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Presidential Address - March 2017

9 months ago

 

Presidential Address by The Bishop of Southwark,
The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun

A good deal of water has flowed under a large number of bridges since last we paused on the road that we tread together in this Synod, to reflect and debate.  This has been true not least in Zimbabwe where the drought of 2016 has been followed by a very heavy rainy season in recent months.  Our last meeting came as Autumn was starting to bite in November.  BREXIT had more of an air of novelty about it.   Donald Trump had just been elected but was not yet President.  I pass quickly on!  General Synod had not yet declined to take note of the Report of the House of Bishops on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations.  And the world did not yet know who the next Bishop of Woolwich would be.

Since we met last, I have had the privilege of travelling to Bethlehem, Gaza and East Jerusalem with Roman Catholic Bishops for the Holy Land Co-ordination, showing solidarity and giving encouragement to our brothers and sisters in Christ who face challenges and ongoing injustice in those lands.   And, along with The Dean of Southwark, The Archdeacon of Southwark and The Diocesan Director of Communications eager to gather material about food security for this year’s Lent Call, I was able to visit our four Link Dioceses in Zimbabwe as well as the Diocese of Harare and their bishops over 10 days, which meant we had to keep on the move.  You may know that I chair the Lambeth palace Zimbabwe Roundtable meeting on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury and so close contact with the bishops in Zimbabwe is a priority.

And of course we have, in our different ways, but strong common identity together, kept the penitential season of Advent, the great Feast of Christmas, the joyful light-infused celebrations of Epiphany and Candlemas, and we have now entered our Lenten pilgrimage. 

What can we say about all this?  What do we learn to be Christ centred and outward focused in all and everything we do?  How do we respond?

I am not given to slogans: when speaking of God or of the things of humanity, very often the slick summary misleads; so I was interested to read that (according to the advertising industry trade papers) “the age of the slogan” is now over.  It apparently ended in 2013 with the popularisation of the hashtag.  

Slogans and hashtags aside I decided last year to commission a Lancelot Andrewes Medal for Godly Service and Zeal for the Gospel.   I shall shortly be awarding the first of them.   Let me describe the medal – though I can almost hear the hashtag coming on.

The reverse depicts Southwark Cathedral, with words that speak of Mary’s great yes to God in St Luke’s Gospel: “Be it unto me according to thy word”.   The obverse is a Head and shoulders depiction of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, the saintly bishop and biblical scholar, wearing his Canterbury cap, whose body lies at rest in our Cathedral church.   The words around the edge of this side of the medal GODLY SERVICE; ZEAL FOR THE GOSPEL - the qualities in virtue of which the medal is to be awarded. 

I am delighted now to award the first of these medals, to Harry Bramma.  I should like to pause now to do this.   I invite Harry to come up and stand with me.

Harry Bramma FRCO will be known to many of you. As part of a long and illustrious career as musician and composer, he served as organist and Director of Music at the Cathedral from 1976 to 1989 – a post he left to become Director of the Royal School of Church Music.  Harry has recently celebrated his 80th birthday and has been a friend to the Cathedral, its Chapter and Musical Foundation over many years.  His friendship has enriched the life of large numbers of us in the Diocese and its Mother Church and in countless parishes.   I am delighted, Harry, to be able to honour you and express sincere thanks on behalf of the Diocese, for all that you give and have given so generously and cheerfully.

‘Know all by these Presents that on the eleventh day of March Two thousand and seventeen

WE CHRISTOPHER by Divine Permission LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK, having regard to his Zeal for the Gospel and Godly Service in this Our Diocese, did invest our well-beloved in Christ HARRY BRAMMA with the Lancelot Andrewes Medal.

In Testimony whereof We have subscribed hereunder the same day and year above written in the Seventh year of Our Translation and of Our Consecration the Twelfth.’

Now, to set the scene for today, I should like to say a little more about the saintly Bishop Lancelot Andrewes and also about Godly Service and Zeal for the Gospel.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, a very distinguished Anglican scholar and divine, translated considerable portions of the Authorised Version of the Bible, especially the Pentateuch, and has bequeathed to us a matchless legacy of prayers and meditations.  

One of the very significant ways Lancelot Andrewes manifested Godly Service in his undoubtedly holy life and his Zeal for the Gospel, was in good disagreement: a willingness to listen, with humility, a preference for keeping the question open over drawing battle lines, a hopefulness about others and profound respect.  These are qualities that are characteristic of Anglican discourse at its best.

Lancelot Andrewes walked this path in fratricidal times, serving, in the last year of his life, under a King whose reign was to conclude on the scaffold.  In our thankfully less violent times, Lancelot Andrewes has much to teach us about how we get on together in the context of current controversies, how we demonstrate a profound godly mutual respect while holding different theological convictions.

Our task, as it was his task, is to be Christ centred and outward focused.  That is what I mean by Godly Service and Zeal for the Gospel.

In my visit to the Palestinian Territory I saw the power of faith in Christ, in the lives of Christians who are being empowered and blessed by God even amid perils, injustices and oppression.

In Zimbabwe I saw the power of Christian resilience and joyful hope in the context of material privations and adversity, economic and political.

