The former Bishop of Sheffield, Jack Nicholls, is a wonderful man. While sitting on a commission with him (and others) for two years at the end of the 1990s, I learned a huge amount about humility, humanity and humour from him.

Jack NichollsHe is speaking at the Southwark Diocesan Clergy Conference at Swanwick and he has already made a huge impression on people here. This evening he spoke – as requested to do so – about what has sustained him through 42 years of ordained ministry in the Church of England. He did so by citing six people who have shaped him and one in particular is going to get to a wider audience now.

A now-deceased nun told him many years ago that there are only three things to be involved with as a priest:

  • the praise of God
  • the pain of the world
  • the repentance of the church.

He went on to say that the place and purpose of prayer is to locate us at the place where the love of God and the pain of the world meet … which happens to be where the cross is to be found.

Churches that emphasise their praise of God without being rooted in and brought into the pain of the world and its people are living the sort of fantasy that the prophet Amos railed against in the Old Testament. The church needs to be constantly repentant because we keep focusing on the wrong things and failing to resemble the one whose name we bear: the Jesus we read about in the gospels. As I said in Berlin yesterday: if the church does not look, sound and feel like the Jesus of the gospels, then we are a fraud and a lie.

Jack clearly built his ministry on those three blocks. So, should the rest of us?