Bishop Mike's Synod Address - May 2015

First published 16th May 2015

Diocesan Synod, 16 May 2015

Theres a wonderful story I like to tell of an elderly couple who had been married for years. One night as they lay in bed together, they switched off the light to go to sleep.

Suddenly the wife said to her husband,You know there was a time when you held my hand as we went to sleep. Slowly the old man took his wifes hand and they lay there a bit longer when the wife said,

You know I recall there was a time when you used to snuggle up to me as we went to sleep. Slowly the husband moved his creaking bones toward his wife and snuggled her.

A short time later the wife said,Why, I even remember when you used to nibble my ear as we went off to sleep. Immediately the old man threw the cover off and made to get out of the bed. Where you going? said the wife, somewhat hurt.

Im gonna get my teeth!

Well, we all have our memories. Im at an age where sentimentality and nostalgia goes with the territory.

I guess when Im not thinking straight, I think about the 1950s when I was a young lad, in somewhat glowing terms. Of red telephone boxes, of steam trains, of grocers (not supermarkets) whilst I conveniently forget the fact that people died in droves from conditions that today would be easily sorted out. I forget about the 'upstairs downstairs' society thatwas pretty well designed to keep you in your place, where little, if any attempts were made at social mobility, women felt like chattels to men and so on

Well of course we inhabit a Church that also enjoys much sentimentality and nostalgia. Indeed, we have almost made such 'fantasy from the past' a value. Within many of us exists the memory of the kind of church with a priest who knows everyone, where the sick are visited, the sermons are short and, of course, we sung proper hymns. George Herbert rules!

Yet, we too can forget. In 1900, 26,500 stipendiary clergy ministered to an English population of almost 30million. Today just over 9,000 stipendiaries minister to a population of over 60million. Even when you have added the SSMs and the LLMs into the mix and you take a look at future projections of clergy numbers, there is a massive capacity issue looming and it will likely become more acute.

We forget, at the same time that the church of our memories was very disempowering of the laity (and we still bear some of the marks of that today) and the clergy quite simply came from a certain class.

As I have told you many times, the trouble with the future is it aint what it used to be!

All this needs to be borne in mind as we continue to work on our strategy for the next three years. But I want to start with a thumbnail sketch of some basic theology. I want to talk about the unity of the Church

I was minded in my own reading earlier in the week that for St Paul, the unity of the Church was a big deal. Whether you look at the opening chapters of the Corinthian literature, or whether you look at the opening verse of Ephesians, Pauls plea seems to form around three things:

Unity is God's gift to all who are in Christ.

This church unity is important, and we should make very effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

MAKE EVERY EFFORT is a phrase worthy of constant repetition.

In Ephesians 4 Paul borrows on the model of the Holy Trinity (a model of unity in diversity). He writes,

...making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is above all and through all and in all.

Paul knew that the Church is not homogenous. He understood that where two or three gather in my name, theres bound to be trouble! But he believed that unity should trump the claims of distinctiveness, for the sake of the Gospel.

Anglican Divine, Richard Hooker believed that the Church of England could be a safe place for people to hold differing views but still would hold together, though it is doubtful in my mind as to whether Hookers view - what he called comprehensive nature of the Church - can be readily and simply substituted in todays Church by the secular values of inclusion and diversity.

In a good way the world has led us in all this. Though the world of rights and inclusion and diversity allows for some intellectual scrutiny that seems sadly lacking recently a champion of the post-modern academic worldview said that, Im done with reasoned argument which seems worrying at the same time, the world has enabled us to see that hatred of minorities, the rights of the poor and marginalized in our society, the need for the voice of minorities to be heard (though not always agreed with) are one part of a recipe for social cohesion, a worthy goal that all Christians should applaud.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much, said Helen Keller.

We are a parochial church and inevitably have a tendency to think parochially; we are inclined not to look beyond our own tribe or self-interest.

Today, two of our agenda items bear on the subject of our togetherness, our unity as a diocese, or lack of it. First, the issue of Governance. Today, the demands of Charity Law mean that any organisation withcharitable status needs to focus on Governance. For us, that is about managing a 7 million plus charity.

