Diocesan Synod – 15th May 2021

Diocesan Synod met online on Saturday with members drawn from all nine deaneries.

It usually meets twice each year, for a mixture of worship, prayer, presentations, debates and discussion – bringing people together from across the Diocese on subjects affecting diocesan life.

The Rev Sam Hustwayte (Vicar of Calverton and Chair of the House of Clergy) opened the Annual General Meeting (AGM) in worship and Michael Arlington (Chair of Finance, Bishop’s Council) presenting the 2020 Annual Report & Accounts.

In his keynote address Bishop Paul reflected on the opportunities and challenges the Diocese faces as we emerge from the COVID pandemic, looking at potential learnings from the 19th Century spiritual revival in Nottingham before members shared their learnings about the mission of the church and the life of faith in the pandemic in break out rooms.

Bishop Andy also shared an update on the exciting project to revitalise work amongst children and young people and fed back on the recent Clergy Study Day building on our focus on diversity & equality within the Diocese.

Amongst other matters, Synod also considered the diocesan response to climate change and a motion brought by Newark & Southwell Deanery regarding church buildings.

Bishop Paul’s address to synod:

I want to begin by expressing my enormous and heartfelt gratitude to you all for your various ministries across the diocese, as well as your role in Synod, through all the challenges we have been living through this past year. For this reason, I turn to Philippians chapter 1:

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ.” Phil 1:3-6

Three things that stand out in these verses for us as a Synod in a diocese emerging from a pandemic. Three things that I believe should shape the character of our ministry together over this next year.

First of all, Thanksgiving – so that when we think of one another and the faith that we share our first response is gratitude and generosity towards each other, as God has shown to us.

Then there is Purpose – because we are drawn to where God is already at work and where he is leading us, defining our purpose not in terms of our buildings, institutions or good traditions, but in the gospel of God we have been given and the joy that comes from being partners together in this.

Thirdly, Confidence – that whatever our shortcomings, our struggles, our resource challenges, our fears about change or uncertainty over the future, we are confident in God that what he has begun in us he will complete or fulfil.

Sadly we are not moving into a post-Covid world just yet. Through the vaccines we have seen a dramatic decline in the rate of infections but the virus is still with us and, as we heard yesterday, there may be further setbacks to come. Over the next weeks we will continue to emerge from the restrictions and the ministry of our churches will again adapt as they have done throughout the past long 14 months.

In recent weeks I have appreciated the opportunity to engage with clergy and lay leaders one-to-one, in smaller groups, and most recently in two webinars focused on Restarting and Reshaping ministry, with over 200 attending.

While there is inevitably a weariness that many carry and some anxiety about what the future holds, there is also a steady resolve to keep serving the purposes of God in the opportunities that are set before us.

Some churches are considering how they can integrate on-line ministry with in-person services and activities. Some are reviewing where particular needs have increased or changed in their community and how to respond. Some are working out what to restart but do a little differently. Some are thinking through what may need to stop, at least in time, as new things get started. These next months will contain plenty of fresh and creative thinking about mission in every part of the diocese. And let me say that some of our parishes in vacancy are already engaging with immense energy and prayerfulness in shaping future plans. We may not be in a post-Covid world but we are part of a post-Pentecost church and the Holy Spirit is moving.

It will likely take another year before we have a clear picture of how the pandemic has affected the health and sustainability of mission across the diocese, not simply over financial resources but more importantly the people needed to take on new roles in the ministry of our churches, as well as clarity to ensure we put our best energy in the right things.

As a Synod and as a diocese, our priorities within the strategic framework for Growing Disciples set out in 2016 are as important to our longer term vitality as they were before the pandemic. And I shared at the last Synod how 7 streams of work are helping to accelerate some of our key aspirations, particularly around church planting and grafting. Here’s a reminder of what they are…we will say a little more about some of them later, including an update from Bishop Andy on the Children and Youth stream.

But over the next 6-12 months we will need to make strategic decisions that will shape mission in this diocese beyond the timeframe of the 2016 Growing Disciples vision, looking to the mid-twenties, even towards 2030.

