Bishop’s Address to Diocesan Synod
Saturday 7th October 2023
Bishop Paul’s address to Diocesan Synod on Saturday 7th October offered a reflection on Isaiah 61:1-4. He drew on several images of trees growing across very different contexts, and serving as an encouragement that every place can be fruitful in its ministry.
The Bishop spoke about Sherwood Forest’s iconic Major Oak tree, likening this ancient 1000-year-old tree to the Church of England, with its deep roots, wide-reaching canopy yet perhaps increased sense of fragility as it emerges from a pandemic, with an increasingly older demographic. And yet, at this key point in the story of the diocese, and looking ahead to the future, the bishop urged Synod to draw strength and assurance from the authority with which Jesus commissioned His church and the power of the Holy Spirit which He entrusted to people of all ages and backgrounds. Like the ‘Oaks of Righteousness’ in Isaiah 61:3, he reminded Synod that God’s church still stands as a flourishing sign of His mission for the whole nation now and in the years ahead.
The Bishop also shared an image of a forest of young tree saplings as a reminder that as well as celebrating and drawing strength from the past, through God’s leading and provision, the diocese is engaged in the planting of new oaks. He spoke of how heartening it was to see people of all ages and backgrounds responding to God’s call on their life and stepping into new roles of leadership; evidenced in this year’s ordination of 15 deacons, the dynamic cohort of 21 interns aged 18-30 years living as communities of faith across the diocese, as well as the forthcoming licensing of 14 new Licensed Lay Ministers.
Undergirding all mission and ministry, Bishop Paul emphasised the importance of prayer as the diocese considers its refreshed vision and strategy, referencing Colossians 4:2 ‘Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful’. He shared that this has become a significant biblical text more recently in his own walk with Christ, and particularly highlighted the importance of being both attentive and watchful for what God is doing in our midst and turning that to gratitude in prayer.
As part of the call to be watchful and thankful, the Bishop went on to highlight the need for the church to be expectant of what God will and can do. Drawing again on the county’s rich history, he shared a third image of a tree which is located close to St Nic’s Church on Maid Marian Way in Nottingham. This tree has a plaque erected by Nottingham City Council, marking the site of a former Baptist Chapel where shoemaker William Carey preached a famous missionary sermon on 30th May 1792. Carey exhorted his listeners to ‘Expect great things, attempt great things.’ Bishop Paul encouraged Synod to be expectant for the good things God will continue to do in our lives and his Church. In a similar vein, referencing another local connection, he quoted Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, “Faith is inseparable from expectations. Where there is real faith, there is always expectation. If we are to better the future, we must disturb the present…We are made for larger ends than Earth can encompass. Oh, let us be true to our exalted destiny.”
Bishop Paul concluded with a final image of dappled sunlight shining through a forest of trees and the reminder that ‘The Joy of the Lord is my strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10) even in the face of the challenges currently facing the world, nation and church.