My Lords,

May I from these benches warmly welcome the Sustainable Development Goals and the government’s commitment to them.

Like others I was initially somewhat sceptical about a document which contains 17 goals and 169 targets.  These are not even memorable or round numbers.  I have to say, however, I am inspired by the single vision for our world which drives and shapes these goals.  That vision is set out in the ambitious declaration which forms the preface to the draft document to be considered and I hope agreed at the September summit.

The language of the declaration is lofty and rightly so.  I quote: “Never before have world leaders pledged common action and endeavour across such a broad and universal policy agenda”.  And again, “We can be the first generation to succeed in ending poverty just as we may be the last to have a chance of saving the planet”.

The vision in this document of sustainable development, a safer world with more resilient institutions where no-one is left behind is one that is consistent with the Christian tradition and those of the major world faiths.  I applaud it, believe it and support it.

However it is a vision which needs to be communicated well and implemented with rigour and it is here I want to focus my remarks.

The single vision is broken down in the report into just five areas of critical importance.  These five areas are easy to name, to remember and to communicate:  People, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.  Preachers love alliteration.

I would encourage the government to place real weight on these shorter, more memorable and more accessible headings, for this reason.  These visionary goals for our world will only be realised as they are widely understood and communicated. This vision will never be realised if it is the vision only of politicians and NGO’s.  It must become the vision of all the majority of people on the planet, a shared vision of prosperity, peace and partnership.  The goals need to be spoken of in schools and universities and in the media.  There needs to be international debate.  Resources need to be invested here and elsewhere in education and building awareness of the values which underpin this vision which are no longer self evident in our society or across the world.

My Lords I was a member a few years ago of the city wide fairness commission in Sheffield.  I assumed at the beginning of the process, that fairness would be a shared concept among the population, that we were articulating a common vision.  On the day of the report’s publication I appeared on local radio.  The phone in responses revealed that my assumption was wide of the mark.  A big vision and detailed targets are both excellent but in between comes the harder task of transforming human attitudes and building deeper generosity of spirit: explaining the reasons why we seek a better world for all.  The churches and faith communities have a key role here. We understand we are global citizens. We share the deeper values which lie beneath these goals.

To quote from the report again: “…we are setting out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision.  We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease, and want where all life can thrive….a world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality….a just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met….a world in which consumption and production patterns are sustainable”.

This vision is worthy of agreement and it is worth sharing and communicating throughout our nation and beyond it.  I hope the government will take this responsibility seriously.

It is also a vision which calls for clear plans for implementation.  Here I would encourage the government to pay careful attention to the plans for enacting this ambitious programme and for scrutiny and review.

May I therefore ask the Minister two specific questions:

Will the government commit to promoting the vision of the SDGs and to implement the agenda in this country in full.  If so how do you plan to do this?

How will the government use the high level summit to build support for an ambitious global climate change agreement in Paris in November and December.  If so what link does the minister see between the two summits?

We all listen more to those who practise what they preach.  The government’s rhetoric on climate change in the manifesto for the election was good.  The government’s record on climate change since the election is a cause of concern to many, myself included.

The independent Climate Change Committee have already raised the issue of a gap between the policies already in place and the policies needed to meet the climate change the government supports.

Many were therefore expecting a series of positive policy announcements to close this gap.  Instead, the gap seems to be widening.  The government has cut subsidies for solar and wind power, privatised the Green investment bank, is getting rid of the Green deal, has lifted the ban on certain harmful chemicals and has introduced a tax on electric cars.

Can the Minister confirm that the government will continue to hold to its commitments and support the positive and transformative vision of the Sustainable Development Goals with consistent, prompt and long term action especially on climate change?


+Steven Croft


Launch of the Crossroads Mission

Welcome to the Archbishop, to all of our visiting bishops and their teams on behalf of the whole Diocese of Sheffield.

We are delighted you are here.  We look forward so much to working with you and to your encouragement and friendship in God’s mission across this Diocese.

I want to invite all of the home team to express the warmth and appreciation we feel to those who have come to join us.

This Crossroads mission was born in prayer as the bishops met on Holy Island and prayed together for the north of England.  God willing it is the first of many, a symbolic new evangelization of the north.

Our hope for these four days is that we will together sow the good seed of the gospel, the word of God, in many different ways and many different places.  Through what we say, through listening, through the love we show, through being there.  In the scriptures we offer, through the text messages we will send.

We want to sow that living word with compassion, with gentleness, with courage, with imagination to many thousands of people across this Diocese.

This world God loves is indeed standing at the crossroads and so are many hundreds of thousands of people across this region.  Our task is to point them to the ancient paths, the forgotten wisdom of the Christian faith which lies deep in the rock and soil and history of this land.  Our task is to uncover the good way again and encourage people to walk in it and find rest for their souls.

We do well to remember as we go that the word of God which we sow is living and active.  God created the heavens and the earth through his word.  The promise of scripture is that God’s word moves heaven and earth still, especially when that word is proclaimed in the public square.

This seed we bear holds immense potential for life.  It will seem a small thing to hand someone a beermat, or offer them a gospel, or speak to them after an assembly or listen at the Show.  But that one text or conversation may be the turning point for the whole of their life and the life of their family.

As Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is like mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all the shrubs and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade”.  Who can know what will happen because of our work together over these next few days.

All of us, the home team and the away team, are bearers of the gospel.  Paul writes these words to the Church in Rome and to the Church down all the ages.  Let his words echo round this cathedral today as we go out in faith:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel.  It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith”.

In this mission we are saying together, Amen.  We are not ashamed of the gospel we bear.  We will carry this message to all whom we meet.  It is the message that the word of God, God’s very self, took flesh and became a man, Jesus Christ.  It is a message of his life and ministry, a message of love.  It is the message of his death on the cross for our sins.  It is the message of resurrection and new life and Easter joy.  It is the message of the gift of the Spirit, the transformation of human lives and the birth of God’s new people, the Church of Jesus Christ.

Thus says the Lord:

“Stand at the crossroads and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls”.

May God bless each of us as we go and carry this good seed, the gospel of God, to many, many different places.  May God bless these communities which we love and serve.  May God by his Spirit cause this seed to grow in many different lives in the months and years to come.


+ Steven


In early June, 2015 I was invited to give an address to the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag in Stuttgart.  The address was part of a workshop stream exploring Fresh Expressions of Church.  There is a growing interest in the German Church in new forms of church for a changing culture and many in Germany are keen to learn lessons from the experience of the Church of England.

1. A story from Acts

It is an honour to take part in the Kirchentag and thank you for your welcome.  It is good to be with you both to teach and to learn today.  I pray that all of us may gain a wiser heart in every way as a result of this conference.

There is a key moment in the Acts of the Apostles I would like to share with you.  It occurs in Acts 11 and arises from a time of great difficulty, a period of persecution which followed the martyrdom of Stephen.

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution….travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch and they spoke the word to no-one except Jews.  But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus.  The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord.”

We are reading here of a spontaneous movement of mission, inspired by the Spirit.

“News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem….”  I wonder if you can imagine yourself present at that meeting as the apostles debate this development.  They ask the question: “Whom shall we send to explore what is happening?”  They looked round the room and, in a moment of inspiration, they chose to send Barnabas, the son of encouragement.

“…..and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”

Barnabas is here exercising discernment – seeing that what is happening is of God.  Goodness, the Holy Spirit and faith are needed.  These are rare qualities among those called to senior church leadership (according to Acts).  Luke singles Barnabas out as exceptional even among the apostles.

“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus and looked for Saul and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch.  So it was that for an entire year they associated with…..”  With what?  What do you think is the next word in the text?

“…with the Church” – ecclesia with the definite article.  Ponder for a moment what that means.  A new church has been created by the Word and by the Spirit and has been discerned, recognized and connected to the rest of the Body of Christ.

“…they associated with the Church and taught a great many people and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians”” (Acts 11.19-29).

2. What has happened in the Church of England?

Please hold that story in your mind as we explore together some of the lessons derived from the experience of the Church of England.

Through most of the twentieth century, the predominant culture in England has been a secularizing culture.  The reasons for that are complex and will be familiar.  But, if anything, secularization was as rapid in England as in much of Northern Europe.  Overall, the Church in England remains in significant decline.

As the water table of faith dropped in the population at large, the Church of England set itself to become a missionary church once again.  For three generations we have been a church emerging from Christendom into a different kind of community.  To be an emerging church has meant relearning many lessons from the past: about mission and evangelism and catechesis as core disciplines.

In the 1990’s we began to learn new lessons about forming new ecclesial communities through contextual mission.  At first our learning was informal and accidental, the gathering of fragments of stories as different pioneers were inspired to go to parts of the community which knew nothing of Christ not to draw people back to the existing church but to create new churches.

That gathering of stories led to an attempt to understand what was happening and to develop a vocabulary to describe it.  We called the new ecclesial communities “fresh expressions of church”.  As a Church we took a decision in 2004 actively to support the formation of new communities through contextual mission and to encourage a mixed economy of church for the new millennium.  Our mission context calls us to be more diverse.  We have encouraged the formation of fresh expressions in every diocese; we have identified a recognized focus of training for ordained ministry called ordained pioneer ministry; we have rolled out a training programme for lay pioneers and clergy; we have seen this movement expand internationally and ecumenically, for which thanks to be to God.  We have seen the movement challenged theologically and those challenges refuted[1].

Over the last 12 years this movement has grown and multiplied and has been resourced in different ways and different places.  There are now thousands of fresh expressions of church across every part of the Church of England. 10 dioceses (out of 42) were surveyed for a major study published in 2014.  In those dioceses:

  • Fresh expressions account for 15% of churches and 10% of attendance
  • In 7/10 dioceses growth of fresh expressions cancels out decline
  • In terms of numbers, these fresh expressions add a further diocese to the Church of England
  • 52% of fresh expressions are lay led
  • Most are small and growing and part of an existing parish

In the words of the report, “Nothing else in the Church of England has this level of missional impact and adding further ecclesial communities”[2]

I was for five years from 2004 to 2009 the first Team Leader of the national ecumenical fresh expressions team.  Since 2009, I have been Bishop of Sheffield and also since 2012 the Chair of the Ministry Council of the Church of England overseeing all selection and training for ministry.  From that perspective, I would like to offer you 9 short lessons for a church which wants to move in this direction.  The first three are grouped around mission, the second around ecclesiology, the third around encouragement and the ways it is given.

