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Diocesan Synod

November 2011

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

Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
In our mission and ministry I believe that we are we are called to be Christ centred and outward focused.  The debate and vote this morning on the proposed legislation to admit women to the episcopate is very much about both our life together in Christ and the face we present to the world.

In my first presidential address I said that I rejoice in the ministry of women and men and seek to affirm, encourage, equip and support for ministry all our clergy.  We are blessed for the high levels of gifting and vocational zeal and faithfulness among our clergy.  I also believe strongly that the ordination of women to the episcopate marks the completion of a journey which has encompassed admission to the diaconate in 1987 and to the priesthood in 1994.  Throughout the Diocese many of our parish communities of faith have now experienced ministry from ordained women and most would want to see it as normative and enriching the life of the Church with the distinctive contribution which women deacons and priests have made. 

Today we have expressed as a Synod our support for the draft legislation going to the next stage of implementation unamended.  Should the legislation complete its remaining stages it is likely that it will be possible for women to be ordained to the episcopate from 2014 and this will be received with much joy by many fellow members of the Church of England and by me.  I have also pledged that there will be an honoured place for those who are unable to accept this in conscience.  For those parishes which have petitioned for extended Episcopal care, successive Bishops of Southwark, since 1994, have ensured that a regional arrangement has been in place for this to happen in partnership with the Dioceses of Rochester and London.  This has served the Diocese well and I anticipate the same sort of regional arrangements in the future.

Whilst some people are seen to have prospered during recent years, increasing numbers face economic and social needs arising from the economic downturn.  The impact of severe cuts and a growing sense of insecurity about future prospects points to the ongoing importance of challenging the wealthy and secure about their contribution to the wider community and common good.  Those protesting outside St Paul’s Cathedral seek to put a further focus, at the heart of the City of London, on the world of finance and international banking systems.  The report from the St Paul’s Institute published this week ‘Value and Values: Perceptions of Ethics in the City Today’ is a valuable resource in thinking about ethics and finance.

The report highlights the fact that since the ‘Big Bang’ in 1985, many people believe that behaviour is now less ethical than it was before the deregulation of markets. An important finding is that 75% of the respondents agree or agree strongly that there is too great a gap between rich and poor in this country.  A similar percentage similarly thought that companies should invest directly in deprived communities.  The research also points to a majority who sadly believe that the City of London does not need to listen more to the guidance of the Church.  This is a perspective that should be challenged by informed theological reflection on the ethics of the financial sector and the potential for greater investment in deprived communities. More than ever there is a greater need for us to actively engage in our Public Theology. 

The response of parishes in the Diocese to the disturbances that took place between August 6 -10 gave examples of the best kind of parish engagement in their local communities.  The presence and visibility of the clergy and people of faith, out and about on the streets, was widely appreciated.  The offering of support, secure space and refreshment to the staff of the emergency services and those who were most affected by the riots was also Christ like and commendable.

There was considerable loss of property and damage to homes and business premises. This has presented challenges around the need for reconstruction and support for those whose livelihoods have been put at risk.  The Police and emergency services were put under great pressure by the dispersed nature and scale of the incidents.  It was heartrending to hear the stories of those whose peace of mind, personal security and livelihoods had been violated.  I have asked the Public Policy Group working with the London Group for Social Action to commission a research project into the response of parishes to the August riots.  The focus of the study is to ask the question as to what we can learn from the response of local clergy and laity to the disturbances.  In addition the research will seek to identify underlying contributory causes and insights which can be used to inform us and underpin the ministry of our parishes for the future, particularly in engagement with young people.  The report is due to be completed by mid December and will be available in the new year.

As well as this there is another great challenge: to consider, in the light of the August events and the ethical concerns about our financial systems, the contribution of the Church to a wider discussion on public virtues and values.  Our Gospel values, together with much accumulated community wisdom and experience, needs very purposefully to be used to heal some of the divisions in society and to build communities of trust and hope. 

As we minister in our communities we are called to proclaim the risen Lord. This leads us to be people of faith, of hope and of love. These three core values are to be the focus of serious engagement for all of us in the coming months as I launch Faith, Hope, Love: Bishop Christopher’s Call to Mission.

Faith, hope and love are values central to the Christian life, deeply rooted in Scripture and in the core affirmations of Christian faith. They also have a resonance with and are accessible to people who are not yet involved in the life of the church.

Throughout our diocese, I believe that we are to nurture and to grow the presence in each place of parishes, schools, chaplaincies and other local expressions of faith, both traditional and innovative, with clergy and laity together called to be:

  • Communities expressing faith. We witness to our faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, and we confess him as Lord and God. When many are confused or unsure, we try to help people articulate the faith for which they seek.
  • Communities bearing hope. We look to an imperishable hope, which will not disappoint us. Whilst many voices speak of anxiety and despair, we try to point people to signs of real and transforming hope in their lives.
  • Communities embodying love. We love because He first loved us, and the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Spirit he has given us. In a world of loneliness and division, we try to give and to receive true love in all our relationships with people.

I will be issuing a personal invitation to the diocese to participate in exploring our life together in this way.  

The invitation will come in three phases:

to individual Christians (children, young people and adults). This invitation will be extended at Candlemas next year, inviting each of us to reflect on faith, hope and love in our lives during Lent. People will be asked to bring their personal responses to churches or schools in the Easter season;

Phase two is
to local churches and schools. This will begin at Pentecost and asks for reflection on these values both in their life as worshipping and learning communities and in the life of their local communities. Responses will be bought together in deaneries by Advent 2012;

to deaneries, inviting them to engage in the same process from Candlemas 2013, bringing responses to me by Advent 2013.

More will unfold about this exciting period of reflection and renewal in the weeks ahead.

There will therefore be three significant pieces of mission planning going on in the diocese, which should complement one other well:

Signs of Growth – which is providing reliable data on church membership and growth so giving a solid factual basis for mission;

Faith Hope Love – engaging people at an imaginative and spiritual level so breathing new life into our mission from our core values;

Strategy for Ministry – establishing a clear framework for the allocation of the resources entrusted to us for mission. This is work that will entrusted by the Bishop’s Council to a small group during the course of the next year.

Having recently returned from Zimbabwe, where I helped to support the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I was struck yet again by the resilience and joyfulness of the Church in that place. I encourage us all to look to our brothers and sisters in that land for an example of resolute faith, strong hope and generous love in the face of many hardships and ongoing adversity.  As well as our continuing solidarity in prayer and mutual support, may we all learn from, and be blessed by, their witness and example, the Lord being our helper.