Bishop Steven’s Letter, July 2015

bishopI spent 3 days last week in Stuttgart in Germany as a guest of the something called the Kirchentag. It’s a great gathering of Protestant Christians from all across Germany. There were 30,000 active participants and over 100,000 visitors to different events all across the city. I was there to meet with German pioneers and to take part in a seminar on the English experience of forming fresh expressions of church. But the whole event got me thinking…. Why can’t we do something on this scale in Sheffield?

So how about an annual Sheffield Christian Festival? One which tries to draw together every stream of the Christian church in the city and region and celebrates our common faith? A blend of Greenbelt and Taizé and New Wine and Soul Survivor and Spring Harvest and Walsingham only right here in this city and region. Can you imagine it?

I’ve been reflecting for some time on the absence of strong Christian festivals in the north of England, especially since the demise of New Wine North a couple of years ago. I’ve been trying to imagine how we could start slowly and build something here: perhaps camping out on Doncaster racecourse or Beauchief Abbey. But camping is not really that appealing. And it would be hard to offer something for everyone in a single event or style. So how about something stretching over a long weekend which draws people into the city and celebrates all the different churches have to offer? Isn’t it the kind of thing a humble, confident church should be doing?

Almost 25 years ago the churches of this city and region combined in a remarkable way for Mission England. Many still remember that as a high point of collaboration. There was much fruit. Perhaps the idea of a City Festival is part of the answer.

I’m the kind of person who sometime has ten ideas before breakfast. Not all of them are good ones. Those who work with me sometimes bear the scars and have learned to sit on me from time to time. But every so often, there’s one which is worth pursuing. How about it? An ecumenical, regional, annual Festival of Christian Faith in Sheffield to build up the churches, to strengthen faith and discipleship, to witness to our common faith, to celebrate God’s love and make an impact across our region. First one in 2017? Let me know what you think.

+Steven Sheffield

Bishop Peter’s Letter, June 2015

bishop2During May I spent a very enjoyable time with 21 members of my family, celebrating three significant birthdays and an engagement. Like many families, we don’t get together as often as we should.

As well as having a great time together in a large converted barn in North Yorkshire, it was an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the family and the value of spending time together. In our society, many families face new and challenging pressures. The danger is that the frenetic nature of life interrupts the quality time that helps build healthy family relationships. We all thrive, grow and develop within the love and safeguarding of a family where we can care for the young, the old and those with needs. Families should be able to offer each other commitment, fun, love, companionship and security.

This was borne out in a survey carried out by Barrett Values Centre a few years ago. 4,000 people across the UK were asked to pick the 10 values that most reflect who they are. Quality relationships, friendship, compassion, honesty and humour were listed in the top ten, but the top two were caring and family.

From a Christian perspective life is a gift from God and that life includes the family. The church itself should be a model of family life with members of the Church united like a family. The church still teaches that marriage is given that husband and wife may comfort and help each other, living faithfully together in need and in plenty, in sorrow and in joy. It is given that they may have children and be blessed in caring for them and bringing them up in accordance with God’s will. Most Christians believe that the best foundation for the family is marriage, and they will begin to support families as they prepare for marriage by expressing their intention to support the couple throughout their married life.

However, whether you have a Christian view of family life and marriage or not, the reality is that family life matters and lays foundations that impact on our health and wellbeing as we grow and mature into adults. I had a sharp reminder of this over the weekend, as I think all those gathered did. We promised not to let it be so long before we got together again and that we wouldn’t let the pressures and demands of busy lives get in the way. So, as our lives get ever busier and stressed I encourage us all not to forget the importance of family and even those who, for one reason or another don’t live in a family unit, to remember there are qualities and values that we can share in all our relationships.

Bishop Letter, May 2015

bishopThe Cathedral held a dawn service on Easter Day this year. I set the alarm for 4.30 in the morning for a 5.30 start.

The service began in darkness: readings and prayers from the Old Testament looking back to creation, to the Exodus, to the prophets longing for God’s kingdom. As dawn broke, we moved outside to the great entrance. New fire was kindled in a brazier. We lit the new Easter candle then together the congregation moved into the Church proclaiming with wonder once again this profound and life changing news that Jesus Christ rose from death on Easter Day.

The Christian faith is not based on a dream or a projection or a myth but an event in history. This event was witnessed by those who were not expecting it, unexplained by those who opposed it, written down by those who gave their lives in testimony, and attested by countless generations of Christians who have themselves encountered the risen Christ in scripture and sacrament, in prayer and fellowship.

This is the life changing, death disarming, fear destroying, mind transforming, joy bringing, grief shattering, kingdom proclaiming, history making, culture shaping truth that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day. God offers to everyone forgiveness and new life. But how can anyone believe in the resurrection of the dead? Death seems so final.

