What ’s the hardest thing about your job?
The correspondence.I love being a Bishop,but the challenge is the huge amount of letters I receive. I try to answer all of them. I used to like getting letters, but now they come in such a volume. It ’s a bit like windsurfing, you ride the crest of a wave and think “Great! I ’ve done it!” And then suddenly from behind you, crashing over your head, comes another pile of letters. But it ’s pastoral work too, as it ’s another way of connecting with people.
What ’s the most rewarding thing about your job?
Being with people,hearing about their faith, encouraging them in it, listening, making connections between the world and God, realising that the world needs to know God ’s love. When you become aware of people groping for and finding that love, it ’s very moving and deeply fulfilling. That’s pastoral ministry.
How do you cope with the pressure of wanting to be a pastor but at the same time having all the other demands on your time?
I think it ’s important to realise that administration is also part of being a pastor. Replying to people who write to you can be seen as an administrative task, but it ’s also a pastoral one. As for the demands upon me as a Bishop, the way I respond is by planning as well as I can, by delegating as much as I can, by sharing my ministry with others, and by following the example of Jesus and keeping my times with God protected. So each day, prayer and Bible study is an important part of my life. I also make sure I have regular time each week when I am away from work, and I take regular holidays.
What in your opinion is the biggest challenge facing the British Church today?
People are looking for God and for spiritual experiences.Not everyone and not all of the time, but there isn ’t a person who doesn ’t at some stage in their life find themselves praying. The churches have got to be there alongside people when this happens. Wherever I see churches connected with their community they are flourishing, but churches that are not connected with the community are on a downward slide to decline.Therefore the challenge for us in the church is to have our doors well and truly open. We need to have bridges, not just for people to come from the community into our churches, but bridges over which people from our churches can travel into the community. I ’m a great believer in community evangelism - that you can ’t talk about the good news of Jesus Christ, without understanding what the bad news is for people. That means being really rooted in our communities, getting alongside people, feeling the pain and hurt in that community - then shining onto that aspect of people’s pain, the facet of the diamond of the good news which is relevant to it.
What sort of pain are people feeling in Liverpool right now?
At this time we are still reeling from the Redfern Inquiry into Organ Retention at the Alder Hey Children ’s Hospital.The faith leaders here are very involved in ministering to the whole community. It ’s been a shock to discover what is in the report. It is a vindication of the anxiety of the parents who knew there was something wrong. They have discovered that thousands of organs of children’s bodies were retained without informed consent. There is a feeling of betrayal, and also of sadness that the wonderful work of Alder Hey, upon which the welfare of hundreds of thousands of children depends,has been overshadowed by these events. It raises all sorts of questions. For example,some parents had one funeral to begin with, then a second funeral as an organ was released. Some have had a third and some are even contemplating a fourth funeral. You can hardly imagine the trauma that this inflicts upon the parents and families.The clergy are there, alongside,ministering to them. Some families have questions about the eternal destiny of their child. They may have confused feelings about who exactly did they bury, if so many of the organs were retained? Some wonder if that affects the eternal destiny of their child - is the child at rest and peace?
It ’s hard to imagine how I would feel in that situation, but I don’t think I would be as devastated as most of the parents appear to be.
What you have to imagine is that if you’ve held your sick child in your arms, the physicality of that child is important to your memory. If you discover that what you have buried is not that which you have touched substantially, that deeply affects you. Although in our ministry to the families we are saying that the destiny of the soul is not affected by a partial burial, part of human dignity is to respect the body, both in life and death. When someone dies, you don ’t just dispose of the body as you would dispose of anything else. There must be respect and reverence, as this is a person who has been created in the image of God.
This issue links with other aspects of medical research...
We are at a threshold where human dignity may well be under threat with cloning and research on embryos. The retention of children ’s organs without informed consent is right at the heart of the issue. The parents are not against medical research. Many would have given consent if asked. What they feel betrayed over is that nobody asked them and nobody told them what exactly was being taken.
