Addressing our diocesan synod
I want you to know I feel a great sense of privilege in making this my first Presidential Address to you, our Diocesan Synod. It is a huge privilege to be Bishop of Truro, and to be called to love and serve this wonderful land of Cornwall, in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ. I am deeply conscious of the honour that is mine, and hope and pray I never take it for granted. And please pray for me that I won’t.
What do we hope and pray this Diocese of Truro might look like in 10 years’ time?
What I want to do in this Address is to help us look forward, and in particular to ask this question: what do we hope and pray this Diocese of Truro might look like in 10 years’ time? What do we hope and pray this Diocese of Truro might look like in 10 years’ time? I phrase that question quite deliberately, and let me point out three key features of it.
First of all I ask, what do we hope and pray this diocese might look like in 10 years’ time? I use the plural pronoun deliberately. Of course I am called to lead us, but leadership is a collaborative and not a solo venture. Indeed the surest test of a leader is whether anyone is actually following him or her, and if they’re not you can pretty sure they’re not a leader at all. So I want to lead us in corporate discernment – and what I’m doing today is part of that process: sharing my thoughts with you for your consideration and reflection – for our corporate consideration and reflection.
Second, my question asks what we hope this diocese might look like in 10 years’ time. And again the word is deliberate. There are many kinds of poverty, but none I think is more crippling than a poverty of hope. We are Easter people, resurrection people, so above all we should be hopeful people, hopeful of the Kingdom that is to come. There is plenty of course, that might discourage us. But we need to have heads and hearts in the right place, focused not on our problems but on our God who is the source of all our hope. And it’s vital that we retain that focus, that we might guard that hope.
Which is why I say thirdly that our hopes for what this diocese might look like in ten years’ time must be rooted and founded on prayer. It must be the work of God amongst us that above all, we must seek, and we must seek that on our knees, literally or metaphorically. We must know ourselves to be dependent people: utterly dependent upon our God but knowing that by doing so we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Which is why the coming ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ season is so important for us: let us never tire of seeking the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is heaven: instead let’s make it our first priority.
So: what do we hope and pray this Diocese of Truro might look like in 10 years’ time? Before I answer that question let me say a couple of other things by way of preface. First, I do want to say a huge thank you to you all for the warmth of welcome that Ruth and I have received since we moved here and since I started ministry here. I am – we are – truly grateful. That hospitality has continued as I’ve been on my roadshow and it’s been wonderful to see what’s going on around the diocese. It’s been particularly good to do that midweek, and to be reminded just how much we are doing to serve the wider community in all sorts of ways: as I said in a my column for Cornwall Today, it’s about service, not just services.
It’s perhaps invidious to single out individuals to thank but I do want to thank very particularly Bishop Chris, Archdeacon Audrey, and Esther, our wonderful Diocesan Secretary, all of whom have carried heavy loads over the last couple of years and have welcomed a novice Bishop with great graciousness and generosity of heart, and quite a bit of good humour too. So a particular and heartfelt thank-you to the three of you.
And secondly I do recognise that I’m the happy inheritor of a significant legacy. +Tim and +Bill and many others with them and before them did very significant things here to move us forward in mission. Many of you too have made a huge commitment and investment in the work of the Kingdom here over many years and I’m very aware of that. No-one ever steps into a vacuum and it’s arrogant to think you do. We all of us stand on the shoulders of giants, and in Cornwall we are inheritors of a very rich Christian and cultural legacy stretching back not just centuries but millennia.
So, finally, now I’ve got to page 3 of my notes, let me attempt to answer that question. What do we hope and pray this diocese might look like in 10 years’ time? The sharp amongst you (which means all of you of course) will recognise what I’m about to say. Indeed fans of source criticism will note that much of this is based on the four priorities I’ve been outlining on the roadshow. But what I’m trying to do here is sketch out in a rather more visionary way what our life together might look like, if these things came to fruition.
The other difference from what I said on the roadshow is that I’ve added a fifth priority. I’m also going to add at the end some thoughts about how we might give this vision some substance.
