Dear sisters and brothers in the LORD,
I was freshly struck by the Gospel reading yesterday. Quite early in the period of his public ministry, or so Matthew invites us to imagine, Jesus sat down on the mountain and began to speak, teaching his disciples (Matthew 5.1). ‘You are the salt’, he told them, not of your village, not of your district, but ‘of the earth’ (5.13). ‘You are the light’, he said, not of your city, not of your nation, but ‘of the world’ (5.14).
I write on the eve of what might be one of the most challenging meetings of the General Synod in this decade, as we seek under God to discern a faithful resolution to our controversies over human sexuality and marriage — on which, see further below. All of us are, I suspect, acutely aware of the missionary implications of these matters — and of the missionary risks if we are unable to resolve them. It is good, therefore, to be reminded here of our core purpose, as the followers of Jesus: to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It is the astonishing, mind-blowing, breath-taking, heart-warming, ear-tingling, logic-defying, gracious and daring, extravagant and reckless will of God to make the church the principal agent of his kingdom: to use Christians like you and me to change the world, to transform society, to make the whole creation worthy of its king.
My own prayer today has been that our Church of England (and every single member of the baptised within it), for all our frailty and weakness, for all our controversies and disagreements, will be more fit for that purpose at the end of this week than we are at the beginning.
1. The General Synod
It (almost!) goes without saying that your General Synod representatives would be hugely grateful for your prayers this week. Bishop Pete will be joined by Archdeacon Malcolm; the other clergy representatives are the Revd Canon Rick Stordy and the Revd Canon Eleanor Robertshaw. The lay representatives are Mrs Anna De Castro, Miss Jane Patterson, Mrs Michaela Suckling and Dr Cathy Rhodes.
Of course, Living in Love and Faith is not the only item on the agenda: there are urgent safeguarding issues to address, and there is a timely debate about the cost of living crisis; there are items of legislative business (including
the ‘Diocesan Stipends Capital Fund’ measure which Bishop Pete has brought to the Synod on behalf of the ‘Mutuality and Transparency in Finances’ group, which he chairs); and there are significant debates scheduled around the governance of the Church of England and the resourcing of ministerial formation.
But for four hours on Tuesday and five hours on Wednesday, Synod will be turning its attention to the draft Prayers of Love and Faith,
which the College and House of Bishops have issued for consideration. It is by no means clear at this point what the outcome will be: serious legal challenges have been tabled, as well as substantial amendments to the main motion for debate. Please pray for an outcome in accordance with the good will and purpose of God.
Some of you will be aware that I (Bishop Pete) am among 14 bishops who have put their names to a recent essay on the Anglican Doctrine of Marriage. You can find it here
. I am well aware that, as we say in the introduction, ‘few readers of this paper will feel neutral about it. Some will be instinctively grateful for it, while for others it may compound their sense of disappointment’. My prayer is that, as we also say there, the essay ‘will be a constructive contribution to the life and ministry of the Church while the work of discernment continues in General Synod and elsewhere’. I wish to stress that clergy and lay leaders are free to dissent from it — and some of you have already made it clear to me that you do!
2. Diocesan Community of Evangelists
We are pleased to announce the launch, following initial discussions in November last year, of a Community of Evangelists for the Diocese of Sheffield. This group draws together a diverse group of people from across the Diocese, who are involved in evangelism in one way or another. Several are members of the Archbishops’ College of Evangelists, which is encouraging Dioceses to form local networks to serve and equip our churches and to work in mutual accountability.
As your bishops, we are keen to work alongside this group in evangelistic events or short missions. To this end, we can offer help not only in the delivery of such occasions, but in making good preparations. While not everyone is gifted as an evangelist, we would love to see more and more of the baptised being effective as witnesses, sharing their faith naturally in their everyday lives, as they shine as Lights for Christ in the world to the glory of God the Father.
If you would like to explore this, please get in touch with John Hibberd (Mission Development Advisor) at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read a fuller version of this in an article on the news section of our website here
3. Safeguarding Matters
We are very grateful for the commitment we see across the Diocese to ensuring that our churches are safe places for all and that good safeguarding practice and culture is firmly embedded. This continues to be a ‘work in progress’ – an ongoing journey for us all – and so it is important that we continue to remind one another of this priority in our mission and ministry. To that end, please note:
4. Church Planting Conference, 20th-22nd March 2023
- There was a recent reminder in the letter from the Safeguarding team about the importance of the Parish Safeguarding Officer and the need to contact the Safeguarding team if that role becomes vacant for any reason (even if only temporarily) so that the appropriate support and advice can be offered.
- The Revd Harry Steele, Bishop’s Chaplain, has been in touch recently with those with Permission to Officiate asking for the annual ministerial return for those who hold PtO. As well as chance for us to hear of the wonderful ministry that has taken place over the past 12 months, it is another opportunity for those with PtO to check their Safeguarding training and DBS dates.
- All levels of safeguarding training, along with DBS checks, need to be renewed every three years according to the requirements outlined in the Parish Safeguarding Handbook. While our magnificent Diocesan Safeguarding team tries to ensure that a timely reminder is sent out, it remains the responsibility of all those with a Bishop’s licence or Permission to Officiate to know the expiration date of their own DBS and Safeguarding training, and to renew them in good time. If you are not sure of those dates, please be in touch with the Bishop’s Chaplain and he will let you know so you can put a reminder in your diary. email@example.com
- The National Safeguarding Team has recently updated the Confidential Self-Declaration Form to be used with all appointments to roles engaging in regulated activity or roles working/having substantial contact with children and/or vulnerable adults. Please ensure that you are using the correct form (https://www.churchofengland.org/media/29086) if making such appointments. Again, if unsure please get in touch with the Bishop’s Chaplain or the safeguarding team.
An ‘on site’ conference is planned at Cranmer Hall in Durham, which is believed to be the first academic exploration of the theology of church planting and starting new churches to be held in the UK.
Over the three days there will be a mix of plenary sessions – including input from missionary theologians Cathy Ross and Stefan Paas – and breakout sessions in which theologian-practitioners will be presenting papers. Alongside all this there will be plenty of time to network, share ideas, and enjoy Durham city and surroundings.
You can book on to the conference here
. There is an option to attend sessions only, or to include breakfast and lunch. The organisers welcome contributions for papers. If you would like to offer a paper at the conference, please do email firstname.lastname@example.org
, with a brief synopsis of your topic and themes.
If you book, please let John Marsh, our Mission Development Adviser, know. You can email him at John.Marsh@sheffield.anglican.org
5. Pastoral Supervision Groups
As you may be aware, part of our offer of support to clergy (and in particular to stipendiary incumbents), takes the form of ‘pastoral supervision’ — an arrangement which creates a safe space in which a small number of peers (usually three) can explore the stresses and strains, the joys and fulfilments of ordained ministry, with the help of a professional facilitator.
At present 49 of our clergy are involved in 15 such groups (with a further 6 receiving individual pastoral supervision).
There is still scope to make this support available more widely. If you would like to explore the possibility of joining such a group, please contact email@example.com
Finally, many thanks to all who were involved in two very wonderful events in the Diocese last Thursday, 2nd
Feb, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple: the Net Zero Open Meeting, chaired by Bishop Sophie at St Peter, Warmsworth in the morning, and the ordination as a priest of the Revd Chrissy Moorey, by Bishop Pete with Bishop Sophie preaching, at Christ Church Ardsley in the evening. Both occasions were sources of great encouragement to those who were present!