Towards a Generous and Flourishing Diocese

petewilcoxby Bishop Pete (notes from Deanery Synod)

In my address to the Diocesan Synod in November, I argued that the prospects for realising, by 2025, our vision of a generous and flourishing Diocese is urgently threatened (as is every Diocese in the Church of England by a four-headed beast. To put crudely, it’s ABCD:
a) adult attenders at worship across the Diocese week by week are still falling;
b) in most parishes & for the Diocesan Board of Finance, budgets are in deficit;
c) in many places church buildings and structures are not what we would choose;
d) The demographics of our congregations and leaders are not as diverse as the communities we serve and we are over-dependent on the contribution of older members.

The Church is not a business enterprise. It is always ‘a sign, an agent and a foretaste of the coming kingdom of God’. As such, it always looks beyond itself and beyond its own
interests to those of the whole world; and as such it depends utterly on the grace of God for its fruitfulness and effectiveness.
Goals: To recruit & resource a community of 2025 members who will: i) say the Lord’s Prayer daily; ii) say the Diocesan Vision Prayer daily; and iii) to pause daily before God at 20.25 to seek the renewing power of God’s Spirit for the Diocese.

There are two aspects to this. i) To release parishes from the current constraints of ever-increasing administrative demands and inherited rules, structures and buildings which are no longer well fitted for mission; ii) to liberate untapped potential of individual disciples and whole congregations; of buildings (for wider community use); and to make the most effective use of our church schools, universities and the largest churches.
Questions: i) How can Church House ‘make mission easier’? ii) How can the Diocese assist centrally with heavy lifting in eg data protection, building projects, risk assessments etc; iii) do we need a comprehensive buildings audit?

A disproportionate number of our most faithful adult attenders, our most generous and reliable givers and our lay and clergy leaders are of retirement age. The next 7 years
represent a window of opportunity to make the most of their extraordinary wisdom, courage and generosity, while they are still active in worship and mission. A key challenge is to ensure that these Simeon and Anna figures are enabled to play a full part in ushering in the infant Jesus for the next generation. But the need for rejuvenation goes beyond age
demographics to the Diocese itself: we need to bring to birth baby-congregations and to nurture vocations among more diverse future leaders.
Goals: i) to plant 25 new congregations in each archdeaconry; ii) to recruit a rolling cohort of 25 diocesan interns; iii) to nurture 25 Black and minority ethnic ordinands; iv) to achieve 25% lay and clergy leaders aged under 40.

Bishop Peter’s Blog – Aug 2016

bishop2In July the Diocese had the opportunity to say farewell to Bishop Steven and Ann, to pray for them and ask God’s blessing on their ministry in the Diocese of Oxford. There’s much to give thanks for. We give thanks for the warmth of their hospitality and friendship, the strategic leadership given by Steven with support from others, for the health and wellbeing of the Diocese that looks to the future with sadness without them but in positive hope and expectation of what lies ahead. Steven leaves the Diocese in a good and healthy state with a team of people centrally and throughout the parishes and deaneries with a clear focus on God’s mission and growing the church. In that we are well blessed.

As we prepare for the next stage in the life of the Diocese of Sheffield our attention is inevitably turned towards what we’re looking for in Steven’s successor. One of the things that I’m sure will appear at the top of the list is someone who can offer leadership. However, when we talk about leadership many of us have our own view of what it means. I’d like to suggest that one important quality is that of humility, a quality that Steven shared with us in abundance.

The trouble is many in the world of leadership see humility as a weakness. We see this trait in politicians and world leaders; we see it in business; we see it in the world of entertainment and sport and sadly sometimes in the church. I wonder what’s happened in society or business where genuine and gracious humility is seen as a fault not a virtue. Our leadership is to be the image of Christ’s leadership which puts us out of sync with the way much of the world thinks. Jesus equates greatness with servanthood. He says that greatness comes along the lowly road of being last, being the servant of all. Jesus is making it clear that in his own life greatness comes from serving others.

The greatness of the apostles would come through the fact that they were serving Jesus by proclaiming the very words of God, the good news throughout the earth. And that’s our calling – Jesus doesn’t offer titles, he hands out towels to serve. It’s important that all those called to serve as Bishops in the church of God remember the words of their ordination service. “Bishops are called to serve and care for the flock of Christ. Mindful of the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep…”

These must surely be the signs of a genuinely humble person and rank amongst some of the top priorities we discern in the appointment of the next Bishop of Sheffield.


Bishop Peter’s Blog

bishop2A few years ago I visited Sri Lanka at the height of its Civil War and stayed with people in the war zone. I met numerous people who told horrific stories about fighting for one side or another, and others who’d lost loved ones in battle.  They told of the sacrifices and losses made on both sides. It was an alarming and frightening experience which in its own small way brought home the horrors of war.

