Synod hears how the liberating power of God gives support in turbulent times

The liberating power of God was the overarching message at the diocese’s 23rd synod, which met online and featured robust debates on subjects including Parish Share and the use of individual Communion cups.

The Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds used his Presidential Address to concentrate thoughts on the “big vision” of the diocese, sound in the knowledge of God’s strong and encouraging presence.

Acknowledging this to be a time of exceptional political and economic turmoil, Bishop Nick said:

“We are about the business of Almighty God, creator, sustainer and redeemer of the cosmos. A biblical vision of God is bigger and broader than our narrow perceptions, our limited priorities and passionate commitments. It is God’s kingdom we serve, and that kingdom is shaped by God’s character which is rooted in love, mercy and justice.”

A motion to approve the diocesan budget for 2023 was passed, as were motions on administrative issues regarding Leeds Diocesan Board of Finance committees and also church representation rules for our three cathedrals.

Much discussion took place regarding a motion from the Outer Bradford Deanery that “This Synod would welcome the Church of England withdrawing its opposition to the distribution of wine in individual cups at the Holy Communion.”

Voting was close, but the motion was not carried.

Synod also heard presentations on a review of the diocesan Parish Share system and also on Barnabas: Encouraging Confidence – a theologically-based scheme to support important work on church support and deployment.

A full report on synod can be read here.

Bishop Nick’s Presidential Address may be read in full below.

 

 

Presidential Address

 

The collect for today reads as follows:

“Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you: pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself, and so bring us at the last to your heavenly city where we shall see you face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

In the title of a book by the American Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann, these are ‘words that linger, texts that explode’. An explosion of theology at the start of our Synod today is no bad thing. This prayer constructs a lens through which we might see the business before us, establishing a perspective that puts in context (relativises, perhaps) the particularities of our discussions. Our big vision will shape how we pay attention to the details and pragmatics of our business.

For we are about the business of Almighty God, creator, sustainer and redeemer of the cosmos. A biblical vision of God is bigger and broader than our narrow perceptions, our limited priorities and passionate commitments. It is God’s kingdom we serve, and that kingdom is shaped by God’s character which is rooted in love, mercy and justice.

Yet, in the context of the entirety of the known and unknown universes, somehow we matter. And when we sound the depths of human meaning and significance - of value and dignity - we find ourselves coming back to God. In other words, it’s all about God; it’s not all about me. Human experience is always restless - as Augustine observed from trying it all out - until it comes home in humility and relief to God who is the beginning and end of it all. Which is why I keep arguing that we can relax: after all, when we think we have found God, we discover that it was God who had already found us.

So, it is God who draws us to himself, not the other way around. And isn’t that liberating? For this God is not just here to satisfy our needs in the present; he is the God who brings all things together in the eschaton. As the Book of Revelation is all about: when things get rough here and now, see your life and current experience in the context of eternity; so, stand firm, there is more to life and God than ‘this’. Remember, the ‘heavenly city’ doesn’t wait for us to get all our ethics or hermeneutics right; according to the whole biblical narrative summed up in Revelation 21-22, it is the heavenly city (where God is present and his character rules) that comes down to earth, to us. In Genesis 3 it is God who comes searching for Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day, asking: “Where are you?” It is God who liberates his people in the Exodus; it is God who comes to his dodgy people in the prophets; it is God who comes among us - uninvited - in Jesus; it is God who stays with us by his Holy Spirit, come what may.

Sermon over; but, you get the point. This world faces some enormous challenges right now (although when hasn’t it?) … which makes it all the more essential that we hone our theological vision and allow the lens behind our eyes (by which we ‘see’ reality) to be re-ground - re-shaped - as we go. (The biblical word is ‘repentance’ …)

Today we meet amid political turmoil at home, a cost of living crisis already hitting more than the poorest in our society, power-plays over energy supplies around the globe, a brutal war on European soil again, corruption in high places, and Liverpool tenth in the Premier League. Precarious times and lots of fear and uncertainty around. And a time for Christians to find out what we truly believe about God, the world and us. But, as I wrote a number of times to clergy during the pandemic, you can’t argue with reality. Every generation faces its crises and challenges; we are called to be faithful in this generation - courageous, obedient, reflective and confident in God and one another.

