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Diocesan Synod

November 2013

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

Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
We meet today with a lively and varied Synod agenda, that both deals with considerable issues we face as a Diocese and also encourages us through our items on Foodbanks and Credit Unions, as well as in the presentation of our Lent Call cheques, to reflect on how we look outwards from our churches into the communities we serve seeking to engage with the world in which we are set.

The first thing we will do is to hear from Jill Sandham our Safeguarding Adviser on where we are with the Safeguarding agenda in the Diocese and national church. As you know Jill will retire at the end of next January and there will be news of her successor in due course. However Jill remains firmly in post until then and will continue to guide us in the careful, and wise way that have been hallmarks of her work. Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults is, as I have said on many occasions, a key reflection of our mission and a vital part of our ministry. The Church has often got things wrong, but we are seeking to learn from the mistakes of the past and continue to develop solid and robust processes and procedures to ensure that our church communities are as safe and welcoming as they can be. The fact that we have such confidence in our work – not complacency, but confidence - is a sign in no small part to the efforts Jill has made and continues to make on our behalf. There will be opportunities to say goodbye to Jill when that moment comes; but for now I want us to express our continuing appreciation for her and for all that she brings to our life.

Safeguarding is one aspect of our ministry that requires we look inwards in order that we might be confident in looking outwards. There are other items, such as the Budget and the review of the Fairer Shares system, that ask the same of us.  These are major items and more will be said about them later; but equipping ourselves by attending to the necessary vision and structures so that we might be better about seeking to proclaim the Gospel beyond our Churches is very important.

This is something that my Staff Team has been reflecting on recently. I am conscious that we have challenged every parish in the Diocese to develop a Mission Action Plan – this is a right attending to the priority we must give in growing the church and inviting others to share in the journey of discipleship. The attractive invitation that Jesus gives as he calls his disciples to “come and see” must continue to be the invitation we both respond to and in our turn extend to others.

As we introduce Mission Action Planning across the Diocese the Senior Staff Team as well as the staff in Trinity House and the Area Offices will be involved in developing a Mission Action Plan for their work. This is significant, for all of us are disciples and wherever we work, pray or minister, be that in a parish, chaplaincy or in the administrative hubs of our structures we participate in the Mission of God as we seek to lead, enable and serve those entrusted to us. It is right that the Bishop’s Staff Team and others are involved in this work and as this particular Mission Action Plan is developed I look forward to sharing its insights and fruits with you.

Alongside this piece of work the work of Faith Hope Love, my Call to Mission continues into its final stage, building towards its climax at Pentecost next year. There will be more information about those celebrations early in the New Year. At the end of the Call to Mission I will look forward to sharing more fully my vision for the next phase of the life of the Diocese and indeed I see Mission Action Planning as one of the fruits.  This will, I hope, begin to build towards the 120th anniversary of the Diocese in 2025. The journey we are embarking upon is an exciting one and is founded, as it always will be, in our confidence in Jesus Christ in whom we place our hope and trust. The necessary work we do on occasions like today is about attending to our internal needs so that we might be better equipped in the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel in the service of South London and East Surrey.  My friends, it is vital work.

Much of our agenda today calls us to attend to our interdependence and generosity, both as a family of parishes in our dealings with one another and as fellow citizens with our neighbours, who do not necessarily know the grace and truth of Christ. We rely on one another in seeking to fund ministry and mission as faith and finance go hand in hand.  This principle undergirds the Root and Branch Report which I will be commending to you later. We rely on one another in seeking to reach out to those in need and those that seek that help rely on us to support, encourage, console in leading them to Christ.  It was while serving as an incumbent in East London that I was so greatly encouraged by the strong spirit in the parish where there was such widespread deprivation that people were generous and supportive with us and in turn it was for us to be generous with others.

The Diocese of Southwark is wonderfully made in all its diversity. As someone described it to me recently it is a happily fractious place, and the constant buzz throughout the Diocese as each tries to honour and serve the vision of the gospel they have received within the boundaries of a generous and faithful orthodoxy constantly renews my hope in the quality and strength of our discipleship, the Lord being our helper. Our communities of faith are also communities of mission and communities of service and we seek to journey together with confidence in Christ.

As we attend to our agenda today, much of this asks a question of us – like the rich young man in St Mark’s Gospel – who is my neighbour? Jesus reminds us to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. I hope that for each of us in our deliberations can ask in each debate and situation, who is my neighbour here, how can I serve them, encourage them and show God’s love to them. In loving our neighbour with a generous heart, in seeking their flourishing God is made manifest and the Kingdom grows. As St Luke writes:

"Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you. For with the same measure you measure it will be measured back to you."
(Luke 6.38: World English Bible)