Let’s be quiet for a moment and then pray.
Come Holy Spirit to the hearts of your people and kindle in them the fire of your love.
To be nominated to this post is both astonishing and exciting. It is something I never expected, and the last few weeks have been a very strange experience. It is exciting because we are at one of those rare points where the tide of events is turning, and the church nationally, including the Church of England has great opportunities to match its very great but often hidden strengths. I feel a massive sense of privilege at being one of those responsible for the leadership of the church in a time of spiritual hunger, when our network of parishes and churches and schools and above all people means that we are facing the toughest issues in the toughest place.
I want to say at once that one of the biggest challenges is to follow a man who I believe will be recognised as one of the greatest Archbishops of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. He is some one with a deep love for Jesus Christ, an infectious spirituality, extraordinary integrity and holiness, immense personal moral and physical courage, and of course one of the world’s principal theologians and philosophers. On the basis that you should only follow failures, this is a great mistake. To be fully serious, the church world wide owes him a great debt, more than it knows, and I shall be continuing to seek his advice and wisdom. I can only wish him, Jane and the family a wonderful end to his time at Canterbury and joy in their new roles.
As I look back I am touched by the way in which so many people have contributed to who both Caroline and I have become. I learned a great deal from the companies in which I worked, above all from my bosses and my colleagues. We were nurtured and shaped as Christians in the churches in Paris and London. I had the privilege of serving as a curate amongst wonderful people in Nuneaton and making many mistakes as a rector in Southam. Coventry Cathedral opened my eyes to the church overseas and gave me a passion for reconciliation, and Liverpool humoured me, teased me and quietly taught me. Above all the providence of God has surrounded us in so many ways through tragedy and joy. Learning from other traditions than the one into which I came as a Christian has led me into the riches of Benedictine and Ignatian spirituality, the treasures of contemplative prayer and adoration, and confronted me with the rich and challenging social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.
Looking forward, I am very conscious of my own weakness and the great need I will have for advice and wisdom, especially from those who are senior amongst the Bishops who see deeply into the issues that are faced by the Church of England, and amongst the Primates who guide the Anglican Communion in its present struggles. There are some things of which I am deeply confident. Our task as part of God’s church is to worship Him in Christ and to overflow with the good news of His love for us, of the transformation that He alone can bring which enables human flourishing and joy. The tasks before us are worship and generous sharing of the good news of Christ in word and deed.
How we do those things is, of course much more complicated. The work of the Church of England is not done primarily on television or at Lambeth, but in over 16,000 churches, where hundreds of thousands of people get on with the job they have always done of loving neighbour, loving each other and giving more than 22 million hours of voluntary service outside the church a month. They are the front line, and those who worship in them, lead them, minster in them are the unknown heroes of the church. I have never had demands on me as acute as when I was a parish priest. One of the greatest privileges of this role will the inspiration of so many grass roots projects that I will see around the country. We have seen the wonderful hospitality and genius of the people in this country inside and outside the church during this marvellous year of Jubilee and Olympics.
Because of that vast company of serving Anglicans, together those in other churches, I am utterly optimistic about the future of the church. We will certainly get things wrong, but the grace of God is far greater than our biggest failures. We will also certainly get much right and do so already. Taking the right role in supporting the church as it goes on changing and adapting is the task where the collective wisdom of the Bishops will be so important. The House of Bishops is very wise. I have had the great privilege of serving great Bishops, Colin Bennetts in Coventry, James Jones in Liverpool and Archbishop Sentamu in York. The Archbishop has great communication gifts, wisdom and deep understanding of the global church, and I am greatly looking forward to continuing to learn from him.
The Anglican communion, for all its difficulties, is also a source of remarkable blessing to the world. In so many countries it is one of the main sharers of reconciliation and hope in Jesus Christ. Anglicans today stand firm in faith alongside other Christians under pressure in many places, especially in northern Nigeria, a country close to my heart. I am very much looking forward to meeting the Primates of the Anglican Communion, and have sent them a message today. Many of them I know already, and again have learned from them and will learn more.
Until early in the New Year I continue in Durham, and we have an Archbishop, so apart from the initial flurry I will just be doing what is in the diary already.
One of the hardest things will be to leave Durham. I work with a group of wonderful senior colleagues and remarkable clergy and lay people. It is an astonishing part of the country, one which as a family we were greatly looking forward to living in for many years. The people are direct, inspiring and wonderfully friendly. In many ways it has been the ancient cradle of British Christianity. It is a place of opportunity and an even greater future than its past. I will continue to do all I can to support the area.
This is a time for optimism and faith in the church. I know we are facing very hard issues. In 10 days or so the General Synod will vote on the ordination of women as Bishops. I will be voting in favour, and join my voice to many others in urging the Synod to go forward with this change. In my own Diocese, and before I was a Bishop, I have always recognised and celebrated the remarkable signs of God’s grace and action in the ministries of many people who cannot in conscience agree with this change. Personally I value and learn from them, and want the church to be a place where we can disagree in love, respecting each other deeply as those who belong to Christ.
We also face deep differences over the issue of sexuality. It is absolutely right for the state to define the rights and status of people co-habiting in different forms of relationships, including civil partnerships. We must have no truck with any form of homophobia, in any part of the church. The Church of England is part of the worldwide church, with all the responsibilities that come from those links. What the church does here deeply affects the already greatly suffering churches in places like northern Nigeria, which I know well. I support the House of Bishop’s statement in the summer in answer to the government’s consultation on same sex marriage. I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully. I am always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us. Above all in the church we need to create safe spaces for these issues to be discussed honestly and in love.
I know these are major issues and will come back to them in due course, but I will not be saying any more about that today.
I will stop there before this becomes a sermon, and am happy to answer some questions.