Church of England


At its creation at Easter 2014 the new Diocese of Leeds inherited a number of international partnership links. Three years into the new diocese, I invited our link bishops to visit this diocese for a week of retreat and conversation that might help us discern the potential (or otherwise) of our links.

Rather than repeat what I have written elsewhere, here are links to the various articles written for different audiences:

Although we originally didn’t intend to produce any statement at the end of our time together, we did agree a communique that read as follows:

Diocese of Leeds – Visit of Link Bishops, 2-10 April 2017

The Bishop of Leeds invited bishops from the international partnership links (inherited from the historic dioceses of Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon & Leeds) to convene in Passiontide at Parcevall Hall for a retreat.

The Archbishop of Khartoum (Sudan), the bishops of Mara (Tanzania), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Faisalabad (Pakistan), Southwestern Virginia (USA), Skara (Swedish Lutheran) and the Superintendent of Erfurt (Germany) spent five days with the Bishop of Leeds and the suffragan bishops of Bradford, Huddersfield, Richmond, Ripon and Wakefield.

In a context of prayer, worship and deep fellowship the bishops took time to explain the cultural, social and church/missional contexts in which they serve and the polities of those churches. This formed the bedrock of deeper exploration of biblical theology, hermeneutics, prayer, spirituality, discipleship and ethics as seen and understood in their particular context.

Recognition of the differences that threaten to divide Anglicans from one another sat within a deep commitment of mutual friendship, fellowship and love. Conversations were characterised by honesty, generosity, grace and genuine attentiveness.

Grateful for the hospitality during this retreat, and following discussion of how our partnerships might be renewed or further developed from here, the bishops resolved:

  • to recognise in one another a brother in Christ
  • to form a community of mutual loving, learning, support, encouragement and challenge
  • to pray for one another
  • to communicate regularly
  • to check with each other reports about developments in one another’s church before passing judgment or comment
  • to face honestly any future strains or challenges that threaten the unity of our church or the bonds of affection to which we are both called and committed
  • to set up conversations to explore the potential for optimising multilateral partnerships where possible.

The bishops further resolved to meet again in Leeds prior to the Lambeth Conference in 2020.

Rt Revd Nicholas Baines, Bishop of Leeds

Most Revd Ezekiel Kondo, Bishop of Khartoum, Sudan

Rt Revd Mark Bourlakas, Bishop of Southwestern Virginia, USA

Rt Revd Dhiloraj Canagasabey, Bishop of Colombo, Church of Ceylon, Sri Lanka

Rt Revd George Okoth, Bishop of Mara, Tanzania

Rt Revd John Samuel, Bishop of Faisalabad, Pakistan

Rt Revd Åke Bonnier, Bishop of Skara, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden

Rt Revd James Bell, Bishop of Ripon, Diocese of Leeds

Rt Revd Dr Jonathan Gibbs, Bishop of Huddersfield, Diocese of Leeds

Rt Revd Dr Toby Howarth, Bishop of Bradford, Diocese of Leeds

Rt Revd Tony Robinson, Bishop of Wakefield, Diocese of Leeds

Rt Revd Paul Slater, Bishop of Richmond, Diocese of Leeds

Senior Dr Matthias Rein, Superintendent of Kirchenkreis Erfurt, Landeskirche von Mitteldeutschland, Germany (Meissen)

10 April 2017

We finish tomorrow before visiting the Archbishop of Canterbury on Monday.

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This is the text of my Presidential Address to the Leeds Diocesan Synod this morning:

I am suspicious of straplines and convoluted vision statements that are quickly forgotten or whose formulation are seen as an end in itself. This suspicion might have something to do with the fact that when I was Vicar of Rothley in the Diocese of Leicester in the 1990s I worked with my Baptist colleague to set up an annual festival. Naturally, we called it the Rothley Festival. All was fine until someone decided to create some headed notepaper for me as the Chair. Under my name was our strapline: Nick Baines – Putting the Rot back into Rothley.

I suppose it was funny really.

Our diocesan strapline, however, is different. Loving Living Learning might better be described as a statement of our values. Simple, short and memorable, it is offered to our parishes and institutions as a prism through which our priorities, mission and activities can be refracted – or a lens through which we are enabled to keep things simple, clear and visible.