3. What lessons have we learned about mission?

i.          Mission is God’s Mission

This whole movement is undergirded, supported, held by a theological understanding of the mission of God: that God is a God of mission; that mission is the outworking of God’s love and God’s very nature; that God is deeply and profoundly at work in the whole world; that God is working already outside the Church; that mission is centred on discovering what God is already doing and joining in; that God is concerned most with those who are furthest from God’s love and light; that mission follows the pattern of Christ in both his incarnation and his character; that mission is about being sent by Christ in the power of the Spirit; that mission is about proclaiming the kingdom, teaching and baptizing new believers, service to the wider community; seeking to transform unjust structures, care for God’s earth and working for reconciliation.

This theological understanding of God’s mission has been rebirthed in the Church of England over several generations, inspired by the Anglican Communion, by theologians returning from mission elsewhere in the world, by the worldwide renewal of a theological understanding of mission, by discernment arising from study of the scriptures at the core of the Anglican tradition.

The changes we have experienced have arisen from this theological renewal.  They are not simply about pragmatism or what is effective; still less about what is fashionable for its own sake.  Much of the theological wrestling we have done are the core theological questions of mission – especially contextualization.  Do not attempt to encourage fresh expressions of Church without this serious theological undergirding.

ii.         The whole Church and every church needs to be mission-shaped

Once that work is done it is possible to see instantly that we are not talking about fresh expressions of church which do mission and parish churches which do not.  We are talking about every church engaging in God’s mission, whatever that means.  In developing fresh expressions we are not talking about questions of personal preference or taste, what some have characterized as boutique church – but about what is helpful and effective and essential for those who are coming to faith and growing in faith.

This is the vision statement of the Diocese of Sheffield which undergirds all we do in the Diocese and the reshaping of every parish church, every deanery, every fresh expression and every appointment:

“The Diocese of Sheffield is called to grow a diverse 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”

iii         The whole Church needs to invest in evangelism

To be fit for purpose every Church needs to invest in evangelism: communicating the good news to men, women and children.  Local churches which do invest in evangelism will grow, whether they are fresh expressions or not.  Local churches which do not invest in evangelism will not grow, whether they are fresh expressions or not.

Evangelism is a complex series of disciplines, often subject to caricature.  I was asked to be the Anglican Fraternal Delegate to the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops on Evangelisation in Rome in 2013.  In a paper for the General Synod in 2014, I attempted to describe 7 Disciplines of Evangelisation all of which need intentional investment and development across the local Church, by Dioceses and by the Church nationally.  The 7 disciplines are:

  1. Prayerful discernment and listening (contemplation)
  2. Apologetics (defending and commending the faith)
  3. Evangelism (initial proclamation)
  4. Catechesis (learning and teaching the faith)
  5. Ecclesial formation (growing the community of the church)
  6. Planting and forming new ecclesial communities (fresh expressions of the church)
  7. Incarnational mission (following the pattern of Jesus)[3]

As part of that investment in evangelism, the House of Bishops have developed Pilgrim to encourage catechesis across the Church of England, in all kinds of expressions of church[4].

4. What lessons have we learned about ecclesiology?

iv.        We need to think and talk about the Church

Developing new forms of church shifts ecclesiology to the centre of the theological agenda.  We need to reflect over and over again on what it means to be the church in different ways and different places.  Our experience was that our ecclesiological muscles were flabby and underdeveloped.  We had left ecclesiology to ecumenists.  It needs to become once again the province of missiologists.  The forms for Church need to be shaped by the mission of God.  Our understanding of the mission of God needs to be shaped by Christ and by our Christology.

The best resources here are short summaries of what is essential about the Church not long, dense studies.  What are the essential marks of the Church?  What does something have to be or to have before it can be called the Church?

v.         We need language to describe different forms of church working together

It is vital to develop a both-and approach to parish churches and to fresh expressions.  We must never set them in competition.  Each must use respectful language when speaking about the other.

The biggest challenge to the fresh expressions movement in the UK has come from not using language carefully.  Where fresh expressions have communicated that they are not a new thing to sit alongside the old but the new thing to supplant the old there has been resistance to change and a turning back to old ways.  The language which has worked best for us has been the language of mixed economy of church or mixed ecology of church.  Both forms of church are missional, both need each other, both serve different purposes in an increasingly diverse society and mission field.

vi         We need to enable and encourage fresh expressions of church

Within the context of the mixed economy, fresh expressions need positive encouragement and endorsement by senior church leaders and by the wider church if they are to flourish.  These are tender, delicate plants.  We have moved as a church in twenty years from hostility and suspicion, to tolerance, to permission giving, to active blessing, and in some cases to resourcing and integration of the new with the old.  This has not always been an easy journey.  It has not been the same journey in every diocese.  Some are very much ahead of the others.  But the greater the encouragement, the greater the fruit.

