For over a year now, I’ve been listening. In the months before I arrived I met with each of my new senior colleagues and have spent time reflecting on the qualities the diocese said they would like their new bishop to have.
I paid particular attention to two Bible passages which had been the focus of reading scriptures together during the two year vacancy: Luke 10.1-17 and Philippians 2.1-11.
Over the summer months I was gathering facts and figure and maps in preparation for an intensive discovery process. Then, in October and November, I visited all the clergy in my own episcopal area, and in December I began a tour of every deanery in the diocese.
As I travelled around the deaneries I asked two questions: What kind of Church is God calling us to be as we look ahead together? What are we therefore called to do together?
I’ve now completed 21 out of 29 deanery visits in which I have learnt so much about the challenges and opportunities in the many different places we serve. Each visit has involved a Eucharist and lunch with the clergy; inspiring visits in the afternoon to meet the people who make a difference in their community; an evening meal with about a dozen lay people – and an evening gathering for PCC members and others to share something of my story and to listen to questions and concerns.
I’ve not kept count but so far, I would guess, over 2000 people have come to those evening gatherings. I’ve begun each evening by introducing myself and then answering what I think is the first question people should ask me: Steven, what’s your vision for the Church in the Diocese of Oxford?
The talk that I give has changed and evolved a lot as I have gradually tuned in to what is happening in our parishes day to day, and where we are and where we might be going. I’ve been grateful for people’s honesty and feel privileged that people have shared their experiences with me. There are still many more conversations to be had as together we envision the future for the diocese but my talk has now reached a fairly settled form and we recorded the address to Aylesbury Deanery last week.
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Scriptures have been a key part of this process and I’ve returned in a deeper way to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.1-10 as a guide as we look to the future.
As I met with the Bishop’s Staff and Bishop’s Council and in the annual meeting of Lay Chairs and Area Deans in January, I reflected on the Beatitudes and some provisional answers to the questions about what kind of church we are called to be, and what we need to do together, began to emerge.
Now we are moving onto the next stage of this process of discernment. Next week, 120 people from across the diocese will come together for three days at the High Leigh Conference centre. At this meeting, I’m going to share with them some of what I have heard through all of this listening and seek their wisdom and counsel as we look to the future.
Please pray for us – for a new Pentecost – as 120 gather all together in one place. Please contribute to the ongoing conversation through comments on this blog or through the forum we plan to create on the diocesan website.
In the coming months, there will be other ways for you to be involved in envisioning the future for the Church in our diocese.
It’s been a real joy to make this journey and to try and catch the heartbeat of this wonderful diocese. There are eight deanery visits still to come and they are really important. But the next part of the journey is also about making sense of all that I have heard and, with others, finding good ways forward for the future.
A prayer for our meeting next week:
God of gentleness and love
Draw near to us as we draw near to you
Dwell in every heart and conversation
Fashion us in the likeness of your Son Jesus Christ
Help us to discern together all that you are calling us to be
And all that you are calling us to do.
Assist us, by your Spirit, to become a more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous Church
For the building of your kingdom and the glory of your Son.