This is the text of my sermon at this morning’s Maundy Thursday Chrism Eucharist for the Diocese of Leeds in Bradford Cathedral.

1 Samuel 3:1-10 & Luke 7:36-50
I find this the hardest service at which to preach each year. Not because of the occasion, but because it is powerfully moving to see so many clergy together. I am immensely proud of the clergy of this diocese who exercise their ministry faithfully week in week out, day in day out, usually unseen. I am very grateful.

The best birthday card I got last year was of Satan, fully equipped with horns and tail, reading the Bible in bed and saying, “Bit harsh…”

I know the feeling. Reading judgements about yourself or the church and feeling that you can’t control the narrative, even when the narrative is either simplistic or one-sidedly erroneous – often in the media. It is particularly irksome when the damage is done from within and by those whose vocation n it is to build up and not break down.

A bit harsh?

The story is this. An ancient middle-eastern man called Elkanah has two wives; one – Penninah -has given him children, the other – Hannah – has not. But, in a surprising reversal of expectation, it is Hannah whom Elkanah loves best. In a moment of tender affection, and after yet another long year of barrenness accompanied by the humiliating ridicule of her fertile fellow wife, he says to her: “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

What a question. The answer is clearly “no”. Hannah, deeply distressed, prays that if God will give her a son, she will commit him to a lifetime of no alcohol or grape juice, no shaving or having his hair cut, no hanging around corpses – you can read the full list of Nazirite rules in Numbers chapter 6. My guess is that some of these rules were easier to keep than others. She duly gives birth, weans the boy, then hands him over to the priest. Actually, the text says that she “lent him to the Lord” (verse 28). She lent him.

Now, let’s just step back at this point and notice some of what is going on here. This woman has a hard life: loved by her husband, mocked by her fellow, humiliated in society, and unable to be at peace with herself or others. Yet, she had done nothing to deserve this. Don’t talk to Hannah about justice.

But, the song she sings at this point of blessing-followed-by-loss contradicts what we might assume to be a justified cry for relief from obligation. Couldn’t she break her vow, now that her longed-for son is born? Couldn’t God give her a break – even just to confound the smugness of Penninah? Yet, she sings of hope and freedom, of a God who brings light into dark places and who raises up those who have fallen low. Her song is the one picked up by Mary when her son is about to be born – the deeply subversive song of God’s paradoxical kingdom in which the wrong people are celebrated. The Beatitudes haunt this text, too, like the whispering of melody behind the raging noise of chaos and injustice.

In other words, life is rubbish. Even the good bits don’t satisfy, because other bits keep scratching away like a running sore that won’t stop weeping.

But, then the story moves away from Hannah to the priests at the shrine at Shiloh. If Hannah is the one who appears not to have God’s blessing, then the priests have forgotten what they are there for. The meaning and purpose of the sacrifices have been corrupted to the point that the young priests see the celebration of religious ritual as a means for their own self-fulfilment, power and greed. Religion has become a vehicle for something else. How Shiloh is fallen. And faithful Eli has to hear harsh prophecies about the fall not only of the shrine, but also of his own family. It is a miserable picture that is painted here.

Perhaps the point is rammed home in the reading we read earlier from chapter three. If the old time religion had lost the plot, then God would, as one commentator puts it, simply “bypass the established priesthood and disclose his intentions concerning that same priesthood to a novice”.

A bit harsh?

Well, the picture then looks like this – and I wonder if this sounds a little familiar to us in 2017: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” Oh dear. Clearly there were many words spoken and many visions propagated in those days; but, how should the people discern the rare words of the Lord amid the cacophony of the shrine worship, political promises, voices claiming to be God’s voice, and religious allegiances? How are they to discern which of the many competing visions of God and his ways is the right vision? How might they work out whether their eyesight is myopic or dimmed? How do they know what is reality and what is truth?

These are hard questions, and they are made flesh in the person of the old priest Eli whose eyesight began to grow dim. He recognised the decline in some of his own perceptions and made space to allow the next generation to grow and to look and to see differently. The errant generation of young priests are bypassed by a God who will not be played off by religious professionals who have lost their sight of the glory of God that once drew them.

And the young prophet – that is, the one who will see clearly the world as God sees it – finds himself addressed by this God … addressed by name and called out to a new service.

Now put yourself into his ephod (as it were). Your mother took a vow that you had no say over. You take a vocational path that did not come to you via the careers officer. And, if her own life had been tough and contradictory enough, she has now shared the misery with you by bequeathing you a life not of your choosing, but of obligation anyway.

Yet, Samuel accepts this and makes this vocation his own. He chooses to go with it, discovering as he does (and as he grows as a person and as a prophet) that life is pretty messy and that there is no place for the self-indulgence of rights and self-fulfilment. Obedience is not a popular word, but it is one that has a place in the life of those who do not complain about their lot, but choose to make the best of what they have inherited.

I just wonder if this text, this story, has anything to say to us here in the Church of England, in the Diocese of Leeds, today? Maundy Thursday, when we re-live that poignant moment at which Jesus confounds convention, kneels at the feet of his friends – and of his betrayer and his denier and his doubter – and washes their feet. Maundy Thursday, when we see Jesus calling his people back from the manipulations and seductions of power and religious game-playing, and asking them to watch and listen and learn and do. Maundy Thursday, when he knows that life is closing in, that suffering awaits, that he could escape it all, but chooses the way of obedience.

After all, this is the same Jesus who, as we heard earlier, has a knack of bringing out of embarrassing dead ends something surprising and new. A woman intrudes into a party at which she is not a guest, and weeps all over Jesus, anointing his feet with expensive oil. The stand-off between propriety and humanity is electric as everyone waits to see which way Jesus would jump. In the end, as Tom Wright puts it, “Jesus keeps his poise between the outrageous adoration of the woman and the outrageous rudeness of the host” and comes up with something fresh and unexpected … and outrageous to those watching whose religion is fairly simple: keep the rules, avoid dirty people, and prioritise your own purity. Read the story: Jesus turns convention on its head and pours out grace where harshness had dominated.

I think both these stories hit on the same point and address us today with hard questions. Do we number ourselves with the religious professionals who have lost the plot, or do we allow ourselves to be outraged by grace … being grasped once again by the power of mercy? Do we rail against the call of God and the demands or privations of an obedient priesthood, or do we deliberately choose life and joy and commitment to an obligation we would sometimes rather throw off? Do we complain about our lot – especially when it seems inherited or not our fault or not by our choice – or do we, like Samuel, accept the choosing of God and get on with it, learning as we grow?

