The latest 'Manna', the Bath and Wells diocesan magazine, has an interview with our new bishop, Rev. Peter Hancock. Carefully avoiding the subject of bishops housing, here's a few selected quotes which warmed my heart:
"The most important thing is to see flourishing churches at the heart of flourishing communities. We are called to share the love of Christ and to play our part in helping to build, support and transform our communities. A vibrant church can make such an impact."
in answer to 'what makes a vibrant church?'
"Growth is important - growth in terms of numbers, vocations and service. But above all it's a church that is consciously welcoming and hospitable and reaching out with the love of Jesus.
We need to find new ways to draw folk into our life who woulnd't usually come to a church service. So we need pioneering ways of meeting people..."
"We shouldn't become obsessed by our buildings...many churches are now also meeting in different venues... Where we meet is not the most important thing but there needs to be strong links between traditional and Fresh Expressions of churches. The DNA that runs through both has to be the desire to live the mission of Jesus and continue his work in the world today."
"This will need radical thinking, creative thinking and critical thinking. And it needs an honest recognition that we can't carry on as we are....we don't have the resources to continue as we are without making some fundamental changes."
"There are those that say you can't reconcile faith with a scientific view. I think we should stand up and say it is possible.... faith is not just about hearts and feelings, it's also about using our brains to discover the wonders of what God has created"
in answer to a question about the biggest challenges for the church and the diocese:
"We must recover our confidence along with our hope and our joy. We must have confidence in God... In terms of relevance, its about living the mission of Jesus wherever and in whatever way that's needed - a practical demonstration of His love. Not only preaching but doing."
"How can we know what God might be calling us to be and do differently unless we listen to him?"
"I want to undertake my duties as Bishop prayerfully, thoughtfully and with grace. I trust that when God speaks to me I'll have the courage to do what he is asking and if I don't do it well, courage to reflect and seek to do it better. I also want to be intentional about what I do and why I am doing it."
what will be your priorities?
"As a Bishop I am called to lead the diocese in mission, which means passionately, confidently and courageously sharing our faith.... Care for the most vulnerable, support for our young people and concern for the environment and the challenges facing rural communities are three strands of my personal ministry and will be reflected in my priorities..."
"the most important relationship is our relationship with God. If we don't attend to that through prayer, through listening, through thanksgiving, through celebration, we won't become the people God wants us to be."
"I'm striving to be the best husband, father, friend and bishop I can be. That's the journey I'm on but I don't walk it on my own. God inspires, leads and accompanies me on it."
I'm delighted that we have a new bishop who sees mission as central to his role. This hasn't always been so. We face a lot of challenges, not least a rapidly shrinking Diocese: for every 9 members in 2008, we had lost 1 of those 9 by 2011 (according to the latest official stats from the CofE).
In turn there's an increasing burden on those who remain. One of our 2 churches has grown in menbership by 32% during 2006-14. At the same time our Parish Share (amount paid to the diocese to support ministry across the county) has risen by 92%. Even if you add in inflation for the period (26%), parish share payments have still risen around 50% faster than ability to pay. That's not sustainable. Milking growing parishes and amalgamating shrinking parishes has an inbuilt slow self-destruct.
So yes we'll need, courage, confidence, and prayer. It's a while before we welcome Bishop Peter, but I'm encouraged that perhaps God has supplied the kind of diocesan bishop we need for the challenges ahead.