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Diocesan Synod

November 2014

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

Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
In today’s meeting of Synod we are modelling our deepest desire to be Christ centred and outward focused as a Diocese. We will be asked to approve the Budget which undergirds provision for mission and ministry in every community across the Diocese.  During the Eucharist this years Bishop’s Lent Call cheques will be presented to the various charities for which grants are being made in addition to ongoing support for our mission partners in our four Zimbabwean link Dioceses. We will receive an update on the Diocesan Environmental Policy, hear of the work of Independent Black Churches in the Borough of Southwark and receive a presentation from Together Southwark.

In a weeks time we will be celebrating 125 years of the partnership work of Welcare within the Diocese in an act of worship and thanksgiving in the Cathedral. The ministry offered through Welcare is an important part of wider diocesan outreach to families and children facing problems of poverty and exclusion. In this Synod we should give thanks for the dedication of so many people both professional staff and the many volunteers who down the years have kept this work alive and served so many families with a particular focus on the needs of children and young people through difficult and traumatic challenges in their lives.

In all of these very different aspects of our ministry together we are living out the call to discipleship and in particular the importance of being called to service in the communities in which we live throughout South London and East Surrey.  At a time when austerity measures are continuing to impact on the lives of those we are seeking to serve it is vital that we reaffirm our commitment to sharing the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ with those who are caught in the cycle of poverty and often debt, so that the seeds of hope are sown even in the context of adversity.

The Lent Call is a sign and pledge of support to organisations with very clear objectives of meeting the needs of specific groups of individuals and families at home and overseas.  It is also a sign of our discipleship, our response to the call of Christ who in his ministry of healing, which in the Gospels is described in a whole series of largely one to one encounters was nevertheless offering his life for the healing of the whole community, of the whole world and of all people.

In the giving of our own personal resources we show a willingness to look beyond ourselves and our immediate needs; though it is often those who are less well off than we may be who give us in return more than we ever give to them. Charity is an exchange of love, hence the interchangeability of the two words in various translations of the Bible.  It is a two way process of both giving and receiving.  We may give a little but we often receive far more in return from the recipients of our good will if the giving and receiving is truly from our hearts and anything we do is in response to the generous heart of God and the cry of those in need.

Our concern for the Environment helps to focus our thinking on the bigger picture of the Stewardship of Creation and to relate this to our wider understanding of our call to ministry springing from our baptismal promises. We are in the world but we do not own it.  We are stewards of God’s wonderful creation yet the human race so often exercises that stewardship in ways that are destructive.  Indeed, the remarkable display of nearly 1 million ceramic poppies which has already drawn fourfold that number of people making their way in recent weeks to the Tower of London says as much in a work of art that speaks more powerfully than words. In looking out beyond our immediate concerns we are reminded that there is much we can do to work for economic justice and sustainability. In this way we will contributing to ensuring that those who follow us in the years to come will have a world in which they can continue to develop an even greater understanding of the Stewardship of Creation – and I speak as a Creationist, in other words as one who believes that God is at the centre of this world which He, not Man, has made.  When we are truly mindful of this then our spiritual life is in harmony with his loving purposes for all he has made. The Diocesan Strategy on the Environment encourages us to look beyond ourselves to the wider world.  I commend it to you and hope we shall make good progress in implementing its recommendations.

As a Diocese we are blessed by the presence of many Independent Black Churches.  The Report, ‘Being Built Together’, is well researched and I look forward to the presentation this afternoon. Although it focuses on the Borough of Southwark there are valuable insights to help us in our thinking about how we work with partners in the many independent churches that are found across the Diocese.  All of them bring vibrancy to our common life and represent another example of brothers and sisters looking to Christ and sharing what they see with the wider community.  We are partners together in ministering across society and we should celebrate all that we share in common.

In looking outwards the Diocese is blessed by two organisations with a particular focus on reaching out to those who face particular problems associated with poverty and exclusion. Our Joint Venture with the Church Urban Fund, Together Southwark, along with Welcare, represent a shared commitment to challenging these problems both practically and prophetically.
The problems associated with poverty need to be seen in the context of the remarkable Diocesan wide spectrum of poverty and wealth, comfort and deprivation.  This Diocese includes some of the wealthiest communities in the United Kingdom as well as some of the poorest. The cost of housing in many areas is now so high that it is difficult if not impossible for ordinary families to find a decent place in which to live. Even those who are reasonably well paid are caught in a trap of needing to find even greater amounts of disposable income to cover the cost of housing.

