I am in Erfurt, Germany, to preach at the Reformation Day service in the Augustinerkirche where Martin Luther studied at the university and became a monk. Having arrived on Friday, we have had a packed programme, including a brilliant (though largely incomprehensible) concert in the Michaeliskirche last night – great guitar playing, especially), meetings with groups of people, a visit to a 'pilgrim church' at Schmira, a day in Weimar, and a visit to the former Stasi prison in the Andreasstraße in Erfurt today.

Yesterday was my first visit to Weimar. This is the place where in 1919 the constitution was drawn up that gave its name to the republic that was created in the humiliating aftermath of defeat in World War One. Yet it is also the place where Goethe, Schiller, Herder and Nietzsche spent their finest and most productive years. Here the culture of what became known as the Enlightenment flourished.

(An aside: one of the best stories we heard was of the pastor of the church in the centre where we attended the morning service. In the sacristy there is a portrait of him. His name was Wessel and he came from an upper-class line of distinguished clergy and military officers. When during the War the poor of Weimar couldn't afford a Christmas tree or presents for their children, he put a “tree for everyone” on the steps of the church and got gifts for the children of the town. He supported Hitler at the beginning, but gradually saw where it was all heading. He resisted and eventually was sent to Buchenwald. He survived only because Hitler pardoned him, leaving him to return to Weimar a da totally broken man. Why did Hitler pardon him? Because he was related to Horst Wessel, whose song – the Horst Wessel Lied – became almost the national anthem of the Nazis. Resistance was brutal and costly.)

The Enlightenment flourished partly as a reaction to the horrendous bloodshed in conflicts that were rooted in the sorts of religious and political power games that emanated from the Reformation. Never again should religion be allowed space in the political sphere: reason and rationality should thenceforth define genuine humanity and humanism. It is not hard to follow the logic and the sentiment. Speaking of Martin Luther today in the Augustinerkirche, there also had to be an acknowledgement of the less-than-gracious elements of his character, to say nothing of his appalling antisemitism. (Like his bowel problems, it got worse as he got older.)

Yet, getting rid of religion in favour of faith in rationalism did not quite go according to plan, did it.

The train from Erfurt to Weimar takes you past Buchenwald. Just around the corner from the famous statue of Goethe and Schiller in front of the theatre in Weimar is the hotel where Adolf Hitler was greeted by the idolatrous crowds that claimed the poets and Herder as their intellectual and cultural heritage.

My point is simple. The problem of the human bias to destructiveness is evidenced in religious conflict and the lust for power at any level. It is not cured by rationalism. How is that the culture, philosophy and idealism of Goethe, Schiller, Herder, etc. was so easily corrupted within a century or less by a populace drawn to populism, fascism and mass slaughter?

If the bloodbaths of religious wars in Europe led to a better way, then that better way also led to Buchenwald and the Stasi. Now listen to the rhetoric of the far right wing groups springing up in Germany and across Europe, blending the language of dehumanising hate under the guise of “cultural realism”.

 

Donald Trump plays into that bizarre American obsession with 'safety'. You paint America as a dangerous place where before even catching a train you have to be persuaded that it is a safe thing to do. You then demand a president who will make America safe as well as 'great' again.

Which means what? What would it look like for America to be 'great' again? Or 'safe' again? We don't get answers – just the usual perversity when it comes to asserting that more accessibility to more guns will magically make everyone safer.

Well, Americans will have to do their own business in the face of its Faustian pact with democracy in November. But, this impacts on the UK, too. Before leaving for a break I did an interview with BBC Radio 5Live in the wake of the murder by IS crazies of an elderly priest in France. Not exactly heroic, these criminals, are they? I mean, choose your targets.

The line of questioning put to me was that churches in England will now have to increase their security. What advice would I now be giving to my churches? I think my response must have been very disappointing. Increase vigilance and learn to look differently at what is going on around us, but don't go mad, start erecting fences or putting sentries on our churches. As if.

Isn't this what terrorists want us to do – be terrorised?

But, the main reason for rejecting some vast increase in security of buildings is that, as I think I put it, you can't legislate for total security. Furthermore, no one has the resources of money, time or people to provide anything remotely approximating total security. In the end, total safety is not something anyone can secure. Not even Donald Trump.

Our churches should open their doors and welcome people in. Yes, as happens already, someone should keep aware of who is there and who might be lurking around outside – especially if they are carrying knives and have their face covered. Yes, anything suspicious should be noted and, if necessary, the police alerted. That is common sense.

