Bishop’s Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod: 27 June 2019
Perhaps one of the foundational human questions has to do with beginnings and endings.
To put the question at its simplest: Where am I coming from, and where am I going?
The truth is that it is rarely about beginnings and endings, for most of join somewhere along the way. We are part of a continuum in the particular context in which God has placed us, and our task is to shape the direction from that point onwards: to shape the direction, or even to identify it. More, the direction is unlikely to be straight or uncomplicated. It will have turns and bends, overgrown patches where the path seems to come to a halt in the face of obstacles, and it will go in unexpected directions.
Strategy, therefore, is unlikely to be a straight line. I have defined it as the pursuit of a single idea through a set of continually evolving circumstances. You might also say that it is the route between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. Or you could say that it is the bridge between policy and effect. But I like the pursuit of a single idea. And the single idea that I am pursuing – through the evolving circumstances of clergy comings-and-goings, funding bids, missional initiatives, and much more – is to strengthen our shared life as Christians.
To strengthen our shared life means to build depth and resilience into it.
If it is to be a shared life, then we must live it with joy and humility and love for one another.
My priorities, and the necessary connections, arise from this.
Those areas where we need strength are People – Buildings – Finance. From that, I have drawn my Priorities for us a Diocese between now and the end of 2012, Priorities which I have already shared on a number of occasions: Inhabiting the Faith – Partnering in Mission – Sustaining Ourselves.
How are we getting in with achieving these Priorities? As we saw a moment ago, it is not straightforward, but I was immensely encouraged by our recent Diocesan Study Day at the Cathedral. I believe it achieved something very creative, and I also saw a glimpse of where I hope it might take us. It most definitely took us forward in two of those Priorities, and probably in the third as well. We were certainly Inhabiting the Faith: studying Scripture together, considering the theology of Volunteering in God‘s Service, looking at practical issues of care for our people, and exploring the origins and structure of the Eucharist. We were most definitely Partnering in Mission: that is to say, we were sharing the experience of learning about God, worshipping God, and being visible as the Body of Christ, in one place but from our different parishes and congregations with our various experiences and insights.
What about Sustaining Ourselves? The Study Day focused on one very important aspect of that: sustaining the mind and the spirit. That is fundamentally important. In fact, I would say that it was not just about Sustaining Ourselves but also about Renewing and Reaffirming. We were seeking to renew ourselves and to deepen our faith. The subject-matter of the day was Scriptural and Eucharistic. We are a Scriptural and Eucharistic Community. In the afternoon, our reflective study led us to consider The Eucharist as Thanksgiving. We spoke about, and listened to, the words of the ‘Sursum Corda’ as the invitation to ‘make thanksgiving’. ‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God’: that is to say, ‘let us together celebrate the saving works of God’. The Celebrant extends the invitation, but, vitally, it is for the whole congregation of God’s assembled people to give consent.
I want to continue these conversations and processes in our parishes and congregations, and I have asked Joanna Fisher from Kirk Michael to act as the coordinator of a programme for Parish Study Groups. We have identified material for study, and I am grateful to those from various parishes who agreed to act as a local point-of-contact for Joanna.
I have spoken of informal ‘twinning’, or ways in which parishes might support each other, and perhaps the sharing of knowledge and wisdom and experience in this area of the teaching of the faith is an example.
With these things in mind, and in deep gratitude to the grace of God that strengthens us in His service, I want to devote a large part of the remainder of this evening to another aspect of Sustaining Ourselves. How do we sustain ourselves financially, to the extent that we can build material resilience into our future beyond just the next few years?
Part of this may have to do with how we use our buildings: not just how many we need and can affordably use, but also the extent to which we are able to offer them as a wider resource for our neighbourhoods, using them, in that way that goes back to the early centuries of the Church, for the purpose of Social Liturgy. But for this evening, I would like us to do some applied financial focussing, and in a moment I will give way to enable Archdeacon Andie to lead us in this.
During Lent, some of our parishes studied ‘Generous God, Generous People’, and now we need to build upon this. That book gives a number of principles, and includes the reminder that God calls us to serve Him in the world, in the workplace of employment – precisely the point of Setting God’s People Free. ‘Generous God, Generous People’ draws on a range of biblical material, from both Testaments, including the Acts of the Apostles. That is part of the Bible to which I seem now to be making very frequent reference. Perhaps it is because I see our life as a diocese as resembling so closely the beginnings of the Christian Church as vividly described by St Luke in Acts: a light structure, agile, characterised by a distinctive ethos; sometimes vulnerable in a challenging time of human history; deeply reliant upon its own talents and gifts and resources; highly faithful; and with every opportunity before it.
The reference to Acts in ‘Generous God, Generous People’ draws a distinction between Barnabas on the one hand, and Ananaias and Sapphira on the other, in their joyful willingness (or otherwise) to give freely to God. The point is clear, even if the outcome seems excessively dramatic. We are not the early Christians, of whom we read in Acts that they owned everything in common – but, like them, we do have in common the doctrine of our faith, and a journey to share. That journey may at times be challenging, but it is also a most wonderful gift – and it is a gift which will shape our identity and give meaning to our lives.