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)

How things have changed.
It is a week ago that I headed off to Stuttgart for the Kirchentag – the amazing conference put on across a German city every two years. I have been going for a while and it gets ever better. In 2013 in Hamburg I was invited to preach at the closing service: a congregation of 130,000 and televised nationally. This time I was asked (among other events) to take part in a conversation with Kofi Annan (former Secretary General of the United Nations) and the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The theme of the two-hour discussion: ‘The world is spinning out of control’.

Actually, I was not really needed in this discussion. Like the audience of ten thousand in the huge arena, I really wanted to listen to the two stars discussing what is going on in the world – in the hope of learning something. I did learn, and they deserved the standing ovation at the end. (I was also uncomfortable, though, because I went straight off to hospital after the event to be told I had an “atypical pneumonia” (chest and throat infection) and had to stop. No wonder I wasn’t firing on all cylinders.)

Introduced by the excellent moderator, television journalist Arnd Henze, Steinmeier began with the sort of intelligent paper to be expected from a serious German politician. One of his basic points was that Germany’s behaviour in the twentieth century had caused the world to spin out of control and that Germany now had to take responsibility in the world – not standing back where there is need. He was realistic about the demands and expectations of solutions. Both principled and pragmatic, he passionately articulated the moral obligation to be engaged in the seemingly intractable conflicts and troubles of a changing world.

Having quoted the former Chancellor Willy Brandt, he asserted:

Heute, 32 Jahre nach Willy Brandts Rede ist diese Welt keineswegs friedlicher geworden. So lange ich denken kann, kann ich mich an keine Zeit erinnern, in der internationale Krisen in so großer Zahl an so vielen Orten gleichzeitig auf uns eingestürmt wären wie heute. (Today, 32 years after Willy Brandt’s speech, the world has not become at all more peaceful. As long as I can remember, I cannot think of any time when so many international crises in so many places have simultaneously piled in upon us.)

In his paper later, Kofi Annan wanted to put this into perspective, claiming that the world is a safer and better place today than it was in the past. Urging everybody – particularly the younger generations – to take their responsibility in leading peaceful change in the world (starting small and local), he demonstrated the patient pragmatism that made him able to lead the United Nations through previous crises. In the later discussion I tried to put this into perspective: only 75 years ago nearly 80 million people died in a global conflict – every generation faces its own crises and every generation fears it might be the last

Steinmeier, however, summed up the approach when he said:

Vieles hat sich verändert in diesen Jahren – die Aufgabe nicht. Die Aufgabe von Außenpolitik ist geblieben – wie Willy Brandt ohne jedes Pathos beschrieben hat, nämlich: dass illusionsfreie Bemühen, zur Lösung von Konflikten beizutragen. In einer streitbefangenen Welt voller Krisen und Konflikte, voller Missgunst und Hass, dem Frieden auf die Sprünge zu helfen. Und Frieden lässt sich nicht herbeiwünschen. Er entsteht nicht durch öffentliche Erklärungen; nicht einmal durch Resolutionen der UNO. Selbst die Frage, ob ich Recht habe ist unerheblich. Frieden will erarbeitet werden, meistens dann wenn das was man braucht zum Friedensschluss: Vertrauen, schon restlos ruiniert ist. Deshalb, wenn die Konfliktparteien nicht mehr zu einander kommen, dann kommt es auf Dritte an.

(Much has changed during these years – but the task has not. The task of foreign policy remains the same – as Willy Brandt described without any pathos: the illusion-free commitment to contribute to the resolution of conflicts; in a world of disputation, full of crises and conflicts, filled with resentment and hatred, to lend a hand to peace. And peace doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t come from public statements; not even from UN resolutions. Even the question whether I am right or not is irrelevant. Peace must be worked at, particularly when what is needed for a peaceful conclusion – trust – has already been totally destroyed. Therefore, when the conflicted parties cannot approach each other, that is the time when the Third Party comes onto the stage.)

My contribution was miniscule. But, despite the limitations of such a format, it was a privilege to be invited to take part in this discussion with people who are so deeply engaged in a world that I (and the churches) touch on mainly because of our deep international partnerships and links across the continents.