You will remember that when our diocese began at Easter 2014 I had to articulate a vision for it in a challenging context framed by an absence of governance, infrastructure or common systems. That articulation still holds: to create a vibrant diocese (vibrating in the tension between the wind of the Spirit and the wind of the world) equipping confident clergy to enable confident Christians to live and tell the good news of Jesus Christ in our region. This has always been the vocation of the Christian Church; all we were doing was to call us back to our core vocation.

However, we simplified this into Confident Christians – Growing Churches – Transforming Communities. This worked well as a guide for our churches and diocese in focusing us on what and for whom we are here. So far, so good.

Then, when opening our new office in Leeds and addressing the need to attend to our visual identity, we employed a company new to working with the church. They didn’t know what we were trying to say – or, more specifically, what our offer is to the wider world that is not in church. In other words, we were speaking to ourselves in a language that meant something only to us. So, a fine articulation of vision and priorities for internal consumption. But, if the world with whom we wish to engage is to catch a glimpse of what we offer – good news – we needed something more… to shine a fresh light on it.

And that is where Loving Living Learning came from. As soon as we drafted it, our company got it. And now we offer it as a prism or lens.

The most fundamental command – or invitation – in the Bible is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourself. This pertains primarily to worship … and the ethical injunction to reflect the nature of the God we worship in the way we order our lives and our society. We love God, our neighbour and the world that is God’s creation. You can see the themes that might emerge within that framework: the environment, social ethics, political order, and so on.

Christianity is an incarnational faith. We are committed to the world as it is, getting stuck in and not exempting ourselves from all that the world can throw at us. Christian discipleship is not an insurance policy against trouble; if anything, it might well invite trouble. Jesus was not crucified for getting his vocation or his message wrong. Loving our neighbour means loving our neighbourhood and striving for the flourishing of individuals and our community or society. If God loved the world so much, then so must we. And this implies that our living in the world is done with the sort of faith and joy, rooted in resurrection and hope in a God who is not defeated by violence or death, that surprises earth with heaven and offers an alternative to the anger and fatalism that too easily pervades our public discourse.

How, then, should our church behave, prioritise its resources, demonstrate its commitment to all people, looking something like the Jesus we read about in the Gospels and whose ‘body’ we are told we are? This applies to manifestations of the church anywhere and at any level – parish, diocese, nation, Anglican Communion.

We are not good at all this, are we? Which is why we need to be people who are unafraid to do the learning that characterises a community shaped by a confident humility. Do we think we have nailed every detail of theology and ethics? No. Do we need to have the humility to keep learning. You bet. A church that knows its mortality and its fragility is more likely to be open to people who discover theirs.

Loving. Living. Learning.

So, when we look at the PCC agenda, is it possible to refract the business through this prism? How does each item contribute towards us being a loving, living and learning church for the sake of others? And when we look at the agenda and priorities of this emerging diocese, how does this prism offer a way of keeping us focused on what really matters – keeping things as simple as we can in order not to get bogged down in a million distractions? How do our buildings help or hinder us in this? How will the allocation of diminishing numbers of stipendiary clergy reflect these priorities or values?

These questions are pertinent to our agenda today. We live in a context in which the Church of England (but not just the Church of England) wrestles with demanding questions and claims. How are we to address the question of marriage and same sex relationships in a way that honours all people as children of God while paying attention to the biblical text and the wider ethical questions this raises. If the House of Bishops report to the last General Synod was inadequate, then I look forward to hearing the solution from those who didn’t like it – especially as the reasons for not liking it are actually diametrically opposed to each other in many cases. So, how are we as a loving, living and learning church to conduct this apparently unresolvable debate in a way that is godly, honest and resists the easy fragmentation against which the cross stands as a scandal?

