DURHAM diocese played host to a bench of bishops last weekend as they embarked on a four-day mission, Talking Jesus, to get people talking about Jesus.
Led by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, the 25 prelates and their teams from the Church’s Northern Province attended more than 450 events intended to connect with communities across the diocese. In a bid to engage people of all ages and backgrounds, these ranged from bingo, abseiling, and coffee mornings to visiting schools, pubs, and churches.
The mission follows two similar events in the Blackburn diocese last year, and in Sheffield in 2015.
Launching this year’s programme at a service at Durham Cathedral on Thursday of last week, Dr Sentamu explained that they wanted to speak to as many people as possible about Jesus Christ. “We hope there will be a real surge — not just in believing, but belonging, which is a wonderful thing,” he said.
One of the events involved a children’s choir from St Clare’s, Newton Aycliffe, who staged a flashmob in the town’s Tesco supermarket on Saturday. The children, aged between four and 16, some of whom have learning disabilities, sang “Reach for the stars” and “Every journey”, a song about perseverance.
Their performance was broadcast live on Facebook. The youth and children team-leader from St Clare’s, Helen McCormick, said that the Talking Jesus weekend theme about contact with the community had inspired them to doing something outside the church building.
“It’s not just about the Sunday-morning bums on pews,” she said. “It was our first flashmob, and we were very nervous, but they thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fabulous.”
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, attended an assembly at Stanhope Barrington C of E Primary School, Weardale. The late Rector of Upper Weardale, the Revd Susan Kent, who died of cancer in January after a long illness, had been a keen supporter of the Talking Jesus mission.
The school’s head teacher, Shaun Myers, said: “It was Susan’s idea for us to get involved in this; so it means a lot to us. Susan was very special. The children loved her.”
Bishop Butler said: “I promised Susan I would spend some time in the Dale, and talk to the schoolchildren. It’s always nice to talk to children about Jesus, because, as a person, he fascinates them.”
At St George’s C of E Academy in Middleton St George, near Darlington, the Bishop of Ripon, the Rt Revd James Bell, faced questions from Year 6 pupils in a game of “Stump the Bishop”. “Children are very eager to explore their faith at this age,” he said. “Even if they are relating it to cartoon characters or superheroes, it is really beneficial for their development.”
In Teesdale, visitors to St Mary’s, Gainford, were asked to take a leap of faith by abseiling off the church tower. They were also able to watch a slide show of the mountaineering adventures of the Revd Dr Paul Weston, Director of the Newbigin Centre for Gospel and Western Culture at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. The Priest-in-Charge of St Mary’s, the Revd Eileen Harrop, said: “It was a great community event that was definitely different.”
The Durham diocesan director of mission, discipleship, and ministry, Canon Sophie Jelley, said: “The Bible tells stories of Jesus at parties, Jesus at picnics, and Jesus with every type of person in all kinds of places. The same is true today: as we put on events, large and small, as we meet with people of all ages in all kinds of places, Jesus is with us.
“About 97 per cent of people never go near a church; Talking Jesus is about taking church to them.”
The Bishop of Huddersfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs, who visited several schools, said: “It was great to see children and young people engaged in questions of faith and wanting to find out more; there were lots of challenging questions.”