I began with a statement about how things have changed. This pertains mainly to the fact that I have blogged my way through previous Kirchentags – in order to give wider access to the riches experienced and heard there. These days there is little time for writing this blog – something I regret and hope one day to recover.

Well, if we had any suspicion about polls before, we certainly do now. And, if we needed any confirmation that politicians should tell us the truth and not play to the polls, we certainly have it now.

Like almost everyone else (including the Prime Minister), I expected another coalition and a bit of a mess for the months and years ahead – whichever party had won the right to form a government. I wondered how long we would continue to play ‘majority party’ games in a coalition world. And I pondered on what the role of the church would be under the rolling out of different scenarios.

wpid-Photo-29-Oct-2013-1402.jpgInterestingly (for me, at least), what I intended to write following the election has not been changed by the outcome. Whichever party had ‘won’, the church’s remit would have been the same: to pray for those who govern, to recognise the will of the people as expressed in the election (although that is more complicated to order under the first-past-the-post system), to hold government to account (along with others) by questioning both policy and implementation, to defend the weak and speak for those whose voice is silenced, and to model how leaders might show an openness to listen and learn – changing their mind when necessary and appropriate.

Given the competition to out-do each other in being ‘hard’ on some issues – both economic and social – this critique would have been equally valid whichever party had been elected to govern. The Labour Party would have been as open to this as will, now, the Conservative Party.

Politics is a brutal business, and there are many bruised casualties of last Thursday’s vote. Those who put themselves forward for public office deserve our thanks and not our opprobrium. But, a further casualty of this election campaign was truth. We get the politics we deserve – and we go along with processes in which politicians play the games we allow them to play. The trading of policies almost daily was embarrassing and, sometimes, confusing. The economy might well be the basis on which elections are won or lost, but much of the rhetoric on all sides was competitive obfuscating mirage – and apparently based on the assumption that a market society (as opposed to a market economy) is what we have all now settled for. If we have, we are stuffed.

This is where we need to continue pressing our politicians for the vision that fires their policies, and the basis of that vision. And it is where we need to keep on questioning whether the economy is there for people, or people there for the economy. There is a fundamental visionary distinction there, but it is not always clear whether that distinction is recognised.

The Prime Minister and his colleagues now deserve and need our prayers as he and they negotiate a raft of contentious issues and play the parliamentary numbers game. It is going to be an interesting ride, but I suspect it is not going to be a comfortable one … for anyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, now to business.

The current rhetoric around immigration, asylum and 'foreigners' is not one might call constructive. Statistics are bandied around, particularly by politicians determined to cut numbers. However, behind the numbers are people.

Last week I visited PAFRAS, a centre dedicated to care for and serve asylum-seekers and refugees, based in a church hall in Leeds. PAFRAS stands for 'Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers'. It is a charity, runs mainly on volunteers, and is interested purely in the human faces behind the bald statistics. They feed them, offer community and human society, screen them for medical needs and offer advice in a range of matters. They also run classes for teaching English. Food is also provided and served by a group of young Muslim men who asked to be involved.

What is remarkable is how all this goes on without remark. It isn't done for kudos or gain, but in order to help some very vulnerable people. Yet, what you notice in visiting and speaking with people there is that behind the factual vulnerability of their circumstances, there are some very impressive people who have the determination to withstand poverty in order to make a better life. Many are here because they would have had (literally) no life in their country of origin.

People who bandy statistics should be compelled to visit such places, meet such people, listen to their stories, look them in the eyes, then return to the narrative lent credence by the use of statistics.

Interestingly, this visit followed a visit earlier in the week to the National Coal Mining Museum for England. Apart from finding myself in a deep pit – OK, only 140 metres down – I had to think through the way in which (in some cases) centuries of mining had shaped the sociopsychology of whole communities … and how the abrupt ending (for economic reasons) of this industry deeply scarred these communities, probably for decades to come.

Again, behind the headlines and the economic/political debates there are people with faces and histories – relationships forged and torn apart by the strikes of the 1980s. Yet, while some have engaged in forgiveness and reconciliation, others remain isolated by their former allegiances.

It is not for me to cast judgement on this. But, as with the asylum-seekers and refugees at PAFRAS, human beings bring stories and memories, cultures and relationships, commitments and costs. Sometimes it is important to step back from rhetoric and judgement, and to look and listen – and to see the complicating human person behind it all.