This is not simply focused on where and how we will resource ministry and mission but also the character and culture of a Church that is bolder, simpler and humbler; centred on and shaped above all by Jesus, where every one of us is a missionary disciple, committed to growing churches that are younger and more diverse, where there is a mixed ecology of services, ministry and mission. If that sounds sort of familiar to some of you, then it’s because this is part of the emerging vision of the Church of England for 2020’s, recently set out by Archbishop Stephen, who, incidentally is a keynote speaker on our diocesan conference in October.

There is a diagram that sets this out, though there is still some discussion on whether this is a wheel of mission or the ripples on a pond as the Spirit moves us more into the world or even a target with Jesus at the centre. It is probably best not to agonise

too much over that, what is important is there is an emerging vision for the Church of England that aligns very well with our own priorities. I particularly like the clear focus on developing a missional culture that is bolder, simpler and humbler.

Bolder because our confidence is in Christ not us. It is the Good News of God that changes lives, transforms communities and brings about justice in our world.

Simpler because we need structures for mission that are not hindered by unnecessary bureaucracy while enhancing patterns of good governance.

Humbler because we are also learning to face our failures and grow from them, and this isn’t easy, whether in relation to safeguarding, ethnic diversity, caring for creation, ministry in areas of higher deprivation, judgemental attitudes towards other denominations or different Christian traditions across our own churches. Above all learning a new humble dependence on God for all that we need, expressed especially in prayer.

I hope this diocese can play a part in this national vision as a ‘resourcing diocese’, growing to give ourselves away, not just to the mission in England but across the world. God-willing, the Lambeth Conference in 2022 will be a particular inspiration in nurturing some new global partnerships in the gospel.

By the time of this Synod in 2022 I hope we can refresh our diocesan vision in Growing Disciples looking towards 2027. With our present priorities like a trellis from which new strands of ministry and mission can be supported across our parishes, in schools and other settings, above all to introduce more people to Jesus.

But in a post-Pentecost Church through the 2020’s I long for prayer to be the engine of our mission – bolder, simpler, and humbler – as it always has been in seasons of revival, whether in a local church or across the nation.

I managed to acquire recently a copy of a book about the Revival of Religion in Nottingham from 1780-1850. It was written in 1957 by the Revd John Weller who was at that time Curate in Charge at St James, Porchester. It is a fascinating, heartening story of gospel vision, extraordinary generosity, hardship, setbacks, and some contention, but ultimately a movement of church planting and revitalisation all across the city and in the county – though slow at the start the Church of England also played a significant part.

His conclusion is no surprise: prayer made all the difference. Let me read you two short extracts:

“Of course, there are no short cuts. There is no simple panacea which is only waiting to be applied, to bring people flocking to the Churches. God’s work in the human soul is a strange work, and it is only as that work takes its course that, one by one, the scattered sheep are brought home. . Yet God uses for this the prayers and the labours of His Church, and Revivals do not occur without a great deal of prayer, and a great deal of hard work. The Revival which has been the subject of this study was achieved by those means, and no innovations in the conduct of worship, in the presentation of sermons, or in the other parochial techniques can ever be a substitute for them.”

In his final comments in the Conclusion, referring to the pioneers of prayer in the city during the late 18th century, including the Thomas Tatham, he writes:

“They prayed alone, and they prayed together. Mrs Tatham attributed the revival of October 1796 to the fact that God had shown his loving kindness ‘in preserving a praying remnant in the darkest and deadest season of the Church’. The Baptists and Independents had a successful series of weeknight services, backed by meetings in the early mornings to which a thousand people came – to pray. At Lenton, there was the little group who met in the vestry of the church, Adams and his fellow-warden joining the Vicar in prayer ‘for the Holy Spirit’s power to be exerted in His preached Word.’ The power of the Holy Spirit was exerted in the preached word very often during the seventy years of our study, and God, like a good Father, is still ready to give good gifts to His Children, and ‘the Holy Spirit to them that ask him’. It is here that the hope of the Twentieth Century [and now the Twenty-First] Revival lies, for God says now, as He said when Ezekiel saw the bones in the midst of the valley: ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live.’”

May this become the best part of the extraordinary adventure of mission before us in the 2020’s, that our praying, alone and together, will be the heartbeat of the church across the diocese: bolder, simpler, humbler, centred on Christ and all for his glory.