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Diocesan Synod

July 2014

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

Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
My Presidential Address this evening at the request of the Business Committee will be a look back at 2013 as I propose the motion that we receive the Annual Reports and Reviews.

2013 was marked by the welcoming into office of a new Archbishop of Canterbury, a milestone for all Anglicans, who was enthroned two days after the inauguration of Pope Francis in Rome.  Archbishop Justin Welby undertook a pilgrimage of prayer leading to his installation in Canterbury Cathedral through various dioceses in the Province, including Southwark. It was an honour to welcome him into the Diocese half way across the Millennium Bridge and with a merry band of fellow pilgrims, including members of the Zimbabwe Choir, accompany the Archbishop to Borough Market and into Southwark Cathedral where many people came to join him in prayer during a cold wet Saturday afternoon in March.

At the end of January 2013 I accompanied the Bishops of Woolwich and Croydon on their inaugural visits to their link dioceses of Manicaland and Central Zimbabwe and also visited Bishop Godfrey in Masvingo which is linked with the Cathedral, the first Episcopal visit there from Southwark.  The Bishop of Kingston visited Matabeleland in September to share in the 60th anniversary celebrations of the diocese.  In May I also made an initial visit to the Diocese of Bergen in Norway a year after welcoming Bishop Halvor to this diocese when we signed a declaration of friendship and common purpose in Christ. The year was one in which we continued to build on Faith, Hope, Love: my Call to Mission as it entered its second and final year.  A highlight was the ‘Faith, Hope, Love’ Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land which I led jointly with the Dean, Andrew Nunn, and over 130 pilgrims from our parishes

Faith is central to the calling of all Christians in how we share and live out our faith in the Living God who loves all that he has made beyond measure. A deeper understanding of what Hope means for the Christian has helped us to look beyond our immediate worshiping communities. Parishes and Church Schools were invited to work out the implications of the Call to Mission with a particular emphasis on how to share the Love of God with the wider community. The way the Call to Mission captured the imagination of our schools has been one of the great blessings of Faith, Hope, Love and I am grateful for some memorable school visits.

In the life of the Diocese there has been strong commitment to the Strategy for Ministry which received the overwhelming support of the Diocesan Synod ahead of its launch at the beginning of 2013.  It sprang from the three priorities that I set following the Charge given to me by the Archbishop of Canterbury when I became Diocesan Bishop: Vocational Renewal, Lay Empowerment and Breathing new life into our Deaneries.

Strategy for Ministry is about resourcing and delivering Ministry and Mission across the Diocese, not just in the context of various challenges in the short term, but preparing good soil for the long term. Implementation of the recommendations as approved by Diocesan Synod was coordinated in 2013 by The Archdeacon of Wandsworth, Stephen Roberts. A ‘Root and Branch’ group coordinated by the Chair of the House of Clergy, Canon Simon Butler, began to review how we assess and collect parish financial support for the costs of our clergy and administration.  This work has been taken significantly forward in recent months and as a Synod we now await firm proposals pending the outcome of a joint meeting of the Bishop’s Council and Diocesan Board of Finance later in the month.  A ‘Breathing New Life into Deaneries’ working group, coordinated by the Chair of the House of Laity, Adrian Greenwood, was given the task of what it says on the label, Breathing new life into Deaneries!  It is essential that we work to release the gifts and potential of both laity and clergy, noting the significance of deepening partnerships between parishes in ministering to local communities.

Important as Strategy for Ministry is, it will bear fruit only to the extent that we are Christ centred and outward focused in everything we seek to do and to be, the Lord being our helper.  I am therefore immensely thankful to God and to all my brothers and sisters in Christ in this Diocese that alongside due recognition of the need to engage with the challenges we face in terms of our life together, energy and commitment has been poured into support for foodbanks, credit unions, street pastors, floating shelters for growing numbers of homeless people in our midst and much else that attests with joy to the love of Christ for those in greatest need.  The growth in the number of foodbanks across the Diocese is an example of how we can share hope with those who are struggling with the basic necessities of life. In addition Archbishop Justin alerted us to the perils of ‘Pay Day Loans’ and credit traps, challenging the Church to be a strong advocate for Credit Unions.

My forward to the report details the various staffing changes both in Trinity House and amongst the Bishop’s Staff Team. I continue to be profoundly grateful to colleagues, past and present, for their wisdom, faith and professionalism.

The Diocese is facing a period of change. The importance of financial well being is key to ensuring that we can continue to serve the parishes and communities of South London and East Surrey. In working for the wider common good we need to recognise that many families and individuals are living through difficult times. We are called to serve all the people who live in our Diocese.  This demands that we are all open to the call of God and look to him for guidance on how we offer service.  I am deeply thankful for the dedicated service of all our clergy and all who take responsibility for Mission and Ministry. As Diocesan Bishop, my calling to be the leader in mission for the Diocese is one which I gladly share with my fellow bishops and many others, including all those who when entrusted with new ministry as incumbents, ‘receive the cure of souls which is both mine and yours’.

In the light of all of this I was asked recently 'what, in the future, do I want the Diocese of Southwark to be', what are my aspirations or vision for us as a community of those whose lives are bound together in Jesus Christ, as his body in the world. Well it was quite a question! When I reflected on this, I was drawn strongly to the encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus.

I have expanded on why I believe this passage of the Scriptures speaks so powerfully into our journey together in my sermon at the Diocesan Pentecost Service – it is on the website if you have not yet come across it. The particular verse that has always resonated with me is when the disciples reflect on their encounter with the risen Lord. 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the Scriptures to us? (Luke 24.32) In other words were not our hearts on fire with the power and knowledge of his love?

So in the life of the Diocese I want our hearts to be on fire as people who love God, who walk with Jesus and who are led by the Spirit. And so as those who love God, walk with Jesus and are led by the Spirit I also took the opportunity to re-articulate the priorities I have set for the Diocese. For in response to our generous God we will - release gifts, renew vocations, deepen Discipleship, be the Church.

This is my vision for us as God's people and I commend it to you in the knowledge and hope that you will take it to heart and to prayer. May each of us have a heart which is on fire, may we love God, walk with Jesus and be led by the Spirit and in this Diocese where beauty, justice and truth abound, may we release the gifts we have, be renewed in our vocation, deepened in our discipleship and joyfully be the Church.

There is so much in our life and witness to celebrate, give thanks for and affirm, that I hope we may walk into the future with Hearts on Fire with the knowledge of God’s Love and our desire to share it. But for now we give thanks for the year that was 2013 and I propose the motion standing in my name.