Diocesan Synod – 22 September 2020
I’m going to keep my comments brief this evening as I want to allow plenty of time for discussions of the budget later.
This is one of those occasions when I wrote my address in advance only to have to change it when I heard the Prime Minister’s announcement earlier on today. Knowing that there is at least six more months of restrictions on social contact is a great concern for all of us. Our thoughts and prayers turn to those who are unwell at this time and those caring for them, those who are isolated and those who are living in fear. We know that the economically poorest are hit hardest by the social restrictions and we must redouble our efforts to ensure that they remain central to our mission and ministry in the church.
I remain deeply impressed by, and deeply grateful for, the work of our parishes and fresh expressions of church in serving those most in need in our society. Many of us are tired and frustrated and yet ministers, clergy and laity like, are persevering and adapting to the continued changes. I want to assure you of my continued prayers.
The response to today’s announcement has been an increase in levels of anxiety and it’s this theme of anxiety that I want to focus on in this address. There is a feeling for many of us of being out of control, of having to live with uncertainty and of wondering when all this will end. And the church was already anxious before this pandemic began. We’ve been anxious about numbers, we’ve been anxious about disagreements, and now we are anxious about when our churches will be able to reopen and we will be able to sing and worship in the way that so many of us want to.
So I want to start this synod with the words of Psalm 62 - a very simple reminder of the importance of trusting in God:
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken.
3 How long will you assail a person,
will you batter your victim, all of you,
as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
4 Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence.
They take pleasure in falsehood;
they bless with their mouths,
but inwardly they curse.
5 For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
The imagery is powerful. God is our rock, our salvation, our fortress, and we will never be shaken. And this knowledge means that we can face uncertainty with an attitude of waiting in silence for God. Of course, this is hard to do when my mind is racing, my heart is pumping, I’m finding it hard to sleep at night, and I am overcome with anxiety. But the Psalmist dares to suggest that this is the route to hope and salvation. And the Psalmist says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.”
On tonight’s agenda we will be hearing more about the process of Shaped by God Together. Bishop Guli and I have issued a call to prayer in the diocese to discern our long-term future and shape. There are so many unknowns in this, but we want to hear stories from across the diocese and to interpret these to get a sense of what God is doing. I’d like to ask Synod members to do everything you can to encourage people to participate in this process, and to do so honestly and without anxiety. And the Psalmist says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.”
We will then be hearing about the issue of modern-day slavery. This is real and this is happening in Leicester as has been highlighted during the lockdown. Representatives of the diocese have been active in partnerships with other organisations seeking to bring an end to modern-day slavery. But the issues are complex, and we may well find ourselves asking the question, when will we see justice on earth? And the Psalmist says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.”
And then we will go on to talk about the budget for 2021. How will we take £1 million off our budget and still do all that we believe that God has called us to do? This is going to be a painful process. I have no doubt that we will disagree, and there will be a variety of views on the best way forward – this is right and proper, and it is the role of Synod to debate these matters. I hope that Synod will take its responsibilities seriously, speaking with grace and gentleness and listening well. But even more than this, I hope we will not allow anxiety to govern our debate. Now more than ever we must trust in God. When God calls, God provides. And the Psalmist says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.”
God is reshaping the church. So let’s place our trust in him, let’s not be anxious, let’s persevere in faith and hope and love.