Bishop Paul gave his first virtual presidential address to Diocesan Synod this week when it met on Zoom for the first time.
In his address, Bishop Paul talks of the challenges that lie ahead, the learning from the lockdown period and the new opportunities that the emerging post-COVID-19 world offers.
Full transcript below.
PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS to DIOCESAN SYNOD
Monday 7th September 2020 – On Zoom
Thank you Synod members for all the ways in which you, as part of your local parishes, have enabled worship and witness to continue through the period where our church buildings were closed, and now as we gently ease our way back into them with all the safe distancing, sanitizing and mask wearing that is required. Thank you too for the ways in which you have kept serving the communities in which you are set.
Parish churches exist for prayer and worship. Our calling is to proclaim the good news of God in Jesus Christ in word and deed. We are here to serve the whole community, not simply the congregation who choose to gather there. Chaplaincies are designed to serve all people in the university, school, prison, hospital, business, police station and other places in which they are set. We are called to be a people who are always looking up to God our Creator and Redeemer, and out to the world which God loves, for which Christ died and which we are called to serve in love of neighbour in Christ’s name and the power of the Spirit.
I want to remind us all that we are still in the early stages of this global coronavirus pandemic. Alan Bartlett shared last week the image of this being like a triathlon. The suggestion is that we have now emerged from the long gruelling swim and are now getting on our bikes, dripping wet from the swim, knowing that a 40kilometre ride, followed by a 10 kilometre run still lies ahead of us. We are having to adapt to, and will live with this virus, for many months, even possibly years, yet to come. It is a long journey, which unlike a triathlon, we travel together in mutual support. Synod we need each other; neighbouring parishes need each other; schools need each other’s wisdom; deaneries need to work well together; we need our ecumenical friends. We need to work well with people like our local authorities, and local charities. This is a journey to travel together.
- SOME REFLECTIONS
I want to offer a few reflections on these past months and look ahead. 2 words being used a lot are ‘accentuated’ and ‘accelerated’. I will use those images but as ‘Sharpened’ and ‘Speeded Up’.
- HEALTH & SOCIAL CARE
These past months have undoubtedly sharpened all our awareness of the significance of both our National Health Service and our Social Care system. In particular how we as a society care for the elderly. We recognise how significant care homes are, and also all the emerging questions about the importance of ongoing family contact with those who reside in these homes.
I hope this will speed up not another review of social care but actually make some of the changes long recognised in review after review over the past 20+years. We need a properly joined up national health and social care service. This needs to involve much better working conditions, notably pay, for care workers whether they be in residential homes or supporting the elderly to stay in their own homes. It needs a much improved collaboration between local and national authorities and bodies.
- LOCAL & NATIONAL
This interaction between local and national has been freshly sharpened in our understanding in a wide range of ways. Writ large it is seen in differing approaches being taken by the devolved governance in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. What has emerged ever more clearly is why local government matters. A national track and trace scheme is clearly not as effective as one which has both national and local aspects to it. Local authorities know their local path; local public health officials can dig down much more carefully into what is a best response in a specific locality.
You cannot ultimately tell every school, college and university in the country how to manage the best way of providing the very best education for the children, young people and young adults in those institutions. Buildings differ greatly; outdoor play space is minimal in some settings and wonderfully large in others; how children and young people can travel to and from these institutions varies. There should be very clear national overall guidelines but there then has to be the capacity for local adaptation to implement well.
The severity of the cuts made in recent years to local authorities has been shown up sharply over these past months. So too has the inequality with which this has been done between local authorities. I hope that a new level of appreciation of the local will emerge that leads to renewed appropriate funding of local authorities in the future.
Those most severely affected by the virus are the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Sadly this often overlaps with those who are the poorest in our society. We also know that the Black and Asian communities have been more seriously impacted. Into the pandemic came the killing of George Floyd and the international rise of Black Lives Matter. The inequality experienced by people from a wide range of ethnic minorities has been shown up in sharper relief. So the poverty gap, and a justice gap have been highlighted in a new way. A whole range of people have been exposed to this through coming into application for Universal Credit for the first time in their lives. Many have been shocked by what they have discovered, and struggle to understand how people live on the amounts paid out.
The pandemic has not been experienced equally by everyone. It is the poorest, nationally and globally, who have suffered the most. Might we pray and work for a speeding up not only of understanding this but of developing ways of seeking to tackle this inequality in ways that will last.