The withdrawal of Bishop Philip North from his nomination to the See of Sheffield raises further questions for a church that wants to learn to be loving, living and learning. We forget very quickly that the arrangement we came to in order to allow the ordination of women as bishops involved compromise from those who longed for this and from those who opposed it on grounds of theology or ecumenical solidarity. No one thinks the outcome is ideal as it prolongs the messiness. But, whatever one thinks about the process (which was followed scrupulously) and the particular nomination, the personal nature of the attacks on Bishop North and his opponents demonstrates ignorance of a gospel characterised by loving, living and learning. I don’t know the answer, but we mustn’t let go of the question. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, we cannot simply let go of each other without risking missing out on the blessing. Like Jacob we will walk with a limp and our wound will be noticed; but, better that than to collude with the culture of a world which resolves every dispute by simply walking away.

I well remember Bishop Tom Butler’s final Presidential Address as the soon-to-retire Bishop of Southwark. He spoke of how he had spent his holidays in Wakefield working on the house into which he and Barbara would retire. The cottage is on a farm and is surrounded by sheep. Tom related how he had rebuilt a wobbly wall in order to ensure that the sheep didn’t get into the garden form the field. The sheep watched him curiously. Once the wall was finished and firm, the sheep simply jumped onto it and then down into the garden. What had previously kept them out was the wobbliness of the wall. Tom’s point was simply that sometimes firm and solid walls are not the best thing to erect, and they might lead to the very thing they were meant to avoid in the first place.

So, messiness can sometimes be helpful. At the very least, it reminds us that loving, living and learning can be as embarrassing as the elderly relative who has given up on social proprieties and simply says what she thinks.

Well, all this sits nicely in Lent. We walk with Jesus and his friends – you know: Peter the impetuous, James and John the loudmouths, Judas the treasurer, and all the other examples of human perfection and moderation – towards a cross. The disciples cannot comprehend what lies ahead when Jesus speaks of his impending demise. He doesn’t despise them for their ignorance or their false conceptions or their competing visions for what constitutes an effective messiah. He walks with them, committed to them, open to their humanity, knowing that they would be broken by what lies ahead of them. And their witness – ultimately – is to stick together despite everything and learn to love and live together as fallible followers of the resurrected one whose body still bore the wounds of cruelty, violence and suffering.

And this is what a synod is. Disciples of Jesus Christ are brought together to do the business of the institution we call a diocese. We are responsible stewards of what has been committed to us by God and the Church. We do not randomly make decision in the interests of being seen to be successful; we look to be faithful to the vocation given to us by God for this time and in this place. And our task is to address this with as great a clarity we can, asking how this enables us to be a loving, living and learning Church.

Today we will look at matters such as how we order our Quinquennial Inspections of Churches, the call to grow our churches (because we believe this Gospel and its power to transform), and the use of vacant diocesan properties. As we frontload the diocese in order to provide the right drive and support for clergy development and lay training – and inspiration – we also consciously invest in appointing the right people to the demanding posts we have either re-shaped or created. Andrew Norman has taken up the reins as our first Director of Ministry and Mission and is already bringing to this work a wisdom and questioning clarity that we need. We continue to face financial challenges and will do so for some time. We are working with the Church Commissioners on funding applications for addressing some of the urgent missional needs of our region. We need to increase receipt of Parish Share if we are to pay for what we think we need to be doing. We do all of this in the face of increasing safeguarding demands and the burden some of our (required) bureaucracy imposes on us at every level.

So, why bother? Because all of this provides the evidence of whether we really believe what we say we believe, and what we claim our worship of God is all about. The authenticity of our worship will be evidenced by the priorities we set, and as seen through the prism of living, loving and learning.

I will conclude. We are in this for the long haul. No quick gimmicks or easy panaceas. No hiding from reality or simply trying to keep everybody happy. No episcopal initiatives descending on you to make you cross. But, a common commitment as disciples of Jesus Christ and ministers of his Gospel of reconciliation to one another and to the world around us: the world of Brexit, migration, famine, foodbanks, poverty, wealth creation, and everything else. We, too, shall walk the way of the cross. Together. And, in different ways, just like the first disciples, we will glimpse the world- and misery-shattering reality of resurrection. Together. And, like the couple who walked home to Emmaus trying to figure it all out, we will find the risen Christ walking alongside us – possibly even in the guise of someone else – listening to our incomprehension, staying with our grief and passion, reconfiguring the Big Story of God and the world, blessing us in sacrament, and leaving before we can enshrine him in a static encounter or even a memory.