5. What lessons have we learned about encouragement?

Finally and briefly what lessons have we learned about how to encourage fresh expressions of church within a mixed economy.  How can we be Barnabas in this contemporary Antioch?

vii.       Encourage fresh expressions as you do fresh expressions

We have learned to encourage fresh expressions in the same way as we do fresh expressions.  We have learned to be light touch, responsive to what God is doing, courageous and risk taking, listening and finding out what works.

It was tempting in the beginning to set out a great denominational structure, a programme of activity, a demanding syllabus, great files of policy.  Wherever we developed them, they were like David trying on the armour of Saul.  What was needed was blessing, simplicity, eyes open, listening ears, time, prayer, an openness to the Holy Spirit.

This movement is of God and is still in its infancy.  We need to be sensitive, flexible, humble and discern what God is doing.  We are not rolling out a programme.

viii.      A principled and careful loosening of the structures

The best policy we have developed has been about removing obstacles rather than creating templates or strategies.  Rowan Williams, the last Archbishop of Canterbury, did a huge amount to encourage fresh expressions.  One of his many helpful phrases was a call for this principled and careful loosening of structures to give the new ecclesial communities space and time to grow.  We need possibility and creativity more than we need regulation and adversity to risk.

ix.        Relationships are vital

Finally and very briefly, relationships are vital and particularly relationships between denominational leaders and pioneers, the loyal radicals of the Church who want to see change but to remain part of the denomination.  These relationships are vital in both directions.  The pioneers need the denominational leaders to remain connected and also to provide support in brokering new opportunities. The denominational leaders need the loyal radicals so that we continue to be challenged and refreshed by the very edges of the life of the Church.

This is exactly what is happening when Barnabas goes to Antioch.  The centre is going to meet the edge.  The edge is meeting the centre.  In the dialogue between the two there is creativity and life and the recognition of a new form of church.

[1] For a developed account of this see “Fresh Expressions in the Mission of the Church”, Report of an Anglican Methodist Working Party, Church House Publishing, 2012

“Seek the welfare of the city…” 18th July 2015

“Is not this the carpenter? Mark 6.2

Two weeks ago a heart of steel was unveiled in the centre of Rotherham, outside the Minster.  The new heart is the first deposit of a major new landmark sculpture for the South Yorkshire region: the Yorkshire Man of Steel.

The Yorkshire Man of Steel will sit, 30 metres high above the M1 motorway next to the Tinsley Viaduct and above a new visitor centre.  The aim is to create a symbol of identity for South Yorkshire: to honour “the people and places that forged a lasting global legacy in coal, steel and manufacturing in this region and to signpost the new technologies that will secure the region’s future success”[1].  It’s a worthy aim and a bold statement.

But the Man of Steel will also ask a number of questions as he sits high on his podium looking over South Yorkshire.

  • What is the future of work in this region and across the world?
  • What role will work play in human life with the rise of technology and automation?
  • How can we help the people of this region prepare for a new world of work?

Work is never far from the news headlines.  On Thursday, Tata Steel announced 720 job cuts from its UK business because of high energy costs.  The losses are mainly in Rotherham.  The budget a few weeks ago turned around the question of work: the living wage; the reductions in welfare; the move to increase Sunday trading; the measures to support business; the questions about productivity; the aspiration to offer a living wage.  Technology is asking new questions about our working lives all the time.

The Church has a vital part to play in this conversation.  We believe that Almighty God took flesh and came to live among us.  Jesus lived most of his life not as a religious minister or teacher but as a carpenter, honouring skilled, manual labour.  The first disciples were fishermen: they worked with their hands and they ran small businesses.

We have much to give to a conversation about work.  There is a rich Christian understanding of the place of work in human life found in Scripture and the Christian tradition.  This understanding is rooted in the distinctive understanding of what it means to be human.  Women and men are never simply units of production. People are created in the image and likeness of God.  Each person is of infinite value.  We were created to be creative: to find satisfaction and fulfillment in our work.  For the Christian, work is more than paid employment.  It embraces the work of nurturing and caring for a family, voluntary work in the wider community, the creativity of hobbies or the arts.

Work is important but it is not the whole of life.  The notion of Sabbath plays a vital role in both the Jewish and the Christian tradition.  God gives to us time to rest as well as time to work.  Rest is vital not only for recreation but also for reflection, for looking back at what we have done, to give satisfaction and meaning to our lives.  One of the greatest gifts the Church has to offer the contemporary world is the gift of Sabbath and of a holy day, of one day in seven set aside for the worship of God, for rest and for reflection.

Pope Francis has recently written a letter to every person on the planet about the care of the earth, our fragile common home.  Central to his argument is his reflection on the future of work and the value of work:

“We were created with a vocation to work.  The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work for this would be detrimental to humanity.  Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.”[2]

“Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world”[3].

Work and the future of work are a vital part of human living.  What then are we to say as part of Christ’s church about the role of work in this region we are called to serve?

The Yorkshire Man of Steel tells us what we already know.  We are a region in transition.  We need to honour our past but also look with confidence and creativity to the future.  The massive mineral deposits in the earth of coal and iron, combined with human ingenuity, have shaped our industrial landscape and the working lives of many thousands of people.

