Farewell sermon, February 2022

Preached in Liverpool Cathedral at the farewell service of the eighth Bishop of Liverpool, February 12 2022.

So there’s this door.

It’s a simple door but it’s well made, because it was made by a carpenter. The guy who made it is a poor man, but he’s generous. He’s given one to each of us, to open and close as we wish. He’s given one to you. 

It’s a door made for people who come and go, who come in and go out, who come out and go in. Listen! The poor carpenter stands at the door and knocks. If you hear his voice and open the door, he will come in to you and eat with you, and you with him.

For Christians the Bible comes to us, and God’s voice in the Bible. I didn’t choose the readings today. They came to me. They are from those set by our lectionary for this evening. In those readings, this comes to you:

In the Psalm it says: “The King’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold.” (Psalm 45:14)

And in second Chronicles, Solomon says, “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people”. (2 Chronicles 1:10)

And in John’s Gospel the disciples say to Jesus, “Now you are speaking plainly”. (John 16:29)

For Christians the world comes to us, and God’s love in the world, the world God so loved. We don’t choose the world today. The things we face come to us. If you open the door you’ll see them. Glory and love and joy. Poverty and pain and prejudice. Minorities pushed to the side. People frightened of difference. Exclusion and ignoring and hurt. Violence and damage and death.

And the Son of God sees it all. He sees us all, with our thin arms held out to the bare tree, wanting to live more abundantly. Let me go there, he says.

In this world the poor carpenter has given you a door, so that if you wish you can go in and come out before this people. Come in to the glorious presence of God who loves you. Go out to the disturbing presence of the world that God loves as well as you. 

Open the door: come in. The Son of God has prepared a place for you, you are the King’s child, all glorious within. Go out; speak plainly of Jesus and of justice. Go out and come in through the door, with the wisdom and knowledge God gives.

God has given you a door that closes, so you can go into your room and shut the door and pray to God who is in secret; and God who sees in secret will give the reward, God’s real presence and God’s blessing. It’s a door for closing so that you may dwell within and know yourself to be all glorious, robed in wrought gold, clothed in bright raiment of needle-work, seeing yourself as God sees you.  

But the Son of God goes out and comes in. And before He comes in, He knocks. And the door is not a door for closing when the poor carpenter knocks. Because it’s only if you hear his voice and open the door, that he will come in to you and eat with you, and you with him. 

And do you know what? He will not come in alone. He will bring his friends with him, they will all come crowding in, to the table that the poor carpenter made, the table which reaches into your own room, your own heart. And at that table you will sit with the ones who were shut out, and who are now included, as you have been included, all coming as they are, all robed in bright raiment of needle-work, all glorious together.

This line of scripture has lived within me for forty-two years: “The King’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold”. The first time I heard anyone preach it was in Sheffield in 1980, at the installation of David Lunn, Bishop Pete’s predecessor as Bishop there, now three bishops ago. I have never forgotten it. Bishop David, whom I knew as a curate, used the text to lift the heart of his Diocese. He proclaimed to a poor Northern Diocese, to the Sheffield Diocese, that God saw them as precious – glorious and richly dressed, within. 

And I proclaim that to you today, to this poor Northern Diocese, this Diocese which does not seek to be at the top of the Church but which has always sought to be at the front of God’s mission. 

As COVID continues to beset us, as the church is pushed to the edge, as we work and pray and discern to find a way to be God’s people in a new world, to make ourselves fit for the mission to which we are called, I remind you, you are all glorious within. God loves you. The King desires your beauty.

And I give you a charge today. I charge you to live in the security that comes from knowing that God loves you as you are, for your beauty. I charge you to remind one another that God sees you dressed in wrought gold, in bright raiment of needle-work. 

That is the same God who stands at the door and knocks, and in the security God gives you, you need not be afraid. You can open the door to Christ and to Christ’s friends, and welcome them all, and eat with them. 

The poor carpenter will always bring his friends along. Among his friends will be those you would rather keep out. But the door was made by the poor carpenter, and it opens very wide, and it has a special threshold.

The world knows about thresholds. If you go on the Screwfix website it will tell you about the world’s thresholds. It says “door thresholds are there to stop draughts and to protect against the elements such as rain and wet and cold weather from entering the indoor environment”. Screwfix thresholds are made to exclude elements. 

But the poor carpenter’s threshold is not there to exclude any element. It is there to help you welcome and bless. It is not a step. It is like the ground around the bare tree on the bare hill where the poor carpenter died. No one is special at that threshold, and no one is excluded. All you need do is hold out your thin arms.

In one of his books John Ryle, the first Bishop of Liverpool, pointed to St Augustine who said this: “When Christ came forth from the Father, He so came into the world as never to leave the Father; and He so left the world and went unto the Father as never to leave the world.” 

The gap between heaven and earth is healed in Jesus Christ. The threshold between heaven and earth is made smooth, and the door is opened. Heaven on earth in heaven, connected. 

Jesus comes from the Father and brings the fulness of God with him; all of it. Jesus goes to the Father and he takes his friends with him; all of them, across the threshold and through the door, into glory.

Here’s another charge, then, from your bishop. Stand at the door God made, the door you open as the carpenter knocks. Stand at the open door and speak for the excluded at the threshold. Stand there and welcome them in.

If you do that, if you stand there and welcome the excluded, you may be open to misunderstanding and to accusation and to struggle. But you need not be afraid. You are all glorious within; your raiment is of wrought gold and bright needle-work, rich and shining, because you are clothed by God. You’re clothed by grace.

In today’s reading Jesus says, I came and went. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again I am leaving the world and am going to the Father. And he says, I will tell you plainly of the Father.

That word, the word translated “plainly”, in the language of the Bible is parresía. His Holiness Pope Francis has commended this word. He has frequently said that only a church marked by parresía, by plain speech, by truthful speech, is a church worth having, and I agree with him. Parresía is the Bible’s word, it’s the Pope’s word, it’s the very the word on which I spoke at our clergy retreat day last year, and it’s the word that the lectionary has given me today. 

It points to a way of speaking, and a way of being. You can see people who live that way. In the life of a man like Desmond Tutu, the greatest Anglican bishop of our times, you see one who lived that way.

In the spirit of this word and of those who live it, I invite you to walk this same way. Speak plainly. Fudge is sweet; but it’s not a nourishing food. Don’t just talk about God’s love if God’s love is not all you mean. Don’t offer love unconditionally if later on there are conditions. Say what you think, and do what you say. Speak plainly and act plainly. May you be a people marked by truthful speech, even as truthful speech in this nation is respected less and less.

So there’s this door and you stand near it, all glorious within. And you hear the carpenter, knocking on the door, and on the other side of the door you hear the murmur of his friends. Will you open the door, and face the draught and the rain so that he and the others may come in? I hope so. If it opens, open it.

In this Diocese of Liverpool we say, we’re asking God for a bigger church to make a bigger difference, and we say “more people knowing Jesus, more justice in the world”. That’s the swinging of the door, that’s the breath of the Church. 

As Solomon did we ask for wisdom to come in and to go out. Wisdom for the inner journey and the outer journey. We close the door, we open the door; we breathe in Jesus, and breathe out justice. 

“To make an option for the poor,” Gustavo Gutierrez said, “is to make an option for Jesus.” And that has been Liverpool’s choice, and the choice of its bishops for half a century. Of Bp David who wrote of the Bias to the Poor. Of Bp James who wrote of Justice for Christ’s Sake. In that tradition I have sought to stand. This going in and coming out. This breath of the Church.

As we breathe we adore our Lord. We say to our Lord and our God, all your garments are anointed with myrrh and aloes and cassia and you are anointed with gladness above your fellows. We say to our Lord and our God, it is your joy that is our strength. And God clothes us with wrought gold and with bright beauty of needle-work, with fragrance and joy, no matter what we wear on the outside. 

