PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS 15th May 2021
Durham Diocesan Synod – online
We were a small group but quite diverse. We stepped out together, in groups of 6, from St Hild’s Hartlepool on The Way of Love. Some walked for a short while; a core of us walked the whole route. Along the way, others journeyed with us for periods. We called in at churches and a couple of schools. We met people along the way. This is the way of pilgrimage; walking together, in conversation and in quiet. Mahmoud is seeking asylum. He was walking during Ramadan so was fasting as he walked. Some of us liked striding out; others preferred a steadier pace. Some were good at spotting birds and wildflowers. Others preferred to comment on the overall scene or the details of buildings we passed. We talked about many things, serious and less so. Through sunshine, wind, rain, and hail we kept going.
We learned much about, and from one another. We valued the company. We received great hospitality. We prayed together, and quietly alone as we walked. We knew quietly God was with us.
Tomorrow a new group starts the Way of Learning; next Thursday the Way of Light. It had all begun with The Way of Life in Holy Week where just 3 of us undertook the whole route due to the tighter restrictions about overnight stays still in place at the time.
I encourage you to undertake a Pilgrimage. Perhaps one of these routes; maybe a Deanery pilgrimage day to Durham; maybe something else.
LIVING IN LOVE & FAITH
As we undertake the Living in Love and Faith conversations I want to encourage us to see them in the same way. They are a pilgrimage together. A small diverse group of people making a journey together. On this journey, walking side by side, we will discover more about one another, and about God. We might do this with people from our own church family; or we might choose to do so with people from different churches. On this journey sometimes it will feel like an easy path with the sun shining brightly and all will seem straightforward. At others it might feel like the hail is beating down, the mud is cloying to our feet and we would rather be somewhere else. However, sticking with the journey is worth it. We come out knowing one another far better. We come out knowing how to pray for one another more deeply. Through each other, we discover more of God.
Bishop Sarah and I have recorded a conversation about the process. This is now available on the website as a further resource for this journey.
If we approach LLF with fixed minds it will not bear the fruit of mutual understanding that it is designed to do. Beware those who are convinced they have it all sorted – whether they be advocates of radical change, or the very opposite. Relationships are complex; identity lies first and foremost in Christ; God binds us together in Christ, not in anything else. On the journey, our current thinking about sexuality may be more deeply confirmed, modified or significantly changed. None of us knows the outcome. But if we approach it as a pilgrimage journey I guarantee it will help us grow in relationship with one another, and with God. The heart of LLF is relationships; our relationship with God, with one another in Christ, in our common humanity, and with ourselves, so let us journey on this together.
One of the realities with the new Pilgrimage Routes, The Northern Saints Trails, is the amount of hard graft planning that has taken place. Quietly and diligently behind the scenes, David Pott worked on creating the routes, and with a whole range of others arrived at an agreement about them. Others thought through their promotion and materials to assist. It was a partnership of individuals, local authorities, churches, a Cathedral, businesses and local organisations. It has required strategic thought and careful plans. The same has been true of undertaking each pilgrimage. We have not simply turned up and started. Plenty of thought, preparation and planning has happened.
There is a romantic notion of Pilgrimage to be had where you just start out. The saints of old who boarded their simple coracles and let the wind blow them where it will were brave and God undoubtedly used them. However, the way of Jesus and the early church appears to have had more a mixture of planning and responding to the unexpected than simply random setting out. Pilgrimage is always full of the unexpected; it requires flexibility and adaption. But it also requires planning.
So all the work undertaken since Waymark ’19 to develop a new Diocesan Strategic Plan has been done in this spirit. We prayerfully plan with listening, thought and care. We then set out knowing it is as pilgrims that we do so, not machines.
This Synod has played its part in this; so too has the Bishop’s Council and a variety of working groups. Duncan Podbury has led this whole process from a paid staff angle. He has been hugely assisted voluntarily by Michael Banks.
