As the opening line of the poem you will hear in a moment
(reproduced below) declares: the river is not a straight line. It does not run from A to B.
The river follows the contours of the land. It goes at its own pace.
find ourselves in the middle of a vitally important series of
consultations about how we are called to live out our Christian faith in
the diocese of York. An important part of this is to so transform our
finances and structures that we will discover sustainable ways of
continuing our ministry and supporting worshipping communities of all
types and sizes in all the communities we serve, rural as well as urban,
wealthy as well as poor: indeed, through mustard seed and multiply
projects, to grow new ones. I think we will best achieve this by
following the contours of the land. What I mean by this, is that we will
go with the flow of the energy and resources we already have.
What does this mean in practice?
Well, of course, I don’t really know. I still don’t know the communities of our diocese well enough.
you do. You are the experts with intimate knowledge, commitment and
love for your own communities. Therefore, if we commit ourselves to
working together then there is every possibility that we can find the
right ways of being the church in and for each locality. But it might
mean letting go of certain presuppositions about what a church is.
- Don’t misunderstand me, I love and cherish the built heritage of our parish churches. But the church is not a building.
- Don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely value and cherish the clergy (I’m one of them after all!). But the church is not the priest.
- Don’t misunderstand me,
I value the history of parish and place upon which the Church of
England’s ministry has been built for centuries. But the church is not
If we carry on holding onto only one model of
what it is to be a church, then we might fail to see that if we just
allowed the river of our life in Christ to meander off in this
apparently counter intuitively strange direction – not going from A to B
at all, but actually, for the moment, appearing to go backwards – we
would find a way forwards.
This way of being the church will be based on several vital principles.
that ministry belongs to everyone, to the whole people of God because
of our baptism. We are the Church: the people of God in all our
communities of faith.
that the diocese is us, not someone else, not head office, wherever
that is, not bishop or archdeacon, not even Incumbent. But us. And we
have a commitment to each other and to every community, not just our
- Thirdly, we need
the oversight of bishop and priest. And we need the resourcing for
training and housing and safeguarding and communications that comes from
the so called centre. But as I said to the General Synod last Monday,
the centre is Christ, and our becoming like Christ is the centre of our
vision to tell Christ’s story; and the primary task of those of us who
are called to lead and oversee the Church is to encourage and facilitate
the ministry of everyone.
This might – please stress the
word might – mean fewer stipendiary clergy in some places. It might
not. That really depends on how much money we can raise. But it must
mean more self-supporting clergy and lay ministry. It might lead to some
lay led congregations. It might lead to some churches re-imagining
themselves as very successful house groups, rather than failed
In fact, we will probably worry about numbers less,
because we will care about people more. We will want to serve everyone.
And we will definitely want there to be more expressions of church life.
But it will be a mixed ecology church, where under the oversight of
bishop and Incumbent (and of course still governed by Canon law, and of
course still arising from our parish system) churches working together
will find new ways of doing things. Mustard seeds will sprout and
flourish. Good things will multiply. And, of course, there will be some
failures along the way, and times when the river doesn’t seem to be
flowing at all.
This is daunting. But we needn’t be fearful. The
challenges we face are large, but we have faced similar things before.
Actually, we are only really a few turns in the river away from the
rushing water that will speed us along. With only a little more
generosity, most of our financial challenges would be solved as a
stroke. With only a little more vision, and a little more courage, I
think we can find ways of sustaining and transforming our life.
it won’t be like a graph that is steadily going in one direction. Nor a
Roman road crossing the terrain in a straight line and sweeping away
everything in its path.
It will be like a river, which bends this
way and that, but eventually, steadily, opens into a wide, wide estuary
and then into the sea itself.
And the heart of our vision to
live Christ’s story is of course the invitation that we become more like
Christ ourselves. He is the one who climbs into our boat, as he did
with Peter, and invites us to push out from the shore and prepare our
nets for a catch.
Yesterday morning, I was back with Radio 4. And
to my surprise I was again waking up to the sound of water. But this
time it was terrifying. In the Rhineland and surrounding regions three
months-worth of rain had fallen in a single day. Small streams had
become raging torrents. Rivers had burst their banks. Houses swept away.
Power supplies cut off. Many people were missing. We still don’t know
how many have died.
There is little doubt that the cause of this is global warming.
we are able to learn the lessons of what’s happening around us and see
that our straight lines and graphs that only go upwards are destroying
the planet, these are events we may have to get used to. And their
We are going to have to change. And I
believe the church of Jesus Christ is called to lead the way. We are
going to have to learn to live with less and to be satisfied with
enough. Our insatiable desire for everything, will leave us with
We need to see what’s happening and change direction. We
need to follow the contours of the land, living with our creation, not
against it. Again, the river can teach us, and we must respect its place
in the complex ecology of the planet.
If you come to
Bishopthorpe Palace and stand by the Ouse there are various small
plaques on the walls marking where the river rose during some of the
great floods of the last few hundred years.
I’ve still lived there
less than a year, but already the river has flooded twice and on both
occasions the water level was higher than the marks on the wall a
century ago. But we no longer put up plaques. What was a ‘once every
century or so’ occurrence is now commonplace.
Our diocesan vision
calls us to grow a church of missionary disciples. This means living out
the five marks of mission. All of them. Mindful again this week of the
shocking racism aimed at three young black footballers, we must work to
transform the unjust structures of our society. And, of course, we must
strive to safeguard the integrity of the creation. Discussions this
morning on the environment and racial justice will be signs of how we,
the diocese of York, will live out Christ story in the world today,
telling the story of Christ, but also living it.
And so, at last,
to the poem. It is my prayer for our diocese, that we will have the
imagination and the vision to do things differently, but also the grace
and love to travel well, and most of all to know Christ who travels with
us, who loves us and believes in us, and entrusts his mission to us.