Presidential Address to Synod May 2022

First published on: 12th May 2022

Listen to the Presidential Address - Diocesan Synod May 2022

 

Text of the address

Friends, these past 3 years have been extraordinary for all of us.  It’s been profoundly disruptive for almost every person and organisation (not least, our last Diocesan Synod which has been extremely disruptive in terms of our timelines for discussing Fit For Mission). 

At times it’s been painful, heart-breaking, confusing and fearful; so many of us have experienced heightened anxiety, disorientation and isolation and many of us are living with the effects of the virus upon our own physical health. The pandemic has had a huge impact upon mental wellbeing; there’s been an increase in alcohol abuse, drug abuse, gambling and domestic abuse.

I was with a gathering of senior headteachers from our Church of England schools last week, who spoke of the Covid impact upon safeguarding incidents, upon teaching and learning, and upon the socialisation, conversational skills and maturing of children. They reckon its going to take 10-years for the effects of Covid to run through the system.

This is a somber picture and there’s so much more we can add to this, isn’t there!

But it’s not the whole story - there has, of course, been blessings, too.

During this period, our priests and lay leaders have largely shown extraordinary resilience - I’d hoped very much to speak to this at our Chrism Eucharist this year.

When the cynics look back to these days and speak of churches shutting their doors and asking, ‘Where was the Church during the pandemic?’, tell them:

We were setting up Foodbanks and food pantries. We were delivering food boxes and providing dinners, we were giving tablets for children to study on-line, we were providing debt advice; we were ministering to the bereaved and taking funerals … we were working with external agencies to ensure the wellbeing of the isolated and the most vulnerable in our communities; we were advising external agencies on safeguarding – we were providing on-line acts of worship, fellowship and friendship groups,  bible studies and seeker courses; we were meeting youth and young people online … and we were doing youth detached work.  We were engaged in chaplaincy work in hospitals, schools, universities and for the emergency services.  We continued to make appointments, license new clergy, sponsor people for ordained and lay ministries, and ordain.

God continues to call people to serve as priests, and lay leaders – this means the church and the world need priests and lay leaders.  We’ve founded a new theological college for the North West.   We’ve planted new congregations!   All these things and more, whilst juggling homeschooling, caring for and tending to the wellbeing of family and friends.  If you’ve felt weary, it’s hardly surprising, is it!

 

I want to thank you all for your faith and your faithfulness – and for the Bigger Difference, you have made, with more people knowing Jesus and more Justice in the world.  Each and every one of you has made a difference.

Throughout this period, we believe God has spoken to the Church, through the Exilic texts: 

“Comfort my people” were God’s words to His people through the Prophet Isaiah – and these, we believe, have been God’s words to the Church today.  Words that reveal the pastoral heart of God …. and there’s a summons, too, bringing  us back to the pastoral heart of God. 

It’s from this place of being ministered to, that the people  recover their FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE in the God who has never deserted them; they will recover their identity as the people of God (they are God’s and God is theirs); and the covenantal relationship with God will be re-established

This is the place where trust will be restored.  The people will remember God loves them; God is with them and God will lead them into the new day.

There’s been the paring down and stripping away as we’ve learned new things about ourselves and God – and for very many of us, there’s been a sense of coming back to the heart of worship.

WE ARE NOW LIVING IN WHAT WE’RE CALLING THE POST COVID PERIOD (despite this being somewhat anomalous and premature!).   

‘The Times they are a-changing! (To quote Bob Dylan).  Or perhaps we should say, ‘the times continue to change’ not least, within the leadership of this diocese!

Bishop Paul served this diocese faithfully and well and he’s left us in a good place, with great colleagues and with a clear vision. +Paul would be the first to tell us …. this wasn’t his vision alone!  It’s the vision God has given to us, this diocese.  And as a diocese this is where our confidence needs to sit!

 

We’ve been working towards the vision and strategy for years as we’ve listened to, watched for, and prayed for the Bigger Church to make the Bigger difference, with more people knowing Jesus and more justice in the world. And when the new bishop of Liverpool joins us, she or he will be committed to working towards our God-given vision.

 

As God has spoken through the exilic texts to encourage us during Covid, I believe so strongly that in this new season, God is speaking to us through the post-exilic texts – most especially, I’d like to draw us to the Prophet  Zechariah.

 

“Don’t look backwards to your forefathers for your confidence”, says the Lord, (‘don’t try to recreate what was before’),  “Look forward instead to the One who is leading us into a new place”.

And

“Don’t worry about building walls around geographical boundaries” , says God to Zechariah … God is going to grow and expand the city; he will be the firewall around it … he will consecrate and protect all that is within.  Imagine God growing and extending our churches and creating a firewall around our deaneries with all that is within it, consecrated to God.

When the people were dispirited by the halt of the re-build due to a lack of money, God, in a vision, points to the new money from the people returning from exile.  Perhaps we should be looking for new money.  Even in these profoundly difficult times, God will give us what we need to serve the ministry and mission of the church.

The priorities of Fit for Mission, are:-

  1. To introduce people to Jesus;
  2. To deepen discipleship;
  3. Develop Christian Leaders; and
  4. To do justice.  All of this is framed around the Rule of Life, to Pray, Read & Learn; and to Tell, Serve & Give.

I have never been more sure that God will honour this strategy - because of its Christo-centricity, and its mission focus.  God wants to see a bigger church, making a bigger difference, with more people knowing Jesus and more justice in the world.

We are living with the uncertainty of how this is going to look – we shall hear more about FFM later this morning.  The crucial thing for us is that its shape will be determined by the people on the ground who understand their particular contexts; and that where possible, every aspect of our work and ministry will be aligned to and cohere with FFM.

As God brought an overwhelmed and uncertain people from exile to the land which required a re-build, he gives them this assurance in chapter 4 verse 6 of Zechariah:   Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of Hosts.

And I believe this is the message for us as we serve the ministry and mission of God’s Church in this diocese:

Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of Hosts.

Amen.

 


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