This is the script for this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 4's Today programme:

Yesterday I went to a church near Huddersfield to dedicate a new font. Not, I hasten to add, a fancy new printing typeface, but the place where Christians are baptised in water into the life of the church.

The point about a font – in this case a stone bowl resting on wood and glass – is that it has to contain water. This one had only had a dry run, and when we put water into it, it dripped straight through the bottom onto the floor. The plug didn't fit, apparently.

But, it did offer a vivid image of the people who will be baptised in it. If the font leaks, then so do we. Something we can't hide from this week – Holy Week – as Christians walk with Jesus and his friends from Jerusalem towards a place of execution called Calvary.

This journey has not been comfortable for anyone. The friends of Jesus protest undying allegiance one minute, then run away the next. They want some of what they think will be the glory, only to melt when the heat is turned up. In other words, they turn out not to be as big or strong as they had thought themselves to be. Peter, the man who would deny even knowing Jesus when confronted by a young girl in the garden, takes his name from Petros – the rock – yet he turns out to be more porous limestone than impenetrable granite.

Now, for Christians this is no big deal. Almost every service in an Anglican Church begins with us all putting our hands up and admitting – publicly and corporately – that we have messed up. Yet, this isn't some group therapy session – nor is it any sort of bah humbug nonsense. Rather, it's a recognition of what every human being knows: we fail and we fall. And there's no point pretending otherwise. It isn't about being maudlin; it's about facing the truth about ourselves as people, then moving on with resolve, but without illusion.

The point of this is simple. It sometimes seems as if we have created a culture of perfection in which any sort of failure is to be instantly damned. Even worse, it lays us all open to charges of hypocrisy – easier to spot in other people than to admit in ourselves, of course. Or, as Jesus famously asked: “Who, without sin, is going to throw the first stone?”

Hypocrisy is not attractive. But, it is the sort of charge that should only be levelled by those who have first faced up to it themselves. Motes and beams come especially to mind here.

All of this seems particularly apposite and poignant when we witness the frailty and hubris of people in the news – particularly as we learn more about the hidden life of a German airline pilot. Perfection is the art of the arrogant; the rest of us are left, like the font, leaking unsurprised humility.

This is the text of this morning's Thought for the Day on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

Having lived for nine years in Leicestershire and now living in Yorkshire, I feel like I inhabit the tension around the final burial place of King Richard III.

His bones will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral, less than a hundred yards from the hole in the city centre car park that I found myself looking into 2 years ago. Their symbolic journey has of course been much longer.

But, who was he? Was Richard a megalomaniac psychopathic child killer who was as lousy a monarch as he was a warrior? Or was he a sick victim of someone else's arrows of misfortune, caught up in the political intrigues and power plays of his day? Shakespeare hasn't necessarily helped us in his portrayal of the desperate king who, despite not winning very much at all, at least developed a good line in rhetoric.

What interests me in the Richard conundrum is this not insignificant matter of reputation. Once the mud has been thrown, it is difficult to wipe it off. And, 500 years after his violent – and apparently humiliating – death in battle, here we are doing a balancing act between honouring his short-lived status as an English monarch and creating a battleground of judgements on his inability or otherwise to live up to his calling.

Reputations are hard won, but easily lost. And in the culture of blame and scapegoating that we seem to have developed today, it is especially hard for a lost reputation to be regained. Where there is smoke there must be fire – even if the evidence denies this. Just ask people who have been wrongly accused of crimes or dishonourable behaviour.

Shakespeare himself writes in Richard II: “The purest treasure mortal times afford / Is spotless reputation/ … / Mine honour is my life; both grow in one; / Take honour from me, and my life is done.” But, it didn't stop him having a go at the next Richard in such an elegant way that the king has never quite recovered, did it?

A problem for many people is getting trapped in a reputation from which you simply cannot escape. Once a crook, always a crook; one moral failure, always damned. Yet, one of the scandals of Jesus of Nazareth was his anti-social insistence on setting people free from the prisons of their past – offering the possibility of hope, of new life, and of freedom. According to him, redemption is always on offer – even when self-righteous people resent the fact. Remember the prodigal son, the father who waits in hope for him to return, and the elder brother who resents generosity, forgiveness and new life. According to this way of seeing people and their purpose, to fail is not necessarily to be a failure. The story can never be said to have ended.

Perhaps Richard's bones can now rest in peace… and his re-burial invite us to be as merciful to him as we would wish history to be to us.