All of this is also in our church experience over these past 6 months. We have all felt the pain of not being able to use our church buildings – both for worship and for community use. We have not simply sped up our use of online worship for most of us we have discovered it for the first time. There has been immense hard work, great creativity, and patient implementation all across the Diocese. Hearing of the delivery of orders of service to people’s homes where online has not been possible has been terrific. So too the use of phone services and support lines. WhatsApp prayer groups and support groups have emerged. Foodbanks have not simply been maintained but expanded. Our schools worked incredibly hard to support the children of keyworkers and where the children were particularly vulnerable. They are now welcoming children and young people back with wonderful enthusiasm, excitement and challenging hard graft.
There have been big challenges to our church finances, especially where the income from the use of church halls is significant. This is also true for churches that have tended to rely heavily on major fundraising events. Where regular giving is the heart of how parish finances work then the impact has been far smaller in most cases. Many have taken the opportunity of moving to online giving and discovered that it works well. Link this with the Parish Giving Scheme into the future and the changing shape of parish giving that was already under way will be further accelerated in the coming months.
Alongside this is the concern amongst many about the long term impact on our more elderly members. Will they feel able to return safely? What responsibilities will they be able to maintain? So some face a stark question about the long term viability and sustainability of church as it has been. Yet we all recognise we have a continued call to seek to be a Christian presence in every community, proclaiming the good news and serving the parishes and other communities as well as we possibly can.
In looking ahead I have noted in my reflections some specific thoughts about Health and social care; local and national governance and economic inequality so I will confine myself now to the specific life of the Diocese.
The financial challenges that we currently face in parishes and together as the diocese are not new. The pandemic has sharpened our awareness of them and sped up the need to tackle them. So a renewed Parish Share scheme based on a Guided Pledge I believe is the right step to make. It helps each Parish consider carefully its full responsibility in the shared life of the Diocese. It helps us as the Diocese together to increase our sense of mutuality and of generosity. Inevitably there will be some parishes for which it is particularly challenging. However it needs to be judged as a whole not simply on the impact on your own personal parish. Part of the challenge might be to recognise not having played a full part previously, or that giving needs to be placed on a new priority within the life of the parish. Giving is key here, not fundraising. Entrepreneurial and wise use of community resources are also critical in helping us all move to more long term sustainable financial modelling. So I hope the Guided Pledge system will be warmly endorsed.
In the coming weeks we will seek to appoint a new Diocesan Secretary. Please hold this process in your prayers.
We had travelled a long way through the Waymark process. In January the Bishop’s Council agreed the next steps to take to move this forward into creating a new Plan for 2021-25. We were in the midst of appointing someone to lead the process through when we had to put everything on pause because of the national lockdown. We were able to pick this up again. We appointed Duncan Podbury to lead the process and established a Strategic Think Tank. They were tasked with taking Waymark forward but in the light of the impact of Covid 19. You will hear from Duncan, and the Chair of the group Michael Banks, this evening. They have worked at pace but also in depth. There is more to be done but I am immensely grateful to them, and all who have worked with them, for the work done so far. I believe we will have a clear Plan to present to Synod in January. Along the way this autumn do take the opportunities presented to respond to the initial thinking and proposals.
Overall what I think the last few months have highlighted for us all is that the direction of change we were already discerning needs to happen, and probably more quickly than anticipated. We cannot stand still.
New issues have emerged. In particular I note our need to repent of past failures in the way that we as the church have treated people from ethnic minorities, and particularly people whose skin colour is different from the majority white population. We need to ensure that we are truly welcoming of all in all our churches. We need to encourage people from all backgrounds to taking on positions of leadership in all parts of our church.
As we move forward together we need to develop a true openness and honesty with each other about the challenges and opportunities. This needs to happen within the life of each parish, between parishes, within our Deaneries and across the Diocese as a whole. We will only grow the church afresh, including planting new churches, or renewing older ones by planting into them, if we have a much greater mutual trust in one another. This means we will be much more supportive of one another. This also needs to happen ecumenically. To maintain a Christian presence in every community will require strong ecumenical collaboration.
In seeking to serve our communities well we will also need to build on the co-working with local authorities and other organisations which has taken big strides forward over these past months. We may well need to develop more collaborative working with our neighbouring Dioceses so that the focus on ministry happening at the local level is maintained.
My dear sisters and brothers I remain convinced that the good news of God in Jesus Christ remains the hope for the world. God is still in the business of changing lives individually, together in families and communities, and together as a nation. I believe God wants us to grow. I still believe this will be more about lots of small growth than one or two big centres, although they also have their place. As we continue to face all the challenges currently being placed before us I am sure God wants us to see them as opportunities rather than threats because when all is said and done this is God’s world, God’s church and God will fulfil God’s purposes. Gloriously God invites us to join in. Let’s do so.