For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
As we enter September, however long it has been since we – or our children – have been at school, it feels like a new term.
I hope that you have found time for rest over the summer. I am often reminded that we do not always look after ourselves and we should be reminded of the need for Sabbath rest. Sabbath is central to the rhythm of the week and the makeup of life. The Sabbath commandment brings together God and the human world, the loving of God, loving our neighbour and ourselves.
In our own lives, Sabbath rest is not just about a day but about a rhythm that is played out across days, weeks and years. The question for me is how best to help those who are in ministry across the diocese to look after themselves, enabling them to find a rhythm of life with a rhythm of the Sabbath.
A new term reminds us that we enter into a new season. Even in London it smells like autumn: it is a reminder that the one certainty about life is change.
At the beginning of the summer the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, announced that he had decided to step back from full time ministry on health grounds. He will withdraw from public duties at the end of October, and the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, will serve as Acting Bishop of Stepney until a successor is appointed.
I am very grateful to have shared, even for such a short time, ministry with Bishop Adrian and I am sure everyone in Stepney and in London will join with me in thanking Bishop Adrian and praying for him, and for Gill and his family, as he makes this life-change.
I am now beginning the process of discernment about his replacement. This process requires us first to consider filling the vacancy and notifying the Dioceses Commission and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Unless the Commission considers that the proposal requires further consideration, they will then indicate to the Archbishop that they agree with my proposal to fill the see.
Over the next few months I will want to seek views and discern with others what is the specific calling for the new Bishop of Stepney. While this will naturally involve those in the Stepney episcopal area, others should feel able to contact me at any time with their views.
The news of Bishop Adrian stepping back has also precipitated reflection on my oversight of the Two Cities and I have decided that I will continue to have area oversight. I am confident that the London Plan will ensure appropriate episcopal oversight for those who do not accept the ordination of women on theological grounds and that the work we are undertaking to reflect on how we support clergy and parishes in the Two Cities will bear fruit.
Right across our Diocese, as we enter this new term, we have much to be grateful for in our schools. Following recent exam results, the vast majority achieved outcomes which will show their students made well above national average rates of progress – this data is published later in the term.
This is the second year of government reforms to qualifications, with the introduction of more demanding exams and of the new 9-1 grading system for GCSEs. With an ever-changing environment, teachers entering a new term will face such challenges as well as opportunities. If you are a teacher, what students will not always tell you is how your enthusiasm for a subject has enthused them, how your stability in the midst of an unstable world has held them and how your belief in them has formed them. I am very grateful for what all those in our schools do – thank you.
Over the last four months, I have been out and about across the Diocese, and schools have been just part of my diary. Parishes, homeless hostels, hospitals, food banks, lunch clubs, Sunday and weekday worship – all signs of the hope we have found in Christ Jesus. We should continue to be confident of the hope that we have in Christ, continuing to share that hope in word and action.
What I have also been witnessing has been a growing Diocese. The Strategic Development Grant awarded last year to London by the Church Commissioners will in the coming months and years play a vital role in continuing to revitalise, expand and support mission and ministry across a range of Church traditions in the capital.
Diocesan Synod’s oversight role here is important: to meet in Synod is to meet together ‘as people of the Way and on the Way’ of our shared life of discipleship. I would draw your attention to Synod vacancies, clerical and lay, that still exist, ahead of the meeting of the new Synod on 1 December. Local deanery officers will be able to provide details of by-elections. Similarly, elections to the five Area Councils, start this September. Do consider getting involved and putting yourselves forward.
I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.