I don’t ask these questions glibly – or miserably. I ask them because I think they cry out from the texts we didn’t choose this morning. There might be much that we find irksome about the Church of England in 2017 – but, we are part of it and called to serve in it as clergy or lay disciples and ministers. If this is the case, then we must love the church as God’s gift and the locus of his vocation. This does not mean that we sit back and let it be; but, it does mean that we pray like Hannah and don’t mock like Penninah. It means that we pray and shape an uncertain future, conscious of our obligation to future generations to bequeath the faith that makes such demands of us. It means that we be open to hear the prophetic witness that questions our priorities, our attitudes and behaviours, challenging us to recover the vision that contradicts the easy visions and learns to listen for the word of the Lord that is – remember – rare, but not absent.

Our readings today invite us to take responsibility for the calling God has given us – to be faithful in our time to the gospel that draws and drives us. Not to blame other people or other generations for what we have inherited, but to take responsibility for accepting what is and helping make it what it might become. We might refer to this dynamic in words such as ‘loving, living and learning’.

Our diocese is nearly three years old. We began with no infrastructure, no governance, no integrated data, no inherited vision, not even the right number of bishops to do what we were being asked to do. We faced many challenges and it sometimes seemed that all the odds had been stacked against us making this work. But, thanks to the hard-won commitment, faith and – sometimes reluctant – persistent generosity of both clergy and laity, we started this year as a single entity. I do not take this for granted.

But, the challenges have not gone away. We face financial challenges and we must address the declining numbers of deployable clergy available to us in the coming decade and beyond. We will face the challenges posed by buildings and structures, and by people who do not want to change. We will see again that people and places thrive when they grasp the opportunity to choose change and don’t see themselves as victims of someone else’s terrible or malign decisions. Remember, Easter chants the mantra that we are not driven by fear, but are drawn by hope.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if our feet are washed by the Lord who kneels before us in humility, should we not speak well of one another, seek the best of one another, and believe the best of one another? Should we not be generous, even though we know we kneel before our denier, our betrayer, our doubter? Are we not called back to a vision of love and mercy and grace that pulls out of polarised tension something new and fresh and hopeful? Do we believe ourselves invited as a church to shine the light of mercy on the intrusive woman and not just to show our cleverness in embarrassing the Pharisee?

We come today to re-affirm ordination vows and to recover the priority of our own discipleship of Jesus Christ. In doing so we allow the light of his face to shine into the dark places of our own prejudices, judgments and fears, leaking grace like an extravagant ointment onto the tired and dusty feet of our faltering journeying. And we pray that the Lord whose church we are, and whose beloved we are told we are, will anoint us for the next stage of our ministry – as a diocese, as ministers of the good news, as disciples and followers of Jesus.

Here I am, for you called me. Here I am, for you called me. Here I am, for you called me.

A meeting of bishops from the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Churches is coming to an end here in Birmingham. It has been a stimulating, encouraging, challenging and good time together. In brief, we have looked at the international scene, the European scene, prayer and evangelisation, and where we go from here together.

Haunting the meeting is the spectre of a Trumpian revolution in the United States – with considerable implications for the rest of the world – and the debate about Brexit.

One of the interesting features of debate about the USA and Brexit is the constant attempts to close down debate on detail on the grounds that “we won, so shut up and let the winners get on with it”.

Politics cannot be run only by politicians. Politics is about people who hold different views, different values and have different priorities. In other words, all of us. A vote does not end the conversation. Had the UK voted to remain in the European Union, there is little chance that those who ‘lost’ would be accepting the status quo and going quiet; nor should they.

The referendum on membership of the EU delivered a decision to leave. However, almost half of those who voted did not vote that way. It was not overwhelming or decisive (as has often been stated). The country is divided – almost in two – over the matter. So, how we proceed from here must take seriously the concerns of the half the country that does/did not want to leave the EU. How we leave matters. The language we use in the course of the debate (on how to leave) matters.

From my own experience – and despite some of the public posturing – some of those in government take the 48% seriously and understand the need to hold the country together.

I have not changed my view that much of the language of certainty and promise is at least speculative and at worst fantasy. This means that we have to be prepared for huge disillusionment and further resentment when many of the Brexit promises turn out to be unfulfilled. Yes, the gains must be identified, too, it is the deficits that will provoke the reaction.

Donald Trump might well be doing what he said he would do – which is his prerogative – but democracy means that the debate continues. If lies are told, this matters; and the nature of the lies must (if we believe truth has any value) be named. However, not everything inconvenient to my preferences are necessarily lies.

It is right that serious questions are asked about policy from any democratically elected government. Protest must be legitimate. The questions we must ask about the questions raised pertain to very basic stuff: what is a human being? why do people matter? what is a good society? from what (theological) anthropology do our values and moral judgments derive? what responsibility do I take as a citizen for shaping our collective common life?

For Christians the answers will be rooted in the nature of the world as God’s creation, people as made in the image of this creator God, and neighbourliness being rooted in more than seeing others as commodities or merely economic entities.

 

I have a weird life.

Last Monday I chaired a Bishop's Staff Meeting in Leeds before getting the train to London to record BBC Radio 4's The Infinite Monkey Cage (Christmas special) with Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox. I got the first train back to Leeds for the formal opening of our new diocesan office on Tuesday morning. Wednesday saw me back on the train to London for the House of Lords (also on Thursday) covering a number of issues facing the country and the world. Thursday evening I was on a panel at City University, London, on the ethics of migration – with some excellent panellists that made me want to do more academic work again. Friday morning I did Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 (always a privilege) before having coaching and then doing a shed load of emails and other work. Saturday and Sunday were spent at Limehouse with my cell group, and Monday I spent in bed feeling like death. Today was the House of Bishops at Lambeth Palace, followed by a meeting with the government's Lord Bourne on faith issues'. Now I am back on the train to Leeds.

Me and Nick Baines

Why do I tell you that? Well, few people get an idea of what a bishop does – or the range of stuff that he/she is expected to cover. Simply illustrative. Back in Leeds, I start at 8am tomorrow and have meetings all day in the Diocese. Never boring.

But, while all this is going on the world bleeds.

One of the recurring conversations at the moment is whether democracy works. Well, of course it does. It delivers what people vote for. However, it is not necessarily truthful, intelligent or wise. It does not necessarily deliver what people thought they were voting for. Nothing new there. But, one of the glaringly bizarre questions emerging from both Brexit and Trump is why people didn't question the language used by the elite who led the campaigns. For example, who exactly is “the establishment” if it isn't the very people who were slagging off the establishment? How is “the elite”, if it isn't hugely privileged and economically comfortable people who will not suffer one iota from the consequences of what they persuaded people to vote for!

How many billionaires are there in the Trump administration? Why is President Putin so happy?

And all this finds focus in the cries of the children of Aleppo. While the blood flows today in the final brutality of war, the rest of us are confronted with an unpalatable challenge: we tell our government not to apply military power in Syria … only to complain that the Russian/Assad violence on our screens has been exercised without opposition. The West doesn't know what it believes. No wonder Sergei Lavrov (Russian Foreign Minister) was quoted on Twitter this afternoon as saying: ” We are fed up with the constant whining of our American colleagues.”