This evening I am going out to the Saturday Gathering, a young church community in Halifax where all-comers – including some of the most vulnerable people in the town – have found love, grace, unreserved care and genuine fellowship. I will be baptising a family of four. Tomorrow I will be at Wakefield Cathedral to preach at two 'hospice' services in the afternoon for people who have been bereaved – we expect around 1,100 people to take part. Behind all these encounters echoes the haunting melody of the Gospel reading read always at Christmas: John 1:1-14. “The Word (the logos, the idea) took flesh and lived among us”… the 'incarnation' changes everything. God comes to us – not vice versa – and we find that we have already been found by him.

That is what underlies the commitment of many who give themselves through the church to the most vulnerable people in our society: love has to take flesh, and the most surprising people can open their eyes and know that they matter.

(And when I go to the meeting of the House of Bishops in London on Monday, these are the people and places that shape the lens through which we do the business.)

 

This is the text of my Presidential Address to the first Diocesan Synod of the Diocese of Leeds (West Yorkshire & the Dales) on Saturday 22 November 2014 in Harrogate. Of course, we have been getting down to the business of ministry and mission ever since the day the diocese began (at Easter 2014), but this is where we begin to establish the governance of the diocese and make provisional decisions that allow us to move on. These can then be revisited and refined or changed as time goes on.

Every now and then it is good for any institution to be compelled to ask what and whom it is for. A reality check is essential, if we are to live in the real world, establish realistic priorities, and not simply limp through life comforted by illusions of adequacy.

Well, I guess we are getting a bit fed up asking these questions by now! For nearly four years we have been walking through the Valley of Uncertainty towards the brave new world of West Yorkshire and the Dales, being compelled to ask fundamental questions about the shape, role and raison d'être of the Church of England in this part of the world. We bring our inherited stories and traditions, our experience and assumptions, and we have had to have the courage to choose change (rather than allow ourselves to be victims of it).

So, now we are here. The work of transition has been demanding and difficult, complex and challenging, but it has also opened up for us new possibilities and new opportunities for recovering and re-appropriating the core of our mission as a church of Jesus Christ. And this transitional work continues today.

At this first synod of the Diocese of Leeds it is important to recognise the journey we have been on. Although the Bishop's Councils of the three former dioceses have formed the transitional Bishop's Council in the last year, this is the first time the three former synods have come together as a single synod for a single diocese. Furthermore, we convene today knowing that we then only have one further meeting before being dissolved – an experience with which we are becoming very familiar – in summer 2015 ahead of the election of a new synod for a new triennium. We live in interesting times, and I will return to this scenario in a moment.

First, it will not have escaped your attention that we begin this morning without John Tuckett who has served as the Programme Manager and acting Diocesan Secretary since the inception of the new diocese. John came to us as Programme Manager without a programme to manage. He has stuck with us despite many challenges (not all of which have been seen in public). Despite many opportunities to move on, he has shown great loyalty and commitment to what we are trying to do. He has brought an outside eye and, both implicitly and explicitly, challenged the assumptions behind the church and diocese's way of doing things. He has done what we asked of him.

However, John informed me last week that he has been headhunted for another post and will be leaving us. As you can imagine, this came as a great shock to me – as it probably has to you. Given his drive and energy, his loss leaves us with a big change and a huge challenge – especially given the timing. I and the chairman of the DBF have agreed to release John with immediate effect, in accordance with the terms of his contract, and to reconfigure how we should proceed as a diocese from here. The news of his departure has not come at the most convenient time for us, but it also opens up a fresh opportunity to re-think and re-shape.

Before moving on to what happens next, I want to record my and our gratitude to John for the work he has done among us and the challenge he has brought to us. We wish him well in the next stage of his career.

When John came among us several years ago, we were three dioceses approaching change in different ways and with different levels of enthusiasm. No one – and certainly no one bishop – could lead the process. John was appointed to drive the process and try to hold it together, but with no certainty of any particular outcome. We then had to await the determining vote of the General Synod. We then had to wait another seven months for the announcement of who would be the first Diocesan Bishop of Leeds… who then had to be put in. During this time the common thread was John Tuckett working with Debbie Child and Ashley Ellis. Bishop Tom Butler agreed to emerge from retirement and serve as the chair of the transitional DBF as well as the acting Area Bishop of Bradford. We have relied on the generosity, maturity, vision and wisdom of some very remarkable people to whom we owe a great debt.