But, the first casualty of the current horrors should be the lie of total safety. History is littered with demagogues who promised safety and security along with renewed greatness. Their names are known to us. While understandable that in times of great fear and uncertainty people look for security and the promise of simple certainty, we should beware of the disillusionment and destructiveness that can follow when the empty and unachievable promises are seen for what they really are: a fantasy.

For the record, these are two statements issued by the Protestant Church in Germany following the EU Referendum in the UK:

The Chair of the Council of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, has issued the following statement in the wake of the EU Referendum result:

The Evangelical Church in Germany deeply regrets the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. Now it will be necessary to analyse the reasons for this decision. The imminent departure of a country from the EU is a painful matter and must prompt us to drive the European peace project forward even more energetically. With our international ecumenical network, our churches will continue to work towards a united Europe based on solidarity. If it is confirmed that many young people, in particular, voted for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union, we have a particular commitment not to flag in our dedication. Speaking for myself, I see young people as being the hope of Europe. (Hanover/Berlin, 24 June 2016)

 

The German co-chair of the Meissen Commission (of which I am the English co-chair), Ralf Meister, Lutheran bishop of Hanover, and Petra Bosse-Huber, EKD bishop of ecumenical relations and ministries abroad, are seriously dismayed by the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union:

“With all due respect for the democratic decision in Britain and all the obvious necessity for reforms in the EU, in our view Europe will suffer a painful loss with the upcoming withdrawal of an important partner,” said Bishop Ralf Meister. “The spirit of reconciliation and the ecclesial fellowship between our churches will not be affected by this political step. On the contrary, we will do everything to bring our churches and the people in our countries closer together.

“Precisely in our fragile and vulnerable world, and in a Europe that is so directly challenged today, our churches have a mutual need of each other and want to make an energetic contribution to European and global cooperation,” Bishop Petra Bosse-Huber underlined, speaking between sessions of the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee meeting in Trondheim, Norway. “Together with our sisters and brothers in the Church of England we are working for a Europe of growing community and just peace,” she added.

 

 

[The Evangelical Church in Germany and the Church of England have for 25 years been bonded through the Meissen Declaration. Together they are on the way towards the full, visible unity of their churches. In past decades countless steps have been taken towards greater togetherness – close partnership relations exist between parishes, cathedrals, German regional churches and dioceses.] (Hanover/Berlin, 24 June 2016)

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.

 

It was announced yesterday that the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited the Primates of the Anglican Communion to Canterbury in January 2016 to discuss the (futures) of their relationships and organisation.

Note that he has 'invited' them. This has been translated into media-speak as 'summonsed'. First, he cannot summons them or demand that they come. He is not a pope. So, the translation from invitation to summons is either lazy journalese or deliberate obfuscation.

Secondly, contrary to much reporting, he has not decided on these futures, but has put everyhting on the table in order that the Primates together can discuss and decide on their future shape.

What is so hard to understand about this?

It seems to me that the Archbishop of Canterbury has shown some clear leadership here by (a) insisting that the continuing and debilitating Communion issues now be confronted and addressed and resolved, and (b) that the Primates now take responsibility for the consequences of the positions they take. No more posturing or game-playing. The need for clarity is paramount and the time has come.

I am writing this sitting on a plane waiting to leave for New York for a conference on religious violence and persecution. That is the context in which some of the internal preoccupations of the Communion find their place. Our energies need in future to go into the big issues that affect the world. (I'll write more when I get the time…)

 

The spiritual leaders (bishops of the Landeskirchen) of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland has today published a statement in response to the challenges posed by mass migration and the current refugee crisis. The English text can now be read here. The press notice can be read here, and the link to the signed statement is at the bottom:

The statement reads as follows:

Zur aktuellen Situation der Flüchtlinge Eine Erklärung der Leitenden Geistlichen der evangelischen Landeskirchen Deutschlands

„Wie köstlich ist deine Güte, Gott, dass Menschenkinder unter dem Schatten deiner Flügel Zuflucht haben!” (Psalm 36, 8)

1 Gott liebt alle seine Geschöpfe und will ihnen Nahrung, Auskommen und Wohnung auf dieser Erde geben. Wir sehen mit Sorge, dass diese guten Gaben Gottes Millionen von Menschen verwehrt sind. Hunger, Verfolgung und Gewalt bedrücken sie. Viele von ihnen befinden sich auf der Flucht. So stehen sie auch vor den Toren Europas und Deutschlands. Sie willkommen zu heißen, aufzunehmen und ihnen das zukommen zu lassen, was Gott allen Menschen zugedacht hat, ist ein Gebot der Humanität und für uns ein Gebot christlicher Verantwortung.

