Synod learns latest news on plans to boost church growth

Communicating with our parishes on how best to support church growth was high on the agenda when Diocesan Synod met in person at St George’s, Leeds.

Bishop Nick welcomed clergy and lay members and in his Presidential Address (in full below) he listed the pressing issues that face the world, and the church, in this time of political, social and humanitarian challenges.

And he explained how both the Bible and Christian vocation require engagement with those challenges in the glare of the public square:

“Some of the foundational texts from which our western democracies have derived their legitimacy and development – especially the particular settlement in the United Kingdom – are rooted in certain judgments and commitments.

“Notions of human rights and the rule of law did not drop from heaven and are not self-evidently right.

“If we claim that human beings matter and have value, or that truth and justice matter, we have to ask on what basis we make that claim.

“For Christians it is that every human being is made in the image of God.”

After Bishop Nick’s Address, the 2021 Leeds Diocesan Board of Finance Annual Report and Financial Statements were noted, following presentations by Irving Warnett, chair of the Financial Assets and Investments Committee and Geoff Park, diocesan Chief Finance Officer. 

Mr Warnett said that while diocesan finances were in better shape than had been anticipated, there remained the prospect of a £900k deficit for the current year.

He thanked Synod members and parishes for monies received through Parish Share and welcomed the Church Support and Deployment initiative, which aims to support parishes and nurture growth.

“You cannot cut your way out of a deficit, you have to grow your way out of a deficit,” Mr Warnett said.

“The Church Support and Deployment initiative is all about growth and has no hidden agenda,” he said.

Geoff Park said: “2021 turned out to be a relatively positive year, despite the deficit and now the question is – where do we go from here?”

Synod member Joyce Hill complimented the use of clear graphics in the Finance Annual Report – in particular the use of bar charts that showed the significance of Parish Share: “You don’t have to be an accountant to understand these and I’d urge that they are supplied to Synod members and transmitted to every parish.

“You can see clearly how Parish Share is so important, just by looking at these bar charts,” she said.

Following the departure of Bishop Jonathan Gibbs to become Bishop of Rochester, Bishop Nick performed the statutory task of asking Synod for its opinion on whether he should request that the role of Area Bishop for Huddersfield should continue. This was agreed overwhelmingly by a show of hands.

Jonathan Gough, Archdeacon of Richmond and Craven, moved that Synod should receive the Annual Reports of Diocesan Teams, and this was duly passed following a presentation by Diocesan Secretary Jonathan Wood on the exceptional work of the Safeguarding Team.

Synod then heard an introductory presentation from Outer Bradford Deanery on a motion to be debated at October’s meeting, regarding the use of the Common Cup.

After lunch, Diocesan Secretary Jonathan (pictured right) and Revd Jude Smith, Director of Church Revitalisation presented an update on the diocesan Church Support and Deployment initiative, which seeks to engage with parishes and identify tailored ways and means of providing support and resources to enable growth.

Following group discussions, feedback stressed the need to communicate positively with clergy and laity and that best progress would be made if this was a collaborative process where individual needs and circumstances were discussed in context.

Special thanks was given to our diocesan interns, who helped manage the practicalities of the day at St George's.

 

Bishop Nick’s Presidential Address in full:

"There’s really not a lot to talk about at the moment, is there? The world is at peace, all is well with the UK economy, politics are predictable and boring, challenges are few, and, apart from England losing the footie and winning the cricket, nothing much changes.

Well, I know many people who wish it were so (apart from the football, that is). But, you’d have to live each day with your head deep in the sand, if you think that all is well. I only have to mention Ukraine and Russia, Afghanistan, the energy crisis, food banks, poverty, hungry children and families, the rising cost of living, questionable public ethics, and we know all is not well with the world. To add to the burden, the island of Ireland is worried about renewed tensions fuelled by political division and the unilateral breaking of international law; parliamentary sovereignty is being replaced by increasing moves toward executive sovereignty (decision by ministerial fiat); we export refugees to Rwanda, denying them human rights under the rule of law at a very basic level.

And the Church – bishops in particular – comes under the cosh of certain political and media interests for daring to have something to say.

I have thought a lot about this. Partly because I get communications that tell me to keep out of politics (despite sitting in Parliament and, therefore, holding particular – and sometimes uncomfortable – responsibilities). It’s also partly because I often think I might be wrong. It’s mainly because I would actually like a quiet life away from the constant storm of criticism, fire and fury, nastiness and debate.

But, there are two fundamental complicating problems here: the Bible and Christian vocation.

I keep having to explain to critics that politics is about people and the right ordering of society. This raises questions, then, about how we judge what a good society should look like … and why. It is not enough merely to assume this without questioning the moral basis of any particular political order and social arrangement. Politics involves creating spaces in which competing judgements about the values and ethics underlying social order and political commitment can be articulated and debated, with passion and seriousness. It can never simply be a power game; it involves and affects people’s lives and communities.

And this is where the Bible comes in. Some of the foundational texts from which our western democracies have derived their legitimacy and development – especially the particular settlement in the United Kingdom – are rooted in certain judgments and commitments. Notions of human rights and the rule of law did not drop from heaven and are not self-evidently right. If we claim that human beings matter and have value, or that truth and justice matter, we have to ask on what basis we make that claim. For Christians it is that every human being is made in the image of God. The creation narratives of the Old Testament lead into explorations of what it then means for human beings to live together. Notions of justice come into place, but the idea of justice itself is not self-evident or merely arbitrary.

