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Leaving our comfort zones to go for Growth

by Michael Ford last modified 22 May, 2019 02:54 PM

From Desert Islands to finding new ways to grow, our February Synod was ‘going to new places beyond where we are comfortable’.

Leaving our comfort zones to go for Growth

Bishops Francis Loyo, Andrew Rumsey, Moses Zungo, Nicholas Holtam and Karen Gorham

At this February Synod members were asked to “be willing to go to new places, beyond where we are comfortable.”

In a packed agenda, these “new places” were in the context of starting the discussion on how we might progress towards our vision of growth in the Diocese, looking at how we might address the issue of ‘missing generations’ and new ways to worship in our churches, along with the launch of our Past Cases Safeguarding Review and even how we might deal with division over Brexit.

The Bishop’s Presidential Address

The invitation was made during Bishop Nicholas’ Presidential Address to a Synod where members were introduced to, and learnt a bit more about, our new Rural Field Officers, Bishop Andrew Rumsey as Bishop of Ramsbury, David Pain as Diocesan Secretary and Penny Sayer as Archdeacon of Sherborne. 

“What a great new staff team we have got. We are really blessed with the people who have come to serve with us, looking forward to your contribution to the Diocese” the Bishop said.

He also welcomed two special visitors -“two friends to this diocese from the Episcopal Church in the South Sudan” to Synod:

Bishop Francis, Bishop of Rokon, who came to the UK to represent his Primate Archbishop Justin and the Province of ECSS at Bishop Andrew’s consecration last month, had, according to Bishop Nicholas, been busy since his arrival:

“Spending a week with me in Salisbury, a week in Milton and Blandford Deanery and a week in Durham”. 

Bishop Nicholas also welcomed Bishop Moses, Bishop of Maridi. He had been in Canterbury at the Anglican Communion’s conference for new bishops and has stayed on in order to visit Salisbury Diocese. 

 Bishop Nicholas said he realised what an asset and a gift they both were to the Anglican Communion and thanked them for being with us.

The visit of the two Bishops prompted Bishop Nicholas to remind Synod members that the Lambeth Conference would be held at the end of July next year and that all dioceses in the Church of England have been asked to invite our partners for the week before the Conference starts. He told members:

“That, brothers and sisters, is a major commitment. It is going to take quite a bit of organising as there could be something like 55 bishops plus their spouses. But what a wonderful opportunity for us!”

The Bishop also reminded Synod of “the great gift” that the Praying Together in Lent booklets offered the Diocese:

“Make sure the copies are distributed and well used. Our life in Christ is nourished by prayer. It is the wellspring from which we minister to God’s world. It is a great opportunity for us to be praying together.”

Past Cases Review

The Bishop also spoke about the work that would be needed as the Diocese embarked on a comprehensive and historical safeguarding review:

“In the spirit of the Gospel, we all want to protect and care for our children and all adults at risk of harm. We wish to ensure that our churches and church related activities are as safe as possible for everybody and to have the best possible safeguarding policies and practices. But in order to be certain that we are fulfilling our duty of care, it is important to establish that all known past cases of concern have been considered and dealt with appropriately.”

The Bishop said he was sending out a letter to all incumbents this week giving details of the Review and asking parishes to look back into records to make sure that any instances of concern that relate to the behaviour of clergy and/or church officers towards children, and/or adults who may be at risk within their parishes have been reported to the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser, Heather Bland:

“They will need to check parish files and other sources, including the collective memory of the community by talking to one another in PCCs or elsewhere in the community.” 

The Bishop said support on how to conduct the review will be provided through a dedicated PCR Helpdesk and via the Safeguarding page of the Diocesan Website and that a 100% response from parishes was needed by 31 May 2019:

“Unless we attend to the housekeeping, and see it as part of the substantial agenda rather than as an unhelpful burden, we will not make progress in commending the gospel of Jesus Christ to a society in which our past and present failings prevents people from hearing the Kingdom of God is very near.” 

Bishop Francis and Bishop Moses then brought greetings and prayers from their Diocese to ours and presented Bishop Andrew with the gift of a shirt. In return Bishop Nicholas gave the Bishops copies of Praying Together in Lent to take back, and two shells that were collected during the pilgrimage to the Holy Land in January. 

