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Diocesan Synod

July 2013

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

Bishop Christopher addresses Synod

On behalf of this Synod I express thanks to Wendy Robins and the Communications Team for producing the Annual Review.  This document is a reminder of the work of the Boards, Working Groups and Committees of the Diocese.  The wonderful work, mission and ministry taken forwards in our parishes is well reported in the pages of the Bridge month by month.

I draw great encouragement from the following:

  1. The Call to Mission which has been enthusiastically taken up especially within Diocesan Schools
  2. The importance of our Church schools supported by the Board of Education which works with 12 local authorities and includes some 35,000 thousand children and young people and students across South London and East Surrey.
  3.  The importance of the work of Area MEACCs – nearly 35% of members of Diocesan congregations are from ethnic minorities, this figure is nearly double what it was in 2002.
  4. The Diamond Jubilee and Olympics and Paralympics and how they were embraced by the Diocese.
  5. The importance of the work of Ministry and Training and those who are selected for training and supported through their formation and ministerial journeys for ordained and lay ministry.
  6. The growing importance of safeguarding throughout the work of the Diocese.

Before I ask you to receive the Annual Review I want to set 2012 in the broader context of our current direction of travel as a Diocese. 

In 2012 three major strands of mission and ministry came together in the Diocese of Southwark:  Faith Hope Love, my Call to Mission, Signs of Growth and then last November this Diocesan Synod gave its approval to the Strategy for Ministry report, a major piece of work carried out in the course of the year on behalf of the Bishop’s Council and personally commissioned by me.  

Its purpose was to discern, in the light of the financial challenges facing the Diocese, how best to match ministry opportunities with available resources, and to provide a process and structure for discussing, forming and implementing a medium to longer term strategy for mission and ministry. In doing so, we drew on the results of a thorough process of consultation across the Diocese which informed and shaped the Strategy document which emerged. 

The Strategy for Ministry report begins with my vision for our shared calling and confidence in Christ.  It sets out 25 recommendations, to be implemented over five years, and the recommendations are supported by six more detailed working papers, which are starting points for further work, each addressing a key area - prayer, stewardship of God’s resources, mission and engagement, developing collaborative ministry, vocation and development of Deaneries. 

The report notes my strong commitment to maintaining as many stipendiary clergy as possible.  However, in order to safeguard Diocesan finances for the future, the report recommended a carefully managed programme of post reductions- two per Episcopal Area per year for five years, a total reduction of 30 posts – which is now underway.

The report makes clear that to reduce posts is not a strategy for ministry, so it asks the question “Where are we being called to discern new ways in which God is calling us?”  Some clear priorities emerged: renewal of the gifts of the whole people of God, a re-energised focus on mission, including Mission Action Planning, which we will be discussing later in this Synod, and breathing new life into the Deaneries.  It was also evident from the consultation process that the Fairer Shares Scheme should be reviewed, in order to ensure that the way in which the Share is raised and ministry resources allocated are theologically grounded, mission-focussed and financially coherent. 

Following the debate in this Synod, which gave its strong backing to the report, the November 2012 meeting of Bishop’s Council agreed a detailed Action Plan which sets out how the recommendations will be taken forward.   Strategy for Ministryis no longer primarily a report.  It is an on-going process, and the Bishop’s Council appointed an Implementation Group to oversee the different aspects of the work and to monitor progress, chaired in its first year by the Archdeacon of Wandsworth, who has given regular updates to Diocesan Synod, Bishop’s Council and the Diocesan Board of Finance.  I am grateful to Archdeacon Stephen Roberts for chairing the Implementation Group in these early months. 

Adrian Greenwood is chairing a newly-formed Deaneries Group to promote the role of our Deaneries and to consider how to enhance lay discipleship and leadership in mission and ministry and following discussion and debate in this Synod the group has produced material to raise awareness of the 2014 Deanery Synod elections and to encourage people to stand.

