The Bishop of Durham, the Right Revd Paul Butler, stressed the church’s role in shaping communities and tackling abuse when he addressed the Anglican Diocese of Durham Synod today (Saturday Nov 8).
He opened his Presidential address by talking about his recent visit to Rome as the Church of England’s representatives at Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Synod on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelisation”.
He said that the experience gave him the opportunity to take a step back and reaffirm the role of bishops in leading their churches. He added: “We have to listen to the concerns of our communities and the world in a way in which we seek to stand in their shoes and reflect it back into our life as church. We have a specific responsibility to bring the eyes, ears and words of the world to all our attention.”
“We want God’s blessing on people’s lives and on every community we serve.
“The theme of being disciples has, perhaps unsurprisingly, emerged strongly during our thinking on vision and strategy [for the Diocese]. Disciples are followers of Jesus. Disciples are learners from Jesus. Disciples are people on a journey, an adventure with God. Disciples come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, every nation on earth and are every age.”
“If we are to see church grow; if we are to help children and young people encounter Christ and grow as disciples; if we are to truly engage with poverty in all its forms then we will have to tend to our own, and everyone’s, discipleship.
As co-chair for Safeguarding Liaison work for the Church of England and Methodists, the Bishop also spoke on the subject of abuse; He said: “This role involves regularly meeting with and listening to survivors of abuse, not only that perpetrated in a church context, but primarily so. This can only make me weep and mourn over our corporate failures at local, diocesan and national levels. Too many people have been abused as children and adults by priests, and other church officers. It is shameful and harrowing.
“The Church is not the only institution that has been plagued by abuse. This is why a National Inquiry into institutional abuse is a good move. It is a very large task, and it will be very painful for the Inquiry Panel, for survivors who come forward to tell their stories, and for the institutions whose failings are exposed.”
He said he hoped a new chair would soon be appointed for the National Inquiry into institutional abuse, whose first two chairs resigned due to public pressure.
He said: “I sincerely hope that the Home Secretary will be able to consult and appoint a new chairperson quickly so that the work can proceed. I remain convinced that this needs to become a full Public Inquiry so that people can be required to attend and hand over documentation.
“A voluntary inquiry will not, I fear, get to the root of all the concerns. The Church of England is committed to playing its full part in this Inquiry, however painful it might prove to be for us.”
He added: “It is vigilance at the grassroots, parish level which makes us safe churches. All the best policies and practice guidance in the world is ineffective unless at the level of every children’s club, old people’s luncheon club, youth weekend away, home communion or whatever else being done in a parish or sector setting good safe practice is taking place. So the role of parish safeguarding officers is vital and we need to thank those who undertake this role profusely and encourage them to do it well.
“Safeguarding is not an added extra, but actually at the heart of the gospel. Jesus gave a very stark warning to anyone who causes little ones to sin, or to be hurt: “it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
“The gospel is about God’s love and welcome. The people of God are to reflect this love and welcome – so churches and church schools are to be places of safety and healing. So being safe, and ensuring that everyone who works with children, young people and adults who are vulnerable operates in a way which shows God’s welcome is not peripheral to our work it is at the heart of who we are and what we proclaim.
“We should be modelling to the wider world what safe working is like. I long to move us as a church nationally into being the leaders in children’s and youth work, and in work with adults who are vulnerable, whether permanently or temporarily. We should be offering stuff which is so good and exciting that people of all ages want to be a part of it.”
Returning to his recent visit to Rome, he said: “For two weeks in Rome I sat next to Bishop Yostinos of the Syrian Orthodox Church. He was a constant reminder of sisters and brothers in Syria and Iraq suffering deeply for their faith.
“The Christian community across the Middle East is small and under pressure, not only in these lands of obvious conflict but in every nation. They are those who cry out to us for support. We must offer it where we can.”
Bishop Paul concluded his presidential address by referring to the Pope’s masterly closing remarks at the Extraordinary Synod in Rome, saying: “Pope Francis raised a question with all of us present. Are we ready for adventuring with God? I for one want to say Yes I am. I believe what lies ahead of us as a diocese is an adventure with God. At times it looks scary; regularly I wonder how things may turn out. Let us go adventuring with God and see where He takes us as we seek to bless our communities in Jesus’ name.”
The full transcript of Bishop Paul’s address can be downloasded here: DiocesanSynod08.11.1401.docx