Diocesan Synod, March 2017
Bishop Christopher talked about what might characterise a church that was ‘successful’ in mission and why other churches might fail to grow. He urged synod members not to jump to simple conclusions about why a church might not be growing, but said a lack of outward focus could certainly put off some millennials (those born since 2000). Serving our community was part of our diocese’s ‘live, pray, serve’ strategy. Living as followers of Christ in our daily life and making time for prayer are equally important. In commending the Archbishops’ Thy Kingdom Come prayer initiative, he concluded that “prayer turns faith from being a cut flower in a vase to being a plant rooted in fertile soil.” You can read the full address here.
CHILDREN’S SOCIETY PRESENTATION:
The Rev Mike Todd and Jessica Meale from the Children’s Society thanked parishes in our diocese for their support (£21,625 so far this financial year) and spoke about its role. It focuses on those aged 10-18, especially young carers, those who run away from home, have drug or alcohol issues or mental health issues. Although they appreciate the typical link with our Christingle services, they would like to broaden their appeal throughout the year, and help parishes to take Christingle services out of their church.
The work of the Children’s Society includes exposing injustice to improve children’s lives, and campaigning to challenge misconceptions and influence government policy. Their ‘Seriously Awkward’ campaign aimed to make the law clearer about 16-year-olds who may be above the age of consent but still need to be protected from abuse, harm and neglect. Their presentation is here, or see www.childrenssociety.org.uk. Contact Mike here or Jessica here.
Synod heard from several guest speakers about how parishes could help those from migrant communities in our parishes.
Michael Woolley from Friends Without Borders explained how those seeking asylum may be helped with basic accommodation and a small payment while they apply for asylum. But if their application fails, they aren’t allowed to work or claim benefits, they lose their accommodation and they can’t even drive. Yet many can’t return to their homeland. They often end up destitute and sleeping on the floors of friends.
Friends Without Borders runs a twice-weekly drop-in at All Saints Church, Commercial Road, where refugees and asylum seekers are given food, vouchers for clothing and legal advice. They also now give those who are making fresh asylum claims £15 a week, and pay for coach tickets to Liverpool, as they are required to hand in their new claim in person.
Michael said our parishes can educate congregations and communities about this situation, and lobby politicians on behalf of asylum seekers; volunteer to help or donate toiletries and clothes; offer to be Homestay Hosts, allowing an asylum seeker to live with them temporarily; and recruit supporters who will contribute financially - helping this small, local charity to help those who are the poorest in Britain today. His full presentation is here and his handout can be downloaded here.
The Rev Alice Wood from Rural Refugee Network explained how the organisation had been set up only a year ago, but has 80 active volunteers, and has raised £30,000+ to help resettled Syrian refugees in private homes in East Hampshire. So far three families (17 people) have been rehoused, with a fourth house imminent. Syrian families have been welcomed with flowers, meals, furniture, TV, internet and guides to the local area. Twenty teachers have joined forces to offer English language teaching, including a two-week summer school.
Among the aims this year was to support an initiative in St John’s, Rowlands Castle, where worshippers had clubbed together to buy a private house together to offer to refugees (for more information about this, contact Terry Monaghan here). Parishes could help by educating our congregations, petitioning MPs, promoting the RRN and keeping the plight of refugees in our prayers. You can contact her here.
Sergeant Tony Jeacock, from Central Southsea and St Jude’s neighbourhood team, talked about hate crime and how police respond to it. There had been a 34% increase in hate crimes in Hampshire after the EU referendum, but the figures had declined again. Hate crime could include physical or verbal abuse, damage, bullying and graffiti against people based on ethnicity, religion, sexuality or disability, and it is taken very seriously. There is an 81% conviction rate for those incidents of hate crime that end up in court.
And Shamila Dhana, from the British Red Cross, talked about how it helps victims of trafficking, collects Syrian refugees from the airport, and trains volunteers from the Rural Refugee Network. It also advocates in behalf of asylum seekers to MPs, social workers and others.
Diocesan Synod members then split into groups to consider what is happening in their locality to help asylum seekers and refugees, and how their parishes could do more.
GENERAL SYNOD REPORT:
General Synod member Emily Bagg reported back on its February meeting. There was an important report entitled Setting God’s People Free, which examines how the 98% of the Church who aren’t ordained can be equipped to live out their faith and spread the gospel in their everyday lives. It also looked at a range of other issues, including what clergy can and can’t wear.
There was a high-profile debate about same-sex relationships. Emily explained why she had voted to ‘take note’ of the paper from the House of Bishops, which ultimately didn’t receive a majority in all three houses. Diocesan Synod members then discussed their reactions to the debate. They encompassed a range of views, all of which were expressed with sensitivity.
CLERGY DISCIPLINE MEASURE:
Bishop Christopher asked for synod’s approval for the delegation of disciplinary functions to an assistant bishop in cases of clergy discipline, should he be ill or unable to carry out such functions because of a conflict of interest. Members voted unanimously to approve this.