We will see what happens. In the meantime, Christians will find a vocabulary in the Psalms for the conflicted cries of “how long?” and “why do the poor suffer?” and “why are we so rubbish at getting things right for the sake of the weak and vulnerable?” (which,I admit, is a rough translation).

As I mentioned in a debate in the House of Lords some weeks ago (on the admission to the UK of unaccompanied Syrian refugee children from Calais), the generation of children who suffer from our inactivity will not forget what we did not do for them. The seeds of the next three or four generations' violence are being sown now.

And we cannot pretend ignorance.

 

This is the text of this morning's Presidential Address at the Leeds Diocesan Synod:

The fifth of November. The day we remember how we used to burn Roman Catholics in this country.

Last Monday I preached in the church where Martin Luther became and served as a monk. The Augustinerkloster in Erfurt looks today much like it did when Luther prostrated himself before the altar and took his vows. I was there with a group from this diocese, having been invited to preach on the 499th anniversary of Luther (allegedly) nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg. Last Monday kicked off the year of celebration and commemoration of the Reformation and will conclude on 31 October 2017.

The Reformation divided Europe and changed the world for ever. Yet, when the German monk decided to challenge what he saw as ecclesiastical perversions of the gospel and church order he did not intend to create a new church. He wanted to heal the church and return it to its proper form and role. Yet, he discovered quickly that it is easier to set off destructive events than it is to stop or control them. The Law of Unintended Consequences led to civil uprisings, religiously-inspired violence, civil war and political settlements that exist to this day in Germany. The Reformation marks the recovery of the primacy of God’s grace as revealed in Scripture; yet, it also calls to memory some dreadful passions, all-too-human rejections of grace, and Christians who could no longer see each other as belonging to the same church.

The legacy was the rise of the Enlightenment partly as a reaction against religious power and the violence of the Thirty Years War. It is significant that in Germany the Reformation Jubilee is being marked by a huge degree of ecumenical partnership, with the Pope even launching the year in Sweden last weekend. It has taken 500 years and we are not there yet. It is easy to divide – hard to reconcile. And yet we are a church fired by a gospel of reconciliation, committed to a ministry of reconciliation, needing to be very careful that the decisions we make do not deny that gospel or ministry itself.

I mention this this morning for several reasons. First, because our diocesan link with Erfurt is one we wish to strengthen. In the light of Brexit, our European links take on an even greater importance. Secondly, and as I said in my sermon in Erfurt, we need to learn our history and learn from it. If we do not know where we have come from, then we cannot know who we are. Thirdly, our reading of Reformation history should provoke in us a humility that comes from recognising that we are firmly placed in this world while being fired by a vision of another world, but that our this-worldliness can easily lead us to behave in ways that deny the nature of the Christ we are called (by the Apostle Paul) to imitate.

However, my other reason for starting with the Reformation and last week’s Erfurt visit is that every generation faces its unique challenges and choices. One of the challenges we face in the UK in 2016 is the slow corruption of our public and political discourse. It is not coincidental that the former Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, a committed Roman Catholic now running media in New York, has just published a book titled ‘Enough Said’ in which he – correctly and possibly prophetically in my view – names the currents of bile, destructiveness and dehumanising contempt that colours the public discourse in Britain, across Europe and in the United States. I offer you Brexit, migration and the US Presidential election.

Like charity, let’s start at home. Whether you voted in the June Referendum to remain in or leave the European Union, the fact is that the vote went the way of Brexit. Not overwhelmingly – we now live in a very divided country. The referendum, however, was advisory and did not legally or constitutionally bind the government (or Parliament) to deliver on the decision – this in contrast to the AV referendum that was binding. Hence, the legal clarification sought this week in the High Court was entirely reasonable and, it could be argued, entirely necessary. The question of who, in a representative parliamentary democracy and following a non-binding referendum, has the right to trigger negotiations that then lead inexorably to a radically different constitutional settlement, is a very important one.

The courts ruled this week, and immediately allowed an appeal by the government to the Supreme Court. That is how the rule of law, based on an independent judiciary, is supposed to work in the sort of parliamentary democracy we rightly celebrate and value in this country. The rule of law should never be taken for granted. It is hard won and can be very easily lost.

So, even if you think Brexit is the right move for Britain and you want to see it happen quickly, you should be very alarmed at newspapers referring to judges as “enemies of the people”. Several newspapers suggested yesterday that we should get rid of judges who don’t do what certain politicians want and replace them with ones they do. Now, does that sound familiar? And do you spot the serious risk to the rule of law. And isn’t this precisely the sort of sovereignty that Brexit was supposed to guarantee to the UK in the first place?

As racism, intolerance and violence increase across Europe, it is probably just as well we can look to the Land of the Free to keep us sane and safe, isn’t it? Oh. So, even there we see the final throes of a presidential election that has been reduced to an abusive slanging match that is hardly going to commend ‘democracy’ to those countries and people we so often think should be compelled to enjoy it.

But, it is the threat to the public conversation that is so dangerous and potentially poisonous. How we speak to, with and about one another matters far more than we might wish to think. Christians must speak differently, refuse to collude with or be corrupted by what is swilling around in the media and on social media, and hold to account those who threaten the nature of our discourse by what they choose to say or print.

When we accept our judges being labelled “enemies of the people” for doing their job, then we will be inviting the Law of Unintended Consequences to apply – where civil society is corrupted bit by bit by bit because we can’t be bothered to contest it. Europe has been here before.

Now, you might be feeling a little morose at this point. You should be. However, as someone once said, “don’t shout at the darkness – light a candle”. How might we respond positively to this challenge?

Since this synod last met the clergy of the diocese – 400 of them – convened at Liverpool Hope University for the first clergy conference since we were created at Easter 2014. One of the highlights of the three-day event was a presentation and dialogue between Professor Brian Cox and Professor David Wilkinson on the theme Science, the Cosmos and Human Meaning. After each had presented – and boggled most of us with stuff we didn't always understand (but still tried to look as if we did) – I moderated a dialogue between them. Brian needs no introduction: an agnostic with a huge media as well as academic presence. David, a Methodist minister with experience of inner-city ministry in Liverpool and a gift for Radio 4's Thought for the Day, has doctorates in astrophysics and theology (which is a bit greedy) and is Principal of St John's College, Durham.

After lunch – which was dominated by students wanting selfies … not with me – clergy asked questions of both guests and the conversation continued. It was interesting, intelligent, informed, generous and completely riveting.

But, why did we do it?

