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5 December 2022
Dear Friends,

In the gospel reading for the second Sunday in Advent, yesterday we heard this summary of the preaching of John the Baptist: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’ (Matt 3.1).  Those words are repeated word for word – but as a summary of the preaching of our Lord Jesus, in Matt 4.17: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’. 
            Matthew brings John and Jesus into the closest possible alignment.  The preaching of John is the preaching of Jesus; the preaching of Jesus is the preaching of John.  But John is not Jesus.  John ‘is the one of whom the Prophet Isaiah spoke’ – the one sent to call Israel to prepare the way of the Lord.  John is the one sent to herald the coming of a ‘more powerful One’, whose sandals he knew himself unworthy to carry. 
            When John called his hearers to repent (to think again, to turn or change direction) ‘for the kingdom of heaven has come near’, he meant, ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near in Jesus’.  When Jesus called his hearers to repent ‘for the kingdom of heaven has come near’, he meant ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near in me’. 
            This Advent, may God give us grace to repent, as we seek to align ourselves afresh to the preaching of Jesus; and through our preaching, may God likewise give our hearers grace to think again, and to change direction, and to align themselves also to the life, death and resurrection of the Lord, in whom the kingdom of heaven has drawn near. 
This may be the final Bishops’ Letter of 2022.  Please be assured of our daily prayers as you seek in the coming weeks, to bear faithful witness to Immanuel, God with us.  The content of these letters is always issued jointly by both bishops, and generally agreed in advance with other members of the Bishop’s Senior Staff Team.  That remains true in this case, even if the text is written more than usually in the voice of one of us!
1.  Presidential Address to Synod
I want to register my profound appreciation for the overwhelming expressions of kindness and support I have received, in person, by post and on social media, in response to my address to Synod on Saturday 26th November.  If by any chance you have not yet seen or read it, you will find a video of the address here and the script here.
            Many of you will know that the Church Times picked up the story online and in the printed edition issued last week.  At points the editorial here was not quite what I would have chosen – but on the whole I feel my story has been fairly transmitted and for this I thank God. 
2.   Bishop’s Senior Staff Team residential
You might like to be aware that the BSST will be away overnight tonight on a 24 hour residential, 5th to 6th December.  Please do pray for us.  We have two main issues to address.  
On Monday afternoon, we will begin the process of scoping our request to the Church Commissioners for additional funding for the triennium (three-year period) 2023-2025.  We have been invited a) to be bold in our ambitions and b) to take a nine-year horizon, to 2031, and not merely a three-year horizon. As much as anything, we will be scoping the process by which we will arrive at a request: there will be much consultation to follow with you all in the first half of next year.  Please do pray that we will be granted faith and hope.
On Tuesday morning, we have set aside significant time to pray together, that God will indeed renew, release and rejuvenate our Diocese in the coming years.  But we will also spend time considering how, as a senior staff team, we might be called to pray together in 2023 – more frequently? more urgently? more creatively? for longer?
3.  The College of Bishops and Living in Love and Faith
The following week, Bishop Sophie and I will (God willing) take part in a residential gathering of the College of Bishops at High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire, from midday on Monday 12th December to midday on Wednesday 14th, as we continue to seek the LORD’s will in our discernment over what steps we might best take in 2023 in relation to human identity, sexuality and marriage.  We hardly need to say that we will value your prayers!
4.  Carbon Net Zero by 2030
Please note that in accordance with its Terms of Reference, the Diocesan Net Zero Carbon Steering Group will hold an Open Meeting, on the morning of Thursday 2nd February 2023 at St Peter’s, Warmsworth.  We hope every Mission Area in the Diocese will be represented as we address vital issues about climate emergency in relation to church buildings and vicarages especially. The keynote speakers will be Canon Flora Winfield (3rd Church Estates Commissioner) and Jo Chamberlain (National Environment Officer for the Church of England). More details will follow: each deanery will be contacted shortly to ensure representation.  We hope to record the main addresses and there will also be an opportunity to ask questions of the panel as part of the morning. The steering group forms part of our response to the Synod declaration we made as a Diocese in November 2020 on the urgency of climate emergency.
5.  Census returns 2021 --
You will be aware of the figures published last week, following the 2021 census.  Inevitably, the media has focused on headline data, relating to the reduction in the number of those who identify as Christian.  Like us, you will doubtless find these results both daunting and galvanising, as we seek to bear witness to Jesus, the Light in the Darkness. 
            If you have not already seen these words you might be encouraged by this statement from the Archbishop of York: ‘The Christian church exists to share the good news of Jesus Christ, serve our neighbour and bring hope to a troubled world. That’s what we’ve done for 2,000 years - in times of war and peace; hardship and plenty; revival and decline and it’s what we must do now more than ever.  It’s not a great surprise that the Census shows fewer people in this country identifying as Christian than in the past, but it still throws down a challenge to us not only to trust that God will build his kingdom on Earth but also to play our part in making Christ known.  We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian but other surveys consistently show how the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by. This winter - perhaps more so than for a long time – people right across the country, some in desperate need, will be turning to their local church, not only for spiritual hope but practical help. We will be there for them, in many cases, providing food and warmth. And at Christmas millions of people will still come to our services’.
            Incidentally: Archbishop Steven will be in the Diocese this week, on Thursday 8th, at St Michael’s, Skelbrooke, to celebrate a 150th anniversary.
6. Church Energy Grants
The central CofE team has confirmed that our diocese will benefit from £400,000 to support churches with the increased cost of heating and lighting church buildings this winter. We will be distributing approximately 60% of this as a flat grant to PCCs as soon as possible and our finance team will be contacting you. The remaining 40% will be distributed through an application process in the New Year – aimed at supporting those churches most in need. More to follow.
7.  Director of HR
Some of you will already be aware that our HRD, Ruth, will soon be leaving her role.  We are immensely grateful for the expertise and considerable experience that she has brought to bear since joining us in April 2021.  Ruth has played an important role on the Bishop’s Senior Staff Team, in the DBF and in the wider diocese.  Her last day in the office will be shortly before Christmas.  We wish her well in the next chapter of her life.
In the meantime, Gemma is continuing her excellent HR work at Church House, reporting to LJ.  We have already begun the process of recruiting a new HRD, but to state the obvious, our HR capacity will be much reduced for a period.

With every blessing,
The Rt Revd Dr Pete Wilcox
Bishop of Sheffield
The Rt Revd Sophie Jelley
Bishop of Doncaster
Copyright © 2022 Diocese of Sheffield, All rights reserved.

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