of women to the episcopate is a powerful symbol of the equality of the genders within the life of the Church and therefore of God’s grace to them.  I have been particularly struck by the powerful testimony of many lay women about what this vote means to them.

Second, I hope we will all be committed to ensuring that the ordained women in this Diocese can flourish into the future and that their ministries should be free from hurtful, inappropriate and carelessly made comments.  Over the last year the Dean of Women’s Ministry has explored in a series of meetings the experience of ordained women in this Diocese.  The women who serve here have testified to much that is good, including many gracious encounters and conversations with those who cannot in conscience receive their ministry.  However there remain a significant number of stories and incidents in the recent past where our ordained women have had to endure inappropriate remarks which undermine their ministries.

This should not be so and we all need to be proactive in building a different, more gentle and more positive culture.  Two weeks ago I wrote to all ordained women in the Diocese advising them that they should challenge such remarks in the future and also discuss them in confidence with a senior colleague should they receive them so that, where necessary, appropriate challenge can be given and change encouraged.

The ministry of traditionalist catholics

In the light of the same House of Bishops declaration, I also want to recognize and affirm the ongoing ministry of the traditionalist catholics within this Diocese who are unable to receive the ministry of ordained women on ecumenical grounds, as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have not yet made a decision on the matter, or on the grounds of the historic tradition of the Churches.

As a Diocese, we recognize that these views are responsibly held in good conscience and for good theological reasons.  They are neither mysogenist nor prejudiced.  They represent an appropriate theological position within the spectrum of Anglicanism.

I am committed to making the best possible sacramental and pastoral provision for such members of our Diocesan family into the future, supporting the community of the Hickleton Chapter and its Area Dean and continuing to welcome the ministry of the Bishop of Beverley.  I hope in turn that we will continue to enjoy the highest possible degree of communion and work towards mutual flourishing in mission and ministry into the future.

Both traditionalist catholics and conservative evangelicals occasionally bear the brunt of inappropriate, hurtful remarks which likewise damage their ministry and standing.  I say again, this should not be so in the life of Christ’s church.  I would encourage all of us to challenge such remarks when we are witness to them.  We need a new kind of conversation.

The ministry of conservative evangelicals

Thirdly, in the light of the same declaration I want to recognize and affirm the ongoing ministry of conservative evangelicals within this Diocese who are unable to receive the leadership of ordained women on the grounds of their reading of the Scriptures and on the grounds of a complementarian understanding of gender in the family and in the life of the Church.

Again, as a Diocese, we recognize that these views are also held responsibly, in good conscience and for good theological reasons.  They are neither mysogenist nor prejudiced.  They represent an appropriate theological position within the spectrum of Anglicanism and indeed, a significant position in the context of the Anglican communion worldwide.

I want to assure all conservative evangelicals, especially in the light of the debate at our Diocesan Synod in March, that no-one in this Synod or Diocese questions that their faith is orthodox in relation to the 39 Articles and the Catholic Creeds.

I have spent some time since the last Synod exploring the debate around complementarianism and the doctrine of Trinity.  With the help of Synod members I have discovered an extensive literature.  This is not the moment to share all I have learned with you.  However, I do want to reassure the Synod that, as far as I am concerned, any questions I have around complementarianism and the doctrine of the Trinity are not around the questions of teachings which would be in conflict with the creeds.  Nor do I have any difficulty with the argument that men and women have complementary roles or the God given nature of gender.  My questions are around the application of those arguments to specific roles within the Church.

Again, I am committed to making the best possible sacramental and pastoral provision for such members of our Diocesan family into the future.  I recognize that the new legislation will create new questions for those who take this view.  Here we will need to develop some new protocols and provisions, in dialogue together and in conformity with the House of Bishops Declaration.  I hope in turn that we will continue to enjoy the highest possible degree of communion and work towards mutual flourishing in mission and ministry into the future.

Continuing indaba conversations

Canon Geoffrey Harbord outlined at the last Diocesan Synod the need for continuing dialogue, or indaba, between those who take very different views on these matters.  Canon Harbord, together with the Revd. Mary Gregory and the Revd. David Middleton have developed an imaginative proposal for these conversations across the Deaneries.  I hope that, especially, those who hold very different and strongly held views will have the courage and the willingness to explore these conversations not in order to change each others minds but in order better to understand one another’s positions.  This programme will begin in the autumn.

Pastoral and sacramental provision

A significant number of parishes in this Diocese have in place Resolutions A, B and or Resolution C, all of which date from the introduction of women as priests twenty years ago.   These Resolutions will cease from the moment that the new legislation becomes law, which we expect will be in November.  It will be replaced by a new and stronger provision to be passed in a similar way by PCC’s.  Full details are in the House of Bishops Declaration and accompanying commentary[6].

There is a transition period of up to two years during which parishes which have passed Resolutions will continue in exactly the same way as previously.  This is to allow time for parishes and diocesan bishops to be in dialogue as to exactly how best to tailor the new provision so as to ensure the highest degree of communion and mutual flourishing and the differing needs and convictions of parishes.

My advice to PCC’s at this stage is to take due time to consider the nature of the detailed provision which is required.  I intend to commission a small advisory group in the autumn to listen carefully to the needs of parishes and then advise me on appropriate protocols and ways forward.  I also hope that we can hold a series of consultations for PCC members in the autumn about the aims and possibilities of the new provision before we have to implement the new legislation.  There is no doubt that for most parishes and clergy at this stage it will be very much business as usual and present arrangements will continue within the new frameworks.

And finally…..

Monday’s decision at the General Synod has resolved a question which has divided the Church of England two decades and which we have been actively exploring and arguing about for around 12 years.

It is now time to move on.  The way in which we move on together is vital.  God’s call to us all is to engage in mission.  God’s call to each of us and to this Diocese is to grow a sustainable network of Christ-like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place which are effective in making disciples and in transforming our society and God’s world.  We are called to do that together with joy, as men and women, as those who receive the ministry of women as priests and bishops and those who cannot, seeking mutual flourishing and in the highest possible degree of communion.

This debate has shown us very powerfully over the last two years how much our wider society cares about the Church of England, how carefully our debates are followed, how much interest there is still in this part of the Church of Jesus Christ.  That should encourage us to greater commitment and endeavor to make disciples and see our society transformed.