St Paul uses this very simple picture in 1 Corinthians 15. He asks us to imagine seed: the kind you plant in the ground. Think of the pip in the apple, or a sunflower seed, or the stone in the heart of a peach. No matter how long you look at a dried peach stone, no-one could possibly imagine that this hard, dry object could possibly change and not only change but grow and not only grow but become a whole tree, bearing leaves and flowers and fruit for years and years.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead, says Paul. Death seems so final. But we only see part of the picture. A person’s life and soul and personality rests with God after death, like the DNA hidden deep in the stone of a peach. God in his love and grace and power is able to raise them to a new and deeper and richer kind of life, life without end.

How can we know this to be true? Because of what Christians celebrate in the fifty days of Easter.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

+Steven Sheffield

Bishop’s Letter, April 2015

bishopOur society needs fresh vision. We face threats and problems at home and across the world. An election campaign is an opportunity for us to think hard, to debate and to have a conversation about what kind of world we want to build, about what kind of society we want to see.

On Shrove Tuesday, the House of Bishops issued a Letter to the People and Parishes of England for the General Election 2015. The full text is available on the diocesan website www.sheffield.anglican.org. The purpose of the letter is not to tell people how to vote but to encourage all Christian people to engage with the election and to use our votes thoughtfully, prayerfully and with the good of others in mind.

The letter is also an appeal to politicians of all parties to raise the quality of the debate. We need our politicians to be people of integrity and to offer real leadership in uncertain times. Politics needs to rise above a series of promises to one or other part of the electorate to deliver a slightly better deal to some in terms of wealth creation, welfare or tax relief.

There are big issues at stake in this election: Britain’s role in Europe and in the rest of the world; the fairness of our society; the protection of the vulnerable; the size of the state, our care of the environment and the role of public services. I will be writing to all the candidates in every constituency in the Diocese with a copy of the Bishops’ Letter and encouraging them to engage with the churches and faith communities and the issues they bring.

Please pray for the candidates and for the General Election. Please engage with the debate and conversation which the Bishop’s Letter has begun before and after 7th May. Please vote and encourage everyone you know to vote as well.

The Bishops’ Letter asks the question: “Who is my neighbour?” and holds out a vision that we will not build a society of strangers but a community of communities. That vision for our world is at the heart of the scriptures. Jesus himself teaches us to pray: “Your kingdom come”. Let us not neglect our responsibility as citizens and as Christians to engage with the debate around us.

Bishops Letter: The General Election Blog

bishop2by Bishop Peter – 16th February 2015

If you haven’t already noticed, the General Election is on its way. By the time you read this article it will be about 82 days to Election Day and counting. I’ve written about this topic before, but as we approach the election it’s worth reminding ourselves – in the midst of the apathy and cynicism the election campaign is bound to engender – how important it is to use your democratic right to vote. It’s an opportunity and a responsibility.

In Britain many have come to view the main political parties and the promises made during the campaign with disinterest at best, and outright mistrust at worst. Yet some of us still live in hope that despite the party political nature of the campaign, new politics can emerge with a government who will have at its heart human flourishing that makes a difference. That flourishing can only become reality when different parties work together for the good of all, rather than simply promoting a particular political ideology. That may appear naive but the benefit and welfare of the people of Britain – a society in which all can flourish and prosper, a society that is just and equal and which cares for its most vulnerable with respect, integrity and dignity, a society that takes care of its environment, a strong economy and job creation, building a vision for a better kind of world – must surely be the priority. This is built up not through the priority of the individual but through good and strong communities.

Many will say that religion and politics don’t mix and that Bishops shouldn’t interfere, but religion, by its very nature, addresses the whole of life and is therefore political though not party political. The church and individual Christians – Bishops or not – can’t therefore avoid making contributions to the debate about human flourishing and the good society, without it being interpreted by some as political. The church has an obligation to engage with the political process because Christians share responsibility with everyone to participate in the democratic structures of our society, which includes speaking out if we believe something to be wrong and unjust. But so do all of us.

It isn’t for me or anyone else to say how someone should vote, that’s a personal decision and responsibility. But I do believe that we all have a responsibility to participate in the General Election by exercising our right to vote, it’s one way of ensuring that politicians are held accountable and that they try and rise above the present diminished state of, and serve well, their constituencies which I know many of our politicians do.

As I concluded the last time I wrote about this, the reality is that there will be a government in power of whatever persuasion and mix whether you vote or not. Through our democratic system exercised by voting, we all have an opportunity to influence what this looks like and what we expect our politicians to do.