One of the things Brian Cox is concerned about is how to bring public institutions and disciplines together to model how to have substantial conversations about things that matter and to offer an alternative to the appalling public – mainly political – discourse we are subjected to during these difficult and uncertain times. In fact, that is why I invited the two professors to come in the first place. Clergy, lay people, bishops, the church need to be engaged in cleaning up the nature of public debate, and one way to help do this is to model it. David Wilkinson and Brian Cox did this in relation to science, but in a way that took us beyond the sort of nonsense prejudicing and name-calling we see between fundamentalist religious people and fundamentalist atheists. Brian and David explored the differences between the ‘how’ questions and the ‘why’ questions of human existence.

We are now looking at how to take this forward. If you can get to any of Brian Cox’s live shows (currently touring the UK), do enjoy what this looks and sounds like. Here we see an agnostic and a Christian both begin in the same place: looking at the enormous beauty and complexity of the multiverse and wondering what matters in the life of it. It is not unusual to have a common existential or intellectual starting point.

(We are now looking at a Lay Conference one day in early 2018 – it has not proved possible to get a suitable day at a suitably large venue in 2017.)

So, today we as a synod continue to work at shaping the nature and mechanics of our internal discourse as a church. Standing Orders might not be words that float everybody’s boat, but they provide the parameters in which we can then conduct our internal synodical conversations and decision-making. How we speak with one another will say something about whether how we speak outside the church will have any credibility. We will discuss deaneries and deanery synods – again, not words that inspire martyrdom in the minds of many people. Yet, the purpose of deaneries and their synods is not simply to order the life of the church, but to set us free to pay attention to our mission of reconciliation in the world and how we go about it. Structures are there for a purpose, and the purpose is not simply to perpetuate a structure as an end in itself. We will look at the vital matter of education and what sort of people we want our children and young people to grow up to be. Education is not an end in itself, but a means to an end: nurturing good and godly human beings, neighbours, citizens, who live and work for the common good. Safeguarding is a vital part of our common duty to ensure that our churches are safe places for all people, especially children and vulnerable adults.

In other words, our agenda might look a little inward-focused at first glance. It isn’t. It is part of the work we still need to do in order to enable us to be the church our region needs us to be for the sake of God and his kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, I trust we will speak with one another in love, and speak of the church in love – offering mercy and generosity in the place of suspicion and mistrust. Together we can continue to shape a diocese – and its communication by word and deed – that reflects the nature of the Christ we serve and serves the world for whom we are called. Together we might pay attention to how our discourse might offer a different model to that which we see in parts of our media and our political world.

And let us remember that, as Martin Luther discovered in such a revolutionary way, in the end it is all about grace.

This is the text of my sermon from this morning's celebration of Reformation Day in Erfurt, Germany. The service, which included a wonderful Bach cantata with orchestra and choir, took place in the Augustinerkirche which is where Martin Luther became and served as a monk. Today kicks off the Reformation Year – 500 years since Martin Luther allegedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg and set off events in Europe that have deeply shaped it ever since.

Ich rede von der Gerechtigkeit vor Gott, die da kommt durch den Glauben an Jesus Christus zu allen, die glauben. Denn es ist hier kein Unterschied: sie sind allesamt Sünder und ermangeln des Ruhmes, den sie bei Gott haben sollten, und werden ohne Verdienst gerecht aus seiner Gnade durch die Erlösung, die durch Christus Jesus geschehen ist. (Römerbrief 3:21ff)

The Cranach Altar in Weimar

Vor kurzem ging ich in eine Buchhandlung hinein. Ich wollte eine neue Biografie von Martin Luther kaufen. Ich fand den Verkäufer und sagte: “Wo finde ich die neue Biographie von Martin Luther von Professorin Lyndall Roper?” Er sagte mir: “OK… Martin Luther King…” “Nein,” sagte ich, “Martin Luther”. “Oh?” sagte der Verkäufer, “wer ist er? Nie habe ich von ihm gehört.” Ich war ein Bisschen überrascht und erklärte langsam: “Martin Luther war vor fünfhundert Jahren ein Mönch in Deutschland. Er machte die protestantische Reformation in Europa auf, und er änderte die Welt für immer.” “Oh?” sagte der junge Mann. “Wie interessant! Wahrscheinlich finden Sie das Buch unter dem Titel 'Religion'.” Endlich habe ich das Buch am zweiten Stock unter dem Titel 'Deutsche Geschichte' gefunden.

Wie ist es möglich, dass heute ein gut ausgebildete Hochschulabsolvent keine Ahnung hat, wer Martin Luther war? Aber dort liegt die große Herausforderung. In England interessiert man nicht sehr für die Reformation vor fünfhundert Jahren in Wittenberg. (Vielleicht erklärt diese kurze Geschichte, warum so viele Briten aus der Europäischen Gemeinschaft hinaustreten wollten – sie haben keine Ahnung, wovon sie kommen oder woher sie stammen.)

Das ist eine ernste Angelegenheit – eine wichtige Herausforderung. Wenn wir unsere eigene Geschichte vergessen, dann verlieren wir unsere Identität. Wenn wir vergessen, woher wir gekommen sind, dann können wir nicht wissen, wer wir sind. Und wir können nicht unsere gemeinsame Zukunft formen, wenn wir unsere gemeinsame Vergangenheit nicht anerkennen.

Martin Luther hat die gleiche Bibel gelesen, die wir lesen heute. Als er die Alte Testament studierte, sicherlich muss er die Warnungen notiert haben, die den Israeliten gegeben wurden, bevor sie ins versprochene Land zum ersten Mal betraten. Die Geschichte geht so. Die Israeliten waren über vierhundert Jahre als Sklaven in Ägypten, und ihr Leben wurde ein unerträgliches Leiden. Sie konnten sich nicht aus eigener Hand befreien. Mit Hilfe von Moses, Fröschen und Plagen wurden sie endlich von Gott befreit. Aber sie tauschten nicht sofort die Unterdrückung für die Freiheit, sondern mussten vierzig Jahre in der Wüste verbringen, so dass eine ganze Generation von Beschwerdeführer, Romantiker und anderen Menschen aussterben würde, die von Nostalgie getrieben werden. Während dieser harten Jahre mussten die Israeliten versuchen, eine wichtige Wahrheit zu lernen, und zwar: ihr seid von der Unterdrückung befreit worden – das ist klar; aber wofür seid ihr befreit worden? Menschen vergessen sehr schnell.

Deshalb ist das Volk von Moses angeleitet worden, einen jährlichen Ritualkalendar zu errichten. Regelmäßig durch das Jahr mussten die Israeliten Rituale durchführen, die praktisch zur Erinnerung die Geschichte des Volkes brachten. Sie mussten nicht nur spirituell darüber nachdenken, sondern mit Körper und Stimme diese Geschichte feiern und erzählen.

