Bishop Steven preached at the patronal for St Andrews Headington on 29 November. His sermon focused on the Census 2021 findings and how the Church should respond…

Congratulations on your 900th birthday and all that’s been achieved through the marking of that. It’s good to join the celebrations this St. Andrew’s day for your patronal festival.

St. Andrew is the patron saint of mission and evangelism and today seems a very good day to remember Andrew, who brings his brother Peter to Jesus. The banner headline in the i newspaper shouts out for our attention today following the release of the Census 2021 information yesterday: UK Christians in minority for first time since the Dark Ages. According to the census, less that half the UK population identify as Christian for the first time in 1,500 years – certainly for the first time since there has been a Church in Headington. The Express leads with the same story: less than half of population is Christian. The broadsheets carry the story and question the Church’s role. In case you think it’s everywhere, the Mail leads with Xmas Turkey Shortage Fear. The Mirror stays with the football with the headline BISH, RASH, BOSH, which I thought at first was an episcopal story but is actually about England’s victory over Wales in the world cup.

I wonder how we should respond to the census news on this St. Andrew’s Day. We’ll all have a mix of feelings:

Resignation and helplessness the decline in nominal Christianity is nothing new, though the milestone is significant.

Excuses: this has been a slow decline for many years, after all. Blame the church: if only the Church of England would… [insert your favourite simple solution or prejudice].

Or blame the culture: people are consumers, thinking only of themselves and faith can’t flourish in such a climate.

St. Andrew and St. Andrew’s day points me to a different response. We need to mark this moment as one of challenge and rise to it. I think this is a watershed moment for us as a Church though it’s been coming for many years. How we respond should affect the life of every local church, every diocese, and every part of the life of the Church of England. My prescription is in essence very, very simple. It is that, following Andrew, we place telling other people about Jesus at the heart of our common life and at the head of our priorities.

The church has a beautiful word for the business of telling people about Jesus: it is the word evangelism, telling the good news of Gods love in a wounded world.

From Isaiah 52:

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news, who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’

From Romans 10 and quoting Isaiah 52:

‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?

And most simply of all from our gospel reading in Matthew, words spoken to Andrew and Simon and to all of us: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

How should the Church respond to becoming a minority again for the first time since the Dark Ages? Only by resetting the life of the Church around the disciplines of evangelism and setting the disciplines of evangelism again at the core of the life of the church. It’s a journey we’ve been on for a generation but it’s not yet complete.

Evangelism has suffered as a word in recent years. It is easily dismissed and caricatured and mocked. But only a church which recovers these deep disciplines will flourish in the coming years.

Evangelism or evangelisation is not a single thing. The Church cannot flourish with a thin, emaciated concept of what it means to tell the Good News.

There are at least seven disciplines of evangelism, as I see them. Evangelism is rooted first in contemplation, in prayer and worship, in catching a fresh vision of Christ in word and sacrament and stillness. It is only as our own lives are transformed by the love of God that we will want to share Jesus with others. Evangelism is second rooted in our actions and our lives: in living out the gospel, in incarnational mission. Local churches are centres of service and support to their local communities because we want to love our neighbours as ourselves and this is the beginning of our witness to Jesus.

Evangelism is third rooted in apologetics, defending and commending the Christian faith through reason, argument and persuasion, through identifying and removing objections to belief. Is there a conflict between faith and science? How can we understand a God of love in a world of suffering?

The fourth discipline is personal witness and initial proclamation: finding ways to tell the Christian story to our neighbours, as will happen in powerful ways this Christmas time, and also finding ways to let people know what that story means. It has been wisely said that her late majesty, the Queen, was one of the very best evangelists in the Church. In her Christmas message year by year the Queen told the story for faith but also said what it meant to her. How will those around us encounter the love of God which so transforms our lives in this coming season.

The fifth discipline is teaching the faith to enquirers and new believers, those preparing for baptism and confirmation – a traditional discipline in the season of Lent. The Church calls this discipline catechesis: helping new believers discover and live in Jesus through community and love and scripture and prayer.

The sixth is building those new believers into the community of the Church so that they grow and mature in their discipleship and find their own calling before God. The seventh is to go out beyond our existing congregations to those unable to connect with the life of the Church and begin new Christian communities, new congregations for those who may be out of reach of our traditional church and to do all of this in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I thank God for the ministry of St Andrews across this 900 years and especially in the years I have known it. The census information yesterday was indeed a significant moment – but one we can see as a challenge: to deepen our practices in these seven disciplines and set the telling of the good news more and more at the heart of our common life.

Follow me, says Jesus, and I will make you fish for people.