In times past, the representative aspect of our structures has held sway. Voting to Synods and Bishops Councils have largely followed this model. Tribalism and self interest can characterize such a model. However, whatever is noble in such a way of behaving, it seems to me that the downside of any organization that overplays representation, is that it leads to a deficit of the right skills necessary for the proper governance of the organization at hand. It can also lead to institutionalized self-interest.

The Charity Commission is keen that competence for governance trumps - I think it needs to be said - a somewhat sentimental view of representative governance. I have to say that at times our alleged love of representation seems little more than skin deep as we have to work overtime to get people to stand for election. Full credit to Oliver and our Comms team for achieving more nominations for Diocesan Synod than we have ever had!

Of course, a skill-based Bishops Council needs to be diverse, but it also needs to be competent to undertake its work in the modern world.

The idea you have before you is to build on the improving engagement of us all in Diocesan Synod, by making the Diocesan Synod the forum for representation, whilst seeking to make the Bishops Council a more skills-based forum. This will mean that we shall need to continue to improve our ability to engage and listen to each other which we have started, but it means that the governance of the Diocese should be in safer hands.

It is truthfully also nonsense, by any law of group dynamics to have a Bishops Council (ie a Board of Directors) that is so large. The real reformers amongst you wanted a Bishops Council of no more than 12. Though, personally, I see the sense in this, my own view is that we would never get this through. Too much too soon.

Even today, I expect some pushback, but I want to re-assure you the Governance changes proposed are not an attempt to iron distinctiveness out of our church or to diminish our representation, but to enhance our distinctiveness and representation in our Diocesan Synod to hold a unity in diversity in this forum whilst at the same time seeking to improve the delivery and efficiency of our Governance through a skills based Board of Directors, the Bishops Council.

The second area that all this touches on is our strategy. Again, I know there has been some pushback on what has been proposed, not least the idea of mission areas and as will be explained, we are seeking to listen to the constructive criticism that is coming back and work out how we might embrace that in the final strategy document that will, of course come before this Synod.

Heres the thing. Not just for theological reasons, but for practical reasons I think the future has to be a different view of parish boundaries. Obviously, there are some aspects of our boundaries that will need to remain, for examplesinsofar as they impact the Marriage Act.

Here our sentimentalism will not help us. In a way, parish boundaries are a means to an end. Its simply that the world has moved on. We have parishes where significant numbers of people are adherents of other world faiths; we have parishes where 95% of the people are only there to sleep in the week and as I have mentioned we have a massive capacity issue to negotiate.

We shall listen carefully to pushback, but if growth is to emerge we shall have to think of a different way of cutting up the cake. Relating to my earlier comments, we cannot face our current and coming challenges without a serious commitment to do this together. Our unity is important!

I spoke with a colleague from another diocese recently. He told me that in his Deanery six out of eight of the stipendiary clergy were either off long term sick or were ministering ie. not ministering from a position of burn-out. His analysis?

Their diocese refuses to challenge the "Weve always done it this way" approach and pretends that the status quo can be maintained. I owe it to you not to recreate this kind of situation here in this Diocese and I will personally do all I can, not to jeopardise your health within the challenges of the resources available.

Heres the thing. We need to do this together. Distinctiveness is good, and again, the so-called mission areas of our strategy are not some clumsy post-industrial attempt at standardization, but to try and provide a framework for more working together and also make the best use of our available resources.

Working together must start from within. To some extent our ability to evangelise and do mission across the whole piece will depend on whether we are prepared to put togetherness ahead of individualism. Its worth the effort. Church unity matters!

But of course this sense of togetherness relates beyond our own inclinations to be parochial and stretches to our partners in mission. I heard recently that the Methodist Church had lowered its boundaries and risked its distinctiveness and asked the Pioneer network of churches to help revive 60 of their dying churches. Could we envisage doing anything as bold? Sometimes I fear hubris might triumph over humility.

The old African Proverb has it right,If you want to go fast go alone; if you want to go far go together.

I think that Paul might have said, a yeah God to this. I think we need to embrace this and, as we approach our agenda, I think we need to think about these things. I look forward to listening to our debate and to discerning God's will for us in these matters.

Thank you for listening.


16 May 2015


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