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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the text of my maiden speech – for better or worse – in the House of Lords this afternoon. It should be viewable here.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate – especially given the kindness I have already met in this House since being introduced in February. I wish to express my gratitude to all sides of the House for the welcome I have received, and particularly to the staff who have assisted and advised me – sometimes on the same issue more than once. This coming Saturday I will be speaking in Stuttgart before thousands of people, along with Kofi Annan and the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. At least I can address this house in English.

I find myself in something of a quandary as one who has lived in many parts of England, but ended up in Yorkshire. In fact, coming to Bradford as the Bishop in 2011 was something of a return journey. I studied German and French at the University of Bradford in the late 1970s before retraining as a professional Russian linguist at GCHQ in Cheltenham – an experience that shaped me, not least in relation to an understanding of security-related matters such as military intelligence and the ethics of surveillance. And not only did the journey take me from intelligence (though not take intelligence from me, I hope) to theology, but also from a West Yorkshire industrial city that was beginning to decline – not only in wealth and productivity, but also in morale and confidence. Radical demographic change also led in those days to substantial social challenge as facts on the ground outstripped the creative ability to shape a post-industrial future.

When I returned to Bradford as the Bishop in 2011 – having served in the Lake District, Leicestershire and South London, latterly as the Bishop of Croydon – I found a very different place. And yet it was evident that the seeds of a determined vision for future development were evident in the creative energy of some of the key players in business, the Council, faith communities and the social sectors. As well as the real and continuing challenges it faces, Bradford today is a place of growing confidence and well-founded optimism.

Why am I talking about Bradford when I am now the Bishop of Leeds? Well, for two reasons. First, because the Church of England has done something remarkable in Yorkshire, and, secondly, because Bradford will be one of the touchstones of success or failure in relation to the government's much vaunted aspirations for a Northern Powerhouse. (I always thought the real northern powerhouse was Liverpool Football Club, but, after its dismal end to the season, I am keeping quiet about that.)

Four years ago the Church of England – not widely known for its cheerful and adventurous willingness to change itself – began a unique process of reorganisation. The dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield – all created in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century in order to enable the Church to adapt to changed demographic and industrial realities – faced dissolution and the creation from them of a single new diocese for the region. A three-year process of debate led to a visionary agreement to do just this, and the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales came to birth at Easter 2014. I became the diocesan bishop just a year ago this week. The diocese covers a vast rural area of West and (parts of) North Yorkshire, urban conurbations of Bradford, Leeds, Wakefield, Huddersfield, Halifax, Barnsley, and everything in-between. Now organised into five episcopal areas, we can maximise the potential for serving the region – a region with an economy greater than that of Wales – whilst optimising our attention to the distinctive local realities of local communities. Challenging? Yes. Exciting? Definitely. I am privileged to be leading a diocese that encompasses so many of the lived realities that need to be represented in this House as the details and implications of government policies are debated and scrutinised.

The relevant point here is that the future has to be shaped by those who have both vision and commitment. Complaint that the world has changed is usually the recourse of those who mourn a version of the past that probably never existed anyway. And one of the lessons we have learned through the often painful processes of reorganisation and institutional change is the need to focus on the big picture as well as the detail, never losing sight of the vision that drives us.

I think this has a wider application. In response to the Gracious Speech last week, I heard in this House several speakers refer to the need for reform of this House. Yet, this occurred in the context of the potential – or threat … depending on how you see it – for wider constitutional change. The role of the United Kingdom in Europe cannot be divorced from the questions about the possible fragmentation of the United Kingdom itself. My fear is that bits of reactive slicing here and picking there will lead to a frustrating and unworkable sequence of partial reordering that loses sight of any common purpose or overarching vision. In this context I will simply observe that calls for a Constitutional Convention have the obvious virtue of bringing together a wide range of otherwise potentially atomistic concerns that should be considered together, taking cognisance of the fact that they interrelate anyway and will have inevitable consequences that would best be anticipated and debated rather than faced ad hoc and merely reacted to.

On questions of our place in Europe I will hope to return in future debates in this House. I have lived briefly in both Germany and France, I co-chair a commission that brings together the Protestant Church in Germany and the Church of England – the Meissen Commission – and I am concerned not only about institutional national engagement with Europe, but also with how we develop a new narrative for Europe that captures the imagination of my own children's generation in a way that the narrative derived from the mid-twentieth century response to war no longer does. I could say much more – illustrated particularly by a debate I had with Herman van Rompuy in Brussels a couple of years ago -, but will leave it to another day.

I said there was a second reason why I mentioned Bradford: the Northern Powerhouse. Just under a year ago I moved from Bradford to Leeds – about ten miles – and now live in a different world. Leeds is well connected and thriving in many areas. Key to this development over the last forty years has been transport. Not only does the motorway system make Leeds quickly accessible from so many parts of the country, but it's rail links open it up to wide opportunities.

