The Diocesan Synod met on 4 March 2017at Freshbrook Church Swindon.
Making Disciples: Our Changing Context
Professor Grace Davie, Professor of Sociology at Exeter University, gave an overview of the changing religious context in Britain over the past 30 years and how the Church can respond.
She highlighted a series of factors to take into account our understanding of religion in Britain:
vicarious religion (essentially a public utility)
a shift from obligation to consumption (a market)
Professor Davie pointed to the paradox that, on the one hand, the process of secularisation continues; on the other, there is a growing prominence of religion in public discussion.
She told Synod members that this is occurring at a time when British people are losing the vocabulary, tools and concepts that they require in order to have a constructive conversation about faith.
It is resulting in an ill-informed and ill-mannered debate about issues of extreme importance to the democratic future of this country, she said.
Amid a growing concern about religious literacy, Professor Davie argued that the centre of British society is gradually shifting away from Christianity, but remains deeply coloured by it. New forms of accommodation are beginning to evolve, which are more likely to be secular than religious.
Professor Davie noted that, within these new formulations, engaged Christians are likely to become one minority amongst others, but also pointed to the fact they will have the weight of history on their side. She said the cultural deposits can still be felt but in new ways: in what might be termed a hierarchy of minorities, one of which finds expression in an established church.
Relating together as Synod
Members were asked to respond to the questions:
What experience/item/ aspect at Synod to date have you valued most and why?
What would you like to see more of at the Synod and why? How do you envisage this happening?
Each group handed in a written response which would be used to report back at a future Synod.
In response to a written question from Revd Capt Clive Deverell about interim ministers, Bishop Lee explained that their purpose was to address issues in a parish over a short period to enable a subsequent minister to be more effective in overseeing discipleship in the longer term.
Dr Carys Underdown asked questions about having diocesan level discussions following the take note debate at General Synod about marriage and same-sex relationships. Bishop Mike recognised the impact of the disagreements and explained the action being taken, including discussion with Bristol Synod reps, to influence next steps.
A number of questions were asked following the Bishops Council report about the proposals to plant a new church in the centre of Bristol that would resource mission across the city as part of a national church planting strategy. Bishop Mike and Oliver Home, Diocesan Secretary, gave additional details on the background to the project as part of the Mission Areas initiative, its current status and next steps with other churches.
Bishops Council & Board of Directors report
Professor David Clarke highlighted three items from the report: the Vacancy in See Committee, the Diocesan Peer Review, and proposals for a Bristol Resourcing Church.
The nomination of the Revd Jill Garfitt to the Vacancy in See Committee was noted. The committee will meet following Bishop Mikes retirement in September. No dates have been set for meetings of the Crown Nominations Commission in 2018, but it is hoped that Bristol will be considered within the first half of the year.
Professor Clarke drew members attention to the report on the Diocesan Peer Review. He then gave details of plans for a resourcing church, first in Bristol and then in Swindon, as part of the Mission Areas strategic initiative. He explained a resourcing church is one with a wider vision for a city or town that would intentionally support mission across an area through planting and revitalising churches, developing leaders and providing other resources for mission.
General Synod report
Revd Professor Martin Gainsborough reported on Februarys meeting of General Synod.
A private members motion calling for an end of the reading of banns was defeated as many felt it was a good opportunity to build relationships; a motion calling for government action on the impact of high stake gambling was supported.
Regarding the Bishops report on human sexuality, Martin pointed out that members chose not to take note for a variety of reasons. However he said that there was a feeling of value among all fellow Synod members, not withstanding the different views, and quoted Rowan Williams when he said: Can we not see Christ in our neighbour?
Stories of discipleship
The Revd Linda Fletcher and Martina Lewis, from Parks and Walcot, Swindon, and Ed Shaw and Tom Murray, from Emmanuel City Centre Bristol, spoke with the Ven Christine Froude about discipleship in their contexts.
Ed and Tom, who minister with young adults, spoke about deliberately trying to surprise people in what they say and do as a church. They commented that they try to do two things: Share life together in a culture thats more self-sufficient, and get the Bible open in all they do. There was an effort to return to the fundamentals.
Linda and Martina said people on their estate in Swindon believed Christians were boring and open to ridicule; the Church would reject them for not being good enough; and that God didnt want them. They said every time that Christians meet someone, they have a chance to change those perceptions.
As a high number of people in Parks and Walcot have reading difficulties, the church had to experiment with ways of expressing the Bible in non-written forms. Linda emphasised the focus was about creating a culture where people felt safe and valuable in the church.
The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, gave his thoughts on the talk given by Professor Davie, considering how the Church might understand, engage and challenge the current culture.
He said there is a need to look again at who the Church is ministering to and understand what is important to them. Bishop Mike then asked how we can handle a world in which the new orthodoxy is easily offended.
His hope was that the Church could bring people together and work out how to make this world a better place. Bishop Mike added that, in a world that seems divided, it was not going to be helpful to have a divided Church, and prayed that it would know the unity of the Spirit.