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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends

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

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

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

A context in Colossians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The challenge facing this Diocese

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

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

The House of Bishops declaration

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

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

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

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

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

The ministry of ordained women in this Diocese

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

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

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

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

The ministry of traditionalist catholics

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

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

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

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

The ministry of conservative evangelicals

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing indaba conversations

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

Pastoral and sacramental provision

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

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

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

And finally…..

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

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

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

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

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

+Steven Sheffield

19th July, 2014

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

I am the bread of life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s use the Easter acclamation one more time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further reading:

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

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

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

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

[3] See the New Statesman article cited above

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough Food IF

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

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

Love food hate waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give us this day our daily bread.

Today was our Diocesan Synod in Sheffield and this is the text of my Presidential Address on the theme of nurturing our vision as a Church.  Like many other dioceses, we face a number of challenges in the present moment.  The way through them lies in remembering and knowing more deeply who we are in Christ.

Nurturing our Vision of the Church Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod 16th February, 2013

Dear Friends I want to spend some time this morning in the midst of the detailed business of this Synod to refresh our vision of the Church.  I hope these words will be something of a tonic and a source of joy and hope for the Synod as we meet and for churches across the Diocese and beyond at this present time as we grapple with the challenging issues of the day.  The more problems we are called to face, the more we need a clear vision of our calling. The more challenging the questions, the more we need a crystal clear vision of what it means to be the people of God in the local community and in the world.

All of us here are part of local church communities and so we know that church life is always a mixture of joy and blessing on the one hand intermingled with problems and disappointments on the other.  All of us in this Synod are part of the diocese, a wider family and network of churches.  We are aware that as a Diocese we have many good things to give thanks to God for.  Many churches are taking new and bold initiatives of faith.  Many are seeing very, very good fruit.  I was reading this week an immensely encouraging paper telling the stories of Christmas services and church attendance across the Diocese which lifted my heart.  We will receive this morning the reports of our Boards and Councils which detail just some of the good work which is done month by month across our Diocese in and through and by the local church and by the Diocese.  This week Bishop Peter has been on a deanery visit to Hallam and I spent Thursday on a deanery visit to Rotherham.  We both witnessed so much that was good.  But we are also all aware through this Synod that we face significant challenges of finance and faith as we face the future together.

As a national church too there is much to give thanks for as the Church of England begins a new period of its life as Archbishop Justin begins his ministry.  You don’t need me to remind you that there are huge challenges for us at national level at the present moment in the life of our nation and a great need of grace. That situation is not unique to the Church of England or the Church in this country.

In October, I was privileged to attend the Synod of Bishops in Rome on the New Evangelisation and the transmission of the Christian faith. This week we give thanks in particular for the ministry of Pope Benedict who called that Synod and presided over it each day and we pray for the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world.  My biggest piece of learning from that Synod was that the Church all over the world is having the same conversation at the moment certainly in respect of the transmission of the Christian faith.  As I’ve said on a number of occasions, I returned to the Diocese after nine days of listening to Bishops from all over the world and went straight to the Laughton Deanery evening on re-imagining ministry.  As I listened to the people of that Deanery listing their joys and their questions at the present time, I realised in a profound way that this was exactly the same conversation I had left behind in Rome.  The questions of finance, of the changing role of ministry, of the challenges of passing on the faith are not just local questions.  The are questions every church all over the world is facing, albeit in different ways in the present generation.

A Biblical Vision

So spend a few minutes with me this morning exploring more deeply what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ, the people of God, the sacrament of God’s presence in the world, the sign and instrument of communion with God among all the people’s of the earth.

There are many places in the Scriptures we could go to explore this theme but let me take you to one passage from the gospels and one from the epistles, one is very easy to understand, one is a profound mystery, one is a simple story, one is almost poetry.

