The following welcome address was given by Bishop Paul to the Waymark ’19 conference today Saturday 12th October.
Welcome to Waymark ’19. It is wonderful to see you all gathered here for these next 2 days. I trust we all come with a sense of anticipation that God will meet with us as we share together. It is my prayer that when we finish tomorrow we will know that God has spoken to us.
Thank you so much for coming to represent your own parish, chaplaincy, PCC and congregation. A very special thank you to our ecumenical colleagues joining us from the Methodist’s and Baptists. A very special thank you to Bishop Gothard for joining us from our friends in the Nordkirche, the Lutheran Church of Northern Germany. A further deep thank you to Bishop Emma Ineson and Matthew Frost for being with us to share from the Scriptures and their own walk with Christ. Thank you too to Simon Bray and band for leading our worship through the weekend.
When I was appointed as Bishop of Durham, at the public announcement, I highlighted that the three priorities identified by the diocese itself were Growth, Children and Young People and Poverty. Since the Diocese itself had identified these it seemed right that they should be my priorities too. I was rapidly affirmed in that judgment by the then Bishop’s Leadership Team, Area Deans and Lay Chairs. In my sermon at my installation, I preached on the parable of the mustard seed calling on us all to ‘Expect growth, offer welcome and don’t underestimate the small’.
Over my first months, we began to reflect on the three priorities. As we did so the overarching vision to ‘Bless our Communities in Jesus’ Name for the transformation of us all’ emerged. A year in I shared this with the Clergy and we explored the theme of blessing together. It was then shared more widely, particularly through Diocesan Synod.
What then emerged from all of this was the Diocesan Plan on a Page offering a framework for our operations from 2015-2020. We always said that such a plan needed to be flexible rather than fixed so it has been tweaked on several occasions over the past 4 years but always keeping our focus on blessing and on the three core priorities.
Growth has always been about growth in numbers, depth of discipleship and engagement with the community.
Children and Young people has been about sharing and engaging with a larger number and seeing them become disciples themselves.
Poverty has always been about engaging with others in tackling the reality of financial and economic poverty, poverty of aspiration and opportunity, relational and social poverty and never losing sight of spiritual poverty.
We have seen some areas of significant development;
3,000 more children in our schools; a Children’s and a Youth Council here with us this weekend; a growing number of Messy Churches and the development of Open the Book teams.
Foodbanks in larger numbers serving more people; engagement with welcoming Syrian refugees and asylum seekers from many parts of the world; dementia-friendly work.
An increase in the number of people offering for ordained ministry; Partnership for Missional Church’s impact on the parishes who have engaged with it; Missional Leadership for Growth with its mission projects and our first steps into Resourcing Churches, with we trust more to come in a different style.
However, we still face very real challenges.
In tomorrow’s Eucharist, our Old Testament reading will be from Jeremiah 29. We will read of God’s people exiled in Babylon being told to, ‘Seek the welfare of the city … and pray to the Lord on its behalf ..’. We will hear God’s word ‘I know the plans I have for you … plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ It is simply the set reading for tomorrow. I am convinced this comes to us this weekend as a fresh call from God to us to be those who live as pilgrims in our communities. Called always to live, work and pray for the good of the whole community. As we do so seeking God’s blessing in the communities in which we are set, and in the diocese as a whole, then we will discover the future and hope that God has for us as his people. It is this way round, we live, serve and pray for others and as we do so discover God’s blessing on us as his people. If we seek to be about ourselves, preserving our buildings and our own ways of doing things we are doomed to keep diminishing and being an irrelevance. If we look up to God and out to the world then we have hope.
This weekend will not provide all the answers. We face some pressing concerns including the continuing decline in regular attenders at church. Another concern is that the profile of attenders is ageing with over 40% over 70 years old. We continue to face significant financial challenges at parish and diocesan level. In some places, probably many, the church will need to look very different from the way it has been. But we remain confident because Jesus is still Lord. If we listen to God through one another I believe firmly we will have a clear sense of the directions God wants us to take. It will take time to then work these out into a new Plan on a Page for 2021 onwards. We will ensure that this is a conversation. The Bishop’s Council will start working on this at its Residential in January. We will in the following months ask Deanery Synods and PCCs to consider a draft plan when it is produced, and to feedback so that by the time a final draft is presented to Diocesan Synod on November 14th 2020 we will have a deep sense of the new plan being recognised and owned across the Diocese. I believe that all of you attending Waymark will have a crucial role in helping the PCCs you represent hear, understand and engage with this. So thank you for being present. Please contribute; take the opportunities to input into discussions; join in the worship fully; take time to visit the Prayer Space and respond to anything you might hear from God in that space; listen carefully to Emma and Matthew as they share with us.
It is this long process of developing a new plan that first led us to call for 2020 to be simply a year of Pilgrimage; of continuing on our journey with Christ. It was never intended to have lots of activities but simply to encourage us all to see and know ourselves to be a Pilgrim people. It has grown a bit from those first thoughts but the core remains. Primarily we simply want to encourage everyone – church members and those who are well outside church, to explore what it means to be travellers through life, and what happens when we do so with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. I am really looking forward to discovering more of what it truly means to be a pilgrim through 2020.
But for now back to these 2 days. Worship, pray, listen, share. Perhaps above all, enjoy – and together may we meet with our amazing, wonderful, living Lord.
Loving God, who leads us through our earthly pilgrimage, be with us here at Waymark. Open our hearts and minds to you and one another. Speak to us by your Spirit. Help us to hear and then follow on the way that you lead us. We pray through Jesus Christ our Shepherd and Guide. Amen.
Now it gives me great pleasure to hand over to Simon Bray, Archbishop Sentamu’s chaplain, to lead us in our opening worship and then onto our weekend hosts, Sophie Jelley and Duncan Podbury. Simon please lead us in worship.