Some of us wear bright beauty on the outside, as I did when I was clothed with gold and with raiment of needle-work when I entered this church those years ago. I have worn this bright beautiful raiment on behalf of all of you, as a sign that we are all glorious, as God loves and as God gives. 

But wearing bright clothes, inhabiting a role, is something done for a season. It’s a brief outward sign of a lasting inward grace. And the day has come when I must lay the bright clothes down, as the day will come when you must lay down what you in your turn have been given. 

And when that day comes, when you are divested of your bright and beautiful raiment, and when it falls to you to go out in simple silence as you came in, I invite you again to hold fast to this truth, that you remain all glorious within. The love of God is what has made you beautiful and this love will never leave you, not in this age, not in the age to come. 

And in the strength of that unfailing love I invite you again to open the door and to welcome your poor and lovely Lord, and all the unlovely poor ones he brings with him, to sit at the table with them, to listen to them, to make room for them, speaking plain words of thanks, and of truth, and of advocacy and of love to defend them and to bless them. 

And I promise you that through them and with them and in them you will be blessing and worshipping our incarnate God, the poor carpenter, the one who enters your life through the door he made, the one who sits beside you at the table he made, the one you love, the one we love, the One who is love.

Jesus, may your name be first and last in all we say and do; and draw us to your Father in the power of the Spirit. Bring justice to victory. We ask this in your name, Jesus.

© Paul Bayes 2022


Platinum Accession Sermon

Preached at Liverpool Cathedral on Sunday February 6, 2022; the seventieth anniversary of the Accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne.


A reading from the First Letter of St Peter

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor.

The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew

So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.


The words of St Peter: Honour the emperor.  

And the words of Jesus: Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

I was consecrated bishop in 2010. At the consecration service, Letters Patent from the monarch are read, giving authority to the Archbishop and the the bishops present to perform the consecration. In 2010 at the end of the Letters Patent the text was read out: “Given at Westminster under our hand, this 21st day of September in the year of our Lord two thousand and ten, and in the fifty-eighth year of our reign.” 

I remember being deeply moved at such a life lived, so many years of service, such a richness of memories all contained in that number.

If a bishop were to be consecrated tomorrow the Letters Patent would say “Given at Westminster under our hand, this 7th day of February in the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty-two, and in the seventy-first year of our reign.” What was moving then is astonishing now.

In the midst of a culture where it can seem that yesterday is disposable, and where it seems truth and integrity and memory are honoured less and less, we remember today a different way of being. 

We enter today into an uncharted territory of faithfulness and of perseverance in service, a weight of commitment to set against the trivialities and the lies of our day. We enter a platinum year. The year is well named.

Platinum is rare. It is the rarest and the most ductile and the weightiest of the noble metals. Every year, approximately 1,500 tonnes of gold is mined, in comparison to just 160 tonnes of platinum. A platinum rod 10 cm long and 1 cm in diameter can be drawn into a wire at least 2750 km long, further than the distance from Liverpool to Athens. A six-inch cube of platinum weighs as much as an average human being.

To be classified as noble a metal needs to be at once resistant to reaction, and a good catalyst. You might sum that up as the role of a monarch in a constitutional monarchy. Above the fray, and yet exercising “the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn”.

To have lived for seventy years in that role – receiving the projections of so many people, facing endless demands to speak out and resisting them, embodying a continuity of value, manifesting a way of life that aims to speak of what matters – this is the achievement we celebrate today.  

On her 21st birthday, in 1947 in South Africa, the present Queen suggested that we were all called to bring good to the world and then, in words which she herself has re-emphasised today, she said that to do this:

“…we must give nothing less than the whole of ourselves. There is a motto which has been borne by many of my ancestors – a noble motto, “I serve”. Those words were an inspiration to many bygone heirs to the Throne when they made their knightly dedication as they came to manhood. I cannot do quite as they did.

But through the inventions of science I can do what was not possible for any of them. I can make my solemn act of dedication with a whole Empire listening. I should like to make that dedication now. It is very simple. 

I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service… 

I have never heard anyone, not even the most vehement republican, deny that this is exactly what the Queen has done, as a Princess after that speech for five years and then as Queen for seventy more. With the utmost restraint and discretion. With focused and single-minded dedication in this marathon reign. Through good and, yes, pretty bad times too for her family and for the nation. It has been a platinum commitment.

It has been my privilege, as it is the privilege of all Diocesan bishops at least once in their time, to enjoy Her Majesty’s hospitality in Sandringham and to preach in the church there. In speaking to her I mentioned King George V, her grandfather, and his love for the simplicity of York Cottage in the Sandringham grounds. “Yes”, she said, and then reflected and added, “He was always very good to me”. She was speaking of a man who died in 1936. 

That is what  I mean by continuity – a store of memories almost spanning the century, held with reticence and reserve, bringing a catalytic strength to the unimaginable changes of the last eighty years. We live in a world which George V would have found incomprehensible, but he would have recognised in his grand-daughter the continuity of a way of being, bringing precisely that weight and flexibility and humanity which our constitution invests in its monarch.

All these are reasons, in St Peter’s words, to honour the emperor. But unlike St Peter’s day, although it may sometimes seem that we worship celebrity as if it’s divine, we do not worship the monarch today. When Jesus says “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s”, his words find resonance with the life of this woman whose accession we celebrate. 

In 1952 in her first Christmas broadcast, made before I was born (I’m 68; an Elizabethan baby), looking forward to the Coronation, she said this:

“I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day – to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.

And at Christmas 2011 she said this:

God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

And seven weeks ago, in her most recent Christmas broadcast, she spoke of the Christmas story:

…simple happenings that formed the starting point of the life of Jesus — a man whose teachings have been handed down from generation to generation, and have been the bedrock of my faith. 

We rightly say about the monarch in a constitutional monarchy that she is above the fray. In politics, in opinion, in controversy, the Queen’s discretion is absolute. But on one thing she is absolutely clear. She is a woman of faith. In a nation where faith is often contended and sometimes despised, she makes no excuse for her own faith, and she does not hide it. On the contrary it is giving to God the things that are God’s which constitute the engine of her devotion to service. 

So as she begins her eighth decade as our monarch, we who are people of faith thank God for that and we pray for her still, as the Bible asks us to do. And I think too that this morning each of us who are people of faith has a lesson to learn again, in this plural England, in this United Kingdom, in this Commonwealth of nations. To be strongly and distinctively who we are, and also to hold an inclusive spirit and an allegiance to God held lightly, but boldly and without fear.

As well as being a rare and noble metal, platinum has its uses. It is essential to the process of reducing pollution through its use in the catalytic converters of modern cars. It is an essential component in heart pacemakers. Cleaning the air of the public square and sustaining the heartbeat of our togetherness – these are among the tasks of the monarch, to be discharged not in the making of heated speeches, but in the living of a quiet life in the crucible of an overheated culture. We celebrate this long life lived, and we honour her. 

And together with her we lift our eyes further, and we look in the end to God alone, to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion and power, henceforth and for evermore. Amen.

Prayers and love in a time of tiredness

A pastoral letter to the Clergy, Readers and Local Missional Leaders of the Diocese of Liverpool. January 2021.

Dear friends,

I wanted to write to assure you of ongoing prayers from here and from all my Diocesan colleagues, and to encourage you all in your mutual support as the third lockdown unfolds.


Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 

1 John 3:18-20

Short times of acute exhaustion are nothing new for any of us in ministry of all kinds. This is so whatever the external circumstances. Pastoral and justice work is limitless and often unboundaried; there is always more to do. Sometimes, therefore, things pile up and pile on; each demand is perfectly proper, but taken together they can from time to time be very tiring indeed. The remedy for this is as it has always been; sensible priorities, seasons of rest, and a proper understanding that we can’t do everything. None of us is indispensable and God wants us to flourish, even as we serve.

But the present situation is different. After almost a year of living with the virus, a chronic tiredness has seeped into the bones of the Church and its ministers, especially those whose pastoral ministry is full-time. This is entirely natural and understandable, but it is also unprecedented for us in our generation. 

