The Bishop's Pastoral Letter, Advent Sunday 2012
"Follow Me, says the Lord"
It must have been a tense moment for Jesus - the moment when he called the disciples to follow him. Parables about people who make excuses not to attend the wedding feast (Luke 14.16-20) and nervous questions at points of crisis (John 6.66,67) indicate that Jesus never took the reality of having followers for granted - and neither should we as a Church. Indeed, the Church in Wales has lost 47% of its members over the last twenty years.
It is hard as a bishop to know how bold to be in saying "Follow me!" On one level, it is not me that you have to follow - it is the Lord; but on another level, one of the tasks of the bishop is to discern where God is leading the Church and to try to lead people into God's way. Too strong or confident, and a bishop might be overbearing; too weak or quiet, and a bishop might be unappealing or ignored. I write this not to bemoan my lot - your affirmation as a diocese has been strong - but because I wish to speak a little about the tone and quality of ministry.
I want to build a diocese which gives ownership of the diocese to the whole people of God. The archbishop recently quoted a theologian in an address. He said: "You can have as high a doctrine of the priesthood as you like, as long as your doctrine of the Church is higher; as high a doctrine of the Church, as long as your doctrine of the Kingdom is higher." This is the reason why the Church exists, to be agents who work to bring about God's reign - submission to God's way of repentance, forgiveness, redemption, peace, justice and fullness of life - and we need to proclaim that way to the world, and to live that way for ourselves. the shape of the Church needs to be the shape of a servant - listening for the Lord, relying on his grace, acting according to his will.
This is an agenda for change - but there's more. Anglicans believe that the life of God's people is ultimately put by God into the hand of all God's people, that only the people of God together can work out where the Lord is leading them. This means that the bishop's job is to listen as much as to lead.
As a diocese, we are trying to listen more. The Diocesan Conference has been moved to a time when there can be space for discussion and debate, for listening to one another. The Deanery Conferences are being empowered as meetings when parish reps can really have their say. The Standing Committee is the forum where we seek to bring together all the lines of our thinking and our praying and our discerning of the future.
Next year will see the start of our year of pilgrimage - a year when we commit ourselves to travelling together as disciples of Jesus. So this Advent I am asking two things of you: first, be active in speaking your mind - talk to your Vicar, talk to your PCC, talk to the deanery, put forward your views to bishop and archdeacon and wardens and standing committee. But secondly, and more importantly, talk to our Lord, and ask him, "Where are you calling us? Where are you calling me? Give me the strength to follow".