Access the Presidential Address here

New RFOs

At the start of Synod members were introduced to the Diocese’s new Rural Field Officers (RFOs), Revd Canon Richard Hancock (Dorset), Alice Farnhill (Sherborne) Claire Phillips (Sarum) and the Revd Rhona Floate (Wilts), who sadly could not be with us at Synod. 

The team had prepared the worship for the start of the session and then were interviewed by Bishop Karen, who had asked them to provide a favourite image as way of introduction. 

Richard chose a Coptic Icon, often associated with the Taizé Community, which depicts Christ with his arm around another. Richard said the image that showed while Christ carried the Bible, the other person was giving the blessing, reminded him that we all share in God’s mission. He said his role as RFO was to let people be intentional, to “have a go”, to be like the disciples and cast nets even where they had been cast before, as this time they could come back in full.

Claire chose an image of a sunrise over the sea and said it reflected the many different colours God had brought into her life, and the sea was the living waters we can immerse ourselves in to be refreshed. Claire said she was looking for a prayerful Rural Church that would make and keep connections. 

While Alice, using an image of the Baptistry Window at Coventry Cathedral, talked about her previous work and how the window’s 192 panels help to reflect the diversity of faith journeys and reflecting on her role as an enabler, she said that when it came to mission in and for the Rural Church, community was key, as was an understanding of the diversity of those who make up these communities.

Synod then welcomed the Revd Bill Cave as a new member. Revd Cave, who is lead Chaplain with the Wiltshire Police, is also the Diocesan Interfaith Advisor. Bishop Nicholas said Revd Cave would bring a lot to Synod, through his work and knowledge.

We Pray and Serve but are we Growing?

Bishop Nicholas began the main session on growth by reminding members that, as a Diocese, we aim to have a Christian presence in every one of our 460 parishes, 574 places of worship and 196 church schools.

He commented that as we go into year 4 of Renewing Hope, Pray Serve Grow, we need an accurate description of what is going on across the Diocese:

“Thought, policy and action have been based on an understanding of reality and we do have to match our resources and activity. But it is tricky to know what to measure.”

He told Synod he had attended a presentation by the Wildflowers and Fungi project” at Kew garden who claimed to engage with 4 million people and how this engagement had been targeted.

But that the following day the Church of England had published its Statistics for Mission which showed average weekly attendance had declined. In summary, he said the Projects figures were energising while the Church ones could be demoralising. 

Yet, the statistics were published just after Remembrance Sunday when 8000 people turned out in Salisbury alone. Then in quick succession, Advent and Christmas where 200,000 people engaged with a variety of services and events.

“We have some level of engagement with 80% of the population. The commitment of the core is impressive and the sustained reach into wider society is miraculous” he said. 

The Bishop reminded Synod that when we started Renewing Hope, Pray Serve Grow, we decide to use Fairer Share numbers as a measure, but these have declined by 1% a year and he said: 

“If we focus only on Fairer Share we will fail.

“When we have spoken about growth, we have always said that it means both growth in depth of discipleship and transformation of individuals as well as growth in church numbers.”

He asked Synod members to bring their perspectives to the debate as “today we want Synod to begin to address the growth agenda in preparation for the review of Renewing Hope.

“This is an important day for Synod. We have to address this issue, we may need to look at making adjustments or we made need a different vison, but we need to be open to change”. 

Bishop Andrew led the next session, using the image of a spring pot plant and asked: “How do you know it is nearly springtime in England?”

The answer for the Bishop was that supermarkets started selling pot plants and that gave people a feeling of either “guilt, apathy or enthusiasm about our gardens.

“And while the Father [God] is our gardener there is lots we can do in the garden to encourage or inhibit growth.”

Bishop Andrew then led members in group discussions on three key questions:

What is God growing where you are? What restricts growth? What encourages growth?

The answers were written on post-it notes and placed on posters representing the questions.

Answers ranged from the growth of lay worship leaders, depth of faith and community, to inhibitors like insularity, distractions on a Sunday, or lack of those who can attract youth.

Before Lunch members then listened to two presentations.

