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”

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