Some examples: for those of you with school-age children, the demands of home schooling alongside work have faced you with repeated and often relentless pressures of time and priority. For those who are single, extended isolation and absence of human contact and human touch has shadowed your life. For those who are shielding and/or who are older, decisions around public worship and pastoral contact are personal as well as corporate; you know that your own health is at serious risk, as well as the health of your people. 

In the light of these realities we need to find ways of coping, as a matter of urgency. To be specific, we need to pay careful attention to ourselves and our colleagues so as to recognise the symptoms of chronic exhaustion when we see them, and to respond well. 

The attached illustration, drawn from work done for firefighters and emergency personnel, is one very simple way to diagnose where we are at any point, and might help you in the search for strength and resource. I myself found it very helpful when, as the grid says, I was “struggling” a few days ago. We will only seek help if we recognise the need.

Members of the Beloved Community

In all this the deepest resources are our relationship with God and our care for one another. God is greater than our hearts, and Jesus is with us always, to the end of time. 

I know that most of you have good resources for your support. These take many forms; perhaps a wise spiritual director, or a spouse/partner, or a parent, or a reflective-practice group, or a prayer-partner or partners, or a counsellor, or a group of good and trusted friends. Alongside these there is, or should be, the strength that comes from knowing that you are a member of a college of ministers in this Diocese – a college of people, lay and ordained, who are called to support one another as well as to serve the Church and the world.

The world-situation is new for us all, and so we must work all the harder to treasure one another. As they often say in the Episcopal Church, we are “members of the Beloved Community”; beloved of God, and equipped by Love to share love and support one with another. 

I want you to know how deep is my pride in who you are and in what you are doing; in your patience, in your forbearance, in your digging deep, in your reserves of joy and wonder in the midst of darkness. It is the honour of my own life to serve alongside you at this time of such need in the world. 

Bishop Bev, the Archdeacons and I are ready to offer whatever help we can – in practical advice and in constant intercession. Alongside this I strongly encourage you to ensure that you are sharing your situation and getting the help you need, in whatever ways are best for you. We are not alone, nor should we be. Most of all I ask you to commit yourselves with the utmost seriousness, each day, to pray for one another, as members and ministers together in our Diocese. Thank you.

Lent, Holy Week, Easter

As we prepare to journey with our Lord through darkness into light, just a handful of practical matters.

  • In time for Ash Wednesday (February 17), the Cathedral will produce a brief recorded penitential liturgy including a sermon from Archdeacon Simon. We’ll let you have fuller details as and when received. I’m grateful to Dean Sue and her colleagues, and to Archdeacon Simon, for animating this.
  • In a normal year we would gather for the Chrism Eucharist on the Monday morning in Holy Week (March 29). Please keep this date in your diary; we will do something to worship God together and to renew the promises of our faith and our ministry – though what that will look like is not yet clear. Again, details will follow.
  • For the two Sundays after Easter (April 11 and April 18), Bishop Bev and I will make online sermons available so that colleagues might be able to take a post-Easter break more easily. 
  • Lastly, for those whose churches are open for public worship the national Church coronavirus page has been updated with some liturgical suggestions for Lent, Holy Week and Easter. You can find this document here: https://bit.ly/3iwdi5g. Let me repeat that I expect all whose churches are open to ensure that their risk assessments are robust and up-todate, and especially to make very sure that no households are mingling before or after worship. As usual I advise you to consult the national website regularly: www.churchofengland.org/coronavirus

Thank you again for your ministry, your resilience and your constant readiness to offer yourself in Christ’s service. God bless you and yours. Stay safe.

This comes with my love, as ever. 


The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool. 
Bishop’s Lodge, Woolton Park, Liverpool L25 6DT. 0151 421 0831.

From Bishop Paul to the ministers of the Diocese: New Year update on the Coronavirus lockdown

January 5, 2021

To the Clergy, Readers and LMLs of the Diocese of Liverpool

Copied for information to Churchwardens, Deanery Lay Chairs and Bishop’s Council members

Dear friends,

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1)

Let me begin by wishing you all a happy and a hopeful New Year. I hope that each of you has managed to find at least a measure of rest and refreshment in the past couple of weeks. Please remember, if at all possible, to be disciplined in taking an additional day off each week in January.

Our ministry rests on the mercy of God and the saving work of the Lord Jesus. As the Government’s instructions change again, God’s mercy and our salvation in Christ remain solid, and in them we ourselves can remain steadfast. That each one of you will draw on the truth of mercy and salvation is my prayer for all of you, and for your communities, as the world’s journey with the Coronavirus continues. In the same way, please continue to pray for and to encourage one another, so that together we may indeed not lose heart.

Lockdown and public worship

Government headline-guidance on the new lockdown is available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home 

Within this guidance, the detail on public worship is as follows: “You can attend places of worship for a service. However, you must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble. You should maintain strict social distancing at all times. You should follow the national guidance on the safe use of places of worship.”

The “national guidance on the safe use of places of worship” was last updated in December. It is available here, and I advise you to consult it regularly in case of further updating: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-places-of-worship-during-the-pandemic-from-4-july 

Funeral and wedding guidance is little changed from the tier 3 or 4 guidance previously in force. In particular weddings (with a maximum of 6 people including the couple, plus “anyone working”) should only take place in the most exceptional circumstances. For details see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home#weddings-civil-partnerships-religious-services-and-funerals 

Some further details may be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/949536/NationalLockdownGuidance.pdf 

National church guidance is, as always, available here: www.churchofengland.org/coronavirus.

It may be that the full Government regulations, or the Church’s national Recovery Group, will offer further advice; if so I’ll do my best to update you as and when these become known.

Local decisions, and local stresses

Consistently over the past months our watchwords have remained, and remain today: 1) Local decisions within the law for local situations; and 2) safety and assurance first. 

I know that for some the constant need to make local decisions has been stressful and difficult. But I remain convinced that local leaders understand their own situations best, and for as long as Government guidance remains as it is, I will continue to support the considered decisions of local leaders as to whether public worship should continue in your church building or buildings at this time.

However, if we are indeed to put safety and assurance first, I want to underline two things today:

  • Firstly to remind colleagues of the “big picture” as presented in the very first words of the latest Government guidance: “You must stay at home. The single most important action we can all take is to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.” 
  • Secondly to highlight some of the words quoted above in the section on public worship: “You can attend places of worship for a service. However, you must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble. You should maintain strict social distancing at all times.” 

With this in mind I will strongly support any local community that decides to suspend public worship at this time and to move again fully to an online or telephone-based ministry. 

If a local church decides to open its doors for public worship, then I will support this decision as long as two things are in place: 1) a fully thought-through, written risk assessment that recognises the need for strict social distancing in the light of the new (and highly-transmissible) variant of the virus; and 2) the most rigorous insistence to your people that they do not mingle with one another across household groups, whether before or after the service, whether in the church building or outside.

As always, Bishop Bev, the Archdeacons and I are available to give advice in specific situations. In particular let me emphasise that if members of your own community find your decisions difficult, and if in their anxiety they should make your own life difficult as a result, please feel free to refer them directly to me or to my Diocesan colleagues.

Message from the Bishop of London 

I believe that our approach in the Diocese reflects the national response of the Church of England. Bishop Sarah of London, who chairs the national Recovery Group, has written as follows on our national website:

“The Prime Minister’s words … underline the severity of the situation for the country, as the virus continues to spread rapidly. At a time like this, the Church is here to offer comfort and spiritual support to everyone. We have a duty to care for each other, but particularly those who are vulnerable or who may be most at risk.
“The Government has chosen not to suspend public worship in England at this time and we will continue to follow the guidance and ensure that churches remain as safe as possible. The Government guidance on the safe use of places of worship makes clear that those attending a place of worship must not mingle with anyone outside their household or support bubble.
“However, some may feel that it is currently better not to attend in person, and there will be parishes which decide to offer only digital services for the time-being. Clergy who have concerns, and others who are shielding, should take particular care and stay at home.
“I would urge everyone in our churches to pray for those on the front line in our public services – the NHS and those working in social care, for schools and many others on whom we depend; and for parents and carers of children at this anxious and stressful time.
“There is hope. The vaccination programme is underway and, as Christians, we have a deeper hope in God that comforts us beyond fear itself. As we have been remembering this Christmas Season, even in the midst of our darkest fears, that hope brings light.”

