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Bishop looks forward to challenging year ahead
The New Year brings dramatic changes for the Church of England in Yorkshire and the Bishop of Bradford believes there are both testing and rewarding times ahead for the whole county.
Financial hardship and moral uncertainty combined in 2013 when cuts in social spending and the horrors of child sex abuse dominated local and national news.
Disgraced BBC stars vied with Rochdale and Oxford paedophiles while foodbanks appeared in Bradford where gangs of street-groomers were jailed for their crimes.
But Bishop Baines believes a new push to regain Christian values and virtues is gaining momentum as people seek to solve such terrible problems.
“The issue of sex grooming is not a Bradford problem, it’s a human problem,” he said.
“And whenever this situation happens it depends on circumstances.
“For example, on-line grooming is essentially carried out by white males.
“But on-street grooming is done by whoever runs the night-time economy - and in Bradford that is largely the Asian community.”
Sadly, he said, street sex criminals had access to generations of lost, bewildered children damaged by a lack of simple moral structure.
“We have become a very sexualised society and that has affected our children, who have also both commodified and been overwhelmed by consumerism,” Bishop Baines said.
“A lot of those children simply don’t know who they are any more.
“They may be in a “family” where their mother has children by five different fathers.
“Don’t tell me this doesn’t have an important effect on children.
“I’m not judging people, it’s just a fact – there’s a widespread problem with identity,” he said.
“And for girls in particular it’s about identity, self esteem and self value.
“What sucks them into trouble is they are made to feel important and then promised everything they want.
“They just don’t have the emotional equipment to cope and that’s not their fault, it’s ours.
“There’s a real fragility and superficiality about some parts of our society – whereas we in the church are about something which is very solid.
“Some virtues have been lost in the myth of so-called progress and we have seen a certain rejection of religion.
“But I think there is a resurgence of Christian virtue and ethics to meet the challenge and, of course, that every human being is redeemable.
“The role of the church is to keep plugging away, keep valuing and loving people.”
As cost-cutting policies bite harder across the North of Britain in 2014 Bishop Baines said he feared more would suffer the effects of poverty.
He said: “Austerity driven by ideology will be digging even deeper and I think there will be real challenges in Bradford.
“However there are some positive things to celebrate and a new optimism in the city, despite those financial challenges.
“City Park has been a wonderful success – it’s a real visual symbol of how good things can be.
“And the building of the Westfield development will be a great thing for the city.”
The Church of England in Yorkshire is on the brink of a massive change with the unifying of Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield dioceses under one senior bishop.
Bishop Baines has supported the scheme from the start, which he believes will benefit the church at its roots.
He said: “It is going to be challenging, but basically we are doing some re-plumbing which will also create five local bishops and will relate more to local churches.
“I think when a decision is made, people will adapt to it, especially when we really get down to the appointments.”
Bishop Baines would not be drawn on whether he is a candidate for the new job of Bishop for West Yorkshire and the Dales.
“Whatever happens I’ll definitely be redundant and homeless on Easter Day,” he said.
“My main hope for 2014 is that the Church will become stronger and more able to serve.
“What we need to bear in mind are the three Cs:
- The Confidence in God and the Gospel
- The Church of England’s unique presence
- The Context of the communities we live in.”