Each year, at this time, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Each year, we look forward to a fresh renewing for mission and ministry. But it is also my privilege to spend a little time this evening reviewing where we have been in the year past and how that brings us to where we are now with the help of God. For we are destined for glory and sanctified for fresh service, yet we also embody the experience of our past and are faithful to the deposit handed onto us and we are grateful to those who shared the task of ministry with us in the past year.

Thus, 2023 was a year of welcomes and farewells. The millennium was scarcely new when Bishop Richard Cheetham was consecrated (the third millennium, that is!) but at Candlemas we consecrated Martin Gainsborough from Bristol as a bishop in Canterbury Cathedral and to the See of Kingston. We said goodbye to Andew Nunn as Dean with hearts full of gratitude – I cannot do justice in these few words to our various comings and goings.  Ruth retired from her heroic role as Diocesan Secretary in the summer, leaving things in a far better state than she found them – and has continued part-time to help us with two specific tasks including the Diocesan Investment Programme, leading the team that has submitted our bid with a small team, which includes others in this room, for significant funding.

In September Nicola Thomas transitioned into her new role as Diocesan Secretary and has inhabited the role with grace, purpose and wisdom.

Jay Colwill with a heart for mission moved to Paris – après la pluie, le beau temps.

Many of us paid tribute to Bishop Karowei who left this life on 8 September, whom we remembered in a Service of Songs at Southwark Cathedral on 23 September, and a packed Cathedral for his funeral on 28 September. He was much loved and we mourn his passing. On 6th June, God willing, his successor will be announced.

We welcomed Mark Oakley at Advent as the new Dean of Southwark with thanks and joy. I commissioned Will Cookson in a much broader role for the Director of Mission which now incorporates his other roles focusing on Fresh Expressions and Pioneering Ministry, and it was good to see him joined by Natalie Walters as the new Head of JPIC, by Charlie Lamont as Dean of Revitalisation and Gary Jenkins as Dean of Estates Evangelism. I am delighted that Roxanne Eversley has been installed as Canon Librarian and Dean of Cultural Diversity. These people will, with God’s help, take us forward as we seek to make real the Southwark Vision to which we are committed of being and becoming Christ centred and outward focused.

Also, of course, we celebrated this time last year the Coronation of Their Majesties, The King and Queen, with all the festivities, services and parties that accompanied this around the Diocese. Our prayers continue for His Majesty The King and the Princess of Wales both living with cancer.

2023 saw our aspirations and plans tested by reality. The rapid rise in inflation was very much with us, with costs for the Diocese, a cost-of-living crisis for many of our laity and clergy, and a decline in the value of the stipend for our clergy. The recovery from the pandemic was still very much in progress in our parishes.

I am pleased that we were able to increase clergy stipends, and pay for lay staff, by 4% for 2024, which was raised by a further 1% in April this year following a reduction in pension payments to the National Church.

We saw truly extraordinary generosity on the parts of parishes and individuals who honoured their pledges to the Parish Support Fund so that we had a collection rate of 99% – this rate of collection is the bedrock which has helped, more than perhaps anything else, to stabilise our Diocesan finances. We celebrate this determined support which gives us the financial resilience to enable the Diocese to budget effectively to continue to provide an exemplary service to parishes and to resource mission and ministry across the Diocese.  I also pay tribute to our Archdeacons and the Giving Team led by Gabby Parikh.

Social and environmental justice, as you know, remain an important element of our work in Southwark, demonstrated on the striking front cover of this year’s annual report: ‘Seeing Through our Eyes’ a project we and the Cathedral share jointly with the Board of Education and the Glaziers Company, highlighting the issue of serious youth violence in South London and East Surrey.

External factors, you will recall, meant that the property market in 2023 was very challenging, with none of the planned sales for the second half of the year going ahead. This in turn meant that we finished the year with a deficit. I am pleased to say that we are on track to make up much of that ground in 2024.

I am very pleased that expenditure has been very carefully controlled and mostly within budget. However, while budgeting is important, we must not forget that the Diocesan Board of Finance team is here to resource mission and ministry in the Diocese – in this diocese resources follow vision not the other way round. And the Team do a job which they embrace and dedicate themselves to with enthusiasm. So, for example, since building costs have outstripped inflation, we have spent more on housing repairs.

2023 was also the year in which we refreshed Southwark Vision, consulting with parishes around the Diocese on their priorities. Our refreshed Vision is: Christ Centred | Outward Focused. This puts parishes right at the top of the list of priorities. I want to ensure that all parishes feel valued for what they are and what they contribute to the Kingdom. Charlie Lamont is working hard in this area as indeed is my whole Staff Team.

We have also put parishes at the heart of our bid to the Strategic Mission and Ministry Board for Diocesan Investment Programme Funding. The team has worked closely with Archdeacons, colleagues in Trinity House and in parishes to assemble a really strong bid which has been submitted and I look forward to the outcome in due course.

In 2023 the Church nationally saw the commendation of the Prayers of Love and Faith, following the prayerful deliberations of General Synod. You will have already heard me say in a number of Presidential addresses and elsewhere that I welcome these prayers, while recognising that not all do. I remain unshakeable in my commitment to protecting the range of conviction in this matter, and that all should flourish. I am pleased that in Southwark we continue to speak well of each other as fellow members of the Body of Christ.

This Diocese models unity in diversity at its best and we are committed to growing younger and more diverse as part of our strategic priorities. I am very pleased that in December we were awarded just over £0.5m over 3 years to build on the strong foundations of our Anti- Racism Charter and work in this area: may prosper greatly. Part of that work has involved ensuring that our vocations pipeline is more representative of people in our Diocese.  I am, therefore, delighted that Roxanne Eversley has joined the staff team as the Dean of Cultural Diversity, based at the Cathedral.

Every vision needs funding to resource it, and I am delighted that over the last year we have been successful in two funding bids to support our work towards Net Zero Caron which in turn helps us with the Fifth Mark of Mission as we seek to steward this earth which God has given us. Jonathan Walter joined us towards the end of the year as Net Zero Carbon Programme Manager, funded by the National Church.  This work will be presented to Synod in due course.

Jonathan is just one of the people who work behind the scenes in Trinity House and elsewhere to enable and serve our parishes with the necessary work of keeping a Diocese running.  I pay tribute to colleagues who work in property, finance, safeguarding, IT, data, governance and various legal areas such as custodian trustee arrangements: they are not as visible or exciting as the outward facing work around ministry and discipleship, but they are nonetheless essential for the smooth running of the Board of Finance and to enable mission.

We are indebted to all those who give up their time and talents to serve the people of God in this Diocese. We celebrate the ministry of all lay people here in Southwark, and I give thanks that we continue to welcome a range of people to licensed, affirmed and commissioned lay ministries.

I do want to end by thanking all of the volunteers across the Diocese. There has been rising awareness of the difficulties for parishes finding people to volunteer.  I am grateful that a small (voluntary!) team in the Diocese is doing some work on this which they will present to Synod when it is ready. While a paid staff team is necessary, volunteers are what keep parishes running and being Outward Focused, and of course are essential to the governance of the Diocese, our volunteer trustees and members of our scrutiny committees who share expertise and hold us to account. I am grateful to all of you for your service. May God bless you all.