Light and love in the darkness

On the eve of the Epiphany I end this update with the collect for today. May God’s light and love continue to strengthen your heart. Stay safe.

            Almighty God,
            in the birth of your Son
            you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word,
            and shown us the fullness of your love:
            help us to walk in his light and dwell in his love
            that we may know the fullness of his joy;
            who is alive and reigns with you,
            in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

            one God, now and for ever.  

With every blessing as ever,


The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool. Bishop’s Lodge, Woolton Park, Liverpool L25 6DT. 0151 421 0831.

End-of-year Diocesan Update

To the Clergy, Readers and LMLs of the Diocese of Liverpool

Copied for information to Churchwardens, Deanery Lay Chairs and Bishop’s Council members

Dear friends,

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

First of all let me wish you all a blessed Christmastide. I hope that your Christmas celebrations, both in the churches and at home, have not been too greatly spoiled by the restrictions, and I hope too that you will have, or are having, some real rest despite everything. The promise that God is with us remains strong and true, no matter the circumstances.

In my last update I expressed the hope that I would not need to write to you again this year. I’m afraid I was over-optimistic!

More tiers 

You may have seen the announcement this afternoon from the Health Secretary about changes to the tier system for most areas of the country, including all of our Diocese. The Liverpool City Region will move to Tier 3 from midnight tonight(December 30). All other parts of the Diocese will enter Tier 4 at midnight.

The national church Coronavirus website has been updated in the light of today’s announcement, and as usual is available here: www.churchofengland.org/coronavirus.

Whichever tier you are in, public worship remains legally possible.

Tier 4 is new to us in the North West. Government guidance on this tier may be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home. The Government guidance on meeting for worship in tier 4 is here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home#places-of-worship.

In Tier 4 weddings are strongly discouraged except in genuine emergency, and in any case are limited to a maximum of six people, including the couple but not including “anyone working”, e.g. the minister, organist, verger. The number attending a funeral remains restricted to a maximum of 30. Again, details are here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home#weddings-civil-partnerships-religious-services-and-funerals

The Tier 3 restrictions remain as they were: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-3-very-high-alert.

I know that an increasing number of our churches have chosen to return to online-only meeting in the light of the latest sombre information about the spread of the virus and the strain on the NHS. The updated Church of England webpage notes this and reminds us of some of the national resources available to support online or telephone worship.

Others of our churches will have decided to continue to meet for worship in person. This remains possible in all tiers provided your risk assessments and careful precautions are in place.

As always, the decision as to whether or not to meet in person is for local ministers and church councils to take, provided they remain within the law.

However, you will all be aware of the increasing pressures on the NHS and of the increasing numbers of cases, hospital admissions, and sadly deaths. So wherever you are, if you decide to continue with public worship it is even more important to be careful. In particular I advise you to encourage your people very strongly not to mingle before and after the service so as to minimise risk.

Safer than a known way

I end this brief update with some famous words written by Minnie Louise Haskins in 1908 and used by King George VI in a Christmas/New Year broadcast in 1939 – a year marked perhaps by even more stress and darkness for the nation than the one we have just experienced. I find the words enormously helpful in these days, and so I share them here:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.

And the poem goes on:

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

May God, the God who is with us in Jesus, bless you and be with you at the gate of this coming year. Stay safe.


Remembrance Reflection 2020

Given at the pre-recorded Service of Remembrance in St George’s Hall Liverpool, November 2020.

This is the first year since it was dedicated in 1930 that we haven’t been able to gather physically round the Liverpool Cenotaph for Remembrance. But we can bring it to mind now. A great block of stone, with bronze relief sculptures of marching soldiers and mourners. And verses from the Bible, on each of the long sides.

And on the side facing St George’s Hall there are two verses, above and below the sculptures. One is from the prophecy of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible: “Out of the North parts a great company and a mighty army”. It speaks to the pride we Northerners have in the contribution we made in the wars, our pride in the men and women who marched, and fought, and died. The North is an essential part of this nation, and we are proud of what our fathers and grandfathers have given. We will remember them. 

And today as the Coronavirus makes everything different, we are proud again; proud of those from the North, key workers, NHS workers, care home workers, our own friends and neighbours who care for the sick and the elderly, and who put their own lives at risk so that others might live. We will remember them, too.

And on that same side of the Cenotaph, above the sculpture, we read these words, from the New Testament: “As unknown and yet well known, as dying and behold we live”. Words that speak of God’s care for everyone – for the unknown soldiers, for those forgotten, for those on the edge of things, for those whose heroism is invisible. Words that underline the hope we have in life beyond death – “dying, and behold we live”. 

Death comes to us all, but for those who died in the wars it came too soon, just as it comes too soon for so many today – and yet the hope is the same, that everything beautiful and good and selfless is held in God’s love forever. 

We can’t gather round the Cenotaph today. But we can gather round these words, and we can remember. And we can commit ourselves to live in the spirit of that great company out of the North, with courage and in the hope of eternal life.

A moment of grace

The text of a speech given at the July 2019 General Synod in the debate on “Mission and Ministry in Covenant”.

Synod amended the motion and so chose to move more slowly than I advocated and hoped – but we are moving, and the journey continues.

I speak as Anglican co-chair of the Joint Advocacy and Monitoring Group for the Methodist-Anglican Covenant, and I welcome and honour the presence of my Methodist co-chair, David Walton, who is present today.

As far as I know ours is the only group that’s been set up by this Synod in order specifically to advocate for something within the Church, namely for the development of the solemn relationship between our two churches expressed in the Covenant of 2003. The Synod wanted this road to be travelled.

It’s a long road but it has clear milestones. Today’s debate is one. I strongly advise that the Synod approves this [unamended] motion today and takes a further careful step on the road, a step to interchangeable mission and ministry and theological and ecclesial convergence. A step indeed that asks our theologians for further thought but that constitutes a step forward.

I believe this moment, including its request that legislation be prepared, is a moment of grace.

Here’s a church, the Methodist Church, which has agreed to consider taking episcopal order into its system. It would do so in a way that’s appropriate to its own life, but in a way that would change its own life. The Lambeth Conference of 1888 held up four things essential to our life as a people, one of which is “The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church”. If the Methodist people choose to accept these proposals that would be a moment of grace, not only for them but for us.

We on our part are also being asked to embrace a moment of grace, and to open ourselves to the cost of a grace which is not cheap. What we’re actually talking about here, and what the Further Reflection group has put into liturgical and demonstrable form, is a moment of grace – a moment when as a church we can put into practice all the fine things we say in pulpits and in hymns about laying down our life for our friends, about emptying ourselves of all but love, about preferring others before ourselves, about sacrifice, about vulnerability. All these things are summed up in what the JIC final report described as the opportunity for “bold initiatives which will break the logjam which is preventing the flourishing of our covenant relationship.” Will we take another step – not a final step but a step in trust – and do something that will indeed cost us a measure of our ecclesial certainty, so that we can share gifts of love with others?

I hope so. I hope that today we will not embrace our own security so tightly that we smother the moment of grace by smothering the moment of drafting legislation. I hope that we will take just one step, lightly and joyfully but decisively, into a process of discernment which is not completed today, and which does not solely depend on us in any case, but which holds out the possibility of a convergence of the churches which will bless our God and will make such a difference on the ground, and which will speak of what the self-emptying love of Christ can mean for a Christian community. I strongly urge the Synod to support this motion.

