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

I am doing a run of Pause for Thoughts on Zoe Ball’s Radio 2 breakfast show at the moment. The first was last Tuesday. What happens with this slot is that I agree a theme with the editor the morning before, do the script, take on board any comments, then finalise before it gets “complied”. Sometimes I go rogue and write  two or three on different themes, so he has a choice – it all depends how fertile my imagination is on the day and how much headspace I have.

Last week I wrote a quick script about the Viking invasion of England and it’s impact on Whitby. Exactly! No surprise, then, when the editor texted me with words to the effect of: not a classic Baines script, not Radio 2 and could you try something else? One moral of this story is: never ever write for public media if you aren’t prepared to hear criticism, bin it and start again. Not bad advice for preaching, either, I think.

Anyway, what I had hoped to muse on in relation to Whitby and the Vikings was this. When we visited Whitby again a couple of months ago we spent some time in the ruins of the abbey. There is a plaque there that (rather blithely) says that the Vikings paid a visit in the late eighth century, after which there wasn’t a Christian community there until one returned two hundred years later. The Vikings sacked Lindisfarne in 793 and Whitby wasn’t far behind as the Scandinavians launched their first package tour to Britain.

Did you notice that timeframe? Two hundred years. Two centuries. Now, doesn’t that provide a bit of perspective on whatever is happening in the immediate present? (I was speaking – the same day as the Zoe Ball gig – with Imam Qari Asim at an online Common Purpose event for senior leaders in the north, and was asked about resilience in leaders. I responded with my own perspective-calibrator for when I hit major problems or challenges: in the context of the entire history of the known universe, will we survive this? The answer is usually ‘yes’.)

Now, I know I bang on about time and perspective a lot, but I make no apology for this. We cannot read the Scriptures unless we have a proper sense of how long time takes. The Exodus followed four hundred years of exile and growing oppression in Egypt – fine if you lived at the beginning or towards the end and, therefore, have a memory of ‘home’ to hold onto or some hope of resolution to inspire you; but, what if you were born two hundred years in and none of your preceding or succeeding three or four generations had known anything other than captivity? Following liberation from, the people spent a generation in the desert having to either die off or sort themselves out for what they had been freed for. Only then could they enter the land of promise and even begin to establish a different sort of society in which justice and mercy were the dominant contours of their common life.

So, we too easily read a plaque about two hundred years of defeated vacancy in Whitby and breeze over to the next bit of ‘interesting information’ without attempting to live into that experience and how it might have shaped our Christian ancestors in Yorkshire.

Why am I talking about this today? Well, I want to encourage us in this final Synod of the extended triennium to keep a sense of perspective as we look back at an extraordinary couple of years and look ahead to what the world – and the church – might look like in the next few years. We know in our heads that the only constant in this world is ‘change’, but we find it equally hard to navigate change (a) proactively and (b) where it is thrust upon us. Change is always changing: we either shape our future or we complain about being victims of other people’s decisions and choices. The former is healthier for both individuals and communities.

So, today I want to thank all of you who have given your time, attention, wisdom and gifts to the life of the Diocese of Leeds through its Diocesan Synod since 2017. Remember that in 2017 we were only three years old – a toddler Diocese in the grand scheme of things. We had begun to turn our synodical attention away from basic matters of constitutional detail onto a strategy for growth and development. I remember encouraging members of the synod to bring from deaneries the wider concerns of the Christian Church in a challenging society – not least in the wake of the extremely divisive Brexit referendum in 2016 and all that followed (and continues). Then the pandemic hit and we all entered uncharted territory, having to hold our ministry and mission in tension with government instruction, all with total uncertainty of how long this would last, what damage it might do, and what we might look like once we emerged at some point in the future.

So, my gratitude is neither superficial nor trivial. As the Bishop, I am so proud of the maturity, transparency and vision with which the Diocese and synod have navigated this strange land to this point. I hope many of you will stand again for the synod as we shape our future at a point when we cannot know what shape we are in (in terms of finances, congregations, demography, patterns of church life, and so on). Yes, we have learned a lot about how things can be done differently in a hybrid world, but we need all our collective energies, wisdom and discernment – to say nothing of courage and commitment – as we emerge into a new world.

I also hope you will encourage younger people to join us and get stuck in as, together in synod, we seek to be what Walter Brueggemann called “freshly faithful” in the next three years and beyond. We need to be a diocese of all the talents, so to speak.

But,speaking of talent, we also say farewell today to two of our number who have been integral to our development as a diocese. Canon Sam Corley, chair of the House of Clergy, is leaving us to go west of the Pennines (where the rain is wetter) to be the next Bishop of Stockport in the Diocese of Chester. I know he will be greatly missed across the diocese in so many respects: vocations, synod, civic and business communities in Bradford and Leeds, and so on. Sam, you go with our love, gratitude and prayers as you begin episcopal ministry in a part of the world where the football is simply lamentable.

We also say good bye to Jerry Lepine, Dean of Bradford for the last seven years. Jerry came with no illusions about the size of the task, but has been positively integral to the essentially trinitarian innovation of working three cathedrals (and three deans) in one diocese. Jerry is notable for always being cheerful, whatever the challenge, and has brought a new shape and confidence to Bradford Cathedral. Civic representatives have expressed to me their misery that Jerry is to retire at the end of July. Jerry and Christine will be moving to Derby in retirement and they, too, go with our love and gratitude and prayers. (The process for identifying the next Dean has begun and final interviews are expected to take place in November, suggesting that we will have someone in place in the spring.)

Nothing stands still. Archdeacon Anne Dawtry has announced her retirement from 31 October, but this will not be her final synod; so, we won’t say farewell to her today.

Today we do have to attend to serious business. It is no secret that our Diocesan finances have been hit hard by the pandemic and its consequences. I am hugely grateful to Irving Warnett and the Finance, Assets and Investment Committee who work so hard on our behalf to ensure that our financial decision-making is strategic and not simply reactive. Geoff Park and Jonathan Wood are doing excellent work to manage money and other resources to best effect in extremely challenging circumstances. This synod will today hear more about this and how our Cost Review might develop further.

What is clear is that we will have serious decisions to make in the years ahead. We won’t always know whether we are making the right ones – life isn’t like that, and we don’t have the gift of knowing everything the future might hold that, had we known it, might have led to different decisions in the past. But, we honour the integrity of all involved as we wrestle with these hard questions about how to reduce cost and increase income across the board. Please pray for all involved.

Yet, as we know all too well, the world doesn’t stop while a pandemic runs its course. Today we will look at the Living in Love and Faith process as the Church of England – uniquely, I think – tries to navigate a course through questions of sexuality, gender and identity which are the subject of massive struggle and debate across society at the moment. Some people have assumed that LLF is aimed at smuggling in a decision to change the church’s teaching or to simply bolster the status quo. In fact, LLF is about bringing together Christians of different experience, conviction and perspective in order to place argument or discussion within relationship. It might be that no one changes their mind on these issues; but, it is hoped that their mind, attitude and thinking might at the very least be shaped by new relationships that allow honesty, integrity and faithful belief to be heard, witnessed and appreciated for what it is.

To this end, I am called back to Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi when he urges this divided community of young Christians to “have the same mind” – not, as you might think, the same opinion or view – which he goes on to say is “the mind of Christ” who laid aside his rights and claims, stepped down from a place of invulnerability, and opened himself to the complexities of a mucky world and complicated humanity. The focus here is on relationship and humility, not on uniformity. (I’ll resist the temptation to do another Bible study here.)

And all this is going on while we face the climate crisis and our responsibilities in it. The wider church is addressing governance, simplicity, emergence and effectiveness of our structures and processes. Some of us are involved deeply in some of these groups, and we need your prayers as well as your sympathy!

So, let me conclude. Earlier I quoted Walter Brueggemann when he speaks of us being “freshly faithful” as we emerge from the pandemic into an uncertain and different world and church. In another context he urges what he calls a “tenacious solidarity”. This tenacity is, of course, rooted in what the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka called a “solidarity of the broken”. We belong together and we are in this together. We need no reminder of our brokenness, for Christian faith starts with our brokenness as a reality (but moves on to redemption and renewal and resurrection). But, when I see the failure, blindness or weakness of my neighbour, I see through it to my own. Grace, generosity, mercy and love are what characterise Christians doing their business in and through the church, but always for the sake of the world we are called to serve in humility and confidence and with fragile faithfulness.

We turn to our business in this spirit. Even if the Vikings or a coronavirus do their damage, they do not have the final word. God does. And he who has called us is faithful.

This is the text of my sermon in Ripon Cathedral this morning as the light streamed in.

Don’t tell me of a faith that fears
To face the world around
Don’t dull my mind with easy thoughts
of grace without a ground.

[Chorus]
I need to know that God is real!
I need to know that Christ can feel
the need to touch and love and heal
the world, including me!

Don’t speak of piety and prayers
Absolved from human need;
Don’t talk of spirit without flesh
Like harvest without seed.

Don’t sate my soul with common sense
Distilled from ages past
Inept for those who fear the world’s
about to breathe its last.

Don’t set the cross before my eyes
unless you tell the truth
of how the Lord, who finds the lost,
was often found uncouth.

So let the Gospel come alive
in actions plain to see
in imitation of the one
whose love extends to me. (John Bell, The Sorrow)

“Whose love extends to me.”