This is the text of my Presidential Address yesterday to the second Diocesan Synod of the infant Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales:

Several years ago I sat through a theological conference in Salisbury on Fresh Expressions and the nature of the church. Like most conferences, there were some papers that grabbed the attention and others that … well … didn't. As usual, I was waiting for the one that would keep me thinking well beyond the conference itself. In the end it came from a retired professor of New Testament who presented a deceptively simple paper on the church in the Acts of the Apostles. Her basic thesis was this: the centre needs the margins and the margins need the centre. (Now, how deep is that?)

What she meant was that when Paul took the church into uncharted territory – particularly opening it up to the Gentiles – he could easily have just done his own thing way out on the margins, and hoped that the other apostles didn't notice. However, he insisted in bringing back to Jerusalem the issues being faced in the far reaches of what used to be called the 'mission field', and keeping the pioneer churches accountable to the centre. Of course, the corollary is that at the same time he was compelling the centre to take responsibility for the whole mission of the church – even in those places where they were inventing new ways of being church.

The centre cannot ignore the margins and the margins cannot cut loose from the centre. That is one of the lessons from the Acts of the Apostles, and it is one that we are exercising in our deliberations today. How do we ensure in our large diocese a structure that will hold together and offer resilience in a world and a church of competing interests and priorities? It is a tough question; it is not an original question.

Of course, structure, governance and mutual accountability do not stand alone in some notional realm where standing orders take the place of holy writ. Rather, they must be written through and created by relationships that, rooted in a common vision (however articulated), are constantly seen as the end to which the structures are the means. That is the biblical way: we can get everything else right, but if we have not love, we are just making a loud and pointless noise. As Paul wrote in 1Corinthians 13: “So, these three remain: faith, hope and love – but the greatest of these is being seen to be right.” (Or, as Elvis Costello put it: “What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?”)

This is actually a serious matter. Creating structures of accountability and governance cannot be an end in itself; if the doing of this is characterised by anything other than love-exercising-trust, then we are not the church we are called to be.

Today's agenda is important and we need to apply our best thinking and deliberation to how we wish to shape the governance of our infant diocese so that we are liberated to do the work of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To put it concisely: how do we set ourselves up so that our energies and resources (of people and of stuff) get directed to prayer, evangelism, nurture, teaching and worship, and don't exhaust us all in too much bureaucracy or administration?

Now, this is not simply the local concern of this synod or this diocese. The General Synod has launched the Church of England on a radical process of reform and renewal – something we might hear more about later in our time together. An often-misused word, 'radical' means 'going down to the roots'. And for the church at this time it means recovering our vision and what I sometimes refer to as our 'core vocation'. Many groups and societies could do much that the church does in our communities – if they cared enough and got organised, that is; but, no one else will live and tell the good news of Jesus Christ on our behalf. If we don't do it, nobody will. If we believe this gospel, then, like Paul himself, we will be compelled to bring Christ to people and people to Christ. And we must not be distracted from this mission: to enable people to become and grow as disciples of Jesus Christ for the sake of the church which exists for the sake of the world that is God's.

However, we don't do this in a vacuum. Soon the general election campaign will begin. We will be battered by competing programmes and promises, by a rainbow of colourful rhetoric and differently shaded visions. The recent Pastoral Letter from the House of Bishops – notably and noticeably unread by many of those who confidently commented on it – does not set out a party manifesto; rather, it calls for a new vision for our political life and discourse … one that inspires and draws citizens out to vote. This goes behind the presenting issues that get batted around amid the varieties of pragmatic and reactive politics, asking questions about what are the ends to which particular policies are the means. Christians will come to different conclusions, no doubt; but, Christians must engage with offering a vision that inspires a fresh way of looking at why the world is the way it is and how it might be changed.

And in this context we shall have a short item introducing the Synod to the realities, application and implications of sanctions on benefit claimants. Despite the complexities of some of the political and economic debates about our society and cultures, we are constantly brought back to the people whom the church is called to serve.

It should not be surprising, then, that this Synod is both inward-facing and outward-facing. Governance is not simply about representation and order, but will also shape how the area bishops are to be equipped to offer the leadership required of them. If the area system is designed to bring decision making closer to the ground, then how the bishops are engaged in the governance of the diocese matters. In the debate we will need to be clear about creating a structure that does not militate against what we say we want in terms of leadership, coherence and mission – for example, in creating Area Mission and Pastoral Committees that work. And the point of it all is to free us for effective mission and evangelism.

