Letter from Bishop Steven

20th March 2020

A note to all Licensed Clergy from our Bishop’s

A very great crisis

We are undoubtedly living through one of the greatest crises of our lives. The Archbishops announced yesterday that, following government advice, “public worship will have to stop for a season. Our usual pattern of Sunday services and other midweek gatherings must be put on hold”.

Given the scale of the global pandemic, the risks to public health and the advice from government this is the only possible course of action. All of us will need to follow it. 

However this will be painful and difficult news for the whole Church. In a time when our every instinct is to draw together in worship and fellowship, to comfort one another and reach out to others, we must remain physically distanced. Many will need to be isolated for their own protection or for the sake of their families.

We do not know how long this situation will endure but an initial time frame of at least three months seems likely and it may well be longer. It is all deeply painful.

We should expect that many people, including ourselves, will be in shock over the next few days at the speed of the escalation of the crisis, the economic difficulties, the changes to familiar patterns and the loss of familiar and deeply valued patterns of worship. 

We all respond in different ways to shock and trauma and difficult news. Some are adjusting rapidly. Others will find it difficult to believe and take in. Some will be angry. Some will want to argue and bargain and find ways around the advice. Others will channel their energies into rebuilding hope and offering practical suggestions. 

Clergy, chaplains, lay ministers and churchwardens will be on the front line in explaining the decisions and the new arrangements and helping and supporting others. This will not be easy. When we are in shock, we can only take in so much information at any one time. There is a danger of being overwhelmed. 

Together we will need to continue to build up the Church, to help care for God’s world and to care for one another in the coming weeks and months. It won’t be possible to put new systems in place all at once. We will need patience with ourselves and others and great kindness in all our communication. But by the grace of God, we will continue to be a Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world even in the midst of this most difficult of times. 

 


You are not alone

One of the deep foundations of Christian faith is that it is not good for humankind to be alone. We are made for love and community by a God who is love. We place our faith and trust in God as three persons in one fellowship and communion: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

The most important message we want to send to everyone in the Diocese and the wider community at this time of necessary distancing is that you are not alone. God is with us as we pray by ourselves and in families. There are many different ways in which we can connect with each other through technology. We will need to make full use of them and find new patterns of prayer, worship, pastoral care and fellowship for as long as it takes. 

We may not be able to meet together in the normal way as congregations for a time, but we are bound together through the ministry of the word and the prayers, by our common baptism and by bonds of Christian love. 

Our churches remain open; our faith in God is undiminished; public worship may be suspended, but the life of God’s kingdom is inextinguishable.

 

What will be streamed for the whole Diocese?

Bishop Steven will preside at the Eucharist this Sunday and offer a brief reflection to the whole Diocese from Christ Church at 10 am. In keeping with the restrictions only a handful of people will be able to be present.

We are aiming to live stream this service. Details of how to connect will be circulated across the Diocese before the weekend. 

Bishops Colin, Alan and Olivia will be offering reflections on our three local radio stations early on Sunday morning. These will be recorded and shared on the website. 

On future Sundays we will offer at least one streamed service centrally, and we will make others known through the website weekly. We will ensure that the streamed services offered reflect the whole breadth of our Anglican tradition. 

We are aiming to stream reflections and the principal services for Holy Week and Easter as we celebrate together in different ways the central, life-changing truths of Christian faith that Christ died for our sins and rose again.

 

We do not live by bread alone

The local church is a vital part of every community in this Diocese. Clergy and chaplains, lay ministers and churchwardens are a front line service for the well-being of society, both during this crisis and in the rebuilding which will follow. Much of our prayer and work over the coming weeks will be hidden from public view. As Jesus says over and over again in the Sermon on the Mount, God sees what is done in secret. This is often the most valuable part of our ministry. 



Thanks be to God for our fellowship and for all you offer in ministry

With our love and prayers,
 

 

 
 
 
 

Bishop’s Steven, Olivia, Colin and Alan

 

Letter from Bishop Steven, 4 September 2017 


Dear Friends
 
Called to be Christ-like: contemplative, compassionate and courageous
 
I am writing to invite every church, chaplaincy, small group and school in the diocese to do something very simple but life changing over the next year.
 
I am asking the whole Diocese of Oxford to read, study and dwell in the opening words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.1-10.
 
We are a large and complex diocese: a living, growing network of more than a thousand churches, chaplaincies and schools in one of the great crossroads of the world. 
 
We have a common calling and vision: to become a more Christ-like church in this critical moment of history so that we can better serve the communities of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Bucks and Milton Keynes and our fragmented world. 
 