The passage from the gospels is the story from Mark about the calling of the twelve.  This is the earliest account in the earliest gospel about why Jesus called together a group of disciples.  We know that this is a story not just about the first disciples but about the church in every age because of the number of disciples.  Twelve is not just a convenient number for a small group or a team. It is the number of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Jesus is calling together the new Israel, the new people of God in this moment.  At the heart of the story of that calling is a simple and clear statement of the essence of the Church:

“He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted and they came to him.  And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him and to be sent out…” (Mark 3.13-14).

The church at its simplest is a group of people called by God to be with the risen Christ together and to be sent out.

The word ecclesia means those who are called out into an assembly.  But the church is not a static gathering or assembly.  It is a community of people called to live in this rhythm, this heartbeat of coming together to be with Jesus and being sent out together to live out our faith in the world.

This rhythm is seen in our Lord’s summary of the Law.  “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answers the subtle question not with one commandment but with two:  “The first is, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12.28-31).

We are called to meet with the risen Jesus in the Scriptures and the Sacraments, like the disciples on the Emmaus Road.  The Scriptures and the Sacraments have that same rhythm to their life.  The Scriptures tell of the calling of the people of God to the life of worship and community but also their calling to engage in God’s mission to the whole of creation.  The Sacraments speak of God’s presence as we gather together to baptise and to celebrate the eucharist but also of God’s commission to make disciples and to offer our lives afresh, Sunday by Sunday in response to God’s grace to us.

We are the people of God, called into being by his Son.  At the heart of our life is the call to be with the risen Christ together and to be sent out.  At the heart of our vision for the church must be the dynamic interplay, the eternal dance, of worship, community and mission.

My second bible passage is Paul’s great prayer at the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians which describes in the most beautiful language and in one very long sentence the whole story of salvation from beginning to end.  That story of salvation is also a profound lesson in ecclesiology: in what it means to be the Church.

Many of us were enriched this week by sitting at the feet of Dr. Paula Gooder who gave our Shrove Tuesday lectures.  One of Paula’s many helpful points was the way in which we tend to read the Scriptures in an individualistic way in our own culture rather than as a community.  One of the places we are prone to do this most is in our reading of Ephesians 1. Paul’s great prayer of blessing is not meant to be describing the story of the salvation of a number of individuals nor the story of the salvation of you and me but the story of the creation of the Church of Jesus Christ, the people of God.

The passage is remarkable for the number of places where Paul speaks of “us” and “we”.  You know the way it begins:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”.

But what does Paul mean by “we” and “us”?  He does not mean a collection of individuals.  He does not mean you and I as individuals.  He means the community of God’s people, the church. Let me offer you a reading of Paul’s great prayer in which the word we and us is expanded each time by the addition of the word church, the reality which lies beneath the whole letter:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us the church in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us the church in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.  He destined us the church for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us the church in the Beloved.  In him, we the church have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us the church.  With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the church the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him in heaven and things on earth.  In Christ we the church have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we the church who were the first to set our hope on Christ might live for the praise of his glory.  In him you, the church, also when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit: this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1.3-14, words in italics added)

When we go to church on Sundays, when we attend Church meetings, when we take decisions on behalf of the church, we need that larger, God given vision in our minds.  We are called to be part not of a human society but of a community called into being by God before the foundation of the world.  This community we call the church is not a human creation.  It was not invented by men and women in the first century AD.  It is part of the divine purpose.  It was not created by the writing of a constitution or a set of standing orders. It was called into being by the action of God and specifically through the life and ministry and death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  The Church is not sustained primarily through human agency or our frail wisdom and power.  The Church is sustained from age to age through the wisdom and insight of God and through the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit, lavished upon us.  The Church is not the property of any single nation and cannot be told what to do by any government or parliament.  We are called from every nation to be part of a Church which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, for all time and yet beyond time.

The Church’s mission and destiny and purpose is not to be a refuge or a huddle of those who believe against a hostile world.  It is not to be remnant of those who believe and preserve the ways of the past for their own sake. The Church’s mission and destiny is to be at the centre of God’s plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things into him, things in heaven and things on earth.  The Church is called later in Ephesians the one new humanity, citizens of God’s kingdom, the household of God, the temple of the Lord, a dwelling place for God (2.15-22).

