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Home Who's who Bishops The Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam. Sermons, articles, and speeches Presidential Address, March Synod 2017

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Presidential Address, March Synod 2017

by glynch — last modified 07 Mar, 2017 08:28 AM

The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, gave the Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod on Saturday 4 March 2017 at St Nicholas in Corfe Mullen

Praying Together Lent 2017

The Pray part of Renewing Hope got Lent off to a good start on Ash Wednesday when Bishop Michael Perham and I launched Praying Together in the cathedral. 25,000 booklets have been distributed across the diocese and the material is on the web site in a variety of forms. If you find spare booklets in your church, what was free now has a scarcity value because there are no more. We thought we had printed enough for active church members but we underestimated by at least a few thousand. It just goes to show that people are interested in prayer and still use books. Please make sure they are all being put to good use.

Praying Together is also available in other formats. By Thursday evening 120 people are getting the daily e-mail. There are also 92 ‘active’ subscribers to the feed on the Prayer Mate app. We anticipate this will grow as it becomes evident that the books have all gone.

We also re-launched the monthly Diocesan Prayer Cycle.  For some time I have been aware that it was not being as well used as might be hoped.  Again, it is now available on the website and in the Prayer Mate app.

[All information on how to use the app, subscribe to the Daily E-mail and download the booklets in PDF form is here.]

As Bishop Michael said on Ash Wednesday:

These daily prayers invite us to develop a deeper commitment to one another as we pray for one another across the churches, parishes, schools and communities of the Diocese, holding up each to God in prayer, supporting one another, naming one another, being thankful for the ministry of each.  The evidence is that we haven’t made as much as we might of this Diocesan cycle of praying and have thus missed some opportunities and Ash Wednesday might be a fresh start day.  A whole Diocese in common prayer for one another each day.  It’s a powerful thought; better still, a powerful reality; and it is all about praying together. 

All of this followed on from four days on prayer, one in each of the Archdeaconries.  They were led by Bishop Michael with Brother Sam SSF and attracted over 500 people. All of this is evidence of an appetite for prayer.

Because of his illness, it is all but certain that Bishop Michael’s sermon in the Cathedral on Ash Wednesday was his last.  At the end of the Archdeaconry days Bishop Michael probably presided at the Eucharist in public for the last time including at St George’s Oakdale where he had been Team Rector. These last months have been an astonishing gift as he nears the end of his life and one for which both he and we are deeply grateful.

As you know, Bishop Karen will now chair the Pray Forum so the work that Bishop Michael has begun among us continues.

On Shrove Tuesday I wrote an Ad Clerum. This is very much a letter from me as Bishop to clergy colleagues, the bishop as shepherd to the shepherds.  However, they are not secret and do contain useful information.  So it, too, is on the website.  I particularly want to draw your attention to the Lent Appeal for the South Sudan.

Lent Appeal for the South Sudan

As a Diocese we have been linked with what is now the South Sudan for 44 years.  It is a part of the world in which there has been relentless conflict.  After the hope of independence in July 2011, they have fallen back into violence and there is great suffering.  Some 3.4 million women, men and children are displaced from their homes.  The economy has collapsed, malnutrition has soared and hunger has taken a firm hold.  At least 100,000 people are now facing starvation and a further one million are on the brink of famine.  We cannot do nothing and I am appealing to the Diocese for urgent help for our brothers and sisters.

You might have seen reports that Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis are considering a joint visit to the South Sudan at the request of the South Sudanese Council of Churches.  If they go, they will want to know we will be behind them with prayer and practical assistance.  This is an urgent time and much is needed of us.

Our link began with prayer so that informed prayer would lead to financial giving and the development of a partnership in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This Lent I invite us to rediscover the joy of this: giving generously to those who are in great need. As we read today from Isaiah when Praying Together:

If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.     Isa 58.10

Our Lent Appeal will be given to Christian Aid’s crisis appeal for the South Sudan so that we are part of the coordinated and local response where there is greatest need.  Please find ways individually and together to collect for humanitarian aid to feed the people of the South Sudan in this present crisis.

You can donate online through JustGiving at

You can give by text message. Send “SSUD17 £10” to 70070 to give £10 via text message.

You can make a cheque payable to Salisbury DBF SSA. Send to South Sudan Appeal, Church House, Crane Street, Salisbury, SP1 2QB.

Renewing Hope

Over a period of years we have committed ourselves as the Church in this Diocese to Renewing Hope – Pray, Serve, Grow.  This is a mission or vision statement to nurture the culture of the Diocese of Salisbury and strengthen our life together in the way of Jesus Christ, not a top-down programme.  It has grown out of local conversations in which we have sought to address the difficulties that we face and grasp some of the opportunities that abound. Centrally each of our Boards has organised around this commitment – Education, Learning for Discipleship and Ministry, Mission and Finance. Archdeaconries, deaneries, benefices, parishes and chaplaincies have also used it to organise and plan. The Church exists most visibly and clearly in its local form and many say they have found Renewing Hope helpful.