Believing in the Public Square

The Roscoe Lecture, given at the invitation of Liverpool John Moores University, in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, June 11 2019.

Believing in the Public Square; the place of faith in England today”.

I’m very grateful to Sir Jon Murphy and to the University for the opportunity to give this lecture, and for the events that surround it – the chance to share a discussion with members of staff, and to share food and company with you all and with others later.

As a faith leader I stand on giants’ shoulders at this podium – religious and spiritual leaders from the Archbishops of York and Canterbury to the Dalai Lama have lectured here before me, as the convening power of the University has brought great wisdom to our city. 

I also stand on giants’ shoulders as Bishop of Liverpool, conspicuously of course Bishop David Sheppard and Bishop James Jones, whose work when they were in this role made sense of the title of my lecture – believing in the public square – and established a platform for the work of the church in the city which we still try to inhabit today, following the tradition of our civic leaders including of course William Roscoe. 

More than anything else we honour Roscoe for the public work he did for the city, as an abolitionist, as a politician and as a Patron of the arts and the sciences. And we remember him as a man of faith. So for example we read this about Roscoe: “To make public statements [on abolition] was to go against the tide of public opinion as well as question the means of acquiring wealth of so many of his fellow citizens, numbers of whom sat with him in church every Sunday. His attack on slavery was rebutted by the City Council who paid a clergyman to write a theological answer to Roscoe’s arguments.” (D Steers: ’William Roscoe, James Irving and the Liverpool Slave Trade’)

Here we see the Council and the church on the wrong side of history. I hope and believe it is not always so. I hope and believe it’s not so now. 

The title of my lecture is “Believing in the Public Square; the place of faith in England today”. I chose it because we live in chaotic and disruptive times, where the very existence of a public square where we can talk to gather and share ideas about our common life – where that very idea is in question, and where there are those whose business it is to destroy the public square, and to manipulate the fragments so as to devalue and ignore truth and to bewilder people so as to grasp power. It’s a dangerous time, and it’s a time that demands vigilance and commitment on the part of all those who seek the common good and who believe that we may have values in common that will enable the flourishing of all people.

I’ll speak about faith communities; I mean that in the wide sense, and I’m honoured to stand alongside my sisters and brothers of all faiths and of all traditions within the faiths. But I’ll also speak of the Church of England since that’s my Church, and in a sense I’ll use my church as a case study.

The secret of the Church of England is in the name – we’re a church, and we’re in England. England is part of Great Britain, and Great Britain is part of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom is – still – part of the European Union, and the European Union is part of the West, and the West is part of the world. But as a Bishop of the Church of England it is England in particular that I’m called to serve, and to which I’m called sometimes to speak. When I speak to my colleagues in the Diocese of Liverpool I say that the two matters we’re concerned with are God and England – with God who never changes, and with England which changes all the time. And as a person of faith I must understand this complicated England if I’m to try to be helpful here.

The Church of England is established by law. It’s not a state church like some of the churches of Northern Europe, where the church takes a proportion of the income tax and where the clergy are paid by the state. But it is established by law, it is – literally – part of the establishment. So when you become Bishop of Liverpool, before you can minister publicly, you have to visit the Queen and swear an oath before her in the presence of the Lord Chancellor, or modern equivalent. My own oath was administered by Chris Grayling when he had that job. I make no comment on that, I simply share it with you as a fact. In theory, faith remains central to the nation, and the Church of England remains central to that theory.

And yet in my own lifetime the place of the Church in England has changed radically. I was born in 1953. I went to church because my parents did. I went to church on Sundays in the morning and in the evening and in the afternoon I went to Sunday School, and scores of kids came to Sunday school who never came to church, because their parents wanted them to know about the Christian faith and were willing to bring them along every week. Now that number has almost vanished. The only kids who go to Sunday school are the children of churchgoing parents.

In the early 60s if you went into hospital and you were asked to fill-in a form which included your religion, the majority of English people put “C of E”. Now the majority will put “None”.

That doesn’t mean religion has vanished. Even leaving aside other Christian denominations, including significantly of course in this area the Roman Catholic Church, about a million people go to church each Sunday across the Church of England. In this Diocese of Liverpool, where the population is 1.6 million, about 22,000 got to church on Sunday and a further 6,000 or so go at different times in the week. We have 119 church schools with 33,000 young people. We constitute a significant presence in the community beyond the establishment. 

And yet we’re much further on the edge of English life than we were fifty years ago. When I preached my first sermon as bishop here, in our Cathedral along the road, I said that in the past the C of E was in the middle and at the top, as befits a church where you kneel before the Queen when you become bishop; but now, I said, we’re on the edge and underneath. Pushed to the edge, standing with those in every community who are on the edge.

(While I’m on about my inaugural sermon, this is the first of two opportunities in this lecture for me to plug my book, “The Table”, which is based on that inaugural sermon and which is available from all good bookshops, including our Cathedral bookshop of course. I’ll talk more about the image of the table in a few moments. Meanwhile, £12.99 and worth every penny.) 

A couple of years ago, working with the Archbishop of Canterbury,  I commissioned some research in Liverpool City centre among young people 18-30, who were down in Church Street doing their shopping. Our researchers asked a whole bunch of questions about church, and about Jesus, and about God. The answers were interesting, and of course the facts are always friendly. Most of the people we spoke to didn’t know much about the church and didn’t like much of what they knew. The church was perceived by many as a toxic brand, seen as being homophobic and misogynistic, as being irrelevant and outdated. I don’t want to comment on these views at the moment except to say that I can see why these young people thought so, and I’ll be happy to explore any aspect of that further in the questions and answers afterwards.

It’s my privilege to know Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, who preached the sermon at the Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan just over a year ago. He spoke there about the power of love to change the world. The secular media were entranced by the things he said and the way he said it, but at least one newspaper described his sermon as an “unorthodox message of love…” 

We have a problem, we Christians who proclaim the name of the prince of peace and the God of love. And we heard that here in Liverpool from the mouths of scousers in Church Street. 

But alongside all that, two or three things emerged from the research that give a clue to what the people themselves see as the place of faith in England today. 

First and foremost, those who were interviewed said that they were glad to see people of faith involved in caring for the poor. 

I have oversight of 200 parishes in this Diocese of Liverpool, 257 churches. 76% of those are actively involved in foodbank provision. That’s just over ¾ of our churches, actively involved in feeding the poor, here in this so-called developed country. One of the great privileges of my work here is that I co-chair the Citywide Strategy Group for Fairness and Tackling Poverty at the invitation of the mayor, alongside Councillor Jane Corbett who has been advocating for the poorest of the poor as a Christian lay woman in our city for many, many years. It’s a privilege to stand alongside her and alongside the many people, of all faiths and none, who represent the coalition of voluntary and faith communities who want to make a difference for the poor. That’s where the Church belongs.

In this as I say we stand with people of other faiths and people of no faith – with Fans for Foodbanks, with the work of the mosques, to name but two. But when faith involves itself in caring for the poor, people across the community recognise it as a valuable contribution.

So one place for the voice of faith in England today is to name poverty and unfairness, to help with it practically, and to speak against the structures that cause it and sustain it.

That applies more widely than Liverpool, and it raises an old question about whether faith should be involved in politics. When Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock were here, they were asked the same question pretty sharply, and the C of E report “Faith in the City”, which Bishop David inspired and guided, was described by members of the then Parliament and Government as a Marxist document. 

Archbishop Derek was good at writing spoof verse for fun, and in my home in Woolton there’s a poem he gave to Bishop David which was worked up into a sampler and which Bishop David’s daughter kindly gave to us. It hangs on the wall on the way in to the chapel, and this is what it says:

In our Liverpool home,
Sent here from Lambeth and Rome,
We’re better together in protest and prayer,
We’ve shouted for jobs in a voice loud and clear,
When the city wants allies we’re proud to be here,
In our Liverpool home.

