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Diocesan Synod

November 2012

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

Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
It is a great delight to welcome you all to this first meeting of our Synod in the new triennium.  It is good to see faces old and new alike and it is always good to have people serving on Synod for the first time.  I am very encouraged by the number of new faces, you are all welcome and I hope you will engage fully with our work.  It is also good to welcome Adrian Greenwood elected as Chair of the House of Laity and I look forward to whoever emerges as elected as Chair of the House of Clergy.  I look forward to working together in our shared life together.

I must also take this opportunity to pay tribute to John Gant who died recently.  John was a loyal and faithful member of the congregation of St Stephen’s Lewisham and was a dedicated Lay Chair of East Lewisham Deanery Synod serving in that role for many years.  John was also a strong supporter of this Synod – even if he didn’t always agree with its decisions.  We pray in thanksgiving for his life and his witness and commend him to Almighty God. May he rest in peace.

Synodical Government is an important part of the way in which we in the Church of England do business together and consider matters important to our Common Life in Christ.  The model of the Bishop taking counsel with clergy and laity is an ancient one and assures a voice for the many and varied parts of our Church in governance and decision making.  It is therefore important that each of us who serve here engage with our deliberations, listen well and courteously to each other, express views freely – but with respect and understanding and enjoy robust debate and prayerful decision making.  I hope that each of us is open to the prompting of the Spirit so that our Synod may work under the guidance of Almighty God, in obedience to the will of Christ and the furtherance of the Kingdom.

At the start of our life together as a Synod we face in our Diocese continuing and significant challenges.  Our main business today is to consider the report outlining a Strategy for Ministry which will guide our life for the forthcoming years. This is important work.  The document is the result of much hard work and has already been endorsed by the Bishop’s Council and shared with the Board of Finance.  Ultimately, however, the decision on how we move forward belongs to this body. Any strategy of this kind needs to be owned by the Diocese as a whole which is why we shall be debating, discussing and I trust approving this report.  Should such approval be given the task of implementation belongs across the Diocese and will be taken forward by the Bishop’s Council.

The Strategy for Ministry needs to be seen as part of the range of work that is going on across the Diocese.  The Signs of Growth survey provides useful data on Parishes, Deaneries and Archdeaconries which will help inform decisions.  Faith, Hope, Love, my Call to Mission places mission, growth and the renewal of discipleship at the heart of our common life.  Strategy for Ministry is about practical delivery of the Ministry of the Church in our current climate and demands of us a solidarity of purpose and utter Confidence in Christ.

Having Confidence in Christ, mapping the vision and responding to the Call to be the Church is the task that belongs to us all, a task poured out in the waters of Baptism.  Each of us is called to live Christ centred lives preferring nothing to his love, growing in discipleship and building the Kingdom.  All our work must be directed to the giving of glory and praise to the Lord whose death on the Cross reconciles the world to the Father and brings forth the joy of new life.

In this we become what we pray.  For in our worshiping, our praying, our reading of Scripture we discover who we are to be as Christ’s pilgrim people. For when we are faithful in these things we are faithful in much else.

Being the Church today is at times a struggle and can feel confusing, bewildering and uncertain.  It was this way for the first apostles and so it should come as no surprise to us.  Yet the witness of the early Church teaches us to be faithful in the breaking of bread and study of scripture.  It teaches us to bear with one another and share one another’s burdens, to extend the hand of welcome to the stranger and to be amongst the poor, the sick and the outcast.  We have a long way to go to be faithful in ministry and mission yet that journey can only be made one step at a time, growing in confidence and the knowledge that we are loved by Christ.  I am greatly encouraged by the news that came yesterday of the appointment of Bishop Justin Welby to be Archbishop of Canterbury.  I hope his ministry will be well received across the Church and Nation. Yesterday he set out the task of God’s Church, which in his words 'is to worship him and overflow with the good news of his love for us, of the transformation that Jesus alone can bring which enables human flourishing and joy'.  This is what needs to lie at the heart of the whole Church and the portion committed to us in Southwark.  Please join me, in the weeks and months ahead, in praying for Justin and for his whole family as they prepare to move to Lambeth, where they are surrounded by this Diocese, and in the task entrusted to him of leading the Church and wider Anglican Communion.  We pray for the gifts of wisdom, grace and confidence in the Lord that he will surely need.

Sharing our confidence in Christ as our hearts desire means rightly valuing all of God’s people who ever they are.  In the Gospels we find Jesus sharing his love and healing abundantly and freely. 

So too it must be with us.  Our Churches need to be places of welcome and safety.  This continues to be very much an issue for us as a Church, but also in the various other institutions and organisations that play a part in public life.  Those whose lives have been scarred by abuse must be heard and perpetrators brought to justice.  We rightly take Safeguarding seriously in this Diocese trying always to ensure we work to best practice.  To that end I am grateful for the significant investment we have made in our Safeguarding provision and the policies and procedures we have committed ourselves to and put in place.  I am grateful for the work of those who take forward this agenda and I am encouraged by the wide range of training that is offered and used.  No amount of regulation can ever replace the need for trust.  However this is an area where we cannot afford to be complacent: best practice and accountability increase confidence and manifest our desire that the Church can welcome everyone.

So at the start of this Triennium I call us together to work in unity of purpose and under the banner of Christ.  Let us be bold in our discipleship, compassionate with our communities, seeking to serve the Lord with confidence in our calling as Christians.

God of faith, deepen our faith
so we may bear witness to Christ in the world;

God of hope, strengthen our hope
so we may be signposts to your transforming presence;

God of love, kindle our love
so that in a fragile and divided world,
we may be signs of the faith, hope, love
which we share in Jesus Christ.  Amen.