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A year ago I invited the Diocese of Oxford to listen to God through a particular passage of Scripture: the beatitudes of Matthew 5.1-10.

We are exploring our call to be a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world: more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous.

I know from different conversations, gatherings and written feedback that this has been very fruitful. Many groups listened to God through the beatitudes through dwelling in the word during meetings.

More than 6,000 people engaged with the study booklets we produced on the beatitudes and on Lazarus. Many churches developed sermon series or other good ways of study.

One of the main conclusions of our year of listening is that we need to do this more and continue to focus on what it means to be a more Christ-like Church. Lots of good practical strategies have emerged for local churches and for the diocese and these are moving forward.

However this listening is more important than anything we may decide to do, individually and together. I am therefore inviting the whole Diocese to a second year of listening, this time through the Letter to the Colossians and especially Colossians 1.15-20 and Colossians 3.12-17.

Again the focus will be on exploring more of what it means to be a Christ-like Church. The first short passage focusses on Christ, the second on the life of the Church. Again, there will be many different ways to listen through the text. Here are two resources to begin the process:

The Diocese will be producing a short study booklet similar to the Beatitudes booklet in time for use in Advent 2018 or Lent 2019 based on these addresses. More details later.

I hope that listening to God in this way through scripture will resource our personal lives and also the life of every local church. Over the course of the next year, the Diocese is planning to develop a very simple resource to support renewal and mission locally which builds on all we have been learning through this process of developing fresh vision.

A year ago we established six working groups to look at what we might attempt to do together. These groups have listened deeply to Scripture and to the Diocese. They have developed plans which flow from this call to be a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world. I gave a recent update on these at the Diocesan Synod in June. There will be further updates in the coming months.

But we want to begin a new academic year not with a whole list of things to do and not with a range of goals and targets or a fifteen point comprehensive strategy.

Jesus said to Mary and Martha: one thing is needed. In a time of great challenge for the world and for the Church, we are called to listen and ponder and reflect on what it means to become a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world: more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous.

Grace be with you

 

+Steven
September 2018

Address from the Common Vision Area Day at Green Park Conference Centre in Reading, 3 March 2018

We held our first Diocesan Youth Forum on Saturday. Over 100 young people from across the Diocese of Oxford gathered in St. Andrew’s Church, North Oxford for a morning of listening and reflection as part of our common vision process.

An update on our common vision process

Over a hundred people from across the diocese came together on Saturday 20th January to reflect on progress so far in our common vision process. We gathered as lay chairs, area deans, members of Bishop’s Council and others who had shared in our Common Vision conference in May.

We began our day on Saturday with prayer and worship and dwelling in the Word, looking once again at the Beatitudes and going deeper. We heard “mid-term” reports from the groups looking at the six areas of focus and had the opportunity to test out their thinking in detail. And I launched two new publications from the diocese, published in time for Lent…

What kind of Church are we called to be?

We are exploring together a call to be a more Christ-like Church: contemplative, compassionate and courageous. In September I invited every church, chaplaincy and school in the diocese to explore these themes in many different ways.

We are using two bible passages to resource our thinking. The first is the beatitudes in Matthew 5. Almost 4,000 copies of our short course, Exploring the Beatitudes, have gone out. Many churches have used it already. There has been lots of encouraging feedback about the 3C’s in particular.

My email of the week last week was from the PCC of Upton-cum-Chalvey in Slough. They have decided to add a final point to the agenda of each meeting:

“Have we been courageous, contemplative and compassionate in our discussions and decisions tonight?”

Many churches have set time aside in Lent to look at the Beatitudes material. I was in St. Andrew’s Sonning yesterday, baking bread at an all age Eucharist and talking about Jesus’ picture of yeast and the kingdom: we need to work these passages of Scripture through the whole life of the diocese and that takes time

Abundant Life: Lazarus

This week we are publishing two new resources to help churches and schools to explore what it means to be contemplative, compassionate and courageous and to live an abundant life.

These two resources explore a different Bible passage: the wonderful story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11 and 12.

Yvonne Morris has written a book for children and families co-published with GodVenture. It’s a 32 page full colour family activity sticker book with over 200 stickers.

I have written a series of 21 reflections on the story of Lazarus in the style of Reflections for Daily Prayer.