As we move forward into a new chapter, we need a different kind of conversation.  I appeal to you therefore, in the words of St. Paul:

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against one another, forgive each other; just as the LORD has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.”[7]

+Steven Sheffield

19th July, 2014


[1] Colossians 3.1-2
[2] Colossians 3.8-10
[3] Colossians 3.11
[4] Colossians 3.12-15
[5] GS Misc 1076
[6] GS Misc 1077 House of Bishops Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests – Guidance note from the House
[7] Colossians 3.12-15

I am the bread of life

A sermon at the Eucharist for the Centenary of the Diocese of Sheffield
8th June, 2014
1 Peter 2.1-10 and John 6.27-40
On Monday, Bishop Peter and I had tea with eight people who were more than a hundred years old.  We were at the Mansion House in Doncaster.  It’s a great place to have tea.  All eight ladies were born in 1914 or earlier in the very year the Diocese was formed.  It was a pleasure to listen to their memories of time gone by.
I took a picture on my phone and said I was going to post it on twitter.  I expected to have to explain myself very carefully to one of the guests who was a hundred.  “No”, she said, “ I can’t be bothered with twitter.  But post it on Facebook and I’ll have a look”.
There is so much to remember and so much to celebrate in this last one hundred years of the Church family in this place, for what else is a Diocese except a family.  We remain a very young Diocese, one of the youngest in the Church of England until very recently.
Through the last one hundred years in these places, the Church has proclaimed and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what we celebrate today. There have been seven Bishops of Sheffield and six of Doncaster.  It’s good to welcome some of them here today, especially Bishop Jack Nicholls and we send greetings to others, but a Diocese is far more than its Bishops.
The story of the Diocese is the story of thousands of parish clergy serving in urban and rural areas with skill and courage and faithfulness.  It’s the story of chaplains in hospitals and prisons, universities and schools.  It’s the story of pioneering industrial mission and planting new congregations.  It’s the story of faithful, steadfast, gifted lay people giving generously to their local churches of their time and talents and treasure.
It’s the story of prayerfulness and moments of renewal and resourcefulness and love of God and love of neighbour. It’s the story of countless hours of service offered through the local church to the wider community through food banks and lunch clubs and play groups and scouts and guides and a hundred other ways.  It’s a story of the church’s involvement in education, in social work, in care for the needy, in changing the world.  It’s a story of partnership with our precious sister churches, with other faith communities, with other agencies across the region and we welcome their representatives here today.  It’s a story of the creation and renewal of church buildings like this one.  I want to pay tribute today to all who have worked so hard and given so generously to the magnificent refurbishment of this Cathedral.
The story of this Diocese is the story of evangelism, of passing on the faith from generation to generation.  It’s a story of tens of thousands of ordinary but extraordinary Christian disciples, for that is what you are,  living against the grain and offering their lives back to the living God.  It’s a story of worship offered to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit every single day of those one hundred years in every place across this Diocese to God’s glory and God’s praise.
Whatever your part in that great story, thank you for all you have given and all that you give.  May God bless you for hearing his call, for joining your story to the story of this Diocese in the past, in the present and, God willing into the future as we move forward together.  Thank you.
It’s not always been an easy story.  Bishop David Lunn wrote this in 1982, “Our history is not just a success story….Neither hard work nor vision and insight have always borne the fruit they seem to deserve”.  There have been challenges and difficulties in abundance.  There have been mistakes and wrong turnings and weaknesses and pain, sometimes very great.  We are an imperfect Church and an imperfect Diocese and we will remain so into the future, however hard we try.
So it’s as well then that, in St. Paul’s words, we are never called to proclaim ourselves.  Even on a day like today.  We are not the message.  We are not the good news.  We are not the solution to the problem.  We are not the Saviour of the World.
“For we do not proclaim ourselves;” write Paul,  “We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4.5).
If we focus in our centenary year or in any year on ourselves or our story or our achievements or our significance, very soon we will nothing to offer those around us who are hungry and thirsty for life.
The Church is called to speak the message of hope and salvation.  But that message is never about proclaiming ourselves.
The Church bears good news only as she speaks of Jesus Christ and bears witness to her Lord, crucified, risen and ascended.  That’s the heart of our message today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow.  We are called to proclaim an eternal gospel in the midst of a changing world.  “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord”.
Where there are things to give thanks for over the last one hundred years and today it is because we have proclaimed Christ in word and action.  Where we have stumbled and fallen short, it is because we have proclaimed ourselves.
As this year unfolds at different events in different places, we will be proclaiming Jesus Christ as the very core of our gospel message.  We will explore together seven remarkable sayings in the Gospel of John where Jesus describes himself in words beginning “I am….”.
In all these sayings, Jesus is claiming here the name and nature of God.  In the Old Testament, “I am” is the very name of God (Exodus 3.14).  That name became so holy to the Jews that it cannot be said aloud.
When Jesus says “I am”, he is telling us, over and over again, that he is the Son of the Living God, that he bears the nature of God, that he demonstrates the compassion and mercy of the living God, that in him all the fullness of God dwells.
“I am”, says Jesus, over and over again.  Think about it.  In the entire history of the world, no other person has claimed to be the fullness of God in human form.   This is the good news we bear.  This is why we are here.
Jesus’ words speak to us about who Jesus himself is and who God is.  They are sweet and beautiful and profound images.  “I am the bread of life” (6.35, 51); “I am the light of the world” (8.25, 9.5); “I am the door” (10.7,9); “I am the good shepherd” (10.11, 14); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11.25); “I am the way, the truth and the life” (14.6); “I am the true vine” (15.1,5).
A sevenfold window on Jesus.  A seven faced diamond reflecting God’s nature.  A seven course banquet to nourish the soul.  Seven answers to the most important question in the universe: what is God who made us like?  He is like Jesus: bread and light and good and living and true.
And the first answer?  “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.35).
There are whole stories behind that word bread.  The story of the manna which God fed to the people of Israel in the wilderness for forty years and which kept them alive.  The story of the feeding of the 5,000 on the hillside which took place the day before in John’s gospel.  The story of the law given to Moses, which is like bread and wine and milk and honey. God’s word and God’s wisdom is nourishment for the soul.  The story of the Last Supper when Jesus will take bread and give thanks and break it and give it to his disciples as he did on the hillside and when he will say:  “This is my body, given for you”
There are whole stories to explore.  But the point of them all is this.  Here is something greater than manna and greater even than the law given to Moses. Here is the person at the heart of the Holy Communion which we celebrate today.  Here is a gift beyond price from God to you.  Here is the bread of life who will satisfy you when you are hungry and nourish you so that you can grow, and sustain you in the darkest times, and who will be there in every season of this life and who will call you and draw you into life eternal.  Here is the bread of life.  Here is Jesus Christ.  Come and see.  Come and eat.  Come and follow.
We give thanks today that for this last one hundred years, the churches of this diocese have proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life, in Word and Sacrament, in love and in deeds of discipleship and generosity.
They have proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life in the face of the immense suffering of two world wars.  Within months of Bishop Burrows standing in this pulpit for the first time, the young men of this Diocese were marching to the trenches in their thousands and the world was turned upside down.  Within months of his successor, Bishop Hunter, taking office, Germany had invaded Poland and the world was plunged into conflict.
The Church proclaimed that Jesus is the bread of life through the decades of reconstruction which followed.  Imagine the changes of the last one hundred years in technology, in science, in culture, in the roles of women and men, in the waves of migration, in the economy.  Through the women’s movement, through the depression, through the miners strike, through the growth of the universities, through rising and falling standards of living, through poverty and inequality, through migrations, through hardship, through the expansion of education and the health service.  The Church has been present.  The Church has invested.  The Church has cared.  The Church has prayed.  The Church has lifted up the bread of life.
Every age has its temptations and challenges.  In our own age, in our time, the greatest danger of them all is consumerism.  A whole machinery of advertising exists solely to convince men and women from childhood to the grave that happiness comes  from spending money and acquiring possessions.  That message is a lie but it surrounds us every moment of our waking lives.
This Cathedral stands in the centre of this city and Diocese today as a living sign of a different story.  Human beings are spiritual beings.  We are more than bodies.  We need more than material goods to be fulfilled and content.  Greed distorts us.  We cannot live by bread alone.  The unease and unhappiness around us is a hunger for the bread of life but a hunger which cannot always be named.
It should not surprise us that in a world infected by greed, the Christian faith is unfashionable.  To meet in a Church and to worship the living God and to love God and love your neighbour is deeply countercultural in 2014, more so than a hundred years ago.  To be a Christian today is live against the grain of our culture.  To share Christian faith is to invite people to explore a more demanding, more truthful way of living: to live for God and others.  To follow the way of Jesus.  To receive forgiveness through his death.  To receive life through his resurrection.  To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  To be his disciple.  To come and eat the bread of life in word and sacrament.  To be God’s people together in this place.
Though the world does not know it, we are bearers of good news.  The Church is not the bread of life.  Jesus is the bread.  We are called to welcome others to his table, to break open the bread of the scriptures and the bread of the Eucharist, to offer signs of practical love and service.  We are called to point beyond ourselves.  To point to the one who is the fullness of God’s love.  To point to Jesus Christ, the bread of life.
We give thanks today for this last one hundred years.  We rejoice in all God’s gifts to us this day.  We commit ourselves to break the bread for others in this place in this next one hundred years and to God be the glory.  Amen.

