I trust that you have had an enjoyable break after Christmas – my 21st in Chester. I am most grateful for all the messages of support and congratulations which were sent on the 20th anniversary of my consecration, on 13 November. A number of photographs from my ministry over the years were collated into a lovely book, which was presented to me at the Diocesan Synod. Thank you to all who made this lasting memento possible.
My ministry still brings new experiences (too many, sometimes, in this era of so-called common worship). Following the Feast of Epiphany I re-dedicated the excellent peal of bells which have been moved from the redundant church of St. John the Baptist, Bollington to St. Thomas, Stockton Heath. I don’t think I’ve done this before….. It was a splendid occasion.
I am writing about a number of matters and, as usual, they are in no particular order of importance.
The next Lay conference at Swanwick will be from 19 to 21 May this year. The title of the Conference is “Mission Impossible”, and it will include speakers with expertise in many forms of mission, new and old, all placed in the context of the work of the Diocese and its own strategy. The current challenges for the Church are well recognised – not least our ageing congregations and diminishing resources. The aim of the conference is to provide hope and support to the lay people in particular as they face these challenges, learning from each other and developing a renewed fervour for mission. I am assured by the organisers that it should also be an enjoyable occasion with time for relaxation, entertainment, fellowship and worship.
Following the series of Clergy Quiet Days which I held at Foxhill last year, it is our intention that one of the Bishops will lead one or more Quiet Days at Foxhill each year.
Bishop Libby will take responsibility for these in 2017, and the following dates have been arranged:
Thursday 25 May
More details will be published soon, on the diocesan website and in the e-bulletin. It will also be possible for participants to stay at Foxhill the previous night, if desired.
As some of you will be aware, I have led several initiatives in recent years to try to articulate a Christian response to the ever more pervasive problem of pornography in our society, including instigating a major debate in the House of Lords.
My involvement arose from my support for the work of CARE, whose excellent parliamentary officer, Dan Boucher, is sponsored by me. We have collaborated over various issues. I have also worked closely with local MP, Fiona Bruce, and I am pleased that the Government has now accepted the case for a strict system of age verification for those who wish to access pornographic websites, akin to the processes which are long-established for magazines and films.
How effective this will be in our digital age remains to be seen, but it is an important signal, and aspect of our overall approach to child protection.
The issues around adult access to pornography remain contested, with the arguments for freedom of choice confronting the evident negative impact of pornography upon adult life (including, on occasion, serious criminal behaviour).
The issues are not going away. I am told that there are now about 24 million internet pornographic sites, viewed by an average of about 30,000 people a second.
Arising from the work of CARE in this area, a free copy of the book Confronting Porn, by psychotherapist Paula Hall is available to Church leaders. Visit thenakedtruthproject.com/confrontingporn and enter the coupon code CARELDR67 to receive your free copy.
The offer closes on 31 January. The book is highly to be commended, and although the subject of pornography can be difficult to discuss, it seems to me vital that we, as Christian ministers, are prepared to address it.
As you will be aware, our current MDR scheme has rather fallen into abeyance, partly due to the unexpected resignation of the person who oversaw the scheme, and partly due to a need to revise and update it.
We have now concluded a careful process of review, and we are ready to launch a new scheme. Gary O’Neill, our Director of Training for Ordinands (whose main work is for the All Saints Course) has agreed to oversee the new scheme, assisted by staff at Church House.
Full details will be available in due course on the diocesan website, and through the e-bulletin. The key aspects will be a four year cycle, involving in different years a diocesan Lead Reviewer, a Bishop or Archdeacon, your Rural Dean, and your Spiritual Advisor/Soul Friend. A degree of choice will be available, where possible.
It is also planned to focus the work on a definite season, from Easter to Petertide, to simplify the administration, and also provide an overall rhythm. An option of a 360° review will be available as an option.
The whole scheme will be centred upon the minister concerned, who will be expected to produce the first written drafts of the outcome of meetings, with the reviewer completing and endorsing the document (which will travel with the minster around the cycle, and will be seen by subsequent reviewers).
I very much hope that this new scheme for MDR will provide helpful support and encouragement in our ministries.
