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Bishop of Oxford joins link summit in South Africa

THE Bishop of Oxford has joined over 50 people from the Diocese of Oxford and our link diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman for a four-day summit.  It’s being held in Kimberley, South Africa, and brings together representatives of linked parishes, young people, and people with leadership roles within the link and within the two dioceses, including both diocesan bishops.

Participants will engage together in prayer and Bible study. They’ll visit different parishes for Sunday worship and explore the history of Kimberley so as to better understand the context of the Kimberley and Kuruman diocese today. And they’ll discuss a series of questions relating to mission: Why and how do we cherish God’s creation? What are the things in our church life that engage – or don’t engage – young people? How do we discuss and respond to inequalities that distort right relationships in our families, church and society?

Our prayer is that is that the time together will deepen both diocese’s understanding and love of God and each other, help us to grow as disciples of Christ, and make our partnership both deeper and wider.

God in the Life Of the Rt Revd Steven Croft

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BORN and brought up in Halifax, the new Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft has moved more than 140 miles from Sheffield to the city of dreaming spires to take up his new post. It was during his move that he sat down to tell Jo Duckles his story.

The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft.

The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft.

We meet in Bishop Steven’s new office in Church House Oxford. Over a cup of tea, Bishop Steven, the son of a warp twister who worked in the carpet factories in Halifax, remembered his childhood church experiences. “I was part of the generation whose parents weren’t churchgoers but who were sent to Sunday school as children. I was welcomed and nurtured within the ordinary parish church,” he says. He was one of three youngsters who were the first members of a youth group set up a by a young mum in his church when he was just 13.

That group, and a diocesan youth weekend when he was 16, helped Bishop Steven to grow in his faith and inspired his life-long commitment to youth work in local churches. It was also where he began to sense a call to priesthood. “I became aware God was calling me to ordained ministry when I was 17. I grew into that vocation over the following nine years and was ordained at 26,” he says.

Despite claiming never to have had a ‘proper job’ the gap between school and ordination was filled with various roles, working in shops and gardening at a local park. He also studied hard, reading Classics and Theology at Oxford’s Worcester College and training for ordination at Cranmer Hall, St John’s, Durham, where he was awarded his doctorate on the Psalms in 1984. He was an undergraduate in Oxford when he met his wife-to-be Ann, who was training as a nurse at the then Radcliffe Infirmary. “We lived the first two years of our married life here,” says Bishop Steven, whose parish ministry began as a curate at St Andrew’s, Enfield, before he became the Vicar of Ovenden, back in Halifax, where his dad grew up and grandmother still lived.

From there he went on to spend eight years as the Warden back at Cranmer Hall, training people for Anglican ministry. It was there that he took the call from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Chief of Staff, inviting him to take up a completely new post within the Church of England.  “The call came out of the blue and I was asked to talk to Rowan Williams. I was to set up and lead this project on Fresh Expressions in the Anglican and Methodist churches.”

So in 2004, when both of their sons were at university, Bishop Steven and Ann returned to Oxford, where they were based during the Fresh Expressions project. Their two daughters attended the Cherwell School and the family worshipped at St Andrew’s, Linton Road. Bishop Steven also assisted at St Michael’s. His innovative Fresh Expressions role saw Bishop Steven travelling the length and breadth of the country, discovering how fresh expressions were reaching those who had little or no experience of Christianity. “I largely set everything up from scratch, setting up a team and telling the Fresh Expressions story. It’s hugely encouraging 12 years later. We had some research done in Sheffield where 2,500 people attend Fresh Expression style churches and there is a similar project taking place in Oxford. One of the things I had to do was learn to see the Church from the perspective of someone outside.”

When he became the Bishop of Sheffield, Bishop Steven admits that having never been on the senior staff of a diocese, or worked in a diocesan setting, he faced a strange but enjoyable learning curve.
Sheffield is the fourth largest city in the UK with two universities and 60,000 students. The Sheffield Diocese takes in the whole of South Yorkshire and parts of East Yorkshire which were carried over when it was formed from the York Diocese 100 years ago.

“It is one of the poorest dioceses in the Church of England and the most generous in terms of its levels of giving. In my seven years there it celebrated its centenary,” says Bishop Steven. “I think the focus of my time there was helping both lay people and clergy to engage with God’s mission. I hope I laid the foundations for the Church in the Diocese of Sheffield to grow again. I loved my time there and loved the Diocese deeply.”

While he was there he took part in the first Northern Bishops’ Mission, which saw 23 bishops gather in Sheffield to run mission events that involved 20,000 people over four days. Another high point of Bishop Steven’s time in South Yorkshire was securing £1m from the Church Commissioners for development workers in deprived parishes. “In a middle-class parish, churches employ staff to do things like sweeping up broken glass and maintenance, or they have retired volunteers. In some of the more deprived parishes this doesn’t happen so the development workers were there to support the clergy,” he says.