One of the really intriguing things about the story told through the sixty six books of the Bible is that people keep having their name changed. Note: they don’t change their own name; their name is changed for them – and apparently without the courtesy of asking them first. Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah; Simon becomes Peter (the Rock) – although the granite he assumes is meant turns out to be a leaking limestone; Saul becomes Paul.

Names matter. They are not simply a moniker or a label. They say something about the nature of the person. Or, in these cases, the nature God sees in them … despite the evidence to the watching world around them.

Take Simon who becomes Peter, for instance. He’s the one who constantly misunderstands Jesus, but, still pledges undying allegiance to his friend … just hours before denying even knowing him when asked by a young girl in a garden. It is this Peter who deserts Jesus at the point when his need is greatest and his loneliness most powerful: on the cross. This Peter returns to the old life, fishing on the familiar lake in Galilee, the hill country of the north which was home until the carpenter’s son drew him into a whole new world just a couple of years before. And it is this Peter who has the most beautiful and excruciating conversation with the risen Jesus at his old workplace, the beach, in which his failure is laid bare … before he is restored by love that suffers no illusions.

This same Peter, the one who ran away and who doesn’t seem to “get it”, we read later is out on the streets risking life and limb while telling anyone who would listen that his friend had been executed, was truly dead, but now was alive. Not resuscitated. Not recovered from a bad swoon or fainting fit. Not popping back to life like some magic trick. But, raised to new life by the God about whom many were sceptical.

In our reading from Acts 10:34-43 we find this same Peter having undergone in the preceding verses a radical conversion. Put simply, his assumptions about who God is for were turned upside down. To misuse a different image, a stone had been rolled away and now he could see that God could not be trapped by human limitation or prejudice. I think he might have appreciate the lines from the Welsh poet RS Thomas (I quoted in a Thought for the Day on Radio 4 on Good Friday):

History showed us he was too big to be nailed to the wall of a stone chapel, yet still we crammed him between the boards of a black book.”

The implications of the resurrection gradually shook Peter’s view of God and re-shaped his love for people. And here he is, speaking boldly in public about the resurrection of a dead man. Even mockery or ridicule won’t stop him now.

As Tomáš Halík, the Czech Roman Catholic priest and professor of sociology in Prague, says in a newly-published sermon for Easter Day in lockdown (The Time of Empty Churches, available only in Czech and German at the moment): “We believers have no monopoly over Christ”. In other words, not even we can trap him within the limitations of our own pieties, prejudices or prayers. The resurrection whispers that God is free, that death does not have the last word after all, that Jesus will not be trapped in a place of decay behind a stone that won’t be rolled away.

But, it’s not just name changes that matter in the Scriptures. Names themselves are significant. As Mary Magdalene found out in the garden on Easter morning.

Let’s have a look at John 20.

In John’s Gospel light and darkness are very significant. John asks us to pay attention to light and darkness as we encounter the people who met Jesus along the way. Here, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb “while it was still dark”. She expects to find a corpse and is shocked to find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. In John’s account she is alone, so runs to tell the men – including Peter – that someone has done something with the body. The implication of verse 2 – “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” – is that the authorities have, for their own ends and purposes, removed the body.

Confusion, bewilderment, fear. Not joy, excitement, understanding.

Then, after the men have seen for themselves (because women’s witness statements didn’t count until verified by a man) and returned to their homes, Mary weeps and cannot leave this place of poignant mystery. When asked “Why are you weeping?”, she reprises verse 2: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

And it is here – right here in the place of bereavement and inexplicable loss – that the risen Jesus comes to her. He doesn’t wait for her to get her act together and approach him; he comes to her. Mary, thinking he might be one of them, asks him to tell her where the body is to be found. And here we have the beauty, the simplicity, the directness of the mention of a name: “Mary.”

It was this that dispelled the darkness and opened her eyes. Jesus, the same but different, knows her by name. And in this gentle naming of her, in her place of despair, she knows that she is loved.

That is the Easter story. And it is this that the Christian Church is called to live out in whatever context or society we find ourselves living.

But, the story doesn’t end there. Her instinct is to grab Jesus, to hold onto him, to not let him go again. And Jesus won’t let her. There can be no bolder statement that we cannot possess Jesus. We cannot trap him within our own needs or wants. We cannot mould him to suit our political or ideological preferences or passions. If he won’t be contained by the grave, then he is unlikely to be constrained by my desires, comforts or conveniences.

I don’t know where all of us stand today in relation to the world’s suffering or the imminence of death and loss. But, I do know that the encounter between Mary and the risen Christ fills the world with hope and light. We might feel that we only ever come to him in the darkness, where we are confused or afraid or suspicious; and that’s OK. We might approach this Easter Day with tears and weeping, feeling lost or bereft – for whatever reason. We might feel the absence of God or the fragility of faith. And if we do so, sharing what a Czech philosopher, Jan Patočka called ‘the solidarity of the broken’, then we will not be ashamed to hear the questions put to Mary: “Why are you weeping?” and “For whom are you looking?”

Why? Because when we have let down the defences and faced the powerful reality of loss and fear, then we are able to hear the whispering of our name by the one who knows us inside out and loves us to death and beyond. He is not the disinterested judge who looks for our faults or inadequacies, but, rather, the Wounded Healer who holds out hands with holes in them and speaks our name into the silence of the place of darkness.

That, I think, is why we can rejoice. No bland escapism or romantic attachment to a comfort blanket of faith. Rather, the courage to be exposed to the searching love of the crucified and risen Lord who cannot be surprised by us or by anything the world can throw at him. This is the liberating power of Easter and resurrection: we look for God, for hope, for deep meaning in life and society … and we end up discovering that God has already found us … and spoken our name.

This is no faith that “fears to face the world around”, or “dulls my mind with easy thoughts of grace without a ground.”

I want to conclude with a verse from another song by John Bell – one I quoted to the clergy of the diocese on Maundy Thursday and in Wakefield Cathedral last night at the Easter Vigil. It takes seriously the reality of the world and our experience; but it looks to the future,  changed by life’s experiences – a pandemic and all that has happened in the last year, for example – and beckons God’s people, the followers of this same Jesus, to be surprised by joy:

Sing, my soul, when light seems darkest,

Sing when night refuses rest,

Sing though death should mock the future:

What’s to come by God is blessed.

Amen.

This is the basic text of my Maundy Thursday sermon in Bradford Cathedral and streamed for the clergy and lay ministers of the Diocese of Leeds:

“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:1)

We do not lose heart. Good for Paul.

But, what if we do? What if mood or circumstance or experience close down our horizons and dim the lights of love and vocation? What if the exigencies of the last year have ground us down and diluted our confidence? What if we are no longer sure how to do our ministry when the ground has moved and the familiar ways don’t work any longer?

Do we carry on pretending, in the hope that things will improve? Or that my mood will change when the sun comes out and the trees begin to blossom? Or that God will do a miracle and transform my personality and make everything OK again? (I remember when I was younger thinking that this is exactly what God had done to me; but, it turned out to be the steroids.)

Well, I recently had a conversation with someone I hadn’t met before who challenged my contention that what we need in these strange and testing times is hope and not optimism. Optimism assumes that things will get better – often despite all the evidence; whereas hope draws us through the reality, however good or bad that might actually prove to be. I think the challenge was around whether that hope ought to be showing a bit more brightness (optimism) – an upbeat vision for the future. I will return to this shortly, but it is a challenge I have thought about a lot since the conversation.

Because I think this goes to the heart of where we are as a church – and as clergy and lay leaders – emerging from a dreadful year of lockdowns, isolation, tragedies and loss. Without warning, we have had to adapt practices, invent new rituals, create community using unfamiliar media, try to shape a changed workload – especially when the normal means for exercising pastoral care have collapsed. It has reminded me of my feeling as a parish priest that if I were to have a slogan or motto, if would be in three-foot high letters around my study wall and would say – confidently – “Everything you do is wrong!”

I wasn’t being miserable. It’s just that if I visited one person, then I wasn’t visiting a couple of hundred others, and, to someone’s mind, I will have made the wrong choice. In ministry we get used to having to set priorities in pastoral care that might always prove to be the wrong ones. But, we get on with the job anyway, despite a lack of certainty regarding our choices.

And this last year has demanded of our churches and ministers an exhausting willingness to change, innovate, limit and expand – and all without any certainty that we are, in fact, getting it right.

Did some of us feel overwhelmed by the new demands? Yes. Did others among us look at our neighbour’s creative enthusiasms and feel inadequate (not least, technologically)? Certainly. Did some use lockdowns as an excuse for laziness? Possibly. Did others become manically activist and hide the fear behind new initiatives or organisation? Probably. Did some feel paralysed by insecurity or dread of being seen to fail? Inevitably. And did some look at their neighbour’s weakness and compare themselves accordingly? Maybe.

And that is all OK. If that complex of reactions is the reality, then that’s what we will deal with. But, how might we think about all this on this day, as we sit with Jesus and his friends as they rehearse their foundational story and celebrate the liberation of his people in the Exodus? How are we to think about our re-commitment to our vows as ordained clergy or our commissioning as lay leaders and disciples of this same Jesus?

(I am conscious today that we celebrate this service in communion with our sisters and brothers in very different contexts across the globe, particularly in Sudan, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the USA, Germany and Sweden. The contexts might differ, but the commitment is the same.)

