ON SATURDAY afternoon, General Synod members took part in workshops on national support for local churches. They then gathered to debate a motion from the Mission and Public Affairs Council.
Introducing the debate, Mark Sheard (Archbishops’ Council), who chairs the Council, read from Colossians 4 (“Devote yourselves to prayer”). Prayer began the passage, he said: “prayer building confidence”. The debate was intended to draw the strands of work together, enabling the Synod to hear a range of views on how the national institutions could support local churches.
It also asked the Synod to support the Renewal and Reform programme. He wanted members to be aware of the breadth of support offered to churches, including Thy Kingdom Come. But “Prayer without action isn’t what the gospel is about,” he said. “We are called to act.”
Life events, for example, offered the Church “massive opportunities for mission and evangelism”, which had been underpinned by research, funded at a national level.
Canon Sally Gaze (Norwich) wanted to thank those all involved in this “absolutely brilliant initiative” and their support for parishes. She told some “very ordinary stories”.
This year, her parishes had participated in Thy Kingdom Come. People from the villages had come and prayed in the prayer space, and a group from schools. She said that the Synod would be “very moved” by the prayers written by pupils when they were asked to pray for the world that they wanted to see. She had found the resources online about life events “so useful to be able to refer people to”, including those on baptism.
Caroline Herbert (Norwich) commended the motion and, in particular, the first clause, which referred to resources for evangelism and growth. They were very useful to churches in rural areas holding commemorative events, to mark the First World War centenary, for example.
As the Church built a reputation for doing this, they turned to it in times of trouble, “to mark something that’s happened”. In their church, they had marked the attack in Tunisia. These opportunities gave the Church a chance to “speak of the hope we have”.
Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) also supported the motion. He had attended the workshop on Thy Kingdom Come at which they had reviewed the videos produced for it. They had discussed “the perennial problem in church life” of deciding when to continue or stop a successful initiative. He recommended that Thy Kingdom Come continue up to 2020, “as it does seem that it is gathering momentum”.
He spoke of Setting God’s People Free, and wondered whether there was a possibility to get funding shifted towards this through strategic development funding and incorporating it in the discipleship stream. “It was not in our culture, never has been in the Church of England, to naturally share our faith, as we assumed everyone was a Christian.” Things had changed, and “we need to share our faith and we need to do it with confidence.” There needed to be a “cultural change” to “gossiping the gospel”.
Anne Martin (Guildford) welcomed the motion, but believed that the aspect of mission “sharing food and fellowship” was missing. This was important because people at all stages in life could become lonely and isolated. “This may sound mundane,” she said, but required practical skills and finance to acquire numbers, as well as communication, and health and safety. “It is from small things that large things grow, and this is a simple, open and generous gift that we can make without ties.”
The Revd Peter Kay (St Albans) said that the Church must “look afresh” at the changing world of family dynamics. He had been fascinated by the intergenerational workshop. His own diocese was of an older generation, and a lot more could be done if questions were rephrased in the light of scripture.
He felt conflicted about worrying about the average age of the Church population, when the elderly were the most vulnerable and lonely, and perhaps should be prioritised. His relationship with his grandparents had been the richest, he said as an example. The Church needed to rework and reframe its approach to generational ministry.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, spoke of spirituality, evangelism, and catechesis. It was important that people did evangelism through their own traditions, he said. The evangelism of Thy Kingdom Come had worked, and should become “business as usual”, so that it worked both for the Church and the people.
His had learned that many of the clergy and lay ministers in his diocese were not comfortable speaking about the gospel outside the context of the church. This was relevant for other agendas where the Church found itself conflicted. “We have so much to learn for each other,” he said, and urged the Synod to unite around spirituality, evangelism and catechesis, particularly through digital evangelism. Though he suggested that no one was fully evangelised, and all Christians should open themselves to it.
The Archdeacon of Knowsley and Sefton, the Ven. Pete Spiers (Liverpool), drew attention to paragraph (c), “that this Synod agreed to encourage engagement in work through prayer and practical action,” which, he presumed, applied to all, though he wondered how this might happen. He encouraged Synod members to pass on their experiences of the workshops, but wanted to see change happening, people making the most of these opportunities by becoming the advocate for that workshop in their dioceses, and asking others how to promote this area of work. It might cut across agendas; so these would need to be fitted in, he said.
