Bishop of Doncaster
Posted by Bishop Peter Burrows on 3rd January 2017 | Comments: 0
Aristotle is supposed to have said “The more you know, the more you know you don't know.” As we reflect on the past twelve months many will do so with joy, some with sadness and others with disappointment and regret. At the beginning of 2016 none could have known what would impact on us personally, nationally or globally. Few of us would have predicted ‘Brexit’ for example. We may have anticipated the continuation of war and terrorism and done so with a great sadness in our hearts, praying that peace would one day engulf not only our own lives but the whole world and we continue to do so. Many would not have predicted the events that have engulfed their own lives both the joyous ones and the less so.
As we look to a New Year none of us again know what lies ahead. However good the previous year might have been we will start the new one in the hope and anticipation that it will better than the last. I witnessed this during the New Year celebrations where people spoke hopefully about 2017 even sometimes in a negative sense “Whatever this year brings it can’t be worse than the last” I heard a number of people say.
At the start of a New Year many of us will reassess where life is taking us, determined to take a new direction, we’ll make New Year’s resolutions, most of which we won’t keep. But in reality most of us have no idea what lies ahead and that can be unnerving, in part because we like to think we are masters of our own destiny. Life is uncertain and unpredictable and it’s difficult to know where to find hope, peace and fulfilment.
There is little we can do with the unpredictability of life but Christians believe that we needn’t be overcome by it. Hope we believe lies in the Christ child who came to earth, who lived amongst us, and who died so that we might have our sins forgiven and find new life in him. Some say that you can’t believe in God because you can’t know what you don’t know. However, those who have come to believe in Christ have discovered a reality, a love that’s changed and transformed them. It may not have made their problems go away but they see them in a new light and surrounded by the love and support of a community.
In the Church’s year we are about to celebrate the Epiphany. It’s the familiar story of the three wise men visiting the infant Jesus. There is much about this story that we don’t in reality know but it sets us a number of lessons which we can take into the New Year. The gifts we can offer may seem trivial and modest, but they represent the giving of ourselves to God which is the most important gift. Secondly, like the wise men we’re on a journey both to discover Jesus and make him known to others. Thirdly, the wise men through the grace of God came to faith in Jesus and so can we.
At the end of the story the wise men went home by another road. We too this year can walk a different road, it may be uncertain, but it’s a road that if we stick with it can lead to Jesus which will lead to transformation and a new life in him.
Bishop of Doncaster speaks about the need to help those less fortunate in our communities at Christmas
Posted by Bishop Peter Burrows on 25th December 2016 | Comments: 0
Posted by Bishop Peter Burrows on 28th November 2016 | Comments: 0
Some of you may know that a couple of weeks ago the diocese had a Peer Review. Peer Review is a process being introduced to facilitate learning and improve shared accountability across the Church of England. The primary objective being to help strengthen mission and finances in the dioceses.
As part of the process each diocese is asked to complete a self-assessment form which explores developments relating to growth, the common good, re-imagining ministry, strategic leadership, leadership culture and the use of resources. The consultation on the day included members of the Bishop’s Staff, the chair of the board of finance, lay and ordained chairs of synod. It also included telephone interviews with a number of lay and ordained people from across the diocese prior to this, so it was I think pretty thorough.
Part of the self-assessment included a SWOT analysis, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and I’d like to highlight a few things in the hope that you might recognise and possibly even agree with some of them.
Strengths we said included real diocesan ownership of the vision and mission with a commitment to growing new disciples, transforming communities, mixed economy church, Fresh Expressions of church of which there are 56 across the diocese, pioneer ministry, including experimenting with interim ministers, a commitment to mission and work with children and young people and Mission Partnerships, to name but a few. Critical to delivering any of these and the overall diocesan strategy has been the deep commitment and tremendous work done in the parishes in which we celebrate and rejoice and in the lay and ordained leadership we have and are continuing to grow. Thank you for all you are doing which is greatly appreciated and valued. This is supported by the Parish Support Team appointed to help parishes implement core strategies and which has been very effective. We rejoice in a Bishop’s Staff committed to mission and growth and that very same commitment is one of the key elements we are looking for in our new bishop. And again personally I’d like to thank the staff team for their support and work and also that of the staff in the Bishops offices and the Diocesan Office.
