I finally read the announcement which has been long in coming. The white smoke ascended, a new shepherd has been found for the rather irritable, frustrated and impatient sheep of the Oxford diocese! The Rt Revd Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, is translating his gifts and talents to Oxford. Steven is no stranger to St Michael’s, he assisted here (before my time) and the people remember him with affection. So what are the marks of a Bishop of Oxford? The remit for those in episcopal oversight is that of teaching well, upholding sound doctrine, promoting unity within the church and by example, live a godly life.
The bishop is the chief pastor of a diocese, a father (or mother) in God who has responsibility to create a pattern of mission and ministry which is God-shaped. So this is no small task and Bishop Steven will need a lot of prayer and cooperation from his sheep. I was struck by his announcement which in the case of senior appointments is always preceded by “Downing Street announces…” We are reminded of the established nature of the Church of England. Even the smelliest shepherds have to herd their way through Westminster!
Pope Francis endearingly requested his own pastors to emit “the smell of the sheep.” His intention was to demonstrate that real shepherds worked alongside their flock and, as a result, started to smell like them. This is the sacrificial nature of ministry and vocation, sometimes it is necessary to give of yourself materially as well as spiritually. This Sunday in the Anglican calendar we celebrate Vocations Sunday, a time for the whole church of God – lay and ordained – to think what part they play in the shaping of God’s mission. These words, then, from Charles de Foucauld, are for everyone to pray including our new bishop:
“Father, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me whatever you will. Whatever you may do I thank you. I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me and all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord.”