2 Der Mensch steht im Mittelpunkt aller Bemühungen. Viele Menschen sindweltweit auf der Flucht. Die große Herausforderung besteht darin, jedem Einzelnen gerecht zu werden. In ihrer Not begeben sich Menschen auf der Flucht in Lebensgefahr. Es ist humanitäre Pflicht, alles zu tun, um Menschen aus Seenot und vor anderen Gefahren zu retten. Gegen menschenverachtende Schlepperbanden und mafiöse Strukturen innerhalb und außerhalb Europas muss mit polizeilichen Mitteln vorgegangen werden. Die wirksamsten Maßnahmen gegen die Gefahren auf der Flucht bestehen in legalen Zugangswegen nach Europa. Wir fordern deshalb legale Wege für Schutzsuchende und begrüßen Diskussionen über ein Einwanderungsgesetz, das neue Zuwanderungsmöglichkeiten für Menschen auf der Suche nach Arbeit und einem besseren Leben eröffnet.

3 Unsere Gesellschaft steht vor einer großen Herausforderung, aber auch unsere Kräfte sind groß. Wir sind dankbar für die vielfältige Hilfsbereitschaft! Allen, die ehrenamtlich oder beruflich, aus Kirche, Zivilgesellschaft, Staat und Politik helfen, eine Willkommenskultur zu leben und mit einem beispiellosen Einsatz für die schnelle und menschenwürdige Aufnahme und Unterbringung von Flüchtlingen zu sorgen, danken wir von ganzem Herzen! Mit Entschiedenheit wenden wir uns gegen alle Formen von Fremdenfeindlichkeit, Hass oder Rassismus und gegen alles, was eine menschenfeindliche Haltung unterstützt oder salonfähig macht. Sorgen und Angst vor Überforderung müssen ernst genommen werden, dürfen aber nicht für menschenfeindliche Stimmungen missbraucht werden.

4 Als Kirche prägen wir das Zusammenleben in dieser Gesellschaft mit. Daher treten wir dafür ein, gelebte Willkommenskultur und die damit verbundene Integration zu einer zentralen Aufgabe unserer Gemeinden und Einrichtungen zu machen.

5 Mit Sorge sehen wir die Hintergründe und Ursachen der Flüchtlingsbewegungen: Klimaveränderungen, Kriege, Verfolgung, Zusammenbruch staatlicher Gewalt, extreme Armut. In diese Fluchtursachen ist auch unsere Gesellschaft vielfältig durch globale Handelsbeziehungen, Waffenlieferungen und nicht zuletzt durch einen Lebensstil, der die Ressourcen der Erde verbraucht, zutiefst verwickelt. Eine Umkehr von diesen ungerechten Verhältnissen ist an der Zeit.

6 Uns in Deutschland ist aufgrund unserer Geschichte in besonderer Weise bewusst, welches Geschenk es ist, Hilfe in der Not und offene Türen zu finden. Ohne die Hilfe, die uns selber zu Teil geworden ist, wären wir heute nicht in der Lage, mit unseren Kräften anderen zu helfen. Wir als Leitende Geistliche wollen uns dafür einsetzen, dass Europa jetzt gemeinsam handelt und seinen humanitären Verpflichtungen gemeinschaftlich nachkommt. In der Gewissheit, dass Menschen unter Gottes Flügeln Zuflucht haben, bringen wir die Not aller Menschen in unseren Gebeten vor Gott und bitten ihn um Kraft für die vor uns liegenden Aufgaben.

The EKD previously pubished a helpful statement here on the refugee challenge (9 September) in Europe and it helpfully contains links to other church/Christian statements.

The World Council of Churches has published the following statement:

Today the countries of Europe are confronted with the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. But compassion and action seem to be tragically insufficient to meet the pressing need. This is so despite the tragedies reported daily from the shores and borders of Europe – let alone from the countries from which these people have been forced to flee by conflict, oppression and extreme poverty.

It is now absolutely and critically necessary that all European states take their proper responsibility in terms of reception and support for people seeking refuge, safety and a better future for themselves and their families. This cannot be left only to the states where they enter first.