We need to acknowledge the pain of this transition for our communities.  The steel industry continues to change and evolve.  We no longer produce the high volumes of steel with the attendant large scale employment.  But high end steel remains hugely important to our economy.  The coal industry which has shaped this region so powerfully has now largely gone.  Just three weeks ago, the colliery at Hatfield was closed, the last deep mine in Yorkshire, with the loss of 430 jobs.

All of us are aware across the Diocese of Sheffield of the deep legacy of bitterness created by the premature closure of so many pits in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Those events still have a powerful effect on our region which goes much deeper than its economy.  The geography of many of our towns and villages, the social fabric, the key buildings in our communities, the identity and self understanding, and the location of our churches are inextricably linked with the history of mining.

The deepest wounds of all from that period remain unhealed and are hard to understand and articulate.  The closure of the mines was about more than this region’s economy or history or even our identity.  The closure of the mines, I believe,  was about decisions being imposed upon one part of our society and country by another without consent and due process.  It is that enforcing of closure and change thirty years ago which damaged something profound in the identity of our region: which destroyed trust, confidence and hope.  It is this sense of identity, trust, confidence and hope which most needs to be nurtured in the coming years, not least by the Church across this Diocese.

What then is the future of work in this region?  There are some clear signs of hope.  We have strong local leadership in the Sheffield City Region and an ambitious plan to create 70,000 new private sector jobs and 6,000 businesses over the next ten years.[4]  This is supported by welcome investment from central government.  Major investment in infrastructure is planned which will improve connectivity across the north.  The service and digital sectors of the economy are  flourishing.  There is a strong alliance between universities,  FE Colleges, local government and local industry.  The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre is a national beacon of excellence.  There is a sense of people of good will working together for the common good of the region.

But no-one would pretend that the future is without challenges.  Continued investment in education and skills is vital.  That investment demands a close partnership between local government, industry, and schools, Further and Higher education.  A demanding future calls for engaged and highly skilled leadership in local and national government, in education and in business and industry.

More importantly still, all the lead bodies across this region call for a higher ambition and aspiration and a global vision of what can be achieved.

Finally, what is the role of the Church in encouraging and enabling a positive vision of work and a positive future for our region?

The Church has a vital role to play in building a common vision of prosperity and meaningful work across our society.  We are present in every community, seeking to lift horizons, to address the painful questions of the past, to build vital social capital and to help people look to a positive future.  We play our own part as an employer.  We are a key player in primary and secondary education and in lifting educational standards.

The Church has a vital prophetic voice, challenging local and national government about the meaning of work, about fairness in society, about proper investment in infrastructure and work in this region, about preserving space for Sabbath and reflection.

As a Church we are called to be salt and light in our communities.  Christian disciples are present in many different places of work, in positions of influence, all across the region and beyond it.  As a diocese and as a local church we seek to support and encourage one another in our engagement with places of work, through chaplaincy, through focusing on the workplace in sermons and in worship and in prayers.

Work is a vital part of human life now and in the future.  As a Church we need a vision for work as part of life which is reflected in every part of our life together.

Long ago, the prophet Jeremiah wrote from Jerusalem to the first generation of exiles in Babylon.  His advice rings down the ages to God’s people as a call to be concerned not just for religious life in a narrow sense but a call to be concerned for the whole life of the places where we live:

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”.[5]

We are called as God’s people in this place to seek the welfare and prosperity of this city, of these towns, of these villages, of this region.  That means paying attention to the past, the present and the future world of work.  That means being alert to the regional and the local challenges.

“Seek the welfare of the city” today and in all the years to come.

[1] For more information see

[2] Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, On Care for our Common Home, 2015, 128

[3] Ibid 129

[4] Sheffield City Region LEP Growth Plan

[5] Jeremiah 29.7

Combatting Climate Change: the Paris Summit and the Mission of the Church

I am very grateful for this debate, for the work done by the Environmental Working Group and the lead given by Her Majesty’s Government that we heard about earlier.  I wholeheartedly support all parts of this motion.  Together with other northern dioceses, Sheffield has supported the Hope for the Future Campaign, which has been one of the campaigns encouraging lobbying of MPs and candidates which continues its work.  I want to address my remarks especially to what used to be clauses (d) and (e) and are now (e) and (f).

As Chair of the Ministry Council I wholeheartedly support the call of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network for programmes of ministerial formation and in service training which address this issue, and I will willingly ensure there is an audit of the way ordinands and others engage with these issues in the coming year, and I expect to find a great deal of good practice already in our Colleges and courses.

Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’, calls for nothing less than an ecological conversion of individuals and communities, and I love that phrase ‘ecological conversion’.  He quotes Pope Benedict: “The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts have become so vast” and he writes “a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion.”

The strength of Laudato Si’ is the deep rooting of the environmental crisis not in some esoteric branch of theology but in the centre of the Christian vision of God and the earth, the centre of what it means to be human and the centre of a theology of hope.  Limiting carbon emissions is absolutely vital but will not in itself address the whole problem.  The environmental crisis, as we have heard, is also a social crisis and a spiritual crisis and the roots of this crisis lie, according to Pope Francis, in what he calls the omnipresent technocratic paradigm, in the cult of unlimited human power and in the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s immediate interests.

