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Diocesan Synod

March 2010

Presidential Address by The Rt Rev. Dr Richard Cheetham, Bishop of Kingston


Bishop Richard addresses Synod
We are now firmly into a time of substantial transition for our Diocese with the Vacancy in See.  We have given thanks for Bishop Tom’s distinguished ministry and said our farewells to him and to Barbara.  The farewell service at the Cathedral was a fine reflection of the diversity and vitality of our Diocese, and I am very grateful to all those who worked hard to make it such a memorable occasion and a fitting tribute to Bishop Tom.

Inevitably there is a real sense of loss at the departure of Bishop Tom, and we shall find ourselves with a mixture of concerns and hopes as we look to the future.  It is very important to acknowledge all the variety of thoughts and feelings which will be there in our hearts and minds.  This is not least in my own heart and mind as I take on the role of Acting Diocesan Bishop for the period of the vacancy.  I will be working closely with my fellow bishops and the whole Bishop’s staff team to serve the Diocese during this period.

But the most important thing, by far, as we continue our journey, is our life of prayer – both corporately and individually.  Prayer re-frames the way we see and respond to our lives, and helps us to have a much greater sense of God at work in our midst – within all the stuff of our lives with all their frailty, their messiness and their glory.  So I begin with a call to prayer for our Diocese and Churches.  We started our Synod today with a slightly longer time of prayer, and we will conclude with the Eucharist, thus framing all we say and do with prayer and worship.  You will all be receiving copies of the Prayer Cards we have had printed with a prayer for the Diocese during the vacancy.  Please do everything you can to use these as a stimulus to prayer throughout the Diocese.  There are 10,000 of them being distributed around our parishes, church schools and sector ministries.  They are an important symbol of the centrality of prayer at this time.

Our concerns and hopes are the stuff of our prayers – to lay them before God.  The 17th century divine, Jeremy Taylor, encouraged Christians in prayer to, ‘discover to God all your wants, complain to him of all your affronts’.  Naturally at a time of Vacancy in See there will be some concerns for all of us about the life of our Diocese.  There will be a sense of uncertainty as we look to the future.  There will be a worry about the inherent tensions within our Anglican tradition and how these will play out, not just in the Diocese, but in the Anglican Communion.  How can we keep the deep differences of view on various matters in a creative rather than a destructive tension?  And how do we develop a proper sense of movement and common purpose?  As we look outwards there will be concerns about the mission and evangelism of the Church in a society where many people are disconnected or sceptical about Christian faith.  And there will be proper worries about our resources to enable this mission.

As we pray through all these things our perspectives are changed.  Not to a naive optimism which fails to appreciate the difficulties, but to a deeper awareness of the work of God in our midst.  As a general rule most of us, myself included, probably talk too much and pray too little.  As we approach Easter we are reminded once more that the way of God is the way of costly, self-giving love, shown to us primarily in the death and resurrection of Christ.  And so as we pray though our concerns we begin to see new ways of using our differences creatively, of engaging with the wider world with a renewed faith.  We still need to work at things – at maintaining the unity of our Church, at playing our part in the wider mission of the Church.  But when we pray, as St Thomas Aquinas reminds us, ‘we learn to cooperate with divine providence’, and ‘our trust in God is awakened’.

This Synod’s agenda contains matters that are of both concern and hope for our Diocese.  Often they are two sides of the same coin.  In the financial report we hear of a slightly lower level of collection of Parish Share last year, and about how we can respond to that.  In particular, the real opportunity and challenge of the ‘Giving for Life’ material, about which we will hear later, with its capacity to reframe some of our ways of giving and living.

We shall also have substantial items on the General Synod, and on Reader Ministry - both of which remind us of the importance of the ministry of the whole people of God – laity and clergy together. 

It is important to remember in the life of our Diocese that the Church has a low centre of gravity.  The vast majority of the mission and ministry of the Church takes place through our parishes and sector ministries.  It is here that worship and prayer are offered, that the faith is shared and taught, that the Christian life is lived out in action, both individually and corporately.  That continues day in, day out; week in week out; and I thank God for that faithful and imaginative mission and ministry.

We live in a time of great challenges, both for the Anglican tradition and for the place of Christian faith in the world, especially in the West.  This Diocese has profound resources in its people, both laity and clergy, to ‘present the Gospel afresh in each generation’.  Let us pray that, under God, each of us will be able to play our part in that mission.

In our liturgical year, we are in the midst of Lent and looking forward to Holy Week and Easter.  Our faith is one which faces our fears and our hardships, our shortcomings and our suffering, with intense realism.  We are called in Lent especially to be aware of our mortality and of our sin, and of the grace of God to renew us.  We are called to ask ourselves afresh what God is calling us, both together as a Diocese and individually, to be and to do as we continue our pilgrimage of faith.  Let us pray that we may go forward with a profound faith in the God who is made known to us in Jesus Christ, who is always at work in our midst to bring new life and hope to every situation.  Let us go forward together in the Easter faith.