Dedicated followers of Christ

Discipleship

STEFANO CAGNONI

Bishop Dr Joe Aldred

Bishop Dr Joe Aldred

THE General Synod has invited the House of Bishops to prepare a new Revised Catechism. It was carrying a motion commending the "Ten Marks for Developing Discipleship" from the report Developing Discipleship.

Beginning the debate, the report's author, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, recalled how, aged 16, he first became a disciple of Christ. "I came to understand that being a disciple was to offer the whole of my life so that my life would be whole."

He said that he had preached and written on whole-life discipleship his entire career as a priest and bishop. "We are called to be and become a community of missionary disciples, in Pope Francis's beautiful phrase."

Nevertheless, developing discipleship was not a "visible priority" for dioceses: in 2013, fewer than half of the dioceses had a strategy that included lay development and discipleship.

In response to this, Dr Croft's report produced Ten Marks of a diocese committed to developing disciples. It also asked the House of Bishops to commission a revised catechism.

"This will make a difference, because the Church of England is slowly emerging from Christendom to be a new kind of Church to be in a different kind of society."

Pam Bishop (Southwell & Nottingham) said that huge social changes meant a different situation for those growing up today. Sixty per cent of over-60s had had a substantial contact with church in their lives, but less than 20 per cent of those in their twenties had had a similar experience.

"They have not had that immersion of being alongside those who try to model what it is to be Christlike."

The Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven. Rachel Treweek (London), found "a bit of an identity crisis" in the Ten Marks of the report: what was it trying to do, and at whom was it aimed? She emphasised the need to grapple with the fact that most lay ministry was being carried out in the daily lives of worshippers, who didn't have the capacity to be involved in activities in church. Bishop Dr Joe Aldred (Black-led Churches) said: "Others often have gifts and talents we lack, and are flourishing where we are not." He would like to see a "more evident ecumenical intention in this paper", particularly towards Black and Pentecostal churches.

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The Revd Mark Ireland (Lichfield) moved an amendment about being "inspired by the glory and grace of God shown in the face of Jesus Christ". He emphasised the "vision of Jesus crucified and risen which flows out in all that we do", making discipleship less a "sought" than an "overflow" .

His amendment was carried without debate.

Canon Chris Sugden (Oxford) wanted to link the report more closely with a motion on intentional evangelism carried in November 2013. There needed to be more focus on the "calling to make disciples of all nations". The motion lacked a global focus: "All are called to share and witness to good news."

Dr Croft accepted the amendment.

Brigadier Ian Dobbie (Rochester) urged the Synod to support the amendment. Making new disciples meant making new Christians, but what precisely was a new Christian?

He wished that the paper referred to the necessity of new birth. "You must be born of God to be a new disciple. Much spiritual frustration is due to the fact that so many over the years have sought to grow spiritually before they have been born."

The amendment was carried.

Canon Simon Taylor (Derby) found the report "a little disappointing" in giving actions to dioceses and bishops: "Discipleship is bigger." He sought to make it clear that it involved the whole Church, lay and ordained.

Dr Croft was cautious about the wording of this amendment.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) reported that, in the morning's small groups, they had talked about "the dangers of clericalism". One of the dangers was that it separated the clergy from the rest of the people. The amendment "allows us as clergy to take the role of disciples more seriously." He had talked to people in their eighties who had not had a single conversation about their faith for 60 years. "Unless we as clergy take a lead and are seen to be doing this alongside our brothers and sisters, we will fail the wider Church."

Angela Scott (Rochester) said that she welcomed the amendment and that every diocese was embracing the development of lay leaders. She wanted canon law to be simplified by recognising Reader ministry as licensed lay ministry, which would put it under the Ministry Division, not the Education Division.

Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) wanted to split the amendment, as the reference to the Church of England was too "diffuse" and unclear.

Splitting the amendment did not have the consent of the chair, and the amendment was voted down.

Canon Taylor moved an amendment "to engage in wide consultation with all people in England, of all faiths and none, to discern how the Church of England could deepen its discipleship to enable it to better work to serve the common good of this nation."

Dr Croft would not support this amendment without further preparative work on a consultation.

The Revd Jonathan Frais (Chichester) welcomed the Ten Marks, and said this amendment would make explicit what was best left implicit.

The Revd John Dunnett (Chelmsford) said the only authoritative voice that defined discipleship was scripture. He said that the amendment was a "red herring" and should be voted down.

It was clearly lost.

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, said that this was the most important subject for the future health of the Church. He drew attention to "growth spurts" in discipleship, when intense experiences such as overseas mission, retreats, pilgrimages, or revelations, spur Christians on.

Caroline Herbert (Norwich) said that there was an appetite among congregations for further learning in discipleship. The House of Bishops should look at existing resources and courses, however, before commissioning new materials. She also raised a concern that many people who had been baptised as infants would not see it as the start of a "discipleship journey".

The motion as amended was clearly carried. It said: 

That this Synod, inspired by the glory and grace of God shown in the face of Jesus Christ and mindful that the Church of Jesus Christ is called to be a community of missionary disciples and in view of its resolution of November 2013 which highlighted the priority of evangelism and making new disciples: 

(a) commend the Ten Marks for Developing Discipleship for further study and reflection with a view to the development in each diocese of an action plan for implementation at diocesan, deanery and parochial level 

and 

(b) invite the House of Bishops:

(i) to prepare a new Revised Catechism with a view to its approval by the General Synod under Canon B 2; and 

(ii) to identify and commission other resources to help the whole Church to live out our common discipleship.

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