Recent research suggests that Churches in the UK employ around 7,000 salaried youth workers. But little more than five years ago - the numbers were more like 700. Why the huge growth?
One of the first revelations of the gospels is that God himself was a young person. I think that is very important for the church to embrace. As a young person Jesus wasn ’t on probation to becoming the Son of God. God is with our young people, and many churches who are seeing that they are out of touch with young people, are responsibly and creatively responding to that by appointing youth workers and youth ministers.That’s an encouraging sign.
It is remarkable that the church has invested more in youth workers, at a time when the State seems to be pulling back. There are a number of church leaders who are making representation to the government, because the lack of provision for young people in our communities is contributing to their alienation from our society.
At the same time, I want to express caution over some of these new church appointments, because the contracts can be inadequate and the youth workers may be poorly supervised and supported. Sometimes people in these positions are very exposed. They are going out on a limb to reach young people and what they do may not be understood by the church. There can be disagreements and that ’s when people begin to look at contracts. We need to pay more attention to those details to ensure they are fair and just, and that everyone – and most of all the young people – have the best possible protection.
Recently you have been involved in writing some books for BRF.
The first book I wrote for BRF was over 15 years ago. I spoke to the then General Director and said that what was needed was a highly visual book with an illustration on every spread, to help people to follow Jesus. He gave it the thumbs up. ‘Following Jesus ’, which I did with Taffy the cartoonist, sold over 75,000 copies. What I find remarkable in a book written so long ago, is that it is still selling today. I think it ’s key, though, is its humour. Humour is about humanity, and that is why Jesus told parables. I ’m sure people laughed and smiled at his stories, and then, having lost themselves in the parable, they saw themselves in it. Sometimes we can be too serious and this alienates people. The moment we tell a story, people relax and you build a relationship. Think of Jesus’ story about the man owing 10,000 talents - that was around five times the whole tax revenue for the entire regions of Galilee and Perea. It was like Jesus saying here was a man who owed five times the EC budget! It was larger than life - Monty Python-esque. People warmed to Jesus as he told those stories.
What makes you laugh?
I love the female comedians, Victoria Wood and Dawn French. I think Alice in the Vicar of Dibley is a fantastic character. The thing about comedy programmes is that you see yourself and other people in these characters -they are just exaggerated to make them fun.
How has being a Bishop changed you?
People tell you when you become Bishop,“Just be yourself and don’t change ”. That ’s good advice,but no human being remains the same, we are all dynamic and forever changing. Right at the heart of the gospel is the word ‘change ’ - metanoia - repent, change your mind, change your attitude. My thinking is always changing as I relate what I read in the scriptures to what I encounter in the world and how Jesus is relevant to a particular situation.
Every day I translate a verse or two from the gospels and I pray, “Lord,what does this mean for me, how do I live this out as a Bishop?”
The evangelical wing of the church seems fragmented over Word and Spirit.Where is the emphasis of your ministry?
My heart is open to the Word and the Spirit and the Sacraments. The Bible remains my authority in all matters of faith and conduct. Sometimes I think we use the Bible wrongly and badly, but I believe we must live under the authority of scripture. I believe too that we must be open to the Spirit of God.
Jesus gave the most amazing image - just as you don ’t know where the wind blows from or to, so it is with everyone born of the Spirit.I often say to my colleagues, “Do we reflect this in the church? Do we really have this spirit of adventure?” If you drop a five pound note and the wind ’s blowing you can ’t pick it up because it ’s here, there and everywhere. Jesus says that is an image of people who are born from above. So I am passionately committed to us being open to the Spirit and being led in the adventure of the Spirit. Jesus also gave us the two Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. I believe the church is nourished by these two Sacraments and for me, feeding on them is biblical and an important part of my own spiritual journey. What we must do is open ourselves up to all those influences - all the ways of feeding God gives us to nurture and nourish us. The Word, Spirit and Sacraments, are vitally important and we need all three vitamins.