He saw it that way. And we see it that way still. And people beyond the church see it that way and they are glad of it.

Six months ago, in December 2018, YouGov undertook one of its regular opinion polls, with a sample of 1600 people. As well as the usual questions about voting intentions and so on, there were a few about faith. Here are a handful of the results:

“Do you think it is appropriate or inappropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to express opinions on political issues?” Yes: 35. No: 44. Don’t Know: 21.

And then the response to some of those very issues:

“zero-hours contracts are “the reincarnation of an ancient evil”” Agree: 39. Disagree: 31

“the government’s universal credit policy leaves “too many people worse off”” Agree: 53. Disagree: 16

“the tax system allows online retailers to pay “almost nothing in tax”” Agree: 59 Disagree: 10

“there is a “widening gulf between rich and poor” in Britain’s “broken” economy.” Agree: 66. Disagree: 10

So as you can see, a fair few people don’t think it’s appropriate for the Archbishop to comment at all in the public square, but when he does comment, lots of people agree with him.

In my own ministry I can identify with this. So when the City Council produced its analysis of the cumulative impact of benefit cuts, or more recently their analysis of the unintended consequences of Universal Credit, it was my privilege to be able to commend and advocate for these pieces of analysis and to ask what impact they would have on public policy as we go forward. I was able to do this because the Church of England has a Christian presence in every community, including the poorest communities of Merseyside, and because we are seeking to help those on the edge of things and from that place to speak truth to power. 

A couple of weeks ago I was asked for my views on the visit of the US President, and I spoke about the magnetic attraction of the Bible to those on the edge of things, to the poor, to the displaced, to the refugee and the asylum seeker, and I said that I hoped the President would hear that too, and I regretted that some of his advisers who bear the name of Jesus did not seem to feel that caring for the poorest and the displaced had anything to do with their faith. 

I said all that not because I’m a lefty independently of my faith, but because I think that’s the implication of following Jesus.

These comments were not universally popular. But they were more popular than not, and a lot of people said they were glad that the church was at least trying to speak for those with no voice, and that the voice of faith was still echoing in the public square.

Back to our conversations in Church Street. As well as being positive about the social justice work of the churches, the people our researchers spoke to had another point to make. They were grateful that church buildings were there as a place where they could pop in and be quiet. 

You will know that at the moment in the Anglican Cathedral there is a huge model of the earth – 23 feet wide, rotating every 4 minutes. So far 120,000 people have been to see it, just as many hundreds of people come into the Cathedral on Light Night every year. And in every local church that’s open, of all denominations, people come in to connect with peace and quiet and, for many of them, to connect with God.

So from that research the message that emerged for us, from the people of the city, were – we don’t really understand Christianity, we’re not sure we like it, but the two things we really like are the stuff you do for justice and the space you give us to wonder. Justice and wonder.

So from that place on the edge and underneath, and trying to maximise the gifts we’ve been given by our history as a nation, the Church of England takes its stand alongside other believers, in the hope that we can contribute to the common good – and of course the very phrase “common good” is drawn from, and is at the heart of, Catholic Social Teaching.

Believing still has a voice, and in this hinge-moment in our culture many people wish we didn’t, or vaguely regret that we do, and at the same time they value what we say and agree with it. 

And like all those who want to affect the way we live together as a nation, believers seek to speak in, and into, the public square. 

That phrase, “the public square”, has always been a bit romantic. It looks back to the marketplace, the agora, or the open-air court, the Areopagus, of ancient Athens. These were places where people would gather to speak and listen and indeed to govern together. In the Christian Bible, in the Acts of the Apostles, St Paul goes there, and the Bible says: “He also addressed whoever happened to be in the marketplace each day” (Acts 17:17, CEB). And he gets into political and religious conversations, and being St Paul and being a Christian, he gets into hot water too.

But even when there is a public square, not everyone wants to use it. My Auntie Thelma is 95 years old, and she looks back, as people of that age tend to do, to her own childhood and to the things her mother used to say to her. One of them – and she mentions this almost every time we speak –  was this: “Never discuss politics and religion”. She finds it quite hard, given that I have the job I do, to avoid doing that – but she manages it mostly.

But there’s a difference between choosing to avoid the public square, and not knowing where it is, or even if there is one. And that’s where we are now. 

The fragmentation of our public life, which has mostly been brought about by technology, has opened us up to an increasingly fractious and angry discourse, and to the possibilities of manipulation by unscrupulous people who will avoid the public square by targeting people in the privacy of their own Facebook pages with fake news and with fear-mongering, in such a way that things are not discussed publicly but rather decided privately. We live in echo-chambers, where we never hear reasonable voices with which we disagree, but only like-minded friends and caricatured enemies.

“Never discuss politics and religion”. Well, for many years religion has been encouraged to be a private matter for those who like that sort of thing – and now politics is becoming like that too. And so in the absence of a meeting place, people in their bubbles are turning up the volume, and bellowing at one another, and coarsening the language of public debate. And of course there are those, across the West, who like it that way and who want it to be that way, and who profit from its being that way. 

I spoke a moment ago of the recent visit of the President of the United States. His tone of public voice, and the response of some of our own public people to his visit, makes it clear that the stoking of anger and the downplaying of dialogue is in the active interest of some, and that this direction of travel is welcomed and encouraged and advanced by them. 

To these people I think the voice of reason, exemplified by Universities like this one, and the voice of faith, exemplified by our communities of faith, must speak with equal force – clearly and critically. 

In an image given to us by the Hebrew Scriptures we must say to those who dismantle the public square: You have sown the wind, and you will reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). And in another image from the Bible – the tower of Babel – we must say that unless we continue to learn a common tongue, we will end up with a nation in which public discourse is impossible, because people have forgotten one another’s languages.

In the face of those attempts at disruption I’m a believer in the public square and I mean two things by that. Firstly, I believe that there should be a public square, where we can talk and listen and disagree well. And secondly I believe that in that public square, the voices of people of faith should be heard. 

So for me an urgent project for people of good will – people of all faiths and none – is to establish a public square once again and to learn how to operate within it, which means learning to disagree well within it.

Good disagreement is a phrase well known in the Church of England, given to us by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the context of our own conflicts and tensions, not only here in England but across the world. In the Church, as we have so often done in the past, we’re disagreeing about sex and gender. In the Anglican world in the last century we disagreed about contraception, then divorce, then the ministry of women as priests and bishops. Now we’re disagreeing about same-sex relationships and about the place of trans people in the world. 

And the Archbishop wants us to disagree well. To do so it helps to sit around a table, together. That’s the aim of our Lambeth Conference next year, and also of smaller gatherings and partnerships such as the one we’re involved in here in Liverpool, the “Triangle of Hope” which follows the path of the slave triangle of old and seeks to remember and redeem it, as we in Liverpool stand in partnership with Christians in Kumasi, Ghana, and in Virginia in the USA.

Disagreeing well is easier to do when you’re talking and listening, and when there’s a space in which to do that. That’s true too for the conversations between the faiths, and here in Liverpool Father Crispin Pailing, our Rector at the Parish Church, convenes meetings at my home where we can drink coffee and tea and take counsel together. The Triangle of Hope, the inter-faith conversations – these are small things but each one of them is a subversive moment – subversive of the coarsening of public conversation which threatens to overwhelm us in these days.

Let me then explore one last question in this lecture: do the people of faith, the communities of faith, have any specific gifts to bring to the public square, either to establish it or to enrich it? 

I hope and pray that we have two particular things to bring. Neither of them is specific to religious faith; both of them can help wherever they are found. They are civility and story.

If you’re civil with someone it normally means that you get on with them, although of course you will know the phrase, “Civil War”. All war is terrible, and civil war worse than most because in civil wars friends become enemies, and hatred comes into families. Most world faiths speak of the love of God, and of God’s compassion and mercy. And in most world faiths there are those who deplore or exclude or hurt or even kill other people because those others don’t share the details of their belief. 