Poole’s Revd Canon Andy Perry and Hamworthy’s Revd Tessa Nisbett reflected on ‘The Missing Generations’ and how a church graft had reached out to those on the edge of church life.

The Venerable Alan Jeans, Archdeacon of Sarum, then spoke on ‘The Mixed Economy’ of traditional and new forms of church.

Desert Island Discs

After a lunch where members were invited to attended a session called ‘DBF for Dummies’, a guide to DBF finances, there was a chance to learn more about Bishop Andrew Rumsey as Bishop of Ramsbury, David Pain as Diocesan Secretary and Penny Sayer as Archdeacon of Sherborne as they took part in their own ‘Desert Island Discs’, choosing a record and an image that spoke to them.

David Pain began the session by explaining that his chosen song, ‘Ready to Change’ by the band Kodaline, reminded him that Jesus was all about change, overturning tables and expectations and so the question was whether we are ready for change in our lives and how that change can bring about a “thriving Christian presence in every community”.

After hearing a bit of the song, David introduced Synod to a picture of the Mottisford spring, a chalk spring that never runs dry and he said this image spoke to him of faith, that while life may bring many changes, faith and Christ are a constant, a wellspring that never runs dry.

Bishop Andrew had chosen the folk song ‘The Good Old Way’ as sung by The Watersons and, after being surprised by a picture of his own band, the Bishop said that being in a band meant working together and relying on each other. His chosen image was the cover to Watership Down, which he said was his favourite book, all about a journey to a place and how it had been likened to the Christian journey.

Finally Archdeacon Penny and Synod, listened to her choice, ‘Brothers in Arms’ by Dire Straits. She had also chosen the album cover as her image. She talked about being in the North East, of boycotting Cape apples and then hearing that Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and of the hope that brought. She also spoke of her passion for social justice and for the truth.


The main afternoon session involved workshops on Growing Rural Ministry and Mission, looking at whether it should be Church School or School Church, the idea of growing our social action across the Diocese and finally more on the Church graft in Hamworthy, near Poole that had been introduced to Synod in the morning session.

The workshops were interactive so for example in the workshop on social action participants identified examples of local churches meeting the needs of their communities. Short descriptions of the projects were written on cards and placed on the floor to create a map of generous service. 

This workshop found that there had been some changes in the two years since we last did this exercise. And these included an increase in holiday hunger projects, support for refugees, and concern for mental health services and problems with transport.

Members attended two workshops each and commented afterwards that they were interesting and helpful.

A thriving Christian presence in every community in 2030?

At the end of Synod, Diocesan Secretary David Pain briefed Synod on the Review process of 2019.

He told that members that Renewing Hope had been what had attracted him to the job of Diocesan Secretary. He introduced the Review that would be carried out by Bishop John Gladwin into Pray Serve Grow and invited members to encourage everyone to take part in the Survey that had been launched on the website.

Access the survey here

He said he was looking forward to working with the former Bishop of Chelmsford again, as they had worked together at Christian Aid and that Bishop John would visit the Diocese the week starting 11 March, presenting a Report on his Review at Easter to be looked at in depth by Bishop’s Council in May.

He said that his time working for Christian Aid as Head of their Africa programme had been spent helping to create an organisation that flourished locally but also together and how he had been struck, by an early comment during the presentation on Missing Generations, as to what kind of a church we wanted to hand on. In this case what kind of a Diocese?

He invited members to begin to think about what the plausible futures would look like if we are to achieve a thriving Christian presence in every community by 2030:

“It is good to stretch out our thinking. What might we be doing together in 2030 to reach that future?”

He said as part of this review, the diocese was “lengthening its stride” and looking to create a three-year, instead of a 12-month, Budget.

But that was not without its challenges, the first being the desire to close the annual £1.2 million gap between income and expenditure and this meant making choices together and looking closely at how we might do this from a community eye view, from both church and school perspectives.

We would be making choices that would see us “transformed by love and learning to live in relationships where we can thrive.”

“Where we can be the all that God has created us to be”.

The Diocesan Secretary was then presented with an Eco Church Bronze Award for Church House by Bishop Nicholas, with a challenge to “get a Gold award by 2021”.

Synod ended with a thank you to Corfe Mullen for hosting Synod and a blessing from Bishop Nicholas.

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