This is the community which we are privileged to share in and called to build in our own generation.  The letter to the Ephesians does not allow us to think that building this community is an easy task or a light undertaking.  It is Ephesians which reminds us that we are in a struggle and that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but agsinst the rulers, against the authorities, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  It is Ephesians which reminds us of the need for the whole armour of God (6.10 ff).

But we are called to build this community now in this Diocese: the community of those called to be with Jesus and be sent out.  The community called into being to share the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to call others to share in that one new humanity at the centre of creation.

The reality around us.

When we look at the Church in this Diocese through the spectacles of Mark 3 and Ephesians 1, we do begin to see a different picture.  We see the same blend of blessing and problems. We are not blind to the realities around us.  But we see that same blend in the light and perspective of history and of eternity.

We see and we give thanks for a network of parish churches which extends still across every community, rich and poor, urban and rural.

As Ann Morisy reminded us on our Diocesan Development Day last year, in every community in this Diocese, the parish, the Church of England, is likely to be the largest membership organisation, the most diverse organisation, the most significant generator of social capital, the most significant source of adult education and learning for daily life, the most grass root network of voluntary organisations, the most long lived and able to tell the story of the neighbourhood and the most significant provider of community facilities.  Every parish church community is a tree of life, an anchor for a complex ecology of community activity which is a blessing to its neighbourhood and beyond.

Every parish is a place, potentially, where adults and children come to faith and become disciples of Jesus Christ.  As we become Christ’s disciples so we find salvation, healing and grace.  We find the paths of holiness and peace.  We become part of a living community of faith which is itself part of the Church throughout the world.

As the Church of England, every parish holds to a vocation to be more than a gathered community of the faithful.  Our calling is serve the needs of all, to work for the good of all, communicate the gospel to everyone and to minister to the entire population in times of personal need or local or national crisis.  As Anglicans we believe that no local expression of the church is a complete expression of the church.  We are covenanted to be the church together as a diocese, as the larger household of God, ministering and serving the whole community in the whole region, and to be part of the wider Church throughout the world.

That is the Church of England which I am privileged to see as I travel across this Diocese.  There are in every place signs of God’s grace, in every place, signs of hope and encouragement, in every place signs of new faith and discipleship growing and fresh direction in our common life.  The problems and challenges we face are immense.  But the resources at our disposal are even greater in the economy of God and it is God’s grace which will prevail.

Our vision and strategy

We have a clear vision as a Church in this Diocese for the next part of our life together.

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.

We have a clear ways forward to realize the different parts of that vision in Growing the Body of Christ, in Salt and Light and in Re-imagining Ministry for Mission.

We are seeing clear signs of encouragement and growth across the Diocese.  More parishes are engaging with the annual cycle of prayer, sowing the seed of the gospel, nurturing the faith of new believers, growing the faith of every disciple.  More parishes are deepening their engagement with our wider society. More parishes are exploring mission partnerships and sustainable patterns of ministry for the future. Significantly more people are offering themselves for self supporting ordained ministry and lay ministry.  Only God sees the whole picture, but I can see enough to be enormously encouraged.

Let’s remember as we engage in this great task together that it will not be easy or straightforward.  We are called to reshape and to build the church in this diocese for present and future generations.  This is a high and holy calling, worthy of our best gifts and sacrificial giving of our time and energy, our gifts and our financial resources.  Let’s remember that we are not building a human organization only but the Church of Jesus Christ, called into being and sustained by the grace of God.  Let’s remember that we must expect opposition and difficulties and expect to overcome them much of the time.  And let’s remember that we are not on our own in this task.  We have one another both as individuals and as churches.  We have the resources of the Church throughout the world.  We have, most of all, the resources of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, informing our vision and shaping our lives.

My final words are again from Ephesians (3.20-21):

“Now to him, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen”.

