For you, I am a bishop; with you, I am a Christian. Those words of St Augustine will be the first words that (provided all goes to plan) I speak after being placed in the episcopal chair, the cathedra, in Lichfield Cathedral on Saturday 24th September. And I will say them in response to a child who will just have reminded me: Bishop Michael, never forget that first and foremost you are a child of God. It is a crucial message for bishops to remember, and really Augustines words should be in the reverse order: to begin with, a Christian, among Christians, and only then a bishop, for Christians.
It is not only bishops who need to remember that. We talk a great deal about ministry in the Church of England, and so we should: we have rightly rediscovered the ministry of the whole people of God, and the many and varied ways in which the Lord equips so many, lay and ordained, for specific tasks of service in church and world. But before some of us are called to particular ministries, all of us are called to be disciples, to be people who follow Jesus, and who invite others to come along with them and follow him too.
If we forget that, we can become so focused on what we think we have to offer God and his church, on the many different respects in which we are the best thing since sliced bread, that we fail to grasp the starting point of the whole Christian faith, which is not what we reckon we can do for God but what God has done for us and that is not less than everything. We need to keep coming back to the faith of a child of God to remember that.
If I forget that, and become too bound up in being a bishop for you so that I forget that I am a Christian with you, please tell me: remind me that first and foremost I am a child of God, like you. And please pray for me, as I will pray for you. From 15th to 23rd September, I will be travelling around this great diocese to nine different churches where we can pray together; and on the evening of Friday 23rd we will be renewing the vows of our baptism which declare us to be the children of God. We will do that at St Chads Well in Lichfield, where my predecessor baptised the Mercians of his time. May God bless us and renew us in our following of Jesus now as he blessed them and renewed them then.