Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod
Location: St Michael's Chester Square
Members of Synod will be aware that the Diocese is experiencing some turbulence at the moment. The pity is that such events can easily obscure the astonishing achievements in which many of you are involved.
Just let me take one ordinary Monday at the beginning of last week. I visited one of our primary schools serving a very needy part of London in which there are many children of recent immigrants and refugees. Members of staff, led by a very able Afro-Caribbean head, are engaged in giving life chances to some of the most disadvantaged young people in our city. I was moved and proud to be able to open new nursery facilities conjured out of limited resources and a rather constricted site by Steve White whose work for the London Diocesan Board for Schools over the years has been marked by imagination and gumption. We are all in his debt.
Then the same morning I played a cameo role in the opening of the new Chelsea Academy which will eventually provide secondary education for a thousand young people. The speciality of the school is science and religion so I performed a double act with Robert Winston. Imperial College, his alma mater has been partner in developing the Academy which has a strong Christian ethos under the leadership of the Principal, Andy Yarrow. The Archdeacon of Middlesex has a bulging portfolio but he has found the time to chair the governing body and to steer the project through to success. One of the independent governors told me how impressed he was by the capacity of the Church to mobilise community support for a school whose students who face many challenges and many of whom do not share in the perceived opulence of Kensington.
That evening I licensed the new Chaplain to the London School of Economics, Jim Walters. The foundation stone of the LSE was laid by my predecessor Mandell Creighton but since then the School has not always been notable for a close relationship with the Church. Building on a very distinguished succession of Chaplains including Stephen Williams and most recently David Peebles the Chaplaincy is poised to expand into a new centre at the heart of the LSE and the Director Howard Davies spoke very eloquently of the contribution which the Chaplains had made to the international, elite educational institution over which he presides.
The Chaplaincy will be re-housed in the new Interfaith Prayer Centre by 2013. This will be more than a building. The new Chaplain is committed like the Church in the Diocese to a strong interfaith vision; pursuing not syncretism or worse, anxious policing of religious groups but guided by three principles:-
- Cohesion between groups on campus
- A Dialogical approach to faith in the modern world between faiths and secular disciplines
- Collaboration in shared concerns; advocacy for faith in hostile circumstances and in pursuit of justice and peace.
These were the highlights of one day in this astonishing Diocese. What people see is, however, often mediated by the Press.
Within the Diocese, Bishop Pete is a most valued friend and colleague. I am deeply grateful to him for our partnership in the gospel and was able to say that when I visited him and Sarah at home on Sunday.
What the outside world sees is a bishop who represents the Church of England making comments abut a marriage for which Bishop Pete has himself apologised unreservedly. The subsequent action has been taken in consultation with Pete. The best course now is for us all to refrain from comment and observe the order of the day – heads down or heads off.
Another aspect of the turbulence to which I have referred is of course the Bishop of Fulham’s retirement. Bishop John has served the Diocese for more than forty years in variety of roles and many of us have reason to be grateful for his ministry. He has the gift of colourful speech and there may be some Synod members unconvinced by his suggestion that he was leaving a “fascist” institution for Liberty Hall on Tiber. All people, however, who act conscientiously deserve our understanding.
There does however seem to be a degree of confusion about whether those entering the Ordinariate like Bishop John might be able to negotiate a transfer of properties or at the least explore the possibility of sharing agreements in respect of particular churches. For the avoidance of confusion I have to say that as far as the Diocese of London is concerned there is no possibility of transferring properties. As to sharing agreements I have noted the Archbishop of Westminster’s comment that his “preference is for the simplest solutions. The simplest solutions are for those who come into Catholic communion to use Catholic churches”. I am also mindful that the late Cardinal Hume, whom I greatly revered, brought to an end the experiment of church sharing after the Synod’s decision of 1992 because far from being conducive to warmer ecumenical relations it tended to produce more rancour.
This is St Andrew’s Day when we are recalled to first principles. The Holy Apostle whom we remember today “readily obeyed the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ and followed him without delay”.
I ask for your prayers for the mission of this Diocese and in the midst of the turbulence I ask
that our eyes may be fixed on the glory of God and the good of the whole church. There is much to celebrate; much cause for mutual encouragement. I ask for your support and solidarity with the mission of our church in London.