Bishop Paul’s presidential address delivered to Diocesan synod today
Saturday 19th October 2013
29th June 2009 and 27th February 2010 are going to be indelibly written on my memory. The bus tour of Nottinghamshire which began with us drawing up in Market Square, Nottingham, took in St. Peter’s School, Mansfield, a farm in Julia Jesson’s parishes and ended at Southwell Minster, all the time accompanied by a variety of Area Deans and other diocesan staff was a highly memorable way to be introduced as the next Bishop, and the first who would be installed as Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham. Then the installation service itself with flags, dancers, singers, choirs, a packed cathedral and hundreds eating tea in the Minster School; unforgettable for me.
The time here as bishop has flashed by; I was slightly taken aback at the installation of Liz Murray in Elston last Sunday to hear ‘in the fifth year of our translation’. In a very down to earth phrase, ‘it has been a blast.’
It has been largely because of the wonderful people with whom I have been privileged to work. A brilliant bishop, a cracking chief exec, 3 amazing archdeacons, 3 dynamic deans, 1 of the cathedral and 2 of women’s ministry, 2 remarkable registrars, a fizzing finance chair, 2 captivating chaplains, a superb secretary and a perfect PA. Alongside them have been great area deans, wonderful lay chairs, terrific directors, excellent diocesan staff and a great load of wonderful clergy, lay ministers and readers, churchwardens and church members. Then there have also been the great range of people with whom I have worked in the local authorities, voluntary organizations, schools, universities, businesses, other churches and other faiths; so many great people working for the good of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. I am deeply grateful to you all. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve with you.
I think by now most of you know that when I was first approached about a move to Durham I was as shocked as many around the diocese I know have been since it became public news. Rosemary and I really had anticipated being here until retirement. The course on which we had set ourselves with the Diocesan vision looked to develop its implementation over a decade. Events like the Deanery Lent series and Prayer Walks were carefully mapped out over a 10 year period. I was all set to take study leave next year, after 10 years as a bishop; with a view to it helping with refreshment and renewal for how the next stages of leadership here would work out. But our Lord had other plans. We really wrestled with whether or not we should go through the process for Durham. But once decided we should we knew that if the outcome was that I was invited to go that would mean God was calling us away to a fresh challenge. We honestly did not expect this to be the outcome. But it was, and is. We go from a deep conviction that this is God’s unexpected call on our lives. But then we have reminded ourselves regularly that there have been a number of unexpected calls all the way through our ministry together; beginning from our meeting and marriage in a short space of time, to joining Scripture Union staff, and the never expected call to be a bishop in the first place. In this sense we should not be surprised, but God remains the God of Surprises.
I hope therefore you will indulge me in a little reflection for this final address to this Synod. But reflection I hope which will always point forward.
DEVELOPING THE VISION
I am very glad that I made a priority in my first months of visiting clergy in their homes and of having open events in each Deanery. This really did help me gain a sense of where the heart of people in the diocese lay. It was reflecting on all of these conversations, those held also with a variety of civic leaders, and alongside working closely with the wonderful Bishop’s Staff team that I inherited that led to the development of the Diocesan Vision statement ‘Joining together in the Transforming Mission of God’ and the 3 strands of Living Worship, Growing Disciples and Seeking Justice.
I am deeply grateful for the critiquing and improving that took place through the Bishop’s Staff, Directors and Bishop’s Council before we went public with it. What encouraged me most in March 2011 was the number of clergy who said things like, ‘This is not your vision bishop it is our vision’ and ‘This is something we can use in our parishes.’ It has been encouraging to see how widely used the vision has become across the diocese; how parishes have seen how their own vision statements fit neatly into this, or how parishes have adapted or adopted to the wider diocesan vision.
It has been deeply encouraging to see it running through the thinking of the Diocesan team. Here the Clergy Study days and Diocesan Conference have been invaluable in helping us explore these themes together and discern fresh ways forward. I think Sam Wells’ challenge about the possible need for a Truth & Reconciliation Commission for Nottinghamshire around the devastation still unresolved of pit closures across the county is a good example of how these keep taking us forward. Treasure this annual event; it is rare for any diocese to undertake. It is a rich resource for how this diocese deepens its sense of being in mission together.
