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Diocesan Synod

November 2015

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

The accompanying PowerPoint presentation can be found here.

Bishop Richard addresses Synod
Bishop Richard addresses Synod
I am very grateful to Bishop Christopher for the invitation to give this Presidential Address to Synod on the crucial and pressing subject of the Environment and Climate Change.

Two years ago this Synod approved our Diocesan Policy for the Environment under the heading, ‘Taking care of God’s Creation’.  That policy is commendably brief and includes the essential elements of biblical vision, how this fits the mission of the church, the part we should be playing and ideas for local action.  We do have a good policy – at least on paper.

As you will see as I progress what I essentially want to get across is a call to implement this policy in a much deeper and fuller way, embedded in an understanding that these matters are central to the Gospel of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.

Since this Synod passed the Environment Policy many good things have happened…

  • At national level some important work has been done by our General Synod members, and the General Synod had a major focus on climate change last July
  • There is a national C of E Working Group led by the Bishop of Salisbury of which I am a member, as are some others from this Diocese
  • Our volunteer Diocesan Environment Officer, Sue Mallinson, has been tireless in her efforts and we have now established a small Diocesan working group with Area representatives.
  • There is huge momentum internationally behind the run up to the crucial climate change conference to be held in Paris this December.  Just this week Bishop Christopher and I attended a meeting at Lambeth Palace hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople and New Rome, who for many years has been championing the matter of the Environment from a deep theological base.
  • You will find details here of how to pray for and engage in the efforts being made prior to the vital Paris conference.  Next Friday some of our churches will be providing support for the Pilgrimage to Paris which is going through our Diocese.  And there is a major climate change rally in London on November 29, and a call to pray and fast for climate change.

BUT,….  I have two major concerns which I want to share with you.

Firstly, I am deeply concerned that all the media and other attention now being given to this vital issue may not last in the same way beyond  December.  There are many other important issues which compete for our attention, not least the refugee crisis, and the seemingly intractable conflicts in so many parts of the world, or the challenge of getting more people engaged with Christian faith.  Climate change is notorious for being an issue which our brains are hard-wired to ignore – it has none of the immediacy which normally engages us into action.

And secondly, at a Diocesan level, our efforts to embed our Policy in our Diocesan life have been patchy at best.  I am grateful to those who completed this year’s Articles of Enquiry, which included questions about how we are following our own policy.  The majority of replies reveal that our churches are largely inactive in this area, and that environmental concern is quite dormant.  There are some fine examples of good practice, in both parishes and schools, but the overall picture in the parishes is very patchy.

Let me remind you of why it is so important to embed our Environment Policy much more deeply in the life of the Diocese, and in our own lives.  It is not simply that action is needed because it is in everyone’s self-interest to avoid a situation that is potentially catastrophic for the planet and humankind.  Even more fundamentally, the care of God’s good creation is deeply embedded in the Gospel of salvation.

For me this concern began as a teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  I was inspired by three books…

The situation now is exponentially more serious and dangerous.

The start of our response as Christians has to be our understanding of God and the Gospel.  Drawing on some excellent papers by Bishop David Atkinson, I have been giving a talk entitled, perhaps provocatively, ‘Your Gospel is too small’,  Bishop David has written…

I think much Christian theology has become virtually overtaken by the view that salvation is essentially something to do with our individual souls, and our journey to heaven.  What has been lost is the truth of the redemption of all things in Christ, the Wisdom of God in whom all things hold together, in whom all things are reconciled to God, and in whom heaven and earth are joined.

This cosmic vision of salvation is deeply embedded in the Bible, for example in the first chapters of the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians.

Within this cosmic vision sits our understanding of mission as expressed in the widely accepted ‘Five Marks of Mission’.  I believe for the Church to be true to our mission we need all of these marks.  If people see a Church which is committed to justice and to the care of the environment it will make the matter of new disciples much easier.

So we can see environmental action as an imperative of the Gospel.  We need to act in a substantial way.  There are, as I have said, some encouraging developments at international, national, diocesan and local level, but there is a long way to go.  Let me finish by highlighting a few of the possibilities.

Firstly, at Diocesan level we have a Working Group – which is great.  However, the resources we put in to this are, at best minimal when compared with some other Dioceses who have either full-time or part- time officers.  I am not saying necessarily that we need a paid officer – we have a great deal of expertise in this Diocese – but we do need to think seriously about what resources we need, and how this fits into our overall vision as a Diocese.

Secondly, environmental matters need to be embedded in our Liturgy and Worship.  And not just on special occasions such as Harvest.  We need to reflect on how our view of Incarnation, Resurrection, Pentecost, Advent and the Second Coming can all feed into a more cosmic view of salvation, and how that is expressed in our Liturgy.  One other suggestion is having an extended Creationtide season from 1 September to St Francis Day in October.

Thirdly, we can reflect on our own spirituality and lifestyle and how this genuinely sits with our Christian belief.

Fourthly, there will be areal opportunity at parish level with the launch of an excellent resource from A Rocha called ‘Eco churches’.  We will be circulating more details of that early next year.  One of the findings of the Articles of Enquiry was that parishes which were very good on Environment matters had an environment group and were following the earlier A Rocha programme called ‘Eco congregations’.  The new Eco Churches plan has even more possibilities.

Fifthly, there are significant opportunities for Inter faith common action in this area which is of concern to all thinking people.

Sixthly, we need more training for clergy and laity alike in this area.  In February there will be a session at Trinity House on how to ensure that the fifth mark of mission is properly dealt with in Mission Action Plans.

Seventhly, many of our schools do excellent work in this area and the link between that and what we are doing in parishes needs to be clearly established.  For example there could be a display of school work in the church.

Finally we need serious consideration of our investments, and our property policy.  These are both complex areas, but there is work to be done.

One feature of the Diocesan Policy which we have only implemented in a patchy way is the call for reports to be made annually by parishes to Deanery Synods on what has been going on.  Properly developed this could be an inspiring and mutually encouraging activity.

Later on in our meeting today we shall be considering the Parish Support Fund, our Strategy for Ministry, and our Five Year Vision.  All of these are vital building blocks for a Church which is committed to playing its full part in the Mission of God, and expressing in its work and ministry all of the Five Marks of Mission.  All of the Five Marks should be key elements in our thinking about finance, ministry strategy and vision.

You will find on your seats a copy of an ideas paper which I did for the national Environment Working group entitled ‘How to make Climate change and issue that churches address’.  I hope that will be of use as we seek to implement our Environment policy in the next few years.

So I want to urge all of us not only to seize the current momentum for climate change, but to ensure we have a truly inter-generational vision which is deeply  embedded in our Diocesan vision and strategy, but more importantly in our understanding of the Gospel of Salvation.