Taking responsibility for human beings in desperate need must be done without discrimination on any criteria other than their needs. We are shocked to hear of some countries rejecting refugees on the basis of their religion.

Today, Europe – both West and East – is being tested on the strength of its commitment to human dignity and rights. This is a test of our human values and Christian legacy.

Some churches are taking a lot of responsibility in this situation, even beyond their capacities. WCC member churches in many of the affected countries are providing support to refugees and migrants, and raising the awareness of their congregations and state authorities to the need for a compassionate response, in spite of limited resources and of their own difficulties. The WCC encourages churches in countries of arrival, transit and ultimate destination in their efforts to welcome the stranger, and to model a compassionate response to people in such desperate need. We need ecumenical cooperation in these efforts, in order to ensure that they make the greatest possible contribution to alleviating this terrible suffering.

The WCC and its member churches’ commitment to supporting refugees and displaced people is part of its original condition and calling. When the World Council of Churches came into existence in 1948, the disastrous humanitarian impacts of the Second World War were still a very present reality. The international community was still struggling to cope with the massive population displacements caused by conflict and crimes against humanity. Churches and their specialized ministries were key actors in the humanitarian response to this unprecedented suffering, and have continued to be in the forefront of assisting refugees and immigrants, from emergency relief to long-term support.

This commitment is shown in many parts of the world also today. During these last days I have seen how the churches in Latin America are responding to the situation of migrants and internally displaced people in their own contexts.

The WCC continues to challenge churches worldwide to rediscover their identity, their integrity and their vocation as the church of the stranger. For we are the Church of Jesus Christ, the child refugee (cf. Mathew 2:13).

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Matthew 25:35.

This is the text of my Presidential Address to the third and final Diocesan Synod of this new diocese held in Harrogate on Saturday 18 July 2015:

This is clearly a week for endings. On Monday evening the General Synod finished its quinquennial stretch with some sense of relief that at least one of the divisive issues of the last couple of decades has now been resolved and we can move on. Today we conclude the triennial life of this Diocesan Synod. When you were elected to this synod you lived in one diocese; today you complete it in a different one.

Both synods have seen times of uncertainty, and members have had to show some vision, commitment and courage in sticking with it while the world changed around us. Therefore, I want to begin this address by thanking you and paying tribute to the maturity, wisdom and commitment you have shown during a process that has been unprecedented in the life of the Church of England. Yes, the uncertainty continues in respect of lots of areas of diocesan life, and many of those working for the diocese continue to do their work as best they can as we systematically work through setting up the structures and processes of the new diocese. Thank you for sticking with it. If the first Diocesan Synod felt like bringing three foreign bodies together, I think most people would agree that we have moved very quickly to feeling and behaving like a single synod for a single diocese.

At a time like this, when we recognise how far we still have to go, it is wise to see how far we have come. In just around one year we have appointed two new area bishops, a registrar, a chancellor, joint diocesan secretaries, a Diocesan Director of Education, a revived suffragan bishop, and adviser for church growth … and are about to appoint a Diocesan Director of Ordinands and Vocations, and two new archdeacons. The area deans and lay chairs have taken on new responsibilities as we look at the purpose and shape of deaneries. This Synod has agreed a new form of governance, and reviews of many areas of work are well underway. And through all this we have kept the life and witness of our parishes and institutions going – in some places seeing genuine growth and renewing of vision and energy for the good news of Jesus Christ.

There are those who think we should be moving more quickly. Some of us doing the moving would agree. But, reality always compromises vision and the best strategic planning. No surprise, then, that today we will spend some time considering how we move forward together, developing, owning, articulating and implementing a vision that might shape how we shape the diocese for the future. I am pleased that Canon Paul Hackwood will bring to us an informed outside view (and critique) as we turn our minds – and our common mind – to this task.

In order to get us moving on this during the last year, I articulated the vision for the church as follows: “We want to be a vibrant diocese, with confident clergy enabling confident Christians to live and tell the good news of Jesus Christ in West Yorkshire and the Dales”. It is a remarkably unremarkable statement – and hardly novel. In fact, if Fresh Expressions is de rigeur in the church at the moment, this is a classic stale expression of church. The problem is this: the vocation of the church has never changed since it began. Its context never stands still, but, in one sense, the vision or vocation of church has and does. Put simply, the logic of it sounds something like this: the vocation of God’s people was always to give their life in order that the world might see who God is and what God is about; this vocation was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth; Jesus then commits this vocation to his body – the church – and judges the church by whether or not ( or, to what extent) we look like the Jesus we read about in the Gospels. The rest is detail.