The Lord is Risen
A sermon for Easter Day
20th April, 2014
John 20.1-18

It’s a privilege to welcome you today to our renewed and re-ordered Cathedral. The work is not finished yet and will go on for some months. But it’s a magnificent symbol this Easter Day to see this ancient building made new, to see what it will be like, to celebrate resurrection in this very ancient church which has been made so wonderfully new and contemporary. And its such a joy to have sound system which works…..

Remember as you come in prayer today that there has been a Church on this site for over a thousand years at the very centre of this city. Down all the centuries the Church building has been knocked down and rebuilt, adapted and improve. But through all those years the people of Sheffield have gathered here to pray to the Risen Lord Sunday by Sunday and day by day, in moments of peril and difficulty, in the crises of their lives, at the great festivals of the year.

A congregation gathered on this site in 1066, in the Wars of the Roses, in the time of Mary Tudor, during the Civil War, when Victoria came to the throne, during the Great War. A congregation proclaimed the resurrection of Christ as we have done this Easter.

In the words of Isaiah, This house is a place of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56.7). It is not just a place for all people – though it is that. But this house is a place of prayer for all peoples, especially those who do not yet know the living God. And you are truly welcome this day.

Let’s use the Easter acclamation one more time.

The Lord is Risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Jesus rose from the dead. This is what we celebrate today. This is the entire centre of our faith. Jesus rose from the dead and his rising has reshaped history.

Every time you write the date, you are remembering how many years it was since this man lived and died and rose again: 2014. We do not date our lives, our history does not begin from the Norman conquest, or the foundation of Rome, or the accession of the Queen, or the invention of the mobile phone. Our history begins with Jesus.

We date our lives from the year Jesus Christ was born because of his remarkable life and ministry and death and resurrection. We meet for worship on a Sunday to honour the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on this day of the week. The first Christians were all devout Jews. They kept the Sabbath, Saturday as their day of worship as the Jewish people do today. Something remarkable happened to change their day of worship. Christ rose from the dead. Within a generation, the Christian day of worship became Sunday, the Lord’s day, the day he rose.

Walk through any English churchyard and you will see graves packed together. Walk around this Cathedral and look at the monuments and plaques and burial places. Why are they here? People are buried here and around parish churches because Jesus rose from the dead, because of truth of his resurrection, because of the hope it brings to us of new and eternal life with God, because of his promises to those who believe. Where else would you want to be buried but in the place where new life is proclaimed? Because he rose, death is not the end. The shroud of death which casts its shadow over all peoples has been destroyed (Isaiah 25.7).

These are not superstitions. Generations have believed and trusted in the resurrection of Christ in every generation on the earth. Generations who follow us will do the same. This faith we share has been tested in every possible way down two thousand years.

The first three hundred years of the life of the Church were years of intermittent persecution. To profess faith in the risen Christ meant that you suffered discrimination, you could be arrested, you could be killed. We can forget that the early witnesses whose words we read in the New Testament almost all died for their faith, often in terrible ways. St. Paul lived most of his life in danger – yet his life and his writings are full of joy. Why is that? Because of his faith in the risen Jesus. Death is not the end of life. There is hope, there is resurrection, there is meaning, there is a future.

Those early Christians tell us that we should not be surprised by resurrection. We can read the signs in creation. “Day and night declare to us a resurrection”, writes one of them. “The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on” (Clement, First letter to the Corinthians, 24).

The seasons of the year speak of death and resurrection: “The earth receives its instruction from heaven to clothe the trees which had been stripped, to colour the flowers afresh, to spread the grass again, to reproduce the seed” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 22).

The resurrection is written deep in the Scriptures. This pattern, this event was foretold. In the Psalms and in Isaiah, there are prophecies of suffering followed by glory (Psalm22, Isaiah 53). There are deep patterns in the stories of Noah saved from the flood, in the Israelites saved from death in the crossing of the Red Sea, in Jonah who spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish but was given back his life, in Daniel and his friends rescued from the fire and from the mouth of lions.

There are miracles of resurrection in the Scriptures: Enoch and Elijah are snatched into heaven (Genesis 5.24, 2 Kings 2); Elijah and Elisha raise the sons of widows from the dead (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4); Ezekiel sees a vision of a whole army come to life again (Ezekiel 37) and of deserts made new (48).

The early Christians took this pattern of death and resurrection from the Scriptures and wove it into Christian worship. Last night, Bishop Peter and I baptized and confirmed 41 candidates in Rotherham Minster. It was a wonderful occasion. All of them made for themselves the promises made at their baptism. All were confirmed. Eight of them were baptized at the font.