This summer and autumn I will attend a number of services commemorating those who have been lost through war. The Battle of the Somme which took place one hundred years ago, between 1 July and 18 November 1916 was one of the largest battles of World War 1 on the Western Front. Then a service marking the Battle of Britain, a major air campaign fought over southern England in the summer and autumn of 1940. Once again we’ll be reminded of the revulsion of war and its terrible impact on all those involved. As someone born nearly 40 years after the end of the first World War, I find it difficult to comprehend its overwhelming scale, ten million people killed, 20 million injured, landscapes and towns destroyed; a breeding ground for all forms of brutality and corruption.  Most of those who died did so along a battle line that only moved a few miles in four years.

The First World War and every war since has impacted on the individual lives of those drawn into the conflict.  For every person drawn into battle numerous others are affected.  There’s nothing glamorous about war, it’s brutal, ugly and evil but I recognise that there are times when evil can only be resisted by force. Hence the reason for so many armed conflicts today, many of which draw in local brave men and women in our forces.

Remembrance is crucial as it signals to future generations the need to build relationships and society on hope, mutuality, trust and love.  These are key Christian principles on which foundations of peace are built and which have under girded our society for generations None more so than the critical elements of love and compassion that call us to a life of service of others.

Most of us find the horrors and complexity of war too staggering to take in so we cut ourselves off and imagine we’re immune, but we aren’t.  Every life lost in armed conflict diminishes our capacity to resist evil and love our neighbours as ourselves both internationally and in our daily lives. I pray that one day we’ll learn from the past and become “blessed peacemakers”, a high calling, with the capacity to change our world for the better.

Young Minds Matter by Bishop Steven

bishopWhen was the last time you thought about mental health and young people? There is a major issue.  As many as 1 in 10 children and young people have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem.  The problems include depression, anxiety, and conduct disorders.  The problems are often linked to what is happening in their lives.

Last month I attended the annual Civic Breakfast organized by Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield. The subject was the connection between mental health and poverty.  Common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are distributed according to a gradient of economic disadvantage across society.  The less well off you are, the more likely you are to suffer from a range of common mental health problems.

The most striking statistic was that mental illness accounts for 25% of mortality and morbidity in Britain, but only 11% of the NHS budget is spent on these issues. We are not tackling this part of the problem.  During the last parliament, funding for mental health services were cut by 8.25%.

It’s impossible to read the four gospels and not be aware of Jesus’ compassion for those who are suffering and his care for the whole person.  In the first chapters of Mark, Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit, a multitude in Galilee, someone declared unclean by his society, a man who is paralysed and full of guilt, another multitude by the lakeshore and a man with a withered hand.  Read on further and you will find that Christ ministers to children and young people and the elderly with both physical and spiritual diseases.  The gospels do not have our vocabulary for mental illness but it is impossible to read them and not find evidence of these conditions and of Jesus’ care for those who have them.

What can we do? Christians and Christian congregations can help by raising awareness of mental health issues, especially among the young.  We can help by listening to one another. We can help by reducing any stigma around mental health so that people feel able to talk about the problems they may be facing. We can help by working to relieve poverty and suffering, both in acts of kindness and charity and in our campaigning for justice.  We can help by offering our time and gifts through the Samaritans, to Mind, in local visiting and support for those in need.

As followers of Jesus Christ, let’s take care to be informed and compassionate and involved.

Bishop Steven’s Easter Message

bishopOne of the great figures of the Quaker movement, Isaac Pennington, wrote these words in a letter to his friends in 1667. “Our life is love and peace and tenderness and bearing with one another and forgiving one another and not laying accusations one against one another and helping one another up with a tender hand”

To be a Christian is to live a life of gentleness and peace and tenderness and mercy and love together. As I have read the story of the passion of Jesus in John’s gospel this year, I have been struck very powerfully by this theme of the gentleness of Jesus Christ: it is a robust gentleness, a gentleness combined with steel but gentleness none the less.

The risen Lord we celebrate today is gentle, merciful, tender and kind. His character is consistent.  It is not spoiled and made bitter by the terrible suffering he endures, by denial or betrayal.  It is not changed by his resurrection, by his new and risen life.

Before the cross, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, washes his disciples feet..  Feet. After the resurrection, Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, cooks breakfast for his friends. Here is something to ponder deeply this Easter. Jesus Christ calls his Church, his friends, to be like him in his gentleness and love.

The vocation of the Church is to be a community of gentleness and mercy in a world which is often harsh and often violent. We are the Church.  We are called into being by Jesus Christ, who was crucified and rose again.  The gentle, risen Lord.  We are called to reflect his love in a world of violence, hurt, hunger and confusion.

If you own the name of Christian, you are called to reflect this gentle strength in all you do: in your work and in your leisure, in your actions and in your character, in your words and in your deeds. We are called together to be like him in his gentleness: at the anointing, at the footwashing, at the cross, in the garden, in the upper room, by the lakeside.

