80 per cent of clergy questioned in a recent survey said they no longer had confidence in speaking about God in public.
This was the startling fact with which Bishop Mike opened his address to over 150 members of the clergy in the diocese at two day-conferences held in Bristol and Swindon in March.
Comparing contemporary British culture with the society described in Acts i.e. one in which Christianity is a minority religion struggling to prove its worth in a mixed spiritual economy the Bishop didnt doubt the scale of the challenge but countered it with the bare truth: if we dont do God, who will?
Reading from Acts 4, he noted how the authorities in Jerusalem had been struck by the boldness and courage with which Peter and John made their case before the Council which soon realised that the way to stop the early Church from spreading was to stop it speaking.
We also need to be people of courage and conviction, said Bishop Mike. Some of our speaking needs to be prophetic, some encouraging but if we choose silence, where will it all end?
This, then, was the powerful entre to the two following sessions from Bishop Gordon Mursell, the retired Bishop of Stafford. Bishop Gordon used the Farewell Discourse in Johns Gospel to make the case for a contemporary Christianity that should not be afraid of robust questions and dialogue in the face of a future that, for us as for the first Disciples, is both daunting but also full of opportunity.
Exploring the various themes of Johns Gospel in these final chapters, Bishop Gordon suggested that they could all be used to inform how we might speak about God in our own times: through compassionate service which communicates the assurance of love; through the transforming power of the Church as a community which abides in Jesus; and through the potential healing power of pruning and cross-shaped cuts.
Ultimately, Bishop Gordon counselled, contrary forces could never be overcome with force; rather they had to be out-imagined: the task of Christians was to envision together and communicate a different way of looking at the world. This was the sort of vision the Disciples finally grasped from Jesus at the end of John 16.
He ended with the story of Una, a lady he had known who had started every day in the firm expectation that she would see the glory of God that day. She celebrated it as though it had already happened and, because she expected to see it, she did. As a result, her standard greeting to those she met was I seen the glory!
Once we know God in this sort of way, Bishop Gordon concluded, we really have something to talk about.
90% of clergy rated the day conferences as Excellent or Very Good - a great foundation for the next conferences on 20 and 21 November 2013 on "How do you get good people?" with Bishop Chris Edmondson.