The traditional times for baptism to happen is Easter because of the pattern of death and resurrection. We go down into the water. Our old life dies. We come out of the water. We rise with Christ’s new life to live with him and for him and in him and to live for ever. It was a powerful moment.

Today and every Sunday we celebrate the Eucharist together in this place. In this Eucharist, in the sacrament of bread and wine, we make a living memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection and we celebrate his call to resurrection life. We remember that Jesus is alive, that Christ is with us, as we gather in this place, that we can know him, that he lives in us his people, that he has given us His Spirit.

The pattern of resurrection is there in creation, in history, in testimony, in scripture, in sacrament, in experience, in the shaping of our world.

But that pattern begins with a real, actual, historical event, in a garden, in the darkness, as Mary Magdalene comes weeping to the tomb. She is weeping because Jesus death was a real death, full of pain and anguish, and because Mary loves him, and she is in the chaos of confusion which grief brings.

She sees the empty tomb. The stone is rolled away. His body has gone. The disciples come and see the linen wrappings and the cloth rolled up in a place by itself. This is a resurrection not a robbery.

That resurrection is an historical event. The tomb was empty. Jesus appeared to his disciples. One writer says: “The empty tomb alone would have been a puzzle and a tragedy. Sightings of an apparently alive Jesus by themselves would have been classified as visions or hallucinations….However an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together,..” present a powerful reason for faith in the resurrection.

Mary encounters the tomb and then she encounters Jesus. He calls her name: Mary. There is a turning, a returning, a change of direction, a conversion. “She turned and said to him in Hebrew, Rabbouni! (which means my Teacher)”. You cannot believe in the resurrection of Jesus and stay the same. To believe means to turn, to change, to be converted.

Then in a moment, Mary moves from weeping to turning to witnessing. Mary Magdalene becomes the apostle to the apostles. The pattern of resurrection is even written into the story of resurrection. Mary was the one from whom seven demons were driven out, the woman of no reputation, by tradition a camp follower. The one whose life was worse than death, who has already been restored, is the one who carries the message of life to others.

Her story is built in John around three words in the original: weeping, turning, witnessing. They describe the pattern of resurrection in every disciple: mourning: encountering reality without Christ, facing the reality of our own death or that of others; turning: encountering the risen Christ, experiencing the power of his resurrection; and witnessing: sharing with others that we have seen the Lord, that he has risen. Weeping, turning, witnessing: the pattern of Easter.

There is no need to be afraid or shy or lacking in confidence in the heart of our faith or in proclaiming it to the world. This is the great good news in every age and every will be while the world endures. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Our Cathedral will be a sign now in this great city of the renewing power of Christian faith and of the Christian gospel and of confidence in that message in the years to come. Thousands upon thousands of people in this city and region need to hear that great good news.

Let this Easter be the day when your own faith is rekindled and renewed; when you place your trust once again in Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose again, when you follow Mary and move from weeping to turning to witnessing to his love. Let this Easter be the day when the Church in this places embraces a proper confidence in the gospel, to live it and proclaim it in this city and this diocese now and for many years to come.

The Lord is Risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Hope for the Future A Presidential Address to the Sheffield Diocesan Synod 8th March, 2014

In the 1940’s, William Beveridge and William Temple spoke of five giants.  They were referring to the evils which would have to be fought by the generation which led the reconstruction of Europe following the Second World War.  They named the giants: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease.  It’s a graphic picture.  Temple and Beveridge were issuing a clear call to a new kind of battle.  That fight led to the construction of the National Health Service, the welfare state, a massive expansion of education and the building of much that remains good and strong in British society.  Much of that rebuilding was on solid Christian principles.

What giants would we name today in summoning the world to battle in the next generation?  Beveridge’s five giants are still with us on a global scale.  Want, ignorance, disease, squalor and idleness remain the enemies of human flourishing.  There are disturbing cracks now in that post war settlement in British life and much that needs to be defended.

But there is sixth giant to be named and to be fought: the giant of climate change which threatens the stability of life on this beautiful earth for our children and for our grandchildren.  The damage this sixth Goliath will do to this beautiful earth if unchecked is beyond our imagination.

This giant of climate change is stealthy and invisible.  It’s power rests on the accumulation of a gas in the atmosphere which cannot be seen but can be measured, a gas which is increasing year by year. It’s strength is manifested through the slow but steady rise of global temperature;in rising sea levels, through alterations in the atmosphere and loading the dice towards new weather extremes.  This giant wreaks havoc through immense power of our weather systems.  Whilst those weather systems are unpredictable in terms of detail, the effect of climate change in to the future is all too apparent and clear long into the future.  The giant’s power to change the future of our world grows ever stronger.

The science behind climate change is at the same time both very simple and very complex. Life on earth depends on a hospitable and stable climate.  Our climate is determined by the composition of different gases in the atmosphere.  The atmosphere wraps the earth like a blanket, welcoming energy from the sun and  [1] emitting back exactly the right amount to produce that stable climate.

But for the last one hundred years the global temperature has been rising.  It has become increasingly clear that the cause is man made: more and more greenhouse gases are being pumped into the atmosphere, changing the delicate balance and causing global temperatures to rise.

Ecologists have demonstrated that the systems of the earth are interdependent.  More carbon emissions leads to global warming.  Global warming leads to the melting of the arctic ice.  The ice melting leads to rising sea levels. Rising sea levels leads to a shift in the oceans currents and greater rainfall.  These shifts in turn lead to different and more extreme weather patterns. Deforestation leads to less carbon dioxide being taken from the atmosphere.  Species of plants and animals and fish migrate or become extinct. The earth begins to change.

The science is clear and accepted by the overwhelming majority of scientists Global temperatures have risen and are rising.  According to the International Panel on Climate Change Report of September 2013, depending on whether we take action, the global average temperature seems likely to rise by from as little as 0.9 degrees centigrade to as much as 5.4 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century – probably within the lifetime of my children and certainly within the lifetime of my grandchildren.  That does not sound much to you and I. However, the IPCC estimates the effect of a 2 degree change to be really major.  A 3 or 4 degree change would be catastrophic for life on earth.

The reason for this wide temperature range is not uncertainty in the science.  The uncertainty represents the range of scenarios before us.  How much fossil fuel will we choose to burn?  How much greenhouse gas will be released?  What choices will we make.  The scientists have shown that if we take immediate action we might be able to keep the temperature below 2C, if we keep with business as usual we are headed for 4C or more by 2100.

A few degrees change in temperature make a huge difference.  The scientists tell us that in the depths of the last ice age when there where kilometer thick ice sheets over much of Europe the average temperature of the globe was only approx. 5 degrees C cooler then the preindustrial level.