And of course, the Christ-like example of hospitality rooted in a generous love of neighbour are two sides of the same medal as it were.   Godly service will flow from Zeal for the Gospel. Godly Service will be only be truly serviceable when it arises from that Gospel of Love, Zealously pursued. 

Let this, then, be our response to the strange times in which we live.  Persistently, courageously done, these two simple things have the power to soften and transform the harshness of this world.  If we are dismayed by the tone of public debate here, or in the United States, or Holland, or France, if our hearts break for those ground between the cogs of the great engine of globalisation, if we weep at the injustices suffered by so many of our fellow humanity, then let us hold fast to these two characteristics of lively discipleship: Godly Service and Zeal for the Gospel.

As we pursue these twin ideals we will have good examples before us.   I was very pleased last Saturday to commission Nicole Burgum as Warden of Readers at the Relicensing Service in the Cathedral. I know that Nicole will take care that the whole body of Readers in this diocese will be nurtured and equipped for their distinctive ministry, which again might be well summarised as Godly Service rooted in Zeal for the Gospel. I also wish the Diocese to know that I am committed to restoring a three as opposed to four year training programme for Reader candidates.  During our Eucharist today I shall also be commissioning The Revd Anna Eltringham as Dean of Womens’ Ministry in the Diocese; and I shall have the pleasure of Licensing Bishop Anthony Poggo, the Archbishop’s Adviser for Anglican Communion Affairs based at Lambeth palace and living in one of our Diocesan properties near the Elephant and Castle, as an Assistant. 

Above all, of course, we shall seek an example of Godly Service and Zeal for the Gospel in Bishop Karowei, God willing, to be consecrated on St Patrick’s day Bishop to serve as Area Bishop of Woolwich. As the Woolwich Episcopal Area and the Diocese as a whole grow to know Bishop Karowei as I have, I pray we will all give thanks to God for bringing him among us.  I commend him and his wife Mosun to your prayers confident that you will want to welcome them among us warmly and wholeheartedly.

Lastly, I commend to you the Letter from the Archbishops along with the Pastoral Letter I wrote to the Diocese following the vote in General Synod not to take note of the Bishops’ Report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations.

The Archbishops call for “a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church… founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition.”  They call for us – meaning all of us – to work together in ways that celebrate our common humanity.  They acknowledge that it will not be easy or quick to resolve the disagreements that there are, and commend a continuation of the conversations that are already going on. 

I wholeheartedly agree, and I believe we are already walking this road in the Diocese.   The Report, of which General Synod did not take note, had nevertheless within it a phrase which I think can command wide acceptance, even though some may see it as only a necessary minimum, whilst others may see it as testing the boundaries of what is acceptable.  The Report commends:

Interpreting the existing law and guidance to permit maximum freedom within it, without changes to the law, or the doctrine of the Church.

The spirit of this I believe brings together more closely than we at first may realise those who voted both to take note with those who voted not to take note and more importantly speaks directly to us in the context of our diocesan life together.

Following the national, regional and diocesan shared conversations there have been a number of fruitful initiatives in the Diocese, including two further diocesan conversations, a deanery residential and a simple morning version for two worshipping communities trying to work across significant diversity of church tradition.  

I would like to encourage Deaneries to engage in shared conversations focussed on issues in human sexuality, with the only aim being that we might listen to each other’s stories and learn to speak well of one another in the context of different theological convictions. We will be building up our internal resources to provide a team of facilitators who, like the national group, can reflect the diversity of the Church, while continuing to value the input of the experienced national team. They will put together a 36 or 48 hour programme which deaneries can access with funding provided by the Dartmouth Fund.  Deaneries who are interested in planning such an event are invited to liaise with the Director of Discipleship and Ministry in the first instance.

I believe there is scope for us to be yet braver and bolder in generous love and forbearance as we discern what shape a pastoral accommodation might take: I need to do more listening myself and we all need to consider the question from different standpoints, what can we do and say to be as generous as we can be.   I was very glad to meet a good number of those who had participated in the Shared Conversations at the Cathedral earlier in the month, and I shall be setting up a meeting with our General Synod representatives as commended by the Archbishops to talk over these matters.  I sense we are well placed to have the honest conversation we need to have and I believe that, by God’s grace, we should proceed with a prayerful integrity and unity of purpose.

Wherever that journey should take us, we will, pray God, go there together.  At present our journey is through the forty days and a few more besides of Lent.   May we enter fully into this Season, for its own and for our own sake.   May Lent be for all of us, as it says in our Lenten liturgy, a time in which God will “lead us into the desert of repentance that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline we may grow in grace and learn to be [His] people once again.”  Above all, may Lent remind each of us to look to the beam in our own eye before we look to the speck in the eye of our neighbour, to leave judgment to God, and to be swifter to listen than to speak.

My brothers and sisters, let us rededicate ourselves as the whole people of God together on the way (the true meaning of Synod) in the Diocese of Southwark, in our church of England and in our worldwide Anglican Communion to Godly Service and Zeal for the Gospel.

Let us pray:
Stay with us Lord,
open our eyes and set our hearts on fire,
as you open your word,
as you break your bread,
as we live your life.
Enrich us with your grace,
empower us by your Spirit,
enfold us in your love,
as we walk the journey of faith with you.  Amen.