The Constitutions of Boards and Committees enable us to get the car on the road so we can steer it in the direction we wish to travel. And we need to keep before our eyes the ends to which these are, again, the means – and not confuse the two. Likewise, I shall confirm the appointment of Debbie Child and Ashley Ellis as joint Diocesan Secretaries. The sudden departure of the former acting Diocesan Secretary, John Tuckett, placed a huge responsibility on the shoulders of Debbie and Ashley which they were not obliged to assume or accept. They did, and have continued to exercise leadership and service in trying and complex circumstances, keeping the administration of the existing diocese afloat and taking on the immense task of identifying and enabling the processes that will allow us to create the diocese we choose to be. The Diocesan Registrar will pass on the job descriptions if requested, but at this stage we need to express our support for Debbie and Ashley – and the staff of our offices – in their enormous task.

So, our business is substantial in shaping the diocese for the future. We even get to promulge two canons – and life doesn't get more exciting than that! Yet, the point of the inward-facing stuff is not simply to make us neat and tidy for our own sake, but, rather, to enable us better to face outwards with confidence to a world in need as part of a national church that is deliberately reforming and renewing itself in recognition of the urgency of our task. If we can get some of the internal stuff sorted – or at least get us on the way – then future agendas should be capable of focusing our energies on our external obligations. We must remember that a synod is not there simply to hold people to account, but to enable the church to consider and what being the body of Christ means in flesh and blood in our day.

I am clear that, however we articulate it, we must measure everything against – and draw everything from – a vision that compels us in our common life and witness. We are the church of Jesus Christ, who though being in the form of God, emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. If we are Christian, we must be imitators of this Christ. And, as we walk the way of the cross in the days ahead, we can do so as those grasped by a burning need to give ourselves that others might see how much God loves even them.

That is why I believe we are called to be a vibrant diocese – one that, sensitive to the movement of both the Holy Spirit and the world we are in, vibrates with life and energy. For this to happen we need to enable our clergy to be confident in their calling – in and through the church – in order that they might be equipped to bring Christ to people and people to Christ. Of course, evangelism and nurture are not the sole preserve of clergy; but, the clergy are called to grow communities of disciples who in turn become ministers – confidently living and telling the good news of Jesus Christ in West Yorkshire and the Dales (and Barnsley).

I pray that, rooted in prayer and selflessness, we will keep our focus today and in the future, not confusing ends with means, not settling for mere tidy pragmatism, but being fired with love for Jesus Christ and a commitment to live in and for him in the power of the Holy Spirit for the sake of the world.

So, now to business.

As always these days, I am slightly behind on the news response front.

It seems that the Church of England is apologising for having urged – in the recent Bishops' Pastoral Letter – that no one should be paid less than the living wage. The Church itself is accused of 'hypocrisy' (how original…) as examples have been found where churches are advertising posts that do not pay the living wage.

For once, I don't think we should be apologising. To do so is to accept the premise that the Church is telling the rest of the country what to do – “preaching” is the word usually applied to anything we say or do.

But, I just want to put the obvious question: to whom was the Bishops' Pastoral Letter addressed?

The last time I looked, the church (and its thousands of separate charities that are individually responsible for “practising what it preaches”) was part of the world it is addressing. In fact, as the question assumes, it addresses itself first. The Letter was addressed to us.


How extraordinary?

This morning the BBC Today programme brought together a bishop and a politician to discuss the pastoral letter to be published later today by the House of Bishops. The Daily Telegraph and others tell the bishops to stay out of politics because they are “left-leaning”.

Two problems here: (a) Nadine Dorries began her interview by saying she had not seen or read the document, but would comment and criticise anyway; and (b) the “church stay out of politics” line is so ridiculously silly – at so many levels – that it is heard simply as a tired cliche. If we are going to be criticised, let it be on the basis of fact, and let it be at least remotely intelligent and a little original.

The pastoral letter issued later today does not trot out a party line. It attempts to encourage engagement with politics by Christians and voting by them in the General Election. It specifically states that it is not telling people how to vote, and illustrates how fragile some political judgements can be.

Isn't it remarkable that a politician will admit to not having read something, have no idea what is in it, but still be confident enough to go ahead and comment on it?

And, pace the Telegraph, if bishops and other Christians are to keep out of politics, who else is to be excluded? Politics are about life and the stuff of life – which isn't the concern of Jesus or the Bible or ethics or relationships?

Verily, the mind boggleth.

