Transforming Church. Together. Diocesan Synod
I begin with that full stop. The only piece of correspondence I have received about our strategy is about its title, and in particular its punctuation, with what some find irksome because it offends their grammatical principles, and I guess others because it just seems too crudely…. contemporary.
I have no particular investment in that full stop, but I have profound investment in what that full stop is trying to achieve. Because there are many dioceses which have strategies for transformation. But the diocese of Bristol from the start has worked together with you, and with many others, to bring this presentation to you today. We are grateful for your work so far. And it doesn’t stop now, because I am determined that the transformation of the church of God in this diocese will be a joint venture, continuing the creativity, generosity, bravery and openness which we have realized characterize our life together.
So, we, individually and together, continue to be transformed by God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
co-laborative and interdependent rather than individualistic and competitive.
And that because of who God is.
Jane Williams, whom some of you know through her time on the staff of Trinity, and now St Mellitus, wrote this some years ago:
Christianity has, in theory, a powerful critique of the will to power and of structuring society on the basis of possession of power. We believe that God gives godself into our hands in the person of the human Jesus. We celebrate Jesus’ death as the heart of God’s saving action on our behalf. Jesus’ authority comes not from his strength but from his willingness to be weak and trust in God, whom he calls Father. And the Father comes to us as the one whose love we know through the life and death and resurrection of someone like us… (the New Testament suggests) that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives us those human qualities that do help to make human societies a little more like the perfect society of the Trinity. Qualities like love, joy, patience, kindness, faithfulness.
In this diocese there are so many places where I have witnessed those Trinitarian qualities, that interdependence and co-laboration are signs of the Kingdom.
I think of the multi parish benefices where parishes (independent in law) are working together to support the giftedness of each.
I think of the less formal partnerships between parishes born from generosity between those for whom much financially is readily at hand, with those who financially have very little share, but have deep funds of faith and hope and dependence on God.
I think of our so-called retired Lay Ministers and clergy who, during the Pandemic, enabled hospital chaplains to have the occasional night off by being on the end of the phone or iPad and be present in the name of Christ for those in Covid isolation and nearing death.
I think of those churches who, gathering volunteers of many sorts, have run, and are running food banks, who have created hubs for recently arrived from Ukraine, and are now setting up warm places for those who have no heating.
These are just a few of the many examples of the Trinitarian togetherness of this diocese, and in these we all rejoice.
If we support this strategy tonight, and I do urge this synod to do that, we will move into a new phase. Yesterday the prime Minister committed he government to deliver, deliver, deliver. The risk of the term delivery is that it carries with it a power dynamic of those few with power of decision making and allocation of resources, to impose on others and that so soon becomes divisive, and we become divided.
Under pressure it is a human characteristic to turn inwards and burnish our own identity, making ourselves feel better by projecting negatively onto others.
As a result, interdependence is replaced by independence. A split emerges characterized for instance as ‘us against the diocese’.’ Parishes against the DSS’
Let it not be so with us. Make no mistake, we will be under pressure.
When things seem not going to plan.
When you or your community feel you are not getting your share of the bigger cake
When communication is less than excellent.
When transformation is slow, or hidden
Let us recognize that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And let us recall, and recall one another, to the great circle of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, to that circle of God’s self-giving love which delights in itself and in what is not itself, that creates in freedom something that is not itself and, at huge risk, hands that to the other, and in doing that, finds abundant life. May that life be ours, as together we seek the restoration of God’s creation, the reconciliation of humanity, praying that God’s kingdom may indeed come, God’s will be done on earth as in heaven.