Posts

Thoughts and prayers for the Diocese of Sheffield

My thoughts and prayers are with the Diocese of Sheffield  following publication of Sir Philip Mawer’s report into the recent process of appointment of my successor.

Sheffield is an amazing and wonderful diocese, full of gifted people of great integrity and full of vitality and life.

Sir Philip’s report is accurate and for my part I am grateful for his care and wisdom.

Nevertheless his report will be painful reading for many within the Diocese of Sheffield and beyond it. For over seven years the Diocese of Sheffield was my Christian family. I received in my ministry there far more than I was able to give. I carry the Diocese daily in my prayers and will do for many years (much as I love my new diocese and ministry in Oxford). Reading Sir Philips report is like reading an account of deep division within your own family.

The report highlights the role played in public debate by Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, a close colleague within the Diocese of Oxford. I have deeply appreciated Martyn’s wisdom and welcome in the first year of my ministry here. The Church of England needs courageous and challenging voices in every generation. Martyn has already said he will reflect carefully on the report. He has my full support even (and especially) where we may sometimes see things differently.

My prayers are also with Bishop Philip North whom I have known for many years as highly gifted priest and bishop who makes a very significant contribution to the life of the Church of England.

The House of Bishops will take forward the recommendations in the report including further theological work on the questions raised and educational work on the five guiding principles. I affirm again my own commitment to the mutual flourishing of all parts of the Church of England.

But most of all this week my thoughts and prayers are with Bishop Pete Wilcox, Bishop Peter Burrows and the clergy and people of the Diocese of Sheffield. Bishop Pete is leading a pilgrimage of prayer across his Diocese this week and begins his public ministry in Sheffield Cathedral on Saturday. A new chapter now begins in the life of this remarkable Diocese. The process of reconciliation and healing will continue, helped by Sir Philip’s report. The good people of Sheffield will take care of that.

I hope and pray that the rest of the Church of England will give to Sheffield the gift of our prayers and restraint so that the focus can be on the present and the future, on God’s mission, on the vital task of the building up of the Church in often fragile communities and most of all on God’s Son, Jesus Christ, whose Church we are.

+Steven Oxford
September 2017

(photo courtesy of Keith Farrow)

A Letter from Bishop Steven

Dear Friends,

I write with some significant news and with a mix of emotions to the clergy and lay people of the Diocese of Sheffield.

Downing Street has announced this morning that I have been nominated as the next Bishop of Oxford.  I am looking forward to the new challenge and responsibility this move will bring.  At the same time I am very sorry to be leaving a Diocese and friends and a place I love dearly and where Ann and I feel very much at home.

For both Ann and myself, our seven years in the city and Diocese of Sheffield have been among the happiest and most fulfilling of our lives.  I have enjoyed and appreciated almost every part of being Bishop here: the warm welcome across South Yorkshire (and the parts of East Yorkshire around Goole), the joy of working with an outstanding senior team, with dedicated and creative clergy and lay leaders and the privilege of joining in what God is doing in so many different ways and places.  I have appreciated all kinds of engagement with the city and wider region served by the Diocese: with local politicians, with its economic life, with the universities, the third sector and many different local communities.

Ann has greatly enjoyed fellowship and friendship through Partners Together and the Mothers’ Union and, most of all, seeing the Parent and Toddler group grow at the Cathedral over the past five years.  We have both made many friends here.

You may know that the Diocese of Oxford has been vacant since October 2014. At that time, it felt too early to consider leave Sheffield after six years. However, for various reasons the vacancy was not filled and I was invited in January this year to allow my name to be considered.

My call to this new ministry began with a sense of obedience to the wider needs of the Church and has grown from there, through the process, into a strong sense that God is indeed calling Ann and I to Oxford and calling me to a different kind of episcopal ministry.

For the first time in January, I began to realise it was no longer too early to leave Sheffield.  The Diocese has grown in confidence, in unity, and in capacity for mission, particularly over the last year.  We have a common vision, a strategy to carry that vision forward and a strong and united senior team.  The more I pondered the question, the more this seemed a potentially good moment to hand on the ministry God has entrusted to me here to others and in time to a new Bishop.