Luke 22:24-30

Jesus has come with his friends to celebrate the Passover meal. Their minds are full of hope that the liberation of God’s people, celebrated in this meal, might now – this year – be incarnated afresh as Jesus leads the expulsion of the Roman blasphemers, heralding the return of God among them. They have been praying for several hundred years for this moment, repeatedly being let down by would-be messiahs who promised much, but always delivered only disillusionment. Yet, now, what Jesus had spoken of as the “Kingdom of God” was imminent – something to be anticipated and celebrated. Spirits are high.

Yet, here, in this upper room, Jesus is surrounded by people who have missed the point and argue about their status. For one of them, Judas, Jesus is not going about things in the right way and his hand is going to have to be forced. No doubting Judas’s passion for the kingdom of God or his personal commitment to seeing it realised. Another of them has a self-image that is illusory and deceptive: Peter might think he is made of granite, but will soon discover that his rock is actually leaky limestone.

Betrayal, denial, illusion, optimism. All are there in that room.

It’s the loneliness of Jesus that gets me.

Yet, what Jesus does is take a longer-term view. He re-frames the story of Israel’s liberation, knowing that his friends don’t quite get it. Broken bread and wine outpoured will one day make a different sense for them, but not just now. Jesus isn’t trapped in the ‘now’ to the extent that he can’t see the way forward. He knows also that things said and done now will, when circumstances have changed, complete a picture. A bit like when you look at one of those 3-D images that look like a mess until your eyes re-focus and you suddenly see the dinosaur looking out at you.

In other words, and translating this to our context, being a minister or leader in the name and image of the Christ whose name we bear means seeing beyond the moment, looking into an uncertain future, but knowing that re-telling the story, re-framing the narrative, adding different colours to the picture, might only make sense later. Our job is to look further and deeper and to tell the truth that goes beyond fear.

Terry Eagleton, the Roman Catholic Marxist philosopher, literary theorist and theologian, in his book Hope Without Optimism glosses St Augustine as follows: “There is no love without hope, no hope without love, and neither hope nor love without faith.” (p.41)

You see the point? We articulate hope because we love the people we serve, and we do all this in faith because the world is uncertain and people are a mystery.

At this Passover meal Jesus strips everything back to its essentials, conscious of the contradictions and limitations of the people with him, then goes out to pray as events take their tragic course. Which suggests that our task is also to articulate the heart of the gospel, expose ourselves I prayer to the God who has no illusions about the nature of the rock from which we are hewn, and then face events with faith and love and courage. Even with hope.

2 Corinthians 3:17-4:12

This is why Paul can confidently urge the Christians in Corinth to hold mercy and encouragement together. “Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” We will not be discouraged because each of us knows that our ministry is rooted in the mercy of the God who knows us, and that this mercy has to be experienced before it can be shared.

And what is this ministry of which Paul writes so passionately? Well, he speaks in chapter 2 of “proclaiming the good news of Christ.” He goes on to tell us that we are the “aroma of Christ to God”. We are a “letter, to be known and read by all” – “ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit”. (3:6)

This vocation has not changed from Corinth to now. Paul writes passionately about his sufferings and chides the Corinthians for their fickleness, desertion and easy distraction. In other words, he walks in the shoes of the Jesus he serves … in being surrounded by people like you and me and Judas and Peter and all the rest of them. His world is one of uncertainty and fear. His own mortality was ever before him and he demonstrates in this painful letter the real impact on himself of the pressure to adapt, innovate, move on and drive mission, despite the poverty of the tools he had to implement his task.

Does this sound familiar? It should do.

As Paul goes on to note, the treasure of the glory of God is contained in clay jars. After this last year we need no reminder of our limitations and fragilities. But, we also find ourselves re-orientated towards the glory rather than the clay. We fix our eyes on the glory of God and the promise of the good news of Jesus Christ, empowered by that same Spirit that breathes and blows through the chaos of creation bringing order and life.

As spring has brought sunshine and warmth, and as restrictions have been relaxed and people congregated in parks to leave their rubbish in heaps, people in our communities are grasping at optimism and cheerfulness. The vaccines are working their scientific magic and people are booking holidays in the summer. The world feels a bit brighter and shouldn’t we all be joining in and talking it up?

Well, maybe. But, for us as clergy and lay leaders – all of us followers of the Jesus who went to a cross and bore the wound marks in his resurrected body – we are called to a deeper task: to be both realistic and hopeful, courageous and cautious, and to navigate the changing territory with faith, hope and love. If everything opens up, we will not aim simply to go back to how it was in early 2020; and if we face further lockdowns, we won’t be knocked off course, but will adapt again. For our vocation is not to tick boxes or hibernate until the ‘normal’ resumes, but, rather, to navigate reality and create new norms – ones of faith and hope and love … whatever the circumstances that shape our every day.

I guess that what I am commending is what Walter Brueggemann calls “a return to the land of promise that will be ordered, organised and lived out in freshly faithful ways”. (Virus as a Summons to Faith) Freshly faithful among a people whose strength lies in what the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka called “the solidarity of the broken”.

This is why we now need to open our churches and consider how they can be a locus of hope and joy for our communities, not just our congregations. The need for joyful evangelism has never been greater. One day soon we shall be able to sing again; and when we do, we need to offer vocabularies for all the questions, lamentations, hopes and fears, aspirations and meditations that lead us to open our hearts and voices to the God of mercy who has engaged us in this ministry.

Thank you for all your service in the last year. Thank you for being colleagues and not competitors – the very message Jesus was trying to get through the skulls of his friends. Thank you for your patience and longsuffering. Thank you for ordering pastoral care and for kindling the flames of theological and spiritual hope. Thank you for praying when words have failed; for burying the dead when you couldn’t do justice to the bereaved; for living with criticism and a sense of failure, but with conviction and determination. Thank you for keeping people connected, for sacrificing much in order to love your neighbour through this curse of a public health disaster. Thank you for holding out a confident joy in times of stress and struggle.

We are not out of the woods yet. When we do finally emerge, the world – and the church – will be different. And this is a glorious opportunity to take stock, let go, newly embrace, innovate, negotiate, navigate and shape a different future. This is our vocation now, and we are in it together. No shame, no fear.

For “since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” Or, as John Bell put it in a song I quoted at this service in 2019 – the last time we met together in one place:

Sing, my soul, when light seems darkest,

Sing when night refuses rest,

Sing though death should mock the future:

What’s to come by God is blessed.

Amen.

This is the text of a Presidential Address I gave to the Leeds Diocesan Synod this morning via Zoom.

Eighteenth Diocesan Synod, Saturday 13 March 2021

Sometimes there is no ending. We are just left hanging there, wondering what happens next and who might be responsible for deciding.

Think of Jonah who tries to run from a God in whom he believes, but whom he also resents for maintaining an inconvenient generosity towards dodgy people. The prophet, in hiding from the God who calls him to a personally uncomfortable ministry, finds himself vomited onto a beach and into a reluctant agreement to obey the call to preach repentance and mercy to a recalcitrant people in Nineveh. He does the bare minimum and retreats from the market square to lick his spiritual wounds while, to his horror, the people actually do repent and change their ways. Why can’t God be more like him and feel justified venom towards the sinning people? Why can’t God be just and consistent and blow these people away? (Echoes of the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son?)

He finds himself taking shelter under a tree … which God then causes to shrivel and die, exposing Jonah to the wild sun. Why, asks God, should I not also be free to forgive and set free the people I love anyway? It is about grace. And Jonah the prophet doesn’t like grace when applied to the wrong people – though he wants it for himself.

And then the story ends. What did Jonah do next? What happened – did he get converted? We don’t know. Some biblical academics have suggested that the ending is missing. I tend to agree with the scholars who have concluded that the story deliberately ends there – leaving the reader hanging – because it compels us to use our own imagination and see whether the ending we imagine (or would like) is faithful to the character of Jonah or the character of God.

We could look elsewhere in the Bible and find other cases of (what I sadly might call) endinglessness. Poor Moses, having endured the miserable behaviour and ingratitude of his own liberated people, meets his own end on the edge of getting his reward – leading the people into the Land of Promise. Jeremiah, faithful despite his own misery, disappears into exile and silence. The ending of Mark’s gospel is, according to some scholars, missing. People bump into and glance off Jesus, and we don’t know what happened next: did the rich young man ever come back and say, “OK, I’ve got rid of my securities; now can I come with you?”

But, the people of God, who have been grasped by grace and captured by love, are not dependent on the endings or the ends being tied up. We can live with uncertainty and without fear in the conviction that an ending is the gateway to a new beginning. As Easter will demonstrate, the death and loss of Good Friday do not spell the end of the story; but, Sunday won’t come before we have walked through Friday and the emptiness of Saturday. And that means leaving stuff behind.

Now, this is supposed to be a presidential address to a synod, not a sermon. But, the business of our agenda today, as we deliberate together in grace and love, avoiding either nostalgia or wishful thinking, has to be rooted in a biblical theology that helps us imagine our own future. And that means taking seriously the context in which we meet and do our work together.

The Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann, decades before any pandemic erupted on the world, encouraged the church to be bold in rejecting the dominant narratives of what he calls the empire – those assumptions that explain why the world is the way it appears to be, and insists that everybody thinks the same way. He urges Christians to “re-describe reality” in order for us then to re-orientate towards a different future. That is to say, we don’t accept that today is the end or that death and fear have the last word in this world. We refuse to accept that people are economic cogs whose major function is to consume material stuff in the hope of clouding out the questions about meaning and value. We decline the pressure to think that competition over vaccines is either noble or good. What does “world-beating” imply?