May Easter awaken us to the loving power of God. May his cross-shaped sacrificial commitment to us and the world fire us in our Christian living. May our Lent be the place of our learning – for the blessing of the Church and the world we serve.

Here are video interviews with Professor Brian Cox and Professor David Wilkinson during the first Diocese of Leeds clergy conference in Liverpool earlier this week.

https://youtu.be/9-eG-xDPXS8 and https://youtu.be/gaK3lyiNKtc

 

It is purely coincidental that our clergy conference discussion between Professor Brian Cox and Professor David Wilkinson took place just before the announcement of more funding for parishes to engage in scientific exploration. Brian and David both told me they didn't hesitate to come to the conference to present and discuss 'Science, the cosmos and human meaning' (although the request from Eric Idle that Brian should get a photo of him amongst 400 clergy and post it on Twitter as 'The Life of Brian' got an obvious 'yes' from me) as this is precisely the sort of conversation and engagement we need to see more often.

Anyway, the Church of England is taking this seriously, as is the University of Durham and the Templeton Foundation. You can read about the “Take Your Vicar to the Lab” and “Scientists in Congregations” initiatives here.

I'd like to put up more – and do a resume of the dialogue between Brian and David, but, as is the way of things, I am in a school this morning and in meetings all afternoon and evening. There will be interviews with both Brian and David on our website soon.

 

I have just got back from the first ever clergy conference in the Diocese of Leeds. We met at Liverpool Hope University – a place to which I used to deliver the newspapers when I was a kid. I grew up half a mile away.

It went remarkably well. The last few years have not been easy as we dissolved three dioceses at Easter 2014 and worked to keep everything going while creating something new. This conference was a turning point and felt like a celebration.

However, it wasn't just the atmosphere that did it. The speakers excelled. The particular highlight for most of us was yesterday's presentations and conversations by Professor Brian Cox and Professor David Wilkinson on 'Science, the cosmos and human meaning'. Their presentations were superb, clear, stretching and totally engaging. The enthusiasm for science was palpable, but also held in a rooted sense of curiosity and wonder. I am not sure we all understood all the equations, but we were able to span the enormity of the universe (and multiverses) whilst earthing the whole thing in questions of meaning, existence, faith and the possibilities of God.

What was great was the mutual respect and serious engagement between Brian Cox and David Wilkinson as I moderated a conversation between them following their presentations. After lunch (and a million requests for selfies and autographs – not mine, obviously) we had an hour of questions, observations and conversation that ranged widely and really intelligently. The standing ovation for our guests was richly deserved.

This offered a model for how serious engagement can take place where difference is respected. Our public discourse – especially our political and media discourse – in the UK is not great at the moment. See the whole Brexit business, if you don't believe me. There is clearly a need for more attention to be paid to modelling good conversation on contentious issues… and, especially, where prejudices about the conflict between science and religion too often polarise positions before arguments have even been articulated, let alone listened to or heard.

Brian Cox is doing a tour. Book now.

 

I am currently at Hope University, Liverpool, for the first clergy conference of the Diocese of Leeds. Nearly 400 clergy have crossed the Pennines, beginning yesterday with input from me (setting the scene: a theology of hope, an anthropology of hope, a hopeful ecclesiology, and a hopeful missiology) and the Dean of Salisbury, June Osborne. Ignore the 'ologies' – we were basically looking at what it is (or should be) that fires and shapes us as a church. June did a brilliant job of opening up challenging thoughts about how the church negotiates its own missional agenda in a world that is going through a serious and far-reaching paradigm shift.

Today we have the Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, leading us in a Bible study – tomorrow we have the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool doing similar.

It is a funny feeling for me being back where I grew up, where my parents and other family members still live, and on a site where I used to deliver the newspapers when I was a kid. The university is excellent and we could not have chosen a better conference venue.

This morning we have two presentations on the theme of 'Science, the Cosmos and Human Meaning'. Professor Brian Cox and Professor David Wilkinson will then follow up their presentations with a conversation mediated by me. After lunch there will be a question and answer session with the two scientists.

