The final article in our series looking at their work and calling of our Assistant Bishops. This week we hear from Bishop Stephen Lowe.
I think my ministry in Liverpool is to give the diocese some of my experience, enthusiasm and passion for the Christian faith. I can do this by supporting the clergy and laity whenever I'm given the opportunity. This may be at confirmations but also through mentoring, support and consultancy. And occasionally even the full-time Bishops and Archdeacons welcome an extra insight on difficult situations!!
I now live in North Wales and am also an Assistant Bishop in St Asaph Diocese. I've been involved there as an interim parish priest and setting up their Diocesan link with South-West Tanganyika both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The diocesan bishop does all the confirmations and I am naturally drawn to urban ministry where I have most expertise so when asked to help out in Liverpool I was able to do so. It is usually a 120 mile round trip so if St Asaph offers more I may be less available but in the meantime I have enjoyed every minute of (well almost!) of my Liverpool ministry.
I read Economics at University and then went to a Council Estate Anglican-Methodist Church in Birmingham for my first curacy. I was then asked to set up a new Church on a new Council estate which meant worshipping in a house and building a new church community and building from scratch. I probably left too early after the new Church was opened as I was asked to go and set up a new team ministry in East Ham, a parish with a population of 60,000, 4 church buildings, ships in the docks when I arrived, planes in the docks when I left! I saw enormous social and economic change in Newham while I was there. I worked with a large team ministry, 4 team vicars, several curates, usually 3 church army officers, several readers and a full time administrator. We rebuilt all the church buildings (apart from the ancient Norman Church) including multi million pound projects in the centre of East Ham and in Docklands. This was very much a ministry involved with the Faith in the City report to which I gave evidence (including to a young man called John Stanley). It was tough, physically demanding on both me and my family but probably my most important ministry which i remember with enormous affection.I spent 13 years there before being appointed Archdeacon of Sheffield.
Sheffield just after the miners' strike was a Diocese in pain. The decline of the coal and steel industries left many communities without any sense of purpose. High unemployment and poverty were commonplace and the church had to respond to it. I was fortunate to be working with a brilliant Diocesan Bishop and very able clergy including future bishops of Ripon and Leeds, Warrington, Bedford, Grantham, Bradwell, Manchester, Selby and Basingstoke. I was responsible for the Churches' involvement post Hillsborough spending the night in the temporary mortuary in the gym helping the clergy working with families identifying the bodies- a night I shall never forget. I was also involved in clearing up the mess of the Nine-o-clock service which left a permanent scar on the Church of England's experimental ministry to the young - a fascinating but terrible story. During this time I was elected to General Synod, became a Church Commissioner and chair of the Grants Committee of the Church Urban Fund.
I was then asked to become Area Bishop of Hulme in Manchester Diocese with responsibility for about 100 parishes in Manchester, Salford, Trafford and Stockport. I'm not sure if there were any cows or sheep but there were lots of UPA parishes in the area and clergy and laity who needed prayer, encouragement, support and resourcing in ministry. Jack Nicholls then Bishop of Sheffield preached at my consecration and finished with the words .. 'remember Stephen you are only a bishop' a constant reminder that a shepherd is entirely dependent on the sheep and cannot afford airs and graces!!! I was asked by the Archbishops' to become a full-time Bishop for Urban Life and Faith for the last 3 years of my full-time ministry which involved me in visiting every diocese in the Church of England trying to support clergy and laity in urban ministry and raising the profile of the Church in our towns and Cities. The period finished with my writing with Professor Elaine Graham " What makes a Good City?".
Our urban clergy need encouragement and affirmation. Churches working in areas of urban poverty need a very real sense that they are there on behalf of the whole Church and their presence is a sign of an incarnational ministry concerned with justice and love for all God's people. There is a very real danger of imposing traditional measurements of the 'successful church' on parishes where success should be measured against the values of Jesus' ministry. For me any retreat from this sort of urban ministry is a denial of the true nature of the Church of England and indeed why I was ordained as a priest o serve within it.
I still broadcast regularly, every week on BBC5live and on TV from time to time. I love the cinema, football and cricket (I suffer with Colwyn Bay FC at the moment), swimming, opera, the Welsh countryside, my bird table and my grandchildren. Even Game of Thrones!!
I love to make confirmations memorable, inclusive and fun. I would like to support and encourage Liverpool clergy and laity in their ministries in whatever way I can.