So I am cautious about a new branch of theology called eco theology and a new branch of ethics called eco justice.  We simply need to rediscover the ecological imperatives at the heart of all Christian theology and all Christian ethics, and set these perspectives at the heart of all Christian formation in catechesis, in schools, in local churches and in all forms of ministerial education.

One of the pieces of work I have done over the last few years is on the Lord’s Prayer and I have become more and more convinced that the petition ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ is not a petition for God to give us things but it is a petition to learn contentment in all our lives and in every day that we ask each day only for enough for that day.  Thank you.

The Bishop’s charge to those about to be ordained deacon and priest

3rd July, 2015

Every year those to be ordained deacon and priest in the Diocese share in a retreat together immediately before the ordinations.  As part of the retreat, the bishop offers an address, called a charge.  This is my bishop’s charge for this year, on the theme of courage in ministry. 

“Rekindle the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands”

2 Timothy 1.6

“Will you then, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, continually stir up the gift of God that is in you, to make Christ known amongst all whom you serve”

Two years into my curacy, I was asked to give the opening speech at the annual summer fair at the local Church school.  The Vicar was unable to be there.  It was an opportunity, he said, to say something Christian to those who gathered, to communicate the gospel.

It was a fine summers afternoon.  There were scores of people milling around.  I asked the headteacher when and where I should speak.  I expected that there would be a stage, a microphone, a clear introduction.  “That’s up to you” she said and handed me a megaphone.

I wandered round the stalls for a while in my clerical collar with this megaphone dangling by my side.  There didn’t seem anywhere obvious to stand or anything obvious to say.  After about half an hour, without any ceremony, I put the megaphone back in the school office and slipped away.

Basically, I funked it.  Here was a chance to say something to a group of parents and children on the edge of the life of the church I’d been given.  Permission, encouragement, opportunity and means were all there.  But my nerves got the better of me.  I let the moment pass and hoped no-one would notice.  My courage failed me.

The theme of my charge to you this evening is the place of courage in ministry.  My hope and prayer is that through the years of ordained ministry ahead, as deacons and priests, your lives and ministries will be marked by courage and, particularly courage in proclaiming the gospel.

It’s my practice when preparing this annual charge to read through the ordinal to reference the theme.  I found surprisingly few references to courage in ministry.  I suspect this reflects the settled mentality of Christendom which lies beneath much of our liturgy.  The reality is that we live in a post Christian, pluralist world in which the Christian faith we represent is deeply contested.  Courage is a key component in the ministries to which we are called.

However, I did find three references which I want to explore.  In the ordination of bishops, the candidates are urged to proclaim the gospel with all boldness, referencing Acts 4.32 and elsewhere.

“Following the example of the prophets and the teaching of the apostles, they are to proclaim the gospel boldly, confront injustice and work for righteousness and peace in all the world”.

I take this to apply no less to deacons and priests than to bishops.

As you know, the Bishop will ask the candidates a series of questions before the ordination.  The final question in all three services for bishops, priests and deacons references to 2 Timothy 1.6.  The bishop asks:

“Will you then in the strength of the Holy Spirit continually stir up the gift of God that is in you, to make Christ known among all whom you serve”

In its biblical context, this is clearly a call to courageous ministry.

The third reference is in the questions to the congregation.  After the ordinands publicly answer the great questions, the bishop asks the congregation three questions.  The third question asks this:

“Will you uphold and encourage them in their ministry”

I want to argue that this too is a reference to courage.  It’s not as clearly rooted in a single biblical passage but the story the verse brings to mind more than any other is Joshua 1, where the people urge their new leader at his commissioning, above everything else to be bold.

These three references in the ordinal stand in contrast to the many references to courage in ministry and leadership in the scriptures.  We might think of the courage of Joshua, of Hannah, of Sarah, of Elijah and Elishah, of David and of Mary the mother of Jesus.  We might reflect on the courage of Jesus himself in confronting the scribes and the Pharisees, in setting his face towards Jerusalem, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the cross.  We might reflect on the many acts of courage in the Acts of the Apostles or the great list of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11.  That list is provided for us “so that we may not lose heart” (Hebrews 12.3).  It is for our en-courage-ment.

Before we explore these three passages and themes in more detail, let me explore for a few moments the reasons why I want to encourage you to reflect on this theme of courage in ministry.

A few weeks ago the Diocese of Sheffield held its first residential conference for twelve years.  Those of you about to be ordained priest were there together, most of the clergy from across the Diocese and about seventy lay people.  The conference was, I think, a really significant moment in the life of the Diocese.

The overall theme of the conference was discipleship in a Christ-like Church.  But the theme which emerged most strongly over the three days was the need for courage and confidence in our discipleship and ministry at this particular moment in this particular Diocese.  Our agenda was discipleship but I think part of the Lord’s agenda was courage.

My own address to the conference was focussed on the low self-esteem which is a deep part of the culture of South Yorkshire and of this Diocese and of many local churches.  I talked about the battles ministers and disciples face with fear, anxiety and self doubt and the need to overcome these things, to be a Church confident in the love and grace of God and able to minister to the communities we are called to serve.

