A reflection on the Diocese of Sheffield’s experience of peer review

The Diocese of Sheffield had its first peer review in 2016. In this article the Rt Revd Peter Burrows, Bishop of Doncaster, reflects on the process.

In 2016 we held up a mirror and asked some tricky questions about our diocese. Seeing our strengths and weaknesses and identifying opportunities and threats has been a useful exercise for us and we are glad to support Renewal and Reform’s goal to improve shared accountability across the Church.

But why bother? The aim of course is to strengthen mission and finances in the dioceses. But for us the exercise has given us reasons to celebrate our strengths and the vocations of our people who are committed to growing new disciples, transforming communities, Fresh Expressions of church of which there are 56 across the diocese, pioneer ministry, including experimenting with interim ministers, mission and work with children and young people and Mission Partnerships, to name but a few. By assessing what we do we can see how much good work goes on in the diocese and this gives us confidence for a hopeful future.

But we are not complacent. There is much to do. Peer review has allowed us to see the wood from the trees – to define the areas that need more attention. We are aware that all of us are working at capacity and beyond. By defining our weaknesses we can better focus our limited resources. For us the priorities include improving progress of our Mission Partnership model and working on how to better fill vacancies in parishes (a problem that is difficult to shift).

How does peer review work? Well, it is a thorough exercise! We completed a self-assessment form exploring developments relating to growth, the common good, re-imagining ministry, strategic leadership, leadership culture and the use of resources. The consultation on the day of the review included members of the Bishop’s Staff, the chair of the board of finance, lay and ordained chairs of synod. It also included telephone interviews with a number of lay and ordained people from across the diocese prior to this. A final report has been completed for us to use in conjunction with our diocesan plans.

Was it worth it? Absolutely - it’s given us a clear steer on practical outcomes for the next twelve months that have a sound theological rationale and which excite us about God’s mission in the diocese.