In other words, we are called back to discover the grace of God amid the moral and material complexities of being human in today’s world. Like Jesus looking out from his cross, we look reality in the eye and don’t claim any exemption from the cost of grace and love. We certainly don’t look out in order to claim ownership of the territory from the one on that cross who is there precisely for having given up claims in the interests of love.

This morning we will spend time asking about our experience of a year of lockdowns and pandemic. We will have an opportunity to speak and think honestly about what that experience (and how we think about it) has – or ought to – change us. In his excellent little book Virus as a Summons to Faith Brueggemann writes of Jeremiah: “… the prophetic promise does not intend a return to ‘the good old days’ or a restoration of a previous … arrangement … [It] rather intends a return to the land of promise that will be ordered, organised and lived out in freshly faithful ways.”

In other words, as we confer together the question we face is this: are we open to a future – and an ordering of that future – in which our relationship with one another in the Body of Christ is the holding context and content, and not a fixation on our pet securities, nostalgias or inherited models? Freshly faithful.

Therefore, we join together in considering our future, cognisant of our faithfulness to the past and the biblical narrative of courageous leaving and journeying. The biblical story has not changed, but we might gain fresh insight from our new experience. As I wrote to the clergy at the beginning of the first lockdown last year, having our diaries destroyed has allowed us to inhabit something of the normal life of people in some of our partner/link dioceses in places like Sudan, Tanzania and Pakistan. So, what can we learn? How can we change?

Or, in the quadrant of questions I suggested as a simple framework for planning ahead post-pandemic, (a) what have we lost that needs to stay lost? (b) what has been lost that we need to regain? (c) what have we gained that was OK for this time, but needs to be lost? (d) what have we gained that must be retained and built upon if we are to be freshly faithful?

Across the Diocese of Leeds we will have different perspectives and have enjoyed or endured varying experiences during the last year. But, we now find ourselves moving towards a re-emergence and an honest evaluation of how we might be in and for the future. And we do this not with fear, but with hope, determination and generosity. The pandemic is not the end. The challenge to our churches, not least financially, is not the end. The loss of some familiar routines or practices is not the end. As I have said many times, you can’t argue with reality. But, we needn’t be cowed by reality. Because, as Brueggemann says, we are called to reframe reality – to find ways and words to tell a different story, to read our present circumstances differently, through the eyes of a God who is faithful. Working hard at this will help us in our own churches and communities to live, worship and serve as people of hope and people of joy.

Joy? Really? Yes, unequivocally. Because Christians are not surprised by fear or mortality or uncertainty. They are the raw stuff of Christian living and thinking and praying. For our trust is in the person of a faithful God, not in the outworking of a formula or a convenient bargain with God that ensures our own security.

Our diocese has a strategy derived from three one-word values. Loving Living Learning is not a trite slogan designed to make us feel better. But, our deliberations need to be infused with love (for God, the Gospel, and the creation that is loved by God); with an incarnational commitment to the world as it is, but drawn by a vision (of the Kingdom of God) that comes to us from the resurrection future; with the humility that comes from recognising our fallibility, failings and blindnesses, and sees learning as a virtue and not a weakness.

And what might this look like if we embody these three values? Well, when we come to think about the post-COVID future, we will do so with mercy, humility and love. When we consider the well-being of clergy (which is not in contradistinction to the well-being of lay people), we will look with generosity and hope and not be defensive about where we might have mixed experiences of them. Matters pertaining to the DAC and quinquennial inspections bring these values down to concrete reality: how do we steward the resources God has given us? However we feel about the hard questions of sexuality and identity, will we approach LLF with the humility that allows us to encounter others, listen genuinely, learn from … even if we don’t agree with the conclusions others draw?

It’s a bit like when people say “I love everyone” or “I love the whole world”, but really struggle to love the awkward so-and-so next to me. I call us back to a simple truth: that Jesus did the calling of his disciples and their witness was to follow Jesus together despite their differences of personality, experience and vision. No one was given a veto over who else Jesus could invite on the journey. One of the glories and gifts of Anglicanism is the fact that we are thrown together with other Anglicans, regardless of whether I approve of them or not. That is what deanery synods and clergy chapters are for.

I need to conclude. The days ahead are full of opportunities, some of which we wouldn’t have invited and which we don’t welcome. But, they are the gift we are given, however uncomfortable. The days ahead are full of challenge. But, when has the church (or the human race in any generation) not faced unprecedented challenges? The days ahead are full of promise – the promise of God to be faithful (the “steadfast love” that Brueggemann translates as “tenacious solidarity”) as we seek to be faithful to our vocation as a church in and for England.

I do not know what the future holds. But, I do know we can face it together as the gift that God has given for this generation. We can be confident with humility, creative with fidelity to our story, and merciful as we make decisions of which we might be unsure. In the end, we seek to be the people who answer the prayer we say every day: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.”

Amen. Let’s get to it.

13 March 2021

This is the text of my Presidential Address to the Leeds Diocesan Synod which was, for the second time, conducted online.

One of the most beautiful cities in the world is Vienna. It is one of those places that echoes the heights of human culture and the depths of human misery. One of the things I was keen to see on my first visit there several years ago was the Holocaust memorial by Rachel Whiteread in the Judenplatz. It is really powerful: a large white inverted library with doors that don’t open – suggestive of books that had been burned by the Nazis and the attempt to extinguish the stories of people, 65,000 of them Austrian Jews who perished in the concentration camps. It is known as the ‘Nameless Library’.

What struck me when I visited a couple of years ago was that, standing about ten metres in front of it on the square, is a statue of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the German writer, philosopher and thinker who died in 1781 and is regarded as a giant of the Enlightenment. Given Lessing’s powerful influence on German culture, not least education, and standing between the statue and the memorial, I found myself asking how on earth a country and a culture can descend so quickly – within a few generations – from Enlightenment to Holocaust.

Now, this might seem like a weird way into an address to a diocesan synod in Leeds in 2020. But, it isn’t. We live at a time of massive challenge in which all the assumptions of progress, democracy, patriotism, the common good, and so on, are being thrown up in the air. We do not know how they will land. I grew up in a world that was determined never again to allow genocide – but look what happened in Bosnia and Rwanda. The post-war generation built nations and societies that assumed progress – that the world could only get better; that human beings had evolved through the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century and there was to be no going back; that the conventions of public discourse could only get better.

Well, I give you climate change. I add in Donald Trump and the direct and deliberate undermining of confidence in democratic norms and processes; we don’t yet know the end of the US election story. Or the coronavirus pandemic that has thrown the world into disarray, exposing inequalities and inconsistencies across the globe, but also close to home. Or the hit to the economy of a convergence between the pandemic and the ending of the Brexit transition next month. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh might seem small and distant, but so did Serbia in 1914.

Nothing is for ever. Nothing can be taken for granted. Norms are only norms for as long as they are normal (as opposed to extraordinary). We have no idea what tomorrow will bring; but, we do know that empires and ‘norms’ that take centuries to build can be demolished in weeks. We are not in control of everything.

And this is the context in which we meet as a synod today. We are in a second lockdown and are promised a vaccine soon; yet, we have been promised many things that have not been delivered. Our politics – at home and abroad – are being questioned everywhere, and going back to where we were fifty or thirty or even ten years ago is simply a nostalgic fantasy.

So, what does the church have to say in this context? The church that has been hit by two reports on its handling of sexual abuse in recent months? A church that has been forced by government to close its buildings for worship, rendering its ability to thrive and be properly resourced into the future at best questionable? A church that has just launched a process of addressing questions of love, faith, relationships and identity in Living in Love and Faith?

Let me briefly address each of these in turn.

I welcome the IICSA report and the light it throws onto how the Church of England has addressed abuse in and through the church. Light always exposes reality, and you can’t argue with reality. I am confident that we have a very good and experienced safeguarding team at the heart of this diocese, driving processes and systems that are strong. There is much further to go in offering care and redress to survivors of abuse – nationally – and we are alive to that. Bishop Jonathan leads for the bishops nationally in safeguarding matters and is making a significant difference. I will simply say, in the light of IICSA and the Whitsey Report, that many of the recommendations are already embedded in our systems here. For example, I always take the advice and leading of our Diocesan Safeguarding Advisers who, already, function as ‘officers’ in such matters.

The church, via the bishops, continues to question the rationale behind the closure of churches for worship in the latest lockdown. Closure of buildings does not close the church, but it changes it. We do not know what local church worship, attendance, and so on, will look like in the years to come. We know it will not look like it did a year ago. We can either mourn the loss of what was familiar, or we take responsibility for shaping what might become. As I said earlier, you can’t argue with reality, and lockdown has made immediate a number of challenges we had assumed might be addressed over time.

So, we have not only a challenge, but also an opportunity to be creative and bold and humble as we seek primarily not to recover a form of church life, but to renew the content of that life – our worship of God, our growth as followers of Jesus Christ, and our sacrificial service for our communities in the name of Christ. In short, we will discover whether we believe all this stuff about good news, death and resurrection, self-sacrifice, and Christian truth.

In other words, the situations that gave rise to the writing of the New Testament letters become more identifiable to us in our current situation. We are invited to read Scripture differently now. We can enter imaginatively into the minds of biblical writers because the precarious contingency of their situations is one into which we now have experienced a glimpse. And this, I suggest, is a gift. It reminds us of what we in England have too quickly forgotten: that life is fragile, social order is not a given, and control of the world is actually an illusion born of hubris.

