In his letter to the Church in Corinth Paul says to those who are baptized into Christ –
“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.” (2. Cor. 3.2)
He is making a similar point: the story of Jesus is written in our lives, “not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God (2. Cor. 3.3).”
are very powerful. They can help us imagine a new future. They can draw
us together. In the York diocese in recent years we have come to
realise this afresh. Jesus’ own little story of the mustard seed that
grows and grows into a huge and fruitful tree, has inspired us to new
initiatives, released new people into ministry, and drawn others into
the story of God’s Church and for the building of God’s kingdom.
wonder whether across our whole diocese this understanding of ourselves
as people who are called to be part of the story of God’s love and to
live and share that story with others might draw us together, give fresh
impetus to our mission, and enable us to find other new and inspiring
ways to share the story with others.
This isn’t a new
vision, but it may be a way of looking again at our existing vision and
priorities and breathing new life into them.
It will also give us some new, exciting stories to tell.
At the moment our vision is to
be generous churches, making and nurturing disciples, mutually
resourcing to build up the Body of Christ to grow in Christ-likeness,
commitment, partnership, influence and numbers.
That’s what you’ll find on the Diocese of York website.
It’s impossible to disagree with. Its all-embracing. But it’s not memorable. Nor does it help us know where to put the focus.
It goes on –
Our strategy sets out the action we are taking to help us on this journey, with our goals being to:
- Reach people we currently don’t
- Move to growth
- Establish sustainable giving
bit is memorable. I think if you asked most people in the diocese, if
they knew the vision at all, they would say these three words: reach;
But even though these words are simple and memorable, they still need to be fleshed out and inhabited.
I think I know what it means to reach people we don’t.
I also know what we mean by establishing sustainable giving.
But move to growth, could mean lots of things. And once the words just become, reach, grow, sustain, they are open to other interpretations.
Sustain might just be heard, as keeping things as they are.
this year, if we have learned anything, it’s that we can’t go on as we
are. The Church of England has been humbled. The IICSA report on child
sexual abuse in the Church of England has held up a painful and
disturbing mirror to our failings, not least a culture of deference
which has prevented us from seeing those failings properly, let alone
responding adequately. These things must be addressed. In our diocese.
And in the whole Church.
But we are also aware of the financial
challenges we face. These have not been created by COVID-19. For some
years our main sources of income (particularly the overall Freewill
Offer and Parochial Fees) have been static. Whilst vacancies have not
been deliberately extended, the difficulties in making timely
appointments have led to an underspend on stipends and salaries which,
together with a combination of short term actions like cutting back on
property maintenance and, arguably, under investing in other central
systems and services, have enabled us to balance the books. But as
you’ve heard before, this masks an underlying financial problem. Despite
predictions of deficits, the bottom line has appeared to work itself
out. But we have not been “crying wolf”, and with the added impact of
Covid19, and as you shall hear later, we can no longer simply manage
this though short term fixes. We therefore must face up to the practical
implications of the very real challenge of finding ways of fulfilling
our vocation to be the church for every community in this diocese, and
especially the poorest, in ways that are financially sustainable. This
will require a transformation in our thinking. We need to tell a new
At the same time, we should not be discouraged. This year
we have also learned so much. As I said to the General Synod of the
Church of England earlier this week we have learned again the importance
of parish and place and local ministry and pastoral care. Local
churches and local clergy and local lay leaders have responded to this
crisis in remarkably profound, imaginative and moving ways. Thank you to
you all for your perseverance and creativity.
For instance, in the north of the diocese this year, although our Joint Venture with the Church Urban Fund, Together Middlesbrough & Cleveland,
hasn’t been able to run its normal summer activities for children in
places of deprivation, it Has responded brilliantly and overseen the
provision of 60,000 meals, as well as work with people who are homeless
and isolated; and where face-to-face visits haven’t been possible, it’s
developed a telephone befriending service. Recent research by the Yorkshire Churches Rural Business Support (YCRBS) also demonstrates encouraging and creative innovation, both in worship and service, by our rural churches.
particular, and across the board, we have developed our online presence
and created all sorts of new communities of faith and found new people
engaging in the life of faith in incredible, and nine months ago,
Whatever the future holds, we must continue to
express our life in this digital landscape. Further theological
reflection is needed on what this means for our liturgy, our sacramental
life and our belonging to each other. But these are nice problems to
have. For once, they are problems of growth. Churches that used to have
congregations of 30 or 40 on a Sunday morning now report 130 or 140
online. Of course, those who are gathering online won’t automatically
start coming on Sundays when all this is over. So we must find new ways
of being a mixed ecology church, expanding our vision of what it means
Thirdly, we have rediscovered the vital link between
worship, spirituality, pastoral care and evangelism. We should never
have separated these things out. But this year, because we have been
forced back to basics, even during the first lockdown having to worship
and pray largely on our own and without the nourishment of the
sacraments and with church buildings closed, we have had to learn a new
dependence on Christ.
