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Diocesan Synod

July 2011

Presidential Address by The Bishop of Southwark, The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun


Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
Brothers and Sisters,

As we meet tonight I want to begin by paying tribute to Archdeacon Tony Davies, who retires in September and to whom we will be bidding farewell over the next few weeks as well as at the end of this meeting. Tony has been the longest serving Archdeacon in the Church of England having been appointed as Archdeacon of Croydon in 1994 by Bishop Roy Williamson, working for many years alongside Bishop Wilfred Wood and more recently Bishop Nick Baines in the Croydon Area Mission Team.

Tony was ordained in 1973 and served his title in Durham Diocese. The rest of his ministry has been in Southwark, serving first as Priest- in-Charge and then Vicar of St Faith, Wandsworth and then as Vicar of St John, Walworth before becoming Archdeacon of Croydon.

His retirement will be marked by farewell services at Croydon Minster at 7.30pm on Friday and at Southwark Cathedral at 3pm on Sunday 17 July.

As Archdeacon, Tony’s contributions to the life of the diocese have been many and varied, not least as a valued holder and guardian of the corporate memory for the Bishop’s Staff meeting. He has chaired the property and parsonages board with great wisdom and shaped the way in which we house clergy with practical and environmental focus. Indeed his impact on the property portfolio of the diocese will continue well into the future. From 1998-2010 he was Bishop’s Adviser for Deliverance Ministry and from 2000 Bishop’s Adviser for Healthcare Chaplaincy. Tony has been a good support to the various Bishops of Croydon and Southwark with whom he has worked, as well as to his fellow Archdeacons. He has also been a faithful pastor to clergy and laity alike. Indeed he has worked well across the traditions of the Church of England, being a supporter to all whilst being faithful to his own views and position on the ordained ministry.

His wisdom, insight and humour will be much missed. Tony we are grateful for your service in the Gospel, for your friendship and for your encouragement;  we assure you of our prayers and wish you a long and happy retirement. And we will give you some applause later.

The ministry of Archdeacons often goes unsung, but our Archdeacons are essential to the pattern of life in the diocese, upholding the Area system and undertaking Diocesan wide responsibilities. They are a support and a resource for our churches and parishes, helping to navigate the various challenges faced in buildings and governance as well as giving pastoral care and support and encouraging growth, mission and renewal. It is good that Barry Goodwin will provide continuity by  becoming Acting Archdeacon of Croydon. I am grateful to him for undertaking this. Alongside this the process for the appointment of a new Dean of Southwark goes forward and the post will be advertised later this week and all are free to apply. Following the last Synod the Dioceses Commission has agreed with the proposal to appoint new Area Bishops and this has received the endorsement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The House of Bishops’ process will be followed and we are making good progress on this.

The Perry report, prepared for the new Bishop of Southwark, challenges us to shape our structures in order that they may shape the church in Southwark for mission. Breathing new life into our structures, renewing them for mission, will be a key task in the months ahead. Our Archdeaconries and Deaneries with all their diversity and glorious distinctiveness are in need of some fresh thinking and reflection. This is a challenge to clergy and laity alike.

We need to do some serious reflection on our Deaneries as places of mutual support, encouragement and common service to a network of communities. It could be that Deaneries are able to be more pro-active as centres of mission and ministry encouraged by Area Deans and Lay Chairs alike. Perhaps we need to think more about the role of our Area Deans and how they are resourced. We might reflect on how the Deanery Synods contribute effectively to governance and mission. We could think more about how we breathe new life into these structures.  This certainly is a challenge, it is a challenge that also can be embraced in our parishes

To the clergy there is always the challenge to renew thinking, to take a step back and reflect with their laity on what is working well and drawing people in, and to ask the more complicated question of  what hinders or frustrates ministry and mission. It is clear that the older patterns of everything being clergy dependant are no longer sustainable, nor does it give full voice to the faithful who are called to participate in the running of their churches and sharing in God’s mission. Indeed one of the glories of the Anglican tradition – we might describe it as part of our patrimony – is the partnership that properly exists between clergy and laity in the ministry and mission of the church, mirrored in our synodical structures.

This also gives to the laity a challenge. A challenge to be more involved and committed to take responsibility and participate. It is vital that our lay people, from across our diversity, are properly equipped, enabled and empowered to fully participate. I long to see the diversity, skills and gifts that I meet in our lay people as I travel throughout the diocese, being more fully represented in our structures and decision making. We have to be encouraging and inviting whilst inspiring and enabling our brothers and sisters in the Lord to respond.