A church that celebrates children and young people
So, first of all, I hope that in ten years’ time we will be a church that conspicuously celebrates children and young people at its heart. I would love the children and young people of Cornwall to know that the churches of this diocese, each and every one, are places where they are welcomed and feel wholly at home. I have to say that I think we might have to change quite a lot for that to be the case, and that church as it is might simply not be fit for that purpose. And at heart this a matter more of attitude than it is about activities. If we really want to celebrate children and young people we will set about thinking how we need to change things so they can be. But if we’re indifferent to the issue, then we simply won’t make the effort.
We do I think need to be very clear that many of our churches are coming to the end of their shelf-life and their future prospects are challenging, to say the least. Will there even be a worshipping community in many of our historic buildings in 10 years’ time? But as soon as I’ve said that I want to be very clear that our primary motivation for celebrating children at the heart of our church life is not that it gives us a survival strategy but because it’s nothing less than they deserve and it’s nothing less than our God demands of us.
Let me tell you two hopeful stories. First of all I’ve been blown away by the quality of the Christian education and discipleship going on in our Church Schools: it really is astonishing. I loved meeting the Wendron Worship Warriors back in February: primary age children given responsibility for leading the rest of the school in worship – a wonderful model for us. We have much to learn from our church schools and the closer the connections we can make with them the better off we will be: and I know that our Church schools would really welcome that.
Second, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen wasn’t in Cornwall at all but in Devon. But before you throw your hands up in horror I would point out that it was in one of our two legendary parishes in Devon, in Virginstow, to be precise. Virginstow is a tiny church in a tiny village but Mike Hancock and Sonia Pearce run a thriving Messy Church there and have done for some time. To me it demonstrated that even in the smallest of places wonderful things can happen, with prayer, vision and energy.
Embracing innovation and a pioneering culture
And then secondly I hope that in ten years’ time we will be a church that unashamedly embraces an innovative and a pioneering culture, and that celebrates the innovators and pioneers in our midst. I hope we’ll be unafraid to do things differently, unafraid to experiment even when things go wrong. I do think we need to recognise that business as usual could well be the death of us and that burying our treasure in the ground is in fact the one truly risky thing to do in the Kingdom of God. Being excessively risk averse is ironically very risky.
So yes, let a thousand flowers bloom and let’s see new worshipping communities, and new mission activities and initiatives spring up wherever we they may. For a thousand flowers to bloom we might need to sow two thousand, or even ten thousand seeds. But much better to do that than have no flowers at all.
Transforming Mission is one way in which we can embrace an innovative and a pioneering culture, and I’m excited by the plans to roll it out further across the diocese. I want to be very clear that TM is not a one-size-fits-all solution, nor a magic bullet to solve all our ills, but it is significant gift to us. It can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution because one size simply doesn’t fit all and Camborne is not the same as Falmouth and Liskeard is not the same at St Austell and none of them is the same as Truro. Each is different so each will need innovative tailored approaches, appropriate to these very different contexts. But I hope and pray and believe that at the heart of each will be a commitment to seeing things being different and simply being better in the cause of the Kingdom of God.
And I do want to TM to bless us all as a diocese. And whether it does or not will depend in part on the extent to which we are willing for it to bless us. I’m aware that the proposed centres are a long way from, for example, Stratton or Penwith deaneries, but with that caveat I do want to say that if we do want it to bless us we can’t stand back looking askance it with our arms crossed, challenging it to come and bless us if it dare. No, we have to step towards it and ask how it can bless us and help us all to be pioneering and innovative. And I think the quality of our deanery relations will be crucial in all this – and I’m happy to say in many cases they seem to me to be very good.
One of the joys of the roadshow was to see some great examples of innovation in action. I never dreamed I’d spend time playing with the massed ukulele orchestra one afternoon in St Uny, Redruth but I did and I’m very glad I did. I was delighted to hear of plans to open up one aisle of Constantine church to create a coffee shop for the village – and actually I was struck by how many churches have plans to re-purpose their interiors to make them more flexible for community use. It was wonderful to visit the community shop in Lanreath, in what used to be a public toilet, so it truly is a ‘convenience’ store. It’s true that that’s not a church initiative and I don’t want to claim it is, but it’s an initiative in which many church members are involved and I love that sense of partnering with the local community in doing new, fresh things.