+Steven Sheffield 16th February, 2013

The Sheffield Diocesan Synod met this morning just a few days after the General Synod debate on the Measure to enable women to be ordained as bishops.  At most Diocesan Synods, the Bishop gives a Presidential Address.  This is my address from this morning.  It’s slightly longer than usual because of the subject matter.  You should be able to find a downloadable document and a video of me giving the address sometime today on our website: http://www.sheffield.anglican.org

Update: video version now online here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLRJfqKIWDQ&feature=player_embedded The Bishop of Sheffield Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod 24th November, 2012

Dear Friends

I am deeply saddened that the Measure to enable women to become bishops was not passed by the General Synod on Tuesday by a very narrow margin in the House of Laity.

However sincere the convictions of those who voted against the Measure, it is my honest view that the standing of the Church of England in our nation has been damaged, I hope temporarily, and that this decision will make it more difficult in the months to come to proclaim the gospel with joy and confidence which is our calling and responsibility before God.  We have been in difficult places before.  We are a Church who believes in hope and resurrection and that God is at work in every situation.  However, on any understanding, these are serious matters.

I give heartfelt thanks to God this morning for the ministries of the women who are priests and deacons in the Diocese of Sheffield and more widely.  I deeply value and cherish their ministries as do the parishes where they serve.  Alongside their male colleagues, they serve sacrificially, wholeheartedly, with great skill and dedication.  Many, I know, feel bruised by this decision not because they want to be bishops but because they feel their own ministries as priests and deacons are again called into question.  To live a sacrificial life as a priest or deacon is hard but to do so knowing that part of your own church is questioning your ministry is a difficult calling indeed. I hope every person here will take time and trouble to affirm and celebrate and appreciate the ministry of our women clergy in the Diocese in the coming days and weeks.

Many others, lay people and clergy feel angry and bewildered.  For many of us, the rightness of this development has never seriously been in question.  Many others have campaigned for many years.  Many are asking how the General Synod can vote down a Measure approved by 42 out of 44 dioceses, which has taken up so much time and energy over the last 12 years and which will now continue to take time and attention away from other vital matters.

The Dean has already described the events of the Synod in some detail and I will not go over them again.  I want in this Presidential Address to address five questions as we move forward together as a Diocese.

First I want to affirm the Christian understanding of the equality of women and men before God in society and in the life of the Church.

Second I want to address those who are feeling angry and hurt by this decision.

Third, I want to make some comments to those have opposed the Measure.

Fourth I want to look ahead a little.

Finally I want to draw us back to the love of God and of our neighbour which is the heart and centre of our faith.

1.         The equality of women and men before God

First then, the Christian understanding of the equality of women and men before God in society and in the Church.  There is a great difference between what those arguing against this Measure in the Synod wanted to say and what our society heard.  What they wanted to say was, this Measure is not the right way forward, the details of the provision are not right, we need to think again.

However what our society heard in those arguments was that women are not equal to men in the eyes of the Church. No-one who read the newspapers on Wednesday and Thursday, or who listened to the Prime Minister, or heard the radio and television discussions can be in any doubt that that was the message which came through.

So let me put the case as simply as I can for the equality of women and men in society, in family life and in the ministry of the Church.

It is a case built as it must be on the Scriptures.

In the creation narrative in Genesis 1 the whole stress is on the equality of men and women within a single humanity against the flow of the culture of the ancient world:

“So God created humankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.26)

Two genders, male and female, are both equally part of one humanity.

In the creation narrative in Genesis 2, the stress is again on one humanity, with the high point of that narrative the creation of woman.  Twice we read that woman is to be a helper and partner.  The language of partnership is not the language of subordination.  The Hebrew negedo means at its root what is conspicuous or in front.  The Septuagint translation is boethos homoios auto – “a helper equal in stature to him” (Genesis 2.18-25).

It is only after the fall in Genesis 3 that the subordination of woman to man and differentiation of function enters the biblical narrative as a consequence of sin. But the effects of the fall, we believe, are redeemed and transformed by the actions of Christ.