By the end of July, it is hoped that Bishop’s Council will have been able to agree on the key ways of how the 3 threads for each of the 4 priorities will be developed, and what the Key Performance Questions and Indicators should be for them. This will guide how we work together as a Diocesan Family and seek to ensure support for local ministry as the priority.
But it is really important that every parish, benefice and Chaplaincy prays and thinks through how these are best worked out at a local level. It has to be local work encouraged by one another, and joined up and resourced well where we are pursuing similar work across the Diocese, and indeed ecumenically. So what might energising growth look like locally? How might growing existing congregations happen? Where might new initiatives be planted within our settings? What will engaging with children, youth and young adults look like? How will we engage with all schools, and colleges more deeply locally? How will we engage with caring for creation locally? We have made the decision to work towards becoming an Eco Diocese. At a local level, there are questions about how we run our buildings; the use of our churchyards; partnering with local green initiatives? Then there is the challenge of how we work this through as disciples. Then how will we challenge poverty locally? Yes, we will continue to respond to local need but what might we do to try and challenge the injustices around us, as well as more nationally and globally? Working out how to ‘Bless our communities in Jesus’ name for the transformation of us all’ requires both very local action and working together as the Diocesan family.
We meet at the end of Christian Aid Week and on the third day of Thy Kingdom Come, now a worldwide prayer initiative. I hope you have found ways of engaging with Christian Aid week. It is one way we can highlight the needs of the poorest to a wider community. Their focus this year is on Climate Change and its impact on the poorest nations. For it is the poorest who are bearing the brunt. This is why I remain deeply angry about the Government’s reduction in spending on the Overseas Aid Budget. 0.7% is a small amount of our overall national budget. The amount of money involved was already reduced due to the weaker economy. To then cut this further to 0.5% is having a devastating impact. Up to 80% cuts in some areas. In the Queen’s Speech, they vaunted the continuing commitment to Girls Education in the poorest nations; they failed to mention that this had been cut by 40% and that other cuts in support for water, hygiene, health and sexual health would also impact such girls’ lives. It is an unnecessary cut. It is a cruel cut. It reneges on promises made and if sustained is illegal. I urge us all, regardless of our specific party political persuasions, to challenge this particular cut.
Thy Kingdom Come has rapidly become a global ecumenical prayer initiative. This reminds us that we are part of God’s amazing worldwide family. Last year we had hoped to welcome a few bishops from around the globe ahead of the Lambeth Conference. The Conference is now planned for the summer of 2022. Bishop Sarah and I have had a number of conversations with some of those bishops and their spouses who still hope to visit us in 2022. Later in the year, I hope it will be possible for Deaneries to begin to connect with these bishops so that relationships can start to be built. These are fellow pilgrims with us following our Lord. One sadness has been that Lesotho continues to have no Bishop. They failed to elect someone at their recent gathering. This means that now the House of Bishops for Southern Africa have to decide to appoint someone. This will not happen until autumn. So please hold Lesotho in your prayers. Continue to uphold the work of the Durham-Lesotho link and Joseph in his leadership in Lesotho. It has been a very hard time for them through the pandemic restrictions in their nation.
I draw to a close returning to the theme of Pilgrimage. Sheridan Voysey, who joins us on the Way of Learning in these next days, found his life direction being reshaped by his pilgrimage from Lindisfarne to Durham in 2013. You can read about that journey in his wonderful book, ‘The Making of Us’. You can hear him and I, in-conversation each evening at 7 on Facebook Live starting this evening and ending on Tuesday (at 6.30). We will reflect on each day, and on the life of Bede. One of my favourite lines from Sheridan is, ‘Beautiful things can emerge from life not going as planned.’ Well, this past 15 months were certainly not in any of our plans. These months have been a new part of our own pilgrimage, as individuals, as church communities, and as a Diocese. As we begin to emerge from this life not planned may we all discover some new beautiful things that God has been shaping – and may we walk in that way of God’s beauty that comes out from all the brokenness. May we be those who bring good news, build-up and restore as we journey together as pilgrims.