With next year’s Clergy study day, being led by our ecumenical canons and Cathedral council members, alongside our canon theologian, focusing on ‘Joining Together’ both ecumenically and within the Anglican communion and the conference focusing on the mission of God this process of continual reflection and renewal is well set. You are, I think, well set to keep the vision moving forward, and being set to welcome a new Diocesan Bishop to lead you into the next phases of its development. Just as I have been able, I believe, to build on Bishop George’s work I hope that you will seek someone to build further on what we have done together rather than start from a wholly new place.
JOINING TOGETHER ACROSS THE WORLD
This year sees 10 years of partnership with the Diocese of Natal. Both the curates visit and that led by Bishop Tony which included groups from 2 parishes with small story links have been a good way of deepening this partnership. Both dioceses believe they have gained from it; even if at times forward development has felt slower than desired. Pearl Nzuza’s time with us here was also very warmly appreciated by all who met and worked with her. It is good that there is a desire to keep the partnership developing through growing further small story links, and potentially working together on common concerns like the environment and global poverty issues.
I was charged as new bishop to not only take the Natal link forward but also help the diocese develop further world church connections. As we know after listening carefully and recognising where links had already existed for some while we decided to develop partnerships with both Burundi and the Holy Lands. It has been a privilege to take part in both of these. Indeed in both cases it has been thrilling to see them grow faster than any of us expected. In both cases we have excellent steering groups taking them forward. Our partners are very positive about how we have approached our relationship and believe that they are well grounded to develop further in the coming years. Alongside these 3 diocesan wide links many churches have their own specific ones, which is to be applauded. Our partnership with Christian Aid in these past 2 years has been very valuable in helping us to keep thinking strategically and realistically. It was a good decision to work with them as a pilot diocese.
Our vision holds out the longing that every disciple sees themselves as a world Christian. We are far from that goal; but we are stepping in the right direction. In our seeking justice for the poor we have to engage in world issues around trade, climate change, freedom of speech etc. We are learning as we go. I am confident the diocese is well placed to keep these partnerships growing and thus engage more fully in creating a just world. But beyond that creating a more loving and compassionate world in which forgiveness and reconciliation shine through.
In 2010 we became engaged in debate about the Big Society. One of its key features was to be greater engagement of business, and of local communities, charities and faith groups in delivering more aspects of the common good. Whilst the phrase has largely dropped away the reality is that a new inter relationship between national and local government, business and civil society has been emerging. Thankfully we took it seriously from the outset. This has led us to a whole range of new partnerships and ventures.
We now work with Age UK, we continue to work closely with organisations like Family Care, Framework, and Emmanuel House. We have been deeply involved in the creation of Nottingham Rural Support, Transforming Notts Together, Nottingham Citizens and Opening Minds. We have strengthened our relationships with County, City and District Councils at both political and executive levels. We have learned much about partnering organisations like Credit Unions, sports clubs and institutions.
Alongside this we have strengthened our relationships with the leaders of other faiths, and ecumenical church leaders. This has happened through prayer, building relationships and working alongside each other for the common good. We are incredibly well served by many people in these ventures, both employed and volunteers. I can tell you that we have gone far beyond where I thought we would be 3 years ago. We are regarded as key players by all sectors in building a better Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. For all of this we praise The Lord recognising the work of his Spirit in unexpected places and through unexpected people and ways. It is my prayer that this will continue to be built on. Perhaps responding to Sam Wells’ suggestion of a truth and reconciliation commission; or maybe in other ways.
In all these partnerships seek God’s justice not simply the narrow fairness and equality which so often marks our society’s call for justice. Show what grace, compassion and reconciliation look like in all the communities of this great city and county.