St. Paul stands firmly within the main biblical narrative when he declares in Galatians:  “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.27-28).

Christ came to restore to humanity all of that which is lost.  The equality of women and men before God is one of those lost strands.

The ordering of ministry in God’s church, the redeemed people of God, needs to reflect as far as possible the new humanity and order created by Christ rather than the old order.  This means equality of gender not subordination in every order of ministry including the ministry of deacons, priests and bishops.

The earliest Christians were striving for that new equality.  There is evidence for that all over the New Testament.  In Romans 16 we read of Phoebe the deacon described as a leader of many.  The Greek word is prostasis, the same root used and translated leader in Romans 12.8.  We meet Prisca, named before her husband Aquila, fellow workers, echoing Genesis 2, who risked their lives.  We meet Junia, prominent among the apostles.  Women and men exercising ministry and leadership together in a way counter to the culture of the day.

It is true that a small number of , mainly later, passages give a contrary view and seem to prohibit women from speaking or being in authority.  But those very passages are evidence for the practice they were trying to suppress.  They stand outside the main flow of scripture.  They need to be read carefully.  The seeds and signs of equality between men and women in ministry are present and affirmed in the Scriptures.

All interpretations of Scripture on the question of women in ministry have to account for these two variant traditions in the New Testament.  Which should we take as our guide today?  Should we follow the dominant tradition and direction of Scripture which affirms equality and partnership in ministry as in the rest of life or the minority tradition in which the ancient Church was accommodating to its culture, we can only assume for the sake of the greater good of the proclamation of the gospel.

The Church of England has determined for some years that the majority reading is the right one for our times and, indeed, is our adopting it is overdue. That is especially the case because in our culture it is essential to affirm equality and partnership in leadership and ministry for the sake of the greater good of the proclamation of the gospel as the response to the Synod decision has made very clear.

This scriptural understanding of the equality of women and men lies right at the heart of the womens rights movement worldwide historically and in the present day. The early suffragettes took part of their inspiration from the Bible.  It is a vital part of the Christian witness not only in this country but across the globe in relief and development.

2.         A word to those who feel angry or hurt by this decision.

I have spoken and corresponded with a large number of angry and hurt people since Tuesday evening.  So great is their hurt and anger that a significant number have talked of resignation and withdrawal – from their posts, from additional responsibilities, from volunteering, from the life of the Church of England.

I can understand those feelings.  They will take time to work through.  In the end we must each reach our own decisions.  However I want to encourage anyone in that position with all my heart to channel that sense of hurt and anger not into withdrawal but engagement and not into unthinking criticism of others which damages the body of Christ but into constructive work for the future: be part of the change you want to see and bring your passion with you.

I have been reminded over the last four days of the story of Elijah after the great confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.  Elijah is drained by that encounter.  He is led by God into the wilderness, to the roots of his faith. God ministers to him there.  He encounters God not in earthquake, wind and fire but in the still small voice.  What many of us need and what the whole Church needs in this moment is time apart, a long journey back to the source of our life and to hear again that living word, that call to us, to re-engage and move forward.

It is an old adage but a true one that decisions are made by those who show up and become involved.  This may be a watershed moment for the Church of England.  My prayer is that many will hold fast and deepen not lessen their commitment to transformation.

3.         Some comments for those who have opposed the Measure

One of the features of the General Synod debate on Tuesday was that nobody won. In conversation with bishops, clergy and lay people who voted against the Measure there is no sense of victory. No-one wants to be in this situation. Everyone recognizes it to be serious. Over and over again in the debate there was a willingness expressed by opponents of the Measure to find a constructive way forward, a willingness which will be tested in the months to come.

In my view, those opposed to the ordination of women as bishops are in a worse not a better place because the Measure was defeated.  It is true that the consecration of the first women as bishops has been postponed by a few years.  However the Church of England as a whole is more determined than ever to pursue that course and we will be held to account by the society we serve.  So the uncertainty about the long term future will continue.

