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Home Who's who Bishops The Bishop of Salisbury Sermons, articles and media Presidential Address - November Synod 2017

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Presidential Address - November Synod 2017

by Gerry Lynch last modified 20 Nov, 2017 11:21 PM

Bishop Nicholas gave the Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod meeting on 18 November 2017, at Sarum Academy in Salisbury

It is very good to be at Sarum Academy again.  Their recent Ofsted Inspection deemed them ‘Good’ in all six of the key inspection criteria and ‘Good’ overall. This represents a very significant turn-around. Most of all it is good for the students but I am sure that you will join me in also congratulating the staff, governors and the Diocesan Board of Education for making such progress. 

This Synod is focused particularly on mission so I am grateful to members of the Mission Council for planning and leading our worship.  There was a bit of discussion about the readings and whether they were too obvious – Joshua 1.1-9 and Matthew 28.16-20.  That discussion says something significant.  Christianity is a missionary religion, one in which disciples are sent out to share good news, proclaim peace and bring healing to the world.  That is our core purpose and we do it by the witness of our lives in a variety of ways but especially through sharing good news, evangelism, by prayer and service as people who seek to live here and now on earth as citizens of the kingdom that in Christ is already in heaven.  It changes all our relationships and holds out the hope of forgiveness, reconciliation and new life.  In Christ God renews our hope. 

I have been struck by the amount of not such good news we have had recently. We really have had a belly full of illness among clergy and their spouses. Some is serious but treatable. Some is long-term and has to be lived with. I think you will all know that the Archdeacon of Sherborne is off work for the time being following the death of his mother but also because of his wife, Jan’s, illness. All illness reminds us that the Christian life is not about how well it goes but of God being with us and sharing both our joys and sorrows. 

How we live with sorrow can be a particularly significant witness in our communities. The people of Swanage at the moment are having a difficult time following the disappearance of 19 year old Gaia Pope who appears to have been murdered.  Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time.  On Tuesday evening seventy people attended a prayer service. The picture seems to change every day but the church is a space where people can think and pray about what has happened in their community.  Being with people, abiding with them and not fleeing in difficult circumstances, is the ministerial and missional task.  It is what God does for us. 

In Shaftsbury in September there were a couple of really difficult funerals. The Team Rector, Helen Dawes, commented that when the Church does these things well it has an impact on the whole community. It would be wrong to think of them as mission ‘opportunities’. They have to be undertaken pastorally; caring for people simply because they need being with and caring for, abiding with the community in the way God abides with us in Christ. 

The Gospel began at an empty tomb and the way in which Christians care for the living and the dead has been a consistent witness through the ages.  When the Church does this well it is the most extraordinary effective witness. “Love God and love your neighbour as yourself”, not perfectly but with a clear purpose and direction of travel. It is the purpose and mission of the Church to embody the abiding love of God in Christ. It is what the Church seeks to do in every community day in day out. To that extent it is God’s continuing small miracle of the Diocese of Salisbury. 

A few other things from the ordinary day to day are worth comment here at Synod. 

Don’t believe everything you read in the press and hear in the media. All the nonsense about children being allowed to dress up in tiaras and tutus was in fact about a report called ‘Valuing All God’s Children’ that said bullying for whatever reason is absolutely wrong and should not be tolerated. No school, and no Christian school, could think otherwise. We have to address bullying wherever and whenever it happens and for whatever reasons. 

Last month I was much encouraged by chairing The Church Times Green Awards. The 113 entries from all over the country showed how the care of God’s creation has become part of the way Christians understand our core purpose of witnessing to the creative and regenerative love of God. The entries set new bench marks in terms of what we can aim for in our churches and communities. I was particularly glad that the short listed projects included Holy Trinity Bradford on Avon for the very high environmental standards of their renewed building and that our Franciscan Brother Hugh at Hillfield was recognised as one of the Church of England’s top environmental champions. Good news renewing hope for all of us and a serious proclamation of the Gospel for the sake of the world. 