It is appropriate at this point to mark the death of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of King Charles III. The Queen lived through times of immense change and challenge, and, knowing her own need of God’s grace, was able to help the people of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth to do the same. Her example and impact live on. The King is now the head of state of a country in turmoil in a world that appears more fragile than could have been imagined only ten years ago. However he shapes his role, he needs our prayers. Demonstrating confidence at a time of uncertainty is a vital gift for a national leader whose power is soft rather than hard.

Speaking of confidence, I am pleased to welcome Bishop Arun to the Synod as he embarks on his ministry among us as Bishop of Kirkstall. The process for identifying a new Bishop of Huddersfield is underway and I expect a nomination in December followed by an announcement (probably) in late January or early February, followed by a consecration in early May. Change is always an opportunity.

But, we have LLF ahead of us and the General Synod in February and July next year. Battle lines are already being formed - which says something about who we think we are and how we think our attitudes and behaviour reflect the character of God as seen in Jesus Christ. We cannot escape the fact that it is Jesus who does the calling and we don’t get a veto over who else gets called.

The church needs to be confident in what discipleship entails. Robust argument and debate are healthy as we shape our common life together in order to be agents of transformation in society. I do hope, therefore, that members of Synod will use the opportunities given on the agenda each time to pose questions and bring motions.

Today we also have the joy of a DBF company members’ meeting. The detail of what we do and how we shape our life - legally as well as organisationally - really matters. So, we gladly take responsibility for doing the detail - and we thank God for those who drive these elements of our diocesan life, especially our administrative staff under the leadership of our Diocesan Secretary Jonathan (who I’ve discovered is not a bad pool player). We will discuss and decide on Deanery representation for cathedrals, a detail brought on as integral to and a consequence of the new Cathedrals Measure currently being implemented.

We will take finance seriously as we look at the budget, parish share and where our priorities lie. If the money doesn’t come in, it can’t go out. Our current deficit is unsustainable, so decisions will be forced upon us  if we don’t have the vision and practical strategic courage to set out our store in good order and in good time. Hence what we are calling the Barnabas scheme whereby we want, as a diocese, to encourage, challenge, accompany and resource all our parishes as we face the very real challenges before us. We all need to be transparent about reality and visionary in our choices.

This coming winter will be hard for many people in our parishes and institutions. The Warm Spaces initiative, building on other community-facing work, turns our focus outwards. The national church is providing funding for churches and individuals to help with rising energy costs in the shorter-term. The diocese is providing hardship grants to those in need. And these are on top of other government-led provisions (which have yet to run their course).

Today we also consider a question of how Holy Communion is administered. I will listen carefully to the debate and will cheerfully represent views expressed within the House of Bishops. But, I have to be clear from the outset: a motion on matters of liturgy or doctrine cannot change the fact that the bishops have thus far declined to allow administration of wine in individual cups. I don’t know if that will change in the future, I hope we can keep even this in perspective as we locate the question in the broader context of a fragile world. Wine can be received from the common cup (breathing in a church is more ‘dangerous’ than sipping alcoholic wine in a chalice) or by the administrator intincting the bread or wafer. So, no one is compelled … and this will not be policed.

Today, with this agenda, we will do the stuff of the kingdom of God. For God’s kingdom, rooted in Christ’s call to discipleship (which is about restoring our full humanity), is not about the flourishing of the church … other than in order to enable the church to serve and transform the world bit by bit. We remember in this diocese that confident Christians grow churches which exist for the transformation of our communities. In that spirit, with that dynamic, and in the light of God’s eternal love and grace, we turn to our agenda with hope, faith and commitment.

 

Rt Revd Nicholas Baines

Bishop of Leeds

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