However, we are now in a different place. We are a single diocese and have our team of bishops identified and (almost) in place. Hard work has gone into researching and imagining new ways of being a diocese and doing our business within the constraints of legislation by which we are bound. We have bedded in new ways of working and have now identified the projects we need to work on in order to shape the diocese we want to be for the future.

Additionally, I am pleased to announce this morning that Dr Richard Noake has been appointed as the Diocesan Director of Education and will take up his new responsibilities soon. There is a lot of work to be done. Furthermore, I am now working on the appointment of a Diocesan Chancellor, and hope to have made progress before the end of the year.

As you can imagine, we have not had much time in which to come to terms with John Tuckett's news, and to re-think how to proceed from here. That being said, and recognising that this now inevitably and belatedly changes elements of the agenda that had already gone out, I have asked Debbie Child and Ashley Ellis, working together as joint acting Diocesan Secretaries, to lead our administration and to help structure the change programme we need to deliver more quickly. I am pleased to say that they have agreed. We know we can have complete confidence in them.

Today we face an agenda that appears to be inward-looking and institutional. It is. There is no option. It has taken a considerable amount of work to get to this first Synod at this time and we have no option but to attend to those decisions laid upon us. We cannot act as a synod without standing orders – even though we know the standing orders before us today (with some helpful amendments) simply get us going and give us the space to work on them properly during the coming year. We need a budget for 2015 – even though we know some of the figures might be proved inaccurate because of factors that might change our priorities and ability to do what we set out to do. We need to establish the foundation of our governance – even though we know we will then have to do a considerable amount of work in fleshing it out and making it work … whatever the 'it' might turn out to be once the Synod has decided.

This means that we are being invited today to agree on a way forward, not to make final and ultimate decisions. What we decide today will allow us the space to do more work in the next few months on how we want to shape our ways for the future. Therefore, I hope we can be mature about our processes, keep means and ends in perspective, and conduct ourselves with wisdom and generosity.

So, our agenda might be inward looking – we have no option here unless we want to stay overnight and fill tomorrow as well. But, this should not blind us to the context in which we meet. We should all be immensely proud that the last motion to go to the General Synod from the Diocese of Bradford and the first to be debated from the Diocese of Leeds was focused not on churchy matters, but justice for the people of our parishes. Those whose poverty is deepened by the so-called Bedroom Tax need the voice of those who see beyond the politics to the human need. Ian Fletcher drove the motion that went through on Tuesday without opposition. Today the joint Disability Forum launches here access guidelines 'Welcome, Inclusion and Respect'.

Furthermore, our domestic political agenda is shadowed by the massive crises faced by millions around the world. It is said that fifty million people have been displaced by recent conflicts and the scale of human suffering – to say nothing of the seeds sown for future violence and conflict – is almost too much to imagine. As we know, our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere are being persecuted with horrific violence – and they need to know that they are not forgotten. We must continue to pray; we must continue to give – to aid agencies, to Christian agencies providing particular types of care and relief, and to act – lobbying our politicians, engaging with the media and shaping debate about our priorities and values. Are we content to live in a country that refuses to address the question of asylum for people who have lost everything and have nowhere to go back to? Or to choose to allow large numbers of people to drown in the Mediterranean Sea in order to discourage them from escaping their homelands?

Well, we might be content or we might be appalled. That is for each of us – individually and together – to work at as we enter 2015 and think through our politics in the light of our theology. In between, we celebrate at Christmas the God who comes among us, entering into the heart of the world's joys and sufferings, shining light into the darkness and exploding the misery with costly hope.

As we faithfully and humbly continue our work of shaping this diocese, we may do so with confidence: in God who has called us to be drawn by hope and not driven by fear; in each other as we bring our gifts and passions, our strengths and weaknesses to our discipleship and our common life and mission; in the church as it creates the space in which people can find that they have been found by God. In all we do and say today may we keep in mind our vocation to be a confident and vibrant church and diocese, equipping confident clergy to enable confident Christians to live and tell the good news of God in Christ across the parishes of this diocese and region.