Bishops from across the Northern Province met together on Holy Island this week for twenty-four hours (3rd-4th October) to pray, to reflect, and to discuss Bishops’ Missions.
Northern Bishops’ Missions have taken place in Sheffield (Crossroads) in 2015, Blackburn (Crossroads) in 2016, Durham (Talking Jesus) in 2017 and this year in both Carlisle (Moving Mountains) and Newcastle (Pathways) – where Bishops across the North have gone with teams to support local efforts to model missions through working together and to sow the seeds of the Gospel across the north.
There was much to be thankful for in the stories shared, especially where the Bishops’ Missions had inspired local churches to try new ways of reaching out in their communities. This has led to increased confidence and a readiness to repeat what worked, as well as striving to find new ways of connecting with the wider community.
The Bishop of Burnley, The Rt Revd Philip North said: “It has been an immense privilege to share in these fantastic missions and to support our neighbouring Dioceses as they reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ. The walls between Dioceses can often seem quite high, so a large group of Bishops crossing those boundaries, working together for the Gospel and modelling collegiality and mutual support sets a really good example to the whole church. One of the particular pleasures for me has been the way that Anglicans of all different traditions have worked together in all of these missions. When we look outward and share good news through our proclamation and our service, the divisions between us often simply fade away. It was great that at Lindisfarne we committed ourselves afresh to working together as Bishops for the sake of the Gospel.”
Three more Bishops’ Missions are now planned over the next eighteen months in the Dioceses of Liverpool in April 2019, Southwell and Nottingham in September 2019, and in York in March 2020. There was a strong sense of the value of Bishops sharing together in the ministry of evangelism, supporting one another and appreciating the unique gift each brings to the table.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu said: “Our ordination as Bishops in the Church of God, the Holy Spirit endows us with a charism of those who are sent by our Risen Lord Jesus Christ to make Him visible together. We, by the grace of God, are modelling mission as we bring our teams who work with the parishes, deaneries, prisons, schools and colleges of higher learning. This collaborative partnership in the Gospel has strengthened us, giving us hope to see what God is already doing – for the God of mission, who has a Church, has already gone before us. Our calling is to discern and follow where He is leading: leading in the way of Jesus Christ, with wisdom, oversight and insight.”
The group also reflected on the opportunities for, and obstacles to, making disciples in today’s church and culture and how they as leaders can continue to work together and learn from one another in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ with confidence across the Northern Province. There were many lessons to be learned to improve the reach and long term effectiveness of missions. One of these is to ensure that ‘deep listening’ takes place so that the language and planning is grounded in a vision that connects with local realities.
It was acknowledged that these missions have, in many situations, released an evangelistic gifting, amongst bishops, clergy and laity. The missions are one way of modelling evangelism amongst many others, and as such offer a significant contribution to the change of culture needed in working towards the re-evangelisation of the north.
The Bishops enjoyed wonderful hospitality from the team from Marygate House, using the new conference facilities at the Crossman Hall.
Prayers were said in St Mary’s Church, Lindisfarne, at the site of St Aidan’s first chapel (The Heugh) and on St Cuthbert’s Island. At the end of the retreat, on the windswept west beach of the island, Bishops called out their prayers and pledged to continue working together in mission in the Northern Province of the Church of England, and to ground this in a retreat together in prayer on Holy Island as a priority.