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New Synod Meets

by glynch — last modified 17 Nov, 2015 09:51 AM

The first meeting of the newly elected Diocesan Synod gathers in Amesbury with a packed agenda

Diocesan Synod gathered at Amesbury Baptist Centre on a stormy Saturday for its first meeting of the new triennium. Gallery here.

The Synod has much fresh membership, with 40% of members newly elected, although there are still a few vacancies in some Deaneries – details are available from Miriam Longfoot at Church House.

The entire meeting took place in the context of a Eucharist, presided at by the Diocesan Bishop. Bishop Nicholas used his sermon during the Eucharist as his presidential address. Read the address here.

Reflecting on the epistle reading, from the final chapter of Romans, the Bishop said that Christian life is relational; in Christ, with one another. Great doctrine and difficult issues are worked out with one another in a Church that is connected by people who know each other. The Christian body is the community in which we discover two aspects of ourselves to be true: that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and that we are made in the image of God.

The church exists to point beyond itself to God and to the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. The churches, ecumenically, have been doing vital kingdom work on refugees and on climate change. After Synod, he and Bishop Ed would Confirm 43 people in the Cathedral, aged from 10 to 90, from across the Diocese. Neil Larkey’s appointment to the Young People’s Confirmation Project is to strengthen our engagement with young people and to help them make a significant faith commitment.

Diocesan Boards and Councils have, the Bishop said, been reorganised to serve our common agenda – Renewing Hope: Pray, Serve, Grow.

The Bishop paid warm tribute to Gil Williams, the outgoing Chairman of the Diocesan Board of Finance, outstanding for 10 years.

Canon Thomas Woodhouse, Team Rector of Dorchester and the introduced himself as the new Chair of the House of Clergy and Ms Chris Corteen as the new Chair of Laity.

Two pieces of new church legislation were promulged, having been passed at the most recent meeting of General Synod in July. There were new guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy; and an amending Canon removing the requirement for a Bishop’s Licence for the administration of Holy Communion.

The announcement of a new Bishop of Sherborne is waiting on the arrival of clearance from the Disclosure and Barring Service.

Bishop Nicholas updated Synod on Renewing Hope - Pray, Serve, Grow. In places it feels like this agenda has caught fire, he said, in others, less so. 

The three questions are “what do you pray for?”; “whom do you serve?”; and, “how will you grow?”. These are deceptively difficult. Bishop Nicholas suggested asking ourselves what Jesus taught us about how to pray. What are we doing when we pray and hold people before God in our intercessions?

People across the Diocese are very good at catching a sense of serving the whole of the community – we’re a broad, open, outward-facing church. We believe in loving God and loving our neighbour. Love is not a zero sum game – there is not a limited store of love in the world to share. The more we give, the more we receive.

Working out how we will grow is challenging for the Church of England and this Diocese, given our age profile and numbers. We are here for the long game, and this Diocese is in good heart. All the same, we have endured a decline of 0.7% per year since the millennium. It’s not big, but year on year it is significant. How do we push it back above the line? It would make a huge difference, not least to our confidence.

Bishop Nicholas referred to a recent lecture by the Bishop of London (read here) on how that Diocese had grown in both numbers and confidence. Bishop Richard said one key was developing a very conscious policy of sharing good news, rather than starting with problems.

After that, Synod members spent 15 minutes sharing good news – highlights included stories of work with young people, new patterns of worship bringing new people to church, and offers to pray for people in the community that are remembered much later

With a new Synod in place, much of the rest of the agenda was focused at helping Synod members make the right contribution in their role. 

Diocesan Secretary Lucinda Herklots set the strategic context in which Synod will work over the next triennium. To be borne in mind was the diversity of our parishes. 50% of our population is in just 8% of parishes. There are major differences between large parishes in Poole and the market towns and churches in villages, some of them very small. One size does not necessarily fit all.

As a Diocese of many small parishes, we face particular challenges. Communication is especially important in that context, especially sharing the stories that transmit our culture as a Diocese and Church.

We have some real opportunities – we have one of the highest rates of church attendance in the country. Much of our work is carried out by lay leaders, some in formally commissioned ministry; others have no formal badge but simply get on with the work of the Church. Stipended clergy are a tiny minority of church leaders in the Diocese.

Archdeacon Alan Jeans set out the work of Mission Council. Our God is good and generous, and has given us all the resources we need to be the Church that he wants us to be. Mission Council is exploring Bishop Nicholas’ hope that we will grow our membership by 10%, net, over the next 10 years. That means we will need to be very intentional about growth.

Mission Council wanted to build confident congregations, especially in rural areas. Another major priority was exploring how to minister to the 60,000 homes expected to be built in new housing areas in the Diocese over the next 10 years. Deputy Diocesan Secretary, Stephen Dawson, outlined next steps in those plans in more detail. Synod members highlighted the importance of working both with local authorities and other churches.

Bishop Ed and Jane Charman reported on the work of the Learning for Discipleship and Ministry Council. It has four priorities: developing disciples, nurturing vocations, equipping ministers and growing churches. To maintain our current pattern of ministry, we will need to recruit 60 extra new ministers above existing trend over the next decade. To do that, we have appointed Bennie Hazlehurst as Vocations Co-ordinator and Heather Waldsax as Young Vocations Champion. We are planning gap year and work experience opportunities for young people exploring a vocation to ministry.

Colin Brady updated Synod on the Diocesan response to the refugee crisis, not just relating to Syria. As well as our own family stories of migration, the Old Testament is clear on how we are to treat foreigners living among us. As well as praying and giving, we can give support to our local politicians and challenge the many lies and pieces of misinformation which have become common currency. The Christian tradition of welcoming the stranger is one we need to embed in our congregations, not just because of this issue.

Nigel Salisbury was elected unanimously as Chairman of the Diocesan Board of Finance.

Canon Harold Stephens updated members on the work of the Diocesan Board of Education. The Board of Education has a strategic plan from 2015-18 in operation, which is aligned with the Diocesan agenda of “Renewing Hope – pray, serve, grow”. As well as supporting schools, the Board of Education supports work with children in parishes. The Diocese of Salisbury Academies Trust now includes 7 schools. 

Neil Larkey introduced himself as the Diocese’s new Confirmation Project Officer, working to support Bishop Nicholas’ aim of increasing the number of confirmations among young people.

David Morgan, chair of the Diocesan Environment Group, discussed the work they are carrying out in the run up to the UN’s COP21 summit on climate change to take place in Paris from 30 November until 12 December. In particular, people were encouraged to support the green ribbon campaign and clergy were encouraged to consider wearing green dog collars.

Elizabeth Perry from Middle Woodford will one of those who will be walking from London to Paris as part of the Pilgrimage2Paris organised by the Church of England and Christian development agencies. She explained her reasons to Synod, in particular carrying the voices of people she knows personally for whom climate change is a clear and present threat – people from countries like Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Zambia.

Bishop Nicholas urged the Diocese to get behind the campaign and ensure the Church played a key role in achieving change.

The Dean updated delegates on the work of the Cathedral, looking back over an extraordinary year centred on the Magna Carta 800th anniversary celebations, and looking forward to the consultation on the draft Cathedral Masterplan for the next 50 years.

Synod unanimously agreed to move Blackmore Vale Deanery from the Archdeaconry of Dorset to the Archdeaconry of Sherborne, in order to more evenly balance numbers and with them archidiaconal workloads.

Photographs from the Diocesan Synod meeting are available here.

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