Zum Beispiel in Deuteronomium 26:

Wenn du in das Land kommst, das dir der HERR, dein Gott, zum Erbe geben wird, und es einnimmst und darin wohnst, so sollst du nehmen die Erstlinge aller Feldfrüchte, die du von deinem Lande einbringst, das der HERR, dein Gott, dir gibt, und sollst sie in einen Korb legen und hingehen an die Stätte, die der HERR, dein Gott, erwählen wird, dass sein Name daselbst wohne, und sollst zu dem Priester kommen, der zu der Zeit sein wird, und zu ihm sagen: Ich bekenne heute dem HERRN, deinem Gott, dass ich gekommen bin in das Land, das der HERR, wie er unsern Vätern geschworen hat, uns geben wollte. Und der Priester soll den Korb aus deiner Hand nehmen und ihn vor dem Altar des HERRN, deines Gottes, niedersetzen. Dann sollst du anheben und sagen vor dem HERRN, deinem Gott: Mein Vater war ein Aramäer, dem Umkommen nahe, und zog hinab nach Ägypten und war dort ein Fremdling mit wenig Leuten und wurde dort ein großes, starkes und zahlreiches Volk.” Usw.

Mit anderen Worten: “Vergiss nicht, das du einmal Sklaven warst – dass du nichts hattest, und dich selbst nicht von den Ägypten befreien konntest. Denn, wenn du deine eigene Geschichte vergisst, wirst du schnell andere Menschen als deine Sklaven behandeln. Um diese Entwicklung zu vermeiden, musst du einige Rituale etablieren, die das Volk daran erinnern werden, woher sie kommen. Diese regelmäßige Erzählungen der Volksgeschichte wird dazu helfen, dass die Perspektive richtig gehalten wird und ihre Prioritäten hinterfragt werden.”

Aber was hat diese Geschichte der alttestamentarischen Ritualen mit der lutherischen Reformation zu tun? Oder mit der einen Welt, die das Jahresthema der EKD im Jahre 2016 heißt? Manche von uns werden das für offensichtlich halten: das heißt, die Kirche von heute muss von ihrer Geschichte lernen – nicht nur um ehrlich von den schlechten Erinnerungen zu lernen, sondern auch um auf den guten aufzubauen. Zum Beispiel, wir wissen, dass Martin Luther von der Gnade Gottes überrascht war; dass er vom Angst befreit wurde; dass er die Liebe Gottes erfuhr. Aber er war in seinem Verhalten mit anderen Menschen nicht immer gnädig.

Aber er veränderte die Welt. Er öffnete die Bibel für künftige Generationen von Menschen, die auch die Geschichte von Gott und Menschen immer neu lernen möchten. Er war kein plastischer Heiliger, sondern ein echter Mensch wie du und ich.

Wir wissen ja, dass die heutige Welt nicht die Welt von Martin Luther ist. Aber trotz den dramatischen Unterschieden zwischen 1517 und 2016 bleibt die Berufung – das heißt, die Mission – der Kirche einfach und klar: sie ist dazu berufen, der Welt zu zeigen, wer Gott ist und wie Gott sich behandelt. Gott befreit den Menschen von der Sklaverei – deshalb müssen die Befreiten auch anderen von ihren Sklavereien befreien. Wenn wir die Liebe Gottes genießen, dann müssen wir auch unsere Nachbarn lieben. Das ist die klare und einfache Logik des Evangeliums. Die Kirche von Jesu Christi sollte so aussehen, als den Jesus, den wir in den Evangelien sehen. Die Kirche sollte die gute Nachricht der Gnade Gottes mit der Stimme von Jesus selbst aussprechen. Und das ist die einzige Prüfung unserer Treue als Kirche. Wir sind immer noch dazu berufen, der Welt zu zeigen, wie es aussieht, als Individuen und Gemeinden von der Gnade Gottes befreit zu werden – frei zu dienen, frei zu lieben, frei zu vergeben, frei wie der Prophet Micah, der schrieb: “Recht tun, Liebe (besser Barmherzigkeit) üben und demütig wandeln mit deinem Gott.” Das beschreibt die prophetische Rolle der Kirche Jesu Christi.

Nun, ich weiß, dass die Erfahrung der Kirche von England sich von der Erfahrung der Kirchen in Deutschland unterscheidet.

Die Kirche von England ist eine sonderbare Kirche: eine reformierte katholische Kirche – wahrscheinlich die einzige solche Kirche in der Welt. Das englische Christentum war weniger von der lutherischen Reformation geprägt als von Jean Calvin und einem König, der sich in zu viele Frauen verliebte. Ehrlich muss ich sagen, das Heinrich die Reformation meistens als hilfreich in seinen Streiten mit dem Papst betrachtete. Es ging um die Macht, die königliche und politische Unabhängigkeit. Es ging nicht primär um die Religion, um theologische Fragen oder um die Gnade Gottes. Und nach dem Tod von Heinrich ging die größte Herausforderung um die Einheit von England als Nation, als Land. In einer getrennten oder geteilten Welt, wie können die Menschen – das heißt, die Katholiken und Protestanten – in einer Kirche zusammengehalten werden? Die Antwort war: common prayer (gemeinsames Gebet) und Gesetze, die eine einzelne Kirche für England schufen. Aber heute weißt auch der Papst nicht genau, ob die Kirche von England katholisch oder protestantisch ist: sie ist beide. Also, alles klar!

Die Kirche von England ist territorial organisiert. Das heißt, ein Gemeindepfarrer ist nicht nur der Kapitän seines Kirchenschiffs, sondern auch der Pfarrer aller Menschen, die in seiner Gemeinde wohnen oder arbeiten. Das bringt nicht nur gesetzliche Verantwortung und eine generelle Verfügbarkeit für alle, die dort leben, mit sich, sondern auch eine unvermeidliche Verpflichtung für das Wohlbefinden der ganzen Gemeinde, und verleiht darüber hinaus dem gesamten geistlichen Amt eine missionarische Perspektive – was bedeutet, auf diejenigen in der Gemeinde zuzugehen, die Gottes ‚frohe Botschaft‘ bislang weder gehört noch erfahren haben.

Das heißt, dass die Kirche sich zu jeder Zeit erinnern muss, warum die Kirche da ist und wozu die Kirche eigentlich existiert. Die Kirche von England ist eine Kirche für England.

Aber wie erfüllen wir die Aufgabe, die gute Nachricht von Gottes Gnade unserer Generation zu bringen?

Heutzutage müssen wir einfallsreich, selbstbewusst und fantasievoll sein, wenn wir den Ort und die Bedeutung des christlichen Glaubens für das persönliche und das öffentliche Leben beschreiben und dafür streiten wollen. Wir müssen Wege finden, das Evangelium von Jesus Christus so zu beschreiben – und als Zeugen dieses Evangeliums zu leben – die Menschen zum Glauben und zur Kirche ziehen.