Paula Gooder expounded the theme of discipleship in Mark 4, 5 and 6.  One of the major themes of Paula’s exposition was the timidity of the disciples and Jesus call to them to be people of faith and courage.  Martyn Atkins addressed the theme of discipleship and the church.  One of his central points was that we know all that we need to know about making and sustaining disciples.  What the Church lacks is courage and confidence in the gospel to act on this information.  Bishop Peter led a session in which three business people spoke about their faith and their work.  Again the theme was courage.  David Ison and Alison Morgan again referenced the need to be bold and courageous in our discipleship.  For those not able to be there, all of these addresses are available on the website.

Through all of these references to courage, I believe that there is a word from the Lord for the Diocese at this time to recover our courage, not least as we prepare for the Crossroads mission with the Northern Bishops in September but also as we prepare for the next chapter in our life together: living and communicating Christian faith in the communities we serve with clarity, compassion and confidence.

I also believe that courage is an important theme for you to ponder in these final days before your ordination as deacon or priest.  It would not be unusual if at some point in these days or the next few weeks you come face to face with anxiety and fear.

So let’s attend to these three passages, brought to our attention by the ordinal.

“Following the example of the prophets and the teaching of the apostles they are to proclaim the gospel boldly….”

The specific reference here is to Acts 4.29-31.  Peter and John have been arrested, tried and released following the healing of the lame man at the beautiful gate.  The believers gather for prayer.  It is remarkable that according to Acts, they don’t pray for safety or deliverance.  They pray for boldness.

“And now, Lord, look at their threats and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hands to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through name of your holy servant Jesus”.  When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4.29-31).

The word translated boldly or with boldness is a recurring word in Acts: parresia.  It’s used about ten times either as a noun or an adverb.  Parresia is especially linked with preaching and public testimony.  It is important not only for its frequency but because Luke makes it the penultimate word in the Acts of the Apostles.  In the final scene of Acts, Paul has at last come to Rome.  The gospel has travelled from Jerusalem to the heart of the known world.  What is Paul doing as we leave him in Rome?

“He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28.30-31).

What does this word translated boldness actually mean?  Parresia does carry the meaning of courage in the normal sense.  But it also has a wider range of meanings drawn from the world of Greek rhetoric: the art of public speaking.

The apostles are praying for courage as we mean it, certainly.  We need the normal kind of courage in ministry. But they are asking for more than this.  They are also praying for certain qualities to be evident in their service of the word.  I’d like to pull out four strands of meaning.  I don’t normally do alliteration but these all begin with “p”.

They are praying for grace so that they may speak plainly first of all.  That is the meaning of parresia in John 15.29 where the disciples say to Jesus “Now you are speaking plainly not in any figure of speech”.  It is vital in our preaching and teaching to speak in ways and language that people can hear and understand.

The word originated in Greek political life with the fundamental meaning of declaring the whole truth without fear or favour.  Telling it like it is.

The author Henri Nouwen, I am told, labored and labored over his books with one aim, to make them shorter, sharper and clearer: more plainly understood.

It’s a serious thing to preach in such a way that people cannot understand you.  Sermons like that leave people feeling that the Christian faith is complicated and impenetrable.  It can leave them feeling ignorant and stupid if you use words which are hard to understand.  Speak plainly.

Second, the disciples are praying for the grace to speak persuasively.  They are praying that their arguments will be clear and persuasive and logical and winsome.  They are praying that their preaching will win hearts and minds as they present Christ on every opportunity.

As the words from the ordinal make clear, we need the boldness of the prophets and the apostles. The boldness of the prophets is the courage to speak truth to power in difficult circumstances.  But the parresia, the courage of the apostles in teaching is learned in the schools of the philosophers as much as the prophets: a clear and open argument to convince our hearers.

Too often we become lazy in our service of the word.  We repeat stock formulas and old arguments instead of working to craft words which will persuade and convince through reason that Jesus is the Son of God.

Third speak publicly.  It’s an obvious but constant theme in Acts that the message of the gospel is carried beyond the Church both in conversation and in proclamation.  “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard”.  But we do more than tell that message over and over again to each other.

Where does public proclamation feature in your lifetime calling to speak the word?  Where will you look to make your contribution, speaking to the wider culture we are part of?  In the whole history of the Church, particularly in the great Methodist revivals, the power of the gospel is released in new ways when we proclaim our faith in public.  John Wesley’s ministry took a new and powerful turn when he went outside the Church to preach to the miners in Bristol and elsewhere.   As you enter the Cathedral tomorrow and on Sunday, you might recall that Wesley was famously banned from speaking in Sheffield Parish Church, by the then Vicar and instead spoke in the open air, to greater effect than if he had been locked up inside the Church.

How will you proclaim the gospel publicly in the coming year, with courage.

Finally, the apostles are praying for the grace to preach the gospel persistently, in season and out of season as Paul himself charges Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message, be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching” (2 Tim 4.1-2).

Here is the first part of the charge to ponder about courage which applies especially to your service of the word. Preach the word of God with boldness.  Labour for the gift of plain speaking so that everyone can understand what you are trying to say.  Work hard at your preaching and teaching so that what you say is persuasive, well constructed, within the community and outside it.  And resolve to be persistent in what you say, in season and out of season.

