The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, has shared his vision of the Church in Cornwall with a meeting of the diocesan synod, held online this weekend.

“We should be a Church that is confident in its calling,” Bishop Philip told his audience.

In particular he wanted to see the parishes across the county, “Knowing just what they are called to be and to do,  which also liberates them from what they are not called to be and to do. Whether that’s to focus on families, or the elderly, or schools, or to embrace in all its fullness one tradition or another; or to serve the poor and those on the margins; or to plant new worshipping communities, or any combination of the above.”

But in his Presidential Address, Bishop Philip said: “I think the parish church today is under real threat.”

The key threats the Church faces are an aging demographic; declining congregations; the burden of maintaining buildings; the failure to engage with missing generations and declining income. Indeed Truro experienced a sharper fall in income during the pandemic than any other diocese in the country.

Threats were not the fault of the present Church

Bishop Philip assured synod members that the threats were not the fault of the present Church. “The forces that have led to this state of affairs have been in play for at least 150 years. This is nothing new even if the pandemic has exacerbated the issues. So I really do not want any of us to feel guilty or anxious about any of this. These are real challenges we must take very seriously. But we are not to blame for them. We live in difficult and challenging times, but it’s no one’s fault that we do so,” he said.

To face those threats, sustainability is really important.

“Yes, we must be visionary, but we must be realistic too, and that must include financial realism,” he said. “We must live within our means and not beyond them.”

Firstly, “I absolutely believe that mission and ministry in the Cornish context must be holistic: the Church needs to be good news for individuals, communities, society, for Cornwall as a whole and for the planet. So we must address both environmental issues and the deep issues of deprivation and marginalisation Cornwall faces which, with the current housing crisis, are only getting sharper: our churches must be good news for the poor, or they will not be good news at all.”

Secondly, he called on parish churches to be confident in their calling, “and to unashamedly embracing an innovative, pioneering culture. There are plenty of parish churches across the diocese doing exciting innovative things and we must certainly be wary of ever letting ‘parish’ become shorthand for ‘traditional’ and ‘unchanging’: that would be a travesty of the reality.”

I want to see more and more people enter into some form of recognised ministry in our churches

Thirdly, he reminded the delegates that they must not think that everything depends on the clergy and look to them to do everything. He called on others to step forward. “A key priestly function is to help each member of the body of Christ discern their own calling and to enter into it. I want to see more and more people enter into some form of recognised ministry in our churches. It is not because I don’t value the ministry of those who are already exercising such ministry, such as our Readers or our Local Worship Leaders. Quite the contrary: it’s precisely because I value such ministry that I want to see more of it.”

Bishop Philip concluded by saying: “With God all things are possible. And they are. So I do believe this vision can be our reality; that vision of each and all of our churches being fruitful and sustainable, a beacon of light and life to its local community.”