As I said on the roadshow we have this great Cornish tradition of pioneering mission, and a great Cornish tradition of pioneering industrial entrepreneurship too: and as the tribute system in the mining industry led miners to mine a deeper and a richer seam, we need to do just the same. We need to draw deeply on that tradition, and we need to draw above all on the Holy Spirit’s creativity, seeking a baptised imagination that imagines things being different and better – and pray for the imagination and vision the Spirit alone can give.
Confidence in our calling
And then thirdly I hope that in ten years’ time we will be a church increasingly confident in our calling. More specifically I want each and every church to be confident in its calling, recognising that the calling of one church will not be the same as it is for another. I said this a lot on the roadshow but it bears repeating. We are used to using the language of vocation and calling in a very individual (and sometimes individualistic) sense: but we are much less used to using it in a corporate sense. Well I think we should get used to it!
Just as there are few things more exciting for individuals than discovering God’s calling on their lives the same is true for churches. There is something truly liberating in knowing what God is calling us to: it’s liberating not least because it’s on that calling that we can be free to focus, and it liberates us from the sense that we have to attend to absolutely everything.
But just as discerning individual call requires effort and attention, so it is with churches. It’s a process of noticing: noticing who we are, where we are, who we are amongst, what God is doing here, and discerning what part he is calling us to play. It’s a process of paying attention, and of paying attention to our God above all. So it must be a fundamentally prayerful process. If the Church is to be transformed from the inside out, and reshaped for mission, then that’s only going to happen through the Spirit’s transforming work amongst us, individually and collectively as we properly pay attention to our God above all.
And in this vital process of paying attention we have a very significant asset in Accompanied Ministerial Development (AMD). Frankly if we didn’t have it already we’d need to invent it. I’m particularly encouraged by the instinct at the heart of AMD to learn and develop. And I’m really encouraged by its direction of travel away from being primarily clergy-focused to being focused much more on church communities as a whole. And as I’ve said before, if churches are to be obedient to God’s calling on them, that will require a new model of ministry and old clerical models will not be fit for purpose, if indeed they ever were. Rather we need a model of ministry that has at its heart a desire to set the whole people of God free in mission and ministry. We can’t be corporately obedient to our calling unless we are corporately engaged in it.
I’m quite convinced that if churches discern and are obedient to their calling that they can grow. Which leads me to what Al Gore would call an inconvenient truth: but one which I believe, like the truth about climate change, needs to be uttered. The statistics of decline in this diocese are clear. But they are not uniform and we shouldn’t kid ourselves that they are. In some places they are much sharper than in others, and in others still, there is growth. Now I don’t want to be simplistic. There are many reasons for decline, and in particular we have a demographic time bomb exploding under us. But I do know this: where there is growth – and there is growth in this diocese – it’s not automatic or inevitable: it’s because there are church leaders and church members who have a clear sense of calling and are pursuing it with energy, dedication and above all with prayer. In that I rejoice. And we need to make that more and more the norm rather than the exception.
Rejoicing in warm, strong international links
And then fourthly I hope that in ten years’ time we will be a church that rejoices in strong, warm and mutually encouraging international links. I certainly hope we can revive our link with Umzimvubu though that is rather out of our hands currently. We should certainly maintain our links with Strängnäs and it was wonderful to have Bishop Johan with us for my service of welcome. I’ve recently come back from a wonderful week at Landévennec in Brittany and that is an ancient historic link we must maintain and strengthen. Many of you will also have heard me speak of my own dream of developing an ecumenical link along with our Methodist friends with the church in Lebanon: a place where the Cornish have been involved for millennia; a place like Cornwall of ancient Christian culture; and a place where, as I can testify myself, God is doing some amazing things. I’ve now doubt that a link like that, amongst others, would do a great deal to encourage us in mission and ministry here in our diocese. And I’d also want to set the work I’ve been doing for the Foreign Office highlighting the issue of Christian persecution firmly in this context.
What are we going to do to bring some of these hopes to fruition? Well as I said before we’re going to being of hope, the Lord being our helper; and we must be people of prayer. And if this is something we are going to do then we need to do it together. So what I’m working on at the moment is a document intriguingly called ‘A strategy for a strategy’ – in others words I’m not trying to set out what we’re going to do, rather autocratically. Rather I’m drawing up a framework for engagement, that draws on work we’ve already done around ‘Confidence in the Gospel’ and much else besides.
