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Diocesan Synod

March 2013

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

Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
Southwark has long had a link with Pilgrimage and Journey.  With London Bridge for many years being the only point at which crossing the Thames was easy or straightforward the Priory of St Mary Overie, later to become our Cathedral, rapidly grew up as the starting point for pilgrims making their way to Canterbury to the shrine of Thomas Becket, the Martyred Archbishop.

Chaucer recounts tales of some who made that journey, staying in the Tabard Inn, or the George, before setting off down the Pilgrims Way.  That way which runs through the Diocese now the much less attractive A2 is still an important arterial route to Canterbury and the Coastal ports of Kent.  In other parts of the south of the Diocese ancient pilgrimage routes also heading to Canterbury bisect the countryside.

The Diocese, in its Geography, has pilgrimage written into the land.  The draw of pilgrimage, the opportunity to undertake a spiritual journey – be that as an act of penance, a witness of faith or an act of intercession - has long been a part of the life of the Church.  The image of journeying, of travel with its joys and difficulties, and also its eventual arrival, is a perfect metaphor for the Christian life.  This image helps remind us that in Faith we journey in Hope and arrive at our destination, the heavenly city, the foundation and dwelling place of the God who is perfect Love.

Before Christians were described as such, they were referred to simply as ‘The Way’, those following the One who is ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life’.  We should not be surprised, therefore, that so many have found making pilgrimage a helpful spiritual discipline.  A chance to visit holy places with the intention of drawing closer to the Lord and walking in his footsteps and those of his faithful disciples and saints throughout the ages.  I know that there have been many groups of pilgrims from across the Diocese going to many different places.  And pilgrimage, the sense of journey to somewhere holy, is not just limited to those particularly ancient sites like Canterbury or Walsingham, which is often described as ‘England’s Nazareth’.  The journey that we make for spiritual encouragement, refreshment or renewal, can equally be made to Soul Survivor, New Wine, Spring Harvest or Greenbelt.  There are many ways in which we travel in order to encounter the Lord.
The Pilgrimage that many make, that is often described as the journey of a life-time, is to the Holy Land and together with Dean Andrew Nunn it was a real joy recently to take a group of pilgrims from across the diversity of this Diocese to walk in the footsteps of the Lord.

We prayed in the most important Christian sites, saw the places of miracles, of Jesus’ ministry and walked the way of his passion, death and resurrection.  We encountered the Lord in Bethlehem, in the River Jordan, in Galilee and most importantly in Jerusalem.  It was a wonderful and blessed experience – and for more detail look at the blog of the Pilgrimage which you can find here

Importantly, however, pilgrimage is not just about us as individuals looking back to the great events of our faith.  It is also about the living reality of the places you journey to.  This is why Pilgrims spent time visiting some of the projects that support the complicated and diverse communities that live in Israel/Palestine today.  These projects are part of the focus of the Lent Call this year and it was heartbreaking to see the struggles and difficulties under which people and communities labour, as much as it is humbling and inspiring to see the hard work, dedication and determination of those who are committed to making things better.

We also were truly privileged to engage with the living Anglican Witness in the Holy Land.  We met with Bishop Suheil Dawani, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, who presided for us at the Eucharist which we celebrated together in St George’s Cathedral and Dean Na’oum who spoke to us of the plight of Christians in the Holy Land.  We also shared in bilingual Arabic and English worship at Christ Church Nazareth with the Anglican congregation led by Fr Emad Daibes. To be welcomed by the familiar and fraternal so far from home was a real blessing.  It was also humbling to be told that we were the first pilgrimage group that Christ Church had been able to welcome in many years. If you go to the Holy Land please do try and worship with our brothers and sisters in their own places.

For the plight of the Christian family in the Holy Land is parlous.  The Christian community continues to shrink, comprising some 2% of the population and the Christian witness is under threat.  Pilgrimage is a way of showing solidarity, of encouraging the Christians who make their home in the land of the Lord’s ministry and of helping others to understand just how important is our faith and our partnership in God’s mission.

As we journey through Lent we seek to deepen our discipleship by following Jesus closely on his journey to rejection and betrayal, suffering and death on the Cross.  This reaches its culmination in the events of Holy Week, which begins with people tearing the branches from the palm trees to greet him with loud hosannas.  Yet within days the adulation gives way to the cries from the crowd to ‘crucify him’.  For me the most moving experience during the recent Pilgrimage was the day we followed the Way of the Cross in six groups along the Via Dolorosa, meaning literally the way of sorrows, to Calvary.  Again our bible readings and prayers as we made our way are available on the resources page of the Diocesan website and I commend these to you for use in your devotions during Holy Week.

