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General Synod digest: We are catching up with the Holy Spirit, Archbishop of York says

26 November 2021
Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Archbishop of York delivers his Vision and Strategy presentation

The Archbishop of York delivers his Vision and Strategy presentation

Vision and Strategy presentation.

THE General Synod questioned the Archbishop of York after he had delivered his Vision and Strategy presentation on mixed ecology, which began with a video snapshot of how churches in Suffolk were reaching out to connect with their communities.

Mixed ecology was about “seeing church as not just people going into a building” rather than a shiny new concept. He apologised if the term had “caused some nervousness” and reiterated: “Vision and Strategy is about moving the Church of England into deeper and more sustained growth.

“I am speaking about a whole ecosystem of church, not one system replacing another. We need to find ways of reaching and serving people in diverse contexts of our national life. I understand this to be a revitalisation of parish, not its demise.”

Archbishop Cottrell continued: “We are not, absolutely not, firing the starting gun on something new. We are catching up with the work of the Holy Spirit, who has already danced ahead of us.”

Place and context mattered, he said, and cultural adaptability had been an underlying message. “We want to see a viable, sustainable presence in every neighbourhood — i.e. a parish church. Flowing from this, new communities and new initiatives, large and small.

“We want to develop chaplaincy. We long to see a renewal of the religious life: most movements in church have begun with a new experience of God. Our work as a Synod is to understand and see what God is doing through this, and see that we don’t get left behind. We want to be singing a song of the gospel in the language of the people we serve.”

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesPrebendary Amatu Christian-Iwuagwu (London)

With the emphasis being on mission in parishes, Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities) wanted to know what measures were in place, or being considered, for amending the criterion that funding should be directed to population centres of 100,000. He asked whether some of that money could be released more liberally for small-scale parish projects.

Nothing was off the table, Archbishop Cottrell assured him. “Finance must follow vision and be aligned to it.”

Catherine Butcher (Chichester) expressed concern about resources and liturgies that were often written in “graduate language”, and asked whether something could be authorised in a more colloquial language.

Archbishop Cottrell responded that Common Worship gave “much stronger leeway than we sometimes think”, and that the Liturgical Commission would continue to offer simple liturgies for different contexts.

The Revd Paul Bradbury (Salisbury) wondered what plans were in place for supporting lay and ordained pioneers, who, he said, “will be crucial”. Most lay pioneers funded their own training, while those ordained worried how they would continue beyond their curacy.

Archbishop Cottrell said that he was “very aware” of the challenges surrounding curacies for ordained pioneer ministers.

Peter Adams (St Albans) wondered whether the Vision and Strategy group had specifically reviewed and learned lessons from the Strategic Development Fund, where things were at a scale that could be evaluated. He also questioned the place of deaneries as a missional entity.

David Kemp (Canterbury), said that, as a result of the “car crash of Covid”, his parish congregation in Whitstable had become smaller, poorer, and less confident and energised. “We can’t even fill our Sunday coffee-morning rota,” he said. He asked whether the group would have patience for these situations.

“I don’t underestimate how tough it is in many places,” Archbishop Cottrell told him, confirming that, yes, there was patience: Vision and Strategy was for the whole decade, “something we see unfolding over the medium term and the next ten years”.

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes (Liverpool) wanted to know how far the vision could be ecumenical, and was assured that it must be bigger than the Church of England.

Canon Rachel Mann (Manchester) hoped for more about how the concept related to a parish-centred ecclesiology.

The Archbishop revealed that Prebendary Isabelle Hamley was to lead a group looking at the theological underpinning and ask the question: “In this smorgasbord of culture, what does it mean to be a Church for everyone?”

The Archdeacon of Leeds, the Ven. Paul Ayers (Leeds), was looking for more honesty — the need sometimes to tell people: “We don’t have resources to meet all need, and it’s cruel to pretend that we do. . . We are not Lady Bountiful handing out largesse to our dependants. Shouldn’t we be humbler?”

Prebendary Amatu Christian-Iwuagwu (London) wanted to know what the place of self-supporting ministers (SSMs) was in this model. “Ministry belongs to the whole people of God; so we need more of everyone,” the Archbishop said. “There is a huge place for SSMs and [for them] to take more strategic positions of leadership and oversight in the Church.”

Dr Rosalind Clarke (Lichfield) asked what evaluation had been done on whether projects had actually led to church growth. Had there been any pilot schemes to test this?

Archbishop Cottrell said that all the initiatives had come through parish ministry, never as separate things.

Adrian Greenwood (Southwark), the Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe (London), and Dr Christian Selvaratnam (York) concluded the questions. The Bishop wanted to know how “every parish of every tradition in every place” might be encouraged to join in, and Dr Selvaratnam asked how a “spirit of generous mission” might be encouraged “to benefit those we send and who we send them to.”

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