Overall we have collaborative leadership across the diocese which includes significant unpaid ministry of self-supporting and retired ministers and a breadth of recognised lay ministry and a commitment to training, not least through the new St Peter’s College. We also have a real commitment to growing vocations to lay and ordained ministry supported by an experienced and wise team, with a good choice of vocational pathways and training providers. Clear leadership priorities and plan for education is another key priority as is developing our Safeguarding following a positive audit. And for this we’ve been extremely grateful and blessed by Linda Langthorne our Safeguarding officer who only joined us this year and the Safeguarding Management Group.
These and many other things being done imaginatively a creatively particularly at parish level make the Diocese of Sheffield an exciting place to be and minister. It’s an attractive place for our new Bishop to come and join in the positive direction we have set. It’s a place where despite the difficulties of attracting people to the north as we know we want to invite others to join us on our journey.
That’s not to say we didn’t recognise areas for further development and there are a number of things that we’d describe as works in progress, not least as we come out of a period where the previous bishop led the vision clearly, and pulled the team together. There is a certain anxiety that a new bishop might have different ideas which causes some faltering. We have again highlighted this to those being considered as our new bishop.
We are aware that all of us are working at capacity and beyond. Progress of the Mission Partnership model is not yet proven and fully owned. There’s no strategy for under-represented groups. And as indicated filling vacancies in existing parish models still dominates and difficult to shift. And there were a number of other things we identified.
So we’re in a good place, good heart, good health but honest about what still needs to be done and there’s no complacency just hope, expectation and anticipation in God’s mission
All of our strategies are based on becoming an outward focused and engaged church bringing people to faith and walking alongside people on their journey in life and faith. There are practical things we have to do such as finance and they can’t be ignored but most importantly we’re called to mission. One of the strategies which I haven’t yet mentioned but which is critical to this is our Salt and Light strategy, and that too was questioned at the peer review with an admission that it hasn’t perhaps had the same prominence as other aspects of our vision. This is partly due to the fact that many good and significant things that come under the umbrella of “Salt and Light” are already being done in our parishes mostly unnoticed and often undervalued. We have individuals and teams of people working keenly in supporting others as part of the vision to transform our society and God’s world, supported by the Board of faith and Justice
It may be some while since you looked at this key strategy document and so it’s worth reminding ourselves about some of what is says. The document reminds us that God calls his people to pray for the coming of the Kingdom and to love our neighbours as ourselves. In the Old Testament God called Abraham so that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. The law that came through Moses is a law that upholds the rights of the widows, orphans, refugees and the poor. The prophets call us to challenge unjust structures. The Gospels tell us that Jesus came proclaiming God’s Kingdom, peace and justice. His whole ministry was about serving others, relieving the suffering of others and challenging those in authority and power. Jesus called his disciples and he calls us to have an impact beyond our own community as “Salt and Light” in the world. The call to serve our society and transform God’s world is a key part of discipleship and our witness to the difference Christ makes in our lives as we draw others to faith.
The strategy document also highlights a number of things that need transforming such climate change, poverty, war and violence, the sense of powerlessness experienced by many, inequality and inequality that undermines community cohesion, levels of care available to an aging population, young people and families, the treatment of asylum seekers, those with disability and mental health issues, unemployment and the economy and of course not forgetting ourselves. We need to look at where we see God already doing work, we need to develop partnerships within and outside the diocese, and we need to pray.
One of our link officers Pete wrote this and it can be found on the diocesan website “I’ve often noticed that God, incarnate in Jesus and present in our neighbours, calls us to meet and serve him in and through our vulnerabilities. This can feel painful and risky when we have lived experience of the issues we seek to address. This is especially true for congregants or those on the fringes of congregations whose involvement with the Church may principally be focused on their activities supporting others who are vulnerable and isolated”
The strategy also suggests the way we as individuals and churches can respond and we are encouraged by the number of Salt and Light link officers we have in our parishes.
The issues I’ve highlighted in this strategy inevitably impact most on the poor and vulnerable and I, we, are constantly reminded of this in ministry. But we too sometimes become vulnerable in our own lives and need transforming. As many of you know Jane was diagnosed last year with Early Onset Alzheimer’s and dementia care is a core intuitive of the Board of faith and Justice. That has meant for me and Jane inevitable readjustments to the way we live and plans for the future. But without the support of people in the diocese, friends and family and the excellent care offered in Doncaster things would have been much more difficult and grim. The small but significant offers of help and support, the kind words in difficult moments have transformed what could have been an even bleaker future. It teaches us that while we are looking to our greater communities don’t forget those around you may be in need of God’s transforming love.