A Root and Branch Review of the Fairer Shares Scheme, fully representative in its membership of the breadth of the Diocese, and chaired by Canon Simon Butler, is now well under way with its work.

The 2012 Strategy for Ministry report has indeed fulfilled its brief in providing us with a process and structure for discussing, forming and implementing a medium to longer term strategy for the Diocese, which I am sure will bear fruit long into the future.

Nationally of course, 2012 will be remembered for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the success of the London Olympics and Paralympics.  Voluntary endeavour and sharing the message of the Gospel continue to be key elements in the wider ministry of the Church across the Diocese though this year there is a marked contrast with the note of celebration sounded by the Olympics in 2012. 

The last 12 months have seen the opening of a large number of Food Banks.  We give thanks for the ecumenical partnerships that have brought together parishes and partners from different local churches. The key to these initiatives is to ensure support for those who are suffering from a lack of sufficient money to meet basic living costs.

In giving thanks for this important contribution to this ministry of hospitality and compassion we must not lose sight of the wider question of why it has been necessary to open so many Food Banks in the first place. It is a scandal that in twenty-first century London and more widely across the UK Food Banks are so vital and necessary. In seeking to help people in need we must not lose sight of the question why so many of our brothers and sisters in this community have insufficient money to meet their day to day living costs.

The answer in part comes from the cuts in State Benefits that are beginning to have an impact on many individuals and families. I recognise the need to reduce the costs associated with State Benefits but in London the cost of living is higher than in other parts of the country and therefore the hardship created by cuts is going to be that much greater.

 It is important to note that low pay and cuts in State Benefits can be the precursor of poor diet and ill health which by default underpin greater expenditure on public services. A living wage and benefits that are sufficient to live on are an imperative if we want and expect to live in a good society.

In considering the issue of changes in Benefits that reduce income for those who are living on the margins and already experiencing poverty there is a profound challenge to all of us. Our vision of national life springs from our Christian convictions and the Faith Hope and Love which we wish to share in Christ’s name.  It is also built on the principles of the Common Good. 

The message of Matthew 25 with its emphasis on service to the dispossessed as service to Christ himself is set alongside the challenge set out in Luke 4 with the call for justice in the bringing of good news to the poor, release for the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed as the year of the Lord’s favour is proclaimed.  In working for the good of all we need a critique of why there are families and individuals in the Diocese who are falling through society’s safety net.

The challenge we face in taking our mission forward is to focus on the building up of a good society where everyone is given equal status and no one is dependent on charity.

The Church has rightly sought to place itself at the heart of these issues and will continue to do so. Our commitment to the well being of our communities is also evidenced in our work in the field of education. In this we are well supported by our Board of Education and tonight we bid farewell as a Synod to Barbara Lane who has served with considerable distinction as its Director and now approaches retirement. Under Barbara’s tenure the Board and our Schools have gone from strength to strength and the Diocese is rightly regarded as a leading Educational provider and a place in which best practice is encouraged and a strong contribution to the National Debate is made. More detailed tributes will be paid to Barbara at the Cathedral next Thursday during Evensong at 5.30pm. On that occasion I will also install Barbara as a Lay Canon in recognition of her achievements and contributions as well as her intention to continue to support the Cathedral and Diocese. For us tonight it is simply right to say to Barbara “Thank you” – thank you for your commitment, your professional zeal and expertise, indeed for everything you have brought to us as a Synod and Diocese.

Later this evening I will also welcome Tim Goode who is going to be our Diocesan Disability Adviser. Tim brings with him great experience and knowledge as well as a warm wit and lively mind and we look forward to his working in this field, alongside his parish responsibilities.

Our Diocese continues to grow in strength, in holiness and in joy in its ministry and mission. The Diocesan Review is a vibrant testament to this and above all a testament to our enduring Faith in the Lord who is risen, ascended and glorified and in whose name we continue to labour.

Members of Synod, I invite you to receive the Annual Review.