As we seek to renew our life together I am constantly moved by the goodwill and strong desire to deepen partnership that I find in all parts of the diocese. We must sustain this spirit of strong common purpose in thanksgiving and hope. It is important in the face of the various winds that blow across the world-wide Anglican Communion that we hold fast to a confident and generous vision of Anglican identity. Thomas More, whom we commemorate this very day, observed wisely in 1515 “You must not forsake the ship in a tempest because you cannot rule and keep down the winds”.

The desire to deepen partnership in the Gospel is one that needs to extend to all parts of our Diocese, that is my hope for all our brothers and sisters in Christ. We in our faithful discipleship follow a way that is life enhancing and builds the kingdom with common purpose. Indeed this desire for partnership and unity in Christ needs to be bigger than our own personal opinions of many of the matters that currently cause lively debate. With the recent publicity concerning a new grouping which I gather chooses to call itself “Anglican Mission in England” it is important that we showcase in this Diocese our confidence in an Anglican identity built around lively partnerships in the Gospel which unite the people of God and celebrate remarkable diversity. Meanwhile we need also to be clear about the authorisation of ministry within the Church of England, diocese by diocese. I do, therefore, wish it to be known that all authorised Anglican Ministry in the diocese of Southwark does, of course, require the licence of the Bishop of Southwark.

Given the wider implications of what we are hearing about, this is now properly a matter of concern for the Archbishop of Canterbury. I believe that it is very important that Bishops act collegially and this is the path that I will seek to tread. There is strength in this collegiality and through it the office of the Archbishop as an Instrument of Unity in the Communion is upheld. I commend this approach to others.

The desire to work together, to celebrate the diverse nature of our diocese whilst realising at our hearts this stems from a common love of Christ and a desire to share the good news means that as we renew our structures, challenge and empower the laity we also need to be renewed in vocation.  Renewing our structures, empowering lay people – well this can only happen if we are renewed in our first love – the love of the Lord. God calls each of us. He calls each of us to serve him, to be his disciples, to declare his love, healing and forgiveness. We need always to renew this sense of his vocation, to stir up the gift of the Holy Spirit within us, that we might be ready to serve and respond.

Vocational renewal is about encouraging more vocations to the ordained ministry – especially from our BAME communities. We need to encourage strongly those that seek to discern the will of the Lord; we must provide good role models and create a climate that fosters vocations; so that the journey is properly accompanied. Nevertheless vocational renewal is also about renewing ourselves – or rather allowing God to renew us. We must pray for the stirring and disturbing gift of the Spirit and seek to be attentive to the voice of the Lord. This is what enables us to endure as the Body of Christ, the community of faith in our parishes, deaneries, archdeaconries and diocese.

Pray for the gift of renewal. Pray for the gift of the Spirit to disturb, empower and equip us for mission and service. Pray that the Lord may continue to raise up faithful disciples to bear their share in the life of the local church.

One of the great fruits of prayer for renewal and prayer for vocation is seen in lives that are changed and offered for service. One of the greatest privileges of Episcopal Ministry is found in ordaining new deacons and priests. It is a great joy to hand on the gift of ministry that is expressed in ordination. Last weekend I ordained 9 deacons; wonderfully different individuals, bringing the most extraordinary variety of gifts, experiences and passion to ministry. Also last weekend 14 new priests were ordained for service in the diocese, already rooted in their parish communities of faith. They  join alongside the ministry of gifted and experienced Incumbents and lay leaders alike and they  help in the task that God entrusts to his church.

The ministry of the Church is always being renewed in this way. It is what it is to be part of communities that are apostolic; communities where faith is handed on, shared and celebrated.

Last week I was delighted to be offered the chance to ascend a little closer to heaven. Indeed in the midst of a thunderstorm I found myself being called ever higher and ascending to the heights. Now before  you think this was some prophetic manifestation worthy of Elijah, I must say that I was simply visiting the three-quarters built Shard.

Canon Andrew Nunn and I were invited to inspect work in progress on this great monolith and to hear something of what it was about and how it will be used. It was a great visit, but one fact astonished, surprised and amazed me. We were told by the project managers that the estimated life span of the building was 60 years. Yes hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds, many, many, many, hours of toil, work, design and construction and all for an expected life span of 60 years. The Shard casts a shadow over our Cathedral, a building and a community of faith that has been constantly renewed in faithful service, that has been an enduring presence for at least 1400 years. It is quite a contrast to the Church of England perspective on presence sustained in every community in this land through the generations.

The things of the modern age are transient, short-lived and fading. They are costly and quickly will be reduced to dust. In renewing our calling in encouraging and empowering lay people and in seeking to breathe new life into our structures we will ensure that the faith of the Church, its apostolic witness and ministry continues to endure, the Lord being our helper.