In ministry, like many of you, I constantly meet and am humbled by conversations with people facing situations that I can’t even begin to imagine. Horrific stories of asylum seekers and what they’ve witnessed, the vulnerability, hostility and corruption they’ve faced and the abuse suffered by traffickers. On our streets we daily face those who are homeless, alone and afraid and many just walk by and ignore them. I often challenge myself to think how I would feel if I was out on the street or if a member of my family or friend were out on the street and ignored daily, when a kind word, a hot drink on a cold winters day might help transform their lives.
Of course we want to transform people’s lives by bringing them to Jesus and to have lives that are changed and transformed by his saving love and grace. But with some we have to start at the practical level of help and support and show them God’s love in action.
This was brought home to me in a recent conversation with an organisation called “Night Stop”. Night Stop is part of DePaul UK which is part of DePaul international, a group of charities working to support homeless and marginalised people around the world. They have recently opened a night stop in Sheffield. Night Stop services offer emergency accommodation to vulnerable young people at risk of homelessness in the homes of trained and vetted volunteers for one night at a time. Over 600 volunteer households opened their homes in 2015 and there are 33 services running in the UK. Last year they provided 13,438 bed nights.
And this is what one of the hosts said
“We have two daughters of our own, and we thought if anything had happened to them, we’d have liked someone to take them in,” Denise says.
“We moved in to this house two years ago and it had a spare bedroom; I wanted it to be for someone to sleep in, not just get filled up with junk! Some time later I saw an article in the paper, asking for volunteers who had a spare room to help look after young homeless people.
“All the young people are different. Some are very unsure, they don’t know what they’re doing, others are more confident and take it in their stride. Some are wondering what’s going to happen next.
“I just assure them that they’re known about now, they’re in the system, and for the moment they have somewhere to sleep while they get some help.
“One young man had been sleeping in the park and the railway station, so without Night stop he would certainly have been rough sleeping again
In the diocese I hear regular stories of people helping in this way or helping at foodbanks, dementia café’s, luncheon clubs, addressing issues of poverty and environmental projects.
We may sometimes feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what God is calling us to do, we may feel inadequate as I do every year at this time when I’m bombarded with charities asking for money and I feel slightly guilty that I can’t respond to them all.
We are about to enter Advent, as God’s people we wait the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. The church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. And we’re called to continue his mission, his work, and his ministry in the in-between time and that includes a bias to the poor and marginalised in the very broadest sense, a reaching out in love and compassion to help their practical needs as an outward example and witness of God’s love and in drawing them ever closer to their Lord and Saviour.
Posted by Bishop Peter Burrows on 16th July 2016 | Comments: 2
We’ve recently had Euro 2016 and perhaps the less said about that and the England performance the better. We’ve also had Wimbledon and of course my favourite sport, Formula 1, continues for another few months - while August sees the start of the Olympic Games in Rio. Not being a sporting person, I am constantly impressed by the commitment and dedication of athletes who train tirelessly to reach a critical stage, ready to perform and compete at the peak of their ability. For many competing in the Olympic Games will be the pinnacle of their career, a significant moment or sporting achievement whether they win or not.
It doesn’t matter how much the athletes train and prepare themselves, sometimes things don’t go to plan; perhaps they’re having an off day and don’t perform in the way they hoped and expected, and sometimes they’re overtaken by events. I still remember today the controversial Zola Budd race at the 1984 Olympics. During the race she appeared to tangle with the top American runner and rival Mary Decker, putting Decker out of the race. The crowd’s hostile reaction so unnerved the 18 year old runner that she could only finish seventh. Budd was already in the glare of the international spotlight after her application for British Citizenship was fast tracked earlier in the year in time for her to compete in the games. As a South African she would have been ineligible to compete as the country was banned from international sport because of its policy on apartheid.
The few seconds that destroyed both women’s hopes of a medal was shown over and over again on TV from every angle possible in an attempt to decide which athlete was to blame. They show that shortly after the half-way mark with Zola Budd slightly in front, she and Decker bumped into each other twice. In the second encounter Mary Decker’s spikes caught the bare footed Budd’s heel, she stumbled and tripped Decker who was unable to get up and left the track in tears. Decker later told journalists that Zola tried to cut in and there was no question that she was in the wrong. After initially disqualifying Budd for obstruction she was reinstated when officials viewed films of the race and discovered it hadn’t been her fault.