Growing churches are critical in transforming communities. Here I don’t mean the simple idea of growing in number so we are a higher percentage of the population; although I think you know I do believe in this kind of growth. No what is more critical is churches who are growing in their love for God, for one another and for the communities in which they are set. This is the process that Partnership for Missional Church engages in; deep growth, transformational growth. This lies deeply behind the key questions with which we are still engaging in relation to the 2020 process. I am sure we took the right faith decision to hold our post numbers for 2020, and thus committed ourselves to both rethinking the strategic deployment of clergy and the creative development of more, varied, lay stipendiary posts.
Inevitably I feel some regret at moving on before that process is complete. But then I note we have said all along it will never arrive at a plan set in stone, it has to be organic; so even if I had been here until 2020 we would have found ourselves constantly responding flexibly to the movement of the Spirit. At least I hope so; flexibility is not always easy in the C of E.
I would have liked to see us make more progress on growing real Fresh Expressions of church than we have done. There are a small number of encouraging examples but somehow we have not yet fully grasped that reach all peoples needs greater adventure and risk. It requires more encouragement, especially of lay people, to try and grow new forms of church. I am sorry if I have not offered a clear enough lead in this regard.
This said there is brilliant stuff happening in our parishes. Traditional services with traditional music and at traditional times are producing positive growth in some settings. Messy Church, and a variety of offshoots; less formal worship for young people and older ones too is bringing people to faith and growing new disciples. There is some really exciting stuff going on in some of our schools; indeed regularly I think schools are ahead in thinking about worship in fresh ways. It has been a joy to see confirmation numbers begin to grow again. It is exciting to see the number coming forward for ordained ministry, especially the increase amongst younger people. Our vocations strategy, which at root is based in prayer, is bearing fruit. Keep encouraging people into ordained ministry. But also look at developing local lay worship leaders, local pastoral carers and preachers. Encourage more younger people to consider training as Readers. Raise up more teachers; encourage good teachers into headship. Produce business women and men from our children and young people; help them know business is a holy calling too.
It has been an enormous privilege to ordain some fantastic people; the first of whom have begun to move into incumbencies. I have confidence in the leadership that is emerging for the future. It is essential that this is both women and men. We need more women emerging into senior roles; we need to consider how we nurture such leadership. This applies to lay as much as ordained, leadership.
Keep growing churches, of every tradition and flavour; in every type of community, and in growing them transform this county and city.
THE TRANSFORMING GOSPEL
For the gospel of God in Jesus Christ is about transformation. It is about the transformation of individuals, communities, nations, our world and all of creation. This gospel takes a sinner like me, in whom the image of God in which I am made is cracked, flawed, marred, and beyond hope, and reconciles me back to my Maker; adopts me into his family and dwells within me by his Spirit.
It is the gospel of one who entered our world extraordinarily through the womb of an obscure, poor Galilean girl. It is of one who lived a life of ordinariness; growing up through the usual processes of human development; being part of a family, learning and developing. He lived in a small obscure town in an occupied land; week in week out taking part in local life, including prayer and worship. Then after 30 years of ordinary mundane obscurity he bursts onto the public scene proclaiming God’s reign, teaching, healing, exercising, upsetting religious leaders, raising up the poor and outcast, bringing dignity to the lonely and the lost, valuing children and gathering followers from unexpected quarters.
After only 3 short years he had so upset the religious and local political leaders that they conspired to have him killed by the Roman authorities. This gospel is about the innocent one who was cruelly nailed to a cross as the Lamb of God taking away my sin, your sin, the world’s sin. This gospel is about the wonder of God raising this man, the divine son, from the dead thus showing us sin had been dealt with, forgiveness is offered, reconciliation is done, death is defeated. And this glorious Lord Jesus is raised into heaven we he lives for us, and will gather us to himself for ever.
This is the gospel that transforms individuals, but also transforms families, communities, nations and all of creation for in Jesus of Nazareth The Creator God brings about the redemption, reconciliation and renewal of all things. It is a glorious gospel.
It is this glorious Lord that it has been my privilege to preach, teach, explore, ponder, pray to, and above all worship with you all for these past 4 years. Thank you all. It has been an enormous honour. I will miss you deeply. And yes, it has been a blast.