Susan Adeney (Worcester) referred to the 12-mile pilgrimage walk of the Archdeacon of Dudley, the Ven. Nikki Groarke, which had been sped up into a two-minute video that “went viral” in the diocese as part of Thy Kingdom Come. Mrs Adeney had been struck by the potential in her life-events workshop to reach 4000 people a week through baptisms, weddings, and funerals, “far more” than the Church could reach at Christmas.
But the benefits were not just about evangelism; as a member of a rural congregation in Worcester diocese, she said that these events could make the community feel part of the wider Church, and affirm that what they did could have an effect, such as offering 24-hour prayer, or simply a visit by the Archdeacon or Bishop. This was about presence and engagement, she concluded, which was what Christians were about.
Rosemary Walters (Canterbury) was concerned that the Synod tended to a “glib use” of the word “community”. She lived on a low-cost housing estate where houses were bought and rented out on short leases; “so you cannot get to know anybody,” she explained. “It does not follow that just because people are living in close proximity that they are living in a community.” This must be taken into account.
John Freeman (Chester) had ended up in the digital workshop, which had not been “his cup of tea”, but he would, none the less, tell the dioceses about it, because people wanted to know what the Synod got up to. He urged the Synod to circulate the minutes.
The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), welcomed the report and the digital workshop, since he had taken up Twitter, which he had learnt much about. By using digital data carefully, the Church had been able to reach out to more people, particularly at Christmas services.
The report addressed challenges, particularly for children transferring from church primary schools to non-church secondary schools. The Church should also be careful of inclusion, he said. Evangelism was much like marketing, and people should try to reach not only others like themselves, but communities that were not communities, and BAME groups. “It would be terrible if we stayed inside the bubble,” he said. “This must be founded in prayer and sacraments.” People should know that they were Christians, he said.
Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) said that the inclusion and outreach workshop reminded him of a church where the words “Glory to God in the Highest” had lost the “e” and instead proclaimed “Glory to God in the High St”, which was a “better principle”. Remarking that C of E reports took a long time to work through the Church, he pleaded with the Synod not to let it take as many decades as had passed since the 1985 report Faith in the City before the Church “got off its backside and did something”.
The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes (Durham) praised the quality of the life events resources and training. This approach should not be confined to a “marketing bubble” but carried across to every report done by the Church, she said. “We need that level of research and listening to the people we’re seeking to serve.”
Gavin Oldham (Oxford) warmly welcomed the motion and report. He noted how each of the six workshops had resonances with Jesus’s ministry as retold in the Gospels. Of particular importance was finding ways to communicate the faith to younger people and those who felt that the Church had no relevance to their lives. “If we can communicate unconditional love to our neighbours, we will not only bring them into the Christian faith, but the others will come in as well.”
The Revd Charles Read (Norwich) recounted how central life events were to his parish, where they held 85 funerals in one year. “As I look around our congregation, I see quite a number of people who have come back into faith through the ministry we exercise in life events. That element of the Church’s ministry is a real avenue of opportunity for being with people as they face changes, sometimes traumatic,” he said.
Mr Read also praised an older report, On the Way, which argued that worship and mission should be brought together. “There’s a great opportunity to resource local churches and chaplaincies by helping people see how worship could be missional. Baptisms, weddings, and funerals can also be conversion events,” he said.
Alison Coulter (Winchester) asked for future Thy Kingdom Come events to be kept simple: small changes by those at the top could ripple down to become huge upheaval at the bottom. “I thought Thy Kingdom Come had been a great success, [but] we’re only just getting the message now to what it’s about.” It needed to be kept simple, just asking everyone to pray for five of their friends. She also asked the digital-evangelism team to focus on sharing the stories of the people of God as a great way to evangelise.
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that he was happy to allay members’ fears, and assured them that Thy Kingdom Come would continue until at least 2020. He urged the Synod to focus on the mentoring of younger Christians, recounting how transformative it had been in his life when he first came to faith, aged ten.
“In this country you talk a lot about the weather. If every English person talked about Jesus the way you talk about the weather, there might be some change. Let’s go home and make sure Christ is made known. Please be a mentor to someone else.”
The motion was carried overwhelmingly:
That this Synod:
(a) welcome the range of evangelism and growth resources provided by the national church in support of local churches;
(b) note the progress made to support Life Events ministry since it was commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council in 2012;
(c) agree to encourage dioceses and parishes to engage with these areas of work through prayer and practical action; and
(d) call on the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops to report back to the Synod on a regular basis on the progress of these areas of support.