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/ 6 December 2021

Diocesan Synod Presidential Address

An address given by Bishop Sarah Mullally at the December 2021 meeting of the Diocesan Synod. 

“It is a great pleasure to be at this new physical synod. Thank you to all of you for all the time you are giving, for your commitment and for your passion. If you are new to the Synod, this is a moment of change, in which your contribution, your wisdom, your thinking, your prayer and your insight is going to be invaluable and indispensable.

This Synod, therefore, builds on the work of other synods. We welcome new members, and we hope that you will soon feel at home. But we also welcome back old ones, who carry that story and who bring experience and great wisdom.

It is a privilege to see the diversity and vitality of this Synod and I look forward to the work we shall accomplish together as we seek to be there for every Londoner to encounter the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I recognise that we meet at a time of joy but also challenge:

  • As we learn to live with COVID-19.
  • As we face climate crisis
  • As we live in a time of rapidly changing cultures, and the questions those cultures pose and;
  • As we face our continuing financial challenges.

One of the many profound moments for me in my ministry is when a person is licenced and I say, ‘receive the cure of souls which is both yours and mine’. Clergy are ordained and licenced to a place. In the Anglican tradition ‘place’ has always been very important and we are called, lay and ordained to serve in a particularity.

This is even more important today as the foci of these particularities expand and diversify. Therefore, we talk about mixed ecology. Not because we intend to downplay parish, but because place and all places and all people are so important.

Therefore, if you have been elected on a save the parish ticket, I am delighted because I too, want to save the parish. But I don’t want to save the parish for the sake of the parish but because together I want to enable every Londoner to know the love of God in Christ Jesus. This reminds us of the centrality of place, the importance of the local, of the continuity of tradition and service and why our resources must be focused on this, the local church of missionary disciples.

But to do this we have to recognise that not everyone in London has the same access to hearing about the love of God in Christ Jesus. That is why we need to think creatively about how we give access in those areas which are under-churched and how we support other outworking’s of the mixed ecology such as chaplaincy. We need to recognise the vital ministry of chaplaincy and of the vocation of the laity and of our schools as well as the ordained parish clergy.

So, we have a vision to be there for every Londoner to encounter the love of God in Christ Jesus As the Archbishop of York observed at the November General Synod in the story of the growth of the Christian Church from Pentecost onwards, things survive because they learn how to adapt. It is through adaptation to changed circumstance that new flourishing occurs.

So, what of our life together as the new synod? Not just what are we going to do but how are we going to do our business? I want to share some of my reflections that I have used at the House of Bishops and General Synod in November when reflecting on the Living in Love and Faith process – but they are true for the whole of our life together.

Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are people of the Way walking with God and into God together.

We are a people who love God, seek to follow Jesus Christ, loving and cherishing each other, treating one another with dignity and honesty and gladly caring for each other’s needs and the needs of the world – proclaiming with confidence the hope we have found in Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the Truth, and his life demonstrates the way in which life-giving truth is lived out.  Jesus is not just the end; he is the Way. Jesus embodied what the Way was, he embodied what it was to treat his friends and his enemies with love, identifying with the poor and the weak as well as the powerful and the rich.

As ‘the Way’ Jesus demonstrates what it is to love our neighbours and our enemies. As ‘the Way’ he demonstrated what it was to be in communion, even with the one who was to betray him.  Jesus on the night that he was to be betrayed washed the disciples’ feet ­– even the one that was to betray him. He broke bread and shared the cup of wine with his disciples – even with the one who was to betray him.  What does this teach us as people of the Way?

As ‘the Way’ Jesus demonstrates what love is – love that is patient; love that is kind; love that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love that does not insist on its own way;  is not irritable or resentful; love that does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

It is the kind of love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). It is the kind of love that kept on loving even when the rich young man walked away when he learned what was required to enter the Kingdom of God. It is this kind of love which caused Jesus to ask the man by the pool, ‘What do you want me to do?’  Jesus teaches us of a love which cannot be imposed: it is freely offered on the one side and freely received on the other.  Jesus invited, but never coerced anyone to love, obey or follow him. It is through Jesus who is the Truth, the Way and the Life that salvation is found.

We live in a culture which is at war: whereby implication you are either on the “right side” of the argument or the “wrong side.” The news is framed in terms of whose political ideas are “winning” and whose political ideas are “losing” – who is right and who is wrong. The belief that I am right, and you are wrong can so easily slide into being “I am good, and you are bad”, into hate speech that creates barricades between those who hold different views. Hate speech that seeks to silence the other. That cannot be the Way of Christ.

Many of you may have been elected on the basis of your perspectives about what you perceive the task of the Church to be in relation to Living in Love and Faith.  The trouble is that if we understand our roles at Synod in terms of winning and losing, then we have all lost.

What does the way in which we conduct our disputes and how we treat those with whom we disagree speak of Jesus Christ and God’s love? What would it mean if we were to see the ‘other’ made in the image of God, each one in Christ and a member of the one body of Christ?

The love which Jesus Christ models sees the other, not simply as I see them but in the light of God who has created us both. That recognition liberates us not only to reach out in support of the other but also to be willing to receive support from the other. That recognition allows us to invite and not coerce, instead trusting in the work of the Spirit in the body of Christ. That recognition allows us to confront bullying and fear, racial discrimination, homophobia and misogyny, taking action to shape a body of Christ in all its diversity.

Being in communion, being part of the Body of Christ does not mean we will agree but the way of Jesus teaches us that love is patient; love is kind; love is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The world needs better examples of dealing with difference, disagreement, and resentment. What if as members of Diocesan Synod, we were able to show a different way – the way of Christ? Maybe that is part of our calling in this synod.”

About Sarah Mullally

The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE is the 133rd Bishop of London. Before ordination, Bishop Sarah was Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health. She trained for ministry at the South East Institute for Theologian Education.

Read more from Sarah Mullally

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