Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Chelmsford 'Ad Clerum' asks "What is God asking us to become?"

(Ed: An 'Ad Clerum' is a letter sent to all the clergy by the Bishop of a Diocese, usually to draw attention to some significant event or pastoral issue.)

February 2008
Ad Clerum 2008

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

I am very conscious that a time of change is also a period of uncertainty. I have often noted that the mood of our culture can be reflected in the life of the church. We know we are travelling through a time of change and that we need to make the journey. We also experience that uncertainty and even anxiety as to how it will all turn out. What is God calling us to become? What is God doing? A question for all of us Anglicans in the year of the Lambeth Conference. A question also for the church in England and especially in our diocese.

In my address to the Diocesan Synod in November I tried to remind myself and all of us of our Anglican heritage as evidenced in the thinking of Richard Hooker. I would describe his approach, and the character of Anglicanism, as one of "generous listening and mutual learning". All of us have vital things to contribute and all of us have crucial things to learn. We do so in an atmosphere of generosity and in a listening posture.

Some interpret this as leading us towards some safe middle ground. Those who know me would hardly describe my ministry as occupying safe or middle ground! Strong convictions, deeply held visions, a capacity to inhabit new places and themes for the sake of the Gospel, and even a sharp-edged awkwardness, are characteristic of our history.

We have always lived with conflict! This is hardly surprising when you consider how important and deep are matters of faith in human life. Indeed, the pure gold of Hooker was refined out of deep and difficult conflict in the life of the church in the late 16th century.

If we believe and trust in the life of the Spirit of Jesus Christ the future will be shaped out of the conflict and the encounter - not in spite of it! That journey is fuelled, however, by the opportunities to listen and to learn from what sometimes seem polar opposites. There are important things we all share. Not least the trust that has been placed in us to proclaim, share and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ with and for the whole community. In this coming year I will be seeking to press our responsibility towards the wider community - its culture and social experience. The arrival of Bishops from across the whole world into our diocese just before the Lambeth Conference will bring among us the challenges of a divided and needy world. Our own diocese contains levels of poverty, social exclusion and discrimination that are offensive to the heart of the Gospel. The deeper we have the courage to move into the meaning of our faith the more challenging we find the experience of our shared life in the community.

I am both proud of and humbled by the many in our own diocese who, often at great cost to themselves, not only challenge these things but seek to contribute to their finding a resolution.

You will, I hope, forgive me bringing some specific matters to your attention.

Mission and Pastoral Order
During this year, in the light of the profound work of the Deanery Vision process, we will be seeking to answer the question "What is God asking us to become, and to do, to better serve the presence of the Church and the provision of good ministry across the diocese?" We must not be afraid of some radical thinking! The 21st century calls us to move on into new territory.

No stone must be left unturned and our thinking must include:

o liberating the ministry of all God's people
o locally rooted ministry
o sustainable posts and benefices
o stronger support for the ministry of retired clergy
o new opportunities in a growing and developing diocese
o fresh thinking about, and fresh expressions of church
o good contextual and theologically excellent foundation work.

Just a few of the lines of thought being explored.

2008 will see the implementation of the provisions of the revised Pastoral and Diocesan Measures. These are important to our future. The Bishop's Staff Team, the Bishop's Council and the Diocesan Synod will be working on these issues throughout this year.

I am delighted to detect that this ministry is growing in places in the diocese. I want to encourage you to use the opportunity of confirmation as part of our ministry in drawing people deeper into faith and into the life of the church. Since people's needs do not always fit set dates, do not be afraid of crossing deanery boundaries to bring candidates to the Bishops! These really are great occasions!

It still remains the case that for children under I I clergy should seek the consent of the Bishop before proceeding to confirmation. I also want to encourage parishes to consider using the new regulations opening the door to the admission of baptised children to Holy Communion. In this case I would normally expect them to be confirmed by 18 - another useful milestone in their own discipleship.

Sabbaticals, diaries and admin!
My Chaplain, Chris Newlands, is on Sabbatical from Easter to the end of June. We are in the process of ensuring cover for his work during this period. My diary is managed by Jenny Robinson, my P.A., and she makes all arrangements for people to see me and for my programme. It is a great help to me to have a full brief on services in which I am participating in good time so that I can approve them and agree the details with the parish concerned. We will all do our best to maintain excellent levels of service to you!

Pastoral Review
With this letter comes a request from Sir Roger Singleton and Christine Daly to respond to their Review of Pastoral Provision in the Diocese by completing the attached questionnaire. We have much to learn and gain through this process - so do not be afraid of telling it as you have experienced it!

Maundy Thursday
Joining with you at the Lord's Table on Maundy Thursday, both to renew and refresh our ministry vows and to ask God's blessing on the oils is one of the occasions when the story and message of Jesus strike home to me! We meet at I 1.00 am in the Cathedral and I do hope that you and representatives of your parish and ministry team will be able to join us there.

The journey we make, following our Lord as he travels to Jerusalem and the Cross, is deep and demanding. It is also the way to life abundant! Let us continue to pray for one another that we might all be given the faith to make this journey with hope and joy in our hearts.

With my prayers and warmest greetings.


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