But the point is that Zola Budd did finish the race even if only in seventh place and she even tried to apologise to Decker. Many of us, I suspect, would have accepted from the moment of the incident that we were out of the race, with no hope. We might have been angry but little could have been done about it. For a less confident and determined athlete they might have been overtaken by what had happened with no hope of going on. In Zola Budd’s case it was the opposite.
And this reminds us of St Paul’s comments in Philippians 3:12-14 “Forget what’s behind, strain every nerve to go after what lies ahead, and chase on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Paul ends the previous passage with talk of the resurrection which still lies in the future and towards which all Christian’s are drawn, like athletes straining towards the end of the race. It is, he says, important to concentrate on one aim in view, namely keeping focused, keep going on the goal. In using his own path as an example he also warns the Philippian church that once you’ve become a mature Christian it doesn’t mean you’ve arrived, there’s more travelling to do or - picking up the athletic theme - there’s more training still to be done. He warns those who imagine that the full life of the age to come can be had in the present without waiting for the resurrection itself. Full maturity means knowing you haven’t arrived and you must keep pressing towards the goal. The seasoned athlete knows that the race isn’t won or lost until the end has been reached. We’ve witnessed many an athlete making the mistake of being in front, slacking off and ending up losing the race.
For St Paul the goal to which we are running is the resurrection life. Straining forward towards it, like an athlete aiming at the finishing line and the prize that waits beyond it, means living in the present in the light of the future.
So what’s this got to do with where we are just at this moment, in the life of the diocese, as we prepare in a few moments time and in the service tomorrow to say good bye to Bishop Steven and Ann. Each of us will have our own memories and I’m sure that many of us will have expressed our sincere thanks and appreciation to Steven and Ann since the announcement of his appointment to Oxford. Steven, as we know, has served the diocese for the past seven years - of which 4 ½ years we’ve worked together. I’ve learnt much about episcopal ministry from him. I’ve come to appreciate and value his theological wisdom and oversight, his colleagueship and practical outworking of a new vision, a sense of direction and purpose for the diocese and always with a deep sense of graciousness. His visionary leadership has brought the diocese into the second century with an invigorated commitment to God’s mission and the building of his Kingdom amongst us. There’s an overwhelming sense of optimism about the future and the fruits of God’s mission in the Diocese of Sheffield.
Bishop Steven leaves us with a legacy as we focus on God’s mission, growing the church in numbers and depth of discipleship, the development of Mission Partnerships and mixed economy church, Pioneer Ministry and Fresh Expressions, as we look to the launch of St Peter’s College and the development of both lay and ordained ministry, and he’s done this alongside holding a significant national portfolio. There never would have been a right time for Steven to leave and I know that he struggled personally to discern a sense of God’s call and that of the wider church as he expressed in his personal letter to us all after his appointment. For Steven this is a genuine sense of vocation and calling. But he does leave us at a point when the diocese, is - as I said - in good shape, with a central staff, lay and ordained colleagues across the diocese who are ready to continue to deliver and progress our diocesan vision and look forward with hope, expectation and anticipation. This is where I’ve found the reading from Philippians helpful in my own thinking and planning.
We’re encouraged to forget the past – well that doesn’t seem very gracious as we prepare to say farewell. It sounds a bit like the king is dead long live the king. But I don’t think Paul is literally telling us not to remember anything. We should personally remember who we are before Christ found us and we should remember Steven and his ministry amongst us. We need to remember the journey we’ve been on together because the journey of the church is a continuing one, it cannot cease until all is brought into God’s Kingdom and he is all in all. When Paul talks about forgetting, he’s telling us that we mustn’t just hold on to the past, rather we must keep going, looking forward. It’s true in the life of our parishes and wider diocese, they can’t stand still but must continue to grow and develop as they witness to Christ in their communities and draw others to be his disciples. At every level of the diocese we can’t afford to simply rest on past accomplishments but always look forward to what yet needs to be done. So this is a journey we are making together. At this Kairos moment it will, I suggest, be helpful to constantly remind ourselves of our diocesan vision statement because it’s a statement of expectation, of intent and journey. “The Diocese of Sheffield is called to grow a sustainable network of Christ-like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place which are effective in making disciples and in seeking to transform our society and God’s world”.