Why do this? I want us to model how to have a serious and respectful conversation, listening to the generous clarity of Brian Cox as he engages with theologian and astrophysicist David Wilkinson. I want us as clergy to step out from our territory and catch a glimpse of some of the debates going on around us – perhaps even prompting us to re-think how we engage as clergy and churches with the agendas set by the world beyond our walls and our own preoccupations.

We'll see. A report will emerge on the diocesan website (and, depending on time) maybe here later.

 

This is the text of my Presidential Address to the fifth Diocesan Synod in the Diocese of Leeds in Harrogate:

Yesterday I spent the morning with over 100 headteachers from schools in our diocese for their annual conference. Speakers included Bishop Toby and Professor Mona Siddiqui. Bishop Toby helpfully and clearly addressed the question of how to handle the teaching of “British values” in our schools, recognising that democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and respect for diversity are easier to pronounce than to understand. Yet, rather than simply complaining about them – or their imposition on schools by government – we have a leadership obligation to take the agenda and shape it. It is always easier to spot the gaps than to fill them – to identify problems than to offer solutions.

In her address Mona Siddiqui lamented a culture that elevated what she called 'smartness' over 'wisdom' – that is, one that sees children and people as marketable commodities rather than cultural beings, and one that sees an ability to negotiate technical data (information) as an end in itself rather than a means to an end … wisdom for living.

Tangential to these observations was a notion I have been thinking about in a different forum: the iterative process of thinking and debate. How do we learn – before we even think of teaching anyone else – to learn? That is, how do we learn to take time to think and to argue and, potentially, to change our mind about something that really matters?

In my case, the question has to do with the EU Referendum and the role of the Church of England – especially in the form of its bishops – in interpreting or engaging in such a debate. Surely, if ever there was a debate in which wisdom should be prioritised over mere information (or shouting), this is one. And the rhetoric around it forms the backdrop to discussions about just about anything else at present.

Christians have a head start in encouraging people to slow down, to think and consider, to test argument, to reflect and deliberate, and to not be pushed or rushed into drawing premature conclusions. We are currently living Lent. The gratification of Easter has to be delayed while we live with the desert journey of God's people, heeding the exhortation of the Asian theologian Kosuke Koyama who tells us that we should stay in the desert and not try to escape it. If, like Jesus after his baptism, we are led “by the Spirit” into the place of emptiness, we must stick with it and, to quote someone else, “look for the flowers that grow only in the desert”. As Anglicans we live with the cycle of the calendar and the seasons – we give as much priority to contemplation as we do to activity.

This is pertinent to our Synod today because it locates our conversations and deliberations in something deeper than a mere exchange of opinions. We come together not to push our pet agendas, or to hear our voice heard for its own sake, but to try together to discern the will and purposes of God for ourselves, for our diocese and for our world. We seek wisdom, not just information. And to pay attention to this end, we need to attend with generosity and grace to listening and hearing as well as speaking.

For our agenda is heavy in its import for the life of our developing diocese. You will remember that we had to get to the end of 2014 – our first seven or eight months – legal, viable and operational. We just about managed it. 2015 saw a huge amount of work – much if not most of it away from public gaze – to identify what sort of diocese we want to be, and which structures we might need to enable us to shape ourselves accordingly. 2016 sees us migrating into those structures – structures like the lines on a tennis court that define our remit, constrain our resources, and set us free to play the game we are here for. We are not here to admire the net.

By January 2017 we should be up and running as a single diocese. No longer working from three offices, no longer working according to three inherited sets of processes or structures, no longer trying to keep the show on the road while the road itself is being dug up and diverted. One diocese heading in one direction and with a clarity of intention. We are still in the desert, deliberating and trying to identify the flowers that we will miss if we keep looking only for daffodils. But, because of the immense hard work of a relatively small number of people, we are pretty well on track to start 2017 in good shape.

At least two items on our agenda illustrate both the opportunity and the ongoing challenge.

We will not be asked today to vote on a new Parish Share system, but we will be asked to weigh up the work done so far and to recognise the complexity involved in coming to a conclusion. Options have been considered and debated. Formulae have been applied and then disapplied – or, at least, tweaked. Yet, what we can say about any proposed Share system is that it will never satisfy everyone. So, the Diocesan Board at its first meeting decided we should delay a decision until the July Synod, but have a first go at it as a synod today. As we do so, I pay tribute to those who, having been commissioned to do the work, have subsequently had to endure argument, debate and complaint as we struggle to find an equitable and viable way ahead.