Living in Love and Faith is not incidental to this. There has been a suggestion that the church is dragging its feet in questions of sexual identity because of its contentious or controversial nature. The opposite is true. This is the most significant and serious work done by any church anywhere and it has been published now – later than planned because of the impact on everything of the pandemic – in order to prevent further delay. It opens up a process for encounter with people, not just debate about a topic. I encourage you to look at the materials on the website and to engage with us as we roll out a programme of consultation during 2021-22. Bishop Helen-Ann is leading on this (as she is also part of the national ‘Next Steps’ group with the Bishop of London and others). Bishop Toby was part of the national group that has led on the process thus far.

Identity is not just a matter for people who like that sort of thing. If we are to value human beings as made in the image of God, then we have some complex and challenging – as well as engaging and potentially joyful – work to do. And we need to approach it with open hearts and generous minds.

So, today we have a varied agenda, set in the context I have described just now. Some items look more interesting than others and some are what we might call ‘housekeeping’ – how we order our common life and decision-making. We will consider the well-being of clergy, but recognise that this is not to downplay the well-being of lay people. We will discuss what a ‘re-imagining of ministry’ might look like in the months and years to come, but remembering that any ministry involves all people of all abilities and gifts. We will take seriously the life of the diocese as it is, and we will grow our confidence in its future.

Is that a rash thing to say, given the uncertainties with which we live? No, it isn’t. Our confidence is in the God who calls us, in the Jesus Christ whose church we are, and in the power of the Holy Spirit who constantly drives us out of what is familiar into the places of challenge where life is to be found. The risen Christ keeps telling his friends not to be afraid; we need to hear that clearly. We are called to be the church (and the Church of England with its unique vocation) now; it is no accident that we are here and called for just such a time as this. And we need to build one another up in faith as we venture into the uncertain world of 2021 and beyond. We are called to be faithful, even if some of what we attempt fails. We are called to do our business with faith, hope and – not least – charity.

There are many examples of individuals and churches fulfilling that calling over recent months in the way they have supported both their communities and the work of the church. We have seen parishes across the diocese respond graciously and sacrificially to the financial challenge that was laid out at our last Synod. Since then we have also benefited from the generosity of the national church who have given us the £1m we asked for to help the pressure on our finances. We have also received much generosity from individuals and parishes and I want to express my and our gratitude. We are not out of the woods and there is much to do, but we are moving in the right way and in the right direction.

To conclude. I began with reference to Rachel Whiteread’s Holocaust memorial in the Judenplatz in Vienna. We cannot know what the future holds, but we can so live now that when people in the future look back at how we handled this present world, they give thanks for our courage and wisdom … and don’t simply spot the things we failed to grasp out of fear or familiarity. I trust we will be a blessing to the next generation and not a curse.

As we approach Advent and an unusual Christmas, a changed shape to our collective worship and outreach does not impede in any way the shining hope of God’s presence in the world – even in the cry of a tiny babe (as Bruce Cockburn put it). Our gospel – of light shining in the darkness – is rich and is for today. Comfort and joy are what we have to offer, albeit in a variety of creative ways this year.

We turn to our business in this light and in this spirit. May God bless us in our deliberations together for the sake of his kingdom.

This is the text of my Presidential Address to the Diocese of Leeds Diocesan Synod on Zoom on Saturday 26 September 2020:

We meet today in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We always do. But, today we meet in what is for us unprecedented circumstances. I don’t need to rehearse the pandemic-induced challenges and realities now upon us. I don’t need to draw attention to how this has been handled and communicated or the frustrations evident in both church and society with this situation. What I do want to say right at the outset is that feelings of frustration, regret, disappointment, incompetence to face the challenges, fear for the future, and so on are all perfectly natural, appropriate and understandable. No one should feel alone in this; no one should feel ashamed.

But, that is not the whole story. The current pandemic confronts us – individuals and society – with reality, a reality we can easily discount in what we have come to regard (perhaps somewhat nostalgically) as normal times. This reality provokes fear, but compels Christians to face up to what we really believe about life, death, mortality, morality and meaning. We speak about death and resurrection; now we are faced with questions about these that should not be ducked. There is nothing about COVID-19 that can be called good or a gift; but the phenomenon itself invites us to think deeply about what Christian hope is all about.

I remember doing some bishops’ leadership training in Cambridge and asking our guide in the lunch queue how working with bishops compares with the school’s usual clients – CEOs, chairmen of major companies, business leaders. He said: “There are two things they won’t talk about: failure and death.” “That’s funny,” I replied: “that’s where we start.” The beginning of Christian theology is to be found in coming to terms with what it means to be a mortal human being, made in the image of God, who will be subject to all the contingencies of temporal life and who will one day die.

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome two thousand years ago he wasn’t offering spiritualised musings to people living in some mystical nirvana, dissociated from the real world. The Roman Empire was brutal and life was cheap – power was everything. These Christians knew that merely being Christian was tantamount to signing their own death warrant. Saying that Jesus is Lord was saying that Caesar is not – and they knew what this sort of political sedition would lead to. No romance – just brute reality. What would we do?

And as we now head towards Advent and Christmas we have a glorious opportunity to reflect deeply on what it meant for God to opt into just this sort of world in Jesus of Nazareth: no game-playing, no illusions, no wishful thinking, no feeble optimism (that all would turn out well). For Christian theology is clear: those who bear the name of this Christ are called to live in the world as he did – loving, living, learning; committed to the world as it is, but drawn by the hope for what it might become – the Kingdom of God.

Brothers and sisters, this is what our Scriptures teach us, but which we now read through a different – more urgent and pressing – lens. Life is inherently uncertain; that is what we are called to be faithful in. To return to Paul: when he writes to these persecuted Christians that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ, he is staring our reality in the eyes. Do we believe it.

Now, this is not a sermon. It is, however, important to locate our work today in a context and a theology. Clergy and lay people together, we are called to work out what it is to be faithfully Christian in these times and not simply to regret that things are changing. Faith, hope and love are to be the colours of our complexion. And love, we read, overcomes fear.

The Church of England is looking seriously at how we should re-shape for a different future. The Archbishop of York chairs a ‘Vision and Strategy Group’; I chair a Governance Review Group; the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich chairs a ‘Transforming Effectiveness Group; the Bishop of London chairs the ‘Emergence Group’; and now the Bishop of Ely is to chair a group looking at the future of dioceses and the role of bishops in a changed church. This is not a case of avoidance therapy by setting up committees in the long grass. Rather, they are bold, determined and radical in their intent. We also face the challenge of complexity in it all, and need to keep our work as thorough and simple as possible in order to navigate this unknown territory which we now traverse – knowing where we have come from, but unsure where we are heading towards or what the future might look like. But, we are shaping it anyway and not just sitting waiting for circumstances to do their best or worst.

The question is: when the world has taken a challenging turn and past certainties or assumptions have begun to die, how are we to be the church God calls us to be for the future? And I am not worried. We will face the hard questions with faith, hope and love. We will love, live and learn. We will mess some of it up and get some things wrong. But, we will attend to the challenge anyway.

The Diocese of Leeds is well set to do this with confidence. We will face hard questions about finance, resourcing, church buildings, people, places and how we set our priorities. But, if this sounds familiar, it should do. This is what we have been doing for the last decade when we were given a scheme to dissolve three dioceses and create a new one. Those of us who went through the experience have no illusions about some of the challenges and obstacles we faced, especially during the last six and a half years since we began. And we have shown a resilience and determination in doing so that demonstrates that we have the gifts God has given us already – and we can approach the future with uncertainty, confidence, adventure, curiosity, hope, faith and courage. That, in fact, has always been the vocation of God’s people. This territory might be new and immediate for us, but it is not new for humanity or the Christian Church.

So, we need to come to our agenda today with a sense of realistic imagination and hopeful vision. As I have said to colleagues in the last few months, you can’t argue with reality. So, let’s embrace it and see where we get to. It will be rocky, but it will still be a road.

Our new Diocesan Secretary has joined us in the most extraordinary and challenging circumstances, and we welcome him to his first Synod today. We will be looking at finance, deanery representation, annual reports and the budget – all in the light of the pandemic and its impact on our churches as well wider society. Although budgets are currently works of the imagination, we need to plan and do our work with seriousness and generosity, not least to those having to grapple with detail on our behalf … even when the ground never stands still under our feet. We will do some reordering of committees in order to respond to experience of the governance we set up six years ago. And we will look at lay discipleship and the Rhythm of Life.

Now, someone will ask if this is not all a bit inward looking at a point when the outside world is in a bit of a crisis. It isn’t, if it is seen as a means rather than an end. Having missed two synods in 2020, we have some housekeeping work we have to do. But, it is all done in order to set us free to fulfil our vocation and promote our agreed strategy as a diocese. We need to keep that perspective clear as we move through our agenda.

This address is shorter than normal as our meeting on screen is harder to manage than usual. I am sure you won’t complain about relative brevity. So, I want to conclude by taking us back to the point of it all. We are called in the name of Christ to love, live and learn together in order that across our communities we can reach out with faith, humility and boldness … in order that the love and mercy of God can be seen and heard and felt and embraced by those we are called to serve. That is why we do today what we will do. Given the constraints of the technology, please be patient, forbearing of one another, generous of spirit and hopeful in all we say and do together.