Our network of hospital chaplains across the diocese are keen to work with parishes to provide pastoral care for parishioners who are admitted to hospital. In the past, systems have been in place in hospitals to enable patients to say on admission to hospital whether they were from a particular faith tradition and whether they would welcome a visit from a chaplain. However, for various reasons these arrangements do not always work as well as they once did, and in many cases chaplains can no longer rely on being told by the hospital that a particular patient would wish to be visited.
The chaplains have therefore asked that if you know that a parishioner is in hospital and they would like a chaplain to see them, you could kindly alert the relevant chaplain to this. The contact details for our healthcare chaplains are on page 278 of the new Diocesan Year Book.
John Knowles has stood down as our Warden of Readers after more than ten years of distinguished service in that role. I am grateful to him for all that he has done. There will be a short gap while we make arrangements for a long-term successor to John and also take the opportunity to review the precise shape of the post for the future. In the meantime, Mike Gilbertson, the Archdeacon of Chester and chair of the Committee for Ministry, will be standing in as Acting Warden. Any queries you would have previously directed to John should be directed either to Mike, or to Jane Hood on extension 257 at Church House.
For many years we have had a small team of clergy who have been Advisers for the Ministry of Deliverance. The current core team is listed on page 293 of the Year Book, and they are assisted by our Director of Counselling and our Vulnerability and Safeguarding Officer. I am most grateful to them.
Most situations which clergy will face primarily concern places rather than people, although the two can be inter-linked. The key rule is always to ask for advice if you are not entirely comfortable with the situation which needs to be addressed. That’s why the Advisers are there.
Contemporary awareness of concern around vulnerability and safeguarding has highlighted the need to approach this whole area with care. In all but the most straightforward cases, of house blessings etc, clergy should always be accompanied on visits.
If there is a perception that a person needs to be offered a service of deliverance from an evil spirit, sometimes known as exorcism, then my specific permission is needed. Clearly, in such circumstances, it would be essential that the experienced diocesan team is consulted and engaged.
There are various prayer resources on the diocesan website, for the range of situations which clergy are likely to encounter.
It is essential that we take this ministry seriously, but equally essential that we approach it with great care and caution.
The Vice-Dean, Canon Peter Howell-Jones, has been designated as Dean of Blackburn, and will leave the Cathedral shortly. The Dean, Professor Gordon McPhate, has given notice of his retirement by May 2018.
It is likely that we will shortly advertise a temporary, 2 year appointment of a Residentiary Canon, who will carry out many of the duties of the current Vice-Dean (and may also be so styled). It seems likely that this appointment will be from 1 September, but possibly from an earlier date.
The appointment might appeal to an experienced incumbent who would value having this experience of Cathedral ministry. If so, we would be happy to try to make arrangements for a temporary appointment to the parish in question. If anyone is thinking of applying for the new post, he or she would find it helpful, I think, to discuss with me how the duties in the parish might be covered during the period of secondment.
Once the details of the appointment have been agreed with the Chapter an advertisement will appear in the diocesan website.
Stipendiary clergy are eligible to claim pay during periods of maternity, paternity, adoption and parental leave, by way of completing the necessary statutory notice forms. However, it has come to my attention that the forms are not being completed in time. In particular, clergy seeking to take Paternity Leave are required to inform the Diocese and complete the SC3 form at least 15 weeks before the week the baby is expected in order to take one or two weeks of paid Paternity Leave. The form is available to download from the Clergy Payroll Services section of the Church Commissioners’ website or from the HR department at Church House.
Swanwick Clergy Conference
We normally invite one of the members of the last Committee to chair the next one, and I’m pleased that Jane Proudfoot, Rector of Grappenhall, has agreed to do this. The Archdeacon of Macclesfield will join the Committee, and as usual, we will invite one of this year’s new Deacons to be a member.
Andy Stinson, the Diocesan Worship Adviser, will continue as a member, with particular responsibilities for the conference worship.
If you would be interested in becoming a member of the Committee, or have suggestions to make concerning the conference, please let either Jane or Ian or me know. We will try to establish the overall theme, and main speakers, later this year.
Bishops Keith and Libby join me in wishing you every blessing for the coming year.