The statement of vision I articulated earlier derives from this simple understanding.

A vibrant diocese is one that vibrates. That is, it is sensitive to the breathing of the Holy Spirit – as it is to the movement in the world and cultures around it. If we want to be vibrant, then we must refrain from rigidity and allow ourselves to bend in the wind that God blows.

Confident clergy are vital. But, confidence is rooted in all sorts of things: in the Gospel itself and the inescapable (and often inconvenient) call of God; in the vocation of the Christian church, and in the particular vocation of the Church of England; in knowing that the church they serve will take them seriously and enable them to fulfil their ministry as best as possible, bringing both encouragement and challenge, freedom and discipline. This means that decisions we make about IME, CME, professional as well as theological development, pastoral support and clarity of expectation are important and need to be got right.

If our clergy are confident, they will be better able to fulfil their primary tasks of leading people and communities in prayer and worship, learning and nurture (to maturity), evangelism and outreach. If they are excited about the Bible and the life of the Spirit, then so shall they be able to encourage others. We can only inspire if we are first being inspired. Now, this is not to say that lay people are exclusively dependent on clergy for their spiritual and Christian nurture and confidence. But, it is to say that those whom we train, pay and support to minister as clergy have a particular responsibility to build the people of God as described in the Ordinal. They must be encouraged and enabled to do so. Yet, responsibility for our own discipleship lies with each of us, lay and ordained, and we cannot blame others when we get it wrong.

So, we need Christians – both lay and ordained – who are confident in God and the content of the Christian faith, confident in the church and the distinctive vocation of the Church of England, confident in the contexts in which God has put us. If our diocesan priorities need to be reordered, then this fundamental vocation must lie at the heart of them. There is no point us banging on about needing to reach out into our communities in service if we end up closing churches and having no confident Christians in our parishes to do the outreach anyway. It is not a question of ‘either-or’, but there is a contingency here that cannot be avoided.

We hear a lot in the church about how we must live out the Gospel in our lives, but shouldn’t worry too much about using words. For the record, St Francis did not tell his monks to “preach the Gospel; use words if you have to”. If he had said it, he would be wrong. We use language for everything all the time; why go quiet when it comes to the faith? What happened to Paul’s injunction to have “a reason for the hope that is within you”? I think the reason many Christians – and many Anglicans – are quiet or hesitant or lack confidence – is that they do not know the Scriptures, have not been helped to think coherently about why they believe what they believe, and have never been given the space to rehearse what such articulation of their faith sounds like. It is hard to argue in the pub if you haven’t tried it out in the church or house group. We must equip each other to live and tell the good news of Jesus Christ in West Yorkshire and the Dales – but, first, we need to experience it, know it and understand it.

Words and life cannot be separated. But, we have an urgent need to build up Christians in the faith so that they are theologically confident (at whatever level) to be Christian in the world we live in. This is an urgent task, and there is a plethora of resources available to help us in it.

Well, I can hear the objections even while I speak: for example, there are many other priorities and this is inward looking. No, it is not. The reason we will address the scandal of poverty this morning is not because we have some assumed political or ideological urge to do so, but because Christian theology, derived from the prophetic witness we read in the Scriptures, compels us to see people as made in the image of God and, therefore, of infinite value. Our economic and political priorities must derive from this theological anthropology. What is a human being? What is a human society? And how do we order our common life in ways that demonstrate that we believe what we say we believe?

Christians will come to different conclusions about how the scandal of poverty should be addressed. But, we cannot do or say nothing about the realities we see in too many of our parishes each day. If you haven’t done so before, I commend the book of Amos as a primer in such matters.

So, this last synod of the triennium has seen us transition into a new diocese. It gives us an opportunity to reappraise who and how we are. It allows us an opportunity to step back and think differently about why we do what we do in the ways that we do it. It invites us to renew our common vision for the present and future. As we thank God and one another for our life as an aggregate synod thus far, we pray to God and encourage one another as we shape the life of our diocese through the synod to be elected. May God bless us as we seek, in the name of Christ and in the power of the Spirit, to enable the people among whom we live to experience and know the love and mercy of the Father – seen in the life and witness of the people who dare to bear his name and heard in the words of those who sing to his tune.

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21)