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- Archbishop's Presidential Address to York Diocesan Synod
The Archbishop addressed York Diocesan Synod today. The address follows in full:
Earlier this week I found myself slightly admonished by someone who
said to me – in case I didn’t know - that things grow and bear fruit
from the roots up. I think the person in question had decided that,
being an archbishop, I was a ‘top-down’ sort of person. I’m not. But I’m
not a member of the ‘bottom up’ brigade either.
I responded that of course things grew from the roots up, but wasn’t
it also the case that flowers, before they fruit and as they grow, turn
their faces and reach towards the sun; and don’t seeds lying dormant in
the dark for many years, need the rain that falls from above to release
them into life?
As I’m trying to point out: it’s a silly discussion. It must always
be both. In fact, if I could, I’d never speak about ‘top down’ or
‘bottom up’ ever again, but rather use the language of the whole
ecosystem of the church where we all work together in a complex and
beautiful mixed ecology; or even better, didn’t I read somewhere that
the church is like a body and we all have our part to play? And the
elbow can't say to the pancreas, I don't need you.
The real situation is this: those of us with responsibility for
oversight and the alignment of resources cast the vision towards which
we aspire, and provide, hopefully, refreshing rain to water the actual
work of ministry of the church which is done at the local level in
parishes, chaplaincies, schools, multiply and mustard seed pioneering
ministries and help bring the whole thing to life? Though, of course,
it would be a serious mistake to think the radiant light of vision nor
the refreshing rain of resource only come from the so-called centre.
Renewal often come from the edge. But this is also another unhelpful
distinction. For us Christians the centre is everywhere; or rather, it
is where Christ calls us and gathers us, 1000 different centres; all
those places where we live out our vocation to live Christ’s story. The
important thing is to work together according to our different gifts and
responsibilities. And be surprised as we continually find the best
ideas come in the most unlikely places.
Or put it another way, who and where is the Diocese of York? It is us
and it is everywhere we serve. The more we work together, the greater
the likelihood that we will find the right ways forward.
This is particularly important because we are approaching an
important strategic juncture in the development of our life together as a
Diocese. Sam Rushton has taken on the role of Director for Strategic
Transformation for a season and in order to make this happen John Day is
interim Archdeacon of York. I am hugely grateful for their flexibility
and creativity in taking on these roles to enable us, the whole Diocese,
find the way forward for the transformation of our finances and
structures that will, in turn, lead us to find ways of growing and
bearing fruit in due season.
We will begin to share some of this with you later this morning. But
what we’re sharing is not yet a highly crafted, totally thought-through
plan. We are sharing where we’ve got to with the story so far. But we
need your help. We are going to shape this together. As a Leadership
Team, we think we have the broad outline of the plot so far – we know
how the story starts and a pretty good idea of where it needs to end.
We’ve begun to see who the key characters are and how they need to grow
within the story. Now, with you, we need to work out the chapter
headings and the pace of the narrative. Then we can begin to inhabit
this evolving and changing story together, which is our story, and
Christ’s story in this place. Some of that we will do today. Some we
will do in the New Year.
Five things are clear.
- We cannot carry on as we are. Our current models of ministry are unsustainable and selling houses to balance the books can only take us so far.
But it isn’t just about money. In fact money is secondary, a symptom
of the wider problem not the problem itself. The real issue is that
over the last 10 years, probably going back further, the number of
people actively engaged in our church life – people able and willing to
serve rather than to be served – has declined by around a quarter. We
have got older and smaller. We don’t reflect the diversity of the
communities we serve.
This is an issue because we believe that knowing Jesus is better than
not knowing him; that belonging in the gathered places of worship which
we call church, is the most important, life giving way of being. So if
we are not growing as worshipping communities, we are not growing as
the body of Christ. In some places we have all but stopped drawing
people into that saving relationship with God that Christ has won for us
through his death and resurrection. This is not okay. Something needs
- We need a compelling vision – the radiant
light of Christ for us in this situation – something that can bind us
together and help us find the right ways forward, however painful.
This is beginning to emerge, and it comes top down, bottom up, upside
down and inside out! It is the simple restatement of what it means to
be a follower of Jesus Christ; what the national Church calls being a
Christ centred and Jesus Christ shaped Church, what we are calling Living Christ’s Story
– becoming more like Christ; reaching those who do not yet know Christ;
growing churches of missionary disciples; and transforming our finances
and structures. This is our foremost vocation. We put it and must put
it before anything else.
But let us also be clear, we love, and will continue to love the
heritage of our church, our buildings and our parishes, and we are
committed and will continue to be committed to every person and every
place. But how we sustain this ministry, and even more importantly, how
we reach out to those who know little or nothing of the gospel, requires
us to put first things first.
- We need to be a more generous Church. We need
to call out from ourselves, and from those we serve, and with those of
goodwill whose attachment to the Church may be slender, a greater
We do face financial challenge. But the spiritual challenge is
greater still. As we become more like Christ and as we allow the gospel
to shape our life, I believe we will find ourselves able to be more
generous with our time and our resources.
We will discover that ministry belongs to all of us; we are members
of the body. When we give to the mission and ministry of the church we
are, as it were, giving to ourselves and what is best in us: our life in
Christ that we long to share with others.
The outward and visible sign of this inward and spiritual grace will
be that we leave behind the ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’, ‘diocese this’
and ‘parish that’, false distinctions of a ‘them and us’ world. It will
just be the glorious topsy-turvy, upside down world of the gospel of
Jesus Christ where the widow’s mite is the greatest gift of all, the
lowly lifted high, little children exemplars of the kingdom, and, as
I’ve said elsewhere, the key performance indicator to which we aspire is
the number of feet we have washed and our service to the poor. Only a
generous, Christ-like spirit will enable us to be a Church where those
who have resources give them generously for the ministry of the Church,
and then on top of that give again for those who have no resource.
- The Church is for the world. Everything we do and all
that we long for is to make Jesus known and work for the building of
God’s kingdom in the world.
In a world where just this week we have seen the tragic death of
asylum seekers in the English Channel, the government drawing back on
its promises to the north and the inequalities this will perpetuate, not
to mention the larger challenges of the climate emergency we are living
through, the Church is called to live out the story of the goodness and
purpose that we see in Jesus. We do not long to grow the church as an
end in itself, but so that God’s peace and justice may be known the
- And one thing is abundantly clear: however our strategy maps out next year we need to see in the Diocese of York a huge growth in vocations to ministry in the church, both lay and ordained
and also a great proliferation of how these ministries are expressed to
serve the local church and help it grow. Sisters and brothers, I
believe God gives to the church all the gifts the church needs, but
sometimes those gifts are the seeds that are lying dormant.
Years ago, I heard a wonderful sermon by a Swedish bishop, a wise and
godly man, who said that we often get things round the wrong way. He
said that in times of challenge we find ourselves crying out to God and
asking for more of God’s Holy Spirit, that if we had more of the Holy
Spirit we would be able to do the things that are before us.
But he turned this upside down. He said it wasn’t that we needed more
of the Holy Spirit, but that the Holy Spirit needed more of us.
This is where I have ended up in my prayers: and I know none of this
is easy, I am daunted by the gravity of the decisions that lie before
us. Yes, of course we need a strategy and of course we need a plan and
we are working hard on this; but most of all we need to make ourselves
more available to the Spirit of God that God may use us in the service
of the gospel.
As we move into the season of Advent, wait upon God afresh, and cry
out for God to come among us, let us pray that we make ourselves and our
resources - our time, our energy, our money, our gifts, our passions
and our concerns - available to God. When this happens, the Diocese of
York will flourish and grow.