Bishop David's Epiphany letter

First published on: 6th January 2022

Bishop David WalkerBishop David's Epiphany letter to clergy, Readers and lay leaders in the Diocese of Manchester.

Listen to the Podcast below:

Dear brothers and sisters

“A good journey begins with knowing where you are and being willing to go somewhere else”. So says Richard Rohr, perhaps one of the most influential of contemporary spiritual writers, and a fellow Franciscan to me.

Leaving the familiar, with all the trappings that keep us feeling confident, secure, in control - for destinations that are unknown - requires humility; if we are to let go and move bravely in a new direction.  Huge thanks are due to all those who have started that journey with us, and engaged with the consultation over the last two years, initially on the move from 20 deaneries to seven and more recently on the mission community boundaries.

Like the wise men, we don’t journey alone but in company with each other. Like them too, we can glimpse something new on the horizon, beckoning to us to move beyond all we think we know. Drawn by that yearning for a deeper experience of God’s presence in our lives, which is the primary hallmark of Christian disciples, we don’t just talk about our desire; we walk toward it with great intention, making concrete choices along the way.

So, what do we see on our horizon?  What hope does it bring us? 

We can see that hope already, in so many parishes, chaplaincies, and schools. Led by the Holy Spirit, new ventures in mission and ministry have been forming, despite the pandemic. With the establishment of our mission communities, we will be better placed to ensure we build on the learning from them, replicating successes and sharing learning from each and every one.  But we see challenges as well; we’re all weary on this journey, we’re all weary of the pandemic and all it brings, and we know that as a diocese we face increasing financial pressures.

How then should we best journey, as we move forward?  I believe we can journey with an excitement for all that our mission communities, founded in a vision for collaboration, bring. We are establishing new ways of working together, as both lay and ordained, to ensure we support and strengthen the parish system, so that all our churches thrive. We also journey together – with one another and with God - walking and talking as we go, and building our mission communities to be communities of love and grace.  And, though the details of the route may be subject to periodic revision, our destination remains that first outlined in our vision several years ago - to be a worshipping, growing and transforming Christian presence at the heart of every community.

We also enter this new phase of our journey knowing our Transformation plans have secured the support of the National Church, with the Church Commissioners recently awarding us £4.2m to support our transformation programme.  This funding is testament to the confidence they have in our plans.  It will provide funding for five years, which will give us the time and capacity to make a real step change in fulfilling our mission aspirations, allowing us to move more quickly to ensure we are missionally and financially sustainable. 

This support that the national Church is providing needs to be used wisely - this is transitional funding to help us move to new ways of working.  The majority of the funding is for roles based in parishes and mission communities.  It provides for 14 new roles, two in every deanery, working alongside our Area Deans and Lay Chairs.  There will be new workers focusing on children and families in every deanery, rolling out the successful Children Changing Places Programme we are running in Bolton. Parishes and mission communities will also be able to draw upon the resources of a new transformation support officer in every deanery. They will help parishes to learn from one another, collaborating to replicate successful ventures, as well as identifying areas where church officers require additional support, and helping to coordinate key events, both in person and virtually. The funding will also see increased investment in leadership development and support for all our leaders, both lay and ordained, with a particular focus on our new lay focal leaders. 

It’s an exciting time for us as a diocese, and the journey ahead will require us all to be humble, to let go, and to move bravely in a new direction.  I encourage you all to join this journey.  Please join with your own mission communities as they form and ground this new endeavour in prayer.  Over the coming months, all our mission communities will be meeting together to create space to reflect and explore ways in which they can each help deliver our vision, and there will be events in each Archdeaconry to explore the role of focal leaders. I want to encourage you all to take an active part in these conversations and to continue to stay involved, as we shape these new ways of supporting each other and working together.  I hope that many of you have by now fed your thoughts on who might lead our mission communities back to your Archdeacons, as the deadline for responses, to, is 10 January 2022.

At a mere age of 174, Manchester may not be the oldest of dioceses, but at least since the time of the second bishop, Fraser, there has been a clear sense of what it means to be the Anglican branch of God’s people, here in the industrial heartlands of the Northwest. We know from where we are setting out. And, while the challenges we face are considerable, particularly as we continue to deal with the impact of the pandemic, it is my firm belief that the opportunities opening up to us are even greater. I am sure that through our work together in mission communities, we will be able to rise to those challenges and emerge stronger in our ability and commitment to do all that God is asking of us in our diocese.

Yours in Christ,

+David Manchester

The Church of England Diocese of Manchester,
Church House, 
90 Deansgate, 
Manchester M3 2GH

Manchester DBF Company number 149999, Charity number 249424
Telephone: 0161 828 1400