To be more Christ-like in this place at this time means to catch a fresh vision of Jesus Christ.  The Beatitudes are a self-portrait of Jesus.  They show us that to be more Christ-like means to become a more contemplative church, a more compassionate church and a more courageous church.
 
For Christians, being contemplative means simply to spend time with God.  A contemplative church spends time with God.  To be contemplative is to be poor in spirit, meek and pure in heart.
 
Compassionate people feel and show sympathy and concern for others.  A compassionate church laments or mourns with the suffering in the world and is full of mercy which leads to action.
 
Courageous people are whole-hearted.  To be a courageous church means to put our heart and soul into everything we are and do.  A courageous church will be hungry and thirsty for justice, seeking peace and reconciliation and willing to bear the cost of our discipleship and offer a bold witness to our faith. 
 
Blessing, hope and joy
 
In the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks words of joy and hope and blessing to the Church, not words of doom or despair or blame. I believe with all my heart that we need to learn to speak of the Church God loves in this register of joy and hope and blessing.    
 
As we dwell in this passage together and think about the life of the Church in our diocese, I hope God will open our eyes to the many good things which are already happening: the stories of a contemplative, compassionate and courageous church in every place.  I’ve seen many of these for myself as I have travelled across the diocese over the last year.
 
I also hope that God will rekindle our vision and our imagination as we look forward together.  What would it look like in five or ten years if we were able to be a more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous church?  And what difference would it make?
 
Simple resources
 
There are many good ways to engage with the Beatitudes through sermon series, small group studies or quiet days. Your church or group will want to engage in your own way. 
 
As a diocese, we will provide and signpost simple resources to help including:
 
  1. A short video and outline for PCCs, small groups and others to begin the process
  2. Three sessions for small groups in the style of the Pilgrim materials based on the Beatitudes (available in good time for Advent).
  3. Three sessions for small groups in a similar style on the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11 exploring Jesus as contemplative, compassionate and courageous (available in good time for Lent). 
  4. Resources for children, schools and young people on similar themes.
 
Details of these and other resources will be available on the diocesan website.  Other resources and reflections will be released through the year in the Door and through social media. 

As bishops we are keen to teach on these themes through the year and would welcome invitations to explore the Beatitudes in services and other events (as are the archdeacons and other members of the diocesan team).
 
We will also be holding special days and events in each area of the diocese to explore these themes, beginning with the Dorchester Area Day on 30 September.  There will be a special day for young people across the whole diocese on 24 February. 
 
Learning together
 
None of us has all the answers. We want to learn and discern together what it means to be contemplative, compassionate and courageous. We want as many people as possible to interact with the developing vision and ideas and to share your experiences of what is happening in the church today.  Please share this letter as widely as you can within your own community. 
 
We want to hear your stories and so do others, so please do share on Facebook, Twitter and the diocesan website using #Contemplative, #Compassionate or #Courageous. You could share a smartphone video of your thoughts or something happening in your church, with photos or text, or share a link to a website or a piece of music or image that inspired you.  We also want to hear from you about how you feel we need to be more compassionate, contemplative or courageous in the future.
 
 
Work on future strategy
As we explore what it means to be a Christ-like church, through the Beatitudes and other opportunities for reflection, we also seek to understand where God wants us to focus our energies and God-given resources, time and talent.  To this end, the Bishop’s Council has agreed to establish six working groups in the autumn to explore six areas for future strategic work.  These are not yet set in stone but remain flexible as the listening continues.  Again there are more details on the website.  These ideas for future planning in the diocese will evolve, we hope, in dialogue with your explorations of what it means to be a more contemplative, compassionate and courageous church. 
 
Living Faith
 
The Living Faith vision has done its work well in laying a rich foundation of mission at the heart of the life of the diocese.  From now onwards we will be using logos on the Beatitudes word cloud for this year of listening and discerning.  However, parishes and deaneries are of course welcome to continue to use the excellent Living Faith materials for as long as these are helpful. 
 
Yeast
 
I love to bake my own bread.  I’m amazed at the power locked up in tiny grains of yeast –enough to make a whole batch of flour rise.
 
Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened”.
 
The Beatitudes are all about the kingdom of heaven: God’s vision for human life.  They are a self-portrait of Jesus, the one who brings life in all its fullness.  Let’s take this good yeast in the coming year and mix it and work it and knead it through the church to bring renewal and hope and fresh vision and joy. 
 
Your servant in Christ  
 

God of gentleness and love
Draw near to us as we draw near to you
Dwell in every heart and conversation
Fashion us into the likeness of your Son Jesus Christ
Help us to discern together all that you are calling us to be
And all that you are calling us to do
Assist us, by your Spirit, to become a more contemplative,
More compassionate and more courageous church
For the building of your kingdom and the glory of your Son
Amen