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Bishop Paul gives Presidential Address at Durham Synod


‘For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. … So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.’ (2 Corinthians 5.14-16)

I hope you listened carefully; ‘we regard no one from a worldly point of view’. We regard every person as one for whom Christ died. We seek to see everyone through the eyes of God in Christ.

Now this is very hard to live out. Right now we might find it relatively easy to see President Zelensky in this way; but what about President Putin? And just how does God see Putin as he behaves the way he does? But let us not hold this at a distance. Do we see our next door neighbours as those for whom Christ died? Do we seek to see them through God’s eyes? What about the travellers currently parked up on the roadside outside Bishop Auckland? Or the sex-workers of Stockton? Or the men and women incarcerated in Durham’s Prisons?

Do we really seek to view all people through the lens of being those for whom Christ died? We perhaps more regularly reference all people being made in God’s image; perfectly validly. We have to remember though that this image is marred and broken in all people – that is why Christ came and died for us all. We need to see all people not simply through the creation image; they also have to be seen through the fallen and the reconciled / redeemed image that comes with the Cross and resurrection.

This is the extraordinary treasure that we carry in our own jars of clay. This is the good news that we share; whilst all of us are in need of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, in Christ, God acts to bring this about for all who say ‘Yes’.

Our calling is to follow this Jesus who gave himself for us; to worship this God who is love; to make known in word and deed what God’s loving rule looks like in every aspect of life.



So how does this help us in thinking about the terrible war in Ukraine and the enormous refugee crisis that has emerged through it?

Let me return to the question of President Putin. I do believe that he is a leader under the judgment of God. I fear that he is behaving rather like Pharaoh with the Israelites; continually hardening his heart towards acting for the freedom and release of the smaller, weaker people. Yet there remains hope because Jesus Christ died for him; he could see the sinfulness of his ways, repent – showing it in actions – and know God’s forgiveness. This would not mean he should not be pursued for justice for his war crimes; it would be wrong not to do so, but he could personally find forgiveness in Christ.

President Zelensky has shown himself to be a remarkable charismatic leader of his nation. Perhaps like Esther an unexpected agent of God. Yet he must lead in ways which do not turn into revenge towards the forces who fight against his nation. He, and those under him, have a responsibility to treat enemy soldiers when captured with care and kindness. This is tough, the temptation to revenge will always be strong, but has to be resisted. The same has to be true of the leaders of other nations supporting him, including our own. We are, I believe, right to support him in defending Ukraine, and in the future helping the nation rebuild. But our leaders must aim to limit the war, avoid it developing into something which would devastate many more nations and lives; and find ways of helping the Russian people step back into building good relations with all their neighbours.

In the midst of the crisis we rightly as a nation also seek to offer humanitarian support, alongside our international friends. In region support is much the biggest need. But opening our doors to welcome those families who see the UK as a good temporary home is also right. So the Homes for Ukraine is at its heart a very good move from the Government. There is plenty of critique that can be made about how it has been enacted, but the core idea is good.

Here in Durham we should play our full part. Please keep giving financial support to organisations, like ODM, USPG and Red Cross to help in the region. Then some of us are in the position where we can open up our homes and host families. Where we can we should do so. Rosemary and I are in this position. Others can support those who so welcome people offering the families further practical help.

As we do so though we must ensure that we also keep our doors open and our welcome clear to refugees arriving from many other parts of the world. My concern is that a focus on Ukrainians potentially hinders proper action on Afghani refugees, arrivals from Hong Kong and the wider needs of asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan and many other parts of the world.

Those who are not genuine asylum seekers should be helped to return to their home nations safely and humanely. But the majority who are genuine asylum seekers must be treated well and have their claims dealt with on our shores, with proper speed and with a complete welcome as gift to be received rather than a problem to be solved.



People not taking fresh vegetables from foodbanks because they cannot afford the energy cost to cook them is a disturbing emerging reality for some of the poorest in our society. The numbers threatened with going into real destitution are tragic. The number of households facing deep poverty very worrying. The prospects for next winter are looking grim for the poorest in our nation. Those who are hit hardest are children. There is something of a perfect storm internationally that contributes to the situation. We are recovering from a global pandemic; climate change is increasingly affecting food production; the ongoing failure to fully resolve trade issues after Brexit impacts prices and supplies; and the war in Ukraine has a significant impact on energy costs and food prices. It will not be adequate to simply ‘blame the Government’ for a situation being faced globally. We must never forget that we remain one of the richest nations on earth and the impact on the poor is most significant in the poorest nations. The forthcoming Christian Aid week gives us an opportunity to highlight this to our communities. It is incumbent on the Government to act on behalf of the poorest and the most vulnerable both globally and in our own land. They can take actions on behalf of us all to ensure destitution and deep poverty are avoided rather than allow the numbers falling into this to grow. There is no one ‘magic bullet’ solution. A windfall tax may well be of significant help if applied to helping the poorest, and perhaps the so called ‘squeezed middle’. But it is not a long term solution. A suite of actions is definitely required. This could include, for example, introducing lower speed limits across all roads thus significantly reducing fuel consumption. Incidentally it would also be beneficial to carbon emissions. It certainly should include raising Universal Credit income levels – and there is more than one way to achieve this. Action is needed.