I was very conscious that as we listened to the Holy Scriptures and focused on the life, ministry, death and resurrection of our Lord in the physical context of the land in which he lived, we were doing there what the whole Diocese would be doing  in each of our places of worship.  Year by year, we are given the opportunity to share with Jesus and his disciples in becoming pilgrims again ‘if not to this place to the recreation of it in their own spirits’ (RS Thomas).  Indeed, the challenges and difficulties down the centuries in making the journey to visit the holy sights in Jerusalem and Judaea and Galilee have played a significant part in shaping the Church’s year so that all may make their spiritual pilgrimage.    

This week sees the start of another pilgrimage that is making its way to Canterbury.  Archbishop Justin Welby takes up his public ministry as our new Archbishop on 21st March and in the days leading up to this he is journeying in prayer through the Province.  Next Saturday his prayer pilgrimage comes to Southwark and he will be welcomed into the Diocese on the Millennium Bridge shortly after 12.30 before making his way along Bankside to Borough Market and then into the Cathedral.  From about 1.15-5.30 he will be praying in the Cathedral and we are all invited to come and join him in prayer. There will be a variety of prayer stations and opportunities and so I encourage you all to come to the Cathedral for some time and space in prayer and reflection next Saturday.  The role of the Archbishop is a challenging one and Archbishop Justin needs and deserves our heartfelt prayerful support in these days.  I commend him to your prayers.

Lastly, a note of resurrection hope.  In January I made a joint visit to Zimbabwe with the Bishop of Woolwich and the Bishop of Croydon, making initial visits to their link Dioceses.  Bishop Ishmael welcomed Bishop Jonathan to the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe and Bishop Julius welcomed Bishop Michael to the Diocese of Manicaland.  Bishop Richard plans to visit Bishop Cleophas in the Diocese of Matabeleland in September.  Bishop Godfrey having established a now strong link with the Cathedral following the last Lambeth Conference, was keen for me to make the first Episcopal visit from Southwark to the Diocese of Masvingo, where I was made very welcome, visiting Missions and Churches, Schools and Projects in the Shurugwi, Chivhu and Buhera districts. 

On our first full day all five Zimbabwean bishops were together with the three Southwark visitors at Gweru for the Anglican Council of Zimbabwe.  And on our last full day I attended the Standing Committee of Harare Diocese at the request of Bishop Chad Gandiya who wanted me to convey to you his gratitude for the solidarity and support we have extended during five very difficult years.  Bishop Godfrey and Bishop Julius have said the same.  They have all known something of the reality of suffering, suffering within the Body of Christ.  Their congregations have been locked out of their churches, church schools have been alienated from their dioceses and clergy families forced out of their homes into temporary accommodation in the three Dioceses of Harare and Manicaland together with the part of Masvingo Diocese that was until 2002 under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Harare. 

In November of last year the Supreme Court handed down a judgment to restore Church properties to their rightful custodians.  This happened immediately in Harare and Masvingo where there were services of cleansing and rededication either side of Christmas.  It was wonderful to see the joy and pride on people’s faces in Harare Cathedral and at the great Daramombe Mission in Masvingo as they talked about restitution and return from exile.  Since our return, the judgment has been confirmed for Manicaland.  Last Sunday CPCA congregations were able to worship in their churches again in Mutare and there was much joyful celebration. 

When I accompanied Archbishop Rowan Williams on his mission to Zimbabwe two years ago we had to stand with all the bishops and pray together on the steps of St Augustine’s Penhalonga, the doors to the Church remaining locked and bolted.  We were excluded.  Last Sunday, Fr Luke Chigwanda, led the congregation back into St Augustine’s, where they celebrated the Eucharist at the High Altar for the first time in 5 years.  Many have said to me that they did not lose hope during these long years of waiting and persecution.  Many are now saying this is a resurrection.  Pray God it is precisely that.  The aim of all these journeys and of all our journeying is to come to the point of resurrection and transformation.  For we are all pilgrims and I pray that as we make our journey through Lent to Holy Week and Easter our Faith, Hope and Love in Jesus Christ will, by God’s grace, be renewed along the way.