Enthusiasm at Diocesan Synod

by Gerry Lynch last modified 15 Nov, 2016 11:14 AM

Bright spirits amind dark weather at a positive November Synod meeting

“What sort of society to we want to be?” That was the theme of Bishop Nicholas’ Presidential Address to a packed meeting of Diocesan Synod on Saturday.

The dark and dreich November weather did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm at the meeting, held in a new venue for Diocesan Synod, Sarum Academy, a church school for 11-18 year olds in Salisbury’s Bemerton Heath area.

Opening worship was led by the girls of another church secondary in Salisbury, St Edmund’s. Worship was based on Micah 6:8 – “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” These values, they said, encapsulated their aim at St Edmund’s to be ‘a true comprehensive school’, valuing the contribution of girls from all backgrounds, all cultures, and all abilities.

A packed agenda, covering the Cathedral, church buildings, church planting, deepening prayer life and church schools, followed Bishop Nicholas’ Presidential Address, which focused on “What sort of society do we want?”.

Read Bishop Nicholas’ full Presidential Address here.

Bishop Nicholas noted how political discourse had become “unbelievably bruising”, at home and abroad. During the US Presidential election, just as in the Referendum campaign in the UK, it was hard to see either side unifying the country afterwards.

God is the God of truth. It is not acceptable, he said, to claim that we’ve entered a post-truth politics. It is shocking to hear politicians say what they have claimed during election campaigns doesn’t matter.

The deep divisions in society are not just political. A quarter of children in the UK live in poverty, and most of their parents are in work. The Diocese has the most expensive housing in the country outside London, at Sandbanks, very close to the poorest parish in the Diocese, at Kinson and West Howe.

Brexit means Brexit, but the outcome of the Referendum is still anything but clear. What was the best way to proceed for society in a way that will heal division? The churches played a creditable part in discussing and praying about the referendum, and perhaps should be planning some follow-on discussions and prayer in the new year.

In that context, Bishop Nicholas also welcomed Latvian guests from the parish of St Saviour’s in Riga, who were visiting Sherborne Abbey for the weekend (read more about the visit from Latvia here).

On behalf of the Latvian visitors, Prof Dr Valdis Tēraudkalns addressed Synod on the changing face of Anglicanism in continental Europe, with what had been largely an expatriate denomination appealing to growing numbers of local people.

The Dean then gave the Cathedral’s Annual Report. Over the past five years, the Cathedral had fulfilled its mission to promote a “confident, open, Christianity, with a reputation for warmth of welcome, and a willingness to engage with others. This included an ‘extraordinary’ 2015, centred on the 800th anniversary celebrations of Magna Carta.

The Cathedral volunteers had recently been honoured by being awarded a Corporate Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which are rarely given out.

The recent consultation on the future masterplan, looking forward to the next 50 years for the Cathedral and Close, had closed and the Dean would report back on the next steps at the next Diocesan Synod in March 2017.

The next item of business was the Church Buildings Policy introduced by Bishop Edward.

It was important to strike a balance between the ‘idolatry of church buildings’ at one extreme and a rejection of the importance of place at the other. While there was sometimes a question of closure, our presumption should be against closure.

He spent a lot of time visiting rural parishes, he said, where he saw much new life, including new Christians being baptised and confirmed. Churches were also opening to wider community use and installing facilities.

The Diocese had no intention of dictating to parishes how to use their churches, but it should be remembered that they are more than precious heritage. They are a vital resource for evangelism, mission and service.

Discussion was broadly supportive of the policy, which was passed unanimously.

Following that, the Ven Alan Jeans, Archdeacon of Sarum, introduced the Church Planting Policy. The policy aimed, he said, to help senior Diocesan leaders plan for growth, to help Archdeacons and the Mission Advisory Committee in deciding where to plant, and to help those in local Christian communities seeking to establish new congregations.

This should provide a framework for actively exploring opportunities in consultation with mission partners. We would only use Bishops’ Mission Orders where required, and only one currently exists in the Diocese – Poole Missional Communities.

The policy also aimed to locate plants within the Church’s legal framework and to ensure leadership was exercised by those duly authorised. There was strong support for the traditional parish structure as well as providing opportunities for those who feel it is not for them.

A key challenge for the Diocese was new housing, with more than 60,000 additional homes planned over the next decade.

This policy was also passed unanimously, after broadly supportive discussion which also included some challenge about the theological framework provided for planting.

After lunch, Brother Sam SSF of Hilfield Friary discussed the work of the Diocese’s Pray Forum, aiming to lead renewal of prayer life in the Diocese so growth is spiritual as much as numerical.

Early next year, Prayer Days will be held in each Archdeaconry enabling people to experience new forms of prayer. The Rt Revd Michael Perham will also lead events for authorised ministers in the spring, based on his book The Way of Christ Like-Ness.

The Diocese will be providing short daily prayers for Lent 2017, in both booklet form and via an app, called Praying Together, and the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer will be renewed and also available via an app from March.

The final item of business was on church schools, led by Diocesan Director of Education, Canon Joy Tubbs, and Diocesan School Effectiveness Advisor, Neil Revell. They outlined the work of the Diocesan Board of Education in an era of rapidly shifting government policy on schools.

A long period was allowed for discussion in small groups, particularly focused on how to recruit and support foundation governors. The role has become considerably more complex over the past ten to fifteen years.

Comings and goings

Significant personnel moves and milestones ere also noted during the day. Debbie Orris, a Church Army Sister, is our new Discipleship Coordinator (read more here). The focus on discipleship is very much a national movement and Debbie will be a key resource to support the local church in growing disciples in the way of Jesus Christ.

Phil Musselwhite has been the Diocesan Accountant since July 2009. Phil has provided real support to Parish Treasurers and others on financial matters and has done this with sympathy, tact and firmness where needed. He has the ability to give clear advice on a vast range of complex matters – from gift aid to share to VAT to PCC annual reports. Phil will be leaving at the end of January to pursue other interests having had a few weeks hand over to his successor Liz Ashmead who joins us in December. He has offered some of his time to continue to support the introduction of the Parish Giving Scheme next year because he is passionate about anything that looks to make the work of our financial volunteers simpler.

If anyone wishes to contribute to a leaving gift for Phil please send cheques to Lucinda Herklots at the Diocesan office made out to Salisbury DBF with Phil Musselwhite written on the back.

Bishop John Kirkham will have been consecrated bishop 40 years ago on 30 November. He served as Bishop of Sherborne for 25 years to 2001. Bishop John has agreed to preside at a simple celebration of the Eucharist in the Trinity Chapel of the Cathedral on Monday 28 November at 6.30pm. All would be very welcome, especially if they let Bishop Nicholas' office know so they have some idea of numbers.

On 4 November, Bishop John Cavell, former Bishop of Southampton and resident of the Close, turned 100!

Bishop Michael Perham, who has been leading the Pray Forum for has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. He says that at present he scarcely feels ill but he is having to revise his commitments. He hopes to continue leading The Pray Forum into the Spring and then hand it on around Easter. He asks for our prayers, and as praying for the sick is one of the ways in which many of us find our prayer life renewed there may be a blessing to be found here in responding to his request.

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