But we will, as ever, want to offer all the support we can for those most affected. So please keep the foodbanks running; develop good alternatives to them like the Bread and Butter Thing, community shops and the like. Help people with warm clothing, simple help with keeping homes warm like lagging, cheap window insulation and the like. Let us be creative in practical support, whilst we also campaign and argue for significant Government action.



Rather changing tack let me thank all those parishes, groups and individuals who have engaged in the Living in Love and Faith course over these past months. Also all those who have undertaken the Pastoral Principles course. Thank you too for contributing to the national feedback which closed at the end of April.

At the very beginning of September a Report on all the feedback received will be published. This has come from over 6,000 individuals across England who have submitted responses. The College of Bishops will then enter its period of prayerfully reflecting on all of this. We meet in September for 3-4 days; again at the end of October and finally in December. Please pray for us all as we do so. The anticipation is that initial proposals will be put to General Synod in February. It will help Bishop Sarah and I to hear directly from people through this period. In particular to hear from those who have engaged with the LLF course and materials and share the learning that has happened. Please know that if you identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual we want to hear you. We also want to hear from those who are Heterosexual about honest reflections on how you live in love and faith.



I turn finally today to the whole matter of Diocesan Transformation and the work being undertaken on this. I want to pay tribute especially to Duncan Podbury for the immense amount of careful, thoughtful work he is leading on this on all our behalves.

I cannot emphasise enough that significant transformation for us all is essential. Doing nothing would rapidly lead to the end of many churches. Tinkering at the edges might stave this off for a while, but only a while. In every setting we need to face up to significant change if we want to be the presence of Christ in all our communities in the coming decades.

So what needs to be the heart of this?



Absolutely critical, first, is to keep holding before us our vision of ‘Blessing our Communities in Jesus’ name for the transformation of us all’. This is what must lead us in any transformation. Within this we then hold to our 4 priorities, Caring for God’s Creation, Energising Growth, Engaging with Children, Young People and Young Adults and Challenging Poverty. Within these we also need to keep focussed on the 3 key themes for each. Today we highlight, for example, a priority for the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities and a longing to see growth in discipleship amongst them. You have information about our partnership with Scripture Union and Faith Guides, helping us develop our discipleship with children and young people. We take another step in ensuring our work in schools progresses.

Helpfully our Four Priorities align very well with the National Vision and Strategy work as well. All align clearly with the Five Marks of Mission.

The question we have to ask is how does Parish life, and how does chaplaincy, work best help us deliver on these priorities? What significant changes do we need to make?



We then do have to consider our resources. Financially this is not simply the resources held by the Diocese but also those held in parishes. Some have no reserves at all; a few have significant reserves. How these are used needs to be strategically for the kingdom of God, not the preservation of ourselves. Bluntly our finances mean we cannot remain as we are. On current trends we cannot sustain the number of posts that we currently have across the Diocese. The announcement of more funding from the Church Commissioners this week is exciting news. But this is to be used for growth, not maintenance – and it is only a small part of our total finances.

We have resources in our buildings; all of which can move to Net Zero in the coming years. Those with the least challenge on this are in fact our rural churches. Our greatest challenge is our schools, then large places of worship like the Cathedral and major churches, and our housing stock. Yet it is achievable. Our buildings must be used to serve as many people as possible; they cannot be seen as the preserve for a few. Realistically, too, we have to face up to having too many buildings to maintain. Some closures are certain but that is a local decision it cannot be determined centrally.

I do not really like the term Human Resources. It feels to me like it reduces the glorious gift of humanity to an economic description. I would love to recover ‘Personnel’ or simply people and their extraordinary gifts and capacities. All people, of all ages, all abilities, all ethnicities, and all sexual identities make up the glorious people of God. We are all pilgrims, all lifelong disciples. So at the heart of all we do must be a commitment to enabling the whole people of God to grow in love for God, God’s people and God’s world. Everyday faith, growing faith, for every day disciples and pilgrims.



In drawing to a close I turn to Jesus’ picture of the vine. This is being used in parishes engaging in the Prioritisation process when in vacancy. It is really helpful for us. Jesus is clear that together we have to remain in Christ. We can do nothing of real fruitfulness for the kingdom, locally, across the Diocese, in our nation or world without God. We have to remain in God. So attending to our daily relationship with Jesus is vital.

The image also reminds us that for real fruitfulness doing nothing has never been God’s way. God prunes us, personally and together. He cuts out branches that have stopped fruiting. So recognising that fruitfulness has come to an end in some settings is important. Trying to revive something that has died is not right. What needs to happen is removal so that new life can emerge. So stopping things that are no longer fruitful makes sense. Pruning that which is fruitful, so that it can be even more fruitful, is part of God’s way with God’s people. Planting new vines is also right and proper. Pruning and planting have to be considered and applied everywhere. In parishes and benefices; in chaplaincies; in central Diocesan support services. We have to be open to significant and radical change – some of which may well be painful. But we do this for the purpose of being more fruitful. We must remain in Christ and ensure that it is the life of God that is allowed to flow and flourish.

Sisters and brothers we cannot simply tinker around the edges. This will not bring about the growth for which we long. For such growth real pruning is required. Genuine planting of new church life is essential. May God give us the grace and courage to heed His call for us to be transformed so that others might also discover and share in the amazing transformation of the love of God in Christ which leads to people truly being ‘new creation’.

Sisters and brothers let us open ourselves to God’s continual transforming love so that we ‘are being transformed into God’s image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.’

First published on: 15th May 2022
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