Bishop’s Letter – February 2015

bishopThis month, Bishop Steven has asked Peter Bradley, the Dean of Sheffield, to write the letter as he has a very special announcement:

2015 is proving to be a very special year for the Diocese. On 20 January, it was announced that Her Majesty the Queen will be visiting the Cathedral to celebrate the Royal Maundy on Maundy Thursday 2 April.

The Royal Maundy is the annual commemoration by the Monarch of the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus. During the service, the Queen will distribute specially minted Maundy money to 178 recipients aged over 70, 89 men and 89 women—a man and a woman for each year of her life. Each recipient will receive two gifts of money, one of which is £0.89 in the coins in a small leather pouch. This includes a 3 pence piece—which is legal tender!

The service takes its name from “mandatum,” a Latin word meaning “a commandment,” and its opening words are from John 13.34, “Jesus said, ‘I give you a new commandment’.” The service includes the famous anthem by Handel which is also sung at coronations, “Zadok the Priest.”

The Queen herself has approved the names of those who will be honoured by receiving the Maundy money, aided by an independent local committee of Deputy Lord Lieutenants. The recipients will be chosen because of their Christian service of the community and the Church. We understand that the Queen particularly values this service as it is a precious opportunity for her to mark explicitly the part that Christians play in our community life.

Nominations have been received from throughout the Diocese, from Area Deans, Canons and our ecumenical brothers and sisters. We received many, many more nominations than the 178 required, and a group of Deputy Lord Lieutenants carefully reviewed them all, and chose names to represent as far as possible almost every community in the Diocese. All who took part in this exercise have said how moving it is to discover how Christians have been at the heart of community service throughout South Yorkshire, sustaining our common life as part of our Christian vocation.

The Royal Maundy will be a true thanksgiving for the service of these 178 Christians, and of the whole Diocese. We know that we are all called to be salt and light. How good it is to give thanks to God for those who are serving our communities in Christ’s name!

Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5.16, NIV)

Bishop Peter’s Letter, January 2015

bishop2As we look back over last year there’ll be many things to celebrate but many will reflect on persecution that’s continued to blight the lives of millions of people including thousands of Christians persecuted for their faith in places like Iraq.  As I reflect on this, I’m drawn to the beatitude in St Matthew’s Gospel “Blessed are those who are persecuted”.  In the context of the horrors that many face this may be hard to comprehend, even if it is for righteousness sake.  In the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, there’s a clash of Kingdoms between the Dark Lord Sauron, the Hobbits and everyone else.  There are spectacular battles as the rival Kingdoms clash. To understand what’s happening Frodo and Sam have to see the bigger picture which includes the clash of two Kingdoms.

When we consider the saying “Blessed are those who are persecuted” we understand it in terms of the clash between two irreconcilable Kingdoms and value systems. Jesus isn’t saying we should look for persecution; it’s just that many will experience it as citizens of Kingdom.  God’s Kingdom breaks into a fallen world and is met with hostility and resistance. Jesus wasn’t welcomed with open arms by all and in the end many pursued him to destruction.

The resurrection shows us that evil can’t win.  In the Kingdom of God there is no persecution, evil or death because they’ve been swallowed up in victory.  But for now we belong to the Kingdom of God here on earth which still suffers from the brokenness and pain of sin and evil.  As Christians we’ll be met with resistance and hostility. This is a sign that we belong to the Kingdom of God and we’re overcoming sin and evil through our steadfast witness and example. That’s why we’re blessed. It’s a sign that we no longer belong to the Kingdom of this world. This says something about our mission.  If we’re not proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, we’re probably not being persecuted simply because it means we aren’t facing the hostility of witnessing to Christ. We aren’t persecuted when we’re retreating from the world; we’re persecuted when you engage with it.

Why would anyone choose a life that could lead to persecution? Because of the payoff.  Like a marathon runner, it’s the hope of what’s coming that keeps us going. So the only way to find a blessing is to remember that there’s something even more valuable than a persecution-free life, namely life in God’s Kingdom.

Bishop Steven’s Letter – December

bishop2014 has been a year when Europe has marked the centenary of the First World War. We’ve remembered those who sacrificed so much so that their children and grandchildren could live in peace. The beautiful installation of hand made poppies at the Tower of London has been a focus nationally.

Every year in Advent the Church reads again the great words of Isaiah about the coming of the Messiah. They are prophecies of peace, written in the midst of war. We should read them seriously this year. Isaiah gives us the beautiful promise that one day “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (2.4).

In the Christmas story, the promise of peace is echoed in the hymn of the angels “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favours” (Luke 2.14). In a world torn by war, Christians need to keep the hope of peace alive.
This year has seen bitter and violent conflict in Syria, Gaza, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan and in many other parts of the world. War takes a terrible toll on those who fight and on the many who are displaced or maimed or bereaved. War exacts a terrible cost on the well being of a nation.