It seems to me that any concept of a Northern Powerhouse has to concentrate less on north-south links and focus more on building expandable infrastructure from west to east. Talk of the Northern Powerhouse usually includes reference to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool – understandably so. But, unless cities like Bradford are connected – and you can't currently go by one train across Bradford as there are two stations and they are not joined up – they will get left behind. The burgeoning of Britain's youngest city (in terms of age profile of the population) – with it's cultural, gastronomic, tourist and commercial riches – must not be wasted by planning that compromises longer-term development by shorter-term limitations.

I spent eight years on the board of an international insurance company (from 2002-10) and learned a good deal about business, finance, organisational change and the shaping of business to serve not just profit, but those whom profit is there to benefit. At the end of all deliberations – be they political, economic, cultural or financial – are the people who make or break our societies. By serving in this House I hope to have the adventure and humility to learn. I also have a responsibility to represent here the lived experience of people in the communities served by the church in West Yorkshire and the Dales. This includes those of wealth creation, business, enterprise, the rural economy, and industry. It also includes those who, whatever my own thoughts about the rightness or wrongness of particular policies, suffer the consequences of poverty, need and hopelessness.

There is a verse in the Old Testament book of Proverbs that stood as an indictment of much of the Christian Church in Germany in the 1930s and '40s. It says: “Open your mouth for the dumb.” In other words, give a voice to the experience of those who otherwise are silenced. I believe this is why the Lords Spiritual are here – rooted in communities across the whole of our country, networked internationally, informed (often inconveniently) and compelled to tell the truth as they see it. I hope to fulfil this vocation with the humility and confidence it surely demands.

My Lords, all the work of both this House and the established Church is done in the glare of media scrutiny – and rightly so. Intelligent and healthy media are vital to a living democracy. But, as someone very engaged with the media, I remember the caution expressed by a former Bishop of Durham. Once, when feeling depressed and misrepresented by the media, he had lunch with a rabbi. The rabbi told him the story of a bishop and a rabbi sailing on the lake in a park. The rabbi's skull cap blew off and floated away on the water. The bishop instantly stood up, got out of the boat and walked on the water to retrieve it. He got back into the boat and handed it back to the rabbi. The next morning's headline read: “Bishop can't swim!”

My Lords, we need to keep things in perspective.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This is a poignant week. Not only do we we in the church consciously walk with Jesus and his bizarre group of friends through acclamation, popularity, betrayal, denial, desertion and death, but up here in West Yorkshire we experience all the emotions that go with 'endings'.

This evening my office closed for ever. Tomorrow I will preach and preside at Bradford Cathedral with the clergy and ministers as we recall Jesus sharing a final meal with the friends who would fail him so badly only hours after pledging eternal allegiance to him. We will re-affirm our ordination vows, looking with a confident humility to the future, fully conscious of our failure to be consistent. On Saturday night the Dioceses of Bradford, Wakefield, and Ripon & Leeds will end and the new Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales will be born. On Monday I will become the acting Bishop of Leeds until I get made 'legal' on 8 June at York Minster. My office in Leeds will open for business on 30 April. We will move house at the end of July (structural problems have been found and will take some time to resolve).

A crucified ankle bone (Basel)

Even those of us who believe completely in the way we have chosen cannot help but find this ending poignant. Earlier generations have been faithful to their call from God to celebrate and hand on the faith – and we are now called to be faithful to the challenges and opportunities presented to us.

Holy Week is a good time to prepare for this – despite the sheer hard work and hidden complexity of just making the new diocese legal, viable and operational on day one. Endings are important and need to be lived with. But, Sunday is coming and apparent endings are surprised by the irruption of new life and a hope that cannot be quenched. Christians are constantly told by Jesus not to be afraid: after all, we are drawn by hope, not driven by fear.

The practical work and decision-making involved in creating the new diocese are detailed, demanding and challenging. My colleagues deserve medals, but only get a barrage of emails! And Sunday is coming.

In fact, most people in the parishes and institutions of West Yorkshire & the Dales won't notice much difference at first. Changing the bank accounts overnight is unlikely to excite a great wave of joy. But, those whose lives and roles are affected will notice – and they are examples of vision, courage, faith and hope.

This might sound a bit trivial in the light of Syria, the dangerous situation in Ukraine, the sinking of a ferry in South Korea (to say nothing of Liverpool's Premiership title ambitions). However, the local and the personal are always most powerful, even if the wider world helps keep things in perspective.change is always upon us: we either shape it or we become victims of it. Our three dioceses have decided to shape the future and have taken the brave step of choosing to commit ourselves to both the known and unknown challenges that face us.