THE NEW Bishop of Sheffield is to be the Revd Dr Steven Croft, Archbishops’ Missioner and Team Leader of Fresh Expressions.
The announcement came from Downing Street on Tuesday morning, and was described by the Archbishop of Canterbury as a “significant appointment”. Dr Croft, who is 51, said on Tuesday that he had experienced “a mixture of shock, excitement, and feelings of inadequacy” at the news.
Fresh Expressions is a joint initiative with the Methodist Church which seeks to encourage new ways of being church in the 21st century. Dr Croft took up his position there shortly after Dr Williams’s appointment, and has overseen its emergence over the past four years. The C of E’s need to form communities was now well understood, and the words “fresh expressions” had ceased to be regarded as a trendy catchphrase, he said on Tuesday.
Sir Christopher Wates, chairman of the Fresh Expressions board, said on Tuesday: “Steve has been an outstanding initiator of ideas and projects, and it is absolutely no surprise to me that he should be appointed to such a senior post. He will bring to the task of being a bishop a rare combination of evangelist and pastor, as well as huge wisdom and maturity.”
Dr Croft was born in Halifax, graduated from Oxford in 1980, and studied at Cranmer Hall and St John’s College, Durham, where he received his doctorate in 1984. He served as Curate of St Andrew’s, Enfield, and returned to Yorkshire as Vicar of St George’s, Ovenden, an urban-priority-area parish in the diocese of Wakefield, from 1987 to 1996. In 1996 he returned to Durham as Warden of Cranmer Hall.
He is the author of many books on mission and ministry, including co-authorship of the Emmaus course.
Dr Croft had advocated new leadership for the second five-year phase of Fresh Expressions, which begins in spring 2009. He said on Tuesday: “I think I’m going to be a learner bishop for a couple of years, but I definitely want to bring my ongoing commitment to mission and working with all traditions. And, of course, I’m not putting behind me the Fresh Expressions commitment to seeing them embedded in the whole of the Church of England.”
He has travelled internationally with Fresh Expressions, but welcomes “getting back to the nitty-gritty of diocesan and parish life. There’s something about being rooted in a local community that I’m really looking forward to,” he said. Asked how he viewed becoming a bishop at this particular time, he reflected: “My guess is there’s never an easy time to become a bishop. The Church is passing at the moment through a tremendous time of cultural change, and I think we just have to navigate through that change.”
His predecessor, the Rt Revd Jack Nicholls, would be a hard act to follow, he said. “He is held in such respect and affection. He has served on the board of Fresh Expressions for the last four years; so I have got to know him well, and found him extremely supportive to work with. So at least I have a good idea of what the diocese is missing in him, and hope to bring some new policies as well.”
Dr Croft’s wife, Ann, also a native of Yorkshire, and their four grown-up children, all approve of the move.
Dr Williams said: “I am delighted about this significant appointment, and I wish Steve every blessing for his ministry in Sheffield.”
Mark Russell, chief executive of the Church Army, said on Tuesday: “Church Army joins me in assuring Steve and his family of our support and prayers. Sheffield is very close to Church Army’s heart: we have many evangelists serving there, and our training college is located in the city centre. Steve will be a fantastic leader, pastor, and ambassador for Christ in the city of Sheffield.”