Lockdown is a challenge. But, for me it also allows space for some conversations that might usually get squeezed between meetings and then forgotten.

Yesterday I had two. Both ran around how the current situation impacts us now and might do in the future. My question (or one of them, at least) is this: when life and its routines are disrupted or taken away, which wells do we draw from to sustain life and meaning? While everything changes above the surface and the shape of the future is uncertain, can we locate the underground streams that keep flowing anyway?

There is probably a better way of putting this. But, in a really stimulating conversation with a BBC friend yesterday morning we were wondering if this crisis has revealed the shallowness of many of our cultural or personal wells. It’s a question, not a statement.

For me, as a Christian, the wells – the underground streams – go back a very long way. The creation narratives in Genesis speak of order being brought out of chaos. The Exodus has a people’s settled world being ruptured and them being driven out of the familiar into the strangeness of a desert where they had to lose before they could gain – to lament the loss of a world before being in a position to reorientate towards a different future in a different place. (It took forty years.) Later the people get exiled from the land of promise (twice, in fact – in the eighth and sixth centuries BC) and take time to live with their loss … before settling in the strange land … and then, generations later, having to leave again. They return ‘home’, but discover that home is no longer what they remembered.

I could go on. The Christian tradition lives and feeds from these narratives of leaving and moving and settling only to be disrupted and moved again. And this experience is rooted in an acceptance of mortality and contingency and what goes with the freedom of living in a material world.

But, we don’t usually transition straight from one world to another. We have to stay with the loss, lamenting what has been lost, grieving for a world (or way of life) now gone. People will take a shorter or longer time to live with this. There will be anger, powerlessness and disorientation. And while this is going on some people will accept the new reality and start orientating towards creating a new world.

So, what are the narratives or assumptions that keep us nourished while all this goes on around and above us?

Christian faith does not assume a life (or world)of continuous security and familiarity. It is fed by scriptures that speak of transience, mortality, provisionality, interruption and leavings. But, they also whisper that the endings are always beginnings – the leavings open a door to arrivals that could not have been experienced otherwise. In other words, the loss can be seen as a gift – what Walter Brueggemann calls ‘newness after loss’.

So, as I have suggested to clergy in the Diocese of Leeds, we might be helped in articulating this by asking four questions: (a) what have I/we lost that we need to regain in the weeks and months ahead? (b) what have we lost that needs to remain lost – left behind in another country? (c) what have I/we gained that we need to retain in the future? (d) what have we gained recently that was useful for this season but needs to be lost if we are to move forward?

We might feel sometimes that we don’t have much to go on. The photo below is one I took on a visit to a farm in Gweru, Zimbabwe, back in 2007. During a drought and amid economic collapse, someone had planted a rose in arid ground and watered it each day. It was a prophetic challenge to the desert; it was an act of hope, of prophetic imagination. Today is not the end.

This is the basic text of my sermon at this morning’s Chrism Eucharist in Ripon Cathedral:

Never ever take your vocation – to lay or ordained discipleship and ministry – for granted. For when you do, it will have become a private possession, a personal commodity, an exercise in vanity. The call of God is and has always been very clear: it is not primarily for me/us; rather, it is to me/us, but for the sake of the world and the church through whom the world is to be reached.

A sharp and sober way to begin a sermon on Maundy Thursday. And it might worry you that I have just spent a couple of months on sabbatical being miserable. But, far from the truth. Going away, looking at my own ministry and the vocation of the church for the sake of the world through the lens of other cultures and churches, taking the time away from the detail, tension and relentlessness of the last five years (or 32 years) afforded me the opportunity to take a big step back and think afresh. But, I have come back this week with a renewed conviction that vocation must never become about me, my gifts and weaknesses, my ministry, my needs – unless these are held in the clear conviction (in practice as well as theological or ecclesiological theory or aspiration) that the church and her ministers are called to lay down their life for the sake of the world.

Now, this might sound strange. The Jesus who calls us to be his body, the Jesus who tells his disciples that they will have to carry a cross – and, by implication, get nailed to it – if they want to follow him is the very same Jesus who, in John’s Gospel, promises “life in all its fulness”. So, what might this mean for us who gather today – bishops, priests, deacons, lay ministers, Christians seeking to be faithful to the call of God in a tough old world? I think our readings both give us a clue.

Isaiah 61:1-11

Why does Isaiah see the need to say what he does? Remember: Isaiah 1-39 is addressed to people who have lost the plot in relation to their vocation as God’s people and who are being warned of the consequences of living – unjustly – for their own interests. Chapters 40-55 are addressed to those who now suffer the exile promised in those earlier chapters: what does hope look like to generations of people for whom ‘home’ is neither here (Babylon) nor there (Zion)? Then chapters 56-66 address the people who have now come home, but face new questions they have never had to face before. If, for the exiles, the challenge is to keep alive – for a number of generations – the language of ‘home’ while in exile (at the same time as seeing the place of exile as‘home’), how do they now make sense of being ‘home’ which is now strange to them? The primary challenge facing them is two-fold: how to re-integrate with those who were not exiled and who probably see the returnees as ‘immigrants’? And, secondly, whether they should now seek to build a new home in continuity with the patterns and structures of the pre-exilic past or now create a new society (and shape of worship, etc.) that takes seriously the experience and learnings of exile … which, clearly, means not simply clinging to the ways of the past?

This is a choice every generation faces as they seek to be faithful to God’s call. The challenges of post-exilic Israel could not have been contemplated before, as they had not happened before. So, the questions were new, the challenge was new, and there was not a past to which they could simply return that might have been comfortable or safe. The new questions had to be faced, if these people were to be faithful to the God who had led them out of Egypt, into and through Babylon, and now brought them back to a home that was no longer home. Of course, ‘home’ had grown around it all sorts of mythologies and romanticisms; but, God’s people are called to be courageous realists who look to be faithful in the present – a present that has been re-shaped by experience and has inevitably to be re-thought theologically, culturally and behaviourally by people who dare to bear the name of this God who calls us forward and not backwards.

So, Isaiah goes to the heart of the vocation that had always been that of God’s people: to be the proclaimers, the organisers and the radical demonstrators of the character of the God they claim to serve. Hence, good news to those oppressed by the ways of the world, those imprisoned, pitied, mocked or marginalised by worlds in which empires set the terms and urge us to believe that “this is it for ever”. As an American in Orlando put it to me a couple of weeks ago: “There are wealthy people and there are poor people – that’s just the way it is. Millions have no health insurance, but that’s just the way it is.” He wasn’t applauding injustice; rather, he was simply stating that this is how the world is and he couldn’t see it changing.

Well, I agree with him. This is the way the world is. And I disagree with him: we must hold out, proclaim, work for and model a world that can be different. “For I the Lord love justice.” But, as we know from experience, even justice is not enough and not everybody benefits from justice. (Remember the Magnificat?)

Luke 4:16-21

Why, then, does Jesus choose this passage to read in the synagogue at the outset of his public ministry (according to Luke)? Each Gospel writer chooses a different way to do it, but, in common with the usual pattern of Roman biography, they each have the ‘hero’ of their story set out his stall at the beginning of the narrative of his public ministry.

According to Luke, then, Jesus goes to the synagogue – not to tell them off, not to castigate them for missing the point, not to deliberately alienate powerful people, but, rather, to read the scripture and relate it to now.

Remember, Jesus has just been led by the Spiritinto the desert where he had to face his own demons (as it were). What sort of messiah are you really to be? Drop the fantasies of self-sacrificial generosity that might crumble under pressure! Forget the aspirations for grandeur or the priority of your personal security and well-being! Surely, God is wet; it’s all about love and mercy and sentiment, isn’t it? Shape a comfortable gospel and then model it, Jesus!

Yet, here, where the Spirit has led him, Jesus faces the temptations he will face again in the couple of years ahead – ultimately in Gethsemane and on the cross. And, right here, in this place of abandonment, where he has been brought by the Spirit, he stares into the face of the truth about himself as a human being, seeking to be faithful to the Father, and refusing to deny the attractive power of prioritising himself and his own security. And let’s be honest, he does not know what this will mean in the months and years to come – what new challenges these denials and affirmations will lead him into for which there is no precedent and no easy answer to which to revert to.

So it is that, having faced all this, he stands up in the synagogue and reads from Isaiah 61. And, having done so, he tells the people there that this scripture is fulfilled – embodied, incarnated – in their sight, right there and then. And it went down well. They loved the beginning of the sermon. But, when he then read their tradition in a different way – illustrating how God is also the God of the outsiders – their mood changed and they tried to get rid of him.

I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He had faced in the desert the temptation of shaping good news around his own need for affirmation, and here he decided to tell the truth. He re-tells the story of God and his people in a different way, and it goes down badly. We will see this again at the end of Luke’s Gospel when, walking alongside the couple from Emmaus, he asks them what they are talking about and they tell him how events have confounded their theological hopes. Only once they have told their story in their way (and shown how the end doesn’t compute) does Jesus ask them if he can now re-tell it differently – with the demise of the messiah being essential rather than anomalous to the story of God’s salvation.

And, remember, it is later, after bread and wine have been blessed in their home and Jesus has disappeared from them, that they realise that their hearts burned within them while they walked with him on the road.