Values are rooted in beliefs and a prolonged period of austerity challenges us to hold to our beliefs and values. Because of the Gospel the Church has to have a care for the poor. So the news about those who did not receive the proper payment of sickness benefit and about the continuing delays in the payment of Universal Credit is our concern. It is good when this is challenged and even better when mistakes are corrected. There does seem to be a real danger in an age of austerity of our turning inwards and not holding to the values that make Britain a good place to be.

In Parliament a few weeks ago I hosted a group of twenty young people who came to the UK as unaccompanied minors after a period living in the Calais Jungle.  They came on the first anniversary of the clearance of the Jungle to thank Parliament and the people of the UK for their welcome and hospitality. 

The twenty came from places like Dharfur in Sudan and Hellmand Province in Afghanistan. Individually they told harrowing stories. One told me that he had seen death many times. He is 17years old. Ishmael, now 18, from Syria, thanked the British Parliament and people for giving them a new home. He said, “A country that kills its own sons is not a country. I believe my country is Britain now.  It is our duty now in our new country to be part of the British community and help build it together. Nothing in the world can change that.” 

They presented a plaque for Parliament to Lord Dubbs, who himself had come to the UK as a child refugee as one of the Kindertransport:

We thank the British people and Parliament for giving us peace. We found a beautiful life in the UK, so different to the life we fled. We were suffering, but now we are safe.

An MP said that these youngsters were among the most courageous people in the world. It was striking to see them face to face and to realize how much they encouraged the best from us. The welcome and hospitality we show them reveals something about ourselves and the values of our society. My sense is that this country wishes to take in these unaccompanied children, not send them “home” when they reach the age of 21 as could happen to any of them from places now thought to be safe for them to return.  With so many unaccompanied minors still caught up in the largest movement of migrants since the Second World War it is a scandal that we have fallen so far short of the 3,000 agreed in Parliament by taking fewer than 300, and that 280 places for refugee children offered by local authorities remain unfilled. We could do so much better.

Now on today’s agenda. 

We are glad Jill Hopkinson has come to share insights about shaping strategies for mission and growth in the rural church.  Jill has considerable knowledge and experience in this area which is the focus of the successful bid made by the Diocese for Strategic Development Funding from the central Church of England. For us to receive £1.2 million for this piece of work is a great encouragement and will be a significant opportunity to renew hope in the local rural church.  We hope this work will leaven the whole diocese not just the rural church, to think about mission and core purpose.  It is about supporting the church in its local form, which is where the Church of England is at its best. 

In Renewing Hope, we have made significant progress with Pray and Serve.  Growth is more difficult though plenty that is going well.  Vocations for ordained and lay ministry have increased, for ordained ministry by almost the 50% we were looking for by 2020.  The focus on discipleship seems to be gaining traction.  Confirmation numbers, which stabilised last year, are significantly up this year.  Thank you to every parish and Christian community that has helped to achieve this.  It means that people of every age are thinking about making a commitment to Christ and doing so publicly.  For youngsters this can be particularly significant.  The confirmation project which Neil Larkey has led, seems to have helped us turn a corner.  It looks as though there will be a 10% increase in the number of people being confirmed this year with a total over 600 people.  (Bishop Karen will be leaving Synod early to go to a Confirmation in Beaminster.) 

So, there is encouragement but the fair share number, which is the base number we have been using in this diocese since 2000, has continued to decline.  When we started Renewing Hope, we said we would give ourselves 5 years to see if we can turn the numbers round.  If we continue as we are, we will need to do something different in the next 18 months to 2 years.  In preparation for this I am going to set up a small working group in the New Year to look at examples of church growth in the diocese in every tradition and in a variety of social contexts to see what lessons we can learn from one other.  

Church growth is not the be all and end all.  Our focus is on the Kingdom of God.  Nevertheless, our hope is healthy and lively churches which are attractive and help individuals and communities to grow in the way of Jesus Christ.  

In every place we continue to pray and serve and in many places we continue to grow in a variety of ways.  It is one of God’s small miracles that the Church of England flourishes as much as we do.  I can’t think of anything else in the voluntary sector that is as vibrant or to which people are so committed.  It is reflected in the agenda for this synod. I hope we will have an enjoyable and interesting day.

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