The Diocese of Oxford is one of the largest and most complex in the Church of England.  It covers the three counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and stretches from Milton Keynes in the north to Newbury in the south; from the Cotswolds in the west to Slough in the east. The Diocese has a population of 2.3 million people.  There are over 800 churches, almost 400 stipendiary clergy and over 200 self-supporting clergy grouped into four archdeaconries and 29 deaneries. The Diocese has an Area system with three Area bishops supporting and working with the Bishop of Oxford.  There are 12 secondary and 270 primary Church schools.  There are six universities. A large number of charities, industries and other agencies have their national or international headquarters in the Diocese.

The invitation to move came at a time when I was beginning to reflect on what shape my own ministry might take over the coming years.  As you know, I had been planning a sabbatical later in 2016 to do some of this thinking.  I have a growing sense of call to a more outward facing ministry over the next ten years or so and a desire to engage more directly in mission and evangelism and with the wider life of the nation.  I could certainly have changed gear in that way and remained in Sheffield, but Oxford, with all its resources also provides an excellent place for such a ministry.

Finally, although the move will take us further from some of our family in Halifax, it will bring us much nearer to our four children and to our grandson.  Paul, Andy and Beth and Sarah are all settled in Greater London.  Amy and Simon are in Bristol and Ann’s mother is also there.  Ann and I first met and married in Oxford and we lived there for five years immediately before we came to Sheffield.  From the perspective of our past and our future, the move makes sense.

For the next few months at least it will be business as usual.  I am not quite sure of the timings yet but it looks as though we will move to Oxford over the summer.  A farewell service has been provisionally booked in Sheffield Cathedral for Sunday 17 July at 4.00 pm.  In the meantime I am looking forward to the regular programme of parish visits, the Deanery confirmations and continuing to plan for the launch of St Peter’s College.

After I leave, Bishop Peter will lead the senior team and the diocese during the vacancy as we continue to grow a sustainable network of Christ like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place.  I will leave the Diocese in excellent hands.  The process of discovering who God may be calling to the immense privilege of being the next Bishop of Sheffield is likely to begin in the autumn.

In the meantime, we continue to value your prayers.  You know me well enough to know that I enjoy change but also find it very daunting.  We will continue to pray for you now and for many years into the future.  I have every confidence that the whole Diocese will continue to grow in faith and hope and love in the years to come.

With thanks for all that we have received through you and in you and for the grace of God in this Diocese.

With kind regards

+ Steven

Today if you hear his voice (Psalm 95)

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”

Nurturing our Vision of the Church

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

Preparing for the Synod of Bishops

Welcome to this new blog.  A bit of an experiment.  We’ll see how it goes.I’ve started blogging because of an invitation to go to Rome in a few days time for something called the Synod of Bishops.

The Synod has been called by Pope Benedict.  Bishops are coming together from all over the world to explore the theme of The New Evangelisation.  The Synod has been called to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th Anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It also marks the inauguration of the Year of Faith.

I’ve been asked to to as a Fraternal Delegate representing the Anglican Communion.  There are about a dozen Fraternal Delegates at the Synod representing different churches across the world and scattered among several hundred Roman Catholic bishops.

Most of the Synod will be spend listening to other people but every fraternal delegate is invited to speak to the whole Synod for around four minutes.  I’m thinking hard about what to say.

It’s a real privilege to be attending and I’m looking forward to it.  The Synod lasts for three weeks.  I’m there for the first twelve days (in plenary) and the final three days.  In between, I have to come back to fulfil commitments in the Diocese.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is giving one of the major addresses to the whole Synod part way through the plenary time.

I’ve enjoyed the preparatory reading (more on that later) and I think I’m going to learn a lot.  I have a long standing interest in catechesis (teaching the faith to new Christians), apologetics and forming fresh expressions of church.

I’m hoping to use this blog initially to pass on some of the reflections and the lessons.  Beyond that, who knows.