“Our life is love and peace and tenderness and bearing with one another and forgiving one another and not laying accusations one against another and helping one another up with a tender hand”.

Taken from .
(For the full text, see

Bishop Peter’s Blog

bishop2I recently attended the Archbishop of York’s Youth Trust and Young Leaders Award ceremony.   As part of the Youth Trust’s preparations for Easter, they had challenged young people across Northern England to be involved in 40 days of Youth-Led Action.  Young people were encouraged to think beyond themselves and, rather than give something up for Lent, to consider what they could do to give something back to our world; a simple act of kindness that makes a difference in someone else life.

The Young Leaders’ Award is unique in providing practical opportunities for young people to open up their hearts and minds to the needs of others, which helps them develop invaluable life skills. As a result, students are able to experience and model values such as compassion, patience, self-control, gentleness, a desire for justice and concern for others.

One of the examples shown was a school who looked at how they could work together to make a difference for the elderly within their community.  Having made links with an elderly residents care home, they began to explore what they could do to provide an afternoon of entertainment for the residents, many of whom had dementia.  For many of the students, working with people of that age group, and being faced with a situation that they were not familiar or comfortable with, was challenging but rewarding.  So beneficial was the impact on both residents and students, that the students and staff at the care home want to continue this partnership and plans for regular volunteering slots are being put in place.

The Trust believes that developing the character of Young People is an integral part of the roles of educators, and in recent months the spotlight has been placed on the importance of social justice in helping students to become well-rounded individuals.  Nicky Morgan the Education Secretary stated that “Character Education is part of our core mission to deliver real social justice, by giving all children, regardless of background, the chance to fulfil their potential and achieve their aspirations.”

Through the Young Leaders Awards the Trust has so far empowered 33,000 young people in 4% of the schools across the north of England,
developing their leadership and team-working skills, improving their levels of empathy and developing character traits such as perseverance and
resilience.   We have some great young people, so let’s get behind them and help them reach their full potential as this scheme is already doing.

Bishop’s Letter – Feb 2016

bishopAlong with thousands of others around the world I was moved by the news of death of David Bowie. The many tributes in the media helped me to realize the breadth and power of Bowie’s contribution to the world. He helped us grapple with the mysteries of life and love and joy.

I was drawn by Lazarus, the title of the song he released before he died. It’s not the first time that death has featured in his songs. One of the things which makes Space Oddity a great song is what happens to Major Tom. Ashes to Ashes takes its title from the funeral service. Ziggy Stardust ends with death as a consequence of fame: “When the kids had killed the man I had to break up the band”.

But Lazarus is different. The song and the film are about wrestling and struggling with death: a raging against the dying of the light. Bowie seems to be reaching out for something beyond but not quite able to grasp it. “Look up here I’m in heaven” he begins. “I’m so high it makes my brain whirl”. In one scene we see him dancing, celebrating still the joy of life on the threshold of eternity.

Lazarus reminds me of the frustration with death in the Old Testament. This life is so good and textured. Surely there is something more. The prophet Isaiah speaks of the shroud of death cast over all peoples. Ecclesiastes talks about God putting a sense of eternity into human minds – we reach for something but can’t grasp it.

In the video, David Bowie seems to be reaching out for life on the very threshold of death. Lazarus is the name of a man in the Gospel of John. He dies in the prime of life. Then he is set free by Jesus when he has been in the tomb for three days.

In John’s gospel the raising of Lazarus is part of a bigger and greater story: the story of the gift of Jesus Christ to the world to bring life. Jesus died but he was raised from death on the third day. In Christ, God offers resurrection, a new beginning and new life to everyone.

I hope that this David Bowie’s final song, Lazarus will help many people think afresh about mortality: about the reality of death, the struggle and the joy.

I hope that those who hear it will ponder the story of the original Lazarus, the resurrection of Jesus and all that the life of Jesus Christ means for the life of the world.

Everything changes with the belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. I look at my own death in a different way and the death of those close to me. The whole of my perspective on life is transformed

Bishop Peter’s Blog – Nov 2015

bishop2In September the Government allowed a free vote on the subject of assisted suicide. Once again it was roundly defeated. I wrote about this last year and concluded, from 32 years experience in ordained ministry, that all those I’d come into contact with talked about “assisted living” not “ assisted dying”.