Make no mistake.  You are being ordained to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to preach the word of God.  Pray for boldness in that calling all the days of your life.

I’m going to ask you to reflect, in second place, on the courage envisaged by that final question in the ordination service.

“Will you in the strength of the Holy Spirit, stir up the gift of God that is in you to make Christ known amongst all whom you will serve”

To understand the question, it’s important to reflect on the context of these distinctive words in 2 Timothy 1.

“For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self control” (1.6-7).

My own understanding of the context of 2 Timothy is this.  I don’t believe 2 Timothy is general instruction from an older to a younger minister (although 1 Timothy and Titus can be seen in that way).  I believe 2 Timothy is a genuine Pauline letter written at a particular time of crisis in Timothy’s life and ministry.  Timothy has been somehow caught up in one of the sporadic waves of persecution which are a feature of first century Christian life. In that wave of persecution, Timothy had the opportunity to make the good confession, to stand up for his faith in Jesus Christ. For whatever reason, his courage deserted him and he failed the test.  He is in a place not unlike Peter the apostle after the denial.  2 Timothy is written in this moment of great crisis to restore Timothy to his vocation, to help him find his courage again in these moments of despair and failure.

We are talking about prophetic courage here: the willingness to pick yourself up after a bad fall when you messed things up personally or professionally and get back on the horse.  The courage to get back into the pulpit after the family service went drastically wrong; the courage to go back a second time into the unruly classroom or assembly; the courage to say the really difficult thing at the PCC meeting or in the pastoral encounter; the courage to step up to the plate of costly, difficult, demanding ministry situations again and again and again and again.

Christian ministry would probably be very easy if we were perfect, balanced, gifted people. The reality is that we are imperfect, disordered, temperamental so and so’s trying to do the best we can.  For most of us most of the time, our ministry will be punctuated by those moments when we didn’t speak or act, when we let the opportunity go, when we try and fail, when we are on the batting plate but ball after ball sails past us.

How does Paul respond to Timothy, his child in the Lord in this moment of crisis.  He responds first with love and affection.  This is the most passionate letter in the New Testament I think. “To Timothy my beloved child” (1.2).

He responds with prayer: “I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day” (1.4). There is urgency and desperation here.

He reminds Timothy of God’s grace in verse 6.  Through the rest of the letter Paul gently restores Timothy’s vision for ministry and sets before Timothy both his own example and that of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is trying to encourage Timothy, to put courage into him, to enable him to engage again with the task to which Timothy has been called.

One of the themes I would encourage you to reflect on in these days is how you believe God responds to you when you lose your courage, when you have those moments like the one I described and many more much worse than that.

Will God respond in any less a way than Paul does to Timothy: with love, with prayer, with grace, with gentle rebuilding, with vision and example.

The rhythm of lifelong ministry is one of failure and restoration.  If that’s not the whole rhythm it will be part of it.  The long term fruitfulness of your ministry and mine depend in how you deal with those situations of failure and remaking.

That is why this final question is at the heart of it all.  It presupposes moments of failure.

“Will you in the strength of the Holy Spirit, stir up the gift of God that is in you…..”

Why does the gift need stirring up?  Because the flame has burned low.  The gift is dormant.  The Greek word at the centre of 2 Timothy 1.6 is anapourizein.  It means to catch fire again.  To burn again with the love and passion of God.  Will you rekindle courage and hope in your ministry again and again and again and again through all the years ahead?

This request to stir up the gift of God that is in you is not a once and for all request to speak sternly to yourself on the day of ordination.  It is a commitment, like the other commitments you are making in these questions, to habits of life.  And one of them is the habit of continually stirring up the gift of God that is in you: catching fire morning by morning.

“Rekindle the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands….

Finally and very briefly the third passage from the ordinal: the third of the questions the bishop asks the congregation.

“Will you uphold and encourage them in their ministry?”

We are not called to serve alone.  We serve as part of the Body of Christ, the people of God.  As the Body of Christ, the people of God, we uphold, encourage and support one another in every part of what we do.  I hope that will be true of your relationships within this group, within the deanery in which you serve and within the congregation.  We receive as much as we give in ministering to others.

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given as a deacon and priest I pass on to you.  When you are feeling sad or depressed or down in your ministry, no matter what it’s about, go and pay someone a pastoral visit. You will almost always come back with a changed perspective, upheld and encouraged by the grace of God.

At the end of our diocesan conference, it happened to be the Feast of St Barnabas and I named Barnabas as an additional patron saint of this diocese in the coming years.  I enrolled everyone there into a new Society, the Fellowship of St Barnabas and enrol you all in it as well today.  It has one purposes, to build each other up in courage and boldness in our discipleship and ministry now and in the years to come.

Preach the gospel with boldness: plainly, persuasively, publicly, persistently.

Continually stir up the gift of God that is in you.

Be a son of encouragement to others and allow them to encourage you.

May God bless you richly in these final hours of preparation before your ordination as priest and deacon and in all the years ahead.  I look forward to serving with you.


+Steven Sheffield



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.


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.


[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


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.