Nonetheless in the world of faith civility operates like gravity. It holds us to the ground of conversation, and it reminds us that God is bigger than we are.

After the 2016 referendum there was a spike in hate crime, here in the North West and across the whole country. Our elected Mayor, Joe Anderson, called together a group of people to speak for peace. It included people from across the political divide, but it was also part of Joe’s purpose to call together the leaders of the faiths. This was not because the faith leaders were stoking conflict, but precisely because they were opposing it and speaking for peace and openness in the face of hatred and exclusion. And so we stood together, and spoke in St George’s Plateau, and embraced one another so that it could be seen that civility was not dead in North-West England in 2016.

Civility is not being nice. It is far more than being nice. It is taking a stand, and standing with people. It is finding and if necessary making a room where people can disagree, and speaking calmly but very clearly in that room. It’s not just sitting there neutrally, like some sort of super-chairman with no views, or no mind, of your own. It involves listening, and then speaking clearly, and then listening again.

And it involves more than words. A few weeks ago the Liverpool region mosque network threw a party for the city, and invited us all to eat with them at sunset. They did this because it was Ramadan, when Muslims fast until the sun goes down, and because Islam is a hospitable faith. And thousands of people responded to the invitation. The following day the man who calls himself Tommy Robinson came to Merseyside, with his message of division in communities. I was proud to receive the gift of my Muslim sisters and brothers that day, and to say to those who foment hatred that love is stronger, and that it’s harder to hate someone while you eat with them at table. So here on our city the people of faith exercised civility in a simple and compelling way, in the public square, there on the Pier Head. 

In my first week in public ministry in Liverpool, in Autumn 2014, a man was jailed for antisemitic abuse of Luciana Berger; the man was in the neo-Nazi group “National Action. So my first act as bishop, literally the first thing I did after I had begun, was to send a message to Luciana to say, the Christians of the Diocese of Liverpool stand with you; we will not have this incivility which treats you as less than human.

In 2017 it was my great honour to become a patron of Liverpool Pride and to speak and walk with our LGBTI+ community, to stand against hate crime in memory of the homophobic killing of Michael Causer, and to affirm the richness that LGBTI+ people bring to all of us. It was a privilege to do that, and to apologise in person to that community for the things that many in the Christian family have thought, said and done in the past, and frankly still do in the present, to hurt and exclude.

All these things were attempts to be civil in the public square, and I’m proud of all of them. The church is often seen as a place for making tea – more tea, vicar? And it is a place for making tea, so that people can sit down and drink it and talk – but it’s more than just making tea for people – although like making tea, it involves hot water. A table to sit round, and drink tea if you like, but then be prepared to get into hot water.

When I began as bishop here in 2014 I began with a sermon based on an image and a story, and over the years since then I’ve tried to live this story in the public square too.  It was a story about a table (and this is my second opportunity to plug the book I write based on that sermon, called “The Table”, £12.99 as I’ve said before…).

And it began like this:

So there’s this table.

It’s a simple table but it’s well made, because it was made by a carpenter. The guy who made it is a poor man, but he’s generous. He offers a place at the table to anyone who wants to sit and eat. This is a table that started in one place but now it can stretch down every street, and it can go into every home, if people want to sit there.

It’s a table for meeting. It’s a table for talking around. It’s a table for laughing. Most of all it’s a table for eating. It’s a level table. Maybe it’s not a round table. Maybe it’s a square table, so that people can look directly at one another as they sit there. Can look each other in the eye as they sit there, beside the poor man who made it.

But it’s not a high table.You don’t have to qualify to sit there. It’s for anyone. And the poor man sits there, and wherever people sit, he sits beside them.You can sit there too, with the poor man, and look across the table, at people you like and at people you don’t like, at people who agree with you and at people who disagree with you.

Sometimes it’s a table for thumping. Sometimes it’s a table for signing treaties and for making peace. Always the poor man sits beside you.

Yes, most of all it’s a table for eating.You can’t eat alone at this table.You can’t buy a meal at this table.You can’t buy a ticket to sit here. Anyone can sit here. It’s a table like a table at a wedding.You sit with guests you never knew, and you find out about them, and they become your friends. And the table is spread with a beautiful fair white linen cloth and if you come here, like any pilgrim coming into a new house, they will clothe you in the most beautiful clothes and they will make you welcome.

And if you eat the food served here you will never be hungry again. Because the poor man offers the food at this table. And the poor man will serve you, and the poor man’s hands are wounded when he serves you, because the food came at a price, and he paid the price.

The poor man’s name is Jesus, who though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich. And if you sit at his table he will feed you and he will ask you to feed others; he will serve you and he will ask you to serve others; he will love you and he will ask you to love others.

That’s how it started. There isn’t much abstract about that. It tried to be down to earth. 

In the referendum debate you’ll remember that Michael Gove said he felt the British people had had enough of experts. And indeed in the fragmented public square experts are despised and should not be. But people of faith, for all that we try to learn from experts and to contribute to the common good, basically we’re just storytellers. And as I draw this lecture to a close. More than anything I want to say that believing in the public square is standing in the public square with a story to tell, and eating in the public square with my sisters and brothers who are different from me, and proclaiming in the public square that hatred has no place there, and if necessary getting into hot water. 

The late American Jesuit Daniel Berrigan, a Christian, a poet and a peace protestor, who spent some time in prison for his beliefs, had a saying: “Know where you stand – and stand there”. On behalf of the people of faith in this city I want to say that we stand in the public square, and that we’re committed to that public square, and to making room for all civil society there, and to telling our story and through our story sharing our values, and to listening. 

The privilege of being able to give this lecture is a part of that, and I repeat my gratitude to this University, this modern, civic University, for the invitation it has extended to me and to all the lecturers before and after me. And I hope I’ll be forgiven, as a person of faith in this public square, for saying: know where you stand and stand there, and as you do, may the God of love bless you all. Thank you.

Chrism Eucharist sermon, Liverpool Cathedral, 2019

The Breath and the Oil


Hildegard of Bingen,  1098-1179. Saint and Doctor of the Church.


(Female voice:) Listen; There was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour.
Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along.
Thus am I a feather on the breath of God.

Look around. Here we are, ministers of the Gospel; baptised, some of us commissioned, some of us ordained.

Look around. See yourselves as God sees you. You are, all of you, pillars of the Church, great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour.

You preach the word and you minister the sacraments. You have asked God faithfully for the bigger church that makes the bigger difference, your life is spent on pilgrimage as you make the inner journey and the outer journey, as you pray, read and learn; as you tell, serve and give.

I trust you. You have trained, and studied, and reviewed and refined your ministry. You have offered your lives to God in God’s church and the offering has fed and nourished you. And you have spent yourselves in service and have become weary in well-doing. You are built up and you are worn down, because you responded to the call of God.

Yours is a calling without end, you whose lives are fragile and freely offered. Yours is an infinite calling, you who are finite. Your ministry is demanding of your spirit.

Some of you are tired, and some of you are beyond tired.  Some of you suffer stress, some of you suffer severe stress, in your mind and heart because of your love for God’s people, God’s wonderful, ungrateful, supportive, demanding, exasperating, blessed people, the people God has chosen and has given you to love.

So you come today after a year of carrying the weight of your ministry.

And you cannot bear the weight of this ministry in your own strength.

(Female voice:) Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along.
Thus am I a feather on the breath of God.

The Bible tells us about Jesus. Read the passage printed below. In that version St Luke says: “Jesus opened the book; he found the place where it stood written: A breath of the Name upon me because of which he anointed me to announce good news to the poor.”

Luke reminds us that Jesus’ ministry began with a breath of the Name upon him. His words are an echo. In Isaiah we heard the words first, you heard them read today. In Hebrew the reading is this, Ruach Adonai, and then a word, and then alay.

