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

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

I suppose it was funny really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loving. Living. Learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have a weird life.

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

Me and Nick Baines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we cannot pretend ignorance.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, why did we do it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cranach Altar in Weimar

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

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

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

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

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

Zum Beispiel in Deuteronomium 26:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Cox is doing a tour. Book now.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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