Diocesan Synod, June 2021
Our Diocesan Synod members met via Zoom, as ongoing Covid restrictions prevented members from meeting in person. Some of our clergy and lay members shared an initial act of worship based on the Pastoral Principles drawn up as part of the national C of E’s Living in Love and Faith process.
Our Commissary Bishop, the Rt Rev Rob Wickham, gave the presidential address, which he framed in terms of St Barnabas, the encourager. He talked about seeing “glimpses of Jesus” in the way that those in our diocese have responded to the pandemic – alongside the challenges posed by declining congregations. He previewed the discussion about Living in Love and Faith and our Live | Pray | Serve vision by urging synod members to listen deeply to each other’s positions, to Scripture, tradition, reason and lived experience. You can read the full text here.
DIOCESAN STAFF UPDATE
Our Diocesan Secretary Victoria James gave synod members an overview of how the central diocesan team now looks, after the reshaping that was concluded earlier in the year. Some officers had sadly been made redundant because of the financial pressures of the pandemic, some had their hours reduced or their roles altered, and there were some alterations of who serves in which department. Our education, IT and finance staff are shared with other dioceses, and a number of our advisers hold those roles voluntarily at the same time as parish posts. In total, there are 40 people who are part of our diocesan central team, but their total hours amount to only 24 full-time equivalent posts.
A Powerpoint presentation that helps to show who’s who and which of the newly-shaped departments each person works within can be seen here.
BISHOP’S COUNCIL UPDATE
Our Diocesan Secretary Victoria presented a paper detailing the activities of Bishop’s Council (excluding discussions of the Live | Pray | Serve process) since the last synod meeting. That paper can be downloaded here.
GENERAL SYNOD UPDATE
Emily Bagg, who is one of our General Synod representatives and is now training for ordination in Durham, presented a verbal update on the work of General Synod since the last meeting of our Diocesan Synod.
LIVING IN LOVE AND FAITH
Synod members spent an hour thinking about this important issue, with significant input from Eeva John, the national C of E’s enabling officer for the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process. She told us that the Church had been wrestling with issues relating to identity, marriage and sexuality for decades, and the catalyst for the LLF process was to put such issues into the context of each of us being made in the image of God. It’s also vital that we all learn together, rather than restricting the conversation to specific groups of people.
She told us how 40 people from diverse backgrounds had been brought together to produce resources for the whole Church of England to embark on a learning journey. These resources had to be multi-disciplinary, including Scripture and science; they needed to focus on real-life stories; and they had to recognise that individual Christians hold different perspectives on these issues. The outcome was the launch of a tranche of LLF resources in late 2020 which includes a 400-page book, a course, podcasts, videos and an LLF learning hub on the Church of England website.
The C of E is inviting parishes, deaneries and dioceses to engage with these resources during 2021, and to create spaces in which individuals can learn in braver and safer ways. The LLF team had developed a series of Pastoral Principles that can enable genuine discussion on any issue, and training is available for those who facilitate such conversations. Canon Kathryn Percival, from our cathedral, is our diocese’s LLF advocate.
During 2022, the national Church will move into a discernment process that will lead to a decision-making process around the time of the November 2022 General Synod.
Our synod members watched some of the LLF videos that told real-life stories of Christians exploring these issues. They also asked Eeva John some questions about the process.
LIVE | PRAY | SERVE UPDATE
Our Diocesan Synod members considered the latest update to our Live | Pray | Serve vision process in the context of an Open Letter that had been sent to our senior staff by a group of clergy and lay people who had concerns about the process. As a result, our Bishop’s Council had agreed on June 8 to extend the time for consultation and conversation about the process. You can read the full report outlining those concerns and the response of our Bishop’s Council here.
The Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, the Ven Peter Leonard, reminded us that the ultimate aim of this process is growth and mission, and – in the words of Bishop Christopher – is mission-focussed but finance-real. It’s not a quick fix, but a way of discerning where God might be leading us for next 30 or 40 years. It therefore made sense to take another six months or so to work out what this might mean for specific parts of our diocese.
Diocesan Secretary Victoria James told synod members there were implications of extending the time for consultation for another six months. We are currently working on an operational deficit, which could reach £188,000 a month at its height. Parish share collection is currently two per cent down on 2020. So we may need to organise ourselves differently in the rest of 2021.
Synod members had questions about the model of team ministry which had been suggested as the default way in which our parishes might be reorganised, about the new timetable proposed, and about the need for more historical detail about our finances. The senior staff promised more conversation about the nature of the team ministries proposed, and more detail about the timetable and our finances. Archdeacon Peter was clear that a more formal team ministry structure would enable such changes to last longer than informal collaboration between parishes.
Some also had questions about those parishes that were keen to continue with the process of collaboration, having already started down that road. There was reassurance that those parishes that were keen to push forward wouldn’t be prevented from doing so.
Diocesan Synod voted to take note of the position agreed by our Bishop’s Council on June 8.