It says Ruach, the movement of the air, the wild wind of the desert and the gentle human breath. It says Adonai, the Lord, because there is another word there in Isaiah, the Name of God, the word our elder sisters and brothers in Judaism usually don’t speak. When you see that name in the scripture you say, Adonai. And when you see that same word and it’s not in the scripture in worship you say haShem, the Name. It says alay, on him.

In the Authorised version it says, “the Spirit of the Lord GOD…” In the English we heard and we usually hear, it says The Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me. So the anointing comes first, and then the Spirit comes upon the anointed one to give strength for the ministry already given.

Whenever the Bible talks about Holy Spirit it means Holy Spirit. But beyond that phrase the church can get a bit churchy about this Hebrew word, ruach, this Greek word pneuma, these Bible words that the scholars tell us can mean Spirit, or wind, or breath; and can mean any of these things anywhere.

So perhaps it’s this, as it’s written in the extract printed below: “Jesus opened the book; he found the place where it stood written: A breath of the Name upon me. A breath of the Name upon me because of which he anointed me to announce good news to the poor.”

Jesus is a feather on the breath of God, borne along by his Father, borne along, sustained, beloved. The Son does nothing by himself, Jesus said in St John, the Son does only what he sees the Father doing. To Nicodemus Jesus said in St John, God’s breath blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Breath.”

So perhaps it’s this, a breath of the Name upon him, and that came first. Because of which he was anointed to announce, to proclaim, to send, to proclaim. Perhaps the breath came first and then the oil, the choosing first and then the anointing, beloved first and then appointed.

(Female voice:) Listen; There was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour.

Here we are, then, we who are pillars, great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory. Here we are, ministers, Appointed. Baptised. Commissioned. Ordained. Consecrated to the service of the King sitting on the throne. Here we are, responsible. Accountable. Entrusted. Here we are with the burden that we agreed to bear. And I see you, bearing the banners of the king with great honour.

And Jesus said to you, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and bear fruit and so that your fruit could last.”

Jesus appointed you, the Spirit anointed you. Anointed; mashach, this word from which we get meshiach, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. The One who was anointed has chosen and anointed you. You share in the burdens of the Christ, you share the anointing of the anointed One.

Jesus said that his burden would be easy. It does not always feel that way. And yet scripture says that we are to receive ”…the oil of gladness instead of mourning…”. So we are commissioned for joy and for an overcoming hope.

And this anointing is the presence of God in us that enables all our actions, to announce, to proclaim, to send, to proclaim. To spend, to nourish, to build up, to wear down.

And in the ordinal the bishops say to the ordained, and today I say to you all and not only to the ordained, “you cannot bear the weight of this ministry in your own strength”.

(Female voice:) The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along.
Thus am I a feather on the breath of God.

We follow Jesus. As it was with Jesus, so it is with us. A breath of the Name upon us, a breath of prayer to pray, a breath of the word to read, a breath of wisdom to learn, because of which he anointed us to announce, to proclaim, to send, to proclaim, to tell, to serve, to give. The breath came first and then the oil, the choosing first and then the anointing, beloved first and then appointed.

And we come today to lay our appointment once again before God, for a fresh breath. So that together we can remember our belovedness, we can remember before one another, we can reconnect to that sense of belovedness that is the wellspring of our ministry and our first love.

We are sent to give of our lives, we are responsible for that giving, we are held accountable for that giving, and so here as appointed ones we recommit ourselves to our promises; but here first as beloved ones we receive again the life of the One who loves us.

We receive life in our own companionship, crystallised as we share peace together in a moment and as we share lunch together later.

We receive life in the promise of God’s grace extended through the church, crystallised as we pray together for one another and as, if we wish, we receive again the anointing for service, from our sisters and brothers who like us are sent to serve.

We receive life from God where God promised life would be, the life of the God in Christ, the God in the anointed One, who gave God’s own self so that we might live, crystallised as we receive the blessed sacrament at this table in a moment.

And all this takes place today. Today it has been fulfilled, this writing, in your ears.

In the Bible you feel the shock of the words in the Nazareth synagogue, on the day that St Luke calls the day of the sabbaths, perhaps it was a high and holy day, certainly it was a religious day, but surely it could not have been “today” when it was fulfilled.

And I pray God for all of us here, that we too feel that shock, we who have the Spirit, the breath of the Name upon us, when we hear that today it has been fulfilled, this writing, in our ears. That we go from here to our communities in the power of the breath –  beloved, appointed, fulfilled.


(Female voice:) Listen.
There was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour.
Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along.
Thus am I
Thus are we
Thus are you

A feather on the breath of God.


Bible passage adapted from Richard W. Swanson, ‘Provoking the Gospel Storytelling Project’.

Luke 4:16-21

16  Jesus came into Nazareth

where he was brought up.

He went in,

in accord with his custom

in the day of the Sabbaths,

into the synagogue.

He stood up to read.

17        It was given to him:

a book of the prophet Isaiah.

He opened the book;

he found the place where it stood written:

18                  A breath of the Name upon me

                           because of which he anointed me

                                to announce good news to the poor.

He sent me,

to proclaim

to exiled captives:


to blind people:

seeing again;

to send those who have been crushed
into release,

19                      to proclaim a year of the Name acceptable.

20        He rolled the book.

He gave it back to the attendant.

He sat.

The eyes of all in the synagogue

were staring at him.

21        He began to say to them:

  Today it has been fulfilled,

                       this writing,

      in your ears.


Know where you stand

A brief contribution to the Debate on the State of the Nation, General Synod, February 2019.

I offer Synod the words of Fr Dan Berrigan S.J., a courageous and articulate US campaigner for peace, recently deceased. He said: “Know where you stand – and stand there”.

I support the motion and I thank the presidents for tabling it and I thank the Archbishop of Canterbury for his initial speech and for its strong emphasis on the preferential option for the poor, which echoes so much of what he consistently says in the public square, not least in his speech to the TUC last September.

We must know that if we affirm this motion we will attract the opprobrium that he attracted there, and frankly from the same quarters. We will be accused of political naïveté, and of abandoning the tower of intelligent nuance for the simplicity of a preferential option. We will not then be seen as the voice of convening calm whose proud boast is that no one knows the political choices we make. We will be seen instead as those who take a stand. I hope that we will do so wholeheartedly today.

I strongly agree with the Bishop of Chelmsford that our Gospel is indivisible, and with Andy Salmon that the divisions in the nation are sharpening; as in Salford, so in Liverpool.

In the Diocese of Liverpool we say that we’re asking God for a bigger church to make a bigger difference, and we say “more people knowing Jesus, more justice in the world.” In saying this we echo the scriptures as we understand them, and we echo the emphases of all the dioceses and of this Synod in this session.

Our Lord made it clear that those who set out to build a tower must count the cost of it. Will we therefore count the cost of building this tower, the tower of decision, and of making a political choice. In a context of rapidly shifting tectonic plates politically, the old Anglican nostrum “I’m not making a party political point” has lost its meaning and it’s power to intimidate. As Bishop Peter Selby noted years ago in his book “Liberating God”, pastoral care wll inevitably imply political solidarity, with all the negativity and risk of misunderstanding that attracts.

Our corporate stance is always political. It implies and demands advocacy, advocacy for the preferential option for those on the edge of things. I am delighted to see that this motion avoids the call for people just to get along which so often renders us anodyne.

It’s right to seek the common good and within that to establish good disagreement. And of course it is good for people to get along. But this motion tells us that our own contribution to the common good is to offer a direction with which some may disagree, and then for us to disagree well about that.

The question to others is therefore, “Since we have a preferential option for the poor, since we will not accept political solutions that make the poor poorer or that accept the abolition of the rights of the poor or erase the place of the poor, since this is where we stand, let’s see how we can get along.”

If that is indeed where we stand, then we should approve this motion and thereby choose repeatedly and consistently and unswervingly to defend those on the edge of things. If that is indeed where we stand, then please, in every conversation in private and in the public square, let us stand there.