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The diocese of Southwark, and how Evangelicals see it

20 March 2015


From the Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich, the Archdeacon of Lambeth, and Canon Stephen Hance

Sir, - There is a tale of two dioceses. As Evangelical clergy serving on the Bishop of Southwark's senior staff team, we sometimes find ourselves wondering which of these two Southwark dioceses we are actually ministering in.

On the one hand, there is the Southwark diocese of popular perception, at least as some bloggers and commentators are concerned. This version is apparently experiencing catastrophic decline, owing, it is said, to the extreme liberal hegemony of the senior clergy of the diocese, especially the Bishop's staff team, where it is allegedly nigh impossible for an Evangelical to be appointed to a senior position or make any significant impact, and the only agenda is revisionism.

This imagined version of the diocese has almost no Fresh Expressions of Church, and remains a near-closed door to church-plants. This is compared with a far rosier picture in neighbouring dioceses.

Then, on the other hand, there is the reality of the vibrant Southwark diocese where we find ourselves serving Jesus.

This Southwark diocese has many signs of growth. A recent diocesan synod reported that the collective electoral-roll membership rose from 44,200 in 2002, to 45,100 in 2007, to 46,700 in 2013. No one on the Bishop's staff feels remotely complacent about this, and under the leadership of the diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, we have developed an intentional growth strategy, through, for example, rolling out Mission Action Planning across the diocese. There is much more to do; but we are moving, and in the right direction.

A recent study of Fresh Expressions of Church in this diocese found 40 Fresh Expressions representing 2400 worshippers, with an average growth rate of 16 per cent in the past two years. We have recently appointed an Evangelical minister to serve as our first Dean of Fresh Expressions, and have created a fund of £100,000 to be invested in new and existing Fresh Expressions over the next year or so. There have been a number of successful congregation-plants in the diocese, and more are planned.

In this Southwark diocese, we are thankful to serve in a talented Bishop's staff team, in which people are appointed because they are the best for the role. We have been appointed to our present posts within the past two years.

The experience of working alongside people with different insights of the gospel is an enriching one, and our own perspectives are appreciated and valued, too. Our colleagues are people with passionately held and argued views on every issue, because they care about the mission and ministry of Christ's Church in this place. This is what working in a broad and diverse Church is supposed to be like.

Sometimes a narrative becomes so deeply embedded in people's imaginations that it is almost impossible to shift. In the case of Southwark diocese, the narrative has not yet caught up with the reality. None of us would wish to work in the imaginary diocese; we consider this to be a God-given kairos moment to be ministering in the real Southwark diocese.

STEPHEN HANCE, Canon Missioner
c/o Kingston Episcopal Area Office
620 Kingston Road
London SW20 8DN

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