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Diocesan Synod

November 2010

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


Bishop Richard addresses Synod
I want to begin this Presidential Address with reference to three entirely unrelated and different announcements which have taken place recently.

Firstly, our Synod meets just over a month after the announcement that the next Bishop of Southwark is to be Bishop Christopher Chessun and I want to begin by assuring him of our warm support, good wishes, and prayers as he prepares of his new role in our Diocese. 
I will be saying a bit more about the practical arrangements for the Enthronement and the transition period between now and then a little later in this Synod.

Secondly, the Bishop of Fulham, who is an Assistant Bishop in this Diocese with responsibility for Extended Episcopal Care, has announced his intention to resign from the end of this year.  Bishop John has been a member of the Bishop of Southwark’s staff for sixteen years.  I want to thank him publicly for his long service to this Diocese and to wish him well in his own spiritual journey as he prepares to enter the Roman Catholic Church in the Ordinariate.  I and my fellow Bishops are engaged in conversations with the Bishop of London with the intention of providing good continuity in arrangements for Extended Episcopal Care.  We will announce those arrangements as soon as we are able.

And thirdly, I want to assure the Dean of our support and prayers for him and his family as they come to terms with the very serious diagnosis of a pancreatic tumour.  This has come as profound shock to us all, but I want to pay tribute to the dignity and deep faith with which the Dean has embraced this situation – all spiced with flashes of his irrepressible humour!
During this vacancy in see period we are experiencing substantial changes for our Diocese.  From my vantage point as Acting Diocesan Bishop I had always expected a series of step changes as we moved through the vacancy.  I have tried to reflect these in the three presidential addresses which it has been my privilege to deliver, of which this is the last.

  • Back in March, shortly after Bishop Tom’s retirement, and when we had not long formulated the Diocesan Statement of Needs, I emphasised the importance of being rooted in prayer as we moved through this time of transition.
  • In July, just after the second meeting of the Crown Nominations Commission and the attendant publicity, I focussed on the need to be led not by fears, but by deep Resurrection hope.
  • Now, as we pray for Bishop Christopher and look forward to his new ministry, I want to offer some reflections on our basic identity – as Christians and part of the Church of England and Southwark Diocese.

In order to do this, I am going to use the idea of Remembrance – and using it in a very general sense of how what we choose to remember shapes our identity for the future.  I was very moved by a visit I made with my family in 1994 to the Caen Memorial in France.  It is a kind of museum with a difference – telling the story of wartime France and occupation with the clear intention of using that to shape how we engage with the future.

Remembrance plays a very important part in our lives, and not least our Christian faith.  It is worth, however, offering two notes of caution.

  • Firstly we need to be cautious of selective memories - where we have only heard some of the perspectives.  And to remember that all our memories are only part of the story, and we need to listen openly to the stories of others.
  • Secondly we need to be wary of two opposite errors. Of being stuck in the past with an ossified, idealised tradition.  And its opposite - of being so forward looking that we have no sense of the history which has made us what we are today.

Our basic identity as Christians is rooted in the remembrance of what God has done in Christ – as we shall recall in our Eucharist later this morning with Jesus’s words, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’.  God’s revelation in Christ is expressed via the Bible.  Both Scripture and Eucharist are quintessentially formative for the Christian community.  We forget them at our peril.

The Church of England sees itself as ‘part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church’.  At the moment we live in an era of deep reflection and fierce argument about the basic direction and identity of the Anglican Church.  Part of this process will be discussion of the proposed Anglican Covenant, which the General Synod will debate later this month.  My own position at present is that we need the process – that is a real debate about our Anglican identity at the start of the 21st century.  But I am less convinced that we need an actual covenant.  Following the General Synod debates there will be discussions in our Diocesan Synods before it returns to General Synod for further consideration.

There are also deep questions about the place of the C of E in the life of our nation.  At times it can seem integral – such as Remembrance Day services.  At other times it can seem peripheral.  A recent report on young people (aged approximately 18 -32, the so called ‘Generation Y’), has revealed how disconnected most of them are from organised religion in general.  How we understand our developing role and mission in this situation is critical.  I am very pleased that our Children’s and Young People’s Development Group chaired by Canon Tim Marwood have been developing some exciting ideas for our Diocese in this regard.

As we look forward to the ministry and mission of our Diocese under the leadership of the next Bishop of Southwark, it is timely to reflect on our own sense of identity and how we want to see that developing.  Part of that has been expressed in the Diocesan Statement of Needs, and much will come from Bishop Christopher’s emphases when he takes up office.

From my perspective during this time of Vacancy I have been privileged to see the Diocese from a particular vantage point.  I have become more aware than ever of

  • its great energy and creativity
  •  its centripetal and its centrifugal forces
  • its multiple centres of influence
  • its strong tradition and its diversity
  • its mythology – in the sense both of how we are seen by those not connected with the Diocese, and how we perceive ourselves.

The exercise of episcope in such a complex eccelesiatical ecology is a demanding, but rewarding task.    The hallmarks of this Diocese have been:

  • A desire to express and share Christian faith in language that is meaningful and intelligible to people today
  • Searching for a flexible form of Church organisation, ministry and worship which is linked to and serves people in their daily life
  • A clear engagement with social and moral issues – not ducking the debate

 The task facing us all is how we live faithfully in the present, whilst being shaped by the past, and looking forward in hope to the future.

As we move through today’s Synod we might reflect on how our discussions are shaped by our basic sense of identity as Christians in the part of God’s Church which is Southwark Diocese.

  • We shall be looking at the budget for next year – with the underlying principles of Christian stewardship which are expressed in it.
  • We consider the arrangements for clergy terms of service under Common Tenure – with the related questions of how we understand our sense of Christian vocation and how it is best expressed.
  • We shall hear from the Mission Theologian about plans to make use of the 400th Anniversary of the King James version of the Bible to stimulate the use of the Bible in mission across our Diocese.
  • We have presentations from the charities and causes who have benefitted from last year’s Lent Call – reminding us of the importance of giving.
  • The Vicar of this church of St John, Waterloo will be telling us of some exciting initiatives here – Reminding us of the centrality of the life of our parishes and the importance of working for God’s justice in every place.
  • And we shall finish by considering how we, as a Diocese, will continue to approach the ongoing discussions on the proposals for the ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England, reminding us of the importance of  how we can hold some sense of the unity of God’s Church in the face of issues which deeply divide us.

I am sure it will be a fruitful Synod.  As we look forward as a Diocese at this stage in the Vacancy in See, I hope and pray that we will have a strong awareness of all that has shaped us in the past.  But above all a real openness to all that God calls us to in the future.

+ Richard Kingston
13 November 2010