At our recent Synod I was asked to reflect briefly on how we have grown together as a Diocese in the time I have been privileged to be in senior clerical leadership in this Diocese. The question forced me to reflect on my initial impressions when I came to the Diocese in 2003. As you know, newcomers can see things with a clarity which those who are already thoroughly immersed in any system no longer notice. The thing I noticed most about my new family of God was a distinct lack of confidence. For example, I detected signs of a lack of confidence in some quarters in the gospel of Christ to bring salvation to those who believed in him and also the usual Anglican reticence in proclaiming it and sharing it. I felt God wanted us to rediscover authentic ways for each tradition in this diverse Diocese to pursue God’s mission together. Bishop George Browning nailed the problem in April 2004 when he said to Bishop-in-Council: we seek a more outward-looking, mission-focused and Christ-confident church. As I now look back over 15 years I praise God for all the signs of growth and every evidence of this most necessary culture change which is not easily achieved or maintained.
What means has God therefore used to bring us to where we are today? There are obviously numerous contributing factors but I want to mention just two which remain essential from my perspective for our future health as a family of God.
In the first place, we have grown together because we have intentionally put the mission of God at the centre in all aspects of our Diocesan life. In that regard we have collegially developed two Diocesan mission action plans. While people are rightly jaded by so-called mission plans which gather dust on shelves or disappear into desk drawers, this planning process and its outcomes have revolutionised many Dioceses because of the stress on the difference between mission and vision. In brief, mission is what God wants us to do all the time. For our Diocese this is embedded in our Governance Ordinance in six succinct phrases (such as proclaiming the gospel and responding to human need by loving service to name but two). However vision is what God calls us to be and do as we pursue his mission in a particular season. Vision is only discerned after much collaborative prayer and listening.
Our initial 2004 vision to grow communities confident in Christ was warmly and widely embraced as what was needed at the time. Subsequently after the 2008 election of Bishop Stuart Robinson, a revised plan was devised which built on the former but was couched in terms of a dream to see both lives and communities transformed by the love of Jesus. This likewise captured our people’s imagination. Significantly it has been these shared visions willingly endorsed and owned by the Synod, which have been the necessary glue in uniting us together under a common agreed missional purpose and goal. Furthermore the strategies devised to pursue these visions have meant people from all traditions in this Diocese have grown in their confidence in Christ and have been united in a commitment to sharing the transforming love of Jesus in word and deed in their unique relational networks. As a result we have seen many existing ministries re-energised by a clear focus and new communities of faith emerge for which we praise God.
In the second place, we have grown together as a Diocese because we have also constantly sought to confront and eliminate the silo mentality which is endemic in Anglicanism. We need to constantly remember we belong together as one body and that we need each other if we are to really impact this Diocese deeply with the gospel. This of course does not mean we have always been successful in this aspiration because parochialism is a very common human failing. Even though no ministry unit or agency is an island, we each might perhaps remember how we have sometimes succumbed to the temptation to act independently and do our own thing without proper thought for others. Nonetheless we have continued to encourage, promote and model collaboration and cooperation. For example, we have actively worked hard behind the scenes to keep reminding Councils and Boards that we belong together as members of the one Diocese, and that we have different but complementary parts to play as we pursue the mission of God in this Diocese in our distinctive areas and in our own distinctive ways. As I prepare to vacate my position it remains my sincere prayer that we will discover together a fresh vision for what God wants us to do in the next stage of our Diocesan journey and that we will remain thoroughly committed to working diligently together to bring it into effect for the eternal benefit of those whom we are called to serve in the name of Jesus.
With every good wish,
4 October 2019