John Sentamu: On a mission to take faith to the heart of the city

WITH great excitement, and some trepidation, I am coming to Sheffield this week with 21 of my fellow bishops from across the Province of York to join the churches of the Diocese in their “Crossroads” Mission. We have never done anything like this before.

The idea arose last May when we had gathered as bishops on Holy Island, Lindisfarne, off the Northumbrian coast, to pray and take counsel together about our shared calling as bishops and teachers of the Christian faith. We had travelled from our dioceses to Holy Island, that wonderful centre of prayer, worship, and witness founded by St Aidan, from which the early evangelist monks went out in the 7th Century to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ across the North.

Aidan, Cuthbert, Hilda, Cedd, Chad, and their contemporaries learned the Psalms by heart and recited them as they walked from community to community. Their life was rooted in Sanctuary, (the holy place), the Road (the venture and journey of faith), and in Hospitality, (the loving welcome given to all by God).

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There is something very special about Lindisfarne. Just crossing the causeway from the mainland you feel you are embarking upon an amazing journey. This was our experience as we visited Holy Island for a 24 hour retreat.

The first day we heard from young people from all over the region about how they saw the challenges of sharing the Christian faith today – then spent the rest of the time in prayer, in reflection on the Psalms led by Bishop Gordon Mursell and in conversation. And as we prayed, listened and talked together we realised that we in the North have inherited this most amazing treasure, the good news of God’s transforming love and power.

More than anything, as bishops, we realised we wanted to share this treasure of great price and make it freely accessible to people across the North today. It seemed good to us. We needed to do it – not just talk about it. From the young people we had heard of God transforming lives and communities with love. Could we as bishops start to do mission in a new way together?

I knew that the Diocese of Sheffield was about to celebrate its centenary – so I asked Bishop Steven Croft if he would be willing to host the first “Bishops together in Mission” event. He readily agreed, and invited us all to come, bringing teams of young people to join in. That is how the Crossroads Mission was born.

Over the past few months each of Sheffield’s 12 Deaneries – that is groups of local churches and their parishes – has been organising events over the four days of the mission which begins today.

With 21 bishops visiting, and all their teams, and 12 different deanery programmes to co-ordinate, it will have been a huge task. Even more important will be what happens afterwards, as local churches seek to welcome and support those who have responded, and accompany them on their journey as they explore what it means to live out the good news of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives.

From being quite young and joining Bishop Festo Kivengere on missions like this in Uganda, I have always loved this.

I like to get out and be with people where they are, in the market, in the pub, in the street. It is amazing what conversations happen.

I find people often want to tell me important things about their lives, and very often also, they want me to pray with them. And usually these are people who don’t have much to do with church.

If you see me or Bishop Libby, Bishop of Stockport, out and about in the middle of Sheffield on Saturday, be sure to come and say hello. There’s a prayer pilgrimage around the city, with opportunities for everyone to chat and pray.

We will be at the cross in the city centre, at the Moor Market, and in various other places about town. And the Cathedral is open for prayer throughout.

I am glad the celebration on Sunday at the end of the mission is to take place in Rotherham. The town has suffered too much bad news – so it is great to go there to celebrate the best news ever, and the fantastic potential this means in each and every person, and in every community.

Remember the person in the time of Jesus of Nazareth who wondered if anything good could come out of Galilee?

There will always be cynics, but the proof of all this will be in the transformation of lives and communities not just this coming weekend, but in the months and years that follow. So please come and see.

The Bishop of Sheffield has used the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, as a strapline: “Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls (Jeremiah 6.16).”

I hope and pray that these next few days a great many of us in Sheffield will seize this “crossroads moment” and choose well. May God be with us all.

Dr John Sentamu is the Archbishop of York. To check what is happening in Sheffield Diocese this week, go to http://www.sheffield.anglican.org/crossroads-mission