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The Bishop of Lichfield's Epiphany Message- 2014
Transcript of his video message
Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield -
video link >>



The Church of England has changed radically over the last forty years. We remain committed to offering a lively Christian presence in every community, but the way we are doing this is changing.
In recent years our Plain Speaking process has helped Lichfield Diocese plan for sustainable growth. We're facing the long-term trend of ageing congregations and falling numbers although at the last count, it seems we are seeing a hint of growth.

But one aspect that isn't so clear from the average pew is the demographic one that affects the whole of the Church of England. And specifically in this diocese, a third of all our clergy are predicted to retire in the next ten years. Replacing them has traditionally been the responsibility of a few lively churches with the help of the DDO - the Diocesan Director of Ordinands.

Revd David Newsome, Diocesan Director of Ordinands:
We want people who are passionate for the gospel, live Christ-centred lives, are people of prayer and leaders of mission in their communities.

Bishop Jonathan:
While the traditional priest-per-parish model has stretched us almost to breaking-point in some places, we've seen a surge in other forms of ministry.
Non-stipendiary clergy have grown in large numbers - people who remain in secular employment have the calling to serve in their local churches as priests. And we have recruited some fabulous priests through this route who remain thoroughly grounded in normal life.

Then later this year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ordination of the first women priests. Resistance was often strong in the early years, but many congregations who were initially uncomfortable with the idea are now delighted with the women who lead them. Over 40% of our new clergy in the coming year will be women and many of us are looking forward to them taking more senior positions in the diocese.

Most parishes are also able to call on Lay Readers, who are our Lay Theologians: people without the vocation to be a priest but who teach congregations from scripture, lead them in worship and have a distinctive vocation to lay ministry. We also have many Lay Ministers: people who have received training and have a specific ministry.

Dr Lindsey Hall, Director of Lay Development:
As disciples we're all participating in ministry and for lots of people that is in their workplace or their own community or amongst their family and friends. But some people also have a specific call to Lay Ministry on behalf of the church. We offer all kinds of resources to support a wide range of ministries. And the two formal courses we offer are for Authorised Lay Ministry and Lay Reader ministry.

Bishop Jonathan:
And the great news is that some parishes are encouraging many to come forward... But what about the Holy Communion, our central act of worship?
This is the rub for some parishes, that sometimes we overlook the key need for a priest to take the weekly Holy Communion service.

I have sometimes described the French Roman Catholic support in the 1970's for ADAPs, or "Assemblee Domincale en I'Absence de Pretre", that is, Sunday worship in the absence of a priest. This was basically a trained and authorized lay worship team who would take responsibility for the organising of Sunday service on those Sundays when the priest was in another church. Until such time as we have more priests, be they full-time if the generosity of congregations allows, or parttime as the number of non-stipendiary or ordained local ministers increases, we will want to use specially ordained lay teams like that of the ADAPs.

And this isn't a terrible situation to be in. The challenge of keeping our worship fresh, alive and relevant is one that all traditions within the Church of England have to face.

We share in a wonderfully diverse diocese. We have extremely sparsely populated moorlands in Staffordshire and where Shropshire borders with Wales. And we have some very densely populated urban and suburban areas. We have a smattering of wealthy people in our congregations and many professional people with comfortable incomes. But as our Practising Generosity event showed last year, 25% of our parishes have people belonging to the poorest 10% of British society.

Julie Jones, Lichfield Diocese' Chief Executive Officer:
About three-quarters of the way through, of course, we ran out of money because we'd given everything that there was to give. And yet there were people there wanting other people to benefit too. And so we saw the poorest of parishes giving back a tenth of what they'd been allocated to enable others to have their projects take off too.

This incredible generosity was heart-warming and almost emotional to see but there is other generosity that I and everyone on Bishop's Staff would want to thank you for.

The amount of money that has come in this year is nearly ninety six percent of the parish share requested and for that we are so grateful.

But just think how much more we as a diocese and you as parishes could achieve if we were able to just give that little bit more, go the extra mile, like they did at the PB day, so we can see more effective mission and ministry.

Bishop Jonathan:
Money was one of Jesus favourite topics even though I and many clergy are less comfortable asking for it. But how we use it is a measure of our commitment to Jesus and to his Church. Jesus encourages us all to invest in his work: "Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap."

This month, the Bishop's Staff Team is continuing to look closely at how we grow as a church: none of us wants to manage a process of decline. God created a church in which every member, including you is able to grow in faith through the opportunity to explore and offer themselves to any ministry you are called to. We have such good news to share - of hope for the future, of Christ's love and grace for each of us.

May God bless you in 2014