The Bishop’s Address to Diocesan Synod, 30 November 2021
At the beginning of 2019, I identified three Priorities for the period of three years now concluding:
– Partnering in Mission
– Learning and Inhabiting the Faith
– Sustaining Ourselves
Looking back over the past three years, and the life of our previous Diocesan Synod, I believe those were the correct priorities, and I would not ‘unsay’ any of them. How did we get on with them?
‘Partnering in Mission’ remains ‘work in progress’. That is true of all the three Priorities, of course, but Partnering in Mission has been the biggest task. Working across parish boundaries to share resources and expertise has not been part of our experience in the past, and it is not an easy lesson to learn. We have sought to re-energise the Mission Partnerships, and will continue to do so. There has been a strengthened relationship with other denominations, and a clear view of how we might work closely together in an Ecumenical Project in one of our parishes. We have developed our breadth of ‘social liturgy’ to include foodbanks and other outreach, and the work of caring for isolated and marginalised people has been made even more necessary by the restrictions of the Pandemic.
‘Learning and Inhabiting the Faith’ has borne fruit in our training courses, in study days and teaching days, in the creation and generation of Liturgical Assistants, in confirmation preparation, and in a growing understanding of how faith informs ethical, social and environmental concerns. The experience of Pandemic and Lockdown required a new approach to teaching and learning for all of us, and I hope it may be true to say that digital technology enabled our learning of the faith to continue in even more focussed and intimate ways through a range of technologies. We have made significant progress in our environmental commitment, and with that has come a renewed understanding of God’s gifts in creation and our own responsibilities.
‘Sustaining Ourselves’ has proved difficult, but it has been done. We emerge (if we yet even do that) from the Pandemic with battered finances and a high level of tiredness. It will take time for the consequences of this to be fully apparent. But we continue to look for ways of making best use of our resources of people, buildings, and finance, in pursuit of enabling our mission and ministry to be sustainable and resilient. Recent appointments have given us new capacity in this area, particularly as we look to develop new organisational structures to drive change and growth, to make best use of assets, to limit liabilities, and to draw in external funding. Underneath all of this, I remain committed to compassionate care of our people and to enabling our flourishing of body, mind and soul.
Where does that take us for the next three years? The Bishop’s Leadership Team engaged in creative thinking around this question last month, out of which emerged a number of ideas and principles that I would wish to incorporate into our Vision for the next three years: that is to say, for the life of this Diocesan Synod:
- The balance of Body, Mind and Spirit (physical, intellectual, spiritual).
- The heavy responsibility of preaching the Word of God.
- The place of calm in the centre of the hurricane.
- The ‘anointed’ nature of God’s faithful people.
- The sheer richness of public worship.
- The solid structure of our shared experience and gifts.
- ‘Messaging’ is better than setting targets.
- Glimpsing ‘the rock that is higher than I’.
- The balance of Stability and Renewal.
- The importance of ‘Relationship’ in pastoral care.
These are rich insights. To them, we have since added, more practically but no less vitally:
- Growth (of every kind).
- The use of Digital Platforms for Giving.
- Environmental (and associated target) issues.
- The development of a Giving Strategy.
- Collaborative Approaches to parish ministry.
- Partnership in Mission Priorities.
In fact, all of these latter subjects fall within our existing priorities: Digital Platforms, the Giving Strategy, and Buildings are all sub-sets of Sustaining Ourselves; Environmental Issues is part of Learning and Inhabiting the Faith; Collaborative Approaches and Partnership in Mission Priorities are clearly within Partnering in Mission. And all of that should lead to Growth, which is the aim of all our strategies. That is where we want to get to. But these sub-headings are helpful ways of spelling it out.
How, then, do we distil this down into a renewed vision for the next phase?
Let’s begin by saying that the parish, and its flourishing and growth, is where the focus must be. So each parish will need to consider how to implement in its own setting any vision that we offer. And it will do that, of course, with discussion in the Mission Partnership. The role of this Synod is to offer support through encouragement and leadership. That’s my role too, very much: the classical Anglican idea that leadership comes from the Bishop in Synod. But it’s the parish that will make it work. So, what is the Vision that we can offer to our parishes?
The detail of this is to be the agenda for our non-business meeting of Synod on 09 March. But a starting-point would be to combine, in compressed form, the ideas that I have already given. How about:
‘Working together, anointed in body and mind and spirit, confident in our shared experience and in the calm of Stability, to find Renewal of Relationships, with worship and preaching that allow us to glimpse God’s glory and to transform our stewardship.’
Too much. Not snappy enough. But not bad! What can I do to improve it? Divide it up, perhaps. And I’m mindful that I really want a Vision that has, at most, three pillars. It has to be clear, it has to be simple, it has to be memorable.
How about this:
‘Anointed and rooted in God, we work together for Renewal, which will be visible in Faithfulness and Generosity.’
Perhaps that’s more like it!
Have I lost anything in compressing it? I don’t believe so: ‘stable’ has become ‘rooted’, ‘worship and preaching’ are included in the broader word ‘faithfulness’, and ‘transformed stewardship’ has become ‘generosity’. I have capitalised three words, which can become the pillars of the Vision, underpinned by the whole sentence. So that gives us:
Renewal, Faithfulness, Generosity as the Vision.
Anointed and rooted in God, we work together for Renewal, which will be visible in Faithfulness and Generosity as the Vision Statement.
I have heard it said that if you say the Lord’s Prayer slowly, dwelling as deeply as you can in each phrase, then you have understood, and indeed have reached, the Kingdom of God. Similarly, I believe that if we strive with integrity and with shared commitment for Renewal through Faithfulness and through Generosity (and that means generosity of every aspect), we will be God’s People, and no problem or barrier will be insurmountable. To put it another way, who ever heard of the failure of generosity?
That is the Vision that I offer to us this evening. At our next meeting of Diocesan Synod on 09 March, I hope that we may be able to discuss this further, adopt it formally, and see how it might be implemented practically in our Mission Partnerships and parishes. For now, I invite you to study it again by reading it on the diocesan website, and I commend it to our prayers.
as at 30 November 2021
St Andrew the Apostle, in Advent