In meiner Diözese haben wir drei Stichworte identifiziert, die uns eine Linse bieten, durch die wir unsere Aufgabe verstehen können: LOVING. LIVING. LEARNING. Lieben. Leben. Lernen. Vorher hatten wir: CONFIDENT CHRISTIANS. GROWING CHURCHES. TRANSFORMING COMMUNITIES. Zuversichtliche Christen. Wachsende Kirchen. Verwandelnden Gemeinden. Diese waren Stichworte für diejenige, die schon Kirchenmitglieder sind. Lieben, Leben, Lernen spricht zu denjenigen, die außerhalb der Kirche stehen. Wir lieben Gott und unsere Nachbarn und die Welt, die Gott liebt. Wir lieben das Leben und streben nach der Wohlergehen der ganzen Gesellschaft. Wir wollen, dass jeder Mensch aufblüht (oder gedeiht). Aber wir müssen uns immer demütig verhalten und aus unseren Fehlern lernen.

Die Kirche von England lernt, den Menschen dort zu begegnen, wo sie tatsächlich sind (und nicht, wo wir wünschten, dass sie sein sollten) und sie lernt in Sprachen zu sprechen, die gehört und verstanden werden können. In den letzten fünfzehn Jahren haben wir tausende Projekte entwickelt, die wir „fresh expressions of church“ nennen: neue, frische Gesichter oder Ausdrucksweisen der Kirche. Dazu zählen innovative Gemeindeformen in Clubs, Kneipen, in Privathäusern oder sogar in Firmen. Nach und nach ermutigt das die Anglikaner, immer neu darüber nachzudenken, wie man Menschen in ihren jeweiligen Lebenszusammenhängen erreichen kann.

Diese veränderte Welt hat der Kirche von England aufgezwungen, sich umzugestalten – und diese Herausforderung ist von vielen Pfarrern und Laien nicht leicht angenommen worden. Sich zu ändern ist nie einfach.

Aber, die Welt hat sich verändert. Und meiner Meinung nach ist es sinnlos und eine verpasste Chance, nur darüber zu klagen. Wenn die Kirche ihren Auftrag erfüllen will, muss sie die Sprache der heutigen Welt erstens verstehen und zweitens sprechen können. Wir müssen uns daran erinnern, dass die biblische Geschichte uns zeigt, dass Gott sein Volk dazu beruft, so zu leben, dass die Menschen, die mit der christlichen Gemeinde in Kontakt kommen, etwas von dem Christus erfahren, von dem wir in den Evangelien lesen.

Ich möchte dies anhand einer persönlichen Erfahrung illustrieren. Von Mai 1992 bis April 2000 war ich Pfarrer in Rothley. Die Kirche existiert dort seit 860 nach Christus. Mein Auftrag war es, die Menschen zu erreichen, die nicht in die Kirche kamen. Ganz am Anfang meiner Zeit als Pfarrer habe ich eine Entscheidung getroffen, die die Wahrnehmung der Kirche ziemlich veränderte….

In diesem Dorf (mit ungefähr 6000 Einwohnern) gibt es fünf Pubs. Wunderbar! Was für eine schwere Belastung war meine Arbeit! Jedes Lokal hat seinen eigenen Charakter und seine ganz eigene, um nicht zu sagen: eigenartige Klientel. An einem Montag ging ich in das ‚old village‘ Pub – the Old Crown -, wo zwei Männer Billard spielten. Sonst niemand. Ganz leer. Ich sprach mit dem Wirt und fragte ihn: ‚ Es ist fast leer heute Abend. Ist es immer so?‘ ‚Es ist Montag,‘ sagte der irritierte Mann. ‚Ist es immer so am Montag?‘ fragte ich. Der Wirt schaute mir in die Augen und sagte: ‚Es ist Montag. Das heißt nach dem Wochenende!‘ Ich dachte einen Moment nach und fragte ihn: ‚Darf ich den Pub am Montag in drei Wochen haben – und ich verspreche, dass viele Menschen kommen werden?‘ ‚Du möchtest das private Zimmer hinter der Bar haben, oder?‘ ‚Nein,‘ sagte ich, ‚ich will den ganzen Pub haben.‘ Endlich stimmte er zu.

Zu dieser Zeit hatte ich nur eine Computergraphik: eine Bierpumpe. Ich machte einige Plakate und verteilten sie überall im Dorf: ‚Pump the Vicar in the Old Crown‘ (den Pfarrer in der Alten Krone anzapfen) – ‚pump‘ auf Englisch kann auch bedeuten: ‚jemandem viele Fragen stellen‘. Also: ‚Pump the Vicar in the Old Crown – um 20 Uhr, Montag den blah blah blah… Keine Tabus!’

An diesem Montag kamen fast 70 Menschen. Um 20 Uhr stand ich auf (mit meinem Pint) und sprach nur fünf Minuten lang von Jesus. Ich sagte, dass es sich wirklich lohnt, als Erwachsener einen zweiten Blick auf Gott und Jesus Christus zu werfen. Ich sprach nur kurz, aber provozierend. Danach fingen wir an zu diskutieren. Was meinen Sie, um wie viel Uhr bin ich wohl nach Hause gekommen? Gegen 1 Uhr am Morgen. Danach haben wir regelmäßig ‚Pump the Vicar‘ organisiert.

Einmal war ich in einem BBC Studio in London und die Radiomoderatorin stellte mir plötzlich eine Frage: Wofür ist die Kirche eigentlich? Was ist der Sinn der Kirche? In solchen Umständen hat man keine Zeit, um eine gute Predigt aus der Tasche herauszuziehen. Ich sagte: “Die Aufgabe der Kirche ist es, den Raum zu schaffen, in dem die Menschen finden können, dass sie schon von Gott gefunden worden sind.”

Ich denke, dass auch der Mönch von Erfurt, Martin Luther, diesen Begriff entdeckte, als er begann, die Gnade Gottes zu erleben und verstehen. Der gnädige Gott lässt sich nicht gekauft oder manipuliert werden. Alles ist Gnade. Und wenn wir denken, dass wir ihn gefunden haben, finden wir, dass er schon auf uns gewartet hat – wie bei dem sogenannten verlorenen Sohn, der entdeckte, dass Gottes Barmherzigkeit größer ist als menschliches Versagen. “Gott aber erweist seine Liebe zu uns darin, dass Christus für uns gestorben ist, als wir noch Sünder waren.” (Römerbrief 5:8) Das ist Gnade.

In dieser angstvoller Welt können wir – wie auch Martin Luther zu seiner Zeit – zuversichtlich und hoffnungsvoll auf Gott vertrauen. Wir werden an unsere Geschichte erinnern und davon lernen. Semper reformanda. Die Gnade Gottes bleibt bestehen.

“Sie werden ohne Verdienst gerecht aus seiner Gnade durch die Erlösung, die durch Christus Jesus geschehen ist.”

