Diocesan Synod met online via Zoom on the wintry first evening of February.

The additional meeting had been called principally to consider endorsing Archbishop Stephen’s proposed refreshment of our Diocesan Vision under the title ‘Living Christ’s Story’, which he sent out at the online Diocesan Synod on the 28th November 2020.

Diocesan Synod meetings now include a ten-minute ‘Lectio Divina’ (a contemplative reading and consideration of a passage of scripture) in small groups; today’s passage was Ephesians 4:11-16, in which St Paul writes of the variety of gifts amongst those called to build up the community of the Body of Christ.


Archbishop Stephen retraced the conclusions he drew in his Presidential Address at the 28 November 2020 Synod (read it in full here).

“This is a time to celebrate all the good things that are happening in this Diocese of York, and to breathe new life into our vision.
For the last few years we’ve been speaking in terms of our goals, to

  • Reach people we currently don’t
  • Move to growth
  • Establish sustainable giving

But ‘sustainable’ could be heard as keeping things as they are, and if we think for a moment, we’ll realise that some things need to be different. Church life — ministry and mission — are evolving, and we can expect for example that in the future there will be a bigger emphasis on lay and volunteer ministries, and an online presence. We’re learning new insights through the nationally-supported Multiply and Mustard Seed initiatives, growing new worshiping communities, and identifying and resourcing people for new kinds of ministries.

We have to be realistic about our financial situation. Since Free Will Offer was introduced, the total amount given by parishes — whilst there have been examples of much generosity — has remained flat, and not kept pace with inflation. Support for our general costs from the national church has been tapering down. We’ve managed by under-investing in some of the initiatives we’d want to take. It can’t be emphasised enough that giving fresh impetus to our vision absolutely isn’t all about money, but we do need to transform our diocesan finances — income and expenditure — in order to be the diocese, active in mission, that we want to be.

We’re called to be Christ-centred — inspired by God’s saving love that we see in Jesus Christ — and Jesus shaped, forming our lives on him as our example. It would be good to see our diocese developing into:

  • a church of missionary disciples
  • a church where ‘mixed ecology is the norm’… This will flow from healthy, flourishing parish ministry. But it will embrace digital; and, we hope, that many other types of church will flourish, not least chaplaincy;
  • a church that is younger and more diverse.

None of this works or makes sense, unless it inspires, shapes and informs the life of the church in our parishes, church plants, chaplaincies, fresh expressions, Multiply and Mustard Seed ministries, messy church, refugee ministry, church schools, food banks and in whatever other ways we live and share the gospel in this Diocese of York. We shall have a clear commitment to people and communities living with deprivation.

Our task as the people of God, here and now, is to share the story of Christ by letting God write that story on our own hearts and by writing the next chapter of all that Jesus is going to do here. This is about church being simpler in our systems and structures to serve our mission; humbler because we must acknowledge our failures and live within our means; and bolder because the things entrusted to us in Christ are what the world needs.

So, putting all that vision together, here is a way that we can ‘re-boot’ our diocesan goals:

  • Becoming more like Christ – which means receiving and knowing the story ourselves.
  • Reaching people we currently don’t.
  • Growing churches of missionary disciples
  • Transforming our finances and structures so that together we can support a presence in all the neighbourhoods and networks of the Diocese.

During the first part of 2021, the bishops and archdeacons will meet with Deanery Leadership Teams to begin a consultation about how we can apply this ‘re-booted’ vision at a local level and take it forward. Parishes will also be receiving a letter of invitation to take part, and the material will be available on the diocesan website at www.dioceseofyork.org.uk/living-christs-story.”

Bishop of Whitby Paul Ferguson outlined the programme of consultations taking place across the Diocese from February into the summer, at Deanery and parish level, to discern how we will develop and then implement the vision in more detail (this information has been sent directly to clergy, readers, churchwardens and PCC Secretaries during January).

Following the launch on Monday 8th February of information and resources at
Deanery Leadership Teams will meet with their archdeacon and bishop in preparation for compiling a deanery staffing and resourcing plan later in the year. There will be an opportunity for PCCs to be involved in June and July before a wider plan emerges in late 2021 to early 2022.

Questions, reactions and comments:

  • The idea of a ‘refreshed’ vision for the Diocese is welcome.
  • Can we address the financial and giving issues early in the process because the necessary measures could take years to implement?
  • What will we be able to say about Living Christ’s Story to our unchurched neighbours?
  • Structures should be changed to focus on Mission rather than just on solving our financial issues, and this should entail developing the laity.
  • This programme is an opportunity to develop the whole people of God.
  • The ‘refreshed’ vision is right and must build from ground level—it’s about discipleship.
  • Why have we used the phrase ‘mixed ecology’ rather than the more familiar ‘mixed economy’? Archbishop Stephen believed that the phrase is subtly different—a more organic and ‘living’ term than ‘economy’ for the diverse and vibrant forms of church we long to see.
  • We should seek and share experience of comparable culture change in other dioceses, and be ready to learn lessons from them.
  • We should seek ways to relieve the clergy of the need to service the institution. Archbishop Stephen warmly endorsed this point: his primary calling is to be an evangelist and teacher.

Bishop Paul put to the Synod the following motion:

“This Synod welcomes and endorses the restatement of the vision and key strategic priorities for the diocese, as set out in paper DS 21/03: Living Christ’s Story, together with the framework for consultations with deaneries and parishes.”

The motion was carried by 96% of those eligible to vote, with 3% against and 1% abstaining.