There is much that we can take from this. The courage to face the unique challenges today that our forebears never had to address. The imagination to hold together faithfulness to God’s call through history with the responsibility in faith to take responsibility for shaping the present and future. The essential, burning and urgent need for preachers to take the whole of Scripture seriously, teaching our people both Old and New Testaments, not ducking the hard bits, but enabling people to learn for themselves the story of God and his people and to find their place – consciously – in it. Therefore, to take seriously the responsibility we have accepted to preach imaginatively and fearlessly with a confident humility, and to teach the faith: deliberate and serious catechesis, serious preparation of baptism and confirmation candidates – doing what Paul, in Romans 12:1-2 describes as “being transformed by the renewing of our minds”.

But, all without fear and with imagination. As Rowan Williams puts it in his book on Dostoyevsky: “The credibility of faith is in its freedom to let itself be judged and to grow.” (p.10)

I believe this is urgent. Christian faith must not be reduced to merely a private security system – a sort of safe spirituality that tries to keep me going and fulfilled while the world around me can go to hell. We live in times when the need to challenge corrupt-but-dominant world views has never been greater in our lifetime. I know a German pastor who has exercised his ministry in East Berlin since before the Wall fell down. He is passionate –  a word I hate being trivialised into “quite interested or amused by” – about shaping the mindset of a generation of young people being drawn from disillusionment by the intellectual and practical attractions and certainties of neo-fascism, power, dignity and self-assurance. It is little surprise that Steve Bannon should point to the Pope as the enemy of his brand of utilitarian nationalism. Gerhard von Rad, Professor of Old Testament at the University in Jena during the Nazi years, was one of those who refused to bow the knee to fascism. He was one of those against whom more than four thousand Nazis demonstrated in the market square – theology being taken seriously.

Brothers and sisters, I am powerfully reminded this morning of our seriousness as a church, despite a million failures and inconsistencies, to be faithfully captured by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I find this service every year to be deeply moving – personally – as we together affirm again our vocation and our determination to be faithful to it. I have come back to the diocese with renewed admiration for you and a renewed love for our common task. Thank you for your ministry and discipleship.

As we move on through the betrayal of Thursday; the abandonment and denial, and death of all our fantasies about God, the world and ourselves on Friday; the emptiness of Saturday; the glorious irruption into the here and now of God’s promised future on Sunday; may we begin on Monday – following a long sleep – purposefully to proclaim, teach, reach out, live, commend, talk about, argue about, renew our own focus on the Gospel of the Jesus who took Isaiah seriously and shone light into darkness and trusted it would never be extinguished.

As John Bell put it in a song:

Sing, my soul, when light seems darkest,

Sing when night refuses rest,

Sing though death should mock the future:

What’s to come by God is blessed.

Amen.

This is my Presidential Address to the Leeds Diocesan Synod in Harrogate this morning:

When we decided to create the Diocese of Leeds back in 2013/14, who’d have thought that before five years had passed the UK would be leaving the European Union, Donald Trump would be in the White House, the Far Right in both eastern and western Europe would be organising and mainstreaming language and ideas that previously had been kept under the counter (as it were)? (Or that Manchester United would be sinking?) Assumptions about the effortless and inevitable progress of liberal capitalism have been proven illusory, and we have been reminded once again that civilisation – however it is ordered politically – is fragile: we take order for granted at our peril.

Well, I thought I would begin on this cheerful note simply because it sets the context for the business of the church and this synod. The church does not float around in a context-free realm of spiritual isolation in which individuals pursue their personal and privatised piety as if disembodied from the real world. And Christians do not come to worship in church or to deliberate in a synod without being shaped mentally by what is going on around and among us. It is no wonder, then, that Christians are as in danger as anyone else of being driven by fear and anxiety at a time of considerable national and international uncertainty.

I am not sure anyone would put a bet on how Brexit will turn out by the end of March next year. But, whether you are an ardent Brexiteer or a die-hard Remainer, both the uncertainty of the situation and the bitterness of the public discourse in these matters will be of some concern. What is of most concern to me at this point is that argument about substance has been submerged under polarised sloganizing designed at a visceral level to diminish real engagement. However we got here, we are where we are; and simplistic categories – Leaver or Remainer – do not help us steer a common future of mutual respect.

As usual, the language is the give-away. If “the will of the people” is a vacuous and fatuous statement incapable of clear rational defence, then so is the term being used for a second referendum (which, in fact, would be a third referendum…), “the people’s vote”. I don’t think the last referendum enfranchised budgies or aliens. Language really does matter – what is not said as well as what is heard.

But, this is the Orwellian problem we now face – one that will not be solved by liberation from the shackles of Brussels or a return to the Remainer status quo. We now seem happy with the normalisation of lying and misrepresentation by politicians. Just one example from the last few days: Boris Johnson claims that the 1.3 million majority in the referendum was “the biggest majority in our history” – only for the BBC Reality Check Twitter site to reply that the majority in the referendum on joining the EEC in 1975 was 8.9 million.

The point is not the numbers; the point is the shameless lying that, on being exposed, never provokes an apology or retraction. We are getting used to this and learning afresh in the twenty-first century the lesson clearly not learned from the twentieth century that public lying, the categorising and demonisation of other people, and deliberate or careless representation of facts always have consequences – and those consequences are not normally positive. And none of this has to do whether the UK should leave or remain.

However, analysis and criticism are easy. The question we face as a church goes beyond Brexit and Trump and Orban and the far right demagogues bestriding Europe like some embarrassingly pathetic Colossus; it has to do with the need for some agents of reconciliation who have the courage simultaneously to be prophetic and generous. This goes beyond political affiliation or referendum preferences, beyond feelings about immigration and economics. This present context must push Christians back to asking fundamental questions of theology (who is God and what is God about?), anthropology (what is a human being and why do we matter?), sociology (what is a human community and how do we enable the ‘other’ to thrive?) and Christology (who and what are we for if we belong to Christ and are primarily called to resemble Christ?).

I never cease to be amazed by the self-giving commitment of our churches which, often in the face of their own resource challenges, offer food to hungry people, company to lonely people, hope to diminished people, care to abandoned people, and dignity to unvalued people. We now also face the challenge of how to broker conversations and relationships between people divided by sloganized politics, visceral rejection of those who differ, and sheer anger at uncertainty or helplessness in the face of uncontrollable powers. The national church is attending to this, and I will be taking part in an ecumenical colloquium at Lambeth Palace next month as we take counsel from partners at home and abroad. But, each church in each parish needs at the very least to ask what steps – simple and achievable – can be taken in the next few months to bring together what has been divided and begin a healing of what has been wounded. This is our mandate – a ministry of reconciliation between God and people and between people and other people. Regardless of the outcomes next March, the need in the months and years to come for common healing, common vision and common repentance will be demanding and urgent.

Against this backdrop we also do our synodical business today. Our diocesan strategy has been under development for some time in order to flesh out how our diocesan vision might look as we prioritise and make decisions. The vision is the goal; strategy is the plumbing that helps us get there. Vision can remain nebulous and imaginary unless someone does the hard work of asking (and answering) the questions how, when, by whom, how much, and so on. Following considerable road testing with groups, individuals, the Bishop’s Staff, the Diocesan Board, and many others, we bring the strategy to the Synod today. This is not an imposition on parishes or individuals; like our three simple values Loving Living Learning, this strategy invites parishes and churches to ask which elements of it might help them in their local ministry and mission as they, integral constituents of a diocese that has a responsibility to make the best of the resources of people, money and things available, seek to see the Kingdom come in our parts of Yorkshire. I look forward to good and constructive engagement with the strategy as we debate it later.

Yet, this in itself depends on the resources we are prepared to make available for the work of the Church of England in our parts of Yorkshire. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, once famously described a financial budget as “theology by numbers”. I think he was right. How we direct our finances tells the world what we really think matters – what we really believe about God, the world and ourselves as Christians. Money matters – as Jesus made clear when he pointed out that the contents of our heart will be exposed by the way we use our wallets. (He put it more elegantly than that, but the point is the same.) Or, as I put it at the excellent Lay Conference back in June this year: “If we believe it and want it, then we will pay for it; if we don’t believe it or want it, don’t pay for it and we won’t have it.” Brutal, but with the virtue of clarity.

Now, I am not naïve, and it is not as simple as that. Some people, some churches and some communities are getting poorer while others are getting richer. The Church of England takes responsibility for territory – a unique vocation in itself – and this imposes demands on our parishes that can weigh heavily. Yet, we believe in mutual resourcing according to ability and need. What generosity looks like will differ according to context and the discipleship of the people. But, we cannot avoid the hard task and challenge of deciding together how we shall aim to fund the ministry and mission entrusted to us here in the Diocese of Leeds.

This will be challenging. Significant strides have been made to reduce the deficit – this will be explained later. More will need to follow, if we are to afford what we say we want. While all the hard work is going on to work this out, please continue to pray for Debbie Child and Geoff Park in particular as they face the day-to-day hard work of bringing us into line and keeping us real. And pray for those who have asked for voluntary redundancy or who might face difficult decisions in the future as we seek to balance the books. Some have served for a long time and with great loyalty through great change; this is not an easy time, and we thank them for their service, and wish them well in their future.