Im Namen des Vaters, des Sohnes, und des heiligen Geistes. Amen.

 

The excellent Bishop of Hannover, Ralf Meister, delivered a brief ‘greeting’ on behalf of the Evangelischer Kirche in Deutschland (EKD) and ecumenical guests at the recent meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England in York. The bishop is also the newly-appointed German co-chair of the Meissen Commission, so I look forward hugely to working with him (as the English co-chair) in the next few years. The text of his address, coming in the light of the decision by the UK to leave the European Union, follows:

 

It is a great honour to attend this General Synod of the Church of England and to convey to you today the cordial greetings of the Evangelical Church in Germany.

I bring to you the greetings of the Council of the EKD, by the chairman of the council Bishop Professor Heinrich Bedford-Strohm,

the greetings of the plenary church conference and the presidium of the Synod, personally from the chair of the presidium Mrs. Schwätzer.

When I give you my regards as the Bishop of Hannover, there is a common bond between us. Because King Georg I. was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1714 and ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Kingdom of Hanover).

You come together in turbulent times. I’m aware that the decision in Great Britain for the Brexit is a national democratic decision, but with due respect for that, it has an enormous impact on the international, especially the European Situation and for Germany as well.

Please allow me to make short remarks about the new fragile European situation and our responsibility as Christians.

First: I was irritated, that the main reaction in Germany about the Brexit was a discussion about the financial and economic consequences of this referendum. The European dream is a dream of humanity and justice and not the question whether the stock-exchange is placed in London or in Frankfurt or about the future of the single market. But most important: The idea of Europe is based on shared values and peace.

Recently we remembered the Battle of Somme in 1916.

When we look for some voices, which proclaim a European perspective rooted in Christian values, we find this voice in words and music from your nation: in the War Requiem from Benjamin Britten with the poetry from Wilfred Owen. Owen fought in the war zone of Somme and died in 1918: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. […] All a poet can do today is warn.” Owen spoke as a Christian. What a strong sign of hope and reconciliation it was, when the War Requiem was first performed in the cathedral of Coventry in 1962. It will be the Christian charge, to warn of a separated Europe – in all the tendencies for a new nationalism and the modern attraction of political populists. A Europe split in gated national communities will undermine a common period of social, economic, cultural and peaceful welfare in Europe.

But the duty for the churches in Europe is not only to warn, but to give our people the hope, that the liberation in God’s grace will be the condition for a profound understanding of freedom, justice and peace.

Second:

We in the EKD are on the way to celebrate the Jubilee of the Reformation in 2017. It will be the first jubilee in 500 years, which we celebrate in a deep ecumenical understanding with other denominations parallel to a fruitful interreligious dialog with Jews and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others. So we realise, that “the reformation is a world citizen”. It interconnects us in a strong line with Christians all over the world.

The Meissen-Agreement states: „We will take steps to closer fellowship in as many areas as possible, so that all our members together may advance on the way to full visible unity.“

This is an ecumenical sentence, first for us and our churches. This is a sentence of faith and of hope. But this is also a strong political proclamation for our worldwide responsibility as Christians; a responsibility to take the challenges of the modern, complex and anxious world as an invitation from God himself to work for his creation.

In this world, “right” answers are not easily found. But we have the task to witness our belief in God to practice tolerance and to engage in difficult dialogues.

Christianity has a history of interdenominational persecutions, discriminations, violence and war. We know, that it took centuries to come from “conflict to communion” and live in “reconciled difference”. May we owe our countries the story of the long way to the house of our neighbours? We owe our people the story of tolerance and acceptance, of respect and dialogue, of reconciliation and peace in the light of the gospel.

We need a strong common narration of Europe in which our Christian experiences are still decisive.

Christians are resilient and resistant people. We are strengthened in the hope from the creator of heaven and earth.

The liberating message of the gospel was in the midst of the reformation. We listen to that message in different contexts and exciting times, like these troubling days in Europe.

The reformation was a catalyst for a new understanding of the church’s role in society. In that tradition we stand. In England as well as in Germany, in the Anglican Church as well as in the Evangelical Church in Germany.

Let me end with a word from the protestant theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his “Letters and Papers from Prison”:

“Choose and do what is right, not what fancy takes,

Not weighing the possibilities, but bravely grasping the real,
Not in the flight of ideas, but only in action is there freedom.
Come away from your anxious hesitations into the storm of events,
Carried by God’s command and your faith alone.
Then freedom will embrace your spirit with rejoicing.”

(Widerstand und Ergebung, DBW, Bd 8, S.571)

God bless your synod.

This is the text of this morning's Presidential Address to the Leeds Diocesan Synod in Harrogate. It comes in the wake of the atrocity in Nice and the failure of an attempted military coup in Turkey last night.

Earlier this week the bishops met for our monthly meeting at Hollin House. We always begin with a Eucharist, have breakfast, then do Bible study together before attending to the business before us. Obviously, we have a rota for leading the Bible study, and this week it was the turn of Bishop Toby, just a few days before he will be leaving for a visit to Sudan representing the Archbishop of Canterbury – of which more later.

Bishop Toby took us to Jeremiah 32 and the iconic story of prophetic hope: Jeremiah buys a field at Anathoth. Nothing odd about that? Just a wily old man playing the Ancient Near East version of the Stock Exchange? No. Jeremiah buys his field, places both the sealed and unsealed deeds in an earthenware jar, then has it buried in the field. Why? Because this looks like an absurd investment and Jeremiah looks mad.

The context is this. Society – and what we today might refer to as political and economic life – is about to fall apart. The Empire is closing in and the future looks bleak. Horizons have narrowed and people are looking increasingly short-term. They are, to reverse a phrase I often use of Easter, being driven by fear and not drawn by hope. And it is now that Jeremiah buys a field and hides the deeds and, in this quiet prophetic act, votes for hope. The end might be nigh, but the prophet catches a glimpse of a new future and, when others look down, he dares to invest in that future. Now is not the end.

This seems to me to be very apposite at a time when we live with huge uncertainties in both nation and church. Whether you voted Remain or Leave in the recent EU Referendum is not the point. We are where we are and we must take responsibility for the future and our shaping of it. It is infantile to sit on the sidelines, sure of superior wisdom, sniping at those working for the future and taking no responsibility for it. And Christians in particular are called, whatever the circumstances, to voice hope, live hope, and illustrate hope. (I am not sure now is the best time to buy a field and bury the deeds, but you get the point.)

The Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann is well worth going to for biblical and theological insights into the role and language of God's people at times of pressure or exile. One of his books is called 'Hopeful Imagination'; another 'The `Practice of Prophetic Imagination'. A third, with the subtitle 'Listening to Prophetic Voices', is titled 'Texts that Linger, Words that Explode'. These titles by themselves sum up the vocation of God's people, whether three thousand years ago at Anathoth or here in England in the twenty first century: to be a people of hope, drawn by a hope that comes to us from the future (and in which light we now live), articulating and giving a vocabulary for hope, acting and living hopefully at the heart of a society that is too easily driven by fear.