Through the difficult debate on Clause 5.1.c between May and September, the House of Bishops discovered an important line in this debate.  Clause 5.1.c as it was meant the Measure no longer commanded the support of those who most want to see women as bishops and the senior women clergy who would themselves be women bishops.  It is very hard this morning to imagine returning to or beyond that point in terms of provision.

Conversely I can see every possibility of attitudes hardening and proposals emerging at the next stage which are less reliant on legal safeguards and more on building a culture of trust.

Even if the Church of England could reach agreement on such provision, there is another factor.  Parliament has become deeply involved in this debate.  For the first time in history on Thursday the Speaker allowed an emergency question to the Second Estates Commissioner.  24 MP’s spoke.  Not one had a good word to say about the decision taken by the General Synod.  Any legal provisions in the Measure will have to pass through Parliament.

I therefore believe that this next period will continue to be an extremely difficult one for those opposed to women as priests and bishops.    The alliance between conservative evangelicals opposed to women’s headship and anglo-catholics opposed to the ordination of women will be subject to significant scrutiny.  I expect these two very different theological positions will attract increased attention and criticism.  Before Tuesday’s vote, these two positions had not been much examined and tested in public debate.  They were simply respected as minority views held in good conscience.  However they now, sadly, have much greater importance and will be subject to much closer scrutiny.

So let me say again this morning what I have said on a number of occasions.  I want to affirm and work closely with parishes and clergy in these two very different traditions.  I am glad that you are well represented in this Diocese.  You stand high in my affection and esteem as clergy and people. I will do my best to continue to work with you, to support you and to provide pastoral support.  I hope that our co-operation and our ways of working together will become closer locally as the debate continues nationally.  Whatever the eventual outcome, I want to maintain a generous way of working together in this Diocese which is consistent with the current provision and pattern.

However I am not a neutral voice in this debate. I remain as I have always been passionately committed to seeing women ordained as bishops in the Church of England.

4.         What will happen next?

What will the next steps be in this process?  The House of Bishops meets on 10th and 11th December and this will be the main item on our agenda.  Papers are being prepared for that meeting scoping possible ways forward. These will, I think, include the possibility of bringing something back within the lifetime of this Synod though all sides acknowledge that fresh thinking is needed.  As you will see from the voting figures, the Bishops of the Church of England are very largely of a common mind on the question and I think very determined to press forward and to offer clear and determined leadership. However it will be some weeks before we reach a conclusion on what the next steps will be.

5.         And Finally

I would have loved to have spent more time this morning reflecting with you on my recent visit to the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops in Rome and all I heard there about the worldwide Church and the transmission of the faith.

However I do want to end with the bible story which forms the basis of the Pastoral Address from that Synod: the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well of Samaria.

It is the story of a woman.  A woman who is like many in our global, secularized society.  Her relationships are in chaos.  Her religious ideas are confused.  She is full of fear and suspicion.  Her inner world is in Pope Benedict’s profound image, a wilderness and a desert.  In every life there comes a moment when a woman or a man brings the emptiness of their life to the well, looking for water which quenches the deepest thirst, for the heart’s deepest desire.

Jesus is stripped of everything in this encounter.  He has crossed over to Samaritan country. He has no disciples, no miracles to offer, no food, no bucket to draw water.   He asks for help and shares himself and draws this thirsty woman to the living, healing waters.  Her life is changed and so is the life of her community.

Jesus is a model for his disciples here, to be sure.  In moments like this it will do us all good to leave the church politics behind and return to the simple tasks of going to where people are, serving them, sitting and listening and loving and healing.  I’m sure that many of you have been doing that this week as I have and finding life and reality there.

But the woman at the well is a model for the Church at this moment as well. Angry, fearful, confused, conflicted, needing grace, thirsty for living water, sensing our need for Jesus Christ in the midst of the present moment.

We must come, all of us, with our thirst, to the well and come together and find the Way.