So, before we proceed with this important business, I want to thank you for being willing to sit on this synod and bring your wisdom and experience to our deliberations for the next three years. When we established our new governance in 2014 the Synod was clear about maintaining a large membership of both clergy and lay people – options had been presented that would have created smaller bodies. However, there are now deaneries that are well underrepresented in both Houses, and we need to explore the reasons for this without jumping to conclusions. That said, we now have a smaller Synod, and I hope all members will feel able to contribute in the knowledge that opinions will be listened to and heard (if not always agreed with) with mutual respect and generosity. Sometimes a single voice might shine light on a matter that a couple of hundred others have not.

I also want to thank and congratulate our new chairs, Canon Sam Corley and Matthew Ambler. Please be kind to them as they get to grips with their new responsibilities – not least in chairing this Synod today. And, as in all things, let us do our business in the name of the Christ who gave himself for us, claims us for his own, and calls us to minister through the church for the sake of his world. May God bless us as we do our best for his sake.

The Rt Revd Nicholas Baines

Bishop of Leeds

13 October 2018

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

Thank you for making it through the weather this time! I am sorry we had to cancel the last Synod in March because of snow – a decision not taken lightly, especially as I had some good jokes in my Presidential Address for that meeting on St Patrick’s Day. (Why do people wear shamrocks on St Patrick’s Day? Because genuine rocks are too heavy! (Boom boom!))

Anyway, back to today and the weighty agenda upon which we are asked to deliberate together. In order to open our thinking, let me report briefly on a recent experience.

Two weeks ago I spent a week in Novi Sad in Serbia, leading the Anglican delegation to the General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches – an event that takes place every five years. Novi Sad lies on the Danube, about an hour north of Belgrade, and became well known in western Europe during the NATO action in 1999 aimed at stopping the Balkan wars that involved the systematic slaughter of Muslims – you might remember the massacre of 7,000 Bosniak boys and men in July 1995.

The Conference (CEC) considered themes such as hospitality, justice, hope and witness. It is easy to discuss such themes if you all come from the same place and share certain fundamental assumptions about God, the world and events. Bring together nearly 500 people from a huge range of countries with their own histories, and from the ecclesiastical spectrum from Orthodox through Anglican and Methodist to serious Protestants, and the exercise becomes more challenging.

The main challenge came as we concluded the six days by agreeing a communique. The preamble to the communique suggested that there was some significance in the fact that we had met in a place where physical bridges had been destroyed in order to build new bridges between Christians of differing confessions. At this point an Orthodox metropolitan wanted to insert a direct reference to the fact that NATO had bombed the bridges of Novi Sad in an act of (unwarranted) aggression. Having listened to a range of one-way speeches by politicians and bishops about “NATO aggression” and the demand to restore territory to Serbia (meaning Kosovo), I was very uneasy about all this. The proposed amendment made a response essential.

The fact is this: the General Synod of the Church of England voted to back NATO action. Secondly, NATO didn’t bomb several bridges in Novi Sad because they had nothing better to do on a wet Wednesday afternoon. And there is a reason why Kosovans want to be independent of Serbia.

So, how can people involved be so blind to the events and motivations that led to NATO action?

The truth is that we all live within narrow lines of experience and understanding. The assumptions that shape our understanding of – that is, the way we see and think about – our world do not often get challenged. But, get a group of people whose experience is different and we might just begin to spot the weaknesses in our own position. You can’t guarantee it; sometimes it is just too costly to drop the ‘prejudices’, and we thus continue to push our case blind to the experience of others.

Well, last Sunday afternoon I installed Bishop Helen-Ann into Bradford Cathedral – two down, one to go (Wakefield next month) – the Old Testament reading came from Jeremiah 6:16-21 and began with these words: “Stand at a crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it and find rest for your souls.” The prophet goes on to challenge the people of God to listen to what they don’t want to hear, and to give heed to what they would prefer to ignore – even though disaster is coming and fear for their future security is growing.

Just as Novi Sad stands on the Danube at the crossroads of Europe and has historically paid the price for its location, so do we stand at a crossroads. Not just the Diocese of Leeds, but we as individual Christians called to be disciples of Jesus Christ in a world that is becoming less secure and more chaotic. Old ways are being challenged or even dismantled, and we cannot know what will follow. Even diplomacy has become undiplomatic in the hands of one or two world leaders. I need not refer more here to the chaos that is Brexit – whichever side of the debate you stand on.

But, we need to hear with clarity and courage the call of God to the prophet – and to us – to stand at the crossroads (a difficult and complicated place to stand) and listen for the voice of God … however uncomfortable that voice might be. One of the big questions that runs through the whole of the Bible is: dare we listen for the word of the Lord, or simply for reinforcement of our own view which we can then claim coincides with the word of the Lord? This is why repentance’ – metanoia, literally a changing of the mind – is the primary call by God to all people, but especially to those who claim his name.

We are no longer a new diocese. We are now a young diocese (though I hope we don’t dwell for long in the toddler stage … and the teenager phase promises to be interesting … or maybe we should not press the metaphor too far?). We have travelled a challenging road since Easter 2014, trying to listen for the ancient wisdom and to be faithful to the call of God to shape our common life and priorities according to his will and his way. 

This is why we held an excellent Lay Conference last Saturday in Harrogate. Clergy and laity, we are the Body of Christ, with a particular vocation as the Church of England in this part of the world – a vocation that involves, as it always has with people who follow the call of God, laying down our life, our preferences, our priorities, for the sake of the Kingdom of God. The last four years have been about that mission, and it has not always been comfortable. However, it has been our vocation, and we have had to choose whether to bemoan it or join in and shape it. The Lay Conference felt like a significant milestone in our life and I wish to express my deep gratitude to all those who worked so hard to get us there and make it all happen.

As we have recognised in the past, clergy numbers are going to reduce in the years to come. Yet, it is not for this reason – a reaction to a clergy challenge – that we are highlighting in our emerging diocesan strategy the need to reimagine how clergy and lay must belong together, share in ministry and mission together, acknowledge both commonality and differentiation in calling and order. Clergy and lay together. As I always say to those shortly to be ordained: your ministry must derive from your discipleship, not the other way round. If our exercise of a particular ministry – clergy, Reader, churchwarden, and so on – is the sole expression of our discipleship, then we will not survive. Discipleship – following Jesus, come what may – must be the well from which the exercise of any ministry draws.

To this end, we have devised an online learning portal that invites clergy and lay people to take responsibility for their own discipleship, learning and growth. This was launched at the Lay Conference last Saturday, and you will have found the card with all the details about it on your seat today. Please take time to explore the portal – there is a huge range of training possibilities available to all. Whatever our strategy looks like, our intention as Anglican Christians in this part of Yorkshire must be clear and unambiguous: to enable us to recover and strengthen our confident commitment to discipleship, worship, witness and service.

Our strategy is not a means of increasing bureaucracy or finding things for diocesan officers to do with their time. It is not about dreaming up gimmicks that will turn the ship around when we already have the engineering in place and need to make sure the parts are properly oiled. It is not about a high-level board dictating to everyone else where our priorities should lie. It is about shaping the diocese, its support for parishes and its pastoral responsibility to be good stewards of people and things/money, in such a way as to prove sustainable in the years to come. It is about our witness and service of Christ – it is about God and the world, not essentially about our own satisfaction or sense of fulfilment.

This is not about a retreat into some privatised spirituality that aims to make us feel secure in the face of a frightening world. We must avoid colluding with some of the language and communication reflexes in increasingly common currency today that demonise or dehumanise other people, reducing them to commodities to be traded or categories to be dismissed. We must be a people unafraid to walk in the light, sharing the same uncertainties as everyone else, but knowing we are held onto by the God who walked the road to Calvary before leaving behind him the emptiness of a tomb. We, too, stand at a crossroads where difficult decisions must be taken – not least financial (and some of these will be demanding and painful). We do not stand alone.

The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann famously said: “God is our happiness; God is our torment; God is the wide space of our hope.” Faith does not let us escape; rather, faith holds us … whatever the circumstances we find ourselves facing (as individuals and as a church). “God is our happiness; God is our torment; God is the wide space of our hope.”

Well, at the heart of all I have said this morning lies the faithfulness of the God who calls us to follow him. It is trust in this faithfulness that allows us sometimes to take steps in new directions – not just as a diocese, but also as individuals. Today we welcome to her first Diocesan Synod Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley who has moved around the globe to assume her ministry here as Bishop of Ripon. Her feet are under the table, but it will take time for her to find her way – even if she already agrees with me that Beltex sheep are just plain ugly. Pray for her as she continues to settle in and gets to know the diocese, the episcopal area and the region. We welcome Geoff Park to the hard task of managing our finances and challenging as well as supporting our priorities. Pray for Debbie Child as she carries enormous responsibility as Diocesan Secretary following the departure of Ashley Ellis.

Much of our agenda as a Synod in the last four years or so has been getting our foundations dug and established, sometimes placing a focus on internal matters as a priority. In future, now we have done much of that hard work, our agenda can also develop in a more outward-looking direction, inviting us to learn, discuss, debate, resolve, and so on. I look forward to the parishes and deaneries working on more motions like the one today from Inner Bradford. Today’s agenda addresses the fraught world of education, poverty and evangelism. I am grateful to this Synod for all we have done together, and look forward to the election of a new Synod for the next triennium. The agenda should in future be more outward facing.

In the meantime, Synod, thank you for your patience, your prayers, your faithfulness and your hopefulness – probably sometimes against your better judgement or sentiment. We hold before us a vision of God’s ‘wide space of hope’ as we turn to our agenda and attempt to see our work and hear our words through the eyes and ears of the Christ who calls us.