Diocesan Synod was held on Thursday 28 June at St Ninian's Church, Douglas.
Matters on the agenda included reports from the Diocesan Clergy Chair's Forum, the Diocesan Secretary and the Warden of Readers.
Financial business included the DBF Statement of Income and Expenditure 2017 and the YTD financial position while Legislative business included Draft Marriage Measure (Isle of Man) and the Draft Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure (Isle of Man).
The Synod was concluded with Bishop Peter's Presidential address:
Bishop’s Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod: 28 June 2018
We last met as a Synod on 1 March, here in this same upper room, at a special session to consider and discuss the implications of the Report from General Synod entitled Setting God’s People Free. I described that gathering as an opportunity also to allow us all to share in the vision for our diocesan life, and to enable us all to be stakeholders in the Life of the Kingdom for which we strive.
Before that, at our Diocesan Synod in November last year, I used this address to give an account of the Transfiguration, as we have it in St Mark’s Gospel, as my illustration of Mission. We recall how the Lord was in the midst of that little group of closest disciples, as He had always been, and now they saw His glory; but even then it was not fully understood, nor its implications grasped. It is, we said, about clarity of perception. This episode is so important to me because it stands for everything in the Kingdom of God, even for the Kingdom itself. It is there in our midst, but we do not perceive it clearly. Just occasionally we might do so; but how difficult it is to hold onto that vision and to earth it in our daily lives! That is the task given to us in Setting God’s People Free, to which we devoted ourselves when we met here in March.
How might we make the connection from November through March to now, and onwards, bearing in mind that this is the last meeting of the Triennium of this Synod? The Transfiguration, that wonderful episode of revelation, remains my model for Mission, and the task is to work out how it can be implemented in this place. We have had no shortage of people coming here to give us guidance – the SCIE Audit, the Peer Review Process – and for that I am very grateful. We have learnt valuable lessons. In Safeguarding, we have just been identified as one of seven dioceses that need to undertake the Past Cases Review again. We welcome that. I had in mind when I arrived to undertake a review of the Past Cases Review, but then became aware that this would be enjoined upon us anyway. For Safeguarding processes to be significantly improved is a form of Transfiguration, or at least it will be when it results in increased faithfulness and gentleness of relationships within the Christian gathering. The Peer Review Process made several recommendations, including that we should implement our Ministerial Development Review (MDR), as a means not just of appraising but also of encouraging and inspiring. That will begin from our September Diocesan Conference, initially for clergy but also for Readers and other ministers; and I hope and pray and believe that this will indeed have a transforming effect upon us, renewing our sense of motivation and purpose.
Both of these – Safeguarding and MDR – are priorities for Ministry and Mission. They have to do with respect and affirmation. On Safeguarding, we will repeat the Past Cases Review, and we will learn from that, and I am grateful to all who assist me with that responsibility. The MDR will be launched in September, and I am grateful to Revd Irene for her work in drawing this together. What might we take from our discussion here on 01 March that will really set God’s people free to live the Gospel? Let me take a couple of ideas from our conversations on that day.
One of the groups looked at the relationship across Mission Partnerships, and indeed across the diocese. I would want to emphasise the vital importance of this point. Diocese, Mission Partnership, and Parish are not different entities, but are rather separate phases of the one entity which is The Church of England on the Isle of Man. I really want the Mission Partnerships to thrive, and to be precisely what they say: Partners in Mission. To that end, we may need to give a more ‘missional’ descriptor to our parishes and congregations. We might wish to call them ‘Mission Communities’, as has happened elsewhere. That puts a different emphasis on the local church, identifying it as ‘outward-facing’. It exists for the very purpose of mission. That might also involve a greater sense of relationship to other congregations or parishes within the benefice and beyond, making best use of resources and buildings, and sharing particularly in expertise and experience, for example in the area of nurturing contact with young people.
Another group looked at the question of what Mission really is, and the answer given is ‘the overlap of community/church.’ That is exactly right: it is about lessening the distinction between community and church, drawing the two together, being imaginative about the use of our buildings, which might involve partnering with other denominations in some places towards the idea of an ‘ecumenical hub’, and envisaging how hospitality can be extended in the broadest sense of the word. So although our buildings are to be primarily liturgical places, they will not be exclusively so: the outreach is cultural, artistic, and practical, perhaps with a café or a community centre, offering the encounter to all in a form of social liturgy. There are some of our churches where this already happens very effectively – and of course some places lend themselves more readily than others to this kind of engagement. But it is what the Church has always done, and it has done it more effectively than anyone else. A lunchtime study group? A social-justice project? A ‘Pilgrim’ course? A children’s eucharist? A weekly soup-kitchen? That is all social liturgy, and there is much more besides … This is ‘a community with friendship and love at its core; not necessarily numbers’, to take another line for our summary (Group 9)
Another group (8) spoke of ‘the distinct differences which give laity and clergy an equally valid vocation’. We may wish to think more about whether the categories of ministry that have served us in the past are still so helpful. Might we (again within the Mission Partnerships) divide up the duties of the Reader, and ask one person to cultivate expertise in preaching, another in pastoral care, another in biblical study, engendering both the depth and the breadth which enable a high standard of ministry of outreach. We are not all called to do everything, and Lay Worship Leaders, Lay Evangelists and others are ways in which ministry and service can be drawn from faithful discipleship.
So what are our priorities for growth, in a Church that I have already called to be prophetic, serving, and caring? Strengthened Mission Partnerships; Missional Communities; Social Liturgy, integrated into the wider life of the world around us. These may be tasks for the new Triennium, so I should set them out again in November. But many of you will be returning to Synod, and even if not you will continue to share in the life of the diocese that I have described. So for now I thank you for your contribution, for your work in the life of this Synod that has been, over its three years, under the care of three different bishops, and I thank you for walking forward with me in the Gospel.
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