I know Dresden well. I know people in Dresden well. The devastation visited by Allied bombing on 13/14 February 1945 was horrendous. That is a phenomenological fact – apart from any moral consideration of the event.

It is shameful that a so-called free press, so often “defended” by the so-called “popular” press, sees fit to celebrate the freedoms gained by the sacrifice of so many 70 years ago by stooping to lies, misrepresentation, slander and brain-dead ideological nonsense. Is the Dail Mail going to have the courage and integrity – values demonstrated by those who sacrificed so much during World War Two – to apologise for the scandalous headline and story published a couple of days ago? There is no way that a half-thinking sentient being could read from the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon in the Frauenkirche, Dresden, to a headline that accuses him of apologising to the Nazis.

There are no words adequate to describe the shamefulness of that front page. Is this the free press we fought a war to preserve?

And what was the Daily Mail's motivation in publishing this headline and story on the front page? What was its moral drive?

When can we expect the apology? Or will the absence of an apology be left to speak for itself?

Edited at 23.29hrs: a paragraph was missing from the version that I posted. I add it here:

“Read for yourself the Archbishop's speech in its context. Then read his subsequent blog post and the earlier statement. His sermon in the Frauenkirche today is here. Then tell me this wasn't just a nasty headline looking for a story.”


The key to surviving the General Synod of the Church of England is to have a book on the go that has nothing to do with church business. Or church.

I have just finished the excellent ‘A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney’ by Martin Gayford. Hockney spends a lot of time looking. Not just spotting something and drawing it, but looking. He describes how he looks for a very long time – hours and days – at, for example, a group of trees. The book ranges over time, space, colour, place, depth, and much besides. And it is beautifully illustrated.

The problem is that it provides a lens through which to look at and think through the business of the church as mediated through the General Synod. No escape there, then.

We began yesterday (after worship and a very odd choice of an unsingable hymn) with an address by the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil in Iraq. This was a powerful first-hand account of what is happening to Christians at the hands of Islamic State. The plight is dire and the plea for help is urgent.

It always jars to move from such a matter to the legislative business of the Church of England – even though that is basically what the General Synod is for. But, it rams home the fact that life has to carry on despite the mess of the world. We then ranged over a variety of matters before departing in the evening. Today is taken up with four reports aimed at reorienting the Church of England for the future, aimed at focusing our attention on our core vocation: making disciples (followers) of Jesus Christ and shaping the church at every level for its core mission.

It could be expressed like this: how does the church, in all its variety of context and reach, create the space in which different sorts of people can be invited to join us in following Jesus in the particular contexts in which we live, work, play, and give our lives? This involves worship, outreach, evangelism, pastoral care, nurture, learning, arguing together, and so on.

Of course, the bit of this that has hit the media radar is the so-called Green Report. The coincidence of its launch with the depressing news about HSBC’s tax evasion behaviour is … er … unfortunate. But, a half-rational mind would realise that, putting the easy target to one side (how can the church be advised on leadership by a banker?), the question of how to equip church leaders for the responsibilities they carry is an important one.

Someone in public life said to me yesterday that, although she had not read the Green Report, she only had to look at her vicar to realise that some training in professional conduct would be helpful – given that he had run down his congregation over the last few years. I guess many in our churches would like to see their clergy better trained for some of the ‘management of people and stuff’ responsibilities that running a parish demands.

So, we will no doubt pick holes in this report and others. But, we cannot simply hide behind cleverness and dismissive non-engagement with serious questions about how we train and equip leaders for what we are asking them to do. The Green Report should have been translated for its ultimate audience; it might even start from the wrong place and use the wrong language; the process of its genesis might well not be ideal; it might well make assumptions about the nature and exercise of leadership and the nature of the church. Fine. But, the criticisms still don’t address the question of how we do then invest in ensuring that church leaders in the future are better equipped to do what is expected of them.

When I was Bishop of Croydon I initiated a clergy leadership development programme and recruited an experienced colleague to create, develop and facilitate it. Some in the diocese were sceptical – about any suspicion of ‘management’. However, this programme involved peer cell groups of six clergy in their first post-curacy post, residential training, expert coaching, and so on. It was a heavy investment. But, it was an attempt to take clergy seriously and build their confidence in their own competence. It made a huge difference to morale, and feedback from parishes about their clergy made clear the impact that went wider than the development of the clergy themselves.

This is what the church is now looking to work on. It is not a substitute for inspiration, spiritual direction, theological development or all the other holy stuff of ministry. We need to ensure that the question Green poses is not avoided by dismissal of the Green response.


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