Bishop Richard has reaffirmed his belief that our diocese will be in good heart for the next bishop. In his Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod on Saturday the Bishop stated that based on his visits to parishes and conversations with clergy and laity his feel for the diocese is that we're doing well. Bishop Richard said "It's not scientific, by its nature it's random. But you get a feel, a sense for how things are. And my feeling is that we're doing OK. More than OK."
Bishop Richard highlighted national statistics published by the Church of England
to support his assertion adding
but he raised concerns over our prepartion for confirmation adding "while we can rejoice in the stories of changed lives we have not seen a growth in confirmations and I wonder what this says about discipleship, proper prepation for initiation, admission to communion and our understanding of belonging."
The Bishop stressed "I remain concerned about teaching in preparation for confirmation" adding "We must continue to attend to the basics of teaching and learning if we are to become a flourishing diocese."
Bishop Richard highlighted a range of key areas where we still need to grow - in our giving base; in growing good leaders for healthy churches because we need healthy churches for today and the future,
He stressed "We must not simply maintain what we have because it pleases us, a style of service that we like, a nice Sunday routine, a security without challenge, a place to retreat to and in which to hide. That is not health but a disease of carelessness that will lead towards decline and closure. It will foster the church as a club for its members, a body set apart from the world and unable to engage in it, a hollow and shallow form of what and who we should be. In this season of Lent, let us examine ourselves for the selfishness that prefers things to stay as we like them."
The Bishop praised churches with an outward looking focus "In the best of our churches I see that. In the food-banks, debt counselling, youth groups, toddlers groups and interest groups I see that. That heartens me for it is where we should be. And I believe that a church that has a strong engagement with the world outside is a church that will not only grow but will also grow with a sense of purpose."
Bishop Richard highlighted the recent report "From Anecdote to Evidence"
published by the Church of England. Acknowledging there is no one factor to guarantee growth, he welcomed the 8 factors highlighted by the report stating that many instinctively tie in with the Liverpool experience. He focussed on three.
Firstly he flagged the need to encourage and nurture discipleship. Bishop Richard urged us to "take a fresh look in parishes and deaneries around how our people grow in Christ. Our growth agenda is entitled 'Growing in Christ' deliberately. This implies the need for discipleship and experiencing the deep joy of seeing someone truly get God".
Secondly, he commended the need to encourage lay leadership stating that our Local MIssional Leadership agenda is crucial to "enhance opportunities and ensure every congregation has a recognised leader and pastor."
Finally, Bishop Richard highlighted the report's challenge to engage with children and young people saying "We need to understand more clearly why they don’t come to church and what they are looking for from their faith and how we can encourage this young generation to be active members of our community. But we need to do this with enquiring minds and open hearts as we enquire about a generation we struggle to comprehend. Listening to our young people comes before talking to them and about them."
Bishop Richard concluded his address affirming these important challenges saying "It is because we are a strong diocese, in good heart and growing that we can continue to look for the areas we need to tackle. It is, if you like, a virtuous circle of improvement" but he reminded us that "We must'nt lose our focus on growth but nor must we forget the purpose of growth. If we have grown for growth’s sake then we will not have succeeded. And we need to remember that success is not an attribute of God, vulnerability is. That is how we grow in Christ – as individuals and as a diocese."