I wanted to offer something this time for the many people across the diocese who are not part of small groups but want to engage with exploring what it means to be more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous. Hence Abundant Life is suitable for individual and small group study. With this in mind, three outline group discussion sessions will be published online towards the end of the month.

Both books are available to order now and there is a discount for the next couple of weeks. Click one of the pictures below to find out more – for those reading this outside the Diocese of Oxford both resources are relevant in any Church of any denomination as you explore abundant life.

    

 

What are we called to do together?

Many deaneries and parishes have their own Mission Action Plans and many are already thinking through what the call to be contemplative, compassionate and courageous mean for their own planning.

There are some things we are called to do together as a diocese as we work with what God is already doing across Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes.

In September we established six working groups to explore the six areas of focus which had emerged from all the listening in the previous year.

On Saturday we had the opportunity to hear the “mid-term” reports from each of the six groups and test out their thinking in detail. My own summary of what the six groups have said so far is below, together with a link to the audio recorded on Saturday for each of the six groups.  

I also gave notice that we need to establish a seventh group to look at re-envisioning church-based work with children and young people across the diocese.

  1. Making a bigger difference in the world and serving the poor
    This group is looking carefully at three common areas of concern: at access to housing across the diocese; at tackling climate change and at putting fresh energy into community engagement.
  2. Sharing our faith with adults, children and young people and growing the local church in every place (rural, urban and suburban)
    This group is exploring contact, conversation and dynamic catechesis as three key ways forward in intentional evangelism and sharing our faith. There is more on catechesis in my December blog post.
  3. Planting new churches and congregations everywhere we can
    A population the size of Edinburgh is due to arrive in the diocese by 2030 (almost half a million people). Engagement with existing churches is falling in some areas. We need a vigorous new strategy for planting new churches and to become a more mixed economy church. This group is proposing a clear goal by 2025 to see 750 new congregations of 15 or more; 50 new churches with over a 100 members and 4 new churches with over 250 members. They also want to see a more permission giving culture and more than 18,000 people in new worshipping communities.
  4. Serving every school in our community
    This group has done a lot of listening to the need to support engagement with every school in the diocese and is beginning now to develop good ways of doing this for the future.
  5. Putting the discipleship of all at the heart of our common life and setting God’s people free.
    This group recognises that it is working on deep cultural issues in our common life and that there are no easy answers. They are exploring how faith is re-ignited, how confidence to live out our faith is increased and how people can be equipped and energised to live as disciples.
  6. Celebrating and blessing our largest, fastest growing city, Milton Keynes
    A new prayer initiative has begun in Milton Keynes. There has been a lot of deep listening. There is a desire to appreciate all that is good but also to think boldly and creatively about ways forward. This group wants to emphasise that it is “not about the money”. They will not be seeking a disproportionate allocation of diocesan resources to Milton Keynes. They have identified six critical ways forward for mission in the city.

You can find more detail of the six groups and who is involved on the Common Vision page of our website.

Responses

The gathering spent most of the time on Saturday reflecting in detail on the group’s plans and then reflecting on the deeper cultural issues we face.

There was broad support for the direction of travel which was good to see.

There were also some hard and good questions asked both on detail and the broader picture and process.

I flagged up early in the meeting that we will need to pay attention to how we implement the plans and strategies which emerge from this process.

Drawing it all together

As we move ahead into the second half of the year, I hope the whole diocese will continue to reflect on what it will mean to be a more Christ-like Church: contemplative, compassionate and courageous and the ways in which these work through into the life of every parish and school and chaplaincy and our common life.

The working groups will continue to develop clear, courageous goals grounded in careful listening to God and to the wider church and community. We will be seeking to draw those goals together into a common vision and strategy for the diocese in July for adoption by the Diocesan Synod in the autumn.

Please continue to pray and engage with the process. Details of the ways you can do that are set out below.

 

+Steven Oxford


Events and communications

We held a Common Vision Development day for the Dorchester Area in the autumn. This term we have three major events, these days are for anyone who would like to come. Click each link to find out more and to book a space.

You can also sign up for our regular eNews, which includes regular updates about the Common Vision process.

I am writing to invite every church, chaplaincy, small group and school in the diocese to do something very simple but life changing over the next year.

My aim this year has been to begin to get to know the Diocese and begin to be known.  We’ve also begun discern together a common vision for the future…

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.

In Christ

+Steven

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.
Amen