However, payment of the Parish Share simply tells us whether we really believe what we say we believe. If we set our course as a diocese, we then have to pay for it and resource it. We will get what we pay for. If we choose not to pay for it, we won't have it. Yet, probably uniquely among churches in this country, we work a system of mutual resourcing and accountability – the only way we can maintain ministry and mission in places from which most others have long ago departed. Our eventual budget must be realistic. We have held things for the last few years in order not to rock any boats while the sea was rolling, but we now need to catch up with ensuring that we can pay our way as a diocese. The Archbishop of Canterbury once described a budget as “theology by numbers”; he is right.

The second item pertinent to these observations is the Quinquennial Inspection scheme. Buildings, what they are for, whether we see them as assets or liabilities, how we maintain them as a visible – and never neutral – witness to what we believe about the presence and glory of God. The recently retired former Archdeacon of Bradford has piloted for us a process called 'Living Stones' – working with a small group of parishes in Leeds and Bradford initially, to find a way of assessing the value and potential of specific buildings as assets for mission. We hope to roll this project out across the diocese in order to help parishes make decisions about the future and potential of their church and ancillary buildings.

UI use these two items to illustrate the interconnectedness of the items on our agenda today. They do not stand in splendid isolation from each other. They will tell us who we think we are as a diocese, and whom we are for. And the answer to those questions will further be shaped by our approach to fair trade and wider questions of economic equity across the globe. It all hangs together – even safeguarding. There is no point being grand in theological or missiological vision if people are at risk of harm in our churches – so, far from being a bureaucratic burden, safeguarding goes to the heart of who we are and how we want to be. (In October our diocese will be audited by the national church, and we have already been required to submit hundreds of documents to the Goddard Inquiry – a hugely demanding task in recent weeks.)If some buildings are a burden – and we keep being told they are – then we need to resource the parishes to attend to the challenge. To do so we need to ensure that we can pay for this resourcing.

However, there is one item which hangs over all this. It might sound trivial to some, vexing to others. It is our name. Prior to deciding on options for our visual identity as a diocese, we need to decide on our name. I will say more later, but out in the big wide world there is considerable confusion about who we are, who we aren't, our nomenclature and our reach. For reasons with which we are all familiar, we decided to be known as the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales despite our legal name being 'Leeds'. This has proved problematic for a host of reasons. We need to sort it out and then, having seen ourselves through the eyes of the media and other outsiders, bring simplicity and clarity to the matter. As with everything else, there is a cost as well as a gain when deciding. In doing so we have to pay attention to both ecclesiology and missiology. So, we will have a consultation today which will be taken into consideration as we move forward.

All of this has to do with the mission of the church in the areas to which we are committed in mission. Money, buildings, branding, safeguarding. We discuss these matters conscious of our partnership links with Sudan (from where Bishop Toby returned last week), Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Southwestern Virginia, Skara and Erfurt – our partnership with them bringing into our own consciousness the call to discipleship and mission appropriate to or demanded by each context. Early tomorrow morning I will set off for a week in Iraq with Christian Aid, visiting Christians and other persecuted people. Their experience will form a check to our own preoccupations as a church in which discipleship is unlikely to cost us our life.

As we turn to our agenda, I thank this Synod and the people of our parishes for their maturity in sticking with us as we try to shape our future and our structures. Most people have taken the frustrations and complications in their stride and given the space for disciplined development to take place over nearly three years. From 2017 we have three further years to bed it all in before we review our progress and, subsequently, set out our strategy for the next five to ten years.

Through it all we must not forget our core vocation: to equip confident clergy to enable confident Christians to live and tell the good news of Jesus Christ in West Yorkshire and the Dales. Worship, evangelism, nurture, ministry, mission. The old, old story. Our prayer, as we stick to these themes, must mirror that of Paul who prayed for the church (in Ephesus and beyond) as follows: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”

Surely the way to confident Christians in growing churches transforming communities.

 

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