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Diocesan Synod

July 2015

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

Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
It is my custom in this Presidential Address to offer a review on the year which our reports cover. In looking back at 2014 it is important that we take time and space to reflect thankfully on the many opportunities that come to each us to witness to God’s generosity and love for all that he has made.  2014 was a year in which right across the Diocese there were indeed many opportunities to serve our parishes and communities in creative and exciting ways.

In February I was glad to visit all five Anglican Dioceses in Zimbabwe and their bishops, four of the five with formal links with this Diocese. Tomorrow I leave once again for Zimbabwe in order to preach at one of the National Festivals, held in remembrance of a great missionary and apostle to the Shona people, Arthur Shearly Cripps.  We are greatly blessed by these links and continue to learn much from our solemn commitment to strong solidarity in prayer and mutual encouragement.  Continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Zimbabwe and please God for her peace, stability and prosperity.

Closer to home, serving together with other Christians in ecumenical partnership is a powerful witness to the community, we see this in the ways churches support food banks, winter night shelters, street pastors and street angels with an impressive supply of voluntary endeavour.  On the Tuesday of Holy Week I met with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith. We started our morning with a good breakfast at the ‘Clink’ Restaurant within Brixton Prison cooked by prisoners preparing for their release by studying for NVQs and acquiring life skills that will assist in their rehabilitation.  We went on together to visit the Spires Project in Streatham, thus experiencing for ourselves two  transformational projects that make a real difference to people’s lives and to give encouragement to the staff and volunteers.

In the Churchyard at St Leonard’s Streatham, my parish church, we found a large cross made out of empty beer cans located near the Entrance throughout Lent.  It reminded us that Jesus was treated like the detritus of society.  So it is, all too often, for homeless, marginalised and vulnerable people in our midst.  That is why Biblical imperatives to come to their aid as neighbour and friend are all important and inform Christian mission and social action.  The Cross made of discarded cans offered a vivid image for passers by that linked the reality of the work at Spires with our faith journey.   

Throughout the land and not least in the Diocese of Southwark growing numbers of families continue to experience food poverty and economic hardship. The magnificent response led by clusters of local churches of all denominations often in partnership with charitable trusts in setting up hundreds of food banks has gone some considerable way to alleviating the crisis; yet the scandal of needing food banks at all in one of the most affluent nations in the world continues to hold a mirror up to us all. The current political and financial climate suggests that these initiatives will continue to be with us for quite some time yet.  That said, there is much joyful engagement where strangers become friends and the Good News of the Gospel is lived out in these very human encounters.

During the year the implementation of the Strategy for Ministry continued apace and was coordinated by the Bishop of Croydon. Adrian Greenwood, Chair of the House of Laity, has kept our focus on ‘breathing new life into our deaneries’.  A new Parish Support Fund won wholehearted support from Diocesan Synod and will replace the Fairer Shares system of parish apportionment which served the Diocese well for more than twenty years but had run its course.  The Fit for Purpose task group chaired by The Archdeacon of Southwark, Dr Jane Steen, began its work reviewing Governance, Committee structures and the need to bring resources, finance and policy more closely together and we will debate the fruit of that work shortly.  The Canon Missioner, Dr Stephen Hance, launched a major initiative to commend Mission Action Planning to all of our parishes and deaneries with well supported gatherings in each of the three Episcopal Areas.  I have appointed Will Cookson as our first Dean of Fresh Expressions to support this growing network and nurture many green shoots of growth and renewal.  At the heart of these developments lies a profound recognition that all baptised Christians are called constantly to deepen discipleship, with the ministry of all disciples, lay and ordained, being central to the life of the Church, where we are nourished in Word and Sacrament in the celebration of the Eucharist, called anew to mission in the Lord’s service.

Synod once more approved grants for the Diocesan Board of Education and Welcare, mindful that our 106 Church Schools are a wonderful testament to our mission priorities, Christian convictions and community engagement, providing high quality education for over 36,000 young people and equipping them for their future lives.  Welcare, in partnership with the Diocese, reaches a significant number of the most needy and vulnerable families and marked its 120th anniversary by renewing its vision and commitment to this vital work.

