16th September 2015
‘Four unforgettable days,’ wrote Bishop Steven as the Diocese of Sheffield hosted what was rightly billed as a historic event. Never before had so many bishops gathered in one diocese with a single purpose, to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Stories from around the diocese on social media testify to a real buzz caused by the mission and a powerful ‘shot in the arm’ to encourage the churches. God calls us to join Him in mission and we give thanks for every sign of His working.
This magazine cannot tell all the stories from the mission and we may never know what took place in the lives of every individual who heard the gospel. The photos give a flavour of the hundreds of events, large and small, that stretched from Hatfield to Stocksbridge to Dore to South Anston. Town and city centres were also well covered with shoe-shining and bus outreach in Doncaster, the prayer sofa at Fargate and Moor Market pop-up church in Sheffield, and Mega Messy Church at the Rotherham Show. There is a sense, however, that the highly visible four days are the tip of an iceberg. How did we get to this point and where do we go from here?
Much has already been written about the genesis of this mission – conceived in a retreat of bishops on Lindisfarne where it ‘seemed good to them and the Holy Spirit’ to join together in mission each year to re-evangelise the North of England in our generation. Sheffield was chosen as the first destination. The next stage – making this a reality – was much less obvious, especially given a relatively short lead-time and a list of bishops that grew as the mission drew nearer.
Rev John Hibberd of the Parish Support Team was given the responsibility to develop the strategy and oversee the planning, drawing on his experience of diocesan-wide missions. The first crucial decision was devolve the planning to smaller areas. After discussion with Area Deans, deaneries were put directly in touch with their visiting bishops. Mission preparation was facilitated by the production of a simple manual and visits to Deanery Synods and Chapters by John and his colleagues. It was clear that we had more visiting bishops than host deaneries, enabling us to create a Sheffield City Centre area as well. Many of the bishops or their teams made the effort to visit during the preparations. This was invariably a massive encouragement to the host deaneries, not least in simply meeting those who would be coming to work alongside them. It also became clear that the hand-picked visiting teams would bring many additional gifts. This lead to additional distinctive events, e.g. the Neil Baldwin ‘Marvellous’ evening or the Jazz Café in Edenthorpe. There was much prayer (‘Ten Days’ but also weeks organised by deaneries). Communicating the vision was a challenge, despite extensive use of e-bulletin, the website Shrove Tuesday, etc. Some deanery programmes crystallised early but others evolved up to the 11th hour. Expectation grew tangibly as the mission approached.
We chose the Cathedral for the commissioning, historically holding the role of a centre for mission. Rotherham seemed the right place for an open air finale, a sign of blessing to that town. Evangelistic literature can be expensive and was beginning to be a source of concern to deanery budgets. At a missioners’ conference we were told we could have copies of The Story for free. ‘How many?’ John asked. ‘Would 10000 do?’ After consultation with the deaneries we took nearly 11000, which are now out in our communities. Alongside this LJ Buxton produced simple cards and beermats that offer people an opportunity to sign up for a series of text messages written specially by Bishop Steven. We wait to see how many people subscribe to this way of exploring Christian faith in the mobile age.
We will, of course, seek to gather the learning from the whole process but here are a few initial comments. A unique selling point of this mission was the bishops and we found, time and again, that they can open doors into institutions, most particularly in the case of the Archbishop. Two questions for you to consider. Did your Crossroads event attract outsiders; if not do you need some help to become more invitational? If you held an event, did you learn things that would help you to repeat it or to do something similar again? Don’t lose the momentum! Messy Church in the Rotherham Show was conceived as a one-off but those running it said, ‘We’ve had so many people through this tent, we have got to do this again next year.’