I want to share with you, to start with, the time when, as a 13 year old, I was first conscious of the call of Jesus. I grew up in a Christian home, but the defining experience of my life came when I was a young teenager and sensed that God was inviting me to commit to the adventure of following Jesus. I chose to respond with my whole self and it was the best decision I have ever made. I share that with you because I am here this morning not primarily as your Bishop-designate, but as a disciple of Jesus, seeking to live out, day by day, a life worthy of my baptism.
But I also refer to that experience because such a high proportion of those who make a lasting commitments to Jesus do so as I did – as teenagers. Of course, the Church of God is called to proclaim the good news to all people at all times and in all places, but I am encouraged to see in the current priorities of the Diocese of Sheffield a commitment to reach out to that age group in particular and you can be sure I will do everything I can to make that outreach fruitful. And that is just one part of the Diocesan Strategy which excites me: so much of it expresses what I firmly believe. So the direction of travel for the Diocese will remain unchanged; there will be no sudden lurch to new priorities.
The second thing I want to mention is the publication of the Faith in the City report in 1985. Some of you will remember it: it rang out like an alarm bell at the height of Thatcherism, calling church and nation back to what, for shorthand, became known as God’s bias to the poor. It came out while I was training for the ordained ministry and it’s a document which has profoundly shaped me. It is no coincidence that I come to you from a northern, urban cathedral; a cathedral with a food bank and an employability programme; a cathedral which seeks to give a voice to the disadvantaged. And it’s no coincidence that we are meeting here, in a place where the church has engaged to such good effect with the local community, proclaiming the kingdom of God by directly addressing the challenges and celebrating the opportunities of this place, liberating its neglected assets and blessing its unfulfilled potential. The Gospel of Jesus Christ confronts social and economic inequalities, and we see here a great example of how transformative a local church can be; and I’m looking forward to visiting other examples of confident Christian witness in Rotherham and Doncaster later today.
Read it all. For those interested, there is a video of the announcement in the diocese there.