With others, I have been leading for the
Church of England on a process to discern what our vision and strategy
might be for the next 10 years. The ideas that have emerged were shared
at the General Synod for the first time on Tuesday. Some of you may have
The headlines are these: that God is calling us to be a more Christ centred and Jesus shaped church. Of course, we make no distinction between ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’. We are called to be Jesus Christ centred, which means primarily a profound spiritual renewal; and we are called to be Jesus Christ shaped,
which is primarily about the lives we lead as disciples of Jesus
Christ. The phrase ‘Jesus shaped’ is borrowed from the Anglican
Communion, where many provinces have understood the five marks of
mission also to be five marks of what they call a Jesus shaped life. The
five marks of mission also focus our mission and ministry away from
ourselves, and to the needs of God’s world, especially the need for us
to challenge the unjust structures of the world and to address the
greatest long-term challenge facing us, which isn’t Covid 19, but the
From this centre three other strategic
priorities have emerged, and I very much hope we can weave these into
our own diocesan strategy. They are that God is calling us to be –
- a church of missionary disciples, that is a church shaped by the five marks of mission.
- a church where mixed ecology is the norm,
that is a church that is better able to serve the smorgasbord of
cultures that make up English life today by finding many different
expressions. All of this will flow from healthy, flourishing parish
ministry. But it will embrace digital; and, we hope, that many other
types of church will flourish, not least chaplaincy. These are also the
mustard seed and multiply ministries that we have given birth to in this
diocese in recent years.
- a church that is younger and more diverse.
none of this works or makes sense, unless it inspires, shapes and
informs the life of the church in our parishes, church plants,
chaplaincies, fresh expressions, multiply and Mustard seed ministries,
messy church, refugee ministry, church schools, food banks and in
whatever other ways we live and share the gospel in this diocese of
York. And, amazingly, even in this most difficult of years, in every
community in our land we continue to offer prayer and service, the
prayer and service that flows from our life in Christ and the ways in
which Jesus has shaped our lives. This is the hope and the vision we
must share with our world: the story of what God has done and is doing
I said at the last Synod that our vision may need a
reboot. So how about this? Instead of our current all embracing – but
rather complicated - way of expressing vision, and mindful that the
three words reach, grow and sustain are the ones that people tend to
remember, might this be a better way of putting it –
In the York diocese we are putting our energy into living Christ’s story. Sharing a narrative of hope.
We will do this in four ways -
1. Becoming more like Christ
– which means receiving and knowing the story ourselves. Before we do
anything else we remember who we are: God’s beloved children, those whom
he came to seek and save. We also remember that we know this story by
prayer and service as well as by bible study and learning (we will also
start to use the Christ centred and Jesus shaped language of the
national vision and strategy).
2. Reaching people we currently don’t
– by living and telling this story, remembering that the story we share
is those two stories of what God has done in Christ and what God is
doing through the Church down through the centuries and in us.
3. Growing churches of missionary disciples
- which will be the best way of reaching new people and is the way
we’ll grow those we reach, but also to strive to be younger and more
diverse and to take on board what the national vision says about
becoming a mixed ecology church. In every community we want our churches
to be places where the story of Christ is known and lived out, and
where we let those stories lead us in the ways we have seen in the
Mustard Seed and Multiply initiatives.
4. Transforming our finances and structures
so that together we can support a presence in all the neighbourhoods
and networks of the diocese – to find a new story that will not just be
about sustaining our life, but recognising that our life needs to be
transformed in order to be an agent of God’s transformation in the
These four priorities clearly build on our current
strategy; ensure that the new challenges we face are addressed; and
resonate with the Church of England’s national vision and strategy.
sure some of you will look at these four priorities and think the
fourth is the hardest. It isn’t. The first presents the biggest
challenge. And without addressing it – our life in Christ – then nothing
else of value is likely to happen either. Nor should it. However, for
each of these strategic priorities we will need to discover the stories
that will lead us, and for this fourth priority I wonder whether Jesus’
story of the woman with the yeast may be the one to guide us (see
Matthew 13. 33). Its promise of transformation is the narrative we need
for the tough choices and changes that lie ahead.
Synod, I believe
this may be a way forward for us. I present it on behalf of the
Leadership team of the diocese after much prayer and discussion.
It is easy to communicate.
honours what has gone before, but enables us to set an agenda for the
key strategic challenges we face, not least around resourcing.
story isn’t just a unifying concept for the vision, it also a
description of the method we will use (and have been using) where story
creates ownership of vision and entering into the story is the driver
for strategic change.
The Leadership team and I believe that by
God’s grace and the power of the Spirit there are great opportunities
for our diocese. Making them a reality is possible, but it means first
being honest about what needs to be different and then having the
courage to think and act differently. This is something for the whole
diocese to take to heart, and I hope that as a Synod we’ll be at the
forefront. I share it with you today for your prayers, your discussion
and your input. The next Synod meeting is in April. Before then, the
bishops and archdeacons will be having conversations especially at
deanery level about this way forward, and how we can move towards actual
changes that we’ll see. And then, after further discussion and
amendment, at the April Synod I’ll be inviting us to commit ourselves
together to all this.
Or to put it another way –
task as the people of God in the York diocese is to share the story of
Christ by letting God write that story on our own hearts and by writing
the next chapter of all that Jesus is going to do here.