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Diocesan Synod

March 2011

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

Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
In this my first presidential address, may I begin by putting on record my thanks to Bishop Richard Cheetham for the leadership he has given the Diocese during the Vacancy in See.  I also wish to acknowledge our debt of gratitude to Bishop Nick Baines for his gifted ministry over many years. Coming first to the diocese in 2000 as Archdeacon of Lambeth and then becoming Bishop of Croydon in 2003. Bishop Nick will be enthroned as Bishop of Bradford on 21st May in Bradford Cathedral and we assure him and Linda of our prayers as they journey on.

It is a great joy and privilege to begin public ministry as the 10th Bishop of Southwark. I look back on the Enthronement and Inaugural Eucharist of Welcome last Sunday with heartfelt thanksgiving.  I am thankful for the goodwill, encouragement and support expressed throughout the Diocese and want in particular to record my thanks for the excellent team working at the Cathedral and also for the hard work of the Communications Team in the planning of the day and welcoming so many.

Later this morning I will be commending to you the proposal to fill the vacant see of Woolwich and the soon to be vacant See of Croydon. I will be making a strong case for two new Area Bishops.  This consultation, as now required, marks the start of what I hope will be a fruitful and careful appointments process.  I am committed to doing this in a careful and open way that seeks to discern the best possible candidates based on the needs and aspirations we identify.

As well as considering the Episcopal vacancies there is also the need to begin to look to the appointment of a new Dean of the Cathedral. Dean Colin Slee died a few days after the last meeting of this Synod. His funeral service brought together very large numbers of people whose lives had been touched in many different ways by his ministry, humanity and passion for justice. Profound loss and deep thanksgiving were offered up in a Requiem Eucharist and there will be a memorial service for Colin on Saturday 25th June in the Cathedral.

I want to place on record my thanks for the way in which Canon Andrew Nunn has held the Cathedral Community together as Acting Dean, working closely with his Chapter colleagues.

The Dean is also the incumbent of the Cathedral parish, which includes the conventional district of St Hugh’s Bermondsey.  The Church of St Hugh’s is currently subject to plans for redevelopment and in the light of that pastoral situation I am notifying the Diocesan Mission and Pastoral Committee of my intention to restrict the benefice for a year. This will have the further consequence of providing the necessary space, following the suddenness of Colin’s death, for bereavement and reflection to occur, enabling us then to move forward.

I am also resolved to move forward the appointment of a Canon Treasurer who will have a diocesan brief as Director of Ordinands. In the fullness of time consideration will need to be given to the appointment of a new Archdeacon of Croydon when Tony Davies, the longest serving member of the Bishop’s staff team, retires later in the year.

Few Bishops face making such a range of diocesan appointments so soon after taking up office and I ask you to hold me and these important decisions in your prayers .

I am glad that the diocesan process on considering the legislation to permit the consecration of women to the Episcopate is already well underway. It is good to hear that Deanery Synods are engaging thoughtfully and carefully with this and I am grateful to those that have helped produce the resources to enable this. I know many of us look forward to seeing the responses that emerge from across the diocese.

Whatever our views on this issue, I am aware of the diversity that exists across the diocese. It is nevertheless important for us to engage properly with the process before us. This Synod will spend time at our November meeting exploring the issues and forming our response to the Legislation. I look forward to this and to our discussion which, I hope, is continually characterised by prayerful reflection, openness and a spirit of generosity.
I rejoice and celebrate the quality of priestly ministry which is offered and exercised by both men and women in this diocese. At a time of transition such as this, it brings into high relief those who have issues of conscience over changes that are underway in the national church. But from the ordination of women to the diaconate in 1987 and then the first women priests in 1994, the completion of that journey is about the ordination of women to the episcopate, as bishops. There is every reason in Southwark that this will be received with great joy and seen as the completion of a long journey. But alongside that I am fully committed, given the diversity of the Church of England, to assuring everyone, whatever their conscience in this matter, that they have an honoured place in the Diocese and in the Church as a whole.

In the charge given to me by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the confirmation of my election, I would like to highlight what was said about renewing and extending lay ministry and leadership across the diocese as this sprang from the nominations process.

“To develop a framework for ministry, encouraging lay ministry in all its forms and ensuring that clergy are equipped and cared for; to give confidence to all in their faith and mobilise the gifts of the whole people of God in the service of the mission of the Church and to encourage wide participation in governance and decision making structures of the diocese; to ensure that black and ethnic minority people are involved in every aspect of diocesan life.”

I am glad that these sentiments very much chime in with the work of the structures review group which met under the chairmanship of Baroness Pauline Perry. It was commissioned as part of the financial review in 2009 with the intention that the report would inform the reflections of a new diocesan bishop. When I agreed to be part of this group and committed myself to providing as much useful material as possible for the new bishop little did I know how events would turn out! I am keen not to pre-empt process and have indeed received the insights of the review group anew. It is in no way a blue print and I will, in due course, share its findings with Synod. What is clear to me is that the Perry Report is a useful start as we work together in formulating a renewed vision for the diocese around which we can unite and move forward, the Lord being our helper.

Let us begin by thinking through together how best to build on our strengths, yet not neglect the need to breathe new life into lay ministry and leadership at every level of diocesan life as well as into our synodical structures, starting with our Deaneries where there is so much scope for enhancing their purpose and role in the delivery of mission to the communities we serve. I am hopeful that my Episcopate will be accompanied by an increase in vocations and even greater involvement of black and ethnic minority people so that we model in every aspect of diocesan life what is evident already in so many of our parishes.

Our confidence in the Gospel equips us to be open to renewal and change in our common life. As we begin our journey through Lent, we are given a particular context: spiritual discipline bearing fruit in renewal of discipleship. 

I look to you to encourage me as I will encourage you in proclaiming the generous love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ.

I thank you for the trust you have placed in me and assure you of my prayers and blessing, in all things giving glory to God.