We are undoubtedly living through one of the greatest crises of our lives. Series 4, Reflections for a Church in Lockdown, aims to resource the Church during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Series 1 – 3 of My (extraordinary) Family saw Bishop Steven talking with someone he’s come to know in his travels about their faith, their work and their story. What does it mean to them to become more Christ-like: contemplative, compassionate and courageous for the sake of God’s world?

So we come to the final chapter, Isaiah 55. This chapter is about comings and goings, and they set a profound rhythm for the life of God’s people which flows through the worship of the Church.

The first verses of Isaiah 55 offer the most gracious and powerful invitation for thirsty, weary souls: Come. But our prophet turns this into a fuller and deeper invitation still.

Music in this episode is taken from this recording available on YouTube. Photo: Steven Buckley

Three times now, the unknown prophet has sung to us of the servant of God. The fourth song is a reflection on the suffering of the nation and the way God will raise up his people again, no matter how difficult the circumstances or how far we have fallen.

How are we to hear these words afresh today as we walk through the pandemic, as we re-assess our lives and the life of the church and the life of the nation?

Music at the start of this episode is taken from this recording available on YouTube. ‘Take Me To The Alley’ by Gregory Porter is also available to listen to in full on YouTube. Photo: Shutterstock

The Queen has approved the appointment of Gavin Collins as the next Bishop of Dorchester. In this special edition of My (extraordinary) family Bishop Steven talks with Gavin about his Christian formation, his ministry since ordination and his hopes for the role he is about to take on. Gavin will be consecrated on 28 January, you can find further details on the Diocese of Oxford website.

This episode is also available as a film on the Diocese of Oxford YouTube channel.

We often think of comfort as something soft and soothing, like a big hug. But to comfort someone is not simply to wrap them up in cotton wool and tenderness. Comfortable words are words which restore our strength, our core, our backbone.

The next three months or so may well be the hardest of the COVID journey – how can we find the resources to give strength to our communities when we are already tired and worn down?

Music at the start of this episode is from the Fellowship Worship Collective, here on YouTube. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

The prophet sings of love and forgiveness, of new hope and strength in God, to rekindle courage in the hearts of God’s people. The prophet sings of a new kind of leadership, based on humility and gentleness. The prophet sings to tell us not to be afraid even in the face of death. These are comfortable words the whole world needs to hear afresh in this season.

The Comfortable Words I want to explore today unfold a mystery which is at the centre of the universe: that Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, calls women and men into a relationship of love and entrusts us with a purpose for our lives and a mission to God’s world.

Episode links

  • The Personal Discipleship Plan
    A PDP is an accompanied faith journey with a local minister or mentor that explores six core questions that discern what God is doing in your life and what you might be called to next.
  • Paul’s faith journey (YouTube)
    This short film is a conversation between Paul and his mentor about the difference a PDP has made to his faith journey.
  • Disciples Together
    Disciples Together explores how we can embrace change for the benefit of God’s work in the world and outlines steps for our future ministry.
  • Join Bishop Steven for a webinar
    If you live and worship in the Diocese of Oxford, join Bishop Steven for a free webinar looking at rebuilding ministry with children, young people and families, introducing the Disciples Together principles and new resources you can use right now.

Opening music: John Denver – Sweet Surrender, taken from YouTube.
The Summons (Will you come and follow me), by John Bell, taken from YouTube.
Photo, Shutterstock

One of the oldest books on my shelf is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, the famous allegory of the Christian life published over 300 years ago. The famous hymn Who Would True Valour See is taken directly from his text. I first read Bunyan as a young Christian and have returned to Pilgrim’s Progress many times. At the very end of Christian’s journey, after many twists and turns and trials, he arrives at last at a great river, symbolising death. There is no bridge over this river and no way around it…

Music: a brief extract from ‘Who would true valour see’ by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band. Available here on YouTube.

Episode image: (c) Steven Buckley | Diocese of Oxford.

Brother, sister, let me serve you
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the gift to let you be my servant too.

The servant song by Richard Gillard is one of the most popular contemporary worship songs, sung by churches of many different traditions. It’s often chosen for services of ordination and licensing new ministers. The song captures something vital about the way of discipleship. As Christians we are called to a life of service together, to love and support one another in all the joys and sorrows of our lives. But where does that idea come from?


Image: Shutterstock

Look back over the last six months and reflect for a moment. What part has fear played in your own life and your life’s journey? What part is anxiety playing now in the key decisions of your life? Does it have too loud a voice? Does all of that fear and caution have the support of reason? Are there inner fears which you are keeping buried deep inside and cannot name or talk through with those closest to you? Are those chains of fear shaping the decisions you make in your work or your Christian service?

If that is the case, listen to the word of the Lord to you: “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand”.


The famous Dad’s Army episode at the start of this episode is taken from this BBC clip on YouTube
Photo: Shutterstock

The world around us has learned to respond to suffering and pain and difficulty. The temptation is to numb negative emotion, to overlay it, to disguise it through shopping or social media or food or alcohol or other addictive behaviours. We numb. In normal times that can set in motion slow but destructive cycles of behaviour in our lives. We keep afloat but only just. But in times of crisis and difficulty, it is not enough to numb. The pain around us overwhelms our defences. Something much deeper is needed…

The quotation from Brene Brown in this episode is taken from her TED talk The Power of Vulnerability. Watch it here.

Photo: Shutterstock

Welcome back to a new series of podcasts for the autumn: comfortable words.

The title is taken from the opening verses of Isaiah 40-55 (and also for a well-known part of the Prayer Book liturgy for Holy Communion). Each episode will begin from a passage of scripture taken from this part of the Book of Isaiah which begins with the unknown prophet’s call:

“Comfort, O comfort my people says your God
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her….”

The focus of the songs in Isaiah 40-55 is helping God’s people to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. I hope and pray the podcasts will be helpful to the Church across the Diocese of Oxford and more widely as we find our voice again in the midst of the pandemic.

I’ve listened to three songs as I’ve prepared the podcast this week.

The first is the opening section of Handel’s Messiah, which sets this passage to music. The second is Prepare ye the way of the Lord from the musical Godspell, and the third is Emilie Sande’s brilliant live performance of Our Version of Events III at the close of the 2012 Olympic games, heard briefly at the beginning and end of this episode.

Image: Shutterstock. The short music clip is taken from a live recording, here on YouTube