Peace in the Bible translates the beautiful Hebrew word “Shalom”. Shalom is more than an agreement not to fight. It is more than quietness or silence. It means completeness, soundness, health, fullness of life, being fulfilled, reconciliation. Shalom is the fruitfulness of a well ordered garden, the peace and security of a just and fair society. Shalom is reconciliation within families and between nations. Shalom is tolerance and mutual respect between different religious beliefs. Shalom is prosperity and stability in society. Shalom is freedom of choice and conscience and respect for the rule of law. Shalom is fairness across a city. Shalom is security from violence and persecution of all kinds. Shalom is what enables children to grow up without fear, the elderly to live with dignity, those who build houses to live in them and those who work to enjoy the fruits of their labours.

We give thanks at the end of this year for the peace which we enjoy and for those who make it possible. We remember and we pray for peace in those parts of the world torn apart by war today. And we look forward in this season to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the one who brings the gift of peace beyond understanding for human hearts and the rich promise of peace for the nations of the earth.

Bishops Letter – November 2014

bishop2A few weeks ago I hosted a visit by three colleagues from  our link diocese of Argentina and we have also recently received guests from Hattingen-Witten. There are many things that unite us as Christians within the Anglican family and we have much to learn from each other. That is one reason for our exchange visits.

One of the things that struck me most about our visitors from Buenos Aires was the difference in our cultures and behaviour. South Americans are naturally and instinctively much more tactile, enthusiastic, and less inhibited. On a number of occasions they offered to pray with complete strangers on the street. They encountered people with fascinating stories to tell. The chance encounters led to some deeply profound conversations about faith and the power of the risen Christ to transform lives. These encounters took people by surprise but for my colleagues it was a natural thing to do.

Their actions were counter cultural; they went about things in a way that our reserved manner of doing things wouldn’t have allowed many of us to do. In acting in a counter cultural way they entered into profound conversations that gently challenged deeply held views and opinions about the church and God and opened people’s minds to new ways of thinking and acting.

We believe that Christians are called to be counter cultural; challenging the norms, common held views and expectations of a society that believes true value and worth can be measured by materialistic possessions and wealth. Christians believe that lasting fulfilment, meaning and purpose can only be found in Jesus Christ who showed that there is a different way to live and love in the service and sacrifice of others.

We should challenge society and political structures that appear to devalue the poor, weak and vulnerable; a society that holds up those with greater educational opportunities and wealth – whose life opportunities have enabled them to have good jobs or hold positions of power and authority – as being the epitome of what we should aspire to. We should aspire to enable everyone to have the best start and the best opportunities in life that a healthy society and economy like ours can afford but above all we should help them aspire to lives that have been transformed by a personal encounter with the God of salvation. This requires us not only to be counter cultural but through personal witness and testimony demonstrate the effect that the risen Lord has had on us and the way we live our lives. Witness that to others and it will make a powerful statement and will open the God of surprises to them. We may even be surprised ourselves. +Peter

Bishop Steven’s Letter – October 2014

bishopBishops in Mission Together

Earlier this year, all the bishops of the Northern Province went away together to Holy Island to pray together. The Archbishop of York called us to pray for north of England. We read the Bible together and listened to one another’s stories. We heard accounts of what God is doing across the north from a dynamic group of young adults who came with us.

But this was not just another meeting. We agreed to do something practical together: to be part of the answer to our own prayers. The bishops agreed together that once a year the Archbishop would lead us in mission for four days to a single diocese. As bishops we want to lead by example. Sharing the faith is a vital part of the life of the Church. We want to encourage one another and encourage the whole Church.

The bishops also agreed (with one voice) that we should begin this mission together in September 2015 and that we should begin in the Diocese of S h e f f i e l d .

From Thursday 10th-Sunday 13th September next year, the Archbishop of York will lead a four day mission in the Diocese of Sheffield. You may want to mark the date in your diary now. The mission team will be the Bishops of the Northern Province. Final details are still to be worked out but we hope that each Bishop will bring a team of half a dozen young people. We are hoping that there will be bishops in every deanery.

Our aim in the summer of every year is to sow the seed of the gospel in all kinds of ways. That is what we will be aiming to do next year as the Bishops join us in mission together. The teams will work in partnership with parishes, mission partnerships and deaneries in schools, in community ventures, in a range of different events.

We’re committed as a Diocese to moving forward in mission together. Please pray that as the Bishops of the North come to join us in God’s mission that we may see good fruit in every part of the Diocese.

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