Bishop Steven and I met the day after he had left the House of Lords as the Bishop of Sheffield and been officially re-welcomed as the Bishop of Oxford. He describes the Lords as remarkable. “It feels a great privilege to be there. The debates are engaging and interesting and I’m looking forward to taking a bigger role than I did when I had to clear a whole day to travel there from Sheffield.” And he says he is hugely looking forward to settling back into Oxford. “It feels like an immense privilege to be here. It’s a very different place to Sheffield. During this first year I’ll be growing some big ears, listening to the Diocese and getting a sense of what God is doing in this place at this time, and what God might want to do in this next chapter.” Bishop Steven is planning visits to each deanery to meet clergy and the leaders of the major institutions outside of the Church.

“I am really glad to be here and I am looking forward to doing the work of listening. I would like to communicate directly with as many people as possible. People can email me directly and I’ll be communicating via my blog. One of the things I enjoy is being in different churches Sunday by Sunday and not always for special occasions.”

Bishop Steven’s hobbies are cooking and he has recently taken up running. As I interviewed him he was wearing a fit-bit style watch, in a purple that matched his clergy shirt. He is also a prolific writer. His latest book which was due to come out this autumn is The Gift of Leadership which contains 10 biblical reflections on leadership for people from all kinds of organisations.
“One of my passions is forming disciples and I encourage all churches to teach the faith to beginners.” It was that passion that inspired Bishop Steven to join Paula Gooder, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell and the Rt Revd Robert Attwell to co-author Pilgrim, a widely respected resource to help churches to do just that.

Bishop Steven and Ann have four grown-up children, three based in London and one in Bristol. They have one grandchild and another one on the way.

Podcast

The seventh day (week 3)

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Every seven days in this series of podcasts we’ve invited you to think about how we can become a more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous Church. You may wish to use today to reflect on the material with a small group, or you may want to reflect on your own.

18: A grain of wheat – investing for life

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This Abundant Life episode, written and read by the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford, explores John 12.20-26

17: Mary, the model disciple

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‘Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard…’ This episode is reflection 17 of  21 podcasts in the Abundant Life series, written and read by the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford

16: From life to death

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Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only… Jesus’ mission is nothing less than the renewal of the whole earth. It is greater even than the salvation of his own people. It is to gather into one the dispersed children of God, born again from above into his kingdom. The great Passover has come.

This episode is reflection 16 of  21 podcasts in the Abundant Life series, written and read by the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford

15: Unbind him and let him go

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Every faith journey is different. but this call to life is not meant to be a once and for all experience. Christ calls us continually back to a new and abundant life.

This episode is reflection 15 of  21 podcasts in the Abundant Life series, written and read by the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford

14: The prayer of life

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The English word courage comes from the Latin word cor, which means heart. To be courageous is to be whole-hearted in our lives and in our faith. to encourage someone is, literally, to put the heart back in to them. In the language of Jeremiah, to be given a new heart.

This episode is reflection 14 of  21, the beginning of week 3 of Abundant Life.

13: From compassion to courage

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Jesus shows us life in all its fullness. That abundant life is first contemplative and second compassionate. You might think that love of God and neighbour says everything there is to say. But we also need to look and find in the story the Christ who is courageous.

This episode is reflection 13 of  21, the beginning of week 3 of Abundant Life.

The seventh day (week 2)

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Every seven days in this series of podcasts we invite you to think about how we can become a more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous Church. After each week of daily reflections you may wish to use today to reflect on the material with a small group, or you may want to reflect on your own.

12: Following the compassionate Christ

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Pope Francis has one of the most challenging vocations in the world. His calling is to lead the largest Christian Church, stretched across every continent, a Church which is full of challenges and problems. His calling, like ours, is to articulate a fresh vision of what it means to be Church in the 21st century: a Church bearing witness to the love of God in a globalising, secular, pluralist, sometimes dehumanising culture.

This episode is reflection 12 of  21. Tomorrow we reflect back on week 2 of Abundant Life.

11: Open hearted, tender hearted…

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This picture of Jesus before the tomb of Lazarus gives us the picture of how the Church is to be in the world: the foundation of God’s mission is compassion: feeling with and suffering with others. Weeping with those who weep.

This episode is reflection 11 of  21. Written and read by Bishop Steven, each reflection accompanies the booklet Abundant Life.

10: Vulnerability and love

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Let’s stay with Jesus’ vulnerability a little longer… In several places John’s Gospel presents us, within a few verses, with Christ’s divinity and his humanity, and the ways in which the two are interwoven.

This episode is reflection 10 of  21. Written and read by Bishop Steven, each reflection accompanies the booklet Abundant Life.

9: Jesus’ tears

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This is the only place in the fourth Gospel where Jesus reveals his deepest emotions. We love him for it. This weakness and vulnerability calls forth a response in John’s readers in every generation.

This episode is reflection 9 of  21. Written and read by Bishop Steven, each reflection accompanies the booklet Abundant Life.