Renewing Hope: Pray, Serve, Grow includes a strong focus on growing disciples and increasing the number of vocations to lay and ordained ministry. We have recognised all along that there is a financial implication in our going for growth in numbers as well as in depth so we will not be able to contain Fair Share at below the rate of inflation as we have done for 10 years. If Fair Share numbers increase we will have a virtuous circle and the financial load will begin to get a little easier but Fair Share numbers have not yet turned so it actually feels a bit harder. I think we have 2 or 3 years to see if the pattern begins to change. If it doesn’t we will need a different strategy but there are some green shoots to encourage us.

With the Church of England nationally we are focussing on discipleship and the appointment of Debbie Orris as Discipleship Co-ordinator is an indication of this. It is early days for her but  the Confirmations project led by Neil Larkey does now seem to be making a difference. We are seeing candidates from more parishes and chaplaincies including some where there have not been Confirmations for years.  Numbers last year were very slightly up on the previous year. The encouragement of new people is, of course, good for the whole Church.

The focus on vocations, lay and ordained, has generated a lot of interest. 90 people are working with Benny Hazelhurst and his vocations team. 14 have been or are going to Bishop’s Advisory Panels with a view to starting training for ordination in September. It looks likely we will have the 50% increase in ordinands that we are looking for this year and for the next 9 years in order to replace the clergy who will be retiring in that period.

This is an answer to prayer and very good news. It can only happen with deaneries, benefices, parishes and chaplaincies developing disciples, bringing people to Confirmation and encouraging people to think and pray about their vocation.

General Synod

It is significant that General Synod did not take note of the Bishops’ report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships but it is much less clear what was being said. One thing we would agree on is that  LGBTI people are already here as valued members of the Church so there is something profoundly wrong in welcoming ‘them’ when ‘they’ are in fact ‘us’.

The debate was in many ways helpful and, although feelings ran high, it took place very much in the spirit of the ‘shared conversations’ leading to it.  As we know, there are strongly divergent views held in good faith.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have set an agenda for the next phase of our discussions.

As requested by them I will be calling a meeting of our General Synod representatives and will include those from this Diocese who took part in our ‘shared conversations’. 

The Bishop of Newcastle will chair a Pastoral Oversight group to advise dioceses about pastoral care within the existing law and guidelines.

The Archbishops suggested there should be a debate in general terms on marriage and sexuality to give General Synod an opportunity to consider together those things we do affirm.

Renewing Hope -Serve

Diocesan Synod always has considerable variety within it and there is never a single focus. Nevertheless today’s Synod is mainly in that part of Renewing Hope that Serves. There is tremendous vitality and growth in the social justice element of serving with some answers to prayers and the commitment of significant numbers of people. There is much to pray for and much to give thanks to God for.    

The care of creation is the fifth mark of mission[i], one of the ways in which we show whether we are serious about life in the way of Jesus Christ.  It is one of the issues with which young people are deeply engaged. Because I am the Church of ‘lead bishop’ on environmental affairs I am particularly pleased by our diocesan commitments and concerned that we should do even more and better. This is particularly important in a political context in which there is concern that we retain our commitment to the Paris agreement on climate change made just over a year ago. It is a remarkable achievement getting 195 countries to agree that we need to move rapidly to be carbon neutral by the end of the century.

There is also increasing concern about the rapidly decreasing biodiversity of the planet.

Churches have an important part to play because how we live is a reflection of what we believe. There is a disconnect between what we know and the way we continue to behave. I have heard scientists and politicians comment on this. It is of course a spiritual gap, the sort of thing St Paul commented on.

The good that I would I do not but the evil which I would not, that I do. (Romans 7.19)

There are a lot of ways in which we can address this and our Diocesan Environment Group have been working hard at this with us and for us. It is our duty and our joy. Today they and I want Synod’s engagement with the proposed revised environment policy.

Eco Church is a brilliant way of engaging the local church. It has been developed by the Christian environmental charity A’Rocha working with the Church of England and other churches. It is an online resource which recognises those making an effort through the life and witness of the local church as well as leading you towards excellence. Nearly a thousand churches have registered for the scheme. Seven cathedrals have bronze awards, Salisbury among them. In this diocese three churches already have bronze awards and Hillfield Friary got the very first gold award.

This has such appositive impact on communities and is an act of witness and evangelism.

Imagine the positive impact if every church in England and Wales was to become an Eco Church: together they would form a vast network of centres of creation care – shining beacons of hope for God’s world!

From the A’Rocha website about Eco church.

We would like to become an eco-diocese and I hope that today we will agree to register our firm intention to do so. It might be rather like what we now take for granted that we are a Fairtrade diocese, a decision made many years years ago that changed our behaviour because of our belief.

In England, Harvest Festival was a nineteenth century invention. It celebrates the gifts of creation and the fruits of the earth. In the 1960’s it gained a new twist by being linked with development by the overseas aid agencies such as Christian Aid: “There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.” “I believe in life before death.” Etc. increasingly churches are using Harvest as part of a season of Creation-tide, from 1st September and the Day of Prayer for Creation called for by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the World Council of Churches through to St Francis Day on 4th October. There are plenty of resources to help make this a creative season in the life of the church and many opportunities to use it for evangelism and mission.

Increasingly I see the elements of Renewing Hope – Pray, Serve, Grow as integrated, not separate. They are the way of God in Jesus Christ in whom we live and move and have our being to whom be glory now and for ever. Amen.

[i] The Five Marks of Mission are:

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

(Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6 p49, Mission in a Broken World-1990 ACC-8 p101)

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