29 November 2022


Archbishop Rowan is in Rome for three days.  Yesterday evening he addressed the Synod of Bishops. He chose as his theme the importance of contemplation as the foundation of evangelism.  The Archbishop’s springboard was the hope engendered by the Second Vatican Council and in particularly the renewal of the Christian understanding of what it means to be human (Christian anthropology).

the Council built on the greatest insights of a theology that had returned to earlier and richer sources – the theology of spiritual geniuses like Henri de Lubac, who reminded us of what it meant for early and mediaeval Christianity to speak of humanity as made in God’s image and of grace as perfecting and transfiguring that image so long overlaid by our habitual ‘inhumanity’.  In such a light, to proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim that it is at last possible to be properly human:  the Catholic and Christian faith is a ‘true humanism’

A key part of being human is therefore to contemplate God’s goodness, grace and love and in that contemplation to forget our pre-occupation with ourselves and be caught up into service of God and the world.

To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly.  It is a deeply revolutionary matter.

The Archbishop drew attention to places of spiritual depth in the contemporary world – such as Taize and Bose – and to the new ecclesial movements and communities which flow from the discipline of the contemplative life.  It is a rich and inspiring address and worth reading and re-reading.  The habit of contemplation is foundational to evangelisation:

The enemy of all proclamation of the Gospel is self-consciousness, and, by definition, we cannot overcome this by being more self-conscious.

It is hard to communicate what a significant mark of respect it was for the Archbishop to be invited to address the Synod for 30 minutes and take questions for a further 30.  This is the first time such an invitation has been given to an Anglican in the 50 years of the Synod’s existence.  All contributions to the Synod by the Roman Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops are limited to just five minutes.  This was both a significant honour and an opportunity.

The address was very well received and matched the theme of the Synod exactly.  The Synod Fathers have returned again and again to the need to begin afresh from the face of Christ, to reflect more deeply on their own faith, to the need for the evangelisers to be evangelised.  The Archbishop spoke from the theologians who themselves resourced the Second Vatican Council to resource their successors in their vital task.

Archbishop Rowan is regarded here will immense respect and affection.  His legacy of a stronger link between Canterbury and Rome is seen as vital for the future.  Ecumenism and Evangelisation continue to walk hand in hand:  to be one so that the world may believe (John 17.24).

The full text of the speech is here:

Buon giorno e Roma!

People say there is less of the Bishop of Sheffield than there used to be.  It’s about a stone less to be precise (and still going down as of last Saturday).  This is partly due to Ann becoming very fierce on the matter of diets and partly to the Hairy Bikers’ recent television series.

A hazardous time then to be in Rome.  So far I’ve managed to resist the bread, the pasta and the pizza (well, almost).  However I have discovered gelati – Italian ice cream.  It’s very warm here at the moment (sorry about that!).  I have to walk through Rome four times a day in a cassock (more on that another day).  There are gelateria on every corner including one under the window of the room where I am staying.  Coconut is my favourite flavour so far but there are many still to try…..

The Synod had its first session in groups this morning.  The groups are divided according to language and I am in one of the English speaking groups but with a real spread of nationalities.  There is more of a dialogue and for deeper sharing than is possible in the plenary.

The last twenty-four hours have been a chance for me to think about the dogs which are not barking yet: the words or concepts which would feature on a discussion of this subject in the Church of England and which haven’t yet been a part of the conversation here.

There are several, as you might imagine.  Some of them I don’t miss.  But the most striking absentee so far is the idea of discipleship and of making disciples.  The concept doesn’t feature, as far as I have discovered, in the Instrumentum Laboris, the preliminary document for the Synod.  The focus is largely there on apologetics, the initial proclamation of the gospel and on catechesis (all associated with the inital passing on of faith).

But my reflection back to the Synod through the group this morning was that the conversation about Evangelisation must be joined to a conversation about discipleship: the fruits of a mature faith which is able to endure and to flourish in the midst of a secular society and culture.  The Church also needs to give careful thought to a vision of Christian discipleship and flourishing – to define the ends as another member of the group ventured so that we can then develop the means.  There have been a number of very positive references so far to small Christian communities from different places in the world which are of course immensely important as places for the forming and sustaining of disciples.

The thought connected for me with the presentation Ann Morisey gave to our Diocesan Development Day on Saturday which focussed on Methodism as a discipleship movement working for “transformation on an industrial scale”.

One of the fruits of coming away from your own situation is that you see some things more clearly.  One of the insights I will be taking back to Sheffield is that any conversation about sharing the faith needs to connected to a vision for growing disciples: Christians who will not melt in the heat of the day but endure and be sustained an grow stronger in their witness.