THE Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, is to become the 44th Bishop of Oxford in the summer, Downing Street announced on Tuesday morning. The see has been vacant for 18 months, since the Rt Revd John Pritchard retired in October 2014.
Dr Croft has been Bishop of Sheffield since 2009. He said that he was excited about his new position in one of the Church of England’s largest dioceses. “We have had seven really happy, fulfilling years in Sheffield. I will miss the people I work with the most. But I am looking forward to that new challenge.”
The three area bishops will free him to focus on strategy and a personal ministry of mission and evangelism, he says. “Initially, I will listen and discern what is happening locally, but I would hope to be engaged with adults and young people in places where they are — schools and workplaces.”
As a former Warden of the theological college Cranmer Hall, in Durham, Dr Croft said that he would also enjoy the strong academic streak in the diocese. “One of the attractions of this post is engaging with all of the universities, and the considerable theological resources, too.”
The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, has been an opponent of much of the Renewal and Reform project that Dr Croft has helped to steer (Comment, 12 December 2014). But their personal relationship remained strong, Dr Croft insisted.
“Martyn and I have known each other for a long time,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with him very much indeed. Difference is one of the things that brings creativity.”
Dr Croft has led the strand of Renewal and Reform which seeks to build up lay discipleship and leadership, and has also supported the Resourcing Ministerial Education project (Synod, 26 February). He was pleased, he said, with the headway made so far.
“I think it has made significant progress. The changes to Church Commissioners’ funding will make an immense difference to the flourishing of creativity across the Church, and Resourcing Ministerial Education is moving forward.” Dioceses were beginning to grapple with how to raise ordinand numbers, too, he said.
There was always a danger of being distracted by structural change, he said, but it was necessary to lay the ground for a resurgence in the C of E.
On one issue that was sometimes held up as a barrier to mission, sexuality, Dr Croft declined to be drawn. The shared conversations at the General Synod in July would be the “next part of the journey”.
“They are about learning to meet each other with respect, and we will see then what emerges from that, and what the Holy Spirit will do as we discern a way forward together.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that the diocese of Sheffield had taken great strides under Dr Croft: “Whilst I am very sorry to lose him from the province of York, I know he will take to Oxford a passion for making and nurturing disciples, a persistence in study, exploration, and learning, as well as the personal warmth of a fine pastor. The diocese of Oxford has its Bishop — thanks be to God.”
Before being consecrated, Dr Croft was the Archbishops’ Missioner and leader of the Fresh Expressions team.
The author of several books, he is a member of the Archbishops’ Council, and chairs the C of E’s Ministry Council, overseeing selection and training. With his wife, Ann, he has four children, including the Revd Andy Croft, who is a non-stipendiary minister at Soul Survivor Church, Watford, and a member of the Archbishops’ Evangelism Task Group.