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Bishop Christopher addresses Synod

On the 17th November, Bishop Christopher addressed the Diocesan Synod with a talk entitled "The Shape of the Future: Diocesan Synod 100 years on from the First Diocesan Convention."

One hundred years, almost to the day, the first bishop of the revived diocese of Coventry, Bishop Huyshe Yeatman Biggs, gathered clergy and laymen from across the new Diocese for a Convention in this historic Guildhall of Coventry. In his address, Bishop Huyshe set out his plans for the structures of the Diocese, to best fit it for, in his words, the ‘great opportunity and awful responsibility which God has given to us’. He proposed a Synod of Clergy and – in a prophetic action ahead of its time – a ‘House of Women’, together with a House of Laymen. So this Synod is a direct descendent of that Convention when the basis of Synodical government was established in the Diocese of Coventry decades before it was adopted by the whole of the Church of England. How Bishop Huyshe would rejoice that the Houses of Laymen and House of Women are now one with Helen Simmonds as its chair.

With this initiation of new structures in the Diocese and the development of the sort of distinctive diocesan culture to which I shall refer in a moment, may I say that one of the joys of our new Companion Link with Kapsabet Diocese has been to witness the energy with which Bishop Paul has been seeking to do the same in his newly formed Diocese. Bishop Paul, Mama Selline, Archdeacon Canon Japeth Serem and Mr Philip Mitei, it is has been a great honour and joy to welcome you to our diocese for this visit in our centenary year, and we pray God’s blessing on your first one hundred years.

The Archdeacon Missioner is going to talk in more detail about the strategy of the Diocese in a moment. All I want to do is to remind you of some of the points I made in my address to the Centenary Celebration in the Cathedral two weeks ago today, and make very brief reference to some of the items that will call for our discernment, deliberation and decision-making over the course of the coming Synod.

What is the shape of the future of the Diocese one hundred years on from the first Diocesan Convention? By the grace of God, our foundations were sound. So, the shape of the future is the same as the shape of the past. Bishop Huyshe longed to see the church renewed to face the missionary task that would follow from the long years of war with the radical changes they had brought to society. He longed, very simply, to bring the people of Coventry and Warwickshire to Christ. And, in elegant Edwardian prose, committed the Diocese to ‘the fuller delivery of the Message of God, the fuller appreciation of the benefit to humanity which the revelation of the Trinity is designed to give’. In other words, he wanted the Christian story to permeate and transform the lives of all the inhabitants of the Diocese and their every community and institution.

In my talk at the Centenary Celebration, I explained how we seek to do this – this work of worshipping God in a renewed Church, making new disciples and transforming communities – through the different ‘spiritual houses’ of the Diocese. Coining a new Greek phrase, I called this an oikonomia oikôn ­­– an economy or plan in which the ministry of our church communities, church schools, Christian chaplaincies and our great Cathedral are co-ordinated into a coherent, common plan for the Whole Diocese. I described how these spiritual houses – which are even more if we add in our charities in their different forms – give us an extraordinarily long reach into the community, the whole city and county to do three things.

First to renew the Church by restoring her health.

  • So this Synod can expect to give a good deal of its attention to supporting and strengthening our investment in the health of the Church through the Eight Essential Qualities, Clergy well-being (including learning from Bishop’s Paul’s first question to his clergy, ‘Is it well with your soul), safeguarding and extending our diversity, especially among Black and Ethnic Minority Christians.

Second to revitalize religious affections in our society by getting people talking about God and finding out about Jesus and discovering the great adventure of discipleship.

  • So this Synod can expect to give time to how we can most effectively share the gospel with young people and disciple them for lives of service to Jesus Christ in the world, to deepening all of our discipleship through the Serving Christ programme, to planting new church communities to follow the newly opened St Mark’s, St Clare’s, Lighthouse, Long Lawford and St Gabriel’s to be launched on Sunday, and building new church buildings such as St Catherine’s, Stoke Aldermoor.

Third to reform society, transforming communities closer to the kingdom of God, so that God’s ways of justice and righteousness, peace and mercy can be seen on our streets and in our common culture.

  • So this Synod can expect to give time to growing the work of Together for Change as it responds to the poverty in many parts of our Diocese, a poverty that is likely to be deepened in the immediate years after Brexit. And with ambitious plans to develop more church schools, and to serve the most vulnerable children, we will need to work closely with our Board of Education as it oversees the extraordinary capacity of our 76 and growing Church Schools to transform society.

Morris will say more about how all this relates to the ministry of Reconciliation which the Cathedral champions for the Diocese and across the nations. At the Centenary Celebration, I described this on three levels,

  • Reconciliation of the people of God to God: that’s the heart of worship.
  • Reconciliation of ‘those who know not the Lord Jesus’ to God: that’s the point of disciple making.
  • Reconciliation of communities and society (and the earth itself) to the ways of God: that’s the complete transformation of communities.

I also noted how the new Diocese came into being when life was not well in Europe in 1918, how it faced a crisis when its Cathedral was destroyed when Europe was in great ill in 1940, and how the Diocese celebrates its centenary when Europe faces new and serious challenges, and when battles of a different sort are rending our political life asunder. Whatever the outcome of Brexit, it will be the call of the Diocese to work with renewed energy for reconciliation with our neighbours in Europe and for reconciliation between people of different views about our nation’s future within our own country, serving always the message and ministry of the One who ‘has reconciled us to himself through Christ’.

Dear Synod, let us go into our second century with joy and confidence because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and he is with us always, even unto the end of the age.