Letter from Bishop Steven

New Diocese Logo

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 Doorand 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

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