A SHORTAGE of clergy would limit the work of the Church of England, and more priestly vocations were needed, the Archbishop of York acknowledged in his opening presidential address to the General Synod on Friday.
Hard decisions lay ahead, but as the Church of England emerged from the pandemic, it would find a simpler, humbler, and bolder way of being church, he said. “As we emerge into the next phase of our learning how to live with Covid, we don’t know how many people will return to worship; we don’t know quite what will happen with the new communities we have nurtured online; we don’t know the full extent of the financial challenge.
“I know how difficult this has been in parishes and dioceses, where at every level of church life we have had to make difficult decisions. But I want to encourage you. I think what the Church of England has done in the past 18 months, especially in the local church, is magnificent.”
He drew the Synod’s attention to recently published research from the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture at the University of York, which affirmed the key importance of church buildings, and the Christian ministry flowing from them, as “sources not just for solace and sanctuary, not just for worship, but for so many community goods”.
Notably, in warmly thanking clergy and lay leaders for their faithfulness and perseverance in difficult times, the Archbishop said that he was “deeply, deeply sorry if anything that has been said from the centre ever caused anyone to doubt this.
“Apparently, in some quarters it has been suggested that, somehow, clergy are a limiting factor on church growth. I think I want to agree. A shortage of clergy would really limit us. We need more vocations. That is my prayer: priests to serve a priestly people.
“It is the vision given to us in the Ordinal. It is also at the heart of the vision and strategy we will discuss on Monday: that, centred in Christ, the parish system of the Church of England will be revitalised in such a way that we will all discover the part we have to play in God’s mission, and find new ways of serving our nation with the gospel. And of course it will come under the oversight of bishops, shared with incumbents.”
Among topics that the outgoing Synod had discussed and acted upon during its five-year term, the Archbishop highlighted the publication of the Living in Love and Faith resources; the “important new legislation” following IICSA; and “doggedly trying to simplify legislation”, for which he paid tribute to the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, as “a giant of synodical process”.
The Church Commissioners had led the way with their “impressive and game-changing policies on green investment and shareholder power,” Archbishop Cottrell said. “In a relatively short space of time, the whole public image of the Church Commissioners has shifted from being ‘those people who lost billions in the 1990s’ to ‘those people who are using their investment power to change the world’ — and, in spite of severe financial challenges, still showing astonishing returns to invest in the ministry of the Church of England.”
Action had also been taken on issues of racial justice, Windrush, the ethics of nuclear weapons, estates evangelism, advertising and gambling, Setting God’s People Free, growing faith, cathedrals, clergy wellbeing, “and much more besides”.
The Archbishop spoke of “working together as one Church of England”, of “improving the quality of our disagreements; how to face up to failures with honesty and humility; how to strive for what Pope Francis calls ‘reconciled diversities’”.
In a lighter tone, the Archbishop referred to the England football team, “mindful of a date most of us will have in our diaries for Sunday evening. . . I have turned to scripture for help, where I find, encouragingly, at Ezekiel 40.28 these words: ‘He brought me to the inner court — that is to the prize and victory we long for — by the south gate.’”
He concluded his address: “Our God believes in us. Our God loves the Church of England. Our God wants to do things through us and for us to work together. May those words remain with us as we continue our journeys from here and follow the paths of our loving Heavenly Father with simplicity, humility and courage.”