The Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen

Bishop of Truro

Presidential Address

Diocesan Synod, May 28, 2022

“Will we engage in the adventurous, risky faith God calls us to – or not?”

That was the question Bishop Philip asked of members of Diocesan Synod on Saturday when it met for the first time this year.

In a speech that acknowledged the difficulties of the past few years and highlighted the challenges parishes faced, Bishop Philip emphasised the need to “attempt the impossible”.

“I want to say without equivocation or apology that what we are trying to do in the Diocese of Truro at the moment is to attempt the impossible. That is exactly what, as the Church of God, we should be doing. That is our core task, and our core business: to attempt the impossible.”

He went on to add: “This world really does need God’s church to be the very best it can be. The ‘On the Way’ process, which many of you have been involved with this year, is all about that – it’s about helping us, together, to be the very best we can be, for our God and for his world.”

He was unapologetic in his view that that work must start with the local “because the world experts in mission and ministry in any one place are the people of God already in that place… Most of the planning for fruitfulness and sustainability must happen locally – and although it’s been painful in some places, it’s been a real delight to see a number of deaneries find fresh vision, energy and indeed unity through the work of ‘On the Way’.

“This is emphatically not about top-down imposition, but local empowerment, as many people in this room can testify: and rightly so.

“This is about local communities, imagining, in the Spirit, just what different and better, just what fruitfulness and sustainability, might look like in the particular places to which we have been sent; to which we have been called. And that ought to be an exciting exercise to undertake. I believe that for many it already has been so, as exciting, bold plans are developed. And I’m delighted by that.”

While thanking people across the diocese for everything they have done, Bishop Philip also announced some new measures to support clergy and parishes.

“Life-giving leadership is a key element of both fruitfulness and sustainability. It matters hugely that we take good care of those who lead us in mission and ministry, both for their own sake and for the sake of the church they lead. We will be looking specifically at the issue of clergy well-being at our next meeting in September.”

He was also keen to stress that the work and changes weren’t confined to the local level. “Proper emphasis on the local does not mean we are passive at the ‘centre’.” So he outlined some critical decisions that are being rolled out to accompany ‘On the Way’.

Church House costs are being reduced by at least a quarter of a million pounds. “That amounts to some 12% of our shared costs budget. That has not been done without some pain, including redundancies of some fine members of staff, and it will reduce our central ability to serve our parishes, but I’m sure it’s the right thing to do. When people complain about central costs then please remind them those costs are decreasing, not rising.”

Then again, the diocese has committed to ensure that £800,000 of the funds received from the Archbishops’ Council to support ministry in areas of economic deprivation, money known as Lowest Income Community Funding (LICF), is spent in, and with, the communities for whom it is intended. “It will be targeted where it is needed, and the decisions about which those places should be are being taken locally through the ‘On the Way’ process.”

“Finally, as a matter of integrity, having received support from national reserves to set up the TM projects, we want to replicate that by drawing from our own reserves to invest in those deaneries that have not so far received TM funding. The Bishop’s Diocesan Council has committed to investing at least £2 million over the next five to seven years from our reserves to support creative local initiatives in mission.

Those funds might be used to increase staffing in deaneries, whether of lay or ordained people. Equally in some deaneries clergy numbers might reduce: but if they do that will be as a result of a local decision to do so. There is no diocesan plan to reduce them.”

Bishop Philip was clear in his support of parish ministry. “I believe in the ministry of the parish church, I’ve devoted many years of my life to it, and I want to see each and every one renewed and revitalised in discipleship, evangelism, growth, service, confidence, hope and love – because it’s just wonderful when that happens.

“It’s because I believe in the ministry of the parish church that one of our five priorities is that we should be, ‘a Church that is confident in its calling’. And in so many ways that is just what ‘On the Way’ is enabling and calling us to be: ‘a Church that is confident in its calling’.

“Change; fruitfulness and sustainability, are impossible for us, but possible for our God, and therefore for his Church, if we will trust him. I think that is the simple and the biggest test we face. Will we trust our God for the future or not? I assure you that is a challenge I feel very keenly myself. Will we trust our God for the future – or not? Will we engage in the adventurous, risky faith he calls us to – or not?”

You can read Bishop Philip’s full Presidential Address here.

Watch the latest On The Way video here