The consequences of global warming are significant for human life on the planet but, of course, they fall disproportionately on the some of the poorest people on the earth: Pacific Islanders whose homes will literally disappear as sea levels rise; African farmers near to the equator who face ever more devastating and frequent droughts; those who live in the coastal regions of Bangladesh subject to still greater flooding; those who cannot afford flood defenses; those at risk of tropical storms and tsunamis.  There is increased risk of infectious disease, water and food shortages, and mass migration with the consequent threat to international security.

What does of all this have to do with us, in this Synod, in this Diocese, in our parish churches across South and East Yorkshire?

Christians have a responsibility to speak out and take action on climate change along with everyone else on the planet.  Christians have a unique contribution to make because of our faith.

We believe in a creator God who has entrusted to humankind the care and stewardship of the earth (Genesis 1.28).  We are committed to justice and the effects of climate change will fall unfairly on the poorest nations.  We are committed to wisdom: to thoughtful reflection and careful action on the evidence before us.  We believe in restraint: that sacrifice today is worth making for a better future.  We are committed to safeguarding the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth, in the words of the five marks of mission of the Anglican Communion.  We are committed to our brothers and sisters in Christ across this Communion and the worldwide church, many of whom stand to lose their homes or livelihoods or secure environment.

Above all we are committed to the precious theological virtue of hope, without which no lasting change in this world is possible.  We are committed to daring to believe that the world can take action together on matters of great importance, that ignorance and selfishness can be overcome, that ordinary people acting in good faith can make a difference and change the world, that it is possible, even now, to halt the growth of this great demon which threatens to wreak havoc across our beautiful world.   Our grandchildren will reap what we sow in this generation.  If we sow blindness and greed and apathy, they will reap the whirlwind of enormous climate change, beyond our imagining. If we sow good science and hope, restraint and the right investment, they will reap peace and prosperity.

Can climate change be stopped?  Is there still time?  Dr. Anna Thomas Betts reminded the General Synod a few weeks ago, that the world has already taken action together when our climate is threatened with significant effect.  In the 1980’s the world was alerted to the effects of both lead in petrol and to the threat to the ozone layer of chorofluocarbons or CFC’s commonly found in aerosols the world over.  Action was taken on both counts on the basis of scientific research.  In 1987, the world agreed the Montreal protocol, banning the use of CFC gases.  Twenty-five years later the damage to the ozone layer has leveled off.  The IPCC expect the ozone layer to be rebuilt in the next decades[1].  Concerted, global action makes a difference.

What then should we do?  Clearly personal choice and reducing our carbon footprint is important.  Wise investment is important.  That was the primary focus of the recent General Synod debate.  Prayer should undergird all we do.

However at this key moment in time, I want to focus on the importance of Christians and others taking action to raise this agenda once again in the political life of this country.  Here is a mystery.  The world grows warmer.  Yet climate change has disappeared from the political agenda since 2010 in this country and around the world.  The longer term threats to the earth have been drowned out by the more imminent pressures of the global economic downturn.

This is in contrast to two earlier periods in British political life.  According to a recent article in the New Statesman, from 1988-1992 under a Conservative government and from 2006-7 under Labour, concern for the environment as the number one issue for the United Kingdom rose dramatically[2].  On both occasions, leadership provided by British politicians and by Britain led to significant international movement on climate change at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and in the world’s first Climate Change Act.  Heightened public awareness and public debate led to real leadership and clear international progress.

We know there will be a General Election in this country in 2015.  This is therefore a key moment in the electoral cycle of our nation to raise the profile of climate change in public debate, in the manifestos of the main parties and in the national and international policies which will follow.  It is a kairos moment.

Last July this Synod watched a short film made by the Diocesan Environmental Officers in Yorkshire and the North East.  The same group of officers, led by our own DEO Michael Bayley have now developed a specific campaign, Hope for the Future (www.hftf.org.uk).

The aim of Hope for the Future is very simple.  It is to encourage as many people as possible to write to their MP and prospective parliamentary candidates asking them to raise the issue of climate change as part of their manifesto commitment for 2015, for the sake of the earth and for our children and grandchildren.  The campaign is based very straightforwardly on hope not despair.

We are asking for each party to be committed in their manifesto to the recommendations already agreed by the Committee on Climate change for an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.  We are asking for recognition that this is an issue which is much bigger than party politics. We need a cross party consensus, an alliance between industry, investors and entrepreneurs and a cast iron determination that Britain should lead globally on this issue.

Hope for the Future has attracted very significant national support: from the Church of England nationally, from other churches, from Christian Aid and Tear Fund, from Operation Noah and other significant climate change groups.  The Diocese of Sheffield has been asked to lead on this issue on behalf of this coalition of other agencies.

In a few moments time, as the final act of this Synod, I will be commissioning Climate Ambassadors for churches across this Diocese.  Their task will be to go wherever they are invited to meet with clergy and PCC’s and congregations and with other groups to discuss how they can become involved in this campaign and to ask as many people as possible write to their MP’s over the next six months, before the party conference season begins. We have full details of the campaign for every member of the Synod today.

I hope you will feel able to support the campaign by writing letters yourself and by encouraging others to do so.  Please invite one of these Climate Ambassadors to your church.  I hope some here will volunteer to be Ambassadors themselves and spread the word about the campaign within this Diocese and beyond this Diocese.  Please contact Michael Bayley for further details.  We are aiming for every MP to receive at least ten letters on this subject by the end of July.  You will all be aware that two of the three party leaders represent constituencies in this Diocese.

There is a sense of catching the moment here.  Last week a You Gov Poll found that 23% of those questioned named the environment as the number one issue for the country currently after the recent floods[3].  This was up dramatically from the six percent who chose it the previous week and ahead of health, crime and education.  Party leaders and other significant figures are speaking out on the issue.  We may find we are pushing at an open door in the next few months.

But action is needed.  We need to be very clear.  Left unchecked, global warming will wreak havoc in the earth.  If we take action together, climate change can be reduced and, God willing, reversed for the sake of future generations.

We are committed as a diocese to growing a sustainable network of Christ like communities in every place.  We pray that those communities will be effective in making disciples and in seeking to transform our society and God’s world.

Hope for the Future is part of that desire to transform God’s world so that it remains good and safe and beautiful for future generations.

All real change in this world begins with just a handful of like minded people taking action together.  Will you join us, will you work with us, will you raise this issue and fight this giant together.

For further reading:

Robert Henson, The Rough Guide to Climate Change, Rough Guides, 2011 Mark Maslin, Global Warming, A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2009 John Houghton, Global Warming, The Complete Briefing, 4th Edition, Cambridge, 2009.