The Old Testament tells a developing story of how particular communities took their vocation under God seriously and struggled to create social orders that enshrined justice and equity and generosity and mercy and love. I haven’t time to flesh this out here, but would be happy to do so elsewhere.

The point, therefore, is that to claim a separation between faith and politics is to do violence to what it means to be human in the first place. The moral basis of any political claims must be subject to scrutiny; otherwise, they must be suspect – assertions of power that are potentially so weak they cannot be challenged in the cold light of day. (Charges that the bishops who publicly oppose the exporting of refugees to Rwanda have no alternatives to propose – the windbag theory – are downright lazy and inaccurate. I invite those politicians and journalists to read the many contributions by Lords Spiritual to House of Lords debates on, for example, the Nationality & Borders Bill. Specious mantras don’t help further serious debate of important matters.)

It is not just bishops, though. No Christian can avoid the political implications of biblical ethics. And some of us cannot avoid – except for reasons of cowardice – articulating in the public square the political implications of ethical judgments derived from a serious reading of our foundational texts, the Bible. Compartmentalising faith and real life (including our responsibility for the right ordering of society according to justifiable ethical values) is not an option. Were it so, then we would not have a statue of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the west front of Westminster Abbey and Archbishop Desmond Tutu would be an historically irrelevant nuisance.

This, then, is the context for the work we do today as a synod – literally, bringing together people – in our case, Anglican Christians – with differing perspectives and commitments and experiences in order that together we scrabble our way towards discerning the mind of God for the part of the world we live in. Our particular question, then, is: how do we, as the Diocese of Leeds, so shape our vocation and resources in such a way as to be consistent with our unique vocation? But, the dynamic has to be clear: we help shape the church and diocese in order that church and diocese help shape the world around us. The church is not the end; the end is the kingdom of God and, at every level, its claims on the world in which we live.

So, today we have an opportunity to consider the diocese’s annual report and accounts. These tell a story (or stories). Not everyone gets excited by words and numbers, but the important thing is to ask what these tell us about our common life, our priorities, our values and our real Christian convictions. Reports cannot always tell the vivid stories of how our organisation – the Diocese of Leeds – fulfils the vocation of the Church of England in this part of Yorkshire, but they summarise our commitments and pose the higher-level question of how faithful we are being in responding to that vocation.

Today we will spend time looking at what we are calling ‘Church Support and Deployment’. This represents a process that began before the pandemic, but which the pandemic and its fallout has expedited: what resources can we expect to deploy (money, people, buildings, etc.) in the future that enable us to fulfil our particular vocation as the Church of England in our part of the country? Like political commitments, this necessarily involves competing choices. Where we invest our limited resources is not always obvious; so, we need to understand the options available to us as we shape the future. But, what must be clear is this: if we do not shape the future, we will simply become victims of other factors, events or decisions … and that is not a healthy way to live.

As you know, the Archbishop of York recently led a process aimed at identifying and articulating a renewed vision for the Church of England. Those involved came up with a framing around three words: simpler, humbler, bolder. (I prefer Loving Living Learning, but you can’t win them all!) These words compel us to face up to who and how we are – for what and for whom we exist in the first place. So, as we continue to emerge from the irruption of a pandemic over the last couple of years, we try to simplify our mission, humbly address our challenges, and boldly embrace our opportunities for the sake of the Gospel.

This always hits me with particular force when each year I come to ordain new deacons and priests. They must make the Declaration of Assent and swear oaths. At the heart of the Declaration lies this claim and charge: “The Church … professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called to proclaim afresh in each generation.” Easy to say, but harder to reimagine in the heat of the day. But, the task of doing so much pushes us back into ‘keeping the main thing the main thing’. And at the heart of the main vocation of the Church is worship – principally the Eucharist.

Which, of course, gets rooted in another of our agenda items today: Communion and the Common Cup. Whatever our churchmanship or liturgical preferences, it still remains the case that the only ‘service’ Jesus commanded us to celebrate is the Eucharist. This is where we strip everything back and remind ourselves – re-tell the story, if you like – of who God is, what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ, that we come with empty hands to receive the gifts of God’s grace afresh … together, as one body, broken-but-healed, unashamed of the wound marks that accompany resurrection, conscious anew of our need and God’s abundance. Here – in spoken word and simple sacramental action – we recover our story and renew our commitment to take out the life of Christ, in our very bodies that have been fortified by bread and wine, to those among whom we live.

Whatever else we discuss around the mechanics of this, we must not lose sight of its purpose and essence.

So, we pray that God will bless our deliberations together today. Pray also for the bishops of the Anglican Communion as we prepare to meet in Canterbury next month for the Lambeth Conference. Thank God for our own Bradford being named City of Culture for 2025, recognising that culture is about people, collective vision and practice, ritual and celebration, the arts that explore and colour our common life. Book tickets for the array of events at the Bradford Literature Festival at the end of this month. Pray for those being ordained deacon and priest in the next few weeks, and for the parishes they will serve.

Above all, as we face the challenges and opportunities for proclaiming the Gospel afresh in this generation, let us strive – joyfully and generously – to be faithful to God’s call to us at this time and in this place."

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