It will come as no surprise to you that I am particularly keen on how we articulate Christian hope, even where it looks absurd, even where it defies the evidence of “now” with the promise of “then”. What Brueggemann is asking us to do is to use words and actions to capture the imagination of a people so that they look beyond the immediate crises and dangers to a future that only God knows. Whether, despite our faithfulness and fidelity, and like Jeremiah the miserable but hopeful prophet, we head off into exile and the loss of everything that gives our life meaning – with all the sense of loss and betrayal and despair that involves – or life goes well and we prosper like never before, our vocation will be the same: to speak and live hopefully, holding out to people locked into “now” the possibility of God's future.

Now, I have taken some time on this at the beginning of this address because we need as a diocese and a synod of that diocese to root our deliberations in a theology that is strong enough to bear the weight of uncertainty. Theology is never merely academic, though we honour those whose academic attentions enlighten the rest of us. The point here, however, is that we need to sharpen more than our intellects, and have our imagination captured by the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who, as Matthew tells us, is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.

So, whether we are happy with Brexit or not, whether we are fearful of the future or not, whether we are obsessed with particular hobby horses or relatively indifferent to matters that are deemed crucial by other people, we are called to hold the detail – the particular – in the light of the broader and longer-term vision. Will our debates and deliberations today demonstrate that our imagination has been captured by a prophetic vision? Or will we just go away satisfied that we have done some business?

Today we address some very important matters. What are our responsibilities towards those who, regardless of their own views and commitments, take up arms to defend us – even when our politicians demand that they serve in conflicts with which they do not agree? More particularly, what are our responsibilities to serve them once they have left the armed forces, but are themselves left with traumas, memories, disabilities or broken relationships? It can be tempting to think that this applies to areas around Catterick, but not, perhaps, to places where the Forces are not immediately located. Yet, it is highly probable that there are ex-servicemen and women in almost every parish in our diocese. How should we care for them as our response to them having fulfilled their part in serving to defend us?

Of course, for the church in every parish to offer such care to those in need (when they need such care) we need the church to be there in the first place. We know many parishes in both urban and rural areas face challenges in relation to the maintenance or development of buildings. In the next few years the number of stipendiary clergy available to lead our parishes will reduce. The models we have employed for several generations or more will no longer work – and we must address this in the years ahead. But, what is fundamental to any approach to deployment of ministries is the cash to fund it all. To put it crudely: if we don't want it, we won't pay for it; and if we don't pay for it, we won't have it. The parish share goes to paying our clergy: if it doesn't come in, it can't go out.

So, today, after much detailed work and revision, having worked through a number of options and gone through the implications of each, we must decide whether or not to approve a new Parish Share system for our diocese. Three old systems could not simply be combined – and the creation of our diocese allowed for a new consideration of many options best fitted for this new entity going forward. What is clear in any such proposal is that not everybody will be happy. This is reality. But, if I dare invoke the prophetic imagination mentioned earlier, does what is proposed allow us to move to the next stage of our diocesan life and mission? That is the question.

However, the church, however it is funded, and the ministry, however it is shaped and ordered, is whistling into the wind if it speaks and acts as if in some spiritual isolation unit, accountable only to itself. Our biblical theology begins with creation and ends with new creation. The future of the earth is a matter of massive import when most of the world's scientists are clear about the impact of human behaviour on the climate. Some of our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion have got rather tired of disputes about sex when their habitat is disappearing, their economies are collapsing and their future is in serious doubt.

Too big to get our heads around? Tempting, isn't it? But, we must be a responsible people who do our bit of Anathoth not only to invest in a future, but to shape ourselves accordingly. So, we will consider a Green Energy Saving Scheme, and we need to see in our decision where the prophetic language and action lie. Remember, the 'prophetic' is not the same as 'fantasy'.

But, whatever we do has to be paid for. I want to pay serious tribute to colleagues who have slaved over financial matters during the last two and a bit years since we were born as a diocese. It has been difficult bringing three systems together and trying to forge a meaningful future with numbers that were accounted for differently in historic dioceses. As I have constantly reiterated, we are on track to start 2017 with our structural foundation in place and with clarity about the resources at our disposal. We ended 2014 legal, operational and viable – which was not a forgone conclusion. We spent 2015 keeping the show on the road while reviewing all aspects of diocesan ministry and mission, aiming to propose a new shape for a new diocese. This process has not been easy for those whose jobs or roles were caught up in the seemingly endless, but unavoidable, uncertainty. This year we have been starting the processes of re-shaping, building on our new governance structures and developing our vision for prioritising our mission across the diocese and episcopal areas. We are nearly there, but the debates we have today, and the decisions we make, will allow us to be clear about where we start from on 1 January 2017. We will move into the new diocesan office in late September, bringing our administration under a single roof for the first time.

I pay tribute to all in this diocese who have worked so hard to get us to the starting blocks – a task and challenge for which we should all be grateful. But, 2017 does see us at the beginning and not the end. Personally, I will feel able to look up and out in a way that has not been possible thus far because of the sheer volume of work needed to get the foundation established upon which the rest of the building might be erected in the future. So, 2017 sees us clear about who we are – the Diocese of Leeds -, how we are shaped, what resources we have decided to apply to our mission, and how all this shall be funded and administered most effectively. But, that only means that we can then turn our attention to bedding it all in, inviting the scrutiny we require, looking to the medium-term, looking seriously and radically at how we wish to deploy our clergy and lay ministers in the future, constantly re-assessing our priorities and behaviours, not confusing ends with means, and ensuring that at every level of the diocese's life we are drawn by hope and not driven by fear or particular interest.

So, I want to conclude by drawing us back to the wider context in which we do our particular business today. As I said at the beginning, Bishop Toby will soon leave for Sudan to take part in an ACC consultation about whether Sudan should form a Province of the Anglican Communion separate from South Sudan. Currently there is one church across two countries, and South Sudan is collapsing into conflict. Our partnership link is with the five dioceses of Sudan where the church is coping with almost insurmountable demands to cope with refugees, feed the hungry, house the homeless and clothe the naked. We will be involved in any future support for our sister church in Sudan … where the challenges are beyond enormous. As we do our business today, conscious of our responsibility towards refugees here (and we will debate a very practical response to this later), we send Bishop Toby to give our love to Archbishop Ezekiel and his colleagues, to promise our prayer and support, and to take with him our gratitude for our partnership in the Gospel.

Now, let us turn to business, but with a prophetic imagination that dares us to shape our thinking, our listening, our speaking and our hearing in a way that might be described as godly.