The Hope for the Future Campaign:  www.hftf.org.uk

[1] For a detailed exposition see the Rough Guide to Climate Change, p.32

[2] Guy Shrubshole, New Statesman, 19th February, 2014: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/02/climate-change-has-finally-returned-mainstream-issue

[3] See the New Statesman article cited above

The Diocese of Sheffield celebrates its centenary in 2014.  This is my Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod today which gives, I hope, a perspective on those celebrations, where we are and where we are going through the lens of Psalm 95.     Today if you hear his voice A Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod 23rd November, 2013

In 2014, we celebrate the centenary of the Diocese of Sheffield.  We will look back at the journey we have travelled together. We will take stock of where we are. We will look forward to the future together as the body of Christ, the people of God in this place.  It promises to be a very special year.

Psalm 95 holds a very special place in Anglican worship.  For hundreds of years it formed the first part of Morning Prayer, said in every parish church.  Many still know it as the Venite, the Latin word which means come.

Come let us sing for joy to the Lord Let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation[1]

The psalm contains a double invitation in that word come.   We speak to one another.  “Come let us sing for joy to the Lord”.  We encourage each other to gather as the people of God in praise and worship of our creator.  We encourage each other, as we have gathered, to give our hearts and minds in worship and to offer our lives afresh in God’s service.  “Come, let us sing to the Lord”.

But the Psalm is also a great invitation sung by the people of God to the whole world. The words sum up our mission to make God known, to invite others into his presence.

Come let us sing for joy to the Lord Let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation Let us come before him with thanksgiving And extol him with music and song.

I hope that this double invitation will resound through all of our Centenary celebrations.  I hope that we will come together in different ways and different places across the Diocese in pilgrimage and worship the Lord: in our newly re-ordered Cathedral at Pentecost, in the six celebrations across the Diocese from June to September, in the great festival with the Archbishop of York to mark the feast of Christ the King a year from today.

Let us come before him with thanksgiving And extol him with music and song.

I hope that through our Centenary Year we will grow more confident in singing out that invitation in every place in this diocese, to men and women and children to come and worship the Lord.  As we sing and celebrate and praise God in public spaces we are making the church visible, we are giving one another courage, we are offering a gracious invitation to the communities we serve to be caught up into God’s love and God’s ways. Please plan to come. Please plan to bring others.  Please prepare for fun and fellowship as well as worship and teaching.  Let’s journey together and celebrate all that God is doing among us.

Why do we do this?  Not because we are good or special or holy or righteous.  Why do we do this?  The Psalm tells us:

For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods, In his hand are the depths of the earths and the mountain peaks belong to him The sea is his for he made it and his hands prepared the dry land.

Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, The flock under his care.

When we come together we remind one another of who God is.  We gain perspective on his life and on our world and on our lives. When we come together we remind ourselves of who we are.  He is our God.  We are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.

That is true Sunday by Sunday in local churches.  It will also be true in this centenary year as we take care to come together as a diocese.  One of the most significant things local churches and clergy battle with is parochialism: a vision of the church and the kingdom which is too small.  The centenary gives every local church an opportunity to come together as part of a larger whole and catch the larger vision.

We are a people journeying together through the beauty and the temptations of this world, the flock under his care.

We will have much to celebrate as we journey together and as we look back to the founding of the diocese and the last one hundred years.  I hope and pray that in our centenary we will deepen our life of prayer and worship and our sense of being the people of God together and deepen that sense of invitation and call to every community to come and sing for joy to the Lord.

In the life of the people of God in any place there are different seasons.  As we look back through the last one hundred years we see different seasons in the life of the diocese.  Sometimes they are determined by what is happening in the world around us.  Sometimes they are determined by what is happening in the life of the Church.

The Diocese of Sheffield was not established overnight.  People wrestled for a generation with how to adapt the structures of the Church of England to the changing mission needs of these communities and especially the growth of the towns and cities.  There were many setbacks along the way.  The finances were always tight.   The early years of the new diocese were ones of deep suffering through the First World War.  Yet after the war there was a process of expansion and growth: new churches built, new clergy selected and trained, a sense of forward movement in a time of great social change.

Those challenges continued through the rest of the century: seasons of growth, seasons of retrenchment, journeys through green pastures, beside still waters, through deaths dark vale, through times of confidence, through times of pressure, through times of confusion.

The Diocese reaches its centenary in a vulnerable place but also in a hopeful place, I believe.  We are as much needed by the people of these communities as we ever were.  The gospel of God’s love has as great a power and relevance today as it has ever had.  We face along with the rest of the Church of England the challenge of ministry in an ever more secular society and of seeking to meet the needs of those around us with compassion and love.  We face still significant challenges in terms of resources as we will hear later.  We stand on the threshold of a moment of great opportunity for the gospel.

The heart of worship and mission in the diocese is beating strongly.  We have excellent ordained and lay leadership in our parishes.  We have an excellent senior leadership team in the diocese with new appointments made and some key posts at advert.

We have a deep, clear vision for what we believe we are called to do and to be together which is more and more deeply owned at every level.

“The Diocese of Sheffield is called to grow a sustainable network of Christ-like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place which are effective in making disciples and in seeking to transform our society and God’s world”.

Our Cathedral is in the midst of a process of physical re-ordering for mission and as a place of welcome, prayer and worship.  Our whole Diocese has been going through a process of spiritual reshaping for mission in different ways.  We have set prayer at the heart of all we do in the Ten Days of Prayer. Psalm 95 will form the theme for the Ten Days next year.  Our Diocesan Development Day next October will be a School of Prayer with Archbishop Rowan Williams as the main speaker.

We have three clear linked strategies to follow at parish level and I am encouraged by the way in which parishes and deaneries are engaging with them and carrying them forward.

Growing the Body of Christ addresses the question of how we become more effective in making disciples.  The annual cycle of sowing, nurture and growing is being taken up more and more. I know many parishes are now beginning to engage with the Pilgrim resource as you think about relearning the disciplines learning and teaching the faith.  I have called the clergy of the diocese together for a series of five conferences from January to April next year looking more deeply at different aspects of evangelism.

We will do this in the confidence that overall the Diocese of Sheffield is growing in terms of numbers.  If you look back at our attendance figures over five years and over ten years there is overall a measurable net growth, albeit small.  The corner has been turned.  But that growth remains fragile.  There is much still to do.

The Salt and Light strategy looks at the question of how we are seeking to transform our society and God’s world.  There is a growing network of Salt and Light officers in parishes – 84 at the last count. Parishes are responding in hugely significant ways to the growing needs of the communities around us.

The Board of Faith and Justice continues to lead our thinking on broader issues of transformation in society.   We give thanks today for Together for Regeneration and all that has been achieved over its life, thanking especially those who have led its work over the years.