There will be two critical components to that. The first is that we need to do some of that corporate discernment I spoke of before not just at a parish level, but as a diocese. We need to ask, ‘What is the future story God is calling us to be part of?’ What is his preferred future for us? And indeed is what I’ve outlined today consistent with that?
Secondly if we are clear about this, and working on the assumption that the headings I’ve outlined are right, what does that suggest we should do? To help us do that I’ve drawn up a matrix. You’ll see that across the top we’ve got our five priorities – to be agreed upon. Down the side we have the four categories from Confidence in the Gospel. And essentially what I’d like is to invite different groups of people with particular skills and passions in these areas to populate the empty cells with ideas of what we might do.
But I also want to be quite clear that this is not about producing some grand master-plan akin to something soviet. I think rather we should be in the business not of imposing something top down but of creating a framework that encourages engagement, by providing a whole load of opportunities alongside the many we have already so we can see these aspirations become a reality, context by context; church by church. We need to do that, so that, in fact, as we look back in ten years’ time we see just what has changed for the better – and so as we look back in ten years’ time we can say above all: ‘this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.’ And by his grace may it be so. Amen.
I want to say a few words now about where we are heading with all this. I’m not talking about figures in doing so, but want instead to talk about attitudes and culture because I’m not, to be honest, quite sure we’ve yet got it quite right. That is certainly not a criticism of anyone, it’s rather a reflection of where we are corporately.
We cannot detach money from vision
I also want to say very clearly that I see this as a continuation of my Presidential Address. We cannot detach money from vision: indeed they must be indispensably linked.
I’ve been very clear on the roadshow how important I think our common commitment to ‘Discovering God’s Kingdom; growing the Church’ is. Indeed I want it to be central to all that we are and do, our finances included.
My promises to you
I want to make a promise to you today: and that is that I will try never to make you feel guilty about the level of our giving. It’s a cheerful giver our God loves – not a grumpy one, or a guilty one! Rather, I will do all I can to develop a culture of generous giving in our diocese. Our generous God gives us all the motivation we need to give when we are fired by the possibilities he holds for us in the future. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’ – and nor do they give very much either! That’s why I’ve framed my fifth hope for us in these terms: I want us to be a church that rejoices in the generosity of God. We do have a wonderful generous God who delights to give good gifts to his children, and we must trust him to do so.
I’m well aware that much excellent and prayerful work has gone on in developing the way our work as a diocese is funded. Just last May diocesan synod approved a major revision of the way our Mission and Ministry Fund (MMF) is calculated and collected by devolving responsibility for that to deaneries. It is certainly not my intention to overturn that work, indeed I think that’s exactly the right direction of travel. But I do think there’s some risk in that too. Deanery budget setting needs to be done in the context of deanery planning – and planning above all for growth. But I’m not sure that’s always been the case, though it certainly is in some. Indeed some have expressed to me a fear that we have unintentionally instituted a ‘race to the bottom’ – and those are the words of one of our Rural Deans, not mine. Someone else expressed to me the concern that we are danger of institutionalising decline, and we need to be very careful to make sure we don’t unintentionally go down that road. The question of what we can afford is a good one. But the corollary of what we simply cannot afford not to do is equally important.
So I want to make a second promise to you today: I will do all I can to renew us in vision for the future, and renew us in hope for all that God might do amongst us, the Lord being our helper.
And more specifically, to go back to the matrix, we need to do some work around praying, growing, leading and supporting so that we do become more self-evidently, in ten years’ time, a church that does indeed rejoice in the generosity of God.
In my inaugural sermon in Truro Cathedral in January I reflected on Jesus’ wonderful words that ‘with God all things are possible’. And I believe passionately that is true. I certainly believe that he can lead us forwards and outwards to discover his Kingdom and grow his Church, as his Spirit rests upon us, and we give of ourselves to him.
So those are my two commitments to you. And I invite you to join me in one single commitment: to discover God’s Kingdom and grow the Church. And may our God give us his strength to serve that great aim with all that we have and all that we are. Amen.