The Very Revd Pete Wilcox's Announcement Speech
7th April 2017
Friends, it is very good indeed to be with you. Thank you for being here. These are unusual circumstances, to say the least, and not circumstances any of us would have chosen. Clearly, events which have led up to today don’t reflect particularly well on any of us.
So let me begin by paying tribute to Bishop Philip North: to his whole-hearted commitment to the poor and to evangelism, to his prayerfulness, and especially to the generous and courageous decision he took to withdraw from his nomination to this post for the sake of the unity of the church.
Secondly I want to acknowledge the work which must follow, when the inquiry led by Sir Philip Mawer is complete, if we are to recover confidence in the concept of mutual flourishing and in the five guiding principles as the best tool presently available for achieving it. I remain fully committed to them, although I am also certain there will be lessons to be learned not just for us here, in the Diocese of Sheffield, but for the whole Church of England. In fact, in some respects I believe the wider church will ultimately have cause to be grateful to this Diocese and I want to honour that.
Thirdly, I’d like to thank Bishop Peter and all the people of this Diocese, lay and ordained, for what you’ve already done in recent weeks to heal the wounds which had been exposed by Bishop Philip’s nomination, and later by his withdrawal. The journey to healing and reconciliation is well underway and I look forward to sharing in it with you over the coming months.
Next week is Holy Week; next Friday is Good Friday. There’s no better time for followers of Jesus, within this Diocese and beyond it, to gather in penitence and faith at the foot of the cross, where the Lord calls us to find in him not only forgiveness and peace but a fresh commissioning to take the good news of his saving death and glorious resurrection to a needy world.
So I am drawn afresh, and I want to draw you also, to Christ and to him crucified; and in this moment of pain and hope, there are three things I want to say about myself and about my own sense of calling as I stand here today.
I want to share with you, to start with, the time when, as a 13 year old, I was first conscious of the call of Jesus. I grew up in a Christian home, but the defining experience of my life came when I was a young teenager and sensed that God was inviting me to commit to the adventure of following Jesus. I chose to respond with my whole self and it was the best decision I have ever made. I share that with you because I am here this morning not primarily as your Bishop-designate, but as a disciple of Jesus, seeking to live out, day by day, a life worthy of my baptism.
But I also refer to that experience because such a high proportion of those who make a lasting commitments to Jesus do so as I did - as teenagers. Of course, the Church of God is called to proclaim the good news to all people at all times and in all places, but I am encouraged to see in the current priorities of the Diocese of Sheffield a commitment to reach out to that age group in particular and you can be sure I will do everything I can to make that outreach fruitful. And that is just one part of the Diocesan Strategy which excites me: so much of it expresses what I firmly believe. So the direction of travel for the Diocese will remain unchanged; there will be no sudden lurch to new priorities.
The second thing I want to mention is the publication of the Faith in the City report in 1985. Some of you will remember it: it rang out like an alarm bell at the height of Thatcherism, calling church and nation back to what, for shorthand, became known as God’s bias to the poor. It came out while I was training for the ordained ministry and it’s a document which has profoundly shaped me. It is no coincidence that I come to you from a northern, urban cathedral; a cathedral with a food bank and an employability programme; a cathedral which seeks to give a voice to the disadvantaged. And it’s no coincidence that we are meeting here, in a place where the church has engaged to such good effect with the local community, proclaiming the kingdom of God by directly addressing the challenges and celebrating the opportunities of this place, liberating its neglected assets and blessing its unfulfilled potential. The Gospel of Jesus Christ confronts social and economic inequalities, and we see here a great example of how transformative a local church can be; and I’m looking forward to visiting other examples of confident Christian witness in Rotherham and Doncaster later today.
But the difficulties facing our most deprived communities (and therefore the church congregations in our most deprived communities), are not going to go away in the course of the next decade, and supporting those communities will be another key priority for me.
Finally, I want to say a word about how these past four months have been for me, personally. No-one I’ve spoken to has been able to think of any other occasion when a newly announced diocesan bishop has been, as a matter of public record, not the first choice. You might be wondering how that feels. And my honest answer is, it feels fine, actually. When I was invited by the Crown Nominations Commission last autumn to explore the possibility of a call to Sheffield, I was thrilled. As I read the statement of need produced by the Diocese there seemed to me to be a fit to my gifts and experience. So I was pretty crestfallen when the news came before Christmas that I was not the preferred candidate. At that point I did what any Christian would do: I tried to resign myself to the apparent will of God and move on. For three months that was my daily prayer — but I never managed it. Throughout the first three months of this year, I never managed to shake off the thought of Sheffield. The closest I got was to be reconciled to… never being fully reconciled. So this appointment was never second choice to me.
At times I have found the past few months quite gruelling — and in that respect I know I’m in good company with many of you! In my case, perhaps (in the providence of God) the process has tempered me, as steel is tempered. In all the 30 years of my ordained ministry, however, it has been vital for me to know that I am where the Lord has called me to be — and I definitely have that conviction here, and now.
Over the course of the last 30 years, I've got to know and love the north east, the west midlands and Merseyside, and now I shall have the great privilege of getting to know and love South Yorkshire and the East Riding too. There is a great deal for me to learn, from you and from all my sisters and brothers in ministry and mission here. It’s true, there is much in what I have already discovered which inspires me; but I am also aware how much there is for us to do together, boldly, in the service of Christ. I am hugely looking forward to the task before us and will give myself to it without reservation, in partnership with you all. Thank you.