2014 was a year that will be remembered in the Church of England for the General Synod vote to ordain women into the Episcopate, followed by completion of the Legislative process to Promulgation of the Measure in time for The Revd Libby Lane to be nominated to the See of Stockport before Christmas. Yesterday I participated at Canterbury Cathedral in the consecration of Sarah Mullally, sometime Team Rector of Sutton and Rachel Treweek, to serve as bishops in their respective Sees of Crediton and Gloucester. At long last a new polity for the Church of England has been established around the Five Guiding Principles which are designed to ensure that all may flourish in ministry across a broad spectrum of theological conviction.

There were further celebrations in September to mark the 20th anniversary of women priests in Southwark and I was glad to welcome back Bishop Roy Williamson who had presided over the ordinations in Eastertide 1994.  He was joined by many of the pioneer women whose ministry has so enriched the ministerial priesthood in the intervening twenty years: indeed we are greatly blessed by the gifts and ministry of both women and men serving as priests in the Diocese.

In October over 350 clergy with their bishops and archdeacons shared in a very life enhancing residential conference held at Swanwick in Derbyshire, travelling together on a specially chartered train from St Pancras.  Excellent speakers including the Archbishop of York, inspirational bible studies facilitated by Dr Esther Mombo and a Chaplaincy Team of three bishops, Victoria of Christchurch New Zealand, Jonathan of Fulham and Cleophas of Matabeleland made for a fruitful and energising time together.  The rich diet of worship, joyful fellowship and mutual learning helped us to experience how good it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity.

In December I joined the Bench of Bishops in the House of Lords which has enabled me to speak into issues of concern within the Diocese and beyond.  There are many reminders of the Christian foundations of our nation and institutions along with opportunities to ensure the Church continues to be Christ centred and outward focused, fully present and engaged in the public square, helping to bring theological perspectives with a wealth of earthed community experience and a moral consciousness to major policy issues as we seek to renew our national life.

In December 2014 we said farewell after 28 years to Simon Parton who had been Diocesan Secretary for a good number of those years.  Under the revised Cathedral Statutes I was glad to appoint Simon Lay Canon Emeritus.  He has been succeeded by Ruth Martin who worked alongside Simon in December before taking up the post at the beginning of 2015.  Mandy Ford, was appointed Canon Chancellor and Director of Ministerial Education, bringing considerable experience of urban ministry in the Diocese of Leicester.  Bruce Saunders retired as Sub Dean and Canon Pastor in June after long and distinguished service in the Diocese and at the end of the year Mark Gregory resigned as Financial Controller to take on a similar post with Charlton Football Club Community Trust.  I also wish to put on record personal thanks and appreciation to my Chaplain, Fr Mark Steadman who has been appointed Archdeacon of Stow and Lindsey in the Diocese of Lincoln.  Mark combines a legal training with a pastoral heart and both have been put to good use over the past four and a half years. He will later be giving the Report on General Synod where he has made a significant contribution during the quinquennium and I am particularly grateful for the time and commitment he has made to supporting the Safeguarding Team in developing and delivering good practice across the Diocese.

At Pentecost there was a service of thanksgiving in the Cathedral for the many blessings of Faith, Hope, Love, my Call to Mission.  In my sermon, looking to the future, I said the following:

“Let us pray that we will be people with Hearts on Fire, who love God, who walk with Jesus and who are led by the Spirit. Throughout the Diocese of Southwark may this be seen in our worshiping, in the service we offer in our communities, in how we live and in the way we speak for the marginalised and the weak.”

With our Area system it is possible for all our parishes to have close interaction with their Area Bishop and Archdeacons and I express heartfelt appreciation to all my colleagues in the Diocese, which it is a joyful privilege to serve as Diocesan Bishop.  The call to discipleship is one that all Christians share and I pray that we will be active in sharing our faith across the Diocese and beyond with much gladness and joy, the Lord being our helper.

My brothers and sisters, members of this Synod, I beg to move the motion to adopt the Annual Report