The statement says “the Diocese of Sheffield is called”, it implies we aren’t there yet, there is still much to be done and again, as St Paul reminds us, full maturity means knowing that we haven’t yet arrived, there’s more travelling to do. It reminds us of the imperative to keep pressing on like the Olympic athlete to the final goal. We are in the present but looking to the future. God is a creative God, always doing something new, his blessings are new every morning and we are called to these new things.
I’m rather taken with the image of straining forward to what lies ahead, he’s not only concentrating but straining. You see people in a race leaning forward to try and beat their opponent to the tape. This is the image Paul uses for his desire to grow spiritually. Being in good heart spiritually as we journey on, we must continue to pay attention to our spiritual and worshiping life together and from which we draw strength for God’s mission. As we strain to the future we must train like any athlete but for us this will be spiritually. We must, in the busyness of ministry, ensure that individually and collectively we make time for God, through prayer, study of scripture and worship and I’m grateful to Neil Bowler - one of our Advisers in Spirituality - for the prayers he’s written for the vacancy and which are available on the web site. We must also ensure that we are not beaten down by the pressures of ministry and take time for rest and refreshment. As any good athlete knows, down time and rest is as important as training and activity.
When I was appointed as the Archdeacon of Leeds, I remember Bishop Tim Stevens - the then Bishop of Leicester - saying to me “Peter, you will sit at endless meetings with mounds of paper. And I want you to ask yourself one question. What’s this got to do with the Kingdom of God? And if the answer’s nothing, then go home as you’ll be more use there than sitting in the meeting”. As we look to the future, as we continue the race we must ask ourselves the same question. “Is this something that will further the Kingdom of God? And that helps us look positively to the future because the work we’re called to continue, to grow and develop is exciting and creative work to help further the Kingdom and honour and glorify Christ in all we do.
Gordon Fallows, Bishop of Sheffield from 1971 to 1979 is known for often preaching almost the same sermon at every parish church dedication festival he ever attended. Wherever it was, he would invariably say “My dear people of St Mary’s, St Thomas’, or wherever, I urge you to look backward with thankfulness, to look forward with confidence and to look upward with hope. These words echo those of St Paul and I leave them and the passage from Philippians with you for your further thoughts and prayers. They challenge us to consider whether we’re going forward, to think about what it takes to move ahead, to accept the challenge reiterated in our diocesan vision statement to make a difference in the world. We give thanks for the past and Steven’s ministry, and we pray for him and Ann as they begin a new chapter with the Diocese of Oxford. We are grateful for the blessings we have seen but also look to the new opportunities to minister and grow. We mustn’t let anything be an obstacle to growth. As Bishop Fallows would say, we look upwards with hope, the hope we have in knowing that Jesus has called us out to be his own.
Ultimately, moving the church forward into the future involves us all as I’ve said and so I end by thanking you and through you your parishes, and to all the central staff and services for the tremendous work you do in furthering God’s Kingdom on which we must keep focused and for your personal thoughts and prayers for me as I - along with others - take on additional responsibilities. For me this isn’t just a period of steadying the ship or business as usual but about us continuing to work towards the prize in creative, imaginative and collaborative ways expecting God to act always.
Posted by Bishop Peter Burrows on 5th July 2016 | Comments: 1
In July the Diocese will have an 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. I will personally miss Steven’s friendship, colleagueship, wisdom, theological insight and graciousness and each of you will have your own fond memories.
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 and the Vacancy In See Committee has already met to begin this process and will continue throughout the summer in preparation for meetings with the CNC (Crown Nominations Committee) in September. One of the things that I’m sure will appear at the top of the agenda 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 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. I’d like to suggest to you that greatness in leadership is demonstrated most by those with genuine humility which is recognised by others and not self-promoted. It’s a quality that doesn’t seek to lord it over others or proven by the works we’ve done. 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. Jesus says, I and God come that way, 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, they are to love and pray for those committed to their charge, knowing their people and being known by them” “With the Shepherd's love, they are to be merciful, but with firmness; to minister discipline, but with compassion. They are to have a special care for the poor, the outcast and those who are in need. They are to seek out those who are lost and lead them home with rejoicing, declaring the absolution and forgiveness of sins to those who turn to Christ”
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.