By contrast there are also many individuals and families who are living on low incomes and even when in employment are not receiving sufficient income to meet the high cost of living.  The fact that both groups are found in the Diocese is a challenge to all of us to find ways of being involved in combating poverty and inequality and a ministry of teaching that we are all challenged by the Gospel to put the needs of others first.  As I have said before it is a great sign of hope that the energy for the large number of Food Banks that have opened in very recent years across the Diocese has come so predominantly from the Christian community and brought people together from networks of local churches in service of their fellow citizens.  At the same time it is a scandal that even one single Food Bank is necessary in a metropolis that relatively speaking, by any global comparison, is so wealthy and affluent.

In the past it was reasonably easy to say of an area that it was deprived and that residents all shared in a common life.  Today it is much more likely, especially in London, to find wealth and poverty in the same community and parish.  The changing face of wealth and poverty is a factor in every part of the Diocese from Brixton and Woolwich to Richmond and Bletchingley and Hurst Green. There are questions about ministry to people caught in a trap of poverty and exclusion in every part of the Diocese just as there are questions about ministry to those who have more.  How we minister in this changing context is a challenge that is about looking to Christ and beyond ourselves.

The work of Together Southwark is to assist all of us to ask what an appropriate response to this particular challenge might look like and then to engage appropriately. Along with Welcare and its heroic pioneering of social work and engagement from its earliest roots, the new initiatives of Together Southwark speak of an ongoing and concerted commitment in this Diocese to reflect theologically and practically on how we engage with those with the greatest exposure to poverty and social exclusion.

All that we do both together and individually is rooted in our Confidence in the Gospel.  We are all called to be disciples and it is this that will lead us to places where God wants us to be.  The Clergy Conference which was held in Swanwick in the second week of October was a time those who participated were able to draw much encouragement from being together. The opportunities to listen to inspirational speakers from the wider Church and Communion along with time to share in fellowship and worship strengthened our life together and corporate witness and I give thanks for this.

In all that we do we live with the expectation of change.  A very significant change in personnel will happen at the end of the year when Simon Parton concludes 28 years of active and fruitful service at the heart of the Diocese, latterly as Diocesan Secretary from 1998, having been appointed Deputy Diocesan Secretary 10 years earlier.  Today is the last meeting of the Diocesan Synod that will be serviced and supported by Simon and a very effective team which will of course take forward their responsibilities with the new Diocesan Secretary.  There will be at the conclusion of our meeting today a formal Synodical Farewell to Simon and on Sunday 25th January 2015, the Diocesan Farewell and Presentation to Simon in the context of Choral Evensong at the Cathedral, where Simon was installed as a Lay Canon in 2005.  So I wish to record my personal gratitude to Simon and express appreciation on behalf of the whole Diocese in the context of this Presidential Address. 

The smooth working of the Diocesan Synod and so much more is due to the unflappability of Simon.  His capacity for ensuring that the meetings run smoothly by supporting whichever one of us is in the Chair and ensuring with his colleagues that the considerable task of careful preparation is never neglected is something which we have good cause to acknowledge with deep gratitude.

I therefore want to take this opportunity to say on behalf of all of you and of past members a heart felt thank you to Simon for his very specific ministry of service to the Diocese.  For Simon, being Diocesan Secretary has been just as much a call by God as any other ministry in the wider Church.  Simon has followed the call to serve Christ by supporting us and helping us to look beyond ourselves.  Indeed, Simon has assisted in the task of leading the Diocese in looking both inwardly at our life together and outwardly at the world we serve.  We are reminded that we are all called into service of each other and of all the people of South London and East Surrey as well as to stewardship of all that is entrusted to us, of our world, our money, our skills and much more besides, all gifts from God.  We are called to offer them in his service.  We look to Christ to show us the Way that will lead us into the heart of the communities and parishes in which we live and to celebrate our lives bound together in Him with gladness and joy.  May the blessing of Almighty God rest upon our deliberations today.