I am writing as one of the signatories to the letter sent in January requesting a mission-minded, theologically-orthodox, parish-experienced bishop of Sheffield. I write as an Anglican by conviction not by convenience, who feels privileged to have benefited from the wonderful legacy of our English Reformers, who gave their lives for Christ.
I would like to add a perspective to the letter already sent (currently available for view at www.newbishopofsheffield.blogspot.com/) as the vicar of a small and therefore typical parish church in our diocese, who feels privileged to serve our Lord and Saviour in this context.
It is vitally important that our next episcopate is not perceived to be a satellite of the larger gathered churches in the wealthier areas of our diocese, particularly the south-west suburbia of Sheffield.
Small parish churches do have tremendous potential for growth under God but they are also under grave pressure financially and in terms of filling the volunteer posts required for viability. Small churches as far afield as Rotherham suffer from the phenomenon of Christians living in our parishes commuting to the larger churches on Sundays. In some cases these commuters will use the facilities of their local parish church during the week without any seeming regard for the mission for Christ of these churches. Their very presence at mid-week outreach groups such as mums and toddlers begs the question: ‘Why are you not supporting your local parish church?’
There is a grave danger that many parish churches in our diocese and in others around the country will be lost as witnesses to Christ in the coming decades. The consequence is that the Church of England could become a bourgeois religious club only represented in affluent suburbs, city centres with a high proportion of young urban professionals, and upmarket university towns (predominantly reaching independently-educated students).
This would be a massive tragedy for the spiritual life of our nation and a terrible waste of evangelistic potential. I appeal to you, together with your colleagues on the Crown Nominations Commission, to appoint a bishop who has a heart for the renewal of the parish system of the Church of the nation, serving as it currently does by God’s grace a diversity of communities for Christ.
Yours sincerely in His service,
Oughtibridge Parish Church
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Wednesday, 2 April 2008