Our Board of Education leads our work in the Church schools of the diocese which need to be at the centre of our life and mission and service to many communities. I’ve made visits over the last few weeks to Porter Croft and St. Mary’s School in Walkley and seen for myself the excellent work they do

Re-imagining Ministry looks at the key question of how we grow a sustainable diocese with fewer stipendiary ministers and with more lay and self supporting ministers and with parishes working together in mission partnerships.  The deanery plans around this are robust, imaginative and creative.  We are about to begin a series of Deanery Days following our excellent development day in October to take this thinking further.

We rejoice in the rise in vocations to ordained ministry, to self supporting ordained ministry and to lay ministries of different kinds.

The work we are doing on Parish Share, soon to be the Common Fund, is a key part of sustainability and our hope is that in the Centenary year there will be a renewed emphasis on stewardship, on generous giving and on mutual support.

As you will know, this year, Bishop Peter and Malcolm Fair have led a review of all of our central services which has led to an extensive reshaping for mission and in support of our diocesan strategy.  Our new Parish Support Team will be in place by early next year and will be a key resource in helping parishes and deaneries live out our shared vision.  The services offered by Church House will, we hope, be more strategic, more efficient and even better as we go forward.

The Bishop’s Council is making plans for a new Centenary Fund for mission and ministry in strategic areas which will involve applying for a major new grant from the Church Commissioners and matching that funding by releasing some of our reserves for mission and new ministry.

In the midst of moving forward in mission and ministry we continue to wrestle with the challenges of unity and reconciliation.  This autumn two different groups have been hard at work. One, chaired by Canon Geoffrey Harbord has been reflecting on how we take forward deep dialogue and conversations about different attitudes to the ordained ministry of women.  The other, chaired by Canon Julian Sullivan has been preparing to help us think through the questions of human sexuality as we prepare for the debate following the publication of the Pilling report in the near future.

We have, under God, the right vision.  We have the right values.  We have the right strategy.  We have the right team.  We are set to move forward in really significant ways into the future to grow God’s church in this diocese in numbers, in depth of discipleship, in hope and joy and in effectiveness in serving these communities.

Come let us sing for joy to the Lord Let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.

But we are of course only half way through Psalm 95.  This psalm stands at the beginning of Morning Prayer not only because it calls us and all the world to worship.

The psalm stands at the beginning of Thomas Cranmer’s order for Morning Prayer because the psalm also calls us in the midst of our worship to listen to the voice of God and to the word of God in Scripture.

Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me though they had seen what I did.

The most dangerous rubric in Common Worship occurs in Morning Prayer for Fridays when we read the line, part way through Psalm 95: the canticle may end here. 

We are left then simply with an invitation to worship and not with the challenging, prophetic call: Today if you hear his voice (NIV); O that today you would listen to his voice (CW and NRSV).

As you may know, two entire chapters of the Letter to the Hebrews are formed around a reflection on this very verse: Today if you hear his voice.  They are a call to the whole church in a moment of pressure and danger to attend to the word of  God, which is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword (Hebrews 3.12).  They are a call especially to the Church to hear the gospel more deeply and to respond more fully.  They are a call to be a Christ like Church, fixing our thoughts on Jesus, God’s living word, the apostle and high priest of our confession (Hebrews 3.1 and 4.14).

For that reason at the centre of every part of our Centenary Celebrations we will set listening to the Word of God in Scripture and the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  There will be opportunity for teaching and learning at each of the six major pilgrimage events across the Diocese.  There will be opportunity for study together in small groups and sermons before and after those events as we look together at six of the key journeys made by God’s people in the Scriptures.

Come let us bow down in worship Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker For he is our God And we are the people of his pasture, The flock under his care.

By the grace of God we have moved forward as a Diocese over the last four years and we are poised take a very significant step in our life and growth over the next year.

But even as we invite the world to come and worship and even as we encourage one another to come to worship the Lord, we need also to say to one another: Today if you will listen to his voice.  Today we need to hear God afresh for our life and for the world.  Today we need to attend to the gospel for ourselves and for others.  Today we need to set Christ, the living Word of God, at the centre of of our life.

We need to come together.  We need to invite others to come together.  We will look back.  We will take stock.  We will celebrate and we will plan.

But most of all I hope and pray we will listen to the voice of the living God in the midst of God’s people and that in the next one hundred years, in all the unseen turnings of the road, we will do as God’s people have always done and follow where God leads us.

For more on the strategy documents see www.sheffield.anglican.org

[1] The NIV translation used throughout the address.  It’s simpler and more direct in this instance and preserves the imperative “Come” rather than the NRSV “O come”

This is my presidential address from the Sheffield Diocesan Synod held today in Handsworth on the edge of Sheffield.

  Give us this day our daily bread Presidential Address to the Sheffield Diocesan Synod 13th July, 2013.

A few weeks ago I visited the food bank at St. Cuthbert’s Fir Vale in Sheffield. The food bank opened at the end of 2011. It served two people in its first week. The food bank now serves up to 50 single people and 15-20 families every week.

The volunteers walked me through the process of registration as if I had come to use the food bank.  They gave me a warm welcome, asked me a number of simple questions and explained what was on offer.  I was invited into a café area of the church for tea and coffee with snacks for my children. It was all very small scale, neighbourly and human and, of course, set in a church building.

I was taken behind the scenes and asked to pack some bags for distribution.  Each bag contains tea or coffee, some breakfast cereal, some protein and carbohydrate, a treat of some kind, some long life milk. The cash value at the supermarket would be £1.80.

The food comes from a wide range of 25 organisations who collect it, from grants and individuals.  The food goes to people who live in the area, who really need it, who would actually be hungry without it.  There is absolutely no doubt about that.  For whatever reason, some people are now genuinely hungry in our society.  The food is distributed through a network of volunteers, many of them trained in food hygiene and healthy eating.  The food bank is now at the centre of a city wide network of community and support.

Most of us will know that food banks are growing apace in our society at the present time.  The Fir Vale food bank is an excellent example of the Church being salt and light in our community and reaching out to those in need.  We believe that there are around 15 church based food banks in Sheffield who are part of the Sheffield Food Bank network.  Rotherham has the Food for People in Crisis Partnership. We know of 7 church based food banks in Doncaster and that number is rising.  The food bank at St. James Balby featured in a recent Guardian article.  I was in one of the Barnsley deaneries on Wednesday and heard of two groups of churches preparing new food bank initiatives – a simple response to the need the churches see around them.

According to Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam figures released a few weeks ago, around half a million people used food banks in the UK last year.  There are a number of interrelated reasons for this rise. We all know the cost of food and fuel are rising.  More families are living close to crisis and when the crisis comes have fewer financial resources.  Delays or failures in the administration of benefits can have a huge impact on vulnerable families. The changes to the benefits system are likely to sharpen the impact still further.