The Church of England’s official view on this is that we must value individual lives, protect the vulnerable and respect the integrity of the doctor patient relationship. Bishop James Newcome; Bishop of Carlisle and a spokesperson for the Church of England, wrote “Foremost is the view, shared by many people of other faiths and none, that every person’s life has an intrinsic value regardless of circumstance. Whatever they themselves or other people may think of their ‘value’ to society, and despite any apparent lack of productivity or usefulness, nothing can alter their essential significance as human beings. To agree that some of us are more valuable than others when it comes to being alive would be to cross an ethical Rubicon. Until now, our society has regarded this as self-evident. That is why we have ‘suicide watch’ in prisons; and why we try to stop people killing themselves by jumping off bridges or cliffs or high buildings. It is why doctors undertake to give only ’beneficial’ treatment to their patients and why we attach so much importance to human rights.”
The church recognises that this is a complex issue and one that provokes strong feelings from those who argue from opposing positions. The law as it stands provides a good balance between compassion and protection of the vulnerable.

The view one takes on this will undoubtedly be coloured by the quality of care received at the end of life. Recently the UK was ranked as the best in the world for providing the end of life care. The quality of end of life care is, and will become, increasingly important with an aging population and better medical care means that people are likely to face ”drawn out” deaths. It is also important that we enable people to have a good death in the home environment, if they so choose. To do this there will naturally need to be increased resources and funding. There can, in my view, be no fixed sum of money put on the value and uniqueness of every person.

Good quality end of life cares offers the hope of a less fearful end and reduces the pressures that encourage some to take other forms of action. At its best palliative care demonstrates that life is valuable and important.


Bishop Letter – October 2015

bishopHow are we to respond as human beings, as Christians and as a Church to the plight of refugees and migrants across Europe? The pictures on our screens have been heart-rending. Many of us will have been moved to tears. But how do we translate this outpouring of compassion into action and help others to do the same? What should we do?

One of the deepest truths in the Bible is that God blesses people so that those people in turn can become a blessing to others. God calls Abraham in these words: “I will bless you…so that you will be a blessing”. When God blesses us we are not to feel special. We are not to hoard those blessings and keep them to ourselves. We are blessed so that we might bless others – all the families of the earth. Everyone.

As a country, we have not been blessed with peace and security and wealth and peace for our own benefit alone. Safety is given so that safety and a future can be shared. We are called as a country to be open handed, open hearted, to give a home to those in greatest need, to carry relief and fresh vision to countries whose heart is ripped apart by war. We are called to find room.

I recently met with Faith Leaders across the city of Sheffield and with church leaders of different denominations. Our communities are united in compassion for the plight of the efugees. We are united in the belief that Britain can and should do more. The faith communities stand ready to help in partnership with local and national government in welcoming those who find a home in our communities whatever their faith and country of origin. Sheffield was the first City of Sanctuary in Britain and remains in the front line of welcoming strangers.

I have written to the Prime Minister, urging him to offer leadership in two ways: to support Britain playing its full part in offering sanctuary to those now on the move in Europe as part of a European wide settlement and to encourage new international initiatives to resolve the conflict in Syria which is the root cause of this migration.

Many Christians and local churches have already begun to do more. I’ve listed some of the local charities and national agencies which are channelling help to refugees. Please translate this outpouring of compassion into action through gifts and support for some of these initiatives. There is no need to wait until a new wave of refugees arrive. Charities in the region are already hard at work helping people in need here and across Europe and the Middle East. Please encourage local and national government that, as a country, we support a bigger, more generous response still to one of the great crises of our age.

+ Bishop Steven

Bishop Peter’s Letter, August 2015

bishop2A few weeks ago I was doing battle with myself as I enjoyed the pleasures of the Grand Prix at Silverstone. Most of my family and friends do not share my love of Formula 1; as I describe the beauty of the cars, their aerodynamic design and the engineering, I can see them looking blank or disinterested. I think the cars are things of real beauty. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

On the other hand I am conscious that the cars, in spite of their improved design and new rules, use enormous amounts of fuel and produce emissions that cannot be good for the environment. So I wrestle with something that I enjoy and find fascinating, with a desire to protect the environment. This is an issue that most, if not all of us, have to deal with every day. When we travel to work or make trips by car, bus, train or aeroplane, we are conscious that they will be giving off high level emissions. When we use household items or heat our homes, we are aware that they are in the main not carbon neutral.

From a Christian perspective the environment is God’s gift to everyone and we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole. Our duties towards the environment are linked with our responsibilities to each other. We cannot consider ourselves in isolation to others. Closely connected to this is the issue of consumerism. In our desire to have and to enjoy we consume the resources of the earth in an excessive and disordered way.

We have a responsibility to look after the beauty of God’s creation and to play our part in protecting the environment for all who will follow us. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the Paris Climate Conference in December will not end in failure. If each of us plays our small part politicians and world leaders must do theirs by negotiating an agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring that poorer countries can respond to floods, heat waves and drought.

As we wrestle with our own consciences and as we try to resolve environmental crisis in our own ways, we should call on our own government to be a major player in these talks and not to withdraw from the table until a real and binding agreement is reached. The lives of many in poorer countries and in future generations literally depend on this and us.

+Peter Doncaster

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