a bench of bishops

One of the highlights of being on placement at St Stephens over Lent ans been the Lent course planned by the Chatham Deanery of churches. On 5 successive Wednesday evenings they managed to get a bishop to speak as follows:

Bishop James Rochester: empowering mission relevant to our society and culture
Bishop Stephen Venner: how does war enable or disable mission?
Bishop Brian Tonbridge: What can we learn about mission from other countries?
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali: Mission to those with other faiths and none
Bishop Michael Turnbull: A Church of England kind of mission.

In that collection we have two former bishops of Rochester, the current and Suffragen bishops of Rochester and the Bishop for the Armed Forces … the deanery did well at getting them together! A you would expect the quality of the speaking has been excellent and thought provoking.  If there was one bishop missing, I would have liked to see Bishop Graham Cray with some title like ‘mission for new times’ … but in a way many of them approached that from their individual perspectives.

Rather than write after each bishop I have decided to wait and pull out one thought from each as I look back over Lent:

Bishop James took the text of Jeremiah 29 and challenges us to settle in the places we are called to. He implied many long to be moved from where they are and hold back … but we are encouraged by Jeremiah’s words to the exiles to put down roots and really become parts of our communities.
Bishop Stephen  took a line on warfare now being very complicated and so ministry and mission being complicated to; with Jesus demanding we love our enemies as well as our friends. This could demand that Christians could be in places and positions that could be both dangerous geographically and unpopular sociologically.
Bishop Brian got us thinking about worship and mission being two sides of the same coin, asking ‘is worship mission?’ and ‘is mission worship?’ It’s a great question as many seem to concentrate on one to the detriment of others.
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali  challenged us in how we balance the hospitality and embassy sides of our faith; that is how we welcome people and how we go out to people.he underlined this by reminding us that the Abrahamic call to be a blessing to others still stood! In response to some comments he reminded us that on this earth there is no God vacuum – God is everywhere and can be found everywhere!
Bishop Michael Turnbull finished the series by talking about the importance of people and their stories and that our beliefs should be seen as a framework om which our faith grows, using a plant growing on a trellis as an image. I liked this image as it showed that the plant (faith) grows around the framework (belief) in different ways and even beyond the framework leaving loose ends. To hear a mature and respected bishop say he still had ‘loose ends of faith’ or doubt but still had  firm faith is pretty encouraging!

As I said it has been a good 6 Wednesday evenings which has given us loads to think about. They all challenge me but I guess most are those thoughts to put down roots, to be a blessing, and notice God is all situations are the things that spoke to me the most.

what is it about women?!

Today I have been dipping in and out of the General synod debate on women bishops. Some readers will now be confused and asking ‘what …. you mean the Church of England doesn’t have women bishops!!!???’ Sadly, no we don’t! Not yet …. but happily I think the day is coming and will be coming soon. (I kid you not – I had such a conversation last week in the coffee shop and the look of shock was amazing!)

I must admit to feeling a sense of frustration with some of the arguments against being recycled when, through our process of discerning and diocesan synod voting, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of dioceses believe this is where God is leading us. Out of the 43 dioceses, 41 voted in favour of women bishops. These meetings and discussions will have been covered in prayer and people will have debated prayerfully (as they have in general synod) … so we have asked God to lead us and God has.

I long for the day when we see women as bishops within our church – this will put right a massive sense of incompleteness that many have carried for a very long time.

It’s interesting that around the blog world the last couple of weeks that Driscoll and others have been shouting that the church is not masculine enough. A masculine Christianity is needed goes their argument … really? Coming from Driscoll, in a church that only recognises  male leadership I fail to grasp how it can be more masculine!

TSK has been following the blog conversation and, as is his great skill, he writes a good summary here. In the discussion of headship, gender and suchlike TSK draws attention to the Song of Anselm who was Archbishop of Canterbury in 1109:
Jesus as a mother you gather your people to you
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds

TSK’s 6 challenges are real challenges to consider at the end of his post and challenge me, particularly number 2!

Some of the basis of the argument for all this stuff over gender and headship arises because many have lost sight of who God is. God is not human, God is God. God is not male, not is not female. When God created humanity …. male and female were created .. and both male wand female were created IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. How then can there be a difference or a holding back or a depriving of one part of God’s image from carrying out their calling from God? In one part i deprived, we are all deprived!

Maybe we need to take time, to contemplate, to rediscover that we follow a God of inclusion, a God of blessing and yes, a God of paradox …. but most of all a God of love and unity. One God, creator of all!


an exciting day …

It’s been a bit of a while since I last blogged. There has been a lot going on but one of the highlights was the consecration of Adrian as Bishop of Stepney in St. Pauls Cathedral on Friday.

The day was brilliant and it was a real privilege to see our friend consecrated as a bishop is such amazing surroundings by the the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The sadness and loss still hurt but they are no longer the focus. Our prayers go with Adrian and we share in the excitement that the church has appointed a bishop of the calibre of someone like Adrian.

We shall all be watching with interest to see the great things that will continue with this mans ministry. An exciting day for Adrian and Gill, and exciting day for the London Diocese … but surely an exciting day for the whole church!

looking ahead

The day today started well with the diocese New Year service with the bishop. This is a service when the diocesan staff, and those from the cathedral, join together in worship. I was encouraged and excited by Bishops James’ words in his sermon this morning. I hear words such as ‘encouraging’, ‘mission’, enabling and permission giving. Those words sugest an outlook in the diocese that give me hope – and I believe that would be the case for both parish based staff and also for pioneers.

I’m becoming quite excited about what we could achieve in this diocese as we look ahead together.

a generous people

The service on Saturday to install Bishop james was a pretty special time. The symbolism was quite powerful … knocking on the door to be allowed in, being anointed in the nave by others in the diocese, picking up his crozier from the High Altar – all powerful moments in the service. There is a report from the BBC here.

During his sermon Bishop James said some interesting things. He spoke a little about the hard times and the temptation, or saying, ‘to help your own’ in such times. He outlined how it is easy to become ‘closed handed’ at such times while we hold on to what we have. Instead, Bishop James suggested that at times like this we really did need to be ‘open handed’ and enthusiastic in our generosity as God is enthusiastic is his generosity.

He ended by talking about statements that dioceses like to make about themselves in mission statements etc. He ended by saying:

‘The Diocese of Rochester; a generous people …. but only if we mean it!’

I like this thinking and look forward in hope and longing to being a part of a generous diocese that is exuberant in its generosity to those in our communities … so that people can really have life, and life to the full! (John 10:10)