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Presidential Address - June Synod 2016

by Gerry Lynch last modified 19 Jun, 2016 01:12 AM

The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, delivered the Presidential Address to Salisbury Diocesan Synod on 16 June 2016 at St Francis' Church, Salisbury

Renewing Hope
St Richard of Chichester, whom the Church remembers today, lived in the first half of the thirteenth century.  Born in Droitwich, he studied in Oxford and Paris and became Chancellor of the University of Oxford before becoming Chancellor of Canterbury under Archbishop St Edmund Rich.  In 1244 he was elected Bishop of Chichester but King Henry III refused to appoint him in favour of a rival candidate.  Only under threat of excommunication did the King give way.  

So it has not always been sweetness and light in the Church in England. In the differences of opinion in our own day, I also find it encouraging that the Gospels contain accounts of disagreements between the 12 disciples; “Who is the greatest?” In a sobering inversion of power, the answer is the servant or a child. 

At the Bishop’s Visitation and Admission of Churchwardens in the cathedral last Thursday, the Archdeacons gave information about future Visitations, Safeguarding, Fairer Share and Facutlies. This is on the Diocesan website so I do not need to repeat it. I do want to underline the importance of our making progress towards being a safer Church and especially for children and vulnerable adults.

‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’... Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me....

We have moved from Safeguarding being something that is expected to something that is required.

Pray
St Richard is remembered as a man of deep spirituality, in part because of the memorable prayer he left. 

Thanks be to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ....
May I see Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly
Follow Thee more nearly
Day by day.

He is a good saint for us at this synod in a diocese seeking to renew hope, first of all through prayer. 

Last Thursday, at the Bishops Visitation and Admission of Churchwardens, I gave the churchwardens a Renewing Hope candle holder for every parish and every church school to use in church meetings of every kind.  It is intended to suggest, rather than copy, the Cathedral font in form and colour and might remind us that Baptism renews our hope and makes us one in Christ.

Use them to focus the meeting by lighting the candle, reading a short piece of scripture and saying a prayer to remind us of the presence of the risen and ascended Christ whenever his followers gather in his name.

As a way of overseeing the Pray part of the renewing hope agenda for us a diocese, I have asked Bishop Michael Perham, the retired Bishop of Gloucester and now an Assistant Bishop in this Diocese where he grew up, to lead a small group called ‘The Pray Forum’ to help further this aspect of Renewing Hope.  They are planning a number of initiatives on prayer for the early months of 2017 particularly to support those with a responsibility for leading worship, the details of which will unfold in the autumn.

One thing to note now will be the provision of daily prayer material for Lent next year. It will be for use by individuals and groups, at home or in church, with a short scripture passage, a reflection, a prayer and an action for each day.  This was trialled in one Deanery last year and is being revised in the light of feedback.  It will be available electronically and in a paper booklet.  I hope it will give us a much deeper sense of a whole Diocese praying together.

Serve
On the agenda tonight is the nurturing of vocations.  Next week Bishops Karen, Edward and I will ordain 22 clergy, Deacons and Priests.  The Church is blessed by them.  Because of the age profile of the existing clergy, to maintain present numbers of clergy we need a further 6 more every year for 10 years, Deacons and Priests.  That is a significant step up. 

We will grow vocations, lay and ordained, by paying attention to making disciples in the way of Jesus Christ, by encouraging people to make a commitment to faith through baptism and confirmation, by our growing in the life of Christ and encouraging others along the way. I was pleased to licence Jennifer Totney as LLM training officer and I am pleased we have appointed Debbie Orris as Discipleship Coordinator.  She is a Church Army Sister who will be coming here from Buckinghamshire and therefore knows Bishop Karen.  The focus on discipleship is very much a national  movement. It is a priority for us to grown disciples in the way of Jesus Christ and Debbie will be a key resource for us to support the local church in doing this.

Referendum
The Church exists to serve God’s kingdom in the world God made, loves and sustains. This can be very challenging. 

The Referendum is said by both sides to be the most important decision facing this country for many decades.  With a week to go before we vote, I want to say something about the Referendum tonight. 

When preparing what to say I had no idea of the appalling context in which I would be speaking after the murder of Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen. It is deeply shocking. The thoughts and prayers of this synod and the whole country will be with her and her family this night. 

There are Christians of deep integrity on both sides of the debate but one of the things I wanted to say is that the tone and style of the debate has become  deeply damaging. Many of us, and especially those still undecided, feel let down by the quality of the debate, with exaggerated claims and scaremongering on both sides. There has been a coarsening of politics through this campaign which had begun to feel dangerous even before Jo Cox’s murder. 

It does matter that politicians attempt to tell the truth, perhaps especially when passions are strongly felt. There is real danger that in a prolonged period of slow economic growth, austerity, and growing inequality, many people will feel our political institutions are too complex and remote and seem not to deliver for them in their daily lives. 

The three Bishops of the Diocese of Salisbury welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury’s contribution to the debate about the Referendum and join him in saying that we will be voting for the UK to Remain in the EU. Tonight no longer feels the time to make the case but our statement will go on the Diocesan website as to why we think this. 

Passions are running high. We need to make sure that whatever happens we are about the love of God and the love of our neighbour as ourselves. 

This is the most important vote facing the British people in a generation. Whatever your choice, it is a Christian and civic duty to vote on 23 June. 

So we bishops encourage everyone, and especially our churches, to pray about the Referendum, particularly in this last week of debate as we all come to make our decision. 

But tonight we pray for Jo Cox, her family, her constituency and for peace of Jesus Christ our Lord. 

The Church of England published a prayer for the Referendum. We will pray it differently tonight. 

God of truth,
give us grace to debate the issues in this referendum
with honesty and openness.
Give generosity to those who seek to form opinion
and discernment to those who vote,
that our nation may prosper
and that with all the peoples of Europe
we may work for peace and the common good;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

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