I would guess that many of the parishes across our Diocese are caught up in these changes in some way whether we are collecting food, offering it in very simple ways or exploring some larger venture.  It is often as simple as a box with a collection point on Sundays for canned goods which is kept by the vicarage door for those in need.  Often the food banks are ecumenical projects: churches acting together in God’s mission.  With many others in our society, we are deeply moved that someone in the next street or on the other side of town could be physically hungry. We are moved still more that children should be without food in Britain in the 21st Century.  We are disturbed that there should be such a divide between the haves and have-nots.

We are called as a Diocese to grow Christ-like communities.  Christ-like communities respond with compassion to the needs around them and that is exactly what St. Cuthbert’s Fir Vale are doing along with many other churches and congregations.

Local churches are well placed to be channels of that practical support in times of need.  We are close to the ground.  We are in every place.  We can mobilise volunteers.  We have buildings and resources to offer.  Every local church is part of a wider network in the diocese and ecumenically. We can draw on expertise in finding out how to do this. There is no doubt that local churches are leading the way in food bank provision across this area.

We are called as a Diocese to grow Christ-like communities which are effective in seeking to transform our society and God’s world.  Exactly one year ago we agreed our salt and light strategy at this July Synod.  It was formally launched at our Development Day in October of last year.  The growing need for food banks shows us how vital that part of our strategy is for the church and for the region.  But Salt and Light encourages us to go further than simple practical support, vital though that is.

We need to pray and think and reflect about what is happening.  We need to reflect on what this change says about the society and the world we live in.  We need to be challenged ourselves and we need to challenge others.  What does it mean that some are needing food aid in our own society and our own towns and city?  How can we not only serve our neighbours but work for change in this area?

As everyone here knows, Jesus gives his disciples a prayer.  We call it the Lord’s Prayer.  We use it every time we gather.  We know it by heart.  We pray it from childhood to old age.  It is the most profound and wonderful prayer ever composed.

In the very centre of the Lord’s Prayer we find a prayer centred on food.  Give us this day our daily bread.  It is a prayer asking for the basic necessities of life. Yes, of course, bread is much more than food.  We are asking for spiritual nourishment as well as physical food.  But it is a prayer for physical food.

I’ve come to realize that one of the reasons the Lord gives us this line of the prayer is to teach us to be content with enough.  I began by thinking that the prayer is at heart a petition.  This is the moment when I ask for things for myself in prayer.  It’s not wrong to do that but I don’t think the emphasis lies here.

For the prayer encourages me to ask God not for wealth but for just enough for this day – to seek God daily for daily bread.  This line of the prayer has become for me a prayer to God to hold in check my own natural greed and desire not only for more food but for more material things, more of this world’s goods.  This simple line of the Lord’s prayer is a powerful antidote to greed and materialism.  It is a pathway to being content with what we have – with saying that enough is enough.

This is something, I believe the Church needs to teach again more clearly in our communities.  I am not an economist and I don’t understand all that is happening in our society at the present time.  But we do stand in a profound moment of change.  That change is being driven by personal greed, corporate greed and national greed.  It is driven by the message that more wealth and more goods and more food means more happiness.  That message has been proclaimed at every level in our society for generations.  It is proclaimed through our politics and education systems.  It is proclaimed through advertising.  It is proclaimed through every part of popular culture: you cannot be happy unless you have more.

The Church needs to proclaim a different message, to sing a different song. The message that wealth and possessions bring happiness is, simply, a lie. Christ’s love sets us free from the chains of our own greed and slavery to possessions.  “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6.25) The Christian Way is about learning to be content with enough. Give us this day our daily bread. We learn to see in ordinary things the surpassing generosity of God.

That message in turn liberates us and sets us free to be generous: to share with others what God has given us.  The message creates in us as Christians a strong desire for justice.  We do not see why we should live in an unequal world.

The message drives us to campaign for an end to world hunger.   World hunger is created and sustained by institutionalized greed.  There is enough food for everyone but some are denied because of the greed of others to consume.  The Enough Food/IF campaign this year has argued for serious structural change to help the world’s poorest people – those who are starving and malnourished in the very poorest countries.  Christians and Christian aid agencies have been in the forefront of that campaign.  There has been real progress.

Enough Food IF

Back in the 1970’s, the aid agencies began a campaign to persuade the UK government to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid.  The UK government reached that target this year.  G8 leaders pledged an extra $4.1 billion to help tackle malnutrition and save the lives of almost two million children.  Land grabs were on the G8 agenda for the first time ever.  Fairer systems for buying and selling land in developing countries are key.  There has been significant progress in combatting the avoidance of tax by multinational companies both in the UK and in the G8 countries.

The message of the Lord’s Prayer should stir us up to do something about the scandal of food waste.  According to the love food hate waste website, about 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year.  Around 50% of this comes from our homes.  Some of this colossal food waste of that is in our own kitchens and dining rooms.  The evidence of greed is in our rubbish bins.

Love food hate waste

The Christian Church and some other faith communities have long held to the practice of fasting.  One of the purposes of fasting is to check greed and to help us reconsider our relationship with food.  All of us will know that the Muslim community began Ramadan this week – a whole month of a different rhythm and connection between the community and what we eat and drink.  Throughout the twentieth century, the Christian church weakened its practice on fasting.  The time has come in the 21st Century to restore the discipline as part of our discipleship.

The message of the Lord’s Prayer leads us to celebrate the connections between people created through food through food festivals, allotment projects, teaching people greater skills in cooking, helping families to recover the tradition of eating together around a table instead of in front of the television or the smartphone.  It’s not only about how much we eat but how we give thanks for and celebrate God’s gifts to us in food and drink.  It should be about tackling overconsumption of food and rising levels of obesity in many sections of society.  Concern for food leads naturally to concern for our environment, to questions of animal welfare, of fair trade, of concern for the farmers who produce food in many parts of this diocese, to making the most of what we have.

Jesus teaches us to pray: Give us this day our daily bread.

The only path to a better world is to find an antidote to human greed.  I know of no antidote to that greed than the gospel of Jesus Christ which sets men and women free from the need to get more for ourselves and to give more to others.

I want to thank God this morning for all the churches across this diocese who are involved in helping the hungry, through food banks, collection and distribution of food, soup runs, homeless shelters, through collecting for Christian Aid, through joining the IF campaign, through allotment projects, through teaching people about growing food or food preparation, through food festivals. There is a growing need around us. There is plenty of scope for more